Why I Write
My books span the full spectrum of picture books to middle grade to young adult and from sweet and lyrical to dark and suspenseful, but I think, at their core, they all share a common theme that I hope readers come away with: You are capable of great things--but you are also enough, just as you are. I hope my books help readers of all ages find connection and belonging and feel truly seen.
I grew up in Cedar City, Utah, surrounded by national parks and people who loved me. I knew at a very young age that I wanted to be a writer, but saying that is actually pretty misleading.
Even though I did know at a very young age that I wanted to be a writer, I also knew that I wanted to be an architect, an artist, an explorer, an Olympic gold medalist (preferably in gymnastics or figure skating), a second-grade teacher, and definitely a pediatrician.
As I grew, the list got even longer--but writing and books (especially books for young readers!) always found their way into my life. Even in graduate school, when I was supposed to be immersed in science journals, I would find my way to the children’s section of the library. As a reader, one of the lines that’s had the greatest impact on me is this one: “…sometimes I can hear my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I’m not living.”
When I first read those words, I had to catch my breath because I felt them so deeply. There is so much that I want to do. Okay, I’ve given up my dreams of Olympic glory, but I still want to do almost all of the things I wanted to do as a child. I want to be the person that creates a beautiful, safe home and works of art and charts new territory and teaches kids really cool new things and fixes them when they’re hurt. There’s not a single one of those dreams that I’m ready to give up on.
Someday, when I’m all grown up, I hope to say that I’ve done all those things. That I lived out all those dreams because I knew, at a not-so-young age, that what I really wanted was to be a writer.
An Interview with Elaine
From 4th Grader Charlotte
What are your tips for becoming an author?
Read, read, read, and write, write, write! I try to read about 100 books a year (plus picture books.) A lot of those 100 books are middle grade and young adult because those are the age groups I write for, but I try to read all kinds of different things. And I write whenever I can! Not just books, but blog posts, funny emails to friends, talks for events, all kinds of things. Reading and writing this way is kind of like exercising ALL your muscles in all sorts of ways so you'll be healthy--and also so you'll be better at the sport you love best. :)
Was it easy to become an author?
Yes! All you have to do to be an author is write. Getting a book published is a lot trickier, and that part usually takes years and years. You have to write your book, revise it over and over again, find an agent that loves it and wants to send it to editors, find an editor that loves it and wants to publish it, and then revise it even more. It took about five years from when I first started writing until my first book was published, and there were a lot of times when I wondered if that dream would ever come true. But it did, and it was totally worth it!
Is being an author exciting? Why?
Being an author is definitely exciting! It makes me so happy to hear that kids have read my books and that those books have meant something to them. I love visiting schools and meeting kids. Whenever I do workshops or author visits, I'm amazed how creative and awesome the students are. But I love the writing part too--the quiet moments when it's just me and my characters getting to know each other and going on a journey together.
How did you get your ideas for your books?
This is such a great question! Once you start looking for them, you might find that ideas are everywhere. The idea for my first book, Like Magic, came from a blog post I saw about how the New York Public Library was loaning out an American Girl doll. I always wanted one of those dolls as a kid, and I would have LOVED to be able to check one out of the library! I knew I had to write a story about the girls that checked that doll out. Later, I revised the story so that it wasn't a doll they were checking out but a hollowed-out book box. You never know where an idea will take you! My second book, Paper Chains, started with a story, The Snow Child, that my grandmother read to me when I was little. The idea for the book I'm working on right now came from running with my son and a text my good friend sent me after I fell and hurt myself on a ten-mile run. You never know when an idea is just around the corner!
What advice can you give me on writing a book?
Just keep going, and don't worry if you don't know how it ends or what happens in the middle. Don't worry if the words aren't coming out exactly as you want them to. Get them out there and know that you can fix them later. I have a hard time with this, but I'm getting better at it! Give yourself permission to write the book out of order. If you're stuck in one part, write the next part that you know. A wise author named John Truby said that writing a book “is much like doing a crossword puzzle. Some parts will come easily, others only with great difficulty. Use the parts that come easily to figure out the tough parts, and be willing to go back and change..." I love that advice. Just start with what you know and work through one part at a time, and as long as you keep going, you'll get there! Once you've written the whole thing, definitely give it to friends and family members and ask them to read it. They can tell you what they like about your story, but more importantly, they can tell you where they were confused or bored or where things could improve. Then just revise again and again until you've written the very best book you can. It's a lot of work, but it's a lot of fun too, and like I said before, it's totally worth it.