An Interview with Nan Marino


Nan-Marino-InterviewAuthor interview time! :) I recently read the wonderful book, Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace by Nan Marino, and I was impressed with how well-written it was! I will definitely start steering any fans of Sharon Creech or Polly Horvath to Marino’s books. They all share that same delightful, quirky quality. Anyhoo, the author kindly agreed to answer a few questions, and she shares some fun stories and advice. Enjoy!

1. How do you create unique and original characters?

Usually the first time I think about a character is when I’m busy doing something else.

Years ago I was playing miniature golf with my friend and her two young daughters. The youngest girl (who was 3) moved the ball around, took many swings and was allowed many do overs. Finally her seven-year-old sister pulled me aside and said, “That’s not fair.”  I realized that we were coming from different places. While the adults were thinking “isn’t it cute that the three-year-old is learning how to play”, the seven-year-old was having problems understanding why we all weren’t obeying the same rules.  Suddenly I started to hear the voice of a very bossy girl who only wanted things to be fair and just.  She became the main character of my first book, Neil Armstrong is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGuinty Told Me.   

For Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace, I was channel surfing and began watching a young girl perform on America’s Got Talent.   I started to wonder what would happen if she froze up on national television.  And of course, you can’t read a magazine, newspaper or go on the Internet without noticing how relentlessly the media follows around young performers. I began to think about a young musician named Elvis Ruby who after freezing on stage wanted to get away from all of his fame.  Not  long after that I was walking through the book stacks in the library, and I found the book Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks. One of the chapters was about a woman who had a condition known as amusia.  Amusia is the inability to perceive music.  To a person with amusia, music can sound like “banging pots and pans”. I knew that the musical prodigy, Elvis, would have to meet a very unmusical girl who had this condition.  Both Cecilia’s and Elvis’s personalities sprung from their relationship with music.

2. What was your favorite part in Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace?

My favorite scene is when Elvis Ruby goes into the Albert Hall Pickin’ Shed. Albert Hall is a local music hall in the Pinelands of New Jersey and the Pickin’ Shed is a place where musicians hang out. The first time I went to Albert Hall, I was told by someone who works there that some of the best music of the night can be found in the Pickin’ Shed.  Another favorite thing is that the book is filled with the names of people I know.  For example, two of the main characters in Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace are named Andrea and Jack Blades. Coincidentally that is the exact same name as my niece and her husband. J Many of the people I work with at the library have their first or last names (sometimes both) in the book. The characters are not based on my friends, but I borrowed their names.

3. Which character {out of both of your books} can you relate to most?

I always try to find something that I can relate to in all of my characters. I worry that playing favorites will skew the scene in favor of that character.  In Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace, I was drawn to Elvis’s wanting to get away from it all (sometimes I feel that way too) and to Cecilia’s feeling of being an outsider (I think we all feel that way at times).

In my day job, I’m a young adult librarian and librarian positions are not easy to find these days so I certainly can relate to Millicent’s search for employment –and who doesn’t have dreams of being a librarian in Hawaii?

4. How did you develop the story for Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace?

Originally, I thought I had an outline.  At some point in the story, Cecilia would let Elvis know about her amusia. However, after doing some more research I learned that children with this condition are rarely diagnosed so it would be very unlikely that Cecilia knew. She probably knows she’s different. I’m sure she doesn’t understand why her peers are so enamored with songs and music and celebrity musicians. But I had to change my plot. In early versions, I wrote dozens of pages of flashbacks about what happened to Elvis during the show TweenStar. All of that had come out.  After I sent my editor a draft we had many phone conversations where she’d ask very tough questions about the characters and the plot. That helped me figure out what was important to the story.

5. What are your tips for aspiring authors?

Keep writing. Keep reading. Be open to learning.

Stories are powerful. They change us when we write them. They change people who read them. It’s how we learn about the world, and how we come to understand each other.   Believe in your own stories. Believe that they’re worth telling.

Thanks again to Nan! Stories and words can be very powerful.

Have a wonderful night!

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