Interview with Megan McDonald, author of Judy Moody
By: Isabella León – Bella the Book Fairy
I recently had the honor of interviewing Megan McDonald the author of the Judy Moody book series. Ms. McDonald was a delight to meet and get to know. She was completely down to earth, funny, kind and by the end of the interview it felt like we were old friends.
Isabella: When did you first decide you wanted to pursue writing as a profession?
Megan: Wow. Well, I always loved to write, and when I was in 5th grade I got my first story published in my school paper. I thought it was exciting to see my name in print, but my first story was about a pencil sharpener! I didn’t really think that was something (a writer) you could be until I went to college and studied English literature and writing. After college, I worked in libraries and was always around books and always had the idea in the back of my mind that someday I really want to write my own book for children.
Isabella: If you weren’t an author, what would you be?
Megan: I would probably still be doing something with books. I would love to be a part of some unusual library. In Minnesota they collect all the original manuscripts and drawings of children’s authors. I often scribble my ideas on a napkin, so they have some of the napkins on display. I just think it would be cool to be part of a collection like that and be able to go through all the boxes and look at all the original things of an author.
Isabella: Do you ever feel intimated by the blank screen?
Megan: Well, I don’t start with the title, that’s last! You know those composition notebooks? The ones that are black & white and have those sorts of marble-y covers? I usually have one of those for each book. And I just start by brainstorming and scribbling ideas into the notebook. By the time I get to the computer— it’s so hard just staring at that blank screen, I mean where do I begin!? So, I usually start with sort of the beginning and end and then figure out what else could be in the middle. That’s how I do it so that when I get to the computer it’s not just this blank document staring at me!
Isabella: What inspires your books?
Megan: Well with Judy Moody I would say probably most of my books are inspired by family stories. I have four older sisters, and many funny things happened growing up with that many sisters! I did change it from my sisters to a brother— I changed it to Stink— I wanted also to be free to use my imagination and not have to have it be exactly like it was in real life. A lot of the stories in the first book are inspired by real life. Just funny things, like “The Toad Pee Club” was a real club, the fake hand in the toilet was a real joke I played on my sisters! So, it started with wanting to write down all those funny family stories!
Isabella: What do you like to read?
Megan: I like to read— wow, well I like to read everything— but I do like reading mysteries! I grew up reading Nancy Drew so that inspired that! I like to read fiction, I like to read poetry. So, I usually have a poetry book around so that when I get up in the morning, I can read a poem while I drink my coffee— but usually, books that my friends or other writers I know tell me about. I like to find out from other people what they are reading so that I know that it’s going to be a really good story that I can kind of disappear into! But pretty much everything I’m game for! Except maybe science fiction. That’s really the only thing that I’m not into, I don’t know why!
Isabella: Do you have a favorite book, something that you relate to well?
Megan: Well, when I was a kid my favorite book was Harriet the Spy! I really admire the books of Katherine Patterson! She is one of my favorite writers! She wrote The Bridge to Terabithia (upon the mention of this fantastic book I started internally sobbing), The Great Gilly Hopkins, which is one of my all-time favorite books. So, I really admire her writing. I like to read Louise Penny, I am reading this one mystery book set in a little town in Montreal, so that’s fun! And right now, I’m reading a book called My Brilliant Friend, which is going to become a television series, so I wanted to re-read the book again! It’s about two girls growing up in Italy, who are best friends and about their coming of age. I like stories that sort of start in childhood and take you up into adulthood.
Isabella: Are you planning on writing any more historical fiction books?
Megan: I do love historical fiction! I wrote this one book about the liberty bell, during the American Revolution when the British were coming into Philadelphia. They were going to melt down the liberty bell, and a group of farmers went in there at midnight and took down the bell and hid it in the basement of this church to save it! So, I like anything that’s really exciting. I wrote another book that’s in a series called Dear America, and they were diaries from a time in history, mine took place on the Santa Fe trail. Also, I wrote a mystery for American Girl and it was set in James Town.
I love digging into the research and what’s cool about writing historical fiction— and I’ll probably keep doing it— is that you find so many stories that are true, and with the mystery at James Town I didn’t even have to make some of those things up! So many things happened to them!! But I don’t have anything specific in mind at the moment, but that’s a big love of mine!
Isabella: I also read that you once chased down a book thief! Could you tell me about that?
Megan: [laughs] I can’t believe you found that! So, when I first moved to California, I worked at this one bookstore, and teachers would come into the store and buy books for their classroom or school library. So, this teacher, who had ordered a whole bunch of books, was coming to pick up her books, and I had stacked them up into two big piles and put them into the paper bags with the handles. I set them in the back of our book store where the office was, but I opened the back door to get some air, so the bags were sitting right there. And then this guy rode his bicycle past them— it was in this shopping center with all these shops — so he rode past them on the back sidewalk and must have seen these big shopping bags, and he came up and grabbed the bags!
He put them on his bike to steal them— and I’m sure he thought they were from Target or something— but they were so heavy because they were full of books that he couldn’t steer right because they were weighing him down! I hear all this noise, so I run out there and see him getting away on the bike! And I’m like “Stop!!! Thief!!!! Those are my books!!!!” And he dropped the books and we got them back! I don’t think he ever really got caught, but when the owner of the store came after I called her, she was like “Oh my gosh Megan! Next time just let them have the books! Don’t endanger your life for saving some books!” [laughs]
Isabella: What’s next for you?
Megan: Oh, good question! Let’s see— for two years I’ve been working on a new book that’s not Judy Moody. And it’s totally different— it’s fantasy! And for Judy Moody—Judy and Stink are going to be in a book quiz. So, they read a bunch of books and have to answer questions on the books, and face off against another team, and they find out who the other team is. They are in 2nd and 3rd grade and on the opposing team, there’s a 4th grader!
She reads Harry Potter and her name is Mighty Fantaski! And they’re like, “How are we going to win against a 4th grader named Mighty?!?!” And right now, I’m working on another Stink book, and in that one there’s going to be a brand-new character called Lula. A South American Pink Toed Tarantula! So, Stink has to get over his fear of spiders to make friends with Lula!
Read more reviews by Bella here.