Margaret Peterson Haddix grew up on a farm near Washington Court House, Ohio. She graduated from Miami University (of Ohio) with degrees in English/journalism, English/creative writing and history. Before her first book was published, she worked as a newspaper copy editor in Fort Wayne, Ind.; a newspaper reporter in Indianapolis; and a community college instructor and freelance writer in Danville, Ill. She has since written more than 20 books for kids and teens, including "Running Out of Time," "Mrs. Dunphrey," the "Shadow Children" series and "Found," which is the first book in a new series, called "The Missing." Her books have been honored with the International Reading Association's Children's Book Award, the American Library Association Best Book and Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers notations; among others. Her most recent books are "Claim to Fame" (Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing) and "The 39 Clues: Book 10, Into the Gauntlet" (Scholastic). Haddix lives in Ohio.
Previous National Book Festival Appearances
From the 2010 National Book Festival
What sparked your imagination for your new books - Sabotaged and 39 Clues: Into the Gauntlet?
In both cases, the research I did for the books played a major role in sparking my imagination. With Sabotaged, I knew I wanted to frame my book around the Virginia Dare/Lost Colony story, mixing actual history with the time-travel trip that Jonah, Katherine and Andrea make. Once I began my in-depth research, and read about suspicions that the Roanoke Colony might have been sabotaged from the very start, I saw a great opportunity to draw parallels between the dangers and uncertainties and fears the original colonists faced, and the ones my own characters were facing. I also went to Roanoke Island in North Carolina during the course of my research, and really tried to imagine what it would have been like on that spot more than 400 years ago, both for the English settlers and for the natives.
With Into The Gauntlet, the tenth book in the 39 Clues series, I had to study the earlier books in the series to figure out which loose ends I would need to tie up. I also did a lot of research about William Shakespeare, the historical character connected to the book, and looked for details I thought kids would enjoy. One of my favorite facts was finding out that a period of about seven years in Shakespeare’s life is referred to as his “Lost Years,” because no record exists of what he did during that time. This seemed like a great opportunity to imagine that he might have been involved in undercover Cahill business then. As with Sabotaged, I also went “on location” for this book, as I traveled to London and Stratford-Upon-Avon to see all the sites my characters travel to. I took my family with me, and my own kids were a great help in suggesting places a clue might be hidden.
You have written many books for kids and teens. Do you have any special favorites among them?
No, I don’t. I can’t choose between them.
What challenges do you face in your writing process? How do you overcome them?
The challenges tend to be different with every book. Sometimes figuring out my characters is the hardest thing; sometimes the plot gives me fits; sometimes I think I know what I want to say but can’t figure out how to say it. Persistence is usually the answer to any of those problems—I just keep trying and trying and trying.
What tips or advice can you share with young students who hope to start writing?
I would suggest that they read as much as they can, so they know what other writers are writing. I also suggest that they play around with writing in different genres, trying out poetry, fiction, non-fiction, etc. Keeping a journal is also a wonderful way to get comfortable with translating reality into words. And just finding time just to think and figure out what you care about and believe is essential.
Can you suggest a fun writing or drawing topic to get them started?
Imagine that you're somebody else. Write a story from the perspective of someone who is much bolder, braver and louder than you are in real life. (Or, possibly someone quieter, shyer, and more likely to observe than talk.) Or write about a disagreement you've had--from the other person's perspective. See how much the story changes from when you take someone else's viewpoint.
How important is research in the development of your books? Can you explain the process as well?
It depends on the book. I’ve written some that have required very little research at all. But I enjoy research, so often I start researching topics related to my books “just in case.” I seem to be in a pattern lately of writing very research-intensive books, where I read several non-fiction books to prepare, and do a lot of online research, and often go to the location as well.
What is your advice to parents for passing the joys of reading on to their children?
Reading to children from babyhood on up is incredibly important. Even when they’re reading well on their own it’s great to also read some books along with them, and compare notes on what each of you think about the book. Having time set aside specifically for reading time is helpful, so it doesn’t get lost in the midst of everything else. And kids also get a strong message that reading is important if they see their parents reading and enjoying books themselves.
Can you tell us about any new books that you will be working on during the coming year?
I have the fourth book in the Missing series, Torn, almost completely done except for some final proof-reading. It’s connected to the story of the mutiny that lead to Henry Hudson’s disappearance. Torn will come out in August 2011. I’m just now starting to work on what will be the fifth book in that series, tentatively titled Caught, which has a connection to Albert Einstein. And finally, I just have some final editing to do on a stand-alone book I wrote earlier this year, called The Always War. It will come out in the fall of 2011.
If you weren’t creating children’s books, what do you think you would be doing?
Probably one of the jobs I held before I started writing books: working as a journalist or teaching.
Do you have a website where young people can learn more about you and your work?