Updated: Feb 9, 2019
Our February 2019 Author Spotlight writer is the five-time winner of the Coretta Scott King Literary award and award-winning teacher Sharon M. Draper!
Sharon M. Draper is the author of Stella by Starlight, Blended, the #1 New York Times bestseller Out of My Mind, which has been compared to bestselling book Wonder by R. J. Palacio. Read on to hear all about Mrs. Draper's writing process, her favorite ice cream flavor, and how she names her characters!
Are your characters based on real people?
Mrs. Draper: "No, I made them up. Sometimes fictional characters can seem so real that the reader might think they are real people, because good fiction is based on reality, but the characters in my books are just that--fictional. I start with a character who grows and develops as the book progresses, so that even to me he or she seems real by the end of the story. But they only exist in the pages of the book."
When asked if she thought she was like any of her characters, Mrs. Draper answered, "Probably. We are what we write."
Which comes first: the book or the title?
Mrs. Draper: "Sometimes the story comes first and sometimes the title. I knew the title of Tears of a Tiger long before I finished it. Copper Sun, however, was originally called Sun, Storm, and Stars. I'm so glad we changed it!"
Out of all of the books that you have written, which is your favorite?
Mrs. Draper: "I have no favorite. Each one is like one of my children, and I love them all. I'm always excited about a new one, however. It's like giving birth to a new child!"
Name your favorite author.
Mrs. Draper: "I don't have one. I read too many books. I read three hundred books a year-mostly on airplanes and waiting in airports. Mystery novels. Biographies. Historical fiction. Poetry. Each one shapes me in some way. I learn from all I read and I that I do. I like authors who understand the "groove." Authors who make the magic with words. I won't waste time on a poorly-written book. I'll leave it on an airplane. Good books I treasure."
What's the most fun thing about being an author?
Mrs. Draper: "Absolutely everything! I love the solitude, the concentration, the magic feeling that overtakes me when the words come tumbling out, sometimes faster than I can type them. I love watching the manuscript grow from one page to five chapters to twenty chapters to a whole book. I love watching the characters develop and become like real people to me. Then there's the delicious anticipation of waiting for the finished manuscript to become a book, and when the finished book arrives at my house I celebrate. Then, like dessert, after the book is a reality I get to talk to people about it, and sign it, and visit schools, and talk to teachers at conferences. Then I start on another one. I love it."
What is your writing process like?
Mrs. Draper: "On writing days, that's what I do all day long--I write. I get up at four AM! I sit at a computer and type until the words start sounding funny to me. That means my brain is turning to mush. Then I stop and rest until the next day. A typical writing day starts early in the morning--maybe around five or six. I must have absolute silence--no music, no telephone, not even a fan can be blowing. Then I find my "zone" and enter it. It's a magic flow of thoughts and words. Sometimes the thoughts come faster than I can type them. It's exciting, exhilarating, and wonderful. And it is truly a blessing."
About how long does it take you to finish a book?
Mrs. Draper: "Quite a long time. Months, sometimes years. I can write about a chapter a day if I have no interruptions, but usually there are interruptions-the dog has to go out, I have to go to the post office, etc. When I come back to it, I revise it or expand it and change it, each time making it better and stronger. When I finish the whole book, usually in two to three months, I go back and edit it. I fix, change, and rearrange. Then I do it again. Then one more time. That may take several more months. Then I send it in to my editor who fixes and changes it even more. It may go through three or four or even five edits with her. Then, it goes through a final edit with the copy editor. That may take another six to eight months. Writing is easy. Editing is very tedious and painful. When a book is finally done, it may have taken more than a year to get it just right, and even then, I'm never really satisfied with it. I still wish I had perfected it just a little more."
Where do you get the names for your characters?
Mrs. Draper: "People I know, friends, students, names in the telephone book--wherever I find them. Once I even used a book that listed possible names for new babies. I feel like my characters are my own creation, so I name them what I think fits them best."
What are your earliest memories of words and books? What early influences made you become a writer?
Mrs. Draper: "My mother read to me even before I could walk or talk. One of my earliest memories is the sound of my mother's voice, reading to me. Her voice, melodic and beautiful, drew images for me in my mind as she read of cats and queens and pretty maids all in a row. My mother would hold me tight and tell me stories. She'd read bright, colorful picture books to me, and even though I didn't know what those squiggles on the page were, I knew the pictures were glorious, and the sound of my mother's voice made the stories magic. She read tall tales and fables and wonderful stories. She read nursery rhymes and poetry. The early rhythms of those rhymes became the background for words I wouldn't write for many years to come. The itsy, bitsy spider climbed into my mind and memory. The power of "Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum" thrummed in my head, even though I was unaware that I loved the power and repetition in those words. It was the cadence of my mother's voice and the rhythm of the repetitions that first fostered my love of books and the magic of words."
Draper also says that "a lover of books can easily become a master of words."
If you could eat lunch with one famous person, who would it be?
Sharon: "Denzel Washington."
Mrs. Draper also says on her website that she loves vanilla ice cream, the color navy blue, summer, and the beach.
What have you been reading lately?
Mrs. Draper: "The last book I read was called The Library Book by Susan Orlean. It’s the story of a library that burned to the ground, and the story of the power of a library in a community."
Any advice for aspiring authors?
Mrs. Draper: "The best way to become a writer is to write. I know it sounds simplistic, but it's true. Get yourself one of those blank journals, and just keep on writing until you fill it up! Then write some more. You don't have to show it to anyone--just write whenever you feel inspired. It's like an athlete. Much practice is done alone. At game time, you shine. Game time for a writing athlete is papers due for school, or short stories, or poetry."
Another thing Mrs. Draper mentions is that her former students who didn't like reading are a great source of inspiration and that she attempts to write "contemporary and exciting" fiction that would interest them.
Thank you, Mrs. Draper, for so graciously helping with this post! If you enjoyed reading this, click the heart button and comment what author you'd like to do an Author Spotlight next.