Mary Ann Fraser is the author/illustrator of over sixty books, fiction and non-fiction, for children of all ages, including TEN MILE DAY (Henry Holt), HEEBIE-JEEBIE JAMBOREE (Boyds Mills Press), and WHERE ARE THE NIGHT ANIMALS (HarperCollins). Her newest picture book just out with Peter Pauper Press is NO YETI YET. A Junior Library Guild Selection, SLJ Best Book of the Year, Book Links Book of the Year, IRA Young Readers Choice Award, and American Booksellers “Pick of the List” count among her honors. When she is not “Cooking Up” stories, she is visiting schools, volunteering for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, or painting a mural somewhere in or around Simi Valley.
I had the pleasure of sitting next to Mary Ann at a children’s book art exhibit book signing in Escondido, CA.
For what age audience do you write?
Tell us about your latest book. NO YETI YET is the story of two brothers who venture out into the snow in search of a yeti, unaware that one is following them.
Henry: It’s a great book. And I’m not biased, even though I too have written a picture book about yetis. They seem to be a thing now, like zombies.
What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?
Readers will enjoy being in on the joke, as roles reverse and a friendship is formed.
Henry: I enjoyed how the art shows the characters aren’t aware of everything going on. Reminded me of Klassen’s terrific THIS IS NOT MY HAT.
What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?
Perhaps the biggest challenge is that no two projects are the same. Each requires its own form of nurturing.
Henry: Not only is that the biggest challenge, it’s one of the best things about writing picture books!
What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?
You shouldn’t hold onto first ideas too tightly. They need freedom to grow and evolve, and to do that requires play.
Henry: Murder your darlings. I had trolls and vampires in my yeti story that I had to put a stake through.
What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?
When researching, I often have the opportunity to go behind the scene, and see places and documents not generally available to the public. I also get to speak to people who are authorities in their areas of interest. For example, personnel at the Golden Spike Historic site took me for a ride along the remnants of the Central Pacific Railroad’s grade and shared documents seldom seen by the public.
Henry: Plus, writing NO YETI YET means your vacation, excuse me “research”, trip to the Himalayas is a tax deduction…
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Decide early on whether this is going to be a hobby or a career. If a career, then take the time to develop your craft. Writing (and illustrating) a picture book is like assembling a complicated puzzle where every piece must fit exactly right to form a satisfying story vision. It is not as easy as it appears. Take writing courses, join a critique group, be open to criticism, and accept that rejection is a vital part of the process.
Henry: All very good advice. Either way, don’t quit your day job. If you like to eat, that is.
What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?
The yeti. I love the idea that there might be a creature out there that has somehow avoided capture. It begs the idea, what if? And isn’t that what writing is all about?
Henry: Gosh, I did NOT see that coming.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I do a lot of painting–on walls, on canvas, on crafts. Gardening is my therapy. There’s nothing like playing in the dirt to get myself regrounded in what’s important. Also, I used to play the hammered dulcimer. Recently I have picked it up again. I love that it requires muscle memory and forces me to get out of my head and just let the music happen. Strangely, I have found that when I have confidence and trust in my hands, the notes come. Hmmm, I think there’s a lesson there.
Henry: I trust these are YOUR walls that you paint on… The hammered dulcimer is a VERY cool instrument. Check out this video.
Where can readers learn more about you and your books?
Henry: Thanks for spending time with us, Mary Ann. This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.