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Authors of the Southeast Project
Featured Author

Mary McSpadden

QUESTION: How long does it take to write a book?

ANSWER: This is a difficult question to answer because there are usually so many changes that are made in a book's text before the book is actually published.

As you know, The Magic Violin is a picture book that has very little text. Therefore, you would probably think that it didn't take me very long to write it. You might be surprised, however. Let me just describe the writing process of The Magic Violin from the time I first started writing the story until the day that the book went to print.

My story actually began as a poem. I started by outlining some key points that I wanted to include in the poem. The outline didn't take very long to do. I probably wrote the outline in a couple of hours. Once the outline was completed, I would sit in a very comfortable chair in my bedroom and take each of the points I had outlined and write a couple of stanzas. I probably spent an hour or so each evening for about two weeks just writing the poem. One thing that you might find of interest is that I wrote the stanzas in a different order from the way they actually ended up in the final poem.

After I completed the poem, I took it to an editor to see if he thought my idea for a book was a good one. He thought that many people would like my story and believed that it had a message that would be meaningful to those who read it. But, he felt that some editing was needed. In fact, he believed that the story should not be told in rhyme, so we did some rewriting at that point. Something else that you've probably noticed is that part of the story rhymes and part of it does not. That was done deliberately. My editor and I decided that the story would not rhyme until AFTER Emily "places baby Jesus right under the star."

You would think that after my editor and I rewrote the story, we would be close to being able to say that we were finished writing the book. Not true. I was not happy with all of the changes that my first editor made, so I insisted that another person who was very familiar with children's books edit the book. The second editor and I worked together, by phone, and finally agreed on the final changes.

This whole process took about nine months.


QUESTION: Why did you become a writer? What other jobs did you consider when you were in school?

ANSWER: I don't really consider myself a writer, and yet I believe that everyone has a story to tell. Writing books is not my primary job. However, the rewards I've experienced from writing The Magic Violin make me want to write some other children's books in the future.

I wrote The Magic Violin for two major reasons: 1.) Emily, my niece, who happens to have Down syndrome is a very special part of my life. Seeing Emily's reaction when I gave her the little violin inspired me in such a way that I wanted to write a children's story about Emily and some of the things she has taught me just by being such a wonderfully sweet girl. 2.) I've always wanted to do something that would enable me to give money to organizations that help children with special needs. A portion of the proceeds from The Magic Violin was donated to organizations that work with children with special needs. In fact, thanks to the many stores who sold the book and the many people who bought the book, we were able to donate almost $10,000 to special needs organizations.

When I attended the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Tennessee, I got my degree in education so that I could teach first grade children. I taught for several years, but realized that I wanted to do some other things related to teaching. I went back to school to get my master's degree. Since completing my master's degree I have worked with schools throughout the United States to help them effectively use computers in their classrooms.


QUESTION: Is your story a true story?

ANSWER: The Magic Violin is based on a true story. If you would like to learn about the actual story that inspired The Magic Violin, you can go to my Web site at and click on "The Author/Illustrator." Then click on "Read a Letter from Mary McSpadden to Booksellers and Educators."

The event that inspired the book happened in December of 1999.


QUESTION: The pictures in the book are really good. Did you have any input into the drawing or did David Webb simply read your story and design the pictures?

ANSWER: I am so glad that you enjoyed the illustrations. Very often, authors and illustrators never get to share ideas about how a book should be illustrated. In the case of The Magic Violin, however, David and I did share some ideas. Something that is perhaps unique about The Magic Violin is that there was an art director, Terry Slaughter, who had the overall responsibility for the look of the book and for the design of the packaging of the book, the violin and the little songbook.

Terry looked at the entire story and then decided on the pictures that were needed to make the story come alive. Terry determined how the text would be spread out over the 32 pages of the book and what pictures David would draw to go with the text. Terry then had David sketch each picture that would be used. After the sketches were completed, David and Terry asked me to look at the drawings and make suggestions for any changes that I felt were necessary. Once I approved of the sketches, David began painting.

I was very happy that Terry and David asked for my input. However, Terry and David were the experts in book design and illustrations, so I felt that they should decide what would work best. There were only a couple of things that I asked to be changed in the illustrations. In both cases, Terry and David agreed that the changes should be made.


QUESTION: Do you like music? Did the violin have a special meaning to you personally before the story?

ANSWER: I love and appreciate all kinds of music. I also admire and respect individuals who have musical talent and are disciplined enough to become great musicians.

The violin had special meaning to me only because Emily always wanted to play a violin. I think the sound of a violin is especially beautiful, but I think the violin is a very difficult instrument to play. I really love to hear violins as a part of a symphony orchestra.


QUESTION: Your story seems to say that it is better to give than receive. Do you feel that is a true statement? Is that something that Emily taught you or is it something you have always known?

ANSWER: I'm glad that you picked up on the message of giving. I do believe that it is better to give than receive. But the thing that I have learned about giving is that when I give, I receive so much more in return. For example, three years ago, in real life, I gave Emily a little violin for Christmas. She was soooooo happy that it made me cry. Seeing Emily receive a gift that she had wanted for about 10 years was very rewarding to me and made me feel extremely happy. So, even though I was the one who gave a gift, I received the gift of happiness and satisfaction in return.

In the book, did you notice also that once Emily received the gift of the violin, she gave a gift back to the baby Jesus and to her parents? Emily's gift was that of playing and singing a song. I think it is human nature to want to receive. But, perhaps the best kind of gift is being able to give to others. And maybe the best gifts to receive are those gifts that are from the heart.

I think that I have known for a long time how important it is to give to others. But certainly, Emily has reminded me many times how important it is to give. Emily has taught me many other valuable lessons as well. I am very fortunate to have Emily in my life. I hope that each of you will have someone that you love and respect as much as I do Emily.


Updated 11/18/02