More than two decades ago, Scholastic published the first of Ann M. Martin's The Baby-sitters Club novels, which were initially conceived as a four-book series. Hugely successful, the original series spawned four spinoff series over 15 years, as well as a movie, TV series and a host of sideline items. The publisher has sold 176 million copies of its approximately 250 BSC-related books.
Now, after penning a number of stand-alone novels, including Belle Teal, Newbery Honor Book A Corner of the Universe, and The Doll People and The Meanest Doll in the World (with Laura Godwin), Martin is writing a new paperback series, Main Street, set in a small Massachusetts town. In the debut novel, Welcome to Camden Falls (Scholastic, 125,000-copy first printing), two recently orphaned sisters come to live with their grandmother, co-owner of a sewing shop. The series' second installment is Needle and Thread. Here's what Martin has to say about her new venture.
What was it that drew you back to series writing, after years of focusing on individual novels?
A number of things came together at the same time. David Levithan and Jean Feiwel, when she was still at Scholastic, had been for some time asking me if I would do a new series. And I kept responding, "No, no, not another series," since I was happy working on single novels. Then David began tempting me with the idea of writing a series that revolved around sewing, since he knows how much I love to sew. So we began talking about creating a series that is set in a small town—since I also love small towns—that had a sewing store. And that idea really appealed to me.
The folksy, small-town aspects of Camden Falls are pivotal to these books. What inspired your depictions of this tight-knit community?
When the series began to take shape, I had just read several series of books by a British author named Dora Saint, who wrote under the pen name of Miss Read, which are set in tiny towns in the English countryside. These novels were very favorite books of my mother. I was also influenced by Jan Karon's Mitford series and wanted to create something reminiscent of the communities created by both of these authors. I definitely wanted to gear my stories for children, but wanted to show the same kind of interconnection among characters and incorporate the very simple details of life in a small town. And more personally, I definitely have Woodstock, New York, a town very close to where I live, very much in mind when I am writing about Camden Falls. When I picture Main Street, I picture Woodstock's main street, and that town's celebrations and events are finding their way into the novels.
Do your characters, too, have real-life models?
The characters are not based literally on people I know, though there are a couple of minor characters who are inspired by people from my past, especially Sonny, a Camden Falls resident who rides through town in his wheelchair. When I was growing up in Princeton, there was a man who rode around selling candy from his wheelchair tray. In fact it was because of him that I became addicted to Sky Bars in high school. There are bits and pieces of people from both my past and present turning up in the Main Street characters.
How does writing this series differ from your prior writing experiences?
Part of my hesitation in taking on another series was that I didn't want to work at the same pace as I did while writing The Baby-sitters Club. I see Main Street as something of a cross between series writing and writing individual novels. I think the characters in Main Street have perhaps more depth than those in The Baby-sitters Club and the new series has a larger cast of characters, more like my individual novels. Once reason that I did not want to write at the same pace as I did with my earlier series is that I didn't want to have to set aside the stand-alone novels. Now I can write both at once. In fact I am just finishing the third Doll People book with Laura Godwin. And I have an idea for my next non-series book. It may be wishful thinking, but I hope to be able to continue to work on both at the same time.
You certainly must be a disciplined writer to balance both.
I have a pretty set schedule and I like to stick to it. I write four days a week, from Tuesday through Friday, and they are very packed days. Monday is sewing day and that is very important to me. I hope I can maintain this schedule and not have to let sewing day go.
Well today is Monday. What will you be working on?
I have a few sewing projects I'm doing right now, including making several baby presents and a smocked dress that I am donating to the Association of Booksellers for Children's auction at BEA.
Clearly, The Baby-sitters Club extended far longer than its originally planned arc. How many installments of Main Street do you envision?
We've contracted for seven books, but there will probably be more than that. How many more is hard to say. Unlike The Baby-sitters Club, in which the characters after the first year remained 13, the Main Street characters are going to age with each book, which will eventually lead to a natural end of the series. At this point I imagine that will happen when they are in high school.
Speaking of aging, the first wave of fans of The Baby-sitters Club are in their late 20s and early 30s now. Do you find it gratifying that your new series will be reaching a whole new generation of kids than that first series?
Yes, though it is hard for me to believe that those original readers really are that old. Actually, I think the Main Street novels will appeal to a wider audience than The Baby-sitters Club books, since some of the main characters are adults. So I think it is possible that some former readers of that series may read the Main Street books as well.