Mary Rand Hess is a New York Times bestselling author and we got an interview with her! She’s sharing inside details about her approach to writing, her published books, and her current work in progress. One of the coolest reveals is about her latest book, LITTLE LARRY GOES TO SCHOOL, the story of an orphaned chimp. Enjoy the read! Thank you, Mary!
I have been writing seriously for over 25 years. Right out of college, I started writing for newspapers, magazines, and literary journals, and then made my way to screenplays, picture books, and young adult novels.
What made you want to become an author?
In second grade, we had to present a book report. I adapted Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White into a puppet show, making my own puppets and performing an abridged version for the class. I remember getting a standing ovation, and to my surprise was asked to perform it again (and believe me, I was not the teacher’s pet). It was in that moment I knew the power of storytelling. By fifth grade, another teacher told my mother I was destined to be an author. I rejected the notion at first because I wanted to be on stage singing and playing the piano.
But in truth I had always loved telling stories. Whether it was putting on puppet shows (thank you, Mr. Rogers), plays, or creating storyboards, it was enchanting to orchestrate a world of make-believe. In that world, anything could happen—I could even become a rock star. It wasn’t until I was twenty-years-old that I realized my fifth grade teacher was right, I was born to be an author.
Tell us about your most recent book, LITTLE LARRY GOES TO SCHOOL. How did this book come together?
I was approached by National Geographic to coauthor Little Larry Goes to School (The True Story of a Timid Chimpanzee Who Learned to Reach New Heights) with Gerry Ellis, who is a renowned wildlife filmmaker, photographer, and writer, and whose work has appeared in National Geographic, BBC Wildlife, New York Times, Ranger Rick, and more. Gerry and I became fast friends and bonded over the adorable Little Larry. Gerry shared his amazing photographs and accounts of being up close and personal with this little chimp (who found a way to fit in with the other chimps, while learning to be brave). It wasn’t long before I felt like I knew Gerry and Little Larry well. Gerry has spent countless hours documenting the lives of great apes, including young chimpanzees like Little Larry. If you love the wild and you love great apes, Gerry’s your person!
Authors get rejected a lot. What do you do when you get rejected?
Rejection stings a little... sometimes a lot, but it is a part of the journey. When I receive a rejection, I like to listen to music to process my thoughts and feelings, and then I usually write a stanza of a new poem, or dig out an older one I’ve been working on to get my mind on the important ingredients of creating and revising. I also love hugs from my family and dogs. And when I’m really feeling down in my blues, I compose on the piano. I think rejection is a necessary part of the process and makes us more thoughtful creators. And when time has passed and I feel wiser, I take out that rejected piece and give it another shot at success.
What’s the hardest part about writing picture books? What’s the easiest?
Picture books are definitely not easy to write. Many people have met the fate of trying to write a picture book and realizing it was not as easy as they thought. The hardest part for me is deciding how to execute a story in a picture book, and cutting back on words that I love and want to keep. Writing poetry has been good practice and has helped me understand the importance of the economy of words when it comes to a picture book. The easiest part is brainstorming characters, story ideas, and storylines, because ideas tend to be endless. Sometimes I think I’ll never get to them all.
Describe what it’s like to hear the news that you’ve just gotten a book contract.
It’s like a friend stopping by for a surprise visit and bringing you a birthday cake and a present, even when it’s not your birthday. It’s also like... “Well, it’s about time!”
Can you tell us anything about what you’re working on now?
I just finished up a book called The One and Only Wolfgang: From Pet Rescue to One Big Happy Family with my friend Steve Greig of @wolfgang2242 Instagram fame. The story is about Steve’s real-life family of senior dogs, chickens, a rabbit, and a pig named Bikini. These pets, who were once “unadoptable,” but are now “unstoppable” together, show us what it means to be a big quirky family, where everyone belongs. I’m thrilled to say the book releases September of this year!
What do you do when you’re not writing?
I LOVE hanging out at the beach with family, visiting with friends, taking naps with my dogs, baking, listening to copious amounts of music, and composing and riffing on the piano while my dog sings.
What advice would you give someone who wants to become an author?
Write the story that you can’t get out of your heart and mind. Write about characters, settings, and storylines you feel passionate about. Read lots of books in all different genres, and revise, revise, revise! Know that everyone will experience rejection—it’s part of the creative process. Keep writing and believing that you have the power to inspire with your words.
Need some fun ideas about what to do after reading Little Larry Goes to School? Check out our book bite!