Over the last two and a half decades, Tony Abbott has written one hundred books of mystery, fantasy, and adventure for young readers aged 6 to 14, including Kringle, Underworlds, and the long-running series, The Secrets of Droon. He is also author of the realistic novels Firegirl (2006 Golden Kite Award for Fiction) and The Postcard (2008 Edgar Award for Best Juvenile Mystery), and the civil-rights drama, Lunch-Box Dream, appearing in 2011. The scientific thriller saga, The Copernicus Legacy, with its companion series, The Copernicus Archives, launched in 2014 from HarperCollins. Tony has been on the faculty of Lesley University’s MFA in Creative Writing, is a frequent conference speaker and visitor to schools, and presents workshops to creative writers of all ages. His websites are www.tonyabbottbooks.com and www.FridayBookReport.com.
- Tony, did you always know that you wanted to serve others and help today’s youth?
I would have to say, No, I didn’t know that at an early age, and to tell the truth, it’s not really a conscious thing now. What I have always known is that I love stories. From my earliest days, I found something extremely comforting and exciting about the shape of stories, how one is drawn in—either slowly or quickly—to a character or event, and how it becomes impossible to withdraw oneself. The story becomes a part of you and the way you think. When I started to write, it was with that in mind, that a story can change you. If there is any service or helping of today’s young readers that I can be said to do, it’s in introducing them to a story, a character, a gathering of characters, and to bring them into the kind of world—as real as our own—that can change the way you are. For the better, of course. Always for the better (although that’s not a conscious thing, either).
- Can you walk us through how you first got started in your career path?
I was born into a house filled with books. Both of my parents were teachers. My older brother was a great and smart reader, a very intelligent boy. These things instilled a sense of books and stories as a good thing, though I wasn’t a great reader myself. Still, I did write. I got that from my brother, who was a good writer even as a young boy. I kept writing through school, a lot of poetry in college and after. When my first daughter was born, like most parents, I began to read children’s books with her, and I fell in love with them. I eventually stopped writing poetry to see if I could write a children’s book. I didn’t have any success with picture book texts, but the short chapter books common in second grade were very appealing. It was there I found my home, and where I published my first books.
- How did you handle the bumps in the road? Were there any moments when you wondered if all your hard work was worth it?
Oh, many times I threw in the towel, and many times it came around and threw itself back in my face. I tried to stop, told myself it was ridiculous to keep writing when no one wanted to read my pieces. I had so many writing heroes and I felt that I would never ever get to the point of creating anything that would allow me to enter their club. But every time I forced myself to give up, I would find myself turning back to the desk, writing just one more thing. And those “one more things” added up, accumulated, and there I was, back at it again. I like to think that’s the path every writer should have to take. It’s not true that every writer does, however. Some have a much easier path to where they want to be. Mine took years and years, but for me it was the only way forward.
- I’m wondering if you can help us understand what you attribute your success to.
It’s most probably determination. I mentioned my brother before. In college, he and his friends were very good writers. Those were the people he hung around with and who I drifted into the group of. They had talent, they all did. Great imaginations. The sort of thing you read about in books about writers, the circle of clever people. I had none of that particular sort of smarts, was such a hanger-on, and a spectator, embarrassingly so, I suppose. What I did write I rather kept to myself, the poems and such. But I seriously found I couldn’t stop writing. I kept at it, day after day, year after year, until it was a part of me. I may have been, or am, a journeyman writer, a plodder, an infantryman, but I suppose I was always pressing forward. In short, none of those people are writers today, and I have written a hundred books. Most of the books are quite short, a hundred pages or so, but still . . . a hundred. So, determination will win you a place, even if you’re not a fighter pilot.
- What do teens need today more than anything else?
Oh, gosh. It’s so different being a teenager today than when I was one. The world is completely different, interconnected, more dangerous, teetering on holocaust. But if I can sound like an old fogey in a rocker on a porch, and without shaking my fist at passersby, I guess I would counsel this: know the past. The world today is so surface-oriented. Absorbing or even listening to the tsunami of daily information can take more time and brain than we have, so we have to carve out time and space to understand the past. The literature of the past. History. The wonder of our earth and civilization. Squirrel yourself away, shut it all off, and read a book written before this noisy time. The golden age of literature, to me, was eighty years ago. The books written then are exquisite and slow and brilliant. And when you are in that quiet place, stop reading every once in a while and just think. Shut it all off and think. I cannot imagine a world built on an awareness of only the daily mush of information, and it will be the charge of teenagers today to build the next manifestation of this world.
- Tony, what would you tell a teen who was struggling?
Struggling is part of life. Share what you can share, if you need support. Speak up. But also, keep to yourself what might make you stronger in the long run. Suffer through things. It might be the case that in today’s culture, we feel we have the individual right to force ourselves on the world, no matter how annoying or insignificant or self-referential our concerns are. Suffer silently through some things. Not everything about our internal struggles (and, by God, we have ALL had them) needs to be shared. Maybe I come from a different generation, but a little quiet about ourselves is not a bad thing. Particularly, I would say, if you have a creative thread in yourself.
- What else do you want to tell us about what you do and what you want to eventually be doing?
Because I early fell into the writing of series (probably because I have a brain that thinks in continuations), I’ve written a lot over the last twenty years. It’s become a business, as all art rather eventually does or might aspire to be—van Gogh really did want to sell his paintings, after all). What I would like now is to write more slowly. Instead of three or four books a year, one book every two years. And to read more. I do love to read, though it takes me a long time to finish a book. I would like to have months on end to do no writing, but just to read at my own pace.
- Can you please share with all of us something else that I should have asked you?
I think I’ve blabbed quite enough, thank you.
* How can people get in touch with you if they have additional questions?
My website (www.tonyabbottbooks) has an email link to me, so I read all the notes and letters sent to me from there.
Thanks for your time Tony and keep up the good work! Our youth needs more people like you!
Well, thank you, Daniel. This was fun. All the best to you, too!
Author and Speaker of the Granddaddy’s Secrets teen leadership book series.
* PURCHASE “THE STORM” http://tinyurl.com/glxzjaf