Thursday, February 11, 2010


“I think SPILLING INK is a great book because it talks directly to you. I like it when the book does that.” – Rene, age 11

This week YA Literature Review has been featuring the book SPILLING INK by Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter. Today, we get to know the authors behind the fabulous book. Thanks Anne & Ellen for answering some questions.

What made you decide to write SPILLING INK?

Ellen: Writing SPILLING INK was Anne’s idea (she seems to pluck ideas out of the very air molecules!). When she told me about it, I instantly knew it was brilliant. Why? Because over the years, both Anne and I have received so many e-mails from kids who love to write. They often ask these really great, quite sophisticated questions about things like plotting, creating strong characters, how to begin, how to end . . . all the same questions that adult writers ask. We wanted to write a book for these young writers, as well as for kids who are nervous about writing. We wanted it to be fun, and maybe even funny, but also very practical. We wanted it to be the sort of book that would make kids want to curl up and read it, then jump up and write!

Anne: For years I wanted to write a book about writing. You see, I had the good fortune to grow up with two writers (my parents, the young adult novelists, Harry Mazer and the late Norma Fox Mazer). It was like living in a 24/7 Writer’s Boot Camp. My parents were obsessed with writing – and although I didn’t think I was paying attention, apparently, I was. Later on, I realized how much I had learned - mostly while half-asleep! (It’s very nice when many of your important life skills are learned while unconscious.) I didn’t learn about plot and character and description and mood – I learned about how important it is to write every day, to never give up, and to do what you love. I’ve always wanted to share what I received with others. I had stacks of index cards with thousands of notes for the book I wanted to write, but unlocking this particular dream wasn’t possible until I met Ellen Potter.

Is it difficult to write a book with another person?

Ellen: Before SPILLING INK, I never, in my wildest dreams, thought I’d be able to collaborate on a book. I mean, how do you DO that, right?? However, when Anne asked if I wanted to write a book with her, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. I just knew that she would be a dream to
work with.

I think some qualities writers need in order to collaborate successfully are:

1. A massive amount of respect for each other

2. Open minds. Just because you thought up the idea doesn’t mean that
the other person can’t improve it.

3. To be motivated by the same thing. Neither Anne nor I were overly
concerned if SPILLING INK would be a best seller. We weren’t concerned about making a ton of money. That bottom line was that we wanted to share what we’d learned about writing, and we wanted the book to be
warm and fun and unput-downable.

4. To genuinely like each other.

Anne: Depends on who the person is! Writing the book with Ellen was one of the best experiences of my life. It was a partnership with someone who shared my deepest dreams, who completed and enlarged my ideas, and who was just plain fun to work with. To me, the spirit of the book is joy. There was joy in writing it, joy in our partnership, and we want to transmit the joy of writing to our readers.

What was your favorite part of working together?

Ellen: Well, imagine this: Every day you get to call your friend and chat, laugh, be silly, make each other think, and generally brighten each other’s day. Oh and by the way, you are writing a book while you are doing this. That’s as good as it gets.

Anne: I can’t say it any better than that.

Did you have any thoughts about the students’ reaction to SPILLING INK?

Ellen: When I first started using Twitter I thought it was all pretty silly. After awhile, though, I began to “meet” some interesting people, including the extraordinary Alyson. She wrote to me about her impressions of SLOB (it’s always so great for an author to hear directly from her readers. People often think writers don’t care about that stuff, but we do. Of course we do!) Right away I could see that Alyson was a genuine dynamo who was totally dedicated to her students. When she said she’d like to try out some writing ideas from SPILLING INK with her students, Anne and I were overjoyed! The whole time we were writing SPILLING INK, Anne and I kept imagining teachers using it in schools. We imagined kids, inspired by our book, hunkered over their notebooks, creating fictional worlds out of thin air. And then voila! Like magic, Alyson started to send us regular updates and photos of SPILLING INK writing workshops at her elementary school. You can’t imagine what a joy these updates are for us! Now Anne and I feel
forever connected to Alyson and her wonderful students, and we can’t wait to see what these young L.A. writers will do next!

(*blushes – aww shucks* Thanks Ellen for the great compliments…I think you are pretty special too!)


“Anne and Ellen were no longer just names on the cover of a book but real people who had an interest in them…”

When I read this, I was so happy. Yes, it’s true. We feel as if we’re part of your school. There was another reason I felt happy reading this sentence. Often students think of authors as shadowy, remote creatures, possessed of fantastic and mysterious powers. I admit it; I STILL think of some authors this way. But actually, it’s not true. We’re people like you. We don’t want you to think of us – or writing – as out of reach or frightening. There’s a lot of fun, excitement and discovery in writing (although it can be hard work, too) – and we want to transmit that to our readers. If we’re “real people who have an interest in you,” it’s not much of a leap to what Debbie (classroom teacher) said in the classroom post: “My students are beginning to see that they are writers - even the ones that didn’t believe that they were writers.”

If you could choose a fictional character as a BFF who would it be?

Ellen: Calvin O’Keefe from A WRINKLE IN TIME. He just seems like the kind of friend who would really watch your back.

Anne: Pippi Longstocking. Because she’s utterly herself. And she always sticks up for the underdog. And she has such fantastic adventures!

What has been your favorite school visit and why?

Ellen: Honestly, I have so much fun at every single school visit that I couldn’t choose a favorite. I do have some favorite questions from kids though. Such as:

“Do you ever get reader’s block? It’s when you read a book that’s so
good, you can’t write another word.”


“Do you, like, ride around in a limo all day?”

Anne: I love school visits where kids’ art and writing decorate the hallways, where the kids are full of questions, and everyone is excited about books.

And yes, like Ellen, my favorite part of ANY school visit is the Q & A with the kids. I LOVE that.

What was the one book that you wished that you had written?

Ellen: HOLES . Yeah, that was pretty darn spectacular.

Anne: Please! There are way too many of them! Anything written by Katherine Paterson. THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak. And this last weekend I read SKIN HUNGER by Kathleen Duey. It was one of those books I’ll never forget…

If you are interested in learning more about what Anne and Ellen are up to, I encourage you to check out their websites:

Anne Mazer -

Ellen Potter -

I hope everyone has enjoyed our week with Anne and Ellen. Don't forget to enter the SPILLING INK signed ARC contest.


"I think that the book SPILLING INK: A Young Writer's Handbook is a great book for kids like me to get enthusiastic about writing...Thank you Ellen Potter and Anne Mazer for writing this great book." - Karla,age 11

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