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Barnes & Noble.com: Name a few of your favorite children's books. Why have you chosen them as favorites?
Laura Dower: A few? When I was younger, I worked my way through the children's library in my town until I'd read almost everything! Spending summers in Maine as a kid made me love Robert McCloskey all the more -- especially Blueberries for Sal, One Morning in Maine, and Make Way for Ducklings. I also read each of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie books at least ten times (partly because my name was Laura, I am sure). Other favorites: the Frances books by Russell Hoban; Amelia Bedelia; The Velveteen Rabbit; Roald Dahl's books; and the Nancy Drew mysteries. Finally, I read everything by Judy Blume (when I read Are You There God, It's Me Margaret? back in the late '70s, I knew I wanted to be a writer, too).
B&N.com: What inspired you to create the character of Madison Finn? What do you like most about Maddie?
LD: While brainstorming ideas for a seventh-grade book series with my editor, the idea for Madison tumbled out of my brain. Actually, her name was originally "Morgan" inside my head, but I decided to change it because I liked the idea of calling her Maddie as a nickname. Sometimes character names happen because they just sound right, whereas the "insides" of the characters come from a deeper place. I like Madison because she is in the middle of everything -- not at the top, not at the bottom. That's where most of us sit. I also admire how she stays interested and committed to her ideas. The files are a way to organize her thoughts -- but they're also a way to preserve and explore her wide range of feelings. Best of all, Maddie is a little bit of a spaz (like I was in seventh grade and like I still am -- LOL).
B&N.com: Where do you get your ideas for each of the new story lines in every book?
LD: I keep my eyes and ears open all the time. My desk is packed with files of clippings, articles, and random doodles. The Internet is a great idea sparker, too. I go to a search engine and plug in a word. Each new web page triggers another new idea, and so on. Then I sit back and pull them all together, thinking about how the characters in my books would react and respond. Ideas come from taking a walk outside, talking to my best friend on the phone, anywhere. The key is that I write things down. I may not need one idea today -- but I will need it someday. Ideas are sneaky -- they will disappear if you don't jot them down. I carry around a mini-notebook everywhere I go.
B&N.com: Are any of your characters from From the Files of Madison Finn based on people from your real life?
LD: Sure! There are bits and pieces of my friends and family in everything that I write. Madison has a lot of me in her, especially the "overthinking" part. I, too, am an only child, and my parents also divorced (but when I was much younger). Ivy is every girl in school who ever made fun of me, talked about me, or picked on me -- help! There were lots of those, unfortunately. But I also had great friends -- Fiona, Aimee, and Lindsay are all composites of the people from my real life. Many of the junior high teachers are also based on my own experiences from seventh grade. Mr. Gibbons and Mr. Danehy were, in fact, the names of my real English and science teachers back then, although I've changed their personalities in the books quite a bit. And I have a real Gramma Helen who is just as sweet as the one in the books. B&N.com: What do you like best about being an author? Do you have any suggestions for aspiring young writers?
LD: Being an author gives me this warm feeling way down in my belly. Writing gives me a reason to be creative all the time. And I have four key ideas about writing to share with wannabe authors:
1. Just READ. Everyone says to be a good author, you should read; and that's truer than true, as Madison would say. To write well, you need to feed your head. Books are the most nourishing, I think, but magazines, comic books, and the newspaper count, too. You can't put out if you aren't putting fuel in.
2. Just WRITE -- anything -- even if you think it stinks. Don't worry about mistakes, dumb ideas, or even bad spelling. You will improve! Carry around one of those little notebooks. At first, you probably won't even take it out of your bag, but wait! One day, during a beautiful sunset or on a long bus ride, it will be there, and you can write everything down at the moment when it happens.
3. Learn how to REWRITE. Once you write in your notebook or on the computer; then try to revise. Have fun crossing stuff out and writing new stuff to take its place. Play around with words. Don't be afraid to say something with fewer words. Spend your time searching for the right ones by using a dictionary, thesaurus, etc.
4. Be PATIENT. For all the words you write down that don't make sense, there will be that one page, paragraph, or sentence to make you say, "Ahhh! That's it!" Believe me, it's worth waiting for.