Interview by Michelle Lynn
An Interview with Elizabeth Woodrum
Hi Elizabeth! Welcome to YAAR. First things first, can you tell me about your books.
I write a children’s mystery series called The Maisy Files. There are currently three books in the series. The main character is the fourth-grade detective, Maisy Sawyer. She is a bit unlike her peers because she enjoys old-fashioned mystery movies and envisions herself to be in a black and white world when solving her cases.
I’ve read all three of your books and can say honestly that you’ve written a fantastic crop of young characters. Who’s your favorite?
While I adore Maisy, her friend Veronica is my favorite. She is starting to want to help Maisy with some of her cases, but she’s not always very stealthy while she is working with Maisy. Plus, she and I share a deep love of chocolate.
Maisy is an absolutely adorable kid. Precocious and sweet all at the same time. Is she based on someone in real life?
I wouldn’t say that she is based on a particular person. But, I taught fourth-grade for a decade. I would say she’s a bit of a mixture of a variety of kids I’ve worked with over the years in terms of her personality.
So, you write mystery, but for the younger crowd. How do you balance the intrigue of this genre with the constraints of your demographic? Basically, it can’t be too scary, but it still has to be mysterious, right?
This is where I believe being a teacher has been very helpful. The stories can’t be too scary, but they have to grab kids’ attention. Most readers in my target audience respond just as well to the tension created by curiosity as they do by something scary. I write with my “teacher hat” on and make sure what I’m writing is something that I, as a teacher, would be comfortable reading aloud to a class. I’ve found that mini-cliffhangers seem to be the best approach to keeping kids turning pages.
The younger the reader, the more difficult it is to write a story that holds their interest. What made you want to tackle this challenge rather than an adult mystery series that would be able to follow a more standard formula?
Again, I think that teaching kids of this age for so long made me feel like this would actually be easier than writing for adult readers. I know this age of student very well. The experience I had teaching that age group gave me plenty of realistic scenarios that I can incorporate into my books to make them relatable.
Were there alternate endings that you considered?
I don’t believe I’ve ever had an alternate ending in mind. I usually start with a general outline of what will happen at the main points in the book. But, the specific details work themselves out in the writing process.
Are there other authors who’ve inspired you to write?
JK Rowling and Nicholas Sparks are my two favorite authors. They write very different genres, but I find that reading or rereading their work makes me what to get writing.
What age were you when you started writing?
I’ve enjoyed writing since I was in elementary school myself. I can’t say that I really remember a specific time when I started. I haven’t always sat down to write creatively, but writing has always come easily for me.
The dreaded writer’s block. It’s hard to avoid it. Have you experienced it?
I do. I find that it’s best to take some time off and toy with ideas for a while before trying to get back at it. I’ve had horrible results when I try to just push through it. I’ve ended up throwing everything out on more than one occasion.
Do you work with an outline, or just write?
I have a very broad outline. I know the main case Maisy will encounter and I know “whodunit.” I plan out a few main events along the way. But, overall, I do better when I just sit and write. I usually stay close to the main outline, but the minor details change a lot as I go.
When we write, our characters become our friends, our family because we spend so much time with them. Do you ever get sad when you realize that the characters that you’ve created aren’t real?
I do wish Maisy were real! I bet she’d be a real treat to have in class.
Here’s a fun one for you – If you were a super hero, what would your super power be?
I would be able to stop time. I never have enough to get everything I need to done!
If you could have any accent from anywhere in the world, what would you choose?
I like both British and Australian accents.
Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
I decide to self-publish. So, most of the challenges were just making sure I knew enough about the process to put out a good book that was worthwhile for people to read.
If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you would change?
I probably would have given myself more time to spread things out. After I finished the book, I set up my website, mailing list, Facebook page, Twitter, virtual book tours and many other things. It was all so crammed together that it was very stressful.
Can you tell us about your upcoming book?
I don’t have very many details yet, or even a working title. But, I believe it will deal with the theft of food from Maisy’s school cafeteria. I think this one may tug at the heartstrings a little more than the previous books.
Criticism is a very real and very hard part of being an author. How do you deal with it?
I go back and read really great reviews or view messages I’ve received from readers who enjoyed my work.
Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?
Take the time to learn how to write correctly. Then, take a creative writing course to learn how to best structure a longer writing piece. A lot of people have great ideas, but putting them together is the hardest part.
Do you have any strange writing habits?
I don’t know that I’d call them strange. But, I do tend to write in my pajamas with a cup of hot chocolate.
And lastly, to all the YAAR readers and aspiring writers out there – how important do you think reading is to your writing?
I think reading is vital to writing. Reading great stories that catch my attention helps me be more creative. Also, the more I write, the more I am able to pick apart a story I’m reading and notice the way the author structured it. It helps me get ideas and it helps me identify strategies I don’t want to use, particularly if something I read has some sort of flaw that pulls me out of it as a reader.
Thanks for talking to us Elizabeth!
Don’t forget to check out the adorable Maisy Files series. You won’t regret it!
Praise for the Maisy Files:
“This is definitely a must read for the young reader you are trying to interest in the world of fiction. It’s written in a way that it never gets boring and it’s short enough to keep the interest of even the most reluctant reader.”
“I loved how Elizabeth Woodrum wrote this story. She made it clever and whimsical without being condescending.”
“Even though the book was short, as it was written for a younger age range, the characters were developed well, the plot was completely satisfied by the end of the story, and the mystery was well-constructed.”