Elizabeth Atkinson’s quirky, heartfelt middle grade novels include FROM ALICE TO ZEN (Bank Street College’s Best Children’s Books), I, EMMA FREKE (starred School Library Journal review, Bank Street College’s Best Children’s Books, 2010 Gold Moonbeam Award, Honor Book Award by the Society of School Librarians International, the Rebecca Caudill Young Readers Award shortlist, Sunshine State Young Reader Award, and the Ado-Lisant prize in Belgium for the French Edition), THE SUGAR MOUNTAIN SNOWBALL (2016 Gold Moonbeam Award, 2016 Maine Literary Finalist, LitPick Top Choice Award), and THE ISLAND OF BEYOND (2017/2018 NYC READS 365 Book List, 2017 Maine Literary Award Finalist, National Council of Teachers of English 2017 Notable Book, New York Public Library’s 2016 Best Kids & Teen Books List).
FLY BACK, AGNES was released in March, 2020 and is already receiving great reviews, including many on Instagram (#flybackagnes), and was recently chosen for Travel & Leisure's "Ten Books Your Kids Will Love During Quarantine" list! Elizabeth has been an editor, a children’s librarian, an English teacher, and a newspaper columnist. Her passions — other than writing, reading, and keeping an eye out for fairies — include hiking, biking, snowshoeing, kayaking, traveling, and snooping around with her chocolate labradoodle, Obadiah. She divides her time between Newburyport, Massachusetts and Lovell, Maine.
EXTRA CREDIT INTERVIEW WITH ELIZABETH ATKINSON:
Joining LitPick today for an Extra Credit interview is Elizabeth Atkinson! Elizabeth is the middle grade author of From Alice to Zen and Everyone In Between, I, Emma Freke, and The Sugar Mountain Snow Ball. Her newest book, The Island of Beyond, was released in April.
While in college, Elizabeth spent a semester abroad in Sri Lanka. She later became certified as an ESL instructor and taught over 100 students in Hangzhou, China.
Do you have a solid outline before writing, or do you usually get ideas as you go along?
A little of both! I begin with an outline, mostly to get the ideas flowing. Often the original themes and main characters and setting are still there at the end, but the story has changed completely. I rewrite the outline as I go along until I get about halfway through the rough draft and start to cook – and then I don’t look back or check an outline.
Has someone you know ever appeared as a character in a book (consciously or subconsciously)?
Pieces of people I know appear in my books all the time, and some pieces are bigger than others. But more often than not, they’re people I barely know, such as a friendly cashier at the grocery, or a quiet man in the waiting room at the dentist office, or a child walking to school.
I think people assume novelists use real events and people in their fiction most of the time – but, in fact, the opposite is usually true. Fiction frees us to invent what we haven’t experienced… and travel to the unknown.
What do you do when you get writer's block?
My best advice is to get up, walk straight out the door, and have a talk with yourself – a walk & talk. I review the blocked section out loud and ask myself questions and usually work (and walk) my way through it. Writer’s block often occurs because whatever you’re writing isn’t working. It’s important to remain flexible and change course if the story feels really blocked.
If you could live in a book's world, which would you choose?
Great question, but a tough one! Nothing instantly springs to mind, although it would have to take place in a rural and naturally beautiful setting… free and unpretentious, like Anne of Green Gables or a Natalie Babbitt novel.
What is your favorite book-to-movie adaptation?
I recently watched the film adaptation of The Watsons Go to Birmingham, and I thought the screenwriters did an excellent job of capturing the essence of the book. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a favorite, and Rear Window (by one of my grad school profs, John Michael Hayes) was a brilliant adaptation of a great short story.
If you could have lunch with one other author (dead or alive!), who would it be?
So hard to choose, but my first thought is either Jhumpa Lahiri or Louisa May Alcott, for very different reasons.
Wild Card Question: You enjoy traveling. Do you think it’s important for people to travel, and why or why not?
Absolutely. It’s so important to travel outside yourself and your small world in order to reinvent your perspective. It will make you a happier, more tolerant and productive citizen of the world.
Thank you for such thoughtful questions! If anyone wants to contact me directly or find out more about my Author Visits (including free Skyping with schools and book clubs), please visit my website www.elizabethatkinson.com
Elizabeth, we’ve enjoyed getting to know you better. Thank you for returning for an Extra Credit interview!
SIX MINUTES WITH ELIZABETH ATKINSON:
Today, author Elizabeth Atkinson joins LitPick for Six Minutes with an Author! Elizabeth is the author of The Sugar Mountain Snow Ball, I, Emma Freke, and From Alice to Zen and Everyone in Between. Her new book, The Island of Beyond is due out in 2016.
Elizabeth’s life was changed by a summer abroad in Campos, Brazil and a summer abroad in Sri Lanka. This East Coast native enjoys traveling and being outdoors. She and her husband are the proud parents of two grown children, and have one Doodle.
How did you get started writing?
As soon as I figured out how to write, I began expressing myself (frequently & dramatically) through secret notes and homemade birthday cards and poems. If you’re wondering how I ended up writing my first book, I entered a contest sponsored by Delacorte Press for unpublished middle grade novelists. Even though I didn’t win anything, or ever publish that book, I still consider it my first major break… and if anyone wants to know why, I’m happy to visit and/or skype with classrooms (book clubs, library groups) and tell that story!
Who influenced you?
My greatest influences have always been other authors, particularly Judy Blume when I was growing up and feeling tiny, invisible and utterly talentless. Judy’s characters were the first “people” who understood how I felt. Over the years I’ve been fortunate to have many mentors – from my Anthropology advisor at college to my first boss in publishing, (editor extraordinaire) Ann Redpath - who have taught me the craft and power of a well-told story. And my mom has always been my biggest supporter, pushing me to keep writing.
Do you have a favorite book/subject/character/setting?
Tuck Everlasting - all of Natalie Babbitt's stories resonate with me like no other middle grade novels. I named my cottage and writing retreat, Treegap.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to be an author?
If possible, get a job or internship in publishing. So many writers have little to no understanding of the industry. Also, write and read anything and everything to help hone your voice. I’ve written travel brochures, newspaper columns, pen pal marketing materials, short stories, magazine articles, screenplays, newsletters, and on and on. And finally, find readers (and experts) whose opinions you value, and learn from their critiques.
Where is your favorite place to write?
On my porch at Treegap, my cottage in the woods of Maine. When it’s too cold on the porch, I love writing on the cozy couch by the fire. Feet up. I can’t work at a desk.
What else would you like to tell us?
My favorite part of writing a book, other than finishing a book, is visiting schools! In fact, I like it so much I offer a complimentary Q&A session via Skype or in person. Lots of information about my school visits can be found on my website - elizabethatkinson.com
Oh, and my last bit of advice… get a dog. As a writer, it’s so easy to spend an entire day inside your house and your head! Not only do dogs make lovely companions, but they need walks no matter the weather – and so do we.