When author Margaret Meacham was a little girl, she let her imagination soar while perched high in the branches of a buckeye tree in her family's Pittsburgh backyard.
Now, half a century after those leafy daydreams, the 60-year-old Meacham is a popular author of children's books, some of which have been translated into German and French. She has taught creative writing to hundreds of students at Goucher College and online through the Gotham Writers' Workshop. She is the mother of three grown children and lives in Brooklandville with her husband and their two dogs.
In the space of four days last month, Meacham published her first adult novel, "The Survival of Sarah Landing," as well as her 15th book for children, "The Ghosts of Laurelford."
The former, which is set on the Eastern Shore, is a literary whowroteit. The protagonist, Sarah Landing, is a widowed single mother of three who is struggling with writer's block and a dwindling bank account. Her life changes after a promising student dies under mysterious circumstances and leaves behind the manuscripts for two exquisite picture books.
"Laurelford" is set in Pittsburgh in the early 20th century, and was loosely inspired by diaries kept by Meacham's maternal grandmother. Fifteen-year-old Lacey accompanies her disabled grandfather to a series of seances held at a country estate, where she quickly becomes entangled in a ghostly legend, a family tragedy and her own experiments into the paranormal.
Meacham recently sat down to talk about her books, her development as a writer and her continuing reliance on spell-check.
How did you become a novelist?
The first time I thought I would be a writer was in the second grade. My teacher was very, very strict. Handwriting was big back then, and I had terrible handwriting. Spelling was big back then, and I was a terrible speller. I still am.
But, at the end of the day, the teacher would tell us all to sit down and be quiet and listen. She would read these great stories: "Charlotte's Web" [by E.B. White] and the Narnia books [by C.S. Lewis.]. I was so relieved that I hadn't been kicked out of the second grade and had made it through another day.
It seemed like a miracle to me that these authors could create these scenes, with characters who were just as real as the children sitting next to me.
What first inspired you to write for kids?
In the late 1970s, I was a librarian for the Baltimore County public library system, and young adult literature was almost a new genre at the time. I saw how charged up the kids themselves were if I could give them a book that they liked. If you write a book that adults like, you don't really change them that much. But if you can change a child's life, that's really exciting.
You've set several books on the Eastern Shore: "Oyster Moon," "The Secret of Heron Creek" and now "Sarah Landing."
I like to write about places that I love and know well and that inspire me. I grew up in Pittsburgh but spent summers visiting my paternal grandmother on the Chesapeake Bay. The Eastern Shore is an acquired taste, in a way, if what you're used to is the Jersey shore. It's much more understated and still fairly unspoiled. Any excuse I get, I run over there.
With "Sarah Landing," was it difficult to switch from writing for children to writing for grown-ups?
It was somewhat intimidating. It was one of the first things I've written from two different points of view, and the first book I've written from the voice of the villain.
I was kind of shocked at how easily it came off. It was kind of scary, really. But one thing I learned from writing in his voice is that Sarah really is kind of ditsy. I hadn't known that, but it became apparent to me when I realized that he sees her as this foolish woman.
"The Ghosts of Laurelford" is your second book about clairvoyance. Most children's authors portray psychics as charlatans, but your books leave room for both skeptics and believers. Do you have personal experience with mental telepathy?
No, but I wish I did. I don't have second sight and I haven't even witnessed it, but I sure do believe there are mysteries out there that we don't know about in this world. If people say that if they can't feel something or taste it or see it, then they won't believe that it exists — that's too bad.
If you go
Margaret Meacham will sign copies of her new adult mystery novel, "The Survival of Sarah Landing" from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday at the Ivy Bookshop, 6080 N. Falls Road. Free. Call 410-377-2966 or go to theivybookshop.com.
About the books:
"The Survival of Sarah Landing" was published Nov. 20 by Sunbury Press. 172 pages, $14.95.
"The Ghosts of Laurelford" was published Nov. 16 by Sunbury. 132 pages, $14.95.