When author Norma Fox Mazer was a teen-ager, she felt very different from other kids her age. "I felt very frightened of the world and what was ahead of me," she said. "I don't think they were all kept tucked away down inside."
But now Mazer is sharing these fears with millions of adolescents through her books. In fact, her first stories were based on experiences she had as an adolescent.
"I found that I had a voice there," she said recently in a telephone interview with Children's Express. "I suppose that every book I write in some way reflects the problems that I had as an adolescent."
Mazer has written 15 novels and three collections of short stories for children and young adults. In these books she has touched on topics ranging from friendship to harassment to death of a love one.
Always books in her youth
Growing up, Mazer's family didn't have much money. Her father drove a truck, and her mother worked in a store as a saleswomen. But one thing they always had was books.
Mazer taught herself to read when she was 4 years old. From then on, she read everything and everywhere.
She read under the covers with a flashlight, at the table while she was eating, in study halls and while walking to school.
"In my house at night, my parents read, my sisters and I read, and we all had books," she said.
"Reading is essential. I feel badly about the fact that people don't read enough," remarked Mazer, who says reading can transport you to another world.
"Reading helps develop your mind in a way that television can't. I It pulls on physical things in the brain that the passive watching of images doesn't do for you," she explained.
And all of this reading led to writing.
By the time Mazer was 13, she realized that she wanted to be a writer. And like her Louise Fitzhugh character in Harriet the Spy, Mazer was always scribbling things in a notebook.
"I always carried the thought in my mind that I would be a real writer some day _ that was just the way it came to me, "Someday I'll be a real writer."
"But to write a book seemed a very inaccessible thing. I didn't understand that people who wrote books were just real living, breathing human beings," she continued.
"And in fact, as much as I wanted to be a writer, I wasn't sure that I could. I thought what I could do was work on a newspaper....I worked on the newspaper in the little town where I grew up," she added.
Becoming an author wasn't so much a decision as something she felt she had to do. "It wasn't as if Ihad laid out serval choices, and I had said to myself, 'Now which is the most sensible thing to do?' because if I had been looking for the sensible thing to do, I would never have become a writer,' she said.
Mazer didn't start writing seriously until she was 28 years old. She married at an early age and already had several children when she and her husband decided to become authors. To reach that goal they set aside an hour every day to write.
"That really was the beginning of learning how to write," Mazer said, "because writers are like anyone else. They're like piano players and basketball players and artists. They have to learn their trade."
Experiences provide ideas
She gets her ideas for stories from many experience in her life.
"I've started books from when I've awakened from a dream and remembered something from my dream," she said. "I've started a story from a line, a piece of dialogue, that somebody said. I've started stories from things that happened to me when I was growing up.
"I've started stories just from saying, 'Oh, I want to write a book, what will I write it about.'"
Mazer thinks that teen-agers like to read about the things they face in life, "but yet I don't have a list I'm consulting and saying, "Aha, this is what I have to put in my book and this will make it popular.' It just doesn't work that way."
She admits that while she tries to deal with issues that concern teens today, she foremost is a storyteller. Accordeing to Mazer, that's often what makes an award-winning book.
"It's the way (books are) written that (makes them) strike a chord in people," she said. She added that she received a lot of response to After the Rain, which won the Newbery honor. "I was trying to write about what it means to love somebody and not get along with them and then to lose them."
Before Mazer releases a book to the public, she makes sure she is content with it.
"I'm writing to satisfy myself. In other words, I can't let something out of the house that I think...is shoddy or that I don't feel is interesting or well-written or thoughtful or whatever else my criteria are."
Advice to world-be writers
She has two pieces of advice for aspiring authors. First, she recommends reading as much and as often as possible and constantly soaking up information.
She also advises getting into the habit or writing every day.
"I'm convinced that even 10 minutes a day, every day, just 10 minutes, even if you do nothing but just scribble ou thoughts or your feelings or whatever, will make a tremendous difference for you because it will put you at ease with words," she explained.
EDITED BY: LISA SCHUBERT, 13