Author Mary Hollingsworth

January 7, 2012
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One book series I remember vividly from my childhood was a series of picture books called Charlie Wandermouse. The mind that brought these stories and many others to millions of children like myself is Ms. Mary Hollingsworth. Ms. Hollingsworth is the author of more than 100 books, as well as being a speaker, teacher, editor and publishing consultant.

I was recently given the opportunity to interview Ms. Hollingsworth for Teen Ink.

Rachel- Please tell us a little about yourself.

Mary Hollingsworth- Well, I live in Bedford, Texas, and I have been working in the Christian publishing industry for about 27 years now, in various roles. My favorite part, of course, writing books; I like that the best, but I have done a variety of other kinds of roles in Christian publishing through the years including production editor for [various] companies.

I grew up in Texas. (I'm sure you can tell that by my accent.) I have spent most of my life here, although I've moved around quite a bit and lived other places and other states and even other countries as a missionary, and other kinds of roles through the years.

I am single, and I have a dog named Jazz.

{laughs} What else would you like to know?

RH- Well, I'd like to know how you became interested in writing?

MH- Well, that goes way back to my childhood, I think. When I was little, my mom tells me we used to entertain each other by making up stories and telling them to each other. She would do that to get me to take my nap when I was little. So, that's kind of where it started.

Then through the years, even in high school, I had a great English teacher who thought I had writing ability. She would take things I wrote and enter them in literary contests and things like that, and we won a few of them together. Then, when I went to college, I spent quite a bit of time working on the college newspaper. My degree is actually in business, but my Masters work was done in journalism and radio/TV communications.

So, all of that put together, when I got out into the corporate world, I invariably began working on company newsletters, or flyers, or other kinds of things for them. Eventually I actually went to work in a Christian publishing company in Fortworth, TX, and I've been in Christian publishing ever since.

RH- Where did the inspiration come from for the Charlie Wandermouse stories?

MH- Well, I don't know if I can tell you that exactly, because I don't really remember exactly where the idea come from. But my concept was that because children don't understand neaunces such as Jews and Samaritans being enemies; so [children] had a hard time understanding the concept that was being taught. So, I tried to come up with an idea to help children grasp the big concepts, of the lessons from [Jesus'] parables in the New Testament, at an earlier age.

One day it occurred to me that what they did understand was that mice and cats are enemies. So, I just recreated the parables around the Charlie Wandermouse characters; two mice, and of course their natural enemy is the cat, so the very first book in that series was called The Adventures of Charlie Wandermouse and the Shabby Tabby. It became the basis of the series and then we did eight stories in that series.

RH- What did you hope to accomplish by bringing the parables to life in your books?

MH- Well, as I said, my concept was to try and help the children understand those more difficult concepts earlier. If you don't put them in some context that a child can grasp, such as cats and mice, which they understand, it will be literally years before they really can grasp the concept of things like Jews and Samaritans being enemies and why that was such a big deal in the Biblical times.

So my idea was to try and help them learn those lessons earlier in life, and that's where it all came from.

RH- Where do you find inspiration for your stories?

MH- {laughs}I guess my answer to that would be everywhere. I see things on billboards, I see little snippets on TV or in books I read; just driving down the street, watching people; walking through a shopping mall; out in the park; watching the birds fly around outside my office... There's a million places for coming up with ideas for books and stories and articles.

I think my experience, not only for me, but for many authors, is that that's a little harder when you first start, but as you begin to develop your nose for the news, you might say, as an author, pretty soon the ideas are just jumping out at you from all different kinds of places; and you become quite good at it. Then you get so many ideas that you have to create someway to keep up with them.

I have, what I call, my idea-book. In that book, I have slots for different things, like titles that I hear that I really like, or phrases, or words that I like; funny words like flibberdigibbet, and interesting things like that might fit into a children's book sometime, or names for funny characters for children's books; a concept; ideas for a story; that sort of thing.

And someday, hopefully, if I can't think of something to write, I [can] get out my idea book and flip through it, and maybe I can go back to one of those concepts or story ideas I had earlier and develop that.

So, the ideas come from everywhere. You just have to learn how to keep track of them so that you don't lose them. Sometimes you come up with one in the middle of the night and you learn to get up and write it down right then, because if you go back to sleep, a lot of times the next morning it's gone, and you can't remember it anymore. So, the best idea is to be sure you record it so that you can use it at some point.

RH- Which do you prefer writing, children's books or adult fiction?

MH- Well, I don't write adult fiction except in short stories. I'm not a full-length fiction book writer. It's never been my genre. I've done lots of children's books through the years and I do love to [write] those because they're fun.

I also do other genres. I'm primarily a nonfiction author and have done lots of those through the years.

So, to answer your question, which one I like the best, it would have to be children's books, because I really don't do the other.

RH- Who do you count as your inspiration? Or who are your favorite books and authors?

MH- {laughs} That's a toughie. I have a variety of favorite authors: I love Chuck Swindoll; I've worked on about 55 books with Chuck through the years as his production editor, and I love his work. [He's] one of my favorites.

I love books by the Women of Faith: Patsy Clairmont, Thelma Wells, Marilyn Meberg, some of those guys.

And I am always inspired by great children's authors: Dr. Suess, Beatrix Potter, and people like that. Anybody who's really clever and creative; anybody that can make me really laugh, or give me hope, those are the ones that I really, really love; they're the ones that I have patterned myself after through the years.

Robert Johnson... Just upbeat, happy people, those are the ones that I love.

RH- Could you share with us your testimony of Salvation?

MH- You know, my testimony is probably not unlike a lot of Christians'. I grew up in a Christian home. My dad was a minister, so I was really, greatly blessed by having Christian parents. So becoming a Christian was easy for me. I can't say that I had some great, earth-shattering moment when I converted from a life of horrible sin to a life of Christianity; so that didn't really happen for me.

I really grew up in the church. I have always been dedicated to the ministry, and I've never really wanted to do anything with my life except work full-time for the Lord. For the most part, I've gotten to do that: I've been a missionary over-seas, taught Bible classes, and all those different kinds of ministries for my entire life. So Christianity was never a question to me, or a doubt; it was always a certainty.

While I certainly was a sinner, like everybody else, I was so blessed to have access to the Gospel through my parents and through our friends and family.

So, my testimony is “Thank You, God, for putting me in a family that allowed me to know the Lord from a very tiny age.”

I started to church when I was two weeks old. So, I've been a Christian basically most of my life.

RH- What new projects do you have in the works?

MH- Well, I just received a copy of a book that has just been released from Tyndale House; it's a 365-day devotional called A One-Year Devotional of Joy and Laughter. It's kind of a unique concept because each story in the devotional is a funny story and out of that funny story then we develop a Spiritual point; and it's accompanied of course by an appropriate Scripture and a prayer at the end. We just thought that it was a good idea in these kind of depressing times, in our country, to do something to lighten people's attitudes and hearts. So, this book of joy and laughter came out of that. It's really a nice book. It's available, of course, wherever you can buy Christian books.

The other thing that I have going on right now, which is really exciting, is not exactly a book, but it's called Christian Publishing University. It's a huge website that a number of us in the Christian publishing arena put together. It is christianpublishinguniversity.com and the purpose of that website is to help other people who want to get involved in Christian publishing as a writer or a composer or an editor or a proof-reader; it helps, not only newcomers, but professionals in the industry (publishers, and editors, and retailers, and speakers, all those kinds of folks) will find an enormous list and collection of classes and resources and links and things that can help them.

Our Christian publishing industry is a little complicated to get involved in, if you're a newcomer especially; and so it has never really been organized very well so that folks can figure out what to do if they have a book they want to publish. This website is our first attempt to pull an enormous number of resources together to help people find what they need. [There are] 150 web-pages (so it's huge) and has literally thousands of links and resources and classes and things like that to help people.

So, those are the two primary things that I've been working on recently.

RH- What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

MH- You know, I work with a lot of authors in my business, and the thing I guess I see the most in authors is that they are very willing to learn; they are very willing to work, especially on their craft in learning to write.

My best advice to authors, though, is that, not only do you need to learn your craft of writing, but you also need to learn the industry in which you want to participate. A lot of authors don't really do their homework very well, and so they inadvertently send their manuscript to a publisher that does not publish the kind of book they're wanting to do; or they contact, you know, an agent who really doesn't handle the kind of books they want to write.

So, my best advice is to do your homework. Learn your industry, as well as your craft, so that you call really perform as a professional author in a professional industry. You know, newcomers' competition in this industry is not, you know, the guy next door. Your competition as a new author in the Christian industry is people like Max Lucado, John McArthur; people that you will have to earn a spot from.

Publishers have a limited budget of how many books they can publish in a given year; they don't have unlimited resources so that they can publish every book they even want to; they have to trim their list and be very careful about how they invest their money. So, in order for them to select you as an author, over someone else like Max Lucado or someone like Beth Moore, then you have to be the best! You can't be ordinary, or average, and expect to take a slot from somebody who's worked really, really hard and earned their spot in the industry.

My best advice, again, is do your homework, learn from the professionals how to do your work right; learn how to prepare your manuscript correctly; learn how to submit your manuscript with a formal book proposal; how to prepare those. All of those things play into how you are seen in the industry; whether you're seen as a professional, or an amateur; and that makes all the difference in the world in how you're received by an agent or a publisher. So, do your homework.

A great place to get started (by the way) for new people who want to learn how to navigate the Christian publishing industry is our new website, the christianpublishinguniversity.com; it was created particularly for that purpose and for you. So, I encourage you to explore it, and see if you can't find the help you need there.





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