October 2004

Stephanie S. Tolan

Notes from the Author Ė October edition

Welcome to the October edition of Notes from the Author:  Letters, letters, letters.

This month Iíve decided to start something that should help my readers and myself as well.  Eventually, weíll make a separate page called FAQ Ė Frequently Asked Questions.  But for this month Iíll begin with three general questions that I get most often.  These questions usually come to me in e-mails and letters from kids who are working on book reports or author profiles for school.  Or kids may have been assigned to write a letter to an author to practice writing personal letters, and ask questions in order to get an answer.  Sometimes the questions come from kids who write to me on their own because they like a book of mine and want to know more about it or about me.

By the way Ė whether youíve been asked to write a letter as a school assignment, or whether you just decide to write to me on your own, please (if you want an answer) include a Self-Addressed-Stamped-Envelope (called a SASE).  This is important, and sometimes teachers who give a letter-writing assignment to their students forget to tell them to do that.  If your teacher forgets, please remind her or him to tell all the other kids to do it, too, no matter which author theyíre writing to. 

(And if youíre a teacher and you never realized how important this is, believe me, itís important.  We get lots and lots of letters -- and even more e-mail -- and itís difficult to keep up with it all.  E-mails are easier and faster, and require an investment only of time, not of stationery, envelope and postage, so when time gets short, itís the hard copy letters w/o SASEís that get attended to last, if at all.)

And for all of you, kids and teachers alike, hereís a suggestion.  Before you write either an e-mail or a letter with a question, be sure you canít find the answer here on my website somewhere.  There is a biography page and there are two interviews that were done with me some time ago that have a lot of information about me and about my writing process, and even about particular books.  Many kids ask me ďWhat other books have you written?Ē  All you need to do to find all of my titles is to click on Books and Plays and youíll see categories listed.  Click on a category, like Young Adult Novels and youíll find all the books Iíve written that fit that category.  If you want to know what awards Iíve won, click on Awards

Question:  When and where were you born?

Itís amazing to me how many students are told they have to have this information about an author for a book report or author profile.  Itís a fair question to ask in a letter, though, since the Biography page only gives the state I was born in (Ohio) and not the city or the date. 

Answer:  I was born in Canton, Ohio on October 25th, 1942.  The hospital I was born in, Mercy Hospital, doesnít exist any more, but Iíve been told (though Iíve never gone there to see it) that there is a library where it used to be!  I hope they have some of my books there.

Question:  Do you base your characters on real people or your stories on things that actually happened to you?

Answer:  Not exactly.  In Surviving the Applewhites, for instance, the family at the center of the book is a creative family; so is mine.  But nobody in the book is much like anyone in my family.  One of our sons talked nonstop when he was little (like Destiny), another was the only one in the family who needed to have everything organized (like E.D.), my husband and our youngest son are both theatre directors (like Randolph), and (like Sybil), Iím a writer.  But thatís about it. 

Jake, one of the main characters in that book, is almost entirely made up.  I read in the newspaper about a boy who got kicked out of the whole public school system in his state and that gave me the idea for Jake Ė but I donít know anything about the real boy, including what he had done to earn the distinction of being the first kid in history to be kicked out of all the schools in a state.  Imagination has a kind of magic to it, so characters partly create themselves as you write.

As for the stories Ė only one of my books (The Last of Eden) was ever even loosely based on anything specific in my life.  All the others are fully fictional.  They didnít happen to me!  Sometimes I base the setting on real places, though I generally change the names of towns or cities so that Iíll be free to imagine buildings and streets instead of having to make do with the ones that actually exist.  A well-written fiction feels real even when it isnít.  So it always makes me feel good when someone asks this question!

You might want to check out Interview Too to learn some interesting things about what parts of Welcome to the Ark are based on reality, though Ė since the publisher classifies that book as ďscience fiction,Ē you may be surprised at what parts of it are actually ďreal.Ē

Question:  Which of the books youíve written (or characters youíve created) is your favorite?

Answer:  I have great difficulty with the idea of ďfavorite,Ē whether itís about books or characters or food or friends.  When I go to get an ice cream cone itís hard for me to decide what flavor I want because I like so many Ė when I choose one (or two, if itís a double scoop cone) I feel a little sad that Iíve had to skip so many others that I like.  I like all of my books when Iím working on them, for different reasons.  And I like most of the characters as well.  Itís a lot easier to say which things I donít like than to choose a favorite among the things I do.  Iíd give a similar answer to the question about which are my favorite authors.  I love to read, and I love the works of lots and lots of different authors.  So I canít ever choose a ďfavorite.Ē

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