The Paterson Files
KP: Well, I didn't really mean to, but I remember the summer I was trying desperately to write The Master Puppeteer and I didn't think it would ever work. We were at Lake George and there was a storm. So, we were all sort of huddled around without any fire or electricity, so I thought, "Well, I will start reading this story and see how it goes." The, when I found you, actually it was you, hunting through the desk drawer the next day to find out what happened in the next chapter, I thought, "Oh, it's not as bad as I thought."
JP: Your first published poem went something like, "Pat pat pat / Where's the rat? / Where's the cat? / Pat pat pat." First, isn't it ironic that you ended up with the last name Paterson?
And next, from that auspicious beginning, at what point did you make that leap from "pat, pat, pat" to "I think I can actually write a novel?"
KP: Oh, it only took me about 30 years...I was a late bloomer.
JP: In a lot of your speeches, you have given Dad a lot of credit for being one of the greatest influences on you as a writer. I mean, I like Dad and everything, but how does that work?
KP: Well, I was growing up in the '50s where proper women stayed home, had children and didn't do anything but take care of the house, the children and be loving wives. Your father, when he asked me to marry him, said, "I know you're a very strong woman with your own gifts, and I am not going to stop you, so I will help you." And he didn't know he was creating a Frankenstein monster, but he's always stood by that and has always helped me. And he's always stood by me and has been my biggest cheerleader.
JP: He is always the first person to read all your work?
KP: Yes, he is always the first editor.
JP: I think Bridge to Terabithia is clearly the book that everyone associates you with most widely, and it has been so successful all these years. Were you happy with it when it first came out? Are you happier with it now? Has your perception of the book grown with it?
KP: I didn't even think my editor would publish the book. It just seemed like such a personal story; I didn't know that anyone else could understand what I was trying to do. When the book came out and there was this enormous initial response to it, I was totally unprepared for that. I couldn't believe that everyone would love this book. And of course everyone doesn't, but so many people praised it. It won the Newbery a few months later, and people began saying they were using it in schools, and I thought, "How can you teach a book like that?" It is such a personal book; it seems a child should be reading it alone in his bedroom under the covers or something. So at first it was very hard for me to accept the fact that this was going to be a book that was loved by many, many people, but through the years I have just seen how people bring their own lives—especially their own grief—to the book. I am at a conference right now in New York City and a woman just handed me a note—she was weeping and she told me about the death of her son. That is what happens to people—they bring their own sorrows to the book, and it makes the book very rich and very powerful.
JP: You wrote the book and David, my brother, your son, wrote the screenplay. Which did you like better—the book or the movie?
KP: Well, I am a book person. I am proud of the movie and am certainly proud of what David did to keep the movie close to the story. I know a movie and a book are two different things and you are going do different media in different ways. No author can want a movie to be exactly like the book because then it will be a bad movie. The book will always be very close to my heart, but I was very proud of the movie, and it is a movie that people should see. It is very lovely, and the acting is wonderful.
What does it mean to be the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature?