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  • The Making of a Writer
  • Written by Joan Lowery Nixon
  • Format: eBook | ISBN: 9780307820464
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The Making of a Writer

Written by Joan Lowery NixonAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Joan Lowery Nixon


List Price: $5.99


On Sale: September 25, 2013
Pages: 112 | ISBN: 978-0-307-82046-4
Published by : Delacorte Books for Young Readers RH Childrens Books
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Many of Joan Lowery Nixon’s readers have written to her to ask how they, too, can become published writers someday. This memoir, including anecdotes and advice, is her answer to them. From her first publication at age ten—a poem entitled “Springtime” in a children’s magazine—to her graduation from Hollywood High during World War II, Joan Lowery Nixon shares the events from her childhood that helped her to grow and develop as a writer.

Joan Lowery Nixon took to heart and never forgot what her ninth-grade journalism teacher told her, “A writer must always have faith in herself. If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will.” Both informative and entertaining, The Making of a Writer is a charming look at one writer’s beginnings.


Chapter One

When I was young I filled notebooks with my writing. Sometimes I jotted down special thoughts, bits of description, verses, and short stories.

The number of greeting cards I designed, with personalized verses inside, would have shaken the marketing department heads of Hallmark. Every member of my family received my illustrated poems on holidays, birthdays, other special occasions, and sometimes just-for-fun days. It made my relatives and friends feel special, and I suppose it also saved me money at the greeting card store.

When I was ten, I mailed one of my poems to a children's magazine to which I subscribed. I can't remember the name of the magazine, but it had a page devoted to children's writing and art.

My poem was titled "Springtime," and I remember that one line was "and children play outdoors because they're glad it's spring." There must have been some literary license involved because in Los Angeles children played outdoors all year round.

In April 1938, just two months after my eleventh birthday, I opened the just-arrived issue of the magazine. There on the children's page was my printed poem, with the byline Joan Lowery, age 10.

My name! My byline! In a magazine that people all over the United States would read!

I can still visualize my name in print under the words I had written. This was what it was like to be a published writer. In print! With a byline! Delirious with success, I knew I was on my way.

Chapter Two

When I was a baby, my parents and my mother's parents, Mathias (Matt) and Harriet (Hattie) Meyer, whom we called Nanny and Pa, bought a white stucco duplex on the corner of 73rd Street and Gramercy in Los Angeles. They added a large, square room that connected the two sides of the house through my parents' and grandparents' dining rooms. Since my mother had been a kindergarten teacher, the room was outfitted like her former classroom with an upright piano, sturdy work table and chairs, easels and poster paints, a school-sized blackboard, a ceramic pot that held damp clay, a dollhouse, and a roomy space for toys. Everyone called it the playroom.

My parents' side of the house was arranged in a square, and my grandparents' side of the house was shaped like an upside-down L. After my sister Pat was born, when I was five, she and my other younger sister, Marilyn, shared the second bedroom in our parents' side of the house. My bedroom was on my grandparents' side of the house, at the far end of the upside-down L.

The two sides of the house were quite different, although both had chairs and sofas upholstered in the stiff, prickly plush fabric that was in fashion then. I can't remember what color they were because they were all covered in homemade slipcovers of printed fabric that didn't match but had been purchased at a "good bargain." The object was to protect the furniture underneath. The slipcovers were removed only for special guests and parties at which there would be no children.

I can see now that the slipcovers cut out a lot of the stress to which children are subjected. With the furniture well protected, no one cared if we climbed onto the sofa with our shoes on to color the designs in our coloring books, or sat there munching on saltine crackers.

The gas stove in my mother's kitchen was fairly new. It looked like a table on white enameled iron legs with the oven on top, next to the four burners. Nanny had an old, heavy iron stove whose oven was like a dark cavern underneath the burners. Mother had an electric refrigerator, but Nanny had a wooden icebox out on the service porch.

Two times a week the iceman arrived in his truck, picked up a huge block of ice with tongs, and carried it on his back to replace the melted ice in the icebox. There was a pan underneath into which the melting ice could drip, and Pa had to empty this heavy pan at least once a day.

The children in the neighborhood loved to jump into the open back of the ice truck, grab slivers of ice, and run before the iceman returned. If he came back too soon, this good-natured man would pretend to scowl. He'd shout, "Who's taking my ice?" and then take a few steps toward us as we ran away squealing.

Nanny loved to cook and to bake, so both sides of the house were rich with the fragrances of pot roast and onions, cinnamon-sugar cookies, rich chocolate puddings, and comforting chicken soups.

Our grandparents and their activities played a big part in our lives.

Each spring Nanny and Pa bottled their own root beer. We all loved root beer, especially in black cows, sodas made of vanilla ice cream and root beer. Nanny cooked the root beer mixture and scalded the bottles, and after the brew had been poured into the bottles, Pa would cap them with a small metal bottle-capping tool that could be operated only by exerting great physical strength.

The bottles would be stored on the service porch, and after a certain period had passed in which the carbonation did its work, the root beer would be ready to drink.

It was delicious, and to add to the fun and excitement of each summer, every now and then a bottle on the service porch would explode with a noise we could hear all over the house.

It was best when I was young and could scream at the explosions. When I grew a little older I often had to help clean up the sticky mess.

I watched Nanny make fudge, which, at an exact time in its cooling, Pa, with his strong arm, beat into a creamy texture. Nanny taught me how to darn socks and took me with her when she visited her circle of friends in the neighborhood. Mrs. Christiana offered me cookies. Mrs. Ritemeyer, who subscribed to the Los Angeles Times's rival newspaper, the Examiner, always saved her Sunday comics for me.

Nanny and Pa were wonderful companions and the best of baby-sitters. Tall, quiet Pa and chatty Nanny, who barely reached five feet tall, were infinitely patient and spent hours playing Chinese checkers, whist, and poker with us, as we graduated from our early years of fish and slapjack. With both parents and grandparents close at hand, my sisters and I were tucked into a snug, secure environment.

In some of my earliest memories I see myself running to my grandfather and saying, "Pa, will you read to me?"
Joan Lowery Nixon

About Joan Lowery Nixon

Joan Lowery Nixon - The Making of a Writer

Photo © Gittings

“In every story I write I give a great deal of thought to the main character, because the story is his, or hers. The direction of the story is determined by the main character’s ambitions and reactions. The main character is the one to whom the readers will relate.”—Joan Lowery Nixon

Joan Lowery Nixon is the only four-time winner of the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe Award and a two-time winner of the California Young Reader Medal.


Whether it’s engrossing historical dramas, chilling mysteries, suspense-filled page-turners, or adventure stories, kids, teachers, and librarians love the books of Joan Lowery Nixon.

Nixon is half Californian, half Texan. She has a degree in journalism and credentials in elementary education. Nixon has written over 130 books for children from preschool age through young adult—including science books, co-authored with her husband, geologist Hershell Nixon. Her books have garnered numerous awards and accolades, including the Western Writers of America Golden Spur Award for Best Western Juvenile and the Texas Institute of Letters Award. Many of Nixon’s books have won state children’s choice awards. She is the only four-time winner of the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Juvenile Mystery. Nixon has four children and several grandchildren.

Nixon describes the pleasure she gets from writing mystery and suspense: “When I was young I discovered an evening radio program called I Love a Mystery. It was intriguing, suspenseful, and at times absolutely terrifying, and the title was correct. I did love a mystery—on radio, in films, and especially in books. Maybe I’m really a detective at heart because much later in my life, when I began to write books for young people, I discovered writing mysteries was even more fun than reading them.

“A mystery begins to develop in my mind when something sparks an idea and a question grows from it. What would it be like to move into a house in which a murder had taken place? How would I feel if my best friend were arrested for murder on circumstantial evidence? As a question develops into an answer, I give a great deal of thought to my main character. She is the most important part of the story, and I see it take shape through her eyes. Before I write a word of the story I know how I’ll begin it and how I’ll end it, making sure to put in honest clues and distracting red herrings—just to make the mystery all the more fun to solve. I love mysteries, and I want my readers to love them, too.”

In creating the acclaimed Orphan Train Adventures, Nixon explored a time and place in America’s recent past that is not widely covered in history lessons. She explains, “It was a part of history I hadn’t known: that beginning in 1854, over 100,000 homeless children were rescued from the streets of New York City and sent by train to new homes in the West. As I researched early journals, I found many letters—some hopeful, some sad—and reports which told of tears as brothers and sisters were separated or a child was not chosen. I wanted to bring history and fiction together in an exciting, adventurous time and place, to tell the stories of those who could have traveled west on the Orphan Train.”

Many of Nixon’s readers have written to her asking how to get published. Her novel The Making of a Writer, a part memoir, part how-to book, is her answer to them. From her first publication at age 10—a poem titled “Springtime”—to her graduation from Hollywood High during World War II, Nixon shares the incidents from her childhood that helped her to develop as a writer.


“A fast-moving, entertaining mystery with an intelligent and spunky heroine.”—Booklist

“Another solid Nixon mystery without too much violence and lots of suspense.”—Booklist

“Another successful page-turner. . . . Reluctant readers and mystery lovers alike will welcome a trip to this mansion.”—School Library Journal

“Thrilling . . . a riveting tale of suspense set against a background of fascinating historical context brought up to date through e-mail and the Internet.”—School Library Journal

“Enriched with family troubles, guilty secrets, and a whiff of the supernatural, this page-turner will please the legions of Nixon fans.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Masterfully constructed. . . . Ingeniously plotted, fast-paced and lighthearted, this mystery manages to blend an engrossing double murder brainteaser with the blossoming of a self-conscious teen into a self-assured young woman.”—Publishers Weekly

“Nixon’s reputation as the grande dame of mysteries for young readers remains solidly intact with this thriller . . . a topnotch choice.”—Starred, School Library Journal


“As close to perfect a book. . . . The plot is rational and well-paced; the characters are real and believable; the time setting is important in U.S. history; and the values all that anyone can ask for.”—VOYA

“This exciting and touching novel projects an aura of historical reality.”—School Library Journal


“There is suspense, surprise, and heartfelt emotion, and there is a useful historical note at the end.”—Booklist


“This will be of tremendous value to adults who teach writing to children, but it will also appeal to Nixon’s legion of fans. . . . A delightful look back at a time and a life.”—Booklist

“Clear and concise advice to writers.”—School Library Journal

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