The Making of a Writer

The Making of a Writer

by Joan Lowery Nixon

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        Joan Lowery Nixon is the acclaimed author of more than a hundred books for young readers. Over the years, many of her readers have written to her to ask how they, too, can become published writers someday. From her first publication at age ten to her graduation from Hollywood High during World War II, this memoir, which includes advice as


        Joan Lowery Nixon is the acclaimed author of more than a hundred books for young readers. Over the years, many of her readers have written to her to ask how they, too, can become published writers someday. From her first publication at age ten to her graduation from Hollywood High during World War II, this memoir, which includes advice as well as anecdotes, is her answer. Listening to her favorite programs on the radio, performing puppet shows at orphanages and hospitals, and writing love poems for high school classmates to send to soldiers overseas all planted the seeds from which a prolific writing career grew.
        Joan Lowery Nixon never forgot what her ninth-grade journalism teacher told her: “A writer must always have faith in herself. If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will.” Both informative and entertaining, The Making of a Writer is a charming look at one writer’s beginnings.
“Nixon tucks her tips into a memoir that stands alone…A delightful look back at a time and a life.” –Booklist
“Her writing is clear and interesting, admirably blending her personal history, that of the nation, life lessons, and writing tips…[readers] will appreciate the insights she offers into her own life as well as the development of her signature style.” –VOYA
“A lively read…[with] clear and concise advice to writers.” –School Library Journal
“A lighthearted biography…It is a nicely focused take on something about the author.” –Kirkus Reviews

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Joan Lowery Nixon, the four-time Edgar winner, reveals the life behind the craft in her memoir The Making of a Writer. An epilogue sharing the author's "Top Ten Writing Tips" encourages young hopefuls. (May) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Told in short chapters, this book is a welcome answer to the oft-asked question, "How can I become a published writer someday?" and Nixon is just the person to provide the answer, having penned more than one hundred books for young readers, including many award-winners. Each chapter recounts an anecdote from the author's life, then ties it into a lesson she learned about writing. The chapters trace her life from childhood through her teenage years, closing with her concise, helpful "Top Ten Writing Tricks." Nixon employs many of the same writing tools in this memoir as she does in her mystery novels. Dialogue, emotions, characterization, attention-grabbing beginnings, and strong chapter endings keep a reader's interest. Her writing is clear and interesting, admirably blending her personal history, that of the nation, life lessons, and writing tips. Numerous black-and-white captioned photos enhance the text. Young adults who have read any Nixon books will appreciate the insights she offers into her own life as well as the development of her signature style. Buy several copies of this book for youth-serving libraries. It will be a popular choice for young readers, and teachers will find it an extremely useful tool. Photos. VOYA CODES: 5Q 4P M J (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2002, Delacorte, 106p,
— Cynthia Gueswel
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8 In this entertaining book, Nixon narrates the story of her life from the time she was a baby living in a white stucco duplex that her family shared with her grandparents until she became a journalism major at the University of Southern California and sold her first piece of writing. As the narrative moves forward in chronological fashion, Nixon whispers in the ear of readers all of the important tricks of the trade that she has learned: "Read!- Write what you know- Show, don't tell- Put yourself in other people's shoes," and so forth. Most chapters are organized around one of her writing lessons. The book contains a great deal of dialogue that makes it a lively read, but these clearly imaginary interchanges do compromise the book's status as a work of nonfiction. However, this quibble will be of little consequence to those who are interested in the life of this accomplished author or to those who will value the book for its clear and concise advice to writers. -Barbara Scotto, Michael Driscoll School, Brookline, MA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Veteran author Nixon (Gus and Gertie and the Missing Pearls, 2001, etc.) offers a lighthearted biography, with each chapter connected to something she's loved or learned about writing. She grew up in Los Angeles in a duplex occupied by her grandparents as well as her own parents and siblings, and evokes an idyllic childhood. She loved words from a very early age, recounting her mother's story that before she could even read or write, she would come to her mother and say, "I have a poem, Mama. Write it down." She loved hearing family stories and radio dramas, learning pacing and dialogue, and did puppet shows for neighborhood children using her mother's scripts and the portable stage built by her father. In high school in the '40s, she and her friends wrote many letters to servicemen in the war, most of them barely older than she was. She tells, with exquisite timing, how she got her first payment for something she wrote, and how it felt. Young readers (and would-be writers) might be most interested in the last chapter, her Top Ten Tips for Writers, which includes such basic advice as "Read!"; "Show, don't tell"; and "Trust your characters." It's a bit preachy in spots, and even her large fan base might not be completely engaged, but it is a nicely focused take on something about the author. (Biography. 10-12)

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Sold by:
Random House
File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
10 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

When I was young I filled notebooks with my writing. Sometimes I jotted down special thoughts, bits of description, verses, and short stories.

The number of greeting cards I designed, with personalized verses inside, would have shaken the marketing department heads of Hallmark. Every member of my family received my illustrated poems on holidays, birthdays, other special occasions, and sometimes just-for-fun days. It made my relatives and friends feel special, and I suppose it also saved me money at the greeting card store.

When I was ten, I mailed one of my poems to a children's magazine to which I subscribed. I can't remember the name of the magazine, but it had a page devoted to children's writing and art.

My poem was titled "Springtime," and I remember that one line was "and children play outdoors because they're glad it's spring." There must have been some literary license involved because in Los Angeles children played outdoors all year round.

In April 1938, just two months after my eleventh birthday, I opened the just-arrived issue of the magazine. There on the children's page was my printed poem, with the byline Joan Lowery, age 10.

My name! My byline! In a magazine that people all over the United States would read!

I can still visualize my name in print under the words I had written. This was what it was like to be a published writer. In print! With a byline! Delirious with success, I knew I was on my way.

Chapter Two

When I was a baby, my parents and my mother's parents, Mathias (Matt) and Harriet (Hattie) Meyer, whom we called Nanny and Pa, bought a white stucco duplex on the corner of 73rd Street and Gramercy in Los Angeles. They added a large, square room that connected the two sides of the house through my parents' and grandparents' dining rooms. Since my mother had been a kindergarten teacher, the room was outfitted like her former classroom with an upright piano, sturdy work table and chairs, easels and poster paints, a school-sized blackboard, a ceramic pot that held damp clay, a dollhouse, and a roomy space for toys. Everyone called it the playroom.

My parents' side of the house was arranged in a square, and my grandparents' side of the house was shaped like an upside-down L. After my sister Pat was born, when I was five, she and my other younger sister, Marilyn, shared the second bedroom in our parents' side of the house. My bedroom was on my grandparents' side of the house, at the far end of the upside-down L.

The two sides of the house were quite different, although both had chairs and sofas upholstered in the stiff, prickly plush fabric that was in fashion then. I can't remember what color they were because they were all covered in homemade slipcovers of printed fabric that didn't match but had been purchased at a "good bargain." The object was to protect the furniture underneath. The slipcovers were removed only for special guests and parties at which there would be no children.

I can see now that the slipcovers cut out a lot of the stress to which children are subjected. With the furniture well protected, no one cared if we climbed onto the sofa with our shoes on to color the designs in our coloring books, or sat there munching on saltine crackers.

The gas stove in my mother's kitchen was fairly new. It looked like a table on white enameled iron legs with the oven on top, next to the four burners. Nanny had an old, heavy iron stove whose oven was like a dark cavern underneath the burners. Mother had an electric refrigerator, but Nanny had a wooden icebox out on the service porch.

Two times a week the iceman arrived in his truck, picked up a huge block of ice with tongs, and carried it on his back to replace the melted ice in the icebox. There was a pan underneath into which the melting ice could drip, and Pa had to empty this heavy pan at least once a day.

The children in the neighborhood loved to jump into the open back of the ice truck, grab slivers of ice, and run before the iceman returned. If he came back too soon, this good-natured man would pretend to scowl. He'd shout, "Who's taking my ice?" and then take a few steps toward us as we ran away squealing.

Nanny loved to cook and to bake, so both sides of the house were rich with the fragrances of pot roast and onions, cinnamon-sugar cookies, rich chocolate puddings, and comforting chicken soups.

Our grandparents and their activities played a big part in our lives.

Each spring Nanny and Pa bottled their own root beer. We all loved root beer, especially in black cows, sodas made of vanilla ice cream and root beer. Nanny cooked the root beer mixture and scalded the bottles, and after the brew had been poured into the bottles, Pa would cap them with a small metal bottle-capping tool that could be operated only by exerting great physical strength.

The bottles would be stored on the service porch, and after a certain period had passed in which the carbonation did its work, the root beer would be ready to drink.

It was delicious, and to add to the fun and excitement of each summer, every now and then a bottle on the service porch would explode with a noise we could hear all over the house.

It was best when I was young and could scream at the explosions. When I grew a little older I often had to help clean up the sticky mess.

I watched Nanny make fudge, which, at an exact time in its cooling, Pa, with his strong arm, beat into a creamy texture. Nanny taught me how to darn socks and took me with her when she visited her circle of friends in the neighborhood. Mrs. Christiana offered me cookies. Mrs. Ritemeyer, who subscribed to the Los Angeles Times's rival newspaper, the Examiner, always saved her Sunday comics for me.

Nanny and Pa were wonderful companions and the best of baby-sitters. Tall, quiet Pa and chatty Nanny, who barely reached five feet tall, were infinitely patient and spent hours playing Chinese checkers, whist, and poker with us, as we graduated from our early years of fish and slapjack. With both parents and grandparents close at hand, my sisters and I were tucked into a snug, secure environment.

In some of my earliest memories I see myself running to my grandfather and saying, "Pa, will you read to me?"

Meet the Author

Joan Lowery Nixon was the author of more than 130 books for young readers and was the only four-time winner of the Edgar Allan Poe Best Young Adult Mystery Award. She received the award for The Kidnapping of Christina LattimoreThe SéanceThe Name of the Game Was Murder, and The Other Side of the Dark, which also won the California Young Reader Medal. Her historical fiction included the award-winning series The Orphan Train Adventures, Orphan Train Children, and Colonial Williamsburg: Young Americans.

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