Synopses & Reviews
Here Ms. Mazer talks about writing for young adults; writing with her husband, Harry; and what she hopes young adults get from her work.
Q: Why do you write primarily for young adults? Does that age hold special memories for you, or do you feel teens need more books that speak to them?
A: My own teen years have always been vivid to me. I started writing not "for" teens so much as "about" teens. In doing that, writing short stories about young people, I was playing out some of my memories, questions, and confusions from those years. I found that I had a direct line to that age and that many, many stories appealed to me from the point of view of young people. So I started writing for them, and I just kept doing it. And, yes, of course, teens need books that speak to them and for them and about them and treat them with the respect and seriousness they deserve.
Q: You grew up an avid reader and now are diligent about writing every day. When did you expand your passion for reading to a passion for writing?
A: It seems as if there are two answers to that question -- one is the answer I ve given for years, which is that, at the age of twelve, I became someone who could write. I have no idea how this happened. It was not a conscious process. I was actually not a very good writer before that. I have a few things I wrote in those years, and they re amusing because they re so bad. That being said, I ve unearthed a photo of me at around the age of five or six, holding a little pad and diligently writing away. What could I have been writing? I have no idea. And now, not only do I write every day, but I still read every day and feel as if something is missingif I don t.
Q: In your new book, "Girlhearts," Sarabeth wishes "someone would really write a book" with the rules on how to behave after her mother has died. "Good Night, Maman" and "Crazy Fish" also deal with the subject of loss. Are your books in some way what Sarabeth is looking for -- books that help explain loss and grieving?
A: I don t know how to answer that.
" After the Rain" is also about loss. So are a number of the short stories I ve written. Maybe it s indicative of nothing more than my own continuous struggle to understand what it means to be fully committed to life and yet not deny death, the loss of loved people, which we all will endure at some point.
Q: "Good Night, Maman" tells the story of a girl who survives the Holocaust by escaping to a refugee camp in Oswego, New York. It was based on an historical event. How did you learn about it and then decide to write about it?
A: I learned about the camp from an editor, and I was astonished and abashed that I had lived all my life in upstate and central New York and never known about Oswego. I was completely intrigued and wanted to write about it. Before this, I had believed that there was no way for me to write about the Holocaust, but the intersection with American life provided me with what I needed.
Q: How do you develop the voices of your teenage characters?
A: The same way I develop any characters -- over time, with many rewrites, and by trying to get as far under the surface of things as I can.
Q: You ve written some of your books with your husband, Harry Mazer. How is writing with a partner a different process from writing on your own?
A: It svery different. I don t argue with myself. I also don t ever think, "Oh, good, he can figure out that problem." It s actually a lot of fun and sometimes very irritating. We both initially like working together -- it s a bit of a vacation, it s not your own story; it s shared, it s our story, so neither of us feels quite the weight of responsibility that we do on our own. The other side of that is that you miss doing your own work, being solitary, musing, writing in your own style. When we write together, we usually aim for something that s ours and not "this page his, that one hers."
Q: How often do you start writing one story, only to find out you have a different story developing?
A: Not too often. I usually get completely involved, wake up thinking about the story, go to sleep thinking about it, take walks thinking about it, relate everything going on in my life to the story I m working on. In other words, I become obsessed with it. I can t let it go and I don t have much room for anything else to really flourish, though on occasion as I come to the end of writing a book, another idea will intrude. I guess I m ready for something else -- a kind of sign that I m done.
Q: Do you have a favorite among your books, or do you think your best book is yet to come?
A: I m always hopeful about the one that hasn t been written yet. I don t think much about the books behind me. I m happy when anyone likes something I ve written, but I m not involved in the same way that I am with whatever I m working on. And I think that s good -- or maybe it s justthe way it has to be. For me, the real thing about writing isn t prizes or praise, but the writing itself. That s what gives me intense pleasure (pain, too, but that s part of it!). That s when I m happiest as a writer: writing. Which is what writers need to do, no?
Q: What do you hope young adults walk away with after reading your books?
A: Probably the same thing I want for myself from reading a novel -- on one level, a great read, characters I like and care about, a story that s real and interesting, some surprises, etc. And, on another level, something to think about, chew over. A way of looking at life that doesn t just scratch the surface. If I can achieve that for readers, I m happy.
At fifteen, Rachel is a worrier. She worries about whether her family understands her, whether her friends like her, and whether she'll get her first kiss before she turns sixteen. And she worries about whether she can handle having a real boyfriend if he does come along.
But it takes a dying old man -- her grandfather -- who has never been easy for anyone to handle, to show Rachel she has very special abilities. With love and compassion, she reaches the heart of an old tyrant who has always been unreachable. And in so doing, she comes to a better understanding of her family, her friends, and herself.
After discovering her grandfather is dying, fifteen-year-old Rachel gets to know him better than ever before and finds the experience bittersweet.
About the Author
Norma Fox Mazer, who lives in Pompey Hills of central New York State and in New York City, has written nearly thirty novels and short story collections for young adults. Her novels, including Missing Pieces, Out of Control, and the Newbery Honor Book After the Rain, are critically acclaimed and popular among young readers for their portrayal of teens in realistic and difficult problems. In her new book, Girlhearts, she brings back the memorable characters from Silver, who continue to deal with life's hardest moments through their honest and touching relationships.