Monday, January 31, 2011

Awesome Author: Interview with Elizabeth Atkinson

Another Awesome Author is in the house!  Let us all welcome and get to know Elizabeth Atkinson, writer of I, Emma Freke as she talks about her books, playing with names, and a real bead shop that featured prominently in her fabulous new novel.  

I read I, Emma Freke (book review here) through NetGalley and I knew it would be one of those books I would forever remember.  And why not?  The title itself is very memorable and hilarious, which made me curious to know about its author. 

And now, that curiosity has finally yielded results.  Ladies, gentlemen, and little monster ARGH, let's hear it for Elizabeth Atkinson!

Tell us about all your books

I’ve published four books so far. From Alice to Zen and (recently) I, Emma Freke (both Lerner Publishing) are tween novels. And I’ve published two non-fiction books: Monster Vehicles (Capstone Press) and GLEE! An Easy Guide to Gluten-Free Independence (Clan Thompson LLC) So far, EMMA, has won a gold medal Moonbeam award, is due to be released on Recorded Books this week, and foreign rights have been purchased by a French and a Turkish publisher!

What was your inspiration that made you decide to write I, Emma Freke?

My inspiration for Emma’s story was a location.  I live near a beautiful ocean-side harbor town called Newburyport. The city has done a fabulous job preserving its historical New England character, which includes a charming old corner building that currently houses a bead shop. I have always been fascinated by this cozy locale, and have often wondered who lived in the apartment above the store. And then one day it came to me!

How did you come up with the name Emma Freke?  It’s so spot-on.

Thanks! (Did you know a real Emma Freke wrote to me from England after seeing the book?) I remember coming across the old British name, Freke, and knew I would use it in a book someday - for the very reason that it would be a tough name to grow up with. Kids, particularly in middle school, seem to be quite sensitive about their names, as they’re developing their own sense of identity.  For her given name, I wanted a popular, contemporary name, but also one that would play on the surname Freke. The name ‘Emma’ almost immediately came to mind.

What do you do when you are experiencing writer’s block?
Writer’s block is interesting. When it happens while writing a book, usually I've gone in the wrong direction somehow. So I need to back up and figure that out. Also, reading something wonderful can suddenly inspire me to write and often helps me to reroute my story if I’m stuck. So if I’m really experiencing deep writer’s block, I’ll sit back and read and read.
Writing is very hard work. For many of us it isn’t a compulsion and doesn’t come easily. It can be like working out everyday – sometimes you have to make yourself write even when you really don’t want to. But like almost any activity, once you warm up, the words eventually begin to flow. Some days are much better than others and other days stink… all part of the process and the journey.

What is one book that you think everybody should read?

The best book I’ve read as a writer is Stephen King’s book, On Writing.  I’m not a SK fan, but he is, of course, a gifted storyteller and gives wonderful practical advice for crafting a story in this book. I reread it each time I’ve finished writing a book, using it as a checklist of sorts.

What do you love most about writing?

Creating my own world.

What do you love least about writing? 

Promoting myself. I wish I didn’t have to spend so much time promoting. However, I do love visiting schools and groups/clubs – I love talking to children about my books and hearing about the books they love.

What is your reading guilty pleasure? 

Magazines!!! I adore and unwind with magazines. My favorites are the New York Times Sunday Magazine, The New Yorker, The Week, and Hello!

If you could go back in time, would you change anything in your life?

As a writer, I would have devoted myself more seriously earlier on, but I was completely focused on raising my children which was and is more important to me than anything else.

What do you do before writing? Do you have a ritual that you must do every time before you write?

Not really. But I do have habits while I’m writing. I’m very munchy and fidgety when I write so I have to be careful about what I’m eating. I chew gum, sip green tea, eat granola, carrot sticks. I also begin writing by reading. I sometimes listen to certain music and need to visual where my characters are, what they’re doing today. They’re very real to me. So I have to cross over into their zone.

When are you able to write best, mornings or evenings? 

Honestly, mornings are best for me, but usually I’m busy with busy-work in the morning, so I normally go to my little office to write after lunch and not every day. I also tend to write in clumps. I often go to my cottage in Maine when I have a deadline. I go there just for me and to write… so I’m working any time of the day or night. 

Who is one writer that you really look up to?  

There are several children’s book authors I greatly admire such as Natalie Babbitt, Jack Gantos, Pam Muñoz Ryan, and Kimberly Willis Holt. But as a child, the book Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret by Judy Blume changed my life. I wanted to someday write a book that would empower and entertain girls in the same contemporary way Blume did. At that time, books were not nearly as relatable as they are now for children and tweens – for the most part, I was handed the classics like Alcott or cutesy series like Nancy Drew. So for me (and many other girls of my generation), Judy Blume’s book was groundbreaking.
When you were younger, did you ever see yourself as a writer? 

Yes, I did – either a writer or an actor. They seemed to be the two creative activities I was most passionate about and, at the same time, received positive encouragement to pursue by my teachers and family. When you come right down to it, the two occupations aren’t really different from one another.

If you were given the opportunity to become a character in any book, which book would it be and which character would you play? 

Oh, hard to pick probably Anna Karenina :)

What advice can you give amateur writers? 

There is no “right” way to write.

Find a quiet place to work without internet access.

For me it was always important to find mentors in order to get better and better at my craft and to find my voice. I have never found writing groups to be useful or productive, although some people do. A mentor can be invisible as well – a writer you admire whose books and interviews can be instructional. But I think working one-on-one with a talented writer or professor or editor – someone you trust and respect - to hone your craft will help you grow the most. And develop a thick skin, don’t ever take critiques or reviews personally. That said, write anything to keep the creative juices flowing. And then one day, you’ll notice a charming corner store that sells beads…. and wonder to yourself, who lives above that curious little shop?

Thank you so much for doing this interview, Elizabeth!


To find out more about Elizabeth, check her out on the following websites:


  1. OMG! You get to interview her! Lucky you! I love I, Emma Freke!

    And who would've thought there's a real 'Emma Freke' that's soo cool! :)

    Awesome interview!

  2. I know! Thank you! She's really cool and fun and yes, knowing that there is a real Emma Freke blew my mind!

  3. Thanks for introducing me to this very cool author Nina!! I loved this interview :)

  4. No problem! Glad you liked it :D


I just have to tell you, ARGH feeds on awesomeness, so if you can, drop him some awesome here, and I promise to give some awesome back :D

Right now, because of my really busy schedule, I'm cutting back on receiving awards. So until further notice, me and ARGH would not be accepting awards. But thank you for thinking of us, we really appreciate it!