Author of the Month
Tony Abbott
[October 2008]
Chosen by reviewer Sarah Lomas , MyShelf.Com


Connecticut resident Tony Abbott is the author of many children's books, including Kringle, Firegirl, the very popular Secrets of Droon series and his newest book, The Postcard. After I started reading The Postcard I was instantly hooked. It is a great mystery, full of adventure, coming of age, a touch of romance and more. I couldn't turn the pages fast enough but was sad when it was over. I am currently reading Firegirl, a very different book than The Postcard, but a great storyteller can pull their readers in and take them anywhere and make the ride enjoyable. Tony Abbott is definitely a great storyteller.

Tony Abbott was an absolute pleasure to correspond with as he has graciously taken some time out from his writing to answer some questions for us.

 


Interview

Sarah Lomas: The Postcard has so many wonderful facets to it. As soon as I started it, it became an instant favorite. The book is so fast paced and fun to read you must have had a lot of fun writing it. How did you first get the idea for it?

Tony Abbott: You know, hearing responses over the months since the book's come out, I've come to believe that you either like The Postcard, you fall into its kooky world, or it leaves you cold and you don't finish it. I'm happy that you connected with it. Writing it was more fun than I could have imagined. For years now, I've been collecting what are called "linen" postcards from the 1930s and 40s. I first collected cards of southern California, for a book I've been writing on and off for a few years. This spread to cards of sites in the Southwest, and finally to Florida, specifically St. Petersburg, where my grandmother lived when I was growing up. The initial beginning of the story goes back to my imagining that some kind of clue might be hidden as a sort of message on one of these old cards, and, because it's so subtle, no one has found it for some 60 years or more. In other words, that a piece of undiscovered evidence of some crime (or situation) surfaces in your possession. That was the first impulse of what became The Postcard. I began to imagine the person who finds this postcard, the dramatic way he discovers the clue, and what he does with it. I saw the character of Jason. And the story started to come together.

Sarah: What drew you to set the story in Florida?

Tony: In 1958 my grandparents moved there from Ohio. The following year, my grandfather died, but my grandmother continued to live there, in a small house in St. Petersburg, for another twenty years. My mother, brother, and I visited her there a number of times over the years. Coming from Cleveland, I loved the heat, the exotic plants, the roadside attractions, the colors, the flatness, the heat, and the heat. Besides all that, Florida has an aura about it — old Florida, the orange groves, the pre-Disney inland, the everglades, the giant summer homes of the northern rich, the wild and quite recent history of the state. When I focused on a Florida card as the one holding the old clue, I knew I had the setting, both from my own experiences there over the years visiting Grandma, but also from the richness of its history and character. It had to be there. I should mention also that I've been to Florida a few times recently on school and festival visits as well as research trips, and I am left with this indelible connection between the state of Florida and the mystery novel. One of my alternate lives would be to live there and write Florida mystery and crime novels.

Sarah: With so much going on in this story, did you have an outline or did the characters surprise you as they moved along?

Tony: For the series writing I do, I outline fairly substantially. My editor wants to see it, and it helps me to see where I'm going. Novels like Firegirl and Kringle had very sketchy descriptions going into them as I didn't want to dull the writing by putting too much into what was not the story itself. It started that way with The Postcard, too. I had a basic shape. I knew some of the scenes quite well in my head. I knew most of the characters, and I began writing with that. This is how it's turning out with the novels: I want the power to go into the story. That said, however, The Postcard, while it's about a lot of things — love, responsibility, failure, obsession, family — it's core is a mystery. And the fact of there being two mysteries, one going from 1944 to 1959, and the other taking place in the present, made the line of the story very complex. It had to be worked out very carefully. The two separate but entwined timelines, the two different voices telling those stories, and the different characters sometimes taking part in both timelines, required a precisely devised plan. This was hellish. At some points, I threw up my hands and was sure that it could never work. One review actually called the older story "charming hooey," which I don't mind at all. I suppose it is. But it had to work, even if only within the novel. One thing that happened with the characters is that the sophisticated underpinnings of the story allowed them, and necessitated them, to resonate in ways that a simpler plot would not have. I'm happy about that.

Sarah: What is your favorite part of being a writer?

Tony: Over the years that I've been writing, I think I've developed a sense of going around in my world and the world at large with eyes, ears, mind, senses open to seeing stories, or Story, everywhere. All writers must have this, too. I like moving around as a receptor. Then, the other favorite part, is the doing. Sitting at my desk and creating with words. You don't think about an audience, or even a single reader, at this point. You are engaging with language and making something. Those two things give me the most joy in being a writer.

Sarah: What is the hardest part about being a writer?

Tony: Making the words do what you want them to do. The story is beautiful when it appears in your head. It's perfection. It works so subtly and unchallengeably as you turn it in the light of your mind. We all have this. But a writer is impelled to find words for the story. Why? He just does. He can't do otherwise. And so he scratches words onto the paper, trying to set this idea out for others to have as well. And there is the horror and humiliation of seeing that your words are only clumsy approximations of that iridescent first idea. That's the hardest part for me.

Sarah: How did you decide that you wanted to write for children?

Tony: I'd been writing for a long time after college. Lots of poetry. When I began to read books with my first daughter (she's now 22) I became familiar with the world of children's books as they were being published then. I felt a strong desire to write that kind of book. Picture books to start, then easy readers, then chapter books, then novels.

Sarah: Can you give us a taste of what you're working on now and when readers can expect to see it?

Tony: A new series comes out starting in January. It's called The Haunting of Derek Stone (Scholastic). It's an older middle-grade ghost story (of sorts), fairly dark, with some quirky bits of humor (I hope). The tag line for the series is: "Can the road to the afterlife be a two-way street?" I like that. The stories are written in a sort of Southern Gothic style, which I have always loved.

Sarah: What do you hope your readers will take from your work?

Tony: I suppose I'd want readers to come away from my stories thinking that they want to read other stories, anyone's stories. There is life between the covers of a book. I found that, even though I was not much of a reader. I would hope that readers sense the life that happens in a book, too, and feel that — with everything else in this world — stories are as important as anything else.

Sarah: Your books have very different subject matter, from Firegirl, a serious story about a young burn victim to the wildly popular Secrets of Droon fantasy series. How do you decide what to write about next?

Tony: Writers love to stretch, don't they? There are lots of sides to each of us, and we need to explore our different sides. My series writing is almost like having a full-time job, so I have to be particular about what novels I write because my time is so limited. That said, I'm writing a short, fairly serious novel now which I hope to finish by the spring of 2009. I don't know when it will appear, but I seem to be able to write one every two years.

Sarah: What career would you like to have if you weren't a writer?

Tony: I know next to nothing about it, but I think I could be very happy as a landscaper. Or an archaeologist.

 


 

Tony's books:

Links

 

 

Read Sarah's review of The Postcard
and Jan Fields' review of Firegirl
for Myshelf.com.

 

More about his books at Tony's
website.

 

 


2008's Honorary List

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