FSG Talks to Author Erica Silverman
Where did you grow up?
When I was very little, my family lived in Brooklyn, New York. Then we moved to Queens. I spent a great deal of time at my grandmother's apartment in the Chelsea area of Manhattan. We used to walk to the public library on Twenty-third Street. I remember climbing the stairs up to the children's room and seeing all those books just waiting for me. Now I go to a library that lets you take out fifty books at one time. I bring a gym bag and fill it up!
Have you had other jobs?
Yes. I've been a waitress, a health counselor, and a nursery and elementary school teacher. I've sold tickets for sailboat rides and cut onions to make onion rolls. Most recently, I taught English as a second language, and high school English to adults. It was a great job because I learned so much from my students.
What are some of your interests?
I am a big fan of women's basketball. I am interested in animals and like going places where you can see wildlife. If I could, I would have all kinds of pets. For now, I only have four cats. I like all sorts of music, jazz, folk, contemporary, opera, etc. I have recently begun exploring the Internet. Also, I am a bit of a snoop. I love listening in on people's conversations. (I try not to be obvious, but there are so many interesting stories out there!)
What made you decide to become a writer?
I loved reading and listening to stories when I was young. Often I would daydream that I was a character from one of my favorite books. My fourth-grade teacher encouraged us to write poems and stories. Writing came naturally to me, and it was fun. The more I wrote, the more I wanted to write. There were a few teachers who really helped me along the way, and I will always be grateful to them. When I was growing up, I didn't think an ordinary person like me could be an author. Now I know that writers are ordinary people who love to write and work hard at it.
What books did you like when you were young?
One of my earliest memories is reciting Mother Goose rhymes into a tape recorder with my father. The music of those rhymes sparked my love of language. Folk and fairy tales nurtured my imagination. One of my favorite books was about a very big turnip and all the people who tried to pull it out of the ground. Reading the Madeline books made me dream of going to Paris. I remember laughing over a book called What Do You Say, Dear? The rhythm in Millions of Cats was so strong I memorized it. When I was a bit older, I really liked The Phantom Tollbooth, All-of-a-Kind Family, and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I read every Nancy Drew book I could get my hands on. My mother introduced me to Pride and Prejudice, and that became my all-time favorite.
How do you get your ideas?
Ideas are everywhere. They come from childhood memories and recent experience. They come from an image or sentence that strikes a chord inside me. They come from nursery rhymes and folktales. For example, Halloween House was inspired by my love for the old rhyme "Over in the Meadow." Other ideas come from my curiosity about life long ago. Raisel's Riddle is a tribute to my grandparents' world -- the small Polish towns in which a vibrant Jewish culture once thrived. In keeping with that culture, Raisel values learning, and that is why she triumphs over adversity. I wove aspects of my ancestry into the traditional Cinderella story. The old tales are ours to retell, a gift passed down from our ancestors.
Do you like being a writer?
Yes! I love using my imagination. I love the sounds and rhythms of language, the way words can make music. I like to listen to people, to try to understand what's going on inside them. Feelings can be hard to understand and talk about. Stories and poems invite us to slow down and talk about whatever is going on inside. When I write, I want to awaken genuine feeling. I want my readers to laugh, cry, worry, fume, fear, feel courageous, taste victory . . . It is not always easy being a writer, but it is satisfying. (Also, I can work in my pajamas.) When a reader writes to tell me he or she liked one of my books, it makes me feel connected to the world outside myself. Being able to share thoughts and feelings with children I've never met fills me with joy.
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