Ann Cameron answers questions from children
Dear Friends, If you want to know something about me and don't see the answer on this page, write to me by clicking here, and I'll post your question and the answer. Ann
Q. Where do you live?
I live in Portland, Oregon. For 22 years I lived in Guatemala (it's a country next to Mexico, in Central America). By plane, Guatemala is only about three hours from Miami, Florida. The capital, Guatemala city, is directly south of New Orleans, Louisiana. I moved to Portland in 2006.
Q. What's it like in Guatemala?
I lived in the town of Panajachel. This is the real name of the town "San Pablo" in my book The Most Beautiful Place in the World. (The town name is pronounced: Pah-nah-hah-CHEL.) If you want to know more about the town, read the book. You can see a slide show of pictures to the right.
Panajachel is on the shore of one of the most beautiful lakes on earth, Lake Atitlán. It's a big lake in the mountains above 5,100 feet altitude. Three volcanoes rise high above Panajachel and the lake along the south shore.
Panajachel is 60 miles from the Pacific Ocean, and about 180 miles from the Atlantic Ocean. On the coasts Guatemala is very humid and hot, but in Panajachel it never gets hot and it never gets cold. Because of its beauty, people from all over the world have come here to live. Most of the people who live in Panajachel are Mayan people. The newcomers are Americans, Canadians, Italians, French, Swiss, Belgian, German, Australian, Malaysian and Sri Lankan. A lot of tourists come here to visit, too.
I lived in a little cottage that's covered with flowering vines--even the roof is covered with flowers. There was a lemon tree in the back yard and huge lemons growing on it all the time. Also roses and petunias and lots of other flowers.
Q. Are you married?
I was married to Bill Cherry, who grew up in Texas, and worked for the US Congress. After he retired, he was the most popular man in Panajachel, Guatemala.. Every day he gave away candy to children all over town. One piece to every child he saw until he ran out of candy for the day. He called the children his "clients." They called him "Don Dulce." Roughly translated, that means "Mister Sweet." Sometimes Bill's clients tried to trick him by running home and changing their shirts; then they came back and pretended they never got their first piece of candy. But Bill knew his clients, and I don't think they ever succeeded in tricking him--though they have lots of fun trying. Bill died in 2008.
Q. Do you have children?
I have two step-daughters, Angie and Cristi, and I have four grandchildren--Daniel, David, Jonathan, and Jessica—and two great-granddaughters, Mishaela and Arielle..
Q. Do you have a pet?
Until 1999 I had two cats, Jane and Special, who lived to the age of 18--that's equivalent to a human being living to be 126 years old! For all those years, these cats were wonderful friends to me. They moved with me from New York to Panajachel.
Q. How do you write?
First I get an idea. It could come from something someone tells me, or from a dream, or from a memory. But the idea is just a glimmer. To extend it, I need to imagine, "What if?" What if the mine Huey and Julian and their friends dig grew so deep it was about to collapse? What then? What if Julian got out of his fear of riding a bike by making up a fib? What if his father found out about the fib? What could happen then? Without that question "what if?" I couldn't write a story.
When I’m writing I try to become absolutely relaxed to invite my best ideas to come to me. I note down the ideas all helter-skelter, without writing full sentences or worrying about spelling. Sometimes I write endings before beginnings. Sometimes I think of middles first. I don't care about the order of my thoughts, I just want to get them down real and alive. The order can come later. When I write dialogue I may trying out lines until a character says one that sounds real--that sounds as if he really means it.
Then--if Huey said this, what would Julian say? I ask myself. I see all my characters on an invisible stage inside my head. I watch them all and let them tell me how they feel and what they want to say. Sometimes I laugh at what they say. Sometimes something sad happens--like the time Huey fell out of bed on his head to prove he was tough--and I sigh and tears roll down my face.
To make a story come alive for others, first I need to live it myself in in my own mind.
Q. Do you have any tips for young people who want to become writers?
Yes. First of all, read a lot. Notice what you like in books and try to imitate those qualities when you write.
Make up stories and tell them to younger brothers and sisters or to children you babysit for.
Try to understand people. Ask them to tell you about their lives. Listen to them and remember what they say, and just as important, how they say it. That way, when you come to write dialogue, it will sound real.
Keep a journal of interesting things you learn about. If nothing interesting happens one day, make something up and put that in the journal.
Learn all you can about everything that interests you. The more experiences you have, the more material you will have for your writing. But avoid bad experiences--like drugs and alcohol and violent friends. The idea is to live through your childhood so you can write about it someday--not to have experiences that put you in a funeral home at an early age.
Q. Do you have any hobbies?
I like to swim. I bicycle a lot. I like learning languages. I speak Spanish well, and I'm learning French. I like parties with a few good friends. And full moons, and a black sky full of stars, and the scent of roses. . . Appreciating the beauty around me makes me very happy.
Q. Do you have any special projects?
I used to raise money to help the community library in Panajachel. Guatemala is a poor country. Many children don't go to school and never learn to read. With the help of American schools and individuals that sent us donations, we bought good books for Guatemalan children and put them in the library. Since the library is very well supplied now, the organization that supported it, Lake Atitaln Libraries, Inc. has turned to providing textbooks for rural junior high schools in Guatemala—these schools usually have no books for students, and parents can’t afford to buy their children books. LAL is probably unique among US charities, because every penny raised goes to buying books—the board of LAL donate their services and run the organization personally absorbing all the US costs of operation.
Tax-deductible donations for this project can be sent to Lake Atitlán Libraries, 620 Grandview Drive, WI 54016. I also recommend: Child Aid, 917 SW Oak St., Portland, OR 97205, an organization which helps libraries in Guatemala and teaches Guatemalan teachers how to get kids excited about reading..