Phyllis Reynolds Naylor didn’t intend for The Agony of Alice to be the beginning of a series, but when fans clamored for more she delivered. Thirty years after penning her first Alice tale, she wrote Now I’ll Tell You Everything to wrap up fans lingering questions about the plucky protagonist they grew up with.
Phyllis Reynolds Naylor: Politics and Prose is the remarkable Washington D.C. bookstore that has survived in spite of all the changes in our area–wonderfully well-informed sales people.
Zola: You started writing the Alice series almost thirty years ago. In The Agony of Alice, she was a young girl about to enter sixth grade. Twenty-five books later, in Now I’ll Tell You Everything, we see Alice through age 60. Did you ever think, writing the first one, that the series would have come so far? What kept you coming back to Alice?
PRN: I didn’t know it was going to be a series, not until fans sent letters asking for more and reviewers said things like, “Alice’s many fans will await her further adventures.”
Zola: There is an inherent challenge with long lasting series like Alice, technology has changed significantly since 1985. How did you decide when and where to incorporate modern gadgets?
PRN: Every book was written as though the story were taking place that particular year.
Zola: The first few years of your life were marked by the Great Depression. What do you remember of that experience? Has it influenced your writing?
PRN: I was very young when our family struggled the most, and didn’t appreciate what little we had. I specifically remember my mother, a college graduate, taking in the neighbors’ washing in order to earn more income, and my older sister and I being asked to carry the laundry basket of ironed clothes back to the neighbors. I wanted to go while it was still light outside; my sister, embarrassed, insisted on going after dark. But our chief entertainment was listening to our parents read aloud to us, and I will never forget my father’s voice imitating all the different characters in Huckleberry Finn.
Zola: You began writing when you were very young and had your first story published at age 16. Did you ever want to be something other than a writer? Do you ever look back on or think of returning to some of your earlier writing?
PRN: I had planned to be a clinical psychologist, but was able to pay most of my way through college by writing and selling short stories. When I graduated with a BA degree, I decided that writing was my first love, and gave up plans for graduate school. I wrote short stories for fifteen years before I ever tried writing a book, but I love the extra depth of both character and plot offered to me in a book, and doubt that I’ll return to short stories.
Zola: Throughout her life, Alice has many embarrassing moments, like walking in on someone in the dressing room. What is an embarrassing moment that you remember from your teenage years? Were any of Alice’s experiences taken from your life?
PRN: You really think I’m going to put these in print?
Zola: How do you feel about saying goodbye to Alice? Would you ever consider returning to her world through a spin-off series?
PRN: That’s a frequently asked question–doing a spin-off of one of the other characters in the Alice series, but I think I’ve said all I want to about them. There are SO many other books that I want to write.
Zola: Alice has grown from a young girl to an mature woman before readers eyes. What are the ways that you think you’ve most changed since you began writing? How has your writing changed since that first book?
PRN: As with every book, I hope it’s better than the last–better descriptions, better phrasing, better everything. I think I’ve become more accepting of people’s coping skills–their defenses. “Whatever works,” has become a new mantra, when I see the multitude of things that can happen to people, and how they handle both the successes and the tragedies of life.
This article originally appeared on Zola Books.