1. If you had not become a writer what do you think you would be doing for a living?
I would love to be a teacher - or a children's librarian - something that combines kids, learning and lots and lots of books!
2. Who were some of your biggest supporters and contributors to your early success?
My husband was always willing to read my work - and he always laughed in all the right places. I have a good friend and neighbor who is a successful young adult author who showed me the ropes and helped me believe I really could write a book someone would actually want to read. And my kids. They were very young when I started writing, but have always been so excited about and proud of the fact that their mommy is an author!
3. Which books or authors had the greatest impact on your work?
Beverly Cleary's books are the first ones I remember devouring as a child. I was so excited about the characters and the stories and thrilled to keep reading about Ramona and Ellen Tebbits and all her wonderful characters. My love of writing about families and friendship and real life can likely be traced to my early - and everlasting - love and admiration for Beverly Cleary's books.
4. What were some of your favorite authors in your teen years who helped shape you?
As a young teen, I read a lot of classics as well as contemporary realistic fiction. I loved anything by Paula Danziger and read and re-read Little Women and anything else by Louisa May Alcott. I also discovered and adored the works of Jane Austen.
5. When did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you nurture that dream?
Being a writer was a long-held dream. It was always a someday thing until I had my third child and found myself turning 40 with three kids under 3 ½. I decided that was as good a time as any to dust off the old dream and give it a try. The most important thing I did - and continue to do - to nurture my work as a writer was to read. Read, read, and read. The two most important things I do to continue to grow as a writer are simply to read and write. Learning from what touches me and inspires me as a reader is as important as regularly sitting down and getting words onto the page.
6. What does your writing process look like? Takes us through the steps from idea to publishing?
My writing process is a little disorganized. I get an idea - typically a character - and find myself inspired. I sit down and start to write - no outline, little to no written notes. I just write and see where the story takes me. This makes for some fun and interesting surprises as well as some long and complicated revisions and edits. I usually share a completed draft with a couple trusted writer friends and use their feedback and my own to revise and edit. Revising and editing can take a good while. Then it's off to either a list of potential literary agents or to my editor at Pauline Media and hopefully, after what seems like a very long time but is actually a little more than a year, I have a book in my hands I can share with others.
7. Do you use a playlist when writing? Are certain books written while predominantly listing to the same music?
I am not someone who uses music to write - sometimes I'll have music on in the background, but it is not part of my process and does not impact my stories.
8. What current projects are you working on or are in the back burner in some stage of development?
I have two projects I am working on. One is in a similar vein to what I have already had published - realistic middle grade fiction - but it pulls at the heartstrings a bit more than my other works. I love this character and his story and hope to finish it over the next few months. The other project is a bit of a departure as it includes some fairy tale-like elements and would be considered a bit of a fantasy. At its core, however, are themes of family, friendship and self-acceptance - so not so different from my other works after all.
9. One of the greatest strengths in your books are the characters, they are so solid and believable. The characters you create, are they reflections of people you know, composites of different people you know or entirely your creations?
Characters come to me as they are - very nearly fully fleshed out and all their own. They are simply themselves. Some minor characters may be influenced by people in my life - past or present - but most of my characters simply arrive in my imagination and introduce themselves as they are.
10. Which of your characters is your favorite and why?
This is a hard question!
I simply love and adore Gabe Carpenter from a.k.a. Genius and Genius Under Construction. He's so awkward and confused and wonderful. I would have to say Gabe's grandfather is probably the person I most wish I had in my own life. To have someone support and accept and encourage you is a true gift. Gabe was lucky to have him.
11. I once heard Madeleine L'Engle state that her characters were real to her and almost an extended part of her family, she said once that at the dinner table she sat up and stated "Meg just finished her PhD." Are your characters real to you, do you ever get glimpses of what they are up to now, or once you finish a book is that it?
My characters are very real to me. When I'm writing, I genuinely worry about them when things aren't going well and it can be painful to write scenes that are difficult for my characters. During my writing process and long after, I find myself talking about them as if they are real people. And to me, and hopefully too many of my readers, in their own way they are.
12. Do you think we will see Gabe and his friends again in another story?
Never say never. I'm not working on anything right now, but I would like to take Gabe and his friends through 8th grade graduation.
13. Your books are also marketed mainly to teen and youth and yet I have read them and recommended them too many adult friends who loved them. You also appear to have a large adult audience. Do you see yourself writing a book aimed at the general fiction audience?
I really don't. I write for the middle grade audience because that is what feels natural and real to me. I love kids. And I have loved reading my entire life. I think books can have a tremendous and long-lasting impact on kids in a way that writing for the adult market cannot.
14. What are some of your favorite contemporary religious authors to read?
I like to read books by some of my favorite Catholic moms - Lisa Hendey, Danielle Bean and Sarah Reinhard are some of my favorites. And I enjoy reading the Time Travelers series with my kids by Sr. Maria Grace Dateno.
15. Completely off topic but what TV shows or movies do you enjoy?
My husband and I loved watching the first season of This is Us and can't wait to see more. I don't watch a lot of television, but when I do it's usually something on the Food Network or HGTV.
16. If you were stuck on a desert island and could only have 10 books to read again and again, what books would you want with you?
17. What advice would you give to young aspiring authors and artists particularly those looking to have their art reflect their faith?
Write authentically and from the heart. Don't have an agenda or try to teach your readers a lesson. Make their faith a part of who your characters are and the rest will follow. And always, always, read. Read to learn and to enjoy. Just read.
Marilee thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. It is great to get to know a bit more about you and your writing process. If you have not read any books by Marilee I highly recommend them, and hope this interview entices you to give them a try. If you have read her books, like me I am sure you are eagerly anticipating new releases to come.
Books by Marilee Haynes:
Genius Under Construction
Pictures of Me
Author profile and interview with Marilee Haynes.