Carol Otis Hurst on Becoming an Author

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I was born on October 13, 1933 in Springfield, Massachusetts, where my father owned a filling station -- now we call them gas stations. That filling station and the rock collection inside it play an important role in my picture book Rocks in His Head, published by Greenwillow Press in 2001.

On the same property, my father and his father built our home. I'm next to the youngest of seven kids and having my father working right next door was handy for us all.

When I was four, we moved ten miles west to Westfield. That move is also part of Rocks in His Head.

I was a good student although not a particularly good writer so writing was not a career I even considered. I did, however, love to read. I truly thought that the children's librarian in Westfield waited for my arrival every afternoon and I rarely disappointed her.

Most of the people in my extended family were avid readers and, even more importantly, they were storytellers. I knew which of them told which kind of stories and I was, apparently, a very good listener. Some of those stories were the "Once Upon a Time" sort told to entertain the children, but many, many of others were not that sort at all. Those stories usually began with the word "Remember" and they were stories the adults in that large extended family told to each other. They were about themselves, their friends and about those who had come before. As a child and as a young adult, I was an eavesdropper but I had no idea how important those stories were.

The "Once Upon a Time Stories" told to me were wonderful and surely enriched my childhood literacy, but the stories I overheard were more important. They made me feel part of something bigger. They made me feel less alone. They were history in a way that no history book ever can be.

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Those adults remembered together through the stories they told that sometimes caused them to rock with laughter and, other times, moved them to tears.

I went to the local teachers' college, married and moved first to Tennessee, then Ohio and then Minnesota where my husband was a professor of psychology. When we divorced, I moved, with my three children, back to Westfield. My youngest child, David, died in infancy. My daughters Jill and Rebecca got to hear some of those old stories and a good many new ones as I shared the books and stories I was reading and telling my first, second and third grade classes.

I then became a school librarian and found more books and stories to share. I told more stories too and became fairly well known for that storytelling. When Jill and Rebecca were grown, I traveled the country telling stories and lecturing on children's books. I wrote a lot of books for teachers and librarians. When people asked if I'd written a children's book, I'd say that that was like asking an opera singer if she'd written any good operas. But those old stories kept whispering in my head.

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When I was 67 years old, I sat down to see if I could write my grandmother's story. I tried it from every direction I could think of but it didn't work. I put it aside and began thinking about my other grandfather's story. I tried writing it down but it didn't work either. Then one day I cast reality aside, moved them both back in time forty years and placed them as homeless young adults meeting each other on the banks of a failed canal and it worked. I used many of those stories they told about themselves and about each other all those years ago. I used friends they had spoken of and laughed and cried about.

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I was lucky enough to get my first upper elementary novel Through the Lock accepted by Walter Lorraine, a giant in the editing field, at Houghton Mifflin.

And then I was off. I dug back to more stories. There was all that wonderful stuff about my father's rock collecting and how his passion for those rocks saved us all. Rocks in His Head was the vehicle.

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There was the family story about my great-great grandfather, Abner Otis, who went off to find gold in California and supposedly was killed except that he turned up years later in a different place and In Plain Sight was born and published by Walter Lorraine at Houghton Mifflin. Four other upper elementary novels followed.

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Grandpa Otis and Grandpa Clark sat on the porch and reminisced about the awful time they had during the Blizzard of 1888. Terrible Storm illustrated by S. D. Schindler and consisting of an almost verbatim conversation between those old men is published by Greenwillow Press.

I'm a writer! - my fourth or maybe it's my sixth career. Who would have thought? Certainly not my teachers who said my spelling and grammar were good but that there was nothing special about my writing. And there wasn't. Not then. But here I am, in Westfield, Massachusetts, stirring those real bits of story and coming up with new ones. Let me tell you about the night my mother was born and Rooshy Clark set off on horseback to tell all the neighbors but he stopped for a drink at each house and began to forget who'd been born and where and to whom. And then . .and thenÖand then.

-- Carol Otis Hurst, 2006

Read the official bio of Carol Otis Hurst on this web site.