Sherri Winans
Whatcom Community College
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Sherri’s Notes: Laurie Halse (pronounced Waltz) Anderson
Children’s Literature Conference, WWU, 25 February 2006

About Laurie Anderson

  • Born 1961, lives now in a town called Mexico, New York.
  • Said, “We authors are the beloved aunts and uncles—we don’t have to scold them or put them to bed; we just tell them a good story and leave.”
  • She has a live journal on her web site (there’s already a link on our class web page).
  • When she was little, she had trouble sleeping, and she had a couple of movies she played in her head, things she made up.  One of them starred her as a “mad woman in the forest.”  (This is the name of her live-journal.)
  • Her dad was a minister (Presbyterian?) who worked at Syracuse University for a while when she was growing up.  They spent most weekends camping, loved the forest and nature, fishing, eating.  Her father was a poet and a woodsman.
  • She hated high school (“hated, hated, hated”).  Was “the tallest kid in the county, with bad teeth.”  High school was bad times, different schools, her dad lost his job, no money, family was spiritually broken.
  • She had been raped before 9th grade—didn’t tell for 25 years.  Was afraid her already-hurting family would explode.
  • What saved her?  Her size, and sports.
  • Spent her senior year in an exchange program, on a pig farm in Denmark.
  • Went to, and loved, Onondaga Community College, AA degree 1981—this school experience changed her life.
  • Went to Georgetown after that for a degree in language and linguistics.
  • Her kids, Meredith and Stephanie, are English and Elementary Ed majors.

For those who want to write

  • She got hundreds and hundreds of rejection letters.
  • Recommends these books/sites to writers:
    • Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird
    • Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way
    • Stephen King’s On Writing
    • Elizabeth George’s Write Away: One Novelist’s Approach to Fiction
    • (Complete Idiot’s Guide)


  • What made her write Speak?  She read the book Reviving Ophelia and was thinking about her own daughters as they were becoming young adults.
  • She didn’t think anyone would want to read it—the publishers weren’t all that excited about it either (one said “teenagers don’t read”).  The response has been surprising.
  • Anderson says teenagers do read; they just have “very high standards.”  “We adults,” she said, “will read anything.”

Her writing

  • “I tend to write about things that irritate me”—for example the college hierarchy, which schools to go to.  This is the subject of her book Catalyst and an essay that appears on her web site.
  • She said Prom is an exception: “probably the only happy book I’ll ever write.”
  • Writing is 5% inspiration, 45% craft, 55% stay-in-chair-and-revise.
  • She says first drafts are terribly painful, because the writing is so bad.
  • When she’s revising, she focuses on the big three: imagination (is it interesting?), logic (does the structure work?), the details (characterization and language).
  • Books offer readers a mirror or a window: a way to see their own experiences, themselves, and a way to see others’ experiences, others.
  • She’s now working on a book called Independent Dames, about women and girls during the American Revolution.

Her “secret tips”

1.      Nobody writes good drafts.

2.      Short is better than long.

3.      Separate content from conventions.

4.      Actions speak louder than adverbs.

5.      You can always make it better.

6.      Writing is a Guild craft of old; you have to apprentice.


Funded through the U.S. Dept. of Education, Title III Grant PO31A980143
Sherri Winans, Whatcom Community College, Bellingham, WA