Author website/social media:
Facebook: Tamra Wight – Children’s Author
1. When you were my age, did you like to read?
Oh my goodness, yes! I read constantly. In the back seat of the car, high in the branches of our maple tree, by the brook in the woods behind our house and under the covers at night (I thought I was fooling my mom into thinking I was sleeping, turns out she knew better). We didn’t have a ton of money growing up, but my parents always allowed me to buy books from the Scholastic Book flyer. I just loved pouring over it to see what was new! I’d circle ten choices, Mom would tell me to narrow it down to two, and we’d settle on three or four.
When I needed something new to read, I’d walk a little more than a mile to Charlton Library in the middle of my hometown. There on the shelves, I found Nancy Drew, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Charlotte’s Web, The Trumpet of the Swan, just to name a few.
2. What was your favorite story? I had many favorites that I read more than two and three times. The characters I look back on most fondly though is a series called The Bobbsey Twins. I’m not sure if it’s because of the family themed stories, my fascination with twins (two sets in the family), or the story behind my getting them. Even though I was young, I can distinctly remember the day I received a big box from my Grandmother Piehl, given to her by her sister who was a teacher, I believe. Inside was the entire series! They were gently used, but I didn’t notice or care. To have so many books given to me all at once! I was in heaven! I read them over and over and over again. Sometimes, I would just stare at them in awe as they sat in perfect order on our bookshelf.
3. How do you get your ideas? Like why a camp in Maine? My husband, daughter, son and I owned Poland Spring Campground here in Maine for 27 years. We just sold it this past Fall, as a matter of fact. Our home was steps from the camp office, with 132 campsites scattered over the property, and the lakefront of Lower Range Pond beyond that. We lived in the house, even when the rest of the campground closed for the winter.
So for the Cooper and Packrat series, I’m sure you can see how I drew inspiration from our experiences and our family dynamic of not only living, but working together, too. Family Day was a real thing for us, although how we decided in real life to take one full day off each week was a very different, not-quite-as-interesting story. Remember Chapter One in Mystery on Pine Lake? Where Cooper lifts that trash can lid to find a lobster’s beady eyes staring at him and maggots crawling in and out of the body and among the trash? How a bag exploded at his feet? All based on our trash pick up routine, in the early years of owning a campground.
I also spent many hours exploring the lake in my kayak and hiking or snowshoeing the trails along its edges. It was mostly there, where I’d research first hand and take photos of the animals I’d feature in each story. Nesting loons and eagles, beavers, muskrats, heron, otters, foxes and more . . . but not the bears! I went to the Maine Wildlife Park to do research on those.
Some authors use a notebook and pen to record their thoughts and notes, I use my 500mm camera lens. You can read all about my wildlife watching and see my photos on my website. I also like to post them on Instagram, Facebook and Pintrest so others can see the beauty of our Maine Wildlife.
All of Cooper’s adventures have bits from my family’s experiences woven in loosely. The box canyon setting in Mystery of the Eagle’s Nest is based on a geo-caching spot my family hiked to called The Jail. Mystery of the Missing Fox kit scenes come from my monitoring a fox den for three years in person and through a trail camera. And finding a very cool bottle dump while hiking a trail in Auburn, Maine, led to the beginning of Mystery of the Bear Cub. I never quite know when or where inspiration will strike!
4. Is it hard to write/illustrate a book? I wouldn’t say hard . . . more like needing stick-to-it-ness, perseverance. It takes several rewrites to get a manuscript just right. Authors have trusted readers who critique our work and give honest, tough-love feedback on how to make each draft better than the last. And authors need to have the strength to take suggestions when we know in our heart they’re right for the story, even if it means one more rewrite or starting over again from word one.
5. Do you have a favorite among the books you have written? That’s like asking who my favorite child is! I like them all equally for very different reasons. The Three Grumpies was my first published book, a picture book inspired by my son Ben and one very grumpy three-year-old day. My daughter Alex, who was eleven at the time and an avid reader and writer herself, helped brainstorm the main character’s problems with me.
The Cooper and Packrat series is near and dear to my heart too, because it was inspired by our love of living and working in a campground. My son, now twenty years old, put it best a few weeks ago when he thanked me for writing the books. “Whenever I’m missing my time growing up in a campground, I can always pick up one of Cooper’s stories and remember.”
6. What author do you really like right now? There are so very many! I’m going to admit that I haven’t had a lot of reading time these last couple years. Running a 132 site campground, being a middle school ed tech, and writing the series, took up most of my day. There was one consistent opportunity to explore new books though, and that was by reading aloud at school. The last few years I shared books by Cynthia Lord, Kate Messner, and Victoria Jamieson (these are the three that come quickly to mind, although there were many others). Right now, I’m reading Maxi’s Secrets by Lynn Plourde to my students, we’re all loving it!
Since we sold the campground, I find myself reading daily again. I just finished The Call, by Wendy Ulmer and illustrated by Sandra Salsbury. I adored it! Magic and dragons are two of my favorite things to read about! I’m just about to begin Unidentified Suburban Object by Mike Jung, because a student recommended it. I also love light sci-fi and fantasy too, so I hope to catch up on Rick Riordan’s latest books. Lightening Thief was one of my all time favorites.
7. What advice do you have for a kid who wants to be an author?Read as much as you can. And when you find yourself loving a sentence or a paragraph or a chapter, go back and read it again. Then one more time. What made it capture your attention? Why did it stand out? Was it the sentence structure? The hook? A cliff hanger? Perhaps it was the voice of the character. Try using that same strategy in your own writing with your own words.
Write often, and vary your writing until you find the style that fits you best. Try writing all the genres. Experiment with poetry. Nonfiction. Diary format.
And last but not least, take a break if you must, but never stop writing. After I sold The Three Grumpies, it took me ten years to sell another book. If I had given up, Cooper and Packrat would not be sitting on your shelf today.