Writing in a world all of her own

The Baltimore Sun

Mary Downing Hahn hated writing as a child, mostly because of the type of writing she was required to do for school -- reports.

"I liked using my imagination and making things up," she told a group of parents and children at the Mount Airy library branch. "And I liked to read, especially made up stories."

She also liked to draw, and her first stories, written as a preteen, were illustrated stories, several of which she displayed.

Her early stories were fantasies.

As a tall, thin girl whose dance partner in gym class was often the shortest boy, "in the ideal world, I would be a short girl smiling up at a tall, cute boy," she said.

And that's the good thing about writing.

"If there are things in your life you're not happy with, you can write a story where things are what you want them to be," she said. "But you have to be convincing."

Hahn, 69, didn't write her first book until 1976. It took three years and four rejections, before she found an interested publisher. Then she had to rewrite the book seven times before it made it into print.

Since then, she has written 24 books, many of them multiple award winners and is working on a new book for next year.

One disappointment in her career is that Hahn, who still loves to draw, is not allowed to do her book covers. She can only hope the cover resembles the story and its characters.

A recent gaff taught her a lesson -- if you're not sure of something, look it up. In her newest book, Deep and Dark and Dangerous, she has the characters playing Candy Land -- with dice. The game is played with cards.

"I didn't catch it, my editor, who isn't married and doesn't have children, so he wouldn't know, didn't catch it, and I'm kind of mad at the copy editor who did not catch it," she said.

After her talk Thursday afternoon, Hahn took questions and offered a few tips for children who said they wanted to be a writer. Hahn, who said she writes as she goes along, as opposed to a planned outline, told the youngsters to find the style that best suits them.

"My biggest piece of advice is to read," she said. "Keep your eyes and ears open, and keep your mind open -- you never know what kind of idea will probably make a good story."

After the talk, the library held a drawing for one of Hahn's books. Nicholas Peterson, 7, won Wait Till Helen Comes. He and his twin brothers, Brian and Jonathan, 9, all were familiar with Hahn's work and said they liked meeting her and getting a signed bookplate. All three said they wanted to be writers.

Teresa Eade, 11, said she wanted to read Hahn's books after hearing her talk. Her sister, Kimberly, 8, said she had read one of Hahn's books.

Hahn's visit was the second of seven author visits scheduled at three library branches this summer as part of the Summer Reading Program.

Sandy Litsinger, children's services supervisor at Mount Airy, said she had heard Hahn talk and was impressed with the popular children's author.

The librarians at the five branches pool their resources and ideas to search for authors through Web sites, organizations they know about, and booking agents, reading their books and hearing them speak.

They try to find authors popular with readers of different ages, but who also are within traveling distance, , Litsinger said.

"I wanted to get another author that people would respond to, particularly for teens, to bring teens into the library," Litsinger said. "So Annette Curtis Klause will speak on July 10. She lives in Hyattsville. Both [Hahn and Klause] write books that are very popular within the age group they are intended for, and I'm really excited to have them come."

Kris Peters, the adult services supervisor at the North Carroll branch, booked three authors, with the help of additional funding from a Wal-Mart Foundation grant.

Coming to North Carroll are Suzanne Fisher Staples on Tuesday, Melissa Wyatt on July 11, and Jeff Stone on Aug. 2. All programs are at 2 p.m.

"I'm really looking forward to Staples because of her background," Peters said. "A lot of her books take place where she was a correspondent, in Pakistan and India. Her books sometimes talk about things we don't know about, it's a completely different culture."

Staples was a United Press International correspondent in Asia before writing books. Her book, Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind, is a Newbery Medal winner.

Another program will feature TJ Perkins discussing "Want To Be An Author?" at 2 p.m. July 21 at the Eldersburg branch. She will offer insight on publishing options and talk about her books.


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