We met “Magic Tree House” author Mary Pope Osborne when she visited Marion Street Elemntary School in Lynbrook recently.
What made you think of the name “Magic Tree House”?
Well, I tried many other forms of “magic” first. “Magic Artist Studio,” “A Magic Cellar,” “Magic Whistles,” “Magic Museum,” and I could not come up with the right time-travel idea. Then I was in the woods with my husband in Pennsylvania. We had a little cabin in the woods. I saw a tree house, an old tree house. I said, “Hey, what if you put two kids in that tree house?” Well suddenly it all came together. By midnight I had the idea. The books in the tree house. Then the “Magic Tree House” was born that day, but it took a year to get off the ground.
What inspired you to write the book “Blizzard of the Blue Moon”?
I wanted to do something about New York City. I wanted to do a blizzard and then I wanted to do a unicorn. So when I started to piece things together, I could sometimes pull them all into one idea so it organically happens. I chose 1939, the Museum of the Cloisters, which had just been built, end of the Depression. All these things I wanted to figure into a story. So that’s how that kind of came around.
Did anyone inspire you to become an author?
I think my husband more than anybody. When I first started writing in my 20s, we had just gotten married and he was so positive and so encouraging that every day I felt like I was just writing for him. And if you at least have one person like that, sometimes it’s a teacher, a parent, a sibling or somebody. For me it was a little late in my 20s. I really wasn’t a writer before that. So I owe a lot to him.
How did you feel as a child since you had to move often?
I loved it. It was so much fun because I had a twin brother, a brother a year younger and an older sister. And we were all best friends so I never really felt like I was alone when we moved, and in the Army — my dad was in the Army — so every Army post all the kids were new because they were doing the same thing, so they’re immediately friendly and you get used to saying goodbye because then the next thing you know, you have a new group of friends. It was always an adventure to figure out what a new place was going to be about. Sometimes I think the “Magic Tree House” is a way to keep moving from one adventure to the next.
What was your favorite book as a kid, and what is your favorite book now?
That’s hard to say. For some reason there was a big book of Bible stories in our house called “Egermeier’s Bible Story Book.” And if you looked at that book now I can’t believe I could read it because it was so dense, so old-fashioned and the writing is really hard. But I loved it and I read it over and over again. I’d finish it and start it again. I think I loved those stories. You get to read all about grown-up dramas. I was only in third and fourth grade. I think that I would have to say it was my favorite. And then my sister and I did a book “Random House Book of Bible Stories” to sort of recapture some of that enthusiasm. I was reading them when I was little. I don’t have a favorite today. I don’t know what it is. I read constantly. I’m a reading addict. So I’ve got three or four books going on at any time.
How many years have you been an author?
Let’s see, I would say almost 35. “Tree House” has been around for 25 years almost. I wrote about for 10 years, and I published about 20 books before “Tree House.” A long time.
Was it difficult to get your first book published?
I was extraordinarily lucky because I really think — my first book was a novel for young adults and I put a lot of my personal life in it — and I think if it had been rejected a lot, I might have been crushed and might not have had the courage to keep trying, but I was really lucky because an agent read it through a friend, and he gave it to a publisher who said, “Let’s talk,” and they said at lunch, “We really like this story, but it needs a lot of work. Can you rewrite it?” And I said, “Yes, I can rewrite it,” and I took it home and only one page was the same when I gave it back to them. But they published it. I worked hard, but I had the lucky break that somebody offered to publish my book.
What do you do when you get stuck on ideas?
I take a break. I’m so big on taking breaks. Let’s say I’m writing and I’m immediately stuck. I don’t know what they’re going to see when they go in the house. I get up, I walk away, I get a cup of tea, let a dog outside, or let a dog inside, and I sit down and the answer’s there. This is the best secret I know. You take a mental break, relax your brain, but it’s sort of in the back of your brain and you come back. Scientists call it “the shower effect.” You’re thinking of a big major problem and they get in the shower and they’re not thinking about it and they get the answer. There’s something about relaxing your head. The worst thing you can do is get in a spinning wheel with it, and you can’t get to the answer and you start to fake it and you start to push it and then you just want to quit, really quit. So I love the break idea, but you stay with it until you can be at your desk for hours but with lots of breaks. That’s my theory.
What kind of dog do you have, and what’s its name?
I have three dogs, and they are Joey, Beezo and Little Bear. Joey and Beezo are two Norfolk terriers, and Little Bear is a little dog I found on a road that didn’t belong to anybody. He was a foster dog I found out, so I took him home and they’re all the same age. They all just turned 12, but they all still act like puppies — that means they’re all really bad. They are so fun.
Are you going to write more “Magic Tree House” books?
I’m working on number 56 now. I never thought I’d write more than eight in the beginning. I don’t know what this is that makes me keep doing it. But until that thing stops, I’ll keep doing it. Kind of mysterious to me.
Why did you decide to go to nonfiction books?
Nonfiction books go with the fiction as you know, and my husband started them and he wrote eight. My name is on them, but really he did all the work on the first eight, and then he turned to writing plays based on “Magic Tree House” and has done five now. My sister, Natalie, we went to her. She’s always been a great writer in my opinion, and she took over and she’s done more than 30 now. I could not do these books as well as they do. They get tons of information and pictures, and they pull it all together. I get the luck of my name there because I created the series, but really they do all the work.
Do you wish any of your books would turn into movies?
You know what, yeah, one of them will be turned into a movie. “Christmas in Camelot.” Number 29.
Does writing run in your family?
Yes, it does actually because I think we’re all readers and our parents made us. They took us to the library every week to the four kids’ groups. Big, big readers. So all of them are talented writers, my two brothers and my sister. I really think it starts from the reading that we did.