Greetings from Nowhere with Barbara O’Connor!

Barbara O'ConnorLet me start out by stating one mind-boggling fact.

Barbara and I *met* online fourteen years ago on an old AOL board for children’s writers. That AOL message board was the first of its kind when the internet started becoming something more than just email–the same year Google was invented – but we hadn’t yet *heard* the term “google”. BEFORE bloggers or websites for authors. Boy, that sounds like something from ancient history!

Barbara and I have been email pen pals for FOURTEEN years – and we have *never* met in person. That’s right. We’ve spoken on the phone a few times (she was the first person I called – after my hubby – when I got my 3-book deal with Scholastic two years ago!), but our paths have never crossed at the right moment and the right place in space and time. We both keep sayin’ “someday”! Barbara is one of the best Middle-Grade writers out there and a darling and has been one of my most supportive friends in the biz of writing books for kids. So of course I had to showcase her here on From the Mixed-Up Files!

Here’s the officially awesome bio:

Barbara O’Connor is the author of award-winning novels for children, including How to Steal a Dog, The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis, and The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester. Drawing on her South Carolina roots, Barbara’s books are known for their strong Southern settings and quirky characters. In addition to four Parents Choice Awards and five state children’s choice awards, Barbara’s distinctions include School Library Journal Best Books, Kirkus Best Books, Bank Street College Best Books, and ALA Notables. She currently has books on over twenty state children’s book award lists. Barbara is a popular visiting author at schools and a frequent speaker at conferences around the country.

Website:  You can also find her on Facebook and at her blog, Greetings from Nowhere!

Barbara, since we are ALL about Middle-Grade Books , tell us about some of your favorite MG books – as a kid and as an adult.

As a kid, I loved mysteries: Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden. One of my favorites was The Pink Motel by Carol Ryrie Brink. I also enjoyed some of the classics, like A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

* Did you always want to be a writer? How did you fall into it? Why do you write?

I’ve always loved writing. As a kid, I was forever writing poems and stories. As an adult, I’ve had many jobs but became interested in writing for children when I took a course at UCLA while living in California. Then I attended the national SCBWI conference as a total newbie and that was it….I was hooked.

* Tell us a bit about your process? Outline? Wing it?

Oh, how I would love to have an outline! I’m one of those organized folks who takes great pleasure in all things tidy. But, alas, my writing process never works that way. I start with a hazy seed of an idea that is often no more than a title or a first sentence. For instance, The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester started with: “Owen Jester tiptoed across the gleaming linoleum floor and slipped the frog into the soup.” That’s it! That’s all I had.

I grope my way along from there, usually not even knowing the ending. I hate that process, but that’s the way it always is for me.

I think I’m going to be ducking rotten tomatoes when I tell you I don’t do many drafts or major revisions. *she ducks* But that’s because I’m a very tidy writer who can NOT move forward unless everything behind me is as polished as I can get it. I’m often told by well-meaning writers, “Just keep going. You can go back.” But that’s not my way.

Naturally, I do revisions after the manuscript is turned in, but have never had to do major story overhauls. I might tweak an ending or tighten a scene or develop a character or relationship more, but not total significant rewrites.

* What is the most important thing you’ve learned as a writer? As a reader?

As a writer: Tell the story the way that only YOU can tell it. Find your unique writing voice and listen to it at all times.

As a reader: If you forget about the writer while you’re reading, that’s a well-written book.

* You do a LOT of school visits around the country. What is one of your most memorable/funny moments while on the road or speaking.

Oh, kids, kids, kids….I love kids!!! Yes, I have spoken to hundreds (thousands?) over the years. I love it when they want to show me their writing or tell me about the books they have written. I love how they are so much alike, no matter where they live – yet so different and unique, too. I love how honest they are.

I had one moment that is far from funny but definitely memorable. I had gone to a school where the teacher did not want to read Me and Rupert Goody to the class because there is a mention of the mother slapping her misbehaving boys, “leaving her red hand-prints on their cheeks,” (referred to as “child abuse” by the teacher). Three days later, I was at a school brainstorming ways to show anger (versus telling). I asked the students what people DO when they are angry. A third grade boy said, “When I splash water out of the bathtub, my mother slaps me.”

That was a reminder to me that children DO experience the unpleasant things in life. And I believe that authors don’t need to censor those things or ignore them. Perhaps that will help children be more understanding and empathetic. Or maybe a child will find comfort in knowing he is not alone. I write realistic fiction, so I’ve never shied away from addressing realistic issues.

Oops! How did I end up here on my soapbox? Sorry. *steps down*

* Can you give us your personal thoughts about where books are headed in this new century of technology and your thoughts about literacy for MG kids?

Oh, geez…hmmm…I’m afraid I don’t pay as much attention to the business side of things as I should. But obviously e-books are growing in leaps and bounds.

As for literacy for MG kids, I worry that the economy is hitting school librarians. Such a worry. I think librarians are the vital link in literacy.

* Favorite Southern foods:

Anything fried (which is everything in the South), BISCUITS, hushpuppies, boiled peanuts, pimiento cheese sandwiches

* What’s coming up next in the Barbara O’Connor world?

A middle-grade novel with NINE points of view. Phew…that one almost killed me. The title is ON THE ROAD TO MR. MINEO’S. It’s about a one-legged pigeon named Sherman. Tentative pub date is Fall 2012 with Macmillan/FSG/Frances Foster.

Nine points of view! Sounds very difficult – but very intriguing!

Thank you so much for being here, Barbara, and for all of you readers out there in Mixed-Up File Land–if you haven’t read one of Barbara’s fantastic Middle-Grade novels, go get yourself one pronto and settle in for a real treat!

AND as an EXTRA SPECIAL BONUS for joining us today, we’re giving away not one, but TWO of Barbara’s books! A paperback of HOW TO STEAL A DOG and a hardcover of GREETINGS FROM NOWHERE!

Leave a comment and TWO winners will be announced this Thursday, July 14th!

Kimberley Griffiths Little was also a mystery lover as a kid and recently gave up outlining because it reminds her too much of homework. Her middle-grade novels with Scholastic Press are: THE HEALING SPELL which won the Whitney Award for Best Youth Novel of 2010 and is on the Bank Street College Best Book of 2011. CIRCLE OF SECRETS will publish October 1, followed by WHEN THE BUTTERFLIES CAME sometime in Fall/Winter of 2012.   Please visit to download the free guides for teachers and book clubs.


Kimberley Little