If you live in Utah and you take one of the two Salt Lake City papers — The Salt Lake Tribune or the Deseret News — then the name Ann Cannon is familiar. She’s been a columnist at both papers, sharing her unique sense of humor and down-to-earth realness with thousands of readers. Her story of one instance as “The Bishop’s Wife” is the stuff of legends. But perhaps the best reason people like Ann’s column is because it’s real. You feel as if you know her personally and that she’s speaking directly to you.
It’s for that very same reason that Ann (aka A.E. Cannon) does so well in the children’s book realm. Ann is the author of picture, middle-reader and YA books, and she manages to relate to those readers on every level.
Ann says that at some level, she always wanted to be a writer, although it didn’t occur to her that writing was a real-life career until she was in graduate school. “Before then I wanted to be something practical like an astronaut. Or a spy,” she told Cracking the Cover.
Like most writers, Ann initially spent a lot of time writing and sending things out (“and out and out and out”). She also took advantage of opportunities that were less than interesting. “I wrote distributors’ manuals for MLM companies, for example. Boring!”
After a time, that hard work paid off. And writing for young readers came as a no brainer. “I love kids’ books,” Ann said. “Love ’em! Also, I’m a 10-year-old boy on the inside. (Either that or a 13-year-old girl.)”
Ann’s most-recent book, “Sophie’s Fish,” was published on March 15. It’s a picture book that tells the tale of Jake, who agrees to pet-sit his friend Sophie’s fish and almost immediately begins to regret his decision.
In one of her columns, Ann recounted the idea for the book.
A few years ago, the neighbor kids asked if I would babysit their fish, Yo-Yo, when they left on vacation. “Of course!” I said. How hard could it be? After all, I had plenty of fish when I was growing up.
So they brought Yo-Yo over and went on their way, and suddenly I remembered this crucial detail. Sure, I had lots of fish when I was growing up. Fish that died. …
OK. It’s one thing to kill off your own pet fish. But it’s another thing entirely to kill off pet fish belonging to neighbors. Panic prickled my scalp. What if Yo-Yo died under my watch?
That’s when it hit me. I should write a picture book about an anxiety-prone little boy who freaks out when his friend Sophie asks him to babysit her fish. So I did. And that’s how my picture book “Sophie’s Fish” (illustrated by Lee White, published by Viking) was born. (Read the full Salt Lake Tribune column here.)
Out of Ann’s discomfort came a humorous book that almost everyone can relate to. But Ann says she never set out to be funny. “To tell you the truth — it’s just that I’m always interested in that chasm between how things should be and how they really are,” she said. “That’s where humor resides — in that chasm.”
Working in just one genre would be boring, Ann says, so she’s currently working on a YA mystery, which “has been an adventure.” In addition to that, she continues to write a weekly column for the Salt Lake Tribune, and she appreciates the instant gratification that comes with it. “The turn-around-time for columnists is much shorter,” she explained. “Like, I write something on Thursday and see it in print on Saturday. You may not see a novel you’ve sold in print until two or three years later. By the time a book comes out, you may have forgotten how it ends…”
Ann’s been writing for more than 20 years now and says she sometimes thinks she was a better writer back in the beginning. “Is that a terrible thing to admit?” she asked. “I do think I have a more professional attitude about the job of writing than I used to. I try not to rely on inspiration as much as I used to. I set myself daily tasks whether I feel like writing or not. And then I write. (Most days.) (Although not always.) (I still have diversion issues.)”
*Read a complete transcript of Ann’s interview with Cracking the Cover.
Editor’s note: Ann Cannon and I worked for the same newspaper for more than five years. As a copy editor, I had the privilege of reading her column — and sometimes writing its headline — before the rest of the public. As the newspaper’s book critic for more than two years, I also worked with Ann in the features department. Though we never met in person (Ann wrote at home, I wrote in the office), I have always admired her work. Because of that, this is a totally biased interview — but you should check out her books anyway, ’cause they’re amazing!
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