Allison's Book Bag

Writing Seemed Boring To Her

Posted on: September 17, 2014

If you enjoy children’s literature, you should know something about Betsy Byars. Author of over sixty books for young people, her books have been translated into nineteen languages and she gets thousands of letters from readers from all over the world including the United States. Due to the popularity of her books with children, she has been listed as one of the Educational Paperback Association’s top 100 authors. She has also won many awards. Among them are the Newbery Medal in 1971 for her novel The Summer of the Swans, the American Book Award in 1981 for The Night Swimmers, and The Edgar (for the best mystery for young people) in 1992 for Wanted. In 1987, The Catholic Library Association also bestowed the Regina Medal to Byars for the body of her work.


BetsyByarsIn Questions, Byars writes, “I was born in the same year as bubble gum and Mickey Mouse, 1928, a very good year for all three of us.” Her dad was a cotton mill executive, with a stern and hardworking personality, along with a strong sense of humor. Her mother was a homemaker, who loved acting and music. Byars had an older sister who according to ClassZone was sometimes an inspiration and sometimes an evil nemesis. Byars grew up during the Depression.

Byars attended public schools in North Carolina, where her favorite subject was reading. In Questions, Byars writes, “It wasn’t like a subject. It was a pleasure. I still read all the time–usually a book a day.” Her favorite book was a book called The Adventures of Mabel. Mabel was everything Byars wanted to be: pretty, adventuresome, and a good horseback rider. Mabel could also communicate with animals.

In 1950, she set out to be mathematician liker her sister but couldn’t grasp calculus and so instead graduated from Queens College with a bachelor’s degree in English. After graduating, Byars met her husband, a student in engineering. They had three daughters and a son. In 1956, the family moved to Illinois so her husband could pursue further graduate work.

“In all of my school years, . . . not one single teacher ever said to me, ‘Perhaps you should consider becoming a writer,'” Byars recalls. “Anyway, I didn’t want to be a writer. Writing seemed boring. You sat in a room all day by yourself and typed. If I was going to be a writer at all, I was going to be a foreign correspondent like Claudette Colbert in Arise My Love. I would wear smashing hats, wisecrack with the guys, and have a byline known round the world.”

–Betsy Byars, Class Zone

At age twenty-eight, Byars had young children and no friends and lived in a small place she called the barracks apartment. With her husband preoccupied at graduate school, Byars began writing short articles for magazines to fill her time. ClassZone reveals that as her children began to read, Betsy Byars also began to write books for young readers and soon discovered firsthand that it was exciting and stimulating to create her own stories and characters.


Betsy Byars’s first children’s book was published in 1962, after it had been rejected nine times. Since then, Byars has won multiple awards included the esteemed Newbery and has received glowing reviews for her many novels and picture books. Byars’s books also appear on numerous state reading lists.

When explaining where she gets her ideas, Byars writes in Questions that since her books are mostly realistic fiction, her personal experiences are the sources of much of her fiction as well as things she reads in the newspaper, sees on television, and observes happening to her children and even her pets. “I sometimes think my books are like scrapbooks of my life because almost every incident brings back a memory.”

When Byars started writing, she was living in a small apartment with her husband and two little daughters, and wrote on the kitchen table. She’d keep her typewriter beside her place, push it aside to eat and then pull it back in front of her to write. Now she has a studio and a computer.

In Questions, Byars shares that it takes about a year to write a novel–six months to get the rough draft down on paper and another six months to revise it. After that, it takes her publisher about a year to get the book in print, and so from the time she gets an idea to the time it’s a book, it’s about two years.

Today Byars lives in South Carolina on an airstrip. Both her husband and Byars are pilots. The bottom floor of their house is a hangar, so they can just taxi out and take off, almost from their front yard. Their four children are adults now. The couple have a Scotty dog named Ace, a cat named Bibbs, and some unnamed fish.

For me the best moment comes when I get the first copy of the book. After I send in the galley proof sheets of the book, that’s the last time I see it. Sometimes I see the illustrations and sometimes I don’t. I know the publication date is sometimes in the spring or in the fall, so one day in the spring or in the fall, I go to my mailbox and I have a package. Because I’m not a terribly cool person, I tear it open, and there’s my book! It’s like a feat of magic! It’s like I got an idea that morning while I was brushing my teeth and–presto–here’s the book. It’s a lovely moment, and I hope some of you who become writers will have the same magical moment.

–Betsy Byars, Questions


Tomorrow Byar’s daughters, Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers, will share a guest post about growing up with Betsy Byars as a mom and on Friday I’ll write a review of The Pinballs, which Byars says she’s received more letters about than other book. Save the dates: September 18-19! I’ve also put a request in at my library for her autobiography, The Moon and I, and plan to report on it later this month too.

2 Responses to "Writing Seemed Boring To Her"

Interesting! I’m glad that Betsy Byars changed her mind about writing. She certainly deserves all the awards that she’s won.

One of the reasons I love to read about authors is all the interesting facts I learn about their life. I never would have guessed Betsy Byars once thought being an author would bore her. 🙂

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