Saturday, June 6, 2009

A childhood dream Fulfilled

Published in L Magazine, October 2008
Copyright 2008 by L Magazine, used with permission
This is my original, unedited version

Mary Elizabeth Anderson remembers the first time she knew she wanted to be a writer. Like many little girls, she loved to read. One day, when she was about 9 or 10 years old, she looked down at the stack of books in her arms and realized that nothing in the world would be more exciting than to see her name on the cover of a book.

It took nearly 50 years for that dream to become a reality. Mary and her husband, Don, raised three children. Don worked as an executive in construction and manufacturing management. Mary taught school in Iowa, where the couple lived for 12 years, and then did substitute teaching and volunteer work in Grand Island, where they lived for 30 years. She wrote a few stories, but didn’t know how to market them. Then, in 1991, when she was 51 years old, she noticed an ad for a class entitled “Freelance Writing for Profit and Pleasure” at the local community college. Following that class, she took an advanced class, and then started writing articles for magazines. Rural Heritage published her first article, which was about draft horses.

“I was so excited that I really did get my first article published,” Anderson recalled. “I thought, This is going to be easy. Well, then I found out it wasn’t so easy. I had to learn how to gear my material to the market.”

She began collecting magazines from friends and neighbors. She’d ask doctors’ offices for magazines they didn’t want anymore. She studied the kinds of articles each magazine published, sometimes dissecting an article word by word, counting paragraphs and active words. Figuring out exactly what kinds of stories and articles each magazine wanted helped her become successful. Her articles and stories have been published in over 100 magazines, and she has given writing seminars at community colleges throughout Nebraska.

But Anderson still had not seen her name on the cover of a book. Then a friend told her about the Lincoln Highway Association, an organization seeking to preserve the pre-interstate road that stretches across the U.S. Intrigued, she began researching the history of the highway, which follows approximately the same route as I-80. The result was a hardcover picture book for grade schoolers entitled Link Across America: A Story of the Historic Lincoln Highway, published by Rayve Publications in 1997.

Since then, Anderson has written and published four more children’s books: Taking Cerebral Palsy to School, It’s Me Again, God, All About Manners, and her latest, Gracie Gannon: Middle School Zero, which she describes as a book about bullying, belonging and dealing with insecurities. A multicultural picture book entitled Why Did They Build a Fence? will be published in 2009.

Fiction stories for children are fun to write, Anderson said, because she loves developing the characters and story line. “I feel like Gracie Gannon is just a living, breathing character that lives with me,” she said. “It’s so fun to get to that part, to develop the story line and get the plot going and get the people interacting. I can sit down in the morning and before I know it, the day is over and I’ve spent the whole day writing.”

The most frustrating part about writing? Waiting to hear from publishers and promoting your work once it’s written. Small to medium-sized publishing houses, like the ones she’s published with, do not have large budgets for promotion, and the authors need to do much of it themselves. Anderson has done media interviews, sent out press releases, and given books away. She’s constantly on the lookout for opportunities to promote her work.

When Don retired four years ago, the couple moved to Lincoln to be near their children and grandchildren. Being with her six grandchildren gives Mary lots of ideas for children’s stories, she said. “They’re a wealth of information. I start writing down things they said, and that would just start a story.”

To further improve her writing, she reads lots of children’s books. Some of her favorite children’s authors are Katherine Paterson, Eve Bunting, and Dandi Dalely Mackall, who has written over 450 books and is a personal friend and mentor.

You’re never too old to pursue a dream, Anderson said. “I know more people who have said, ‘I’d like to write a book someday.’ They need to jump into it, start going to workshops, taking classes and networking. Keep reading and writing daily.”

For more information about Mary Elizabeth Anderson, see her website:

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