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My disaster of a work area

One of the best things about being a writer is that every time you start a new book or series you get to live inside the heart and head of a different person. In real life I also get to be different writers: M.C. Helldorfer, which is the name I was born with and have used on my middle grade novels and picture books for children; and Elizabeth Chandler, the pseudonym I have used for YA novels. Friends call me Mary Claire or M.C.

Like many writers, I’ve earned a living doing various jobs. My happiest work has been teaching college and high school. But teaching is an all-consuming passion, just like writing; and often I have felt as if I couldn’t do both well, so I’ve tried other things. Have you ever wondered how some series authors can publish a pile of books so quickly? People like me ghost write under their names. Ever wonder who’s scripting those passages and sentences on school tests and exercises? Yup, that’s another way of paying bills if you’re good at words. I’ve also worked in the office world. Some jobs I’ve liked more than others, but the nice thing about being a writer is that everything—even the worst job or most embarrassing moment of your life—is material. Are you a writer hoping to meet characters who act in ways you’ve never dreamed of? Try working, as I did, for a temp agency in Manhattan. Not living in your dream home? Great! My three years at a Salvation Army residence in NY was crammed with inspiration. Of course, for nosy people, which all writers are, there’s nothing like listening through the thin walls of a cheap apartment.

Storyboard (beginning of a plot outline)

Every writer needs good teachers. I’ve had an abundance of them, many of them working as editors, others teaching at the schools I attended. Shout-outs go to the fierce nuns who graced my elementary school, St. Mary’s, to Ms. Walsh who taught me at Mercy High School, and to Philip McCaffrey who gave me so much encouragement at Loyola College, Baltimore. An interesting fact: over a two-year period I sent my portfolio to ten graduate schools in creative writing and was rejected by all of them. I bawled my eyes out, believing it was the end of the world; then I got over it. As a result, an additional shout-out goes to the University of Rochester where I earned my Ph.D. in English, determined to learn from “the dead guys” since I couldn’t worm my way into a seminar with the living ones. Since that time I’ve published 36 books with Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Random House, Penguin, Houghton Mifflin, and Macmillan. My books have been translated into 15 languages.

Birdie hard at work

If you visited my previous website or my orphaned Facebook page, you may have noticed that I don’t enjoy (though I understand the necessity of) perpetual promotion. I’m trying to do better, but I’d rather spend time describing someone else, putting words in her mouth, letting her be the one to go through trauma, love, betrayal, and terror in such a public way. And I find my characters infinitely more interesting than myself.

So here are some undramatic facts to finish off this bio. I love sports, especially my hometown Orioles and Ravens. I need to be outside, but it looks strange for someone my age to be climbing a jungle gym and swinging, so I dig in the garden a lot, and in the winter I shovel snow and walk our kitties on leashes (every neighborhood needs a funny cat-lady). My favorite authors are Jane Austen and P.D. James. My faith is essential to me. I am the lucky middle child with two amazing sisters. I take great joy in my nieces, nephews, and godchildren. I’m living happily in a rowhouse at the edge of Baltimore with the love of my life, my husband Bob.