By Kate Marley
Elissa Brent Weissman has been writing for most of her life, completing her first novel when she was in the sixth grade and living in Merrick, N.Y. It was never published, but, undaunted, Weissman continued to write and, in 2005, graduated from the Writing Seminars program at Johns Hopkins University.
Weissman, 26, is now a published author of two children’s novels and a Baltimore resident. She teaches Writing for Children at the University of Baltimore and at Towson University, in addition to running creative writing workshops for adults, teens, and children throughout the area.
Baltimore’s Child: How did you get into writing for children?
Elissa Brent Weissman: I’ve always been a really avid reader. The stuff I read when I was a kid made me want to write my own stories. I’ve always liked realistic fiction—contemporary fiction—best. I’ve never been a huge fan of fantasy.
My favorite authors were Louis Sachar, in his pre-Holes days. Sixth Grade Secrets was my favorite. Also, Beverly Cleary, Lois Lowry, Judy Blume…oh, and Gordon Korman!
I loved reading series, especially The Baby-Sitters Club series, by Ann M. Martin. I actually made my mom drive me to Connecticut to audition for a part in The Baby-Sitters Club movie. I didn’t make it, but, when I was 12, I did run a summer camp in my backyard, just like the Baby-Sitters Club did.
BC: How did you first become published?
EBW: When I was a senior in college, one of my professors was very supportive of me and my work, and he referred me to a literary agent. I find having an agent is invaluable. Besides the fact that most publishers won’t read submissions from authors without agents, you’re just better served by having all the complicated stuff such as contracts done by a professional. Publishing today is very complicated, with international rights, movie rights, ebooks [digital books], and so on. The whole process takes longer than most people think.
It took almost three years for my first book, Standing for Socks, to come out from the time I sold it to the publisher, Simon & Schuster. My second one, The Trouble with Mark Hopper, only took two years—so, they came out the same year. I recently sold my third novel, but it won’t come out until summer 2011. Standing for Socks is coming out in paperback in June.
BC: What do you think about the digital changes in publishing?
EBW: Like ebooks? As of now, they don’t seem to be taking off as much for children’s books. I don’t know any 10-year-olds who have a Kindle, but it’s hard to say what will happen.
There are benefits to all the new technology, but I’m very torn. I’m old-fashioned and I like the feel of a book, of holding it, watching the pages build up as you turn them. And you can put a book on your shelf and go back and read it later or loan it to a friend. It’s fun looking at books on a shelf and reading the jackets.
Digital images make it harder to find new books, to just browse, I think. But, I’m open to anything. Anything that gets people reading is a good thing. If it becomes cool for kids to have an e-reader [digital book reader]—instead of a video game system, say—that would be pretty great.
BC: Why do you think children’s literature is important?
EBW: I’ve always loved children’s lit. It’s some of the best writing out there. And it’s the most important lit there is. When you’re a kid, that’s the time when you get hooked on reading. And you’re discovering the world, and your place in it, and how it all works.
There’s an old saying, I forget who said it, that first you learn to read, then you read to learn, and then you read for fun. Too many forget just how important that last part is. For them, reading is a chore, which is unfortunate.
Just read—read everything! Novels, non fiction, graphic stories, magazines…if you’re not enjoying something, you can stop. But try a lot of different things, and find something you like. There’s so much out there.
BC: What do you get out of writing?
EBW: I love it. It takes so much patience and discipline, but I love telling a good story, to make something up that other people will enjoy. I like the actual writing, finding the right words, developing the characters, crafting the plots. I don’t feel the pressure to send a message. In essence, my job is to sit around making up stories. How cool is that? BC
Learn more about Elissa Brent Weissman at her website, www.ebweissman.com.
© Baltimore’s Child Inc. June 2010