Betsy Byars | National Book Month

Betsy Byars is an author of over 60 books for young people. Her book Summer of the Swans won the Newbery medal in 1971, and her works have been translated into nineteen different languages!
Betsy and her husband Ed are both pilots and currently live on an air strip in South Carolina. When she is not flying, Betsy drives to a log cabin to read, think, and write her books.
Did you study writing in school?
No. But I started reading at four years old, and I think one thing all writers have in common is that they read all the time, as kids and as adults.
What have you learned from other authors?
If I see someone has done something very exciting, I look at the writing and I see how they did that. So that is sort of my inspiration. I have usually learned something from every other writer I have ever read.
Are your children hidden in your books?
Yes. I have three daughters and when they were growing up, they would ask, "What are you writing? Don't put anything in there about me!" What they were doing was always so interesting and they were very communicative - "Let me tell you what happened at school!"
Where you get your ideas for dialogue?
I am a wonderful eavesdropper. Whether I am on an airplane or a bus or wherever I am, I am listening to what people say and how they say it. And I think that helps.
How do you begin a story - with dialogue or description?
As soon as I get an idea for a book, I type the title page, The Night Swimmers by Betsy Byars. I don’t make an outline. I don't say this chapter will be about two kids getting into the swimming pool. I usually start the book with description, but sometimes I take the description out later, and start with the dialogue.
Do you let the story develop its own way, or first decide how the story is going to end?
Many times I jump ahead and write the ending, and when I get there it no longer fits, so I have to write a new ending!
Does where you are living affect the settings of the stories that you are writing?
When I was in West Virginia I wrote West Virginia stories, and now that I am in South Carolina, I write about the beaches or the streets here. Wherever I am, I use whatever is there.
Summer of the Swans deals with the thoughts and feelings of the mentally disabled. Do you want your books to show people something that they may not know much about?
That's really not the reason I write a book. When I start, I just have this good story that I want to tell. When I was writing that book I was working with kids that had disabilities and were having problems learning, and that is kind of where I got the inspiration for the book.
Which one of your books is your favorite and why?
The Midnight Fox is my favorite and it is one of the first books that I wrote. And it is the first book that came out like I wanted it to. I like the fact that the boy character was so sensitive and imaginative, and I like my characters to be that way.
How can young authors who have an urge to express themselves work on their writing?
Learning to express yourself verbally is going to be important for all of your life, whether you want to be a writer or whatever you want to do. It is important to learn to write and to learn to express yourself. When I first started writing, I wrote eight hours a day. Writing is like piano playing, or baseball, you have to practice a lot.