Mary's answers to Frequently Asked Questions . . .
Why do you like writing spooky stories?
I enjoy adding a touch of fantasy or unreality to a story. A ghost often makes things happen. A ghost may also give a character insight or empathy, a deeper understanding of his own nature or of the world around him. It's fun to twitch reality, to imagine something beyond our five senses.
Do you believe in ghosts?
Since we began to gather around fires to protect us from the dark and its dangers, we have believed in ghosts, yet no one can prove they exist. On the other hand, no one can prove they don't exist. Thus, ghosts occupy a gray area or the twilight zone, so to speak. I've read many "true" ghost stories and have heard dozens of accounts from friends and acquaintances, some of which have been very convincing. I suppose you could say I lean toward believing but am not absolutely positive. It's important to keep an open mind. Doubt is good.
Have you ever seen a ghost?
Maybe. Once I was the only guest in an inn in Kansas. Formerly a family home, the house was built in the 1880's. On my last night there, I woke to see a man in my room. His back was turned, but I could see he wore old-fashioned clothing. I tried to speak but couldn't get a word out. Suddenly he turned and saw me. He looked at me fearfully and hurried out of the room, as if I wasn't supposed to see him.
I might have dreamed the whole encounter, but the woman who owned the inn told me she was convinced the place was haunted. Later, visitors saw a face at the attic window and refused to believe no one was up there.
How did you decide to become a writer?
I entered writing through the back door, the picture door instead of the word door. When I was young, I wanted to be an artist. I drew all the time, often making up stories to illustrate. In the beginning I told myself the story in my head as I drew, but as I grew older I realized my stories were too long and complicated to tell in pictures. I needed words, too.
From the age of thirteen, I wanted to be an artist or a writer and sometimes thought of combining the two by becoming a writer and illustrator of children's books. However, life doesn't always go as you expect. It seems I write better than I draw, so that's what I dowhen I'm not drawing.
Where do you get your ideas?
It sounds like an easy question. but it isn't. Ideas come from everywherememories of my childhood, stories people tell me, things I see. All it takes is a good "What if" question to begin a story. Sometimes the hardest part is choosing one idea at a time. I have a head full of themsome work, some don't.
What were your favorite books when you were young?
When I was in fifth grade, my mother gave me Lassie Come Home, by Eric Knight. I loved that collie so much I read the book five times, still a record for me. It's a wonderful story and well worth reading.
Other favorites were the Moffat family books by Eleanor Estes, the Melendy family books by Elizabeth Enright, Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Montgomery, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, Kidnapped and Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry, and on and on and on. I loved dog stories, horse stories, adventure stories, mysteries, and funny stories about mischievous children. In fact, I read just about anything I could get my hands on.
Of all the books you've written, which is your favorite?
Stepping on the Cracks will always be my favorite because it comes straight from my own life (with a few changes of course).
Do you have any hobbies?
I spend many hours drawing and painting, but I don't consider it a hobby. To me, a hobby is something you do to pass the time, something that doesn't mean much to you. I'm fairly passionate about art and take it way too seriously to think of it as a hobby. I used to sew and make puppets and dolls but I never thought of that as a hobby. I read intensely, write intensely, paint intensely. I guess I just don't have time for hobbies.
Do you have any advice for young people who want to become writers?
The first thing is read read read and read some more. Most of what I know about writing comes from the books I've read.
Think of it this waywhile you read, you absorb plots, characterization, sentence structure, grammar. Your vocabulary grows. You learn to empathize with characters in books and subsequently with the people around you. And all of this learning is absolutely painless. You don't even know you're learning anything. You think you're just reading a good story, but your mind is soaking up the mechanics of writing.
Of course, you should also write as much and as often as you can. Write the kind of stories you love to readwithout copying anyone else's ideas, of course! Keep a journal but make it interesting. If nothing happens all day, skip that entry. Wait for the events you really want to remember. Keep your writing vivid by using as many of your senses as you can. How did it look, how did it sound, how did it smell, how did it taste, how did it feel?
Most of all, have fundon't worry if you can't finish something. Go on to your next idea, but save the unfinished story in case you think of what happens next.
Oh, you should also keep your eyes and ears open for ideas. Be observant. Ask yourself "what if" questions. Even though reading is important, you also need to get outside and do things. ♦
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