Author Interview: Lynn E. Hazen
By Amanda Lynch, The Children’s Book Review
Published: June 26, 2009
Lynn Hazen has had a busy year! With the release of Shifty, her first young adult book, and the fantastic early reader The Amazing Trail of Seymour Snail, we felt very fortunate that she took time out to do an interview with us about her books and what the future holds…
Lynn: Thanks so much. I had several sources of inspiration for SHIFTY. One was my experience working at a summer camp for children and youth in foster care back in my college days. Another was my love of the city and people of San Francisco (my hometown & where SHIFTY is set). Please see my website www.SHIFTYTHEBOOK.com to read about a few other inspirations that came together for SHIFTY (at the “About Shifty” link). (http://www.shiftythebook.com/aboutshifty.html)
Youth can also find a cool Make a Shifty Card activity there under the “Students & Teachers” link. (http://www.shiftythebook.com/teachers.html)
Amanda: How long did it take to write?
Lynn: It took about six months to capture a first draft, then about two years to revise SHIFTY.
Amanda: How much of SHIFTY is drawn from real-life experiences?
Lynn: Pretty much all of the events and characters were made up. However, I did work at a summer camp for children and youth in foster care as I mentioned earlier. I never forgot some of the youth I met there. They touched my heart. I’ve also known foster parents and families. And while the events and characters in SHIFTY are fictitious, I believe the need for home and family–and the emotions the characters feel–are universally experienced by all—by the author, by the characters, and by readers. Therefore, the story and characters in SHIFTY, while fictitious, still feel very real to me.
Amanda: Each of the characters in the story is so unique and multi-faceted. I personally loved how devious Sissy was becoming, especially the business with the cat! Which character was your favorite to create?
Lynn: Soli was the first character to come to me (along with his nickname of SHIFTY) so he is very close to my heart–but almost immediately, I sensed that Soli was arguing with a
young girl (who turned out to be Sissy). I knew they were somehow loosely related and forced together with very different points of view. The first scene I wrote was the one where Soli and Sissy are in disagreement over what to do with the homeless woman they’ve just met. Later, as the story progressed, Sissy and Lester (the cat) became favorites, too. Best of all for me was how all the individual character’s motivations contrasted with each other, how they worked in opposition, and then as events progressed, how their lives became entwined, and how they created emotional connections through shared experiences over the arc of the story.
Amanda: Speaking of characters, I have to ask about Cinder Rabbit. What inspired this story?
Lynn: I am a preschool teacher and director and several preschoolers inspired Cinder Rabbit. When returning from a library field trip, a little girl’s shoe fell off right in the middle of a very busy intersection. The girl bravely hopped across the street, leaving her shoe behind. A boy behind her deftly picked up her shoe without missing a step. When we were all safely on the opposite curb, the boy knelt down and put the shoe on her foot. Both kids were spunky, funny and charming, and I knew right then I wanted to somehow include the spontaneous scene I had just witnessed into a story. I had the title, Cinder Rabbit, in mind before we even returned to school. It took me about a year to figure out the characters and story problem, how the shoe scene might fit, and whether it was a picture book or a young chapter book. In the end, I turned all the characters into bunnies at Grand Rabbits School who are putting on a play of Cinder Rabbit. The original inspiration of the shoe falling off in the middle of a crosswalk is woven nicely into the final story, I think.
Amanda: The illustrations are adorable. Did you pick Elyse Pastel specifically?
Lynn: My editor, Reka Simonsen at Holt, discovered Elyse Pastel. I especially love the bunny expressions Elyse created for the individual characters and how spunky and lively they are. You can read an interview of Elyse Pastel on my website at www.CinderRabbit.com. There is also a fun, free downloadable pdf on “How to Draw a Bunny.” Please take a look.
Amanda: Did you always want to be a writer?
Lynn: Hmm, no, not really. But looking back I had always enjoyed reading and creative writing in elementary school and high school. I took classes in Fiction Writing and Writing For Children in my undergraduate days, too. At that time I never thought of being a writer as an occupation. Plus, I didn’t really know what I wanted to write about. I guess I needed more personal life experiences first. After I became a parent and read a zillion books aloud to my own kids and to the preschool children, I thought I’d give writing a try.
Amanda: What do you do when you’re not writing fabulous books?
Lynn: I am a preschool teacher and director. I love to read, garden, swim, hike, hang out with my friends and family. I also do school visits, and teach classes in Writing For Children & Young Adults at Stanford Continuing Studies.
Lynn: The Amazing Trail of Seymour Snail was just published last month. I’m really happy with the how the book turned out. It’s illustrated by the wildly talented Doug Cushman. He did a fantastic job capturing the characters, especially Seymour, Mr. Stink Bug, and Coco La Roach. I’d love to write more adventures of Seymour. I’m also working on a new middle grade novel. I enjoy the creative challenge that each new project presents.
Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Lynn! We look forward to more fabulous offerings from you!
Photo credit: Sonya Sones