Author Lisa McMann meets Young Readers at the Library

Author Lisa McMann meets Young Readers at the Library

(Crystal A. Proxmire, 10/20/2011)

When Lisa McMann was a young lady, she disliked school and would rush through her homework just so she could curl up with a book and read.  “I used to go to the Library every Saturday with my mother and get ten, twelve, fourteen books a week.  I’d read six or seven on Saturday and the rest every night.

Now the mother of two from Holland, Michigan is a best-selling author of books for kids and young adults.  She tours the country talking to young people about life as a writer an how she got to be where she is today.

On Oct. 15 McMann spoke at the Ferndale Public Library.  She read the first chapter of her latest book, The Unwanteds.  The story is about a creative boy who is sent to his death as an Unwanted in a world where only intelligent, strong children are Wanted.  Only he is saved and sent to a magical place, where his creative skills are developed into magic, and he must one day face his twin brother who had been left behind as a Wanted.

The idea came from an after-school conversation she had with her twelve-year-old son and nine-year-old daughter.  “They had a letter in their backpacks saying they’d have to cut the arts budget and I was so bummed,” McMann said.  “My son loved to draw and my daughter is in theater so I was really sad for them.  I said ‘Gee guys, it almost feels like you’re being punished for being creative.’

‘Well, you know when you’re a writer and a light goes off in your head? That’s what this was like.  I thought, ‘what if there really was a place where kids are punished for being creative?’

‘I said the idea out loud and my son said ‘Not just punished Mom, sent to their death!’

‘I thought, that’s my son.  He knows what a good story is.”

After McMann wrote the first chapter, the one in which the two boys are pulled apart and the Unwanted is taken away, she needed to come up with ideas for what should happen next.  In the past she had written her books primarily on her own, but for The Unwanteds she wanted to get the whole family involved.

“I’d have the family all gather in the living room and we’d do a brainstorming session,” she said.  She’d decided that the hiding place of the Unwanteds would be magical, and that each child would develop magic based on their creative talent.  A painter might have the ability to paint himself invisible. McMann’s kids would come up with creative ways normal art objects could be used as weapons, such as paperclips that would pin down an enemy when thrown.  “The fun thing about this is we were building a world and we were making rules.  If you have a world where anything can happen, it can get kind of boring.”

Of all her books so far, McMann says that it would be hard to choose a favorite, but if she were it would be The Unwanteds.  “It feels like my family was so involved with this book that it’s really special.”

The youngsters who attended had interesting questions for the author.  One wanted to know what McMann’s favorite animal, food and color were.  The answer was Arctic fox, avocado, and purple.

Another was curious about McMann’s process.  “Here’s how I write,” she said.  “I take a month and I clear my whole calendar.  November and December are usually my writing months.  I feel like a hermit but all I do is sit in my green chair and I write.  I wake up and I write for as long as I can.  Sometimes it’s until three, sometimes ‘til 11 at night.” She says that while she is on tour it is hard to write, but she may do some editing on long plane rides.  She writes at a steady pace of two books a year.

When another child asked if she was rich, she responded that she gets to make a living doing what she loves.  “So yeah, I feel rich,” she said.

Those who want to learn more about McMann and her work, go to

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