Heather Vogel Frederick
Q: Where do you get your ideas?
  Heather Vogel Frederick

Just kidding! This is the #1 question all writers are asked, and the real answer is—absolutely everywhere. Writers have a different set of radar than the rest of the world. At some level, we’re always scouting for story ideas. We overhear things (I’m a shameless eavesdropper), see things, read things, experience things, smell things, remember things, gather things and file them all away for future use. I have notebooks filled with interesting names, snippets of conversation, random images, and so on. It’s all grist for the mill.

(By the way, I actually did get an idea at Target once—in the men’s underwear section! It was right around Valentine’s Day, and there was a huge display of heart-covered boxer shorts. It occurred to me that a pair of those would likely be the most embarrassing thing in the world for a fifth grader to be caught wearing, and so I put them on one of the class bullies in Spy Mice: The Black Paw. You’ll have to read the story if you want to find out what happened to him…)

Q: Will there be more Mother-Daughter Book Club books?
A: The seventh and final book in the series is underway! Publication date will be announced shortly.
Q: Have you always wanted to be a writer?
A: Yes. I fell under the spell of the written word early, when my father read aloud to my sisters and me every night before bed. Ever since I was old enough to understand that books didn’t just appear on library and bookstore shelves, but that real live people wrote them, I’ve thought, “That’s the job for me.”
Q: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
A: A librarian or bookseller, most likely. I can’t imagine a life that didn’t have something to do with books. I briefly considered being an Egyptologist—I grew up in New England, and Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts has a mummy exhibit that fascinated me when I was young, plus I loved Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s book The Egypt Game. I was also fascinated with all the spy shows on TV at that time—Mission: Impossible, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., I Spy, and my favorites, The Avengers and Get Smart. And of course there were all the James Bond movies to boot. Espionage seemed so glamorous to me back then. Alas, adolescent me wasn’t very glamorous (and I have the pictures to prove it), so becoming a spy was quickly crossed off the list.
Q: Do you have any pets?
A: Yes! Our Shetland Sheepdogs, Bonnie and Billie, have us wrapped around their furry little paws. You can read a story about how we got Bonnie by clicking here.
We used to have three chickens, too, but they’ve retired. You can read a funny story about Pixie, our littlest chicken, by clicking here.
Q: What are your interests and hobbies?
A: As you’ve probably already guessed, my favorite pastime is curling up with a good book. I love spending time outdoors too, though. I walk our dogs whenever I need a break during the day, and I love hiking and camping. Swimming is my favorite form of exercise, and you can often find me at the local pool, doing laps. Let’s see, what else? I love to garden, and I grow roses, but only the old-fashioned heirloom kind that smell fabulous. Why would anyone grow roses that don’t smell like roses? I also love to cook. Every week, I make bread from scratch—something I’ve done ever since my grandmother taught me how when I was 12—and every summer, I go berry picking and make enough jam to last us the rest of the year. Homemade toast and jam—nothing beats that!
Q: What’s your writing process like?
My office, clean and orderly
I am a morning person, and a typical day for me starts early. Sometimes as early as four or five a.m., if I have a story percolating and the ideas are flying thick and fast. I like to have some quiet time first thing, then eat breakfast (see toast and jam mentioned previously) and walk the dogs. I’m generally at my desk by eight or nine, and I write until lunchtime. I’m easily distracted, so I turn the ringer on the phone off and try not to peek at email. (Mostly I’m successful at this, but not always.)   

If the writing is going well, or if I’m on deadline, I’ll continue writing in the afternoon. Otherwise, that’s when I catch up on the business side of my job: research, answering emails, talking with one of my editors or my agent, meeting with fellow writers for shop talk, filing, reading, working on my blog, that sort of thing.

My office, as a deadline approaches

I almost always work in my office at home, sitting in a comfortable old armchair. I rarely sit at my desk.  Once in a while I’ll head for a coffee shop for a change of pace, and in the summer when the weather is nice, I often work in the back yard under our cherry tree.

First drafts are the hardest for me. I’d rather do just about anything than write a first draft, and I have to be quite stern with myself so I stay put in my chair. Once I have something—anything!—down on paper, things start to pick up speed. I absolutely love to revise. I like having something to work with, something I can take apart, rearrange, and polish. The very best part of the writing process for me is when the words are flowing so well that I completely lose track of time. I fall into the slipstream of the story and feel as if I’m actually there, living it as I write. It's magical.

Q: What do you do when you get stuck?
A: Ah yes, writer’s block. It happens to us all. To be honest, I simply don’t put up with it. I’ve been writing for a living one way or another for over 25 years now, so writing is my job. I wouldn’t get cashier’s block if I was a checkout clerk in a grocery store, would I? So I refuse to succumb to writer’s block. It may rear its head occasionally, but I’ve found ways to pull the wool over its eyes—I’ll take the dogs for a walk, maybe, or do the dishes. Scratch around in the garden. Bake something. Busying the hands often frees the mind to work out whatever snarls have arisen. If nothing else works, I’ll skip to a different part of the story and tinker with that instead. Just something to keep the wheels turning. If I’m persistent, eventually the logjam breaks and things start to flow again.
Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
A: Read.  Write.  Read some more.  Write some more.  Repeat.

There are no shortcuts. Just as it takes time for, say, a dancer to be ready for the stage, or for a lawyer to be ready to argue a case in court, or for a violinist to play with the symphony, so it takes time to grow a writer. Hours and days and weeks and months and often years go into growing a writer. Be patient. Persist. Have faith in yourself.

Don’t worry if you stumble and fumble around, or if some of the things that you write go nowhere but the trash. That’s OK. I don’t know about you, but I learn best from my mistakes. Thomas Edison once said, “I have not failed … I have successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.” Becoming a writer is a lifetime’s commitment, really. It takes humility, and perseverance, and a hunger for and love of the work itself that keeps you moving forward when all else fails.

Keep a notebook handy. You never know when inspiration will strike, and it’s good to have a notebook nearby to jot ideas down, otherwise they tend to vanish. (Trust me, I speak from experience.) I stash them about liberally—in pockets, glove compartments, backpacks, purses, junk drawers.

Above all, have fun. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to get something published right away. Just relish the process and allow yourself the time you need to grow as a writer. If writing isn’t a joy, you’ll be tempted to set it aside. Keep it a joy.
Q: How can I get published?
A: Polish your manuscript until it glows. Read the Writer’s Market (or Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market), which is updated annually with valuable information about the publishing business and the submission process. Attend writing conferences to learn the ropes, gain inspiration and encouragement, network, have your story critiqued, meet agents and editors, and more.

If you write for young readers, check out the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Editors—they offer national conferences as well as regional conferences in just about every corner of the United States and in many parts of the world. If you write for adults, google “writing conferences” to see what’s available near you. Here in Oregon, for instance, Willamette Writers offers a wonderful conference each summer with workshops on just about every aspect of the craft and the business.

Q: Will you read my story if I send it to you?
A: Alas, I just don’t have time. I can barely keep up with all my own deadlines these days. I’ll cheer you on from afar, though!
Q: Can you autograph my book?
A: Absolutely. If it doesn’t look like I’ll be appearing at a bookstore near you anytime soon, you can send me your book along with a mailer with return postage on it, and I’ll be happy to sign it for you and send it back.

An autographed bookplate is another option—if you’d like one of these, send me an SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope), tell me which book you want it for, and I’ll sign the appropriate one and pop it back in the mail to you. Here’s my address:

Heather Vogel Frederick, P.O. Box 67442, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467

Q. Will you donate an autographed book for our fund-raiser?
A. There are so many worthy causes I’d love to support, but unfortunately, I get so many requests for donations that I simply can’t accommodate everyone. What you may not realize is that authors receive a limited number of copies of their own books, and after those have run out we have to buy them just like everybody else. By the time I’ve shared my author copies with family and friends, I rarely have any left over for donations.

I’m always happy to autograph books for your fund-raiser, though, or send along signed bookplates. See the instructions in the question above if this option is of interest.

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