Fall 2019 Publishers’ Preview: Five Questions for Paul Fleischman

Publishers' Previews: Special advertising supplement in The Horn Book Magazine

This interview originally appeared in the September/October 2019 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Fall 2019 Publishers’ Previews, an advertising supplement that allows participating publishers a chance to each highlight a book from its current list. They choose the books; we ask the questions.

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In No Map, Great Trip: A Young Writer’s Road to Page One, Newbery Medalist Paul Fleischman is his own case study of turning childhood passions into great stories.

1. Is there a hobby available to today’s children you are sorry to have missed?

I’d have reveled in producing my own podcasts. I’d have taken my pet drone along on my long-distance bike trips. My dream of composing music would have gotten a big boost from GarageBand. And I’d have loved Maker Faires.

2. And how do you feel about the word hobby?

That it doesn’t fit here. Exploring foreign worlds—via bike, books, folk dancing, shortwave radio—was my main pursuit, not a weekend relaxation. For writers, there’s no clear line between interests and career. I’ve given years to sailing, Spanish, violin, backpacking, and the artistic possibilities of the copy machine. Most of these have found their way into my books. All have sharpened my stamina, researching, problem-solving, and other vital writerly skills.

3. Do you still have your QSL card, stamp, and coin collections?

Alas not, though I’m in daily touch with other relics from those years. When I need to fold a piece of paper, I reach for the same tool made of bone that my mother used. And I’m writing this at the same pine desk that my father wrote at.

4. What’s the worst advice about writing you’ve received?

Study the market. Why bad? Because pleasing the market won’t bring forth your best work, the books that only you can write. And then there’s the fact that readers might not know what they want until someone puts it front of them. There was certainly no market for a book of two-voiced poems about insects, yet Joyful Noise went on to win the Newbery.

5. The best?

Remember children’s powerful sense of justice. From Cinderella to the Civil War to artists who’ve created in spite of persecution and prison—the topic I’m tackling now—injustice has been at the heart of many of my books, this memoir among them. It was written after the 2016 election, and though it’s a cheery account of a charmed childhood, it’s also an argument for empathy, curiosity, creativity, and the other values I was raised with that suddenly seemed in need of defense.

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