Today we sit down with author Elizabeth Vollstadt to hear about her work, her inspiration and to learn a bit about her.
Please enjoy this edition of 20 Questions:
Q1) When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
Very early. As child, I wrote stories and poems, and I even started a Nancy Drew-type mystery when I was in fifth grade. In high school, I was thrilled to become Features Editor for the school newspaper. From then on, I knew I wanted to be a writer, and my jobs always involved writing, editing, or teaching writing. My decision to write for children came later.
Q2) How long does it typically take you to write a book?
It depends on the book and if I have a deadline. When I wrote books on contract, the book went from start to published in less than a year. But my novels take longer, probably because I can set my own deadlines––and it’s easy to push them back. My latest book, a novel for preteens not yet published, took about a year and a half to write. Called Pairs at Nationals, it is a sequel to Pairs on Ice and will be out in December.
Q3) What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
When I’m seriously writing and working to meet my self-imposed deadline, I schedule about three hours a day. It may not sound like a lot of time, but doing it every day works.
Q4) What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Although I do all of my writing on the computer, when I’m ready to read through an entire draft, I have to print it out and read the hard copy. I curl up in a comfortable chair, relax, and see problem areas that I would miss on the computer.
Q5) How are your books published?
I’ve published three ways: on contract with Lucent Books, now part of the Gale Group; traditionally with children’s publisher Boyds Mills Press, and also independently.
Q6) Where do you get your ideas for your books?
From my life and interests. For my contract books, I was given a series of topics and could pick what interested me. My collection of short stories, Young Patriots: Inspiring Stories of the American Revolution, written with a co-author, came about because I had always been fascinated with the Revolution. Living several years in Lexington, MA, was a dream come true and an inspiration. PAIRS ON ICE, a novel for preteens, was inspired by my daughter’s skating. She was a competitive skater in junior high and high school, and then skated on the Synchronized Skating team in college. I’ve always loved watching skating and loved being a “skating mom.” Making my main character a skater seemed a natural fit.
Q7) If you don’t mind sharing, when did you write your first book and how old were you?
My first book (never published) was a YA romance, written when I was in my forties.
Q8) What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Read is the first word that comes to mind. Also, my husband and I have a boat and enjoy exploring the St. Johns River here in Central Florida. Travel is another great interest and I especially enjoy small-ship cruising––river and sailing ship cruises.
Q9) What is your favorite book?
There are so many! I can give you some of my recent favorites: The Help by Kathryn Stockett , The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, and Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. Since I write for children, some of my favorite children’s books are the classic Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery, Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, and The Fault in our Stars by John Green. I also enjoy the Wimpy Kid books with my grandsons.
Q10) What do your family and friends think of your writing?
They’re my family and friends––they love me, so they love my writing.
Q11) What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
I’ve learned that while some scenes write themselves, most of them don’t. I’m not like Hemingway, who says you should try to write “one perfect sentence,” but first drafts are harder than I expected.
Q12) What do you hate most about the writing process?
Struggling with a scene that just doesn’t work.
Q13) How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
I’ve written six. My favorite is my last book, Pairs on Ice. I love my characters, the ice skating setting, and the storylines. Jamie, Matt, Cam, Linda––they’ve become my friends. Although . . . I can say the same for my stories in Young Patriots, too. I still love Hannah in “Just Like a Minuteman,” William in “William’s War,” and Nathaniel in “New Day in Savannah.” I like to think about what happens to them next.
Q14) Do you have any suggestions to help us become better writers? If so, what are they?
Number one is to read a lot. Second, when you’ve written something, read it out loud. English has a rhythm that make it pleasing to hear. Find that rhythm in your writing and it will flow better. A third suggestion is to write what you love and take the time to learn about it.
Q15) Do you get feedback from your readers much? How and what kinds of things do they say?
Occasionally. My readers are kids and if I’ve sold the book to them at a book signing, they say something when they see me again. They’ve usually say they loved the book. One skating mom said that her daughter read Pairs on Ice and said, “That’s my life.”
Q16) What is your preferred reading audience?
My books are written for children 9-12, but any child can read them depending on their reading level. With a girl as its main character, I assume more girls will read Pairs on Ice than boys, especially girls who ice skate or play any sport.
Q17) What do you think makes a good story?
For kids, likeable characters who grow and a fast-paced, meaningful plot.
Q18) As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
I went back and forth between nursing and writing. In the end, writing won.
Q19) Where can we find your books?
My books are available on Amazon and at barnesanadnoble.com. You can also find them by visiting my Amazon Author page, www.amazon.com/author/elizabethvollstadt or my blog, www.elizabethvollstadt.blogspot.com
Q20) Will you give us an excerpt from one of your favorite works?
Yes, this is from PAIRS ON ICE
Jamie and Matt are two young skaters who have just starting skating together as a pairs team. They fight all the time, but manage to skate together. This scene is from their first local competition.
Then it was their turn. “From the Willow Creek Skating Club, Matthew O’Connor and Jamison Bartlett!” Hand in hand, they skated onto the ice, smiles plastered on their faces. They took their opening positions and waited for the familiar music to start. One, two, three beats, marked by the gang’s snapping fingers, and they began moving. Their first jumps were side-by-side double Axels. They both landed smoothly. Then they came together for their first lift. Easy and smooth again. Jamie’s smile became real. They were going to do it!
A throw jump came next, followed by two spins, one flowing into the next. Then the platter lift–up, arch, stretch out her arms. They glided across the ice, Jamie more than five feet in the air, Matt’s hands firmly on her waist. Then . . . Jamie didn’t know what happened. Maybe Matt hit a bump in the ice, maybe his arms shook for a second, or maybe she just panicked and imagined it all. But suddenly, something felt wrong. She was going to fall. She reached down and grabbed onto Matt. Startled, his arms slipped. Instead of coming down gracefully, Jamie bumped his shoulder, and they fell in a heap on the ice.
The music played on–forever it seemed. The carefree tones of “Tonight, Tonight” were the total opposite of the horror Jamie felt. She and Matt lost precious time before they untangled and found their place in the program. But they were too shaken to do anything right. And Jamie’s knees hurt from the fall. She couldn’t get any height for her jumps, which meant that her doubles became singles.
Matt did no better. He still got height, but was so busy sending icy glares at Jamie that he fell on his next jump. For their final lift, he put Jamie down so hard she tripped. The only thing that kept her on the ice was the thought of Cam’s wrath if they didn’t finish. That’s the first thing she had learned about competing. You finished your program. No matter what. They finally came together for their last move–a death spiral followed by a spin–but by then it was too late.
Jamie made it off the ice before she crumpled in tears. Cam put his arms around her. “Hey there, little lady,” he said. “The world isn’t over, not yet. No one gets out of this sport without one disaster.”
He handed her a big white handkerchief. She blew her nose, but couldn’t stop the tears. She had never skated so badly! She looked at Matt. Tears filled his eyes, too, but he was trying to blink them back.
“Come on, you two,” Cam said, patting Jamie on the back while looking at Matt. “Let’s find ourselves a place to set and have a little chat.”
Matt jerked his head around to look at Cam. “Why bother? We stank.” He turned his steely eyes on Jamie. “Because she can’t keep her stupid balance for five lousy seconds.”
Cam shook his head. “Seems to me I saw two people fall, and one of them sure looked like you. If you two will just listen for a minute, I can give you some idea of what went wrong.”
“I know what went wrong,” Matt spit out. “She can’t cut it, and she dragged me down with her. Just like my mom said she would.”
Something flared in Jamie. Violet again. She was always there, like a nasty cat, ready to pounce. Jamie knew she made mistakes. Bad ones. Bad enough for her to wonder if she’d ever be a top skater. But she was not going to let Matt pin this entire disaster on her.
Jamie’s tears stopped and she grabbed Matt’s arm so that he had to look at her. “We were doing perfectly fine until you almost dropped me. I thought you were so good at lifts.”
He shook loose. “I didn’t almost drop you! You lost your balance!”
“Because you couldn’t hold me.”
“That’s a load of . . .”
“Shut your mouths,” Cam hissed. He put one hand on Matt’s shoulder, the other on Jamie’s and marched them to the deserted coaches lounge.
I’ve worked as a writer, editor, and English teacher. My favorite job ever was producing an award-winning magazine for a children’s hospital, where I interviewed doctors, parents, and children to feature heartwarming stories of hope. Since leaving that job, I’ve worked as a free-lance business writer and now as a children’s writer who writes what she loves.
My latest book, Pairs on Ice, is a contemporary novel for tweens (a sequel, Pairs at Nationals, will be published in December). It was inspired by my love of skating and my years as a skating mom when my daughter competed. I’ve always marveled at skaters who could jump, spin, and glide over the ice. It’s been fun creating characters who can skate the way I’ve always wished I could. I was thrilled when Pairs on Ice won a Royal Palm Literary Award from the Florida Writers Association (FWA).
I’ve also published numerous children’s stories in magazines such as Highlights for Children, Jack and Jill, and a variety of anthologies. Other books I’ve written include three non-fiction books for teens and a history of Florida for children. Many of my short stories are historical and I especially love the Revolutionary War period. My book Young Patriots: Inspiring Stories of the American Revolution, co-authored with Marcella Fisher Anderson, is a collection of short stories featuring young people’s adventures during that time. Unfortunately, it is now available only as an e-book.
Find Elizabeth’s Books:
Readers can find me and my books at my Amazon Author’s page or my blog: