The rock star
Astonishingly prolific, Margaret Peterson Haddix publishes at least two books every year. She has written for young adults, middle grades and younger ages. Haddix has amassed a long list of awards, including the 2008 Ohioana Book Award for juvenile literature. Her characters live in dystopias and palaces; they time-travel and overthrow governments; they work in 1911 sweatshops and travel to 21st-century Spain. She credits her varied plots to a broad range of interests and chalks up her disciplined writing habits to her first career as a journalist. Haddix sets a goal of five pages a day, and “as I feel more like I know what a story is—or if I have a deadline—it becomes 10 pages a day.”
Everyday life triggers story concepts. “I feel there are ideas all around us, and you just have to pay attention,” Haddix says. “One book was inspired by watching my daughter doing a puzzle at 2 years old. Another was inspired by a birthday card.”
Haddix's best-selling novel, “Among the Hidden,” is the first entry in “The Shadow Children” series. This middle-grade book sprang from Haddix's musings while she and her husband discussed whether to have a third child. “We were thinking about overpopulation and talking about the one-child rule in China,” she says. “I started asking, ‘What if there is a third child in a society where you could only have two kids? They would have to go into hiding.'” In the novel's dystopia, population police ensure that each family has only two children. As a forbidden third child, Luke must hide—inside his own home.
Her first book, the 1995 middle-grade novel “Running Out of Time,” remains well-loved among readers and teachers. As with many Haddix novels, the plot turns on an important secret. Inquisitive Jessie lives in a log cabin on the 1840s Indiana frontier. When diphtheria infects her village, Jessie's mother confides a shocking truth—they actually live in 1996, and their rustic settlement is a tourist attraction where people secretly watch them for entertainment. Jessie must venture into the modern world to save her family and friends.
When M. Night Shyamalan's 2004 film “The Village” appeared, with a strikingly similar plot line, Haddix's fans and friends were incensed. “It was a very strange experience,” she says. “People told me they sat through to the end of the credits, waiting to see my name—and it wasn't there.” A young grocery store clerk recognized her and blurted, “You got totally ripped off.” Reporters, lawyers andEntertainment Weeklycontacted her. But Haddix didn't pursue it. “Copyright infringement is very difficult to prove,” she says, “and I would only do that if I felt 100 percent certain.”
Her fellow writers in OHYA are less forgiving. “We all hate [Shyamalan] on her behalf,” says Erin McCahan with a wry smile.
Controversies aside, Haddix has two more books set for release in 2019. Her success still surprises her, she says, “but I think everything about publishing is surprising. There are certain jobs where you know the route. Writing is not at all like that.”