Monday, April 02, 2007

Author Interview: Deborah Heiligman on Celebrate Easter: With Colored Eggs, Flowers, And Prayer

See part one: Author Interview: Deborah Heiligman on Celebrate Passover (National Geographic, 2007).

Are you part of a writers' critique group and/or active in any writer organizations? What role does community play in your writing life?

Community plays a huge part in my writing life because I am a social person and too much time alone drives me crazy. For eighteen years I lived in Bucks County, PA; and I built up a great community of writers there.

The Bucks County Authors of Books for Children has been meeting for more than ten years, and they are still my best writing buddies even though I have moved to New York. I go back for meetings as often as possible because they are just the best. They are all brilliant and talented authors and terrific friends. And I can call up any of them on the phone to discuss just about anything. I could go on, but I don't want to gush too much.

I also have a best writing buddy who lives in California. We met online and have met in person; we talk on the phone, e-mail all the time. With all of these people we talk about writing a lot, the business, and life (kids, etc.).

Fortunately I am also meeting wonderful people in New York. Children's book authors are seriously the nicest people in the world. I go to a class where I meet lots of people, I go to SCBWI things, and I've got a tiny critique group here. I have to be careful not to socialize too much, though--gotta write, gotta write.

Oh, one more huge part of my community is my husband. He's a writer (for adults) and also now a professor of journalism, so I've got it made!

If you could go back in time and talk to your beginning writer self, what would you tell her?

That's a really good question. I don't know. Maybe I'm not old enough? I sometimes lament the fact that I don't have a cohesive list--I have just done books as they've come to me, either though my heart and mind, or from an editor's request. Maybe I should have had more of a plan, created more of a "brand." But I love writing about all different kinds of things in all different formats, so I would probably still tell my younger self to follow your heart.

Congratulations on the publication of Celebrate Easter with Colored Eggs, Flowers, and Prayer (National Geographic, 2007)! What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

Thanks. It's book number six in the series that's been a joy and a challenge to do. My inspiration for this book was to really learn about a holiday that I've heard about and been next to forever but really didn't know much about. I always wanted to celebrate Easter as a kid, but I also felt uncomfortable around it being Jewish.

One of my favorite things to do is to write about things I (initially) know nothing or little about. For me writing is learning, and I get paid to learn. It's a dream!

Could you briefly describe the content?

It's a global look at Easter--how it's celebrated, as well as the history of the holiday.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life?

This was an interesting and difficult book to write, as they all are. The biggest challenge was balancing the religious aspects of the holiday with the secular one. I was really worried about how to write about the crucifixion and the Easter Bunny in the same book. I talked a lot with my consultant and with other people about that. My editor was a big help, too. I believe we've done a good job with it.

What is it about holidays that appeals to you as a writer? Have you done other books in this area?

I am fascinated by religion and the role it plays in people's lives. I also think it's so important to share religions with people not of the same faith and background.

When I was deciding to do the series one of my writing friends said, "Do it. You will be contributing to world peace."

I hope she's right. I truly believe that if all kids learn that people so much like them have different traditions, and that those traditions have a lot in common with their own traditions--as well as differences--then they will be less likely to hate those people when they grow up.

What are some of your favorite recent reads?

I read a lot of different kinds of books. I'll list some of my favorites in different varieties: Desperate Characters by Paula Fox; Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy; Greetings From Planet Earth by Barbara Kerley; Magpie Gabbard and the Quest for the Buried Moon by Sally Keehn; Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson; Suite Francais by Irene Nemirovsky. I have many more on my to-read pile, of course.

What do you do when you're not writing?

I read, go on long walks with my husband, spend time with family and friends, go to movies, cook, go on the treadmill (usually watching episodes of TV shows I like), and now that I live in New York after many years away, explore the city.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I am working on a number of books right now. One is a picture book about a fascinating mathematician, Paul Erdos. That book will come out from Roaring Brook in a couple of years. I am also working on a biography of Charles Darwin for publication in fall 2008. It is for the YA market and is focusing on his relationship with his wife, Emma. Henry Holt is the publisher. I am also working on a YA novel, and I have a couple of fiction picture books in the works and a stack of ideas I hope to turn to.

Cynsational Links

Editor Interview: Nancy Feresten of National Geographic Children's Books from Cynsations.

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