Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to host Ann Haywood Leal in our Author Spotlight blog today! Ann is a children’s book author and will be one of our guests at our Carnival of Children’s Authors & Illustrators on April 11th!
Thank you so much for joining us, Ann! Can you please tell us a little about yourself and your writing?
I come from a long line of musicians, artists, and teachers. Since I’ve never been able to carry a tune, I was always given plenty of writing supplies and allowed to use the sharp scissors. Eventually, I put those writing supplies to good use and wrote my middle-grade novels, ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER and A FINDERS-KEEPERS PLACE.
My hobbies are reading, biking, running. I love them all, but the only one of those that I am truly any good at is the reading one.
I write for a middle-grade audience, but I teach first grade in Waterford, Connecticut. I have two daughters, two cats, and one husband.
In ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER, Harper Lee Morgan is an aspiring poet, named after her mama’s favorite writer, Harper Lee. When Daddy walks out, leaving them broke and eventually evicted from their home, life gives her a lot to write about.
With Mama scrambling to find work, Harper has to skip school to care for her little brother, Hemingway. Their lives have been turned upside down, which Harper could just about handle—if it wasn’t for the writing contest at school. Harper wants desperately to get back to school and read her poems out loud.
In A FINDERS-KEEPERS PLACE , Esther has been trying to keep things together for as long as she can remember. Her mama has always gotten Esther and her younger sister, Ruth, caught up in her outrageous ideas. But Mama’s notions are getting wilder, and too many people are asking questions about what’s going on at home. It seems to Esther that the only person who can help is Ezekiel—the father she can barely remember. So Esther and Ruth take off to track him down. Somebody, somewhere, must know how to lead them to Ezekiel . . .
What was the inspiration for some of your work? What were the steps you took to bring it from initial inspiration to the finished book?
ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER is about a real life situation; Harper brings hope to the stark reality of homelessness.
I have volunteered at my local soup kitchen for the last several years. Harper is a fictitious character, but some of who she is came from how I felt when I saw the faces of the children who stand in line with their families. I often get inspiration for my work when I am out on a run or a bike ride. One day I was out for a jog when I saw an old house with signs indicating that it was being slated for demolition. I immediately began playing the “What if” game with myself. What if a child lived there? And what if instead of having the house torn down, the family was being evicted? This became the beginnings of Harper’s story.
In A FINDERS-KEEPERS PLACE, I was actually out taking pictures for a completely different story idea. I love anything that is broken down or decrepit, because I always wonder about the stories behind the setting. What happened there? Who lived there, and what happened to them? I had heard that my town was tearing down an old bowling alley. I went out to snap a few pictures before the demolition. What I ended up seeing was a clothing donation bin with a sign that said NO DUMPING. On the ground right next to the bin, it looked like someone had dumped their entire apartment. There were overflowing piles of furniture, clothing, even schoolbooks and a Bible. It made me think about how a child’s prospective might be different. An adult might think of it as a junk pile, but a child might see it as treasure and possibilities. This became Esther’s vacant lot in A FINDERS-KEEPERS PLACE.
What piece of advice would you want to share with other writers?
Sometimes we tend to get bogged down in the trials and tribulations of the publishing process. If you have something you love, a story about which you are passionate, never give up on it. Also, look for the hope and humor in all situations, and that includes your writing.
While you’re writing, do you prefer music, silence, other? Please elaborate!
I love music. I listen to a little bit of everything, but jazz is my absolute favorite. My dad has one of the most extensive music collections of anyone I know, and he always had something wonderful on the stereo as I was growing up. He plays the saxophone and his parents (my grandparents) had a vaudeville act in the twenties called “Haywood’s Hawaiian Players”.
I don’t usually listen to music when I write, because I end up getting distracted from my writing and paying more attention to the story in the music!
What does your writing space look like? What do you need to have around you while writing or editing?
In the balmy New England Winter, I write inside in a journal or on my laptop. I have a bookcase next to me with all of my favorite books from my childhood collection. I have a vintage Nancy Drew Collection, old library editions of ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT’S ME, MARGARET and CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. I also have a set of hardcover Dick and Jane readers.
In the Summer, I sometimes write up in my treehouse! You have to enter via rope ladder and through a trap door in the floor! I sometimes write on my back porch with my cats staring me down through the window .
Writers very often have furry or feathered or otherwise non-human companions to “help” them through their work. Do you? What do you have? How do they “help” (or, “not-help”) with your writing?
I have two cats: Boo Radley and Charlie Bucket. I would have loved to answer the rest of this question, but Boo Radley kept trying to walk across my computer keys. He just typed “2qq”. Anyone know what that means? Should I be worried?
Where can people find your work? (Besides ABSW ;)–though they should totally check here first!)
People can find my work in libraries and bookstores . . . you can find links for purchase on my website: http://www.annhaywoodleal.com
How can we follow your work, share your awesomeness, or otherwise stalk you in a totally non-creepy way?
Thanks! I’ll take any non-creepy stalkers I can get! You can find me at:
I also contribute to a group blog of middle-grade authors: http://www.smack-dab-in-the-middle.blogspot.com
Thank you, again, for joining us, Ann! We look forward to having you at our Carnival of Children’s Book Authors & Illustrators on April 11th!