Melody and I met in a café writers’ group, where I discovered that she is President of the Florida Writers Foundation, Inc. a non-profit corporation formed to promote literacy, as well as enhance the writing skills of children, youth, and adults. Foundation volunteers visit elementary schools for reading days, sponsor poetry contests, donate books to underprivileged schools, and contribute funds to middle school writing contests. Her new book, “Backpack Blues: Inspire the Fire Within,” is a young adult story in verse.
Tell me about your background. Where you grew up, where you live now, education, work experience? Share some interesting things about yourself that we should know about.
I grew up on a poultry farm and graduated from Beekmantown Central School in the Plattsburgh, New York area. I am a Castleton State (now Castleton University) graduate. I met my husband, a Vermont native, while studying there. I taught at Northern Adirondack Central School, DeLand High School, and at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh. I am the proud mother of one son and live in Central Florida with my husband (and fellow writer,) Barry.
What inspired you to write this book? What is the story behind the story?
Three things inspired me:
• First and foremost, poignant essays from former students. As a teacher, I found my students believed their problems were singular, and they struggled alone.
• Second, Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters provided a format. My students loved reading and performing some of the poems from this book.
• Third, issues in the news and our society. For example, the spreading of the human trafficking of teens, the violence on school campuses, and the high rate of divorce and its effect on children.
What has been your biggest challenge or obstacle?
Finding the elusive agent and writing the New York Times Bestseller.
What has been your biggest “aha” moment or success?
Obtaining both a copy and content editor taught me how to better revise my books. My biggest “aha” moment came when I read their criticism. Chosen to speak on the First Books Panel at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Miami Conference spelled success for me. Winning a Royal Palm Literary Award, being a finalist in this year’s contest, and being asked to serve as the president of the Florida Writers Foundation are also big moments in my life.
What authors do you like to read? What books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?
I’ve been accused of reading everything, but the toilet paper roll. Janet Evanovich influences me to incorporate humor, even in serious writing. Carolyn Keene influenced me to write a series. I gobbled every one of her Nancy Drew mystery books when I was in middle school. The literary quality of John Steinbeck’s East of Eden helped me learn to use figurative language in my books. John Griffin, Carl Hiaasen, Daphne DuMaurier, Pearl S. Buck, Marge Piercy, Langston Hughes, Emily Dickinson, Dorothy Parker, and Maya Angelou influence me. Stephen King’s On Writing challenges me. Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird taught me how to use similes, metaphors, and personification. Workshops conducted by Darlyn Finch Kuhn, Elizabeth Sims, Lorin Oberweger, Madeleine Kuderick, Adrian Fogelin, Alma Fullerton, and Peter Meinke pushed my writing forward. My good friend and mentor, Peggy Miller (Margaret Wolfson) taught me a new poetry form. Her poetry encourages me to aim for brevity.
Do you write every single day? Any writing rituals?
After starting the coffee pot and putting a load of laundry into the washing machine, I turn to my computer every single day. I write until my husband Barry and I have breakfast. I return to the computer after breakfast and write until lunchtime (about 2:00). I’ve never written with a pen or pencil, except when forced. I used a typewriter before I started using Word.
What are your interests outside of writing?
Pickleball, playing Pinochle with my son and his lovely wife, traveling with my husband. My ultimate goal is a trip to the Canadian Maritimes. Going out to dinner with my college roommate and her husband once a week and watching a play at the Shoestring Theatre or at my friends’ house after dinner. Since my family owns a Sugar Bush (maple trees), I value trees. You may call me a tree-hugger. I feel like crying when someone cuts a live oak tree.
Share some tips for other Authors or Aspiring Authors: What would you do differently? What would you do the same? Please share anything you think would be beneficial to those reading this.
• Attend writing conferences—make them mini-vacations.
• Learn what a platform is and get one.
• Join writing groups.
• Read as many books as you can in your genre.
Renee Garrison is the award-winning author of The Anchor Clankers.
To suggest an author interview, email her: email@example.com