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Mary Pope Osborne
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Mary Pope Osborne   Mary Pope Osborne is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Magic Tree House series, which have been translated in over 20 languages and have sold over 53 million copies. Her books have received honors from the National Council of Teachers of English and the American Booksellers Association, and she's received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Random House sales force. Back in the mid-90's Mary Pope Osborne served as the twenty-seventh president of the Authors Guild, and sheís currently a member of the Board of Directors.

Buy Mary Pope Osborne's Books at the following locations: (downloadable audio books) (independent bookstores)
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This episode originally aired on 02/04/2010 with the following authors:
  • Speculative Fiction
    • Mary Pope Osborne (#1 NYT bestselling Magic Tree House series, former Authors Guild president, 53 million books sold)
    • Cory Doctorow (NYT bestselling Little Brother and Makers, Boing Boing blog, top 10 Forbes web celebs)
    • Mindy Klasky (bestselling and award-winning Glasswrights, Jane Madison, and As You Wish series)
    • Garth Nix (NYT bestselling Old Kingdom, The Seventh Tower, and Keys to the Kingdom series, 5 million sold)
Note: The following interview has been transcribed from The Author Hour radio show. Please excuse any typos, spelling and gramatical errors.

Interview with Mary Pope Osborne

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Bonus Question(s) that Didn't Air on the Live Radio Show

Note that you can also listen to this while you read it.

Matthew Peterson: Let me ask you the bonus question.

Mary Pope Osborne: Yep.

Matthew Peterson: Actually, Iíll ask you kind of a fun one and then more of a little serious one. Well, let me ask you the serious one. Now you were the president of the Authorís Guild a while ago.

Mary Pope Osborne: Right.

Matthew Peterson: What were some of the things that you did as president?

Mary Pope Osborne: Well, it was an important time in publishing because electronic rights were first coming up as a subject. So we were fighting very hard to make sure that authors were protected with their electronic rights. And this was the early to mid Ď90s. Nobody could foresee what was happening or would happen to publishing. So The Authorís Guild has the function of good contracts for authors--i.e. electronic rights and freedom of expression; thatís a big issue for us--and copyright protection and lobbying in Washington for laws that affect authorsí lives. So itís more the nuts and bolts and business of this profession.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

Mary Pope Osborne: And I was, you know, overwhelmed by being elected. I was the second childrenís author in about 90 years to be a president.

Matthew Peterson: Oh, wow!

Mary Pope Osborne: Madeleine L'Engle had been president before me as a childrenís author. So I had a huge challenge in front of me and a lot of great help. But it was a life changing experience for me. Iím really glad I did it, even though it was pretty overwhelming at times.

Matthew Peterson: Well, the things that you started to deal with back then are really in the forefront right now: the Google book search project, the Kindle speech to text. [laughs]

Mary Pope Osborne: Oh! Tell me about it! Yeah. We get daily emails of this from my comrades.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

Mary Pope Osborne: A lot of things are still very much with us to sort out.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. Well, let me ask you another question. Whatís one of the funniest things that has happened at one of your book events?

Mary Pope Osborne: Oh. gosh. What a good question. I wish I had a good answer. I know Iíve laughed so hard at these things. Usually itís when Natalie and I or Will and I get really punchy.

Matthew Peterson: [laughs]

Mary Pope Osborne: [laughs] Itís Ďcause we get really silly and we lose it and we canít stop laughing. I mean those things happen all the time. When youíve signed 1,000 books you can get out of your mind.

Matthew Peterson: Giggly.

Mary Pope Osborne: So we laugh a lot, but I have to think of something wholesome that weíve laughed at. I donít know what it would be.

Matthew Peterson: I was talking to R. L. Stine and he said that same thing: the laughing--but the kids coming up and laughing and canít stop laughing and like hyperventilating. And heís like, ďIím still waiting for someone to faint. I havenít had anyone faint yet.Ē [laughs]

Mary Pope Osborne: Yeah, oh, yeah. I havenít had any fainters. But this was the strangest thing that ever happened: A mother once fought her way through the crowd, came right up to my signing table, plopped down twins about a year old dressed as exquisite fairies . . .

Matthew Peterson: Oh!

Mary Pope Osborne: . . . stepped back, took a picture of the three of us, picked them up, and disappeared.

Matthew Peterson: [laughs]

Mary Pope Osborne: And I just thought that was one of the more surreal moments Iíve ever experienced at a book signing.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

Mary Pope Osborne: And I hope those children are safe today. [laughs] I donít know . . .

Matthew Peterson: Thatís funny.

Mary Pope Osborne: The scariest thing that ever happened is I was in a very crowded part of a bookstore and the kids got too close together. They were separated from their parents. There were hundreds and hundreds of kids. And I realized that when we moved from my talk to the table, that we would start a trampling thing. So I jumped on a chair with my microphone, and I yelled for every child in the store to freeze. And then I started directing people out an emergency room door, even though the alarm went off. And then, sure enough, children still got separated from parents. They had to lock down the store. It was just . . .

Matthew Peterson: Wow!

Mary Pope Osborne: Somehow the store employees had let me be alone in a very, very crowded area, so there was no crowd control possible. And so when I went through the whole signing and everything and I got in the car after, and I started shaking. And then I realized from then on, I could anticipate something like that, you know, in a crowd happening and make sure before I walked into a situation that there were paths where people could back out and move. And so that was just kind of hair raising.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah, I can imagine. Iíve spoken with a couple authors who, you know, for their personal safety, they have bodyguards and stuff like that.

Mary Pope Osborne: Oh, can you imagine me having a bodyguard for seven year olds?! [laughs]

Matthew Peterson: [laughs] I know. I know.

Mary Pope Osborne: ďStep back children!Ē [laughs]

Matthew Peterson: Well, they have a bodyguard because, you know, theyíve killed off some characters and they get death threats.

Mary Pope Osborne: You know, I have to tell you, if I have stalkers who are seven years old... Iím completely comfortable. But can you imagine having stalkers if youíre an adult book writer?

Matthew Peterson: Oh, yeah.

Mary Pope Osborne: That would be so creepy. You know, I just am so glad I write for little kids.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah, yeah. I donít think youíre going to have any issues with the Magic Tree House series. [laughs]

Mary Pope Osborne: No. [laughs] I havenít experienced it yet.

Matthew Peterson: Yep, yep.

Extra Material That was Cut from the Show Because of Time Constraints

Note that you can also listen to this while you read it (you'll need to fast forward past the bonus questions).

Matthew Peterson: Well, the kids love your books, and now thereís a musical, and like you said, thereís other things. Can you foresee a movie or a cartoon series in the future of Magic Tree House?

Mary Pope Osborne: You know, Will and I have always turned that down, and I donít say that we always will, but up to this point, weíve so wanted to get kids reading.

Matthew Peterson: Mm hmm.

Mary Pope Osborne: And to love reading and to keep reading and never be distracted from reading, besides the musical, which is a live thing that we think is as important as reading--is using your imagination, looking at the state, you know, that could start kids off on a whole other thing with the performing arts. But we also didnít want to have a Hollywood version of our characters and these worlds that are so close. So I donít know. It would have to be the right combination of elements. But it has been almost 20 years now that weíve turned down things. And I think the series is still real popular and is still growing. So unless someone can convince me that this would really increase the audience for the books, Iím not sure what weíll do.

* * * * * * * * * *

Matthew Peterson: You know, leprechauns, fairies, thatís really big; thatís really big right now. And kids love it.

Mary Pope Osborne: I hope so. You know, the way I get a lot of my good ideas is that I get kids to vote on ideas, Matthew. When Iím in bookstores or schools, wherever I happen to land, I take advantage of my audience. And I say, ďIím going to tell you four ideas. I want you to raise your hand if you love the idea and donít raise your hand if you donít love the idea. And please be honest.Ē And I have engineered 44 books that way, subject material.

Matthew Peterson: Hmm.

Mary Pope Osborne: And I might even be at the last minute of having to make a decision, and Iíll tell a group of kids, ďThis is it. You are going to determine which title I use.Ē And Iíll give them a couple of titles that Iím thinking of.

Matthew Peterson: [laughs] Yeah.

Mary Pope Osborne: And Iíve always told Random House, ďThis is the best research we could ever do on what the kids want.Ē And I love my audience, and theyíve always given me help.

* * * * * * * * * *

Matthew Peterson: Well, Christmas for me, when I was a kid, that was the thing I looked forward to all year, and thatíll always be big.

Mary Pope Osborne: Yeah. We took the title out of the musical and even Christmas a little bit and turned it into a banquet so it would have a year-round audience and not just be done at Christmastime.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

Mary Pope Osborne: But the plot, if a kid knows A Christmas in Camelot, theyíll recognize it.

Matthew Peterson: Well, what other projects do you foresee in the future?

Mary Pope Osborne: Well, itís going to be a lot more books. As long as I can keep writing them, because I have so much fun working on them. And now our planetarium show is being digitized.

Matthew Peterson: Oh, okay.

Mary Pope Osborne: At the University of North Carolina Planetarium. So itíll go out all over the country. And itís a wonderful show if it comes to the local planetarium for someone. And then the musical will probably go back on the road in two years.

Matthew Peterson: Mm hmm.

Mary Pope Osborne: And Iím always open to new ideas, how to use the books. Thereís different projects being talked about right now that we have meetings about. Weíre in concert with Random House. Weíre creating a wonderful new website where kidsíll be able to play a Magic Tree House game on the web and do all these exciting things. Weíre gonna do a European book tour next spring. And then we did a great book tour a year and a half ago in Japan. So weíre very involved with our foreign readers. And the musicalís going to be done in Germany. So weíre sort of now traveling out to see what other countries are doing with the series. Itís a lot of fun.

Matthew Peterson: Well, a lot of your books are in other countries, you know, in history. So it definitely has a worldwide appeal. Children all over the world can enjoy these.

Mary Pope Osborne: Well, what I like to say, you know, is that Jack and Annie are really nice kids: they help each other; they help other people; theyíre really great human beings. And I find it very moving that so many kids from other cultures identify with them, from China and Korea to Serbia and Croatia and Romania and all these countries, Turkey. It shows me the universality of children. And that they like good kids and they like good adventures and they like it when kids learn things and they accomplish things, and so I get very heartened by that and when I try to live up to that responsibility of working with those characters.

Matthew Peterson: Thatís great, yeah. Iíve seen these books all over the place. [laughs] And my boys just started reading them, and I know that they just love them! And I hope to see them continue.

Mary Pope Osborne: Yeah. I hope they do too. And you know, what people say, which I think is really exciting is this will launch them into . . . they suddenly go from Magic Tree House to Harry Potter.

Matthew Peterson: [laughs]

Mary Pope Osborne: They jump! Between 2nd and 3rd grade and the older grades, they just take a leap. So if you can get a kid reading simple type books like Magic Tree House or an early chapter book and you get them to love them, they will love reading all kinds of books, not just my books.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. Thatís the most exciting thing of all for me, to see my little boy reading.

Mary Pope Osborne: Reading.

Matthew Peterson: Just reading. Thatís really exciting.

Mary Pope Osborne: And choosing to read, you know, and itís one of the few imaginative forms of play a child indulges in now, Iím afraid, Ďcause everything is made for children. But when you read, you still have to picture the characters; you have to picture everything thatís on the printed page.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

Mary Pope Osborne: And thatís where you collaborate with an author, with your imagination.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah, exactly.

Mary Pope Osborne: And itís a great thing. And it sets you up for life, of creative thinking.

Matthew Peterson: I agree.

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