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This Teacher Writes Books (October 25, 2013)
Posted 10/25/13

AUSD Community Bulletin

This Teacher Writes Books

Ellen Mulholland writes about love, life, and ordinary kids

Born and raised in San Bernadino, California, Ellen Mullholland earned her degree in Journalism and English Literature at USC and now provides academic support to 6th, 7th and 8th graders at Wood Middle School. That’s her day job – and one she loves – but in her spare time, this single mom and full-time teacher has another avocation: writing Young Adult (YA) fiction.

Mulholland’s first YA novel, This Girl Climbs Trees, was published in December, 2012; her second novel, Birds on a Wire, came out in early October of this year. During her prep period one afternoon, Ellen answered questions about writing, teaching, and keeping children reading in our age of all screens all the time.

When did you first dream of being a writer?

I have loved to read for as long as I can remember. My dad used to come home from work every night and sit in his chair and read. I would lie at his feet and do homework or read my own book.  Reading itself is what got me to say, “I want to write a story.” Having teachers who said, “you should think about being a writer” also inspired me.  My 7th grade teacher submitted my poems to contests, which I won – that was very validating. And I’m not just saying that because I’m a teacher!

Why Young Adult fiction as opposed to, say, picture books or adult novels?

I have a 15-year-old daughter and a 20-year-old son. Plus I teach middle school. I’m around kids all the time and I love it. They all are characters in their own stories. As a middle school teacher, I also read a lot of YA fiction and I know what kind of stories this age group likes to read. In my own time, I do read adult fiction but these aren’t the kinds of books that I have wanted to write. I separate what I read and what I write. But, of course, you never know…

You teach adolescents and you write for adolescents – what do you like about this age group?

Teenagers have an innocence that I love. They say it like it comes. They speak their minds and they speak their hearts. I want to be able to tell stories about the kinds of kids who can’t tell their own story – real children who aren’t interesting because they have magical powers but because they are ordinary kids with ordinary stories that all kids can connect to. I like to look at where we are now, what are children facing in the real world? What real-life dragons do they have to deal with? I know teens these days really love fantasy and sci-fi because it pulls them away from the stress of today’s world. I don’t want them to forget that this world is not somewhere to run from. Maybe they just need to find a place to head toward. When you are 12 or 13 or 16, your whole life is before you; the life you want to create. It’s exciting!

What themes do you like to explore in your novels?

I focus on self discovery and self acceptance. These are such important themes for this age group. And I’m also interested in love – not just romantic love, but what is family love? What is love for self? How does love play into religion? What is all that about?

Which YA authors do you admire?

Judy Blume, Jerry Spinelli, Donald Sobol, Gary Soto, and Carolyn Keene, the pseudonym for the authors of the Nancy Drew stories. I’m kind of old school!

How can we encourage kids to read when they are surrounded by so much technology and so many distracting screens?

I became a reader because my dad was a reader. Kids learn by what you do, not what you say. If you say, ‘hey go read a book!’ then sit down in front of the TV or the computer, your children won’t be inspired to read. By reading ourselves, we model and foster a love of books.

And I don’t have a problem with kids reading on Kindles or other tablets. I embrace the changes in our world. These are the devices they have now.   But as parents we still need to set boundaries. We still have to help children develop good habits and balance their lives. So maybe we need to take their smart phones out of their rooms at 9:30 pm so they can read before going to sleep. Or maybe we need to set limits on how long they can play computer games on the weekends. The technology may be new but our role as parents is not.

You teach full-time and you’re a single mom. How do you find time to write?

My dad used to say, “Find what you love and then find a way to make a living doing that.” I love writing; if I’m not writing, I have no joy. And if I have no joy, what’s the point and what am I teaching my own kids? So I get up early on weekend mornings and write and I review my writing in the evenings. When you love something enough, you find a way to do it.

Looking for more information about Ellen Mulholland and her books? You can follow her on her Facebook page or on her Weebly page. She will also be visiting several schools over the year to talk to students about writing and is happy to add more classroom visits to her schedule.