Last year, I had the pleasure of participating in the South Carolina Literary Festival, where I met a ton of interesting readers, and a new author friend, Ann Eisenstein. Ann’s pretty neat, and she’s the only person I know who has gone through the FBI’s Citizen Academy. She’s writing a junior detective mystery series, that follows Junior Special Agent Sean Gray. He’s eleven, and he’s a puzzle solver. The second book in the series, FALLEN PREY, releases today, but I’ll let Ann tell you a little bit more.
D O L L Y , thank you for having me as your guest. I appreciate this opportunity.
- How long have you been a writer? Were you always a storyteller?
I have always written. I believe I started with crayons, writing and drawing in the backs of my father’s medical books and mystery novels. I would sneak into his library, open the glass doors of the bookcase, pick out a book and add my squiggly letters and awkward pictures to the pages. I have always loved telling a great story. I was blessed with an extremely active imagination. My favorite play time as a child revolved around creating fantasy lives with myself and my friends. (And, yes, I had an imaginary friend to pinch hit when I was by myself!) My best friend and I would write plays and perform them for our families and friends.
- Did you always know you wanted to write books for children, or did that genre come into focus once you became a teacher?
Truth is I started to write an adult novel but was struggling with it. I wasn’t certain of the plot, the conflict, the characters’ motivation. So, I put it aside. I thought, “Maybe I should start with a children’s book – that had to be easier!” That was delusional for sure. I know my background as a teacher and a school psychologist must have influenced me in many ways. After all, I have spent most of my life working with children. Even after I officially “retired”, I still volunteered with and mentored kids. It’s a natural fit.
- What were your favorite books growing up, and do you think they’re still relevant today?
I loved all of the Little Golden Books – like Nurse Nancy and A Day at the Seashore by Kathryn Jackson. Goodnight Moon and Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown were among my favorites. Then, as I got a little older, I read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle. Then I discovered the Nancy Drew books and the Hardy Boys’ mysteries! I was in heaven! One of my most favorite childhood books, that is just as relevant today, is Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White. It’s been the best-selling children’s book of all time. But my all-time favorite book–if I had to name just one–is The Giver by Lois Lowry.
Great literature is timeless. Books like Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss will always entertain and inspire children. The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli and Ramona of Beverly Cleary’s books are still widely read today, as are C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia.
- What books do you recommend to children, your students, new parents?
I would endorse any of the books that I mentioned above for children. Some books from the current lists that I would recommend are: One Cool Friend by Toni Buzzeo; This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen; Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson; Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt; Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos; 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher; The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate; See You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles; and the final book in Lois Lowry’s The Giver series, Son. There are so many, many great books out that I love! My list goes on and on. Of course, Peggy Noodle, Hula Hoop Queen is one of my favorite fun reads that I would recommend for all kids!
- Why the jump from teaching early education to psychology?
I started out majoring in psychology when I first entered college. As a way to understand my own life and to help other kids understand their lives. But I ended up in elementary education. (I will leave the history of that road for another time!) I was teaching middle school in Dayton, Ohio and realized that I was spending as much time counseling my students as teaching them. They had so many problems and issues that interfered with learning. I decided to go back to my one of my first loves – psychology. And since I loved working with children, I concentrated on school psychology.
- What is the FBI Citizens Academy, and how does it influence your writing?
The FBI Citizens Academy is a community, business, and leadership outreach program designed to promote a better public awareness of the FBI, strengthen the relationship between the FBI and the community and educate citizens by providing substantive presentations that explain efforts to combat crime and preserve national security. The purpose of the FBICA is to focus efforts in three general areas: schools, communities, and the workplace—cooperating with other federal, state, and local agencies that strive to provide healthier lifestyles for our community’s youth. As a candidate for the CA, I studied all aspects of the FBI organization, including terrorism; counterintelligence; violent, organized, and white-collar crime; drugs; and civil rights, firearms and training simulators. I learned first-hand how the FBI works, including how the Bureau tracks down spies and terrorists, collects and preserves evidence. As a member of the Citizen’s academy, I aspire to provide healthier lifestyles for our community’s youth. If law enforcement is to truly contribute to our nation’s fight against crime, drugs, gangs, and violence, we must build partnerships to reach out to the young people we are sworn to serve. We accomplish this objective through classroom visits and junior and senior high school career fairs.
- What is the best advice you can give parents, and kids for that matter, on how to keep their children safe?
First of all, develop a positive relationship with your children. I believe that there are 5 key elements to this relationship:
* Communication – talk with and listen to your children
* Time – pay attention to them and what they are doing
* Trust– teach your children responsibility and then trust them with it
* Security – provide a safe environment and teach them how to protect themselves
* Love – love them unconditionally and tell them all the time that you do.
There are many other factors that are important to keeping a child safe. I have some special tips for safety on my Web site here and here.
- How did you prepare for life as an author?
I believe that is an ongoing process – often pedaling backwards! The writing life is definitely circular – at least for me. Sometimes I discover that the more I think I know about it, the more I have yet to learn! It is a world that in some ways never changes and in other ways is in a constant state of change. It is growing, as am I. The greatest lessons that I have learned – which are the best advice I can give to new writers – is to listen to those who have gone before me. I attend as many conferences as time and money will permit. I have coined my own “The Three R’s” – I read and read and read. I research and research and research. And, yes, I revise and revise and revise!
- What’s the most interesting job you’ve ever had?
Without a doubt, my life is more interesting now than ever! So the author hat wins hands down. I am still always a teacher and a psychologist. It’s all in my DNA. And I know that all of my “jobs” work in concert when I am writing.
- If you could travel anywhere and do anything while you were there, where would it be and what would you do?
Paris or Rome. They are the most romantic places I know. And I would soak up the culture, the history and the love!
- If you could meet any famous author, living or dead, who would it be and why?
That is both an easy and a hard question to answer. Hard because you asked me to choose just one! The English major in me would choose Shakespeare. The teenaged Ann would definitely pick J.D. Salinger (The Catcher in the Rye was the book I devoured in high school.) But now, I will choose Madeline L’Engle. Her Time Quartet, beginning with A Wrinkle in Time series is so powerful!
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
Dolly, thank you again for this wonderful interview. I have enjoyed it! I would only like to encourage your readers to pick up a great book today a read. Also, if they are anywhere near Apex, NC, on November 9, 2013 to come by the Peak City Book Festival. There will be a lot of wonderful events for the whole family. I will be teaching “Creative Writing for Young Adults” at 3:00 pm.
One lucky commenter* will win a personalized, signed copy of Ann’s new book, Fallen Prey! Just answer this question in the comment section below … be sure to leave your e-mail so I can get in touch!
What is your favorite mystery (or just your favorite book), and why?
*US winner will receive a signed, print copy of the book. International winner will receive an e-book. Winner will be randomly selected and notified on November 9.
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You can find Ann at the following places: