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Interview: May 2010

Of the 400+ titles on her backlist, Ann M. Martin is best known for penning The Baby-Sitters Club, a hugely popular series written from 1986-2000 that centered on the lives, friendships and adventures of a group of enterprising middle-school students who turn their occasional after-school baby-sitting jobs into a small business.

In this interview with Kidsreads.com’s Norah Piehl, Martin explains why she chose to revisit these characters in a prequel called THE SUMMER BEFORE, and recounts how she kept details of the original books fresh in her mind during the writing process. She also reveals which of the characters she likes best, discusses the re-release of the series’ first four installments, and shares what she hopes a new generation of BSC readers will take away from these books.

Kidsreads.com: Many of your long-time fans have despaired for some time that the original Baby-sitters Club books have been out of print. In the meantime, you’ve been writing very different kinds of novels in the years since the end of the original series. Why return to these characters now?

Ann M. Martin: The Baby-sitters Club (BSC) and the related series came to an end in 2000. Since then, while working on other kinds of novels, I began to hear from readers who had been fans of the BSC and who said that they weren’t able to find the books anymore. I started talking with my editor, David Levithan, about the possibility of relaunching the series. I asked David if he would like to celebrate the relaunch with a new book, and that was the beginning of THE SUMMER BEFORE.

KRC: How did you come to the decision to write a prequel, THE SUMMER BEFORE, to The Baby-sitters Club series?

AMM: My favorite age group to write for is middle-grade, and I especially have fun writing about even younger characters (which is how the Little Sisters series began). So when I started thinking about a new BSC book, what intrigued me the most was exploring the lives of the characters just before the series began, and to think about the events that led up to the creation of the BSC.

KRC: You’ve come to know Mary Anne, Stacey, Claudia and Kristy pretty well in the many series books starring them. Did you discover any new aspects to their characters as you were writing this new book?

AMM: I was intrigued by the chance to explore in greater depth some key aspects of the BSC characters, especially things that happened before Book 1, KRISTY’S GREAT IDEA. In particular, the beginning of the issues that Kristy had with her father throughout the series, and the events in Stacey’s life that led to her family relocating to Stoneybrook Ct.

KRC: Do you have a favorite character in the books? Is there a character that is your favorite to write?

AMM: The character that I am most like in the series is Mary Anne…we’re both quiet and shy. However, my favorite character to write for is Kristy, who is my alter ego.

KRC: Were any of the Baby-sitters Club characters based on you or people you knew growing up?

AMM: Yes, Mary Anne was based on me, and Kristy was based on my childhood best friend, Beth. Most of the other characters were completely made up or were a combination of a number of people I knew.

KRC: Is (fictional) Stoneybrook based on a real town? Is it at all like the town where you grew up?

AMM: Stoneybrook is actually based on two towns --- it is loosely based on Northampton, Massachusetts where I went to college, and also Princeton, NJ where I grew up.

KRC: Had you forgotten any key details about the books, especially the supporting characters, settings, etc.? Did you have to research your own books to get ready to write the new one?

AMM: When I was preparing to write THE SUMMER BEFORE, it had been so long since I’d read any of the BSC books that the first thing I did was go back and reread the first two books for each character --- Mary Anne, Kristy, Claudia and Stacey --- I needed to reacquaint myself with their lives at the very beginning of the series. I had a lot of fun writing THE SUMMER BEFORE. It felt like having a reunion with old friends --- friends who haven’t changed a bit.

KRC: The publication of THE SUMMER BEFORE coincides with the reissue of part of the original series. What do you hope a new generation of young readers will find in The Baby-sitters Club?

AMM: I hope that young readers have an enjoyable experience reading the BSC books. I also hope they come away with images of themselves as positive role models --- responsible, creative and confident. I think it’s important for other kids to see this.

KRC: Will the reissued books be updated at all? Will the girls be posting on Facebook, advertising their business on Craigslist, and talking on cell phones? Or will the original text remain as previously published?

AMM: The books are being updated slightly in order to make them “time neutral.” In other words, rather than changing VCR to DVD, the girls now simply watch a movie. A few other changes were made where the treatment of Stacey’s diabetes was concerned. For instance, now instead of explaining how Stacey tests her sugar level, we simply say that she tests it.

KRC: Do you write every day? What advice would you give young people who are interested in writing novels or short stories?

AMM: I am a very disciplined writer, although I don’t write everyday. On the days when I do write, I get up very early in the morning and sit down to work by about 8 am. I start off by answering email. By 9 I am ready to write, and I spend all morning writing until it’s time to take my dog, Sadie, for a walk. I write again in the early part of the afternoon. The rest of the day is devoted to answering mail, to reading galleys, and any other work my editor or publicist sends me.

The best two pieces of advice I can give young writers: 1. Be an avid reader. Become familiar with all different forms of writing (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, journalism) and 2. Write often and keep a journal. A journal is helpful for writing practice but especially as a source of story starters.

KRC: What other writing projects are you working on?

AMM: At the moment, I am finishing up the last book in the Main Street series. I am also revising a book that will be out next fall called 10 RULES FOR LIVING WITH MY SISTER, and Laura Godwin and I are just about to start work on a fourth Doll People book.