Elaine Marie Alphin
Photo by Arthur B. Alphin
Since her first novel for young readers appeared in 1991, Elaine Marie Alphin published 27 books for young people and one for adults (about writing for young people). Elaine wrote for readers of all ages, from Davy Crockett in Lerner’s History Makers series for beginning readers up through teenage mysteries such as Counterfeit Son, winner of the Edgar Award for Best Young Adult mystery. Elaine loved research, and that love impacted all of her writing, from biographies for middle grade readers like I Have Not Yet Begun To Fight: A Story About John Paul Jones in the Creative Minds series through young adult fiction such as the history-inspired mystery, The Perfect Shot to the stand-alone nonfiction young adult book An Unspeakable Crime: The Prosecution and Persecution of Leo Frank.
What was your favorite book when you were a child?
I loved reading so much as a child (and I still do) that I didn’t have one favorite book—I had lots of them! I always took fairness and justice very seriously, so many of the books I read explored those ideas. I especially loved Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, and Howard Pyle’s The Story of King Arthur and His Knights and the other three Arthurian books in his series.
What’s your favorite line from a book?
“And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am about.” —John Steinbeck, East of Eden
Who are your top three favorite authors or illustrators?
I couldn’t begin to pick three top favorites! At different times in my life, different writers speak to me, but then I turn to other authors at other times. How could you begin to compare William Shakespeare with J. K. Rowling, John Steinbeck with Stephen King, or Madeleine L’Engle with Terry Pratchett? It’s like trying to decide which food you prefer: chocolate or pizza. They’re both delicious, but there is no comparison to let you rank one above the others!
Why did you want to become an author or illustrator?
When I was very small, before I even started school, my father and I would go for walks early in the morning and tell each other stories. I loved making up stories, and as I grew older I made up stories about everything—I was the kind of student who made up stories with her spelling words instead of simply writing sentences! As I got older, I realized that stories could do more than just be entertaining—they could also express ideas. And I knew that what I wanted to do in my writing was invite readers to challenge their assumptions and consider new ideas. After that, no amount of urging from responsible adults to settle down and get a real job that would guarantee a way to support myself could discourage me from becoming a full-time author.
Do you have any advice for future authors or illustrators?
Read—read many different types of books. Read a book once for the wonder and the pleasure it brings you. Then read it again to see how the author did the things that made you love that book: the believable characterizations, the descriptive details, the exciting action, the thought-provoking theme. And write—write every day if you can. Write in a journal, or write stories or poems, but get your thoughts down on paper in your own words. The more you read, and the more you write, the better your writing will become. Most of all—have fun writing!