When you were young, what did you want to be when you were grown up?
A teacher, an actress, an opera singer, a tap dancer, or a missionary to China. I didn’t know that I could earn my living some day by writing, so making little books was just my hobby.
Have any of your books been translated into other languages?
Yes. Between the Alice books and the Shiloh books, they’ve been translated into 17 different languages.
Where were you born?
What color are your eyes?
What is your favorite color?
What is your favorite food?
What is your favorite thing you do?
Snorkel. Write. Read. Do fun stuff with grandchildren. Hunt for shells at the beach. Eat chocolate.
Do you have any brothers or sisters?
An older sister, Norma, and a younger brother, John.
Sister Norma as a teen
Phyllis with Brother John
How many books have you had published?
How many short stories have you had published?
How many rejections have you had?
At last count, several years ago, it was 10,443.
What other jobs have you had besides writing?
Locker room attendant, store clerk, playground superintendent, clinical secretary, third-grade teacher, assistant executive secretary for a teacher’s organization, and an editorial assistant.
What was the name of your first published short story?
“Mike’s Hero (A baseball story)”
What was the name of your first published book?
The Galloping Goat and other stories
What was your favorite book growing up?
What inspired you to become a writer?
Probably the fact that my parents read aloud to us each night until we were almost teens. It was just something my family did. Dad and Mom read with great drama, and I especially loved Dad’s reading of Mark Twain’s books. I guess I figured that if listening to stories was so much fun, then writing them must be even better, and writing became my hobby when I was in grade school.
How did you get started writing?
When I was sixteen a former Sunday school teacher, now an editor, asked if I would write a story for her magazine and paid me $4.67.
Do you have any pets?
I don’t now, because I live in an apartment, but I grew up with lots of cats and a Springer Spaniel, named Pepper.
How long will you keep writing?
As long as I can hold a pencil.
Do you write your books on a computer?
I write them first out in longhand–usually twice–before I type them, a chapter at a time, on the computer. I sit in my favorite chair in the living room and write on a clipboard.
Are you married?
Phyllis and Husband Rex
Yes, to Rex Naylor. We had 52 years together before he died.
Do you have any children?
Two sons–Jeff and Mike–both of them grown now, with families of their own.
Jeff and Sophia
Mike and Garrett
How many awards have you won?
Newbery Acceptance Speech
I guess over 50, with the Shiloh books winning most of them, including the Newbery.
Are you friends with other authors?
Phyllis with Susan Lowell and Avi
Yes, Dozens and dozens–Lois Lowry, Katherine Paterson, Jerry Spinelli, Diane Stanley, Ashley Bryan, Avi, David Weisner, Laura Melmed, Betsy Kraft, and Claudia Mills, to name only a few. To find the names of other authors in the Washington, D.C. area, go to: www.childrensbookguild.org
Do you have any tips for young writers?
Think about the time you were the most sad or angry or scared or embarrassed. Write down a few lines about it, then change it a little — the way it began, the way it ended. Pretend it happened to someone else. Turn it over to your imagination and give it wings. Most of all, have fun!
Do you like to travel?
Yes, but I don’t do it as much as I used to. Though Rex and I have traveled overseas, we have also visited every state in the U.S. Here I am in Hawaii, signing books after I was awarded their Nene Award for Shiloh.
Book Signing in Hawaii
Phyllis and John in Rome
Did you study writing in college?
No, I was studying to be a clinical psychologist, but writing stories helped pay the tuition. By the time I graduated, I decided that writing was my first love, so I gave up plans for grad school and began writing full time.
Do you do school visits?
I used to, but now do very few, concentrating mostly on conferences and book festivals.