REBECCA ROBERTS, host:
You may have heard somewhere this week that the "Harry Potter" series has ended. And that reminds us how addictive fictional characters can be.
Author Ann Martin learned that long ago. She created the "Baby-sitters Club" in 1986. She originally envisioned four books, but the series mushroomed into 132. All of them planned and edited my Ann Martin and at least half of them written by her. Ms. Martin swore she'd never write another series when that one ended, but she's broken her promise.
Her new series is called "Main Street." It follows two sisters, Ruby and Flora, ages 8 and 10. Their parents have been killed in a car accident, so the girls moved to the fictional town of Camden Falls, Massachusetts, to live with their grandmother Min.
Ann Martin, welcome to the program.
Ms. ANN MARTIN (Author, "Baby-sitters Club," "Main Street"): Thank you.
ROBERTS: The first line of the first book in the "Main Street" series really sets up what is to come. Could you just read that for us?
Ms. MARTIN: Oh, sure.
(Reading) Flora, curled in the back seat of Min's car, thought of all the orphan children she'd read about in books: boys and girls without any parents, starting new lives in new places. And now, she, Flora Marie Northrop, was one of them.
That's the very beginning.
ROBERTS: Of course, all those books that Flora would have been likely to read, the orphans, you know, go on to some sort of gothic horror or, you know, the amazing adventure and that's not what "Main Street" is about. You know, their grandmother Min is terrific and she runs the sewing store in Camden Falls, which is an idyllic little town. Were you tempted just sort of for dramatic purposes to almost make it harder on the girls, just throw in some, you know, really desperate loneliness and isolation?
Ms. MARTIN: You know, I wasn't actually because the germ of the idea for the series was life in a small town more than the idea of Ruby and Flora having to start their lives over again. That actually came later. It was my editor's idea to set it up so that the girls are just moving to town.
ROBERTS: And Camden Falls, your town, it's lovely. You know, Flora and Ruby -they know all their neighbors. They share backyards in these row houses. They walk to school. They're free to walk up and down Main Street without adults. Is that a nostalgic view of small-town America? Do you think - or do you think that a lot of your readers are actually leading lives like that?
Ms. MARTIN: I think quite a few of my readers probably are leading lives like that. There are so many kids who don't live in the middle of a huge metropolitan area, who live in a much, much smaller town. There is a touch of nostalgia, but I think there really a lot of kids who live this and will be able to relate to Flora and Ruby for that reason.
ROBERTS: They are different girls from each other. On the other hand, they're starting this new life very much together. How do you think of Flora and Ruby?
Ms. MARTIN: Flora is the older one, and she is introspective. She's actually very much like me. And she has a lot of intense but very quiet pursuits, especially sewing and needlework. And then, Ruby, on the other hand, is really just sort of out there. Ruby likes to sing, dance, be on stage. The more people on the audience the better. And it's particularly fun for me to write about Ruby because she's probably my alter ego.
ROBERTS: Do you think girls have changed in the years between "Baby-sitters Club" and "Main Street?"
Ms. MARTIN: I do, but I also think that the main themes of both the "Baby-sitters Club" and "Main Street" are enduring, the prime one being friendship. And so girls may have changed but the desire to read about friendship, about families, about community probably has not changed.
ROBERTS: You know, I think the key to a lot of the success of series for young readers, when I think about "Nancy Drew" and "Little House in the Prairie" and the series that a lot of us read as girls, there were also series that a lot of our moms read as girls. Maybe some of that because our moms bought us those books because they wanted us to share in that experience, but are you aware of keeping this series sort of timeless to a degree of not throwing in too many details that will render them anachronistic when our daughters' daughters pass them on?
Ms. MARTIN: Actually, when I first began working on the series, I wanted to set it in a different, earlier time period, in the 1950s or '60s, and I was talked out of it. So my compromise was to throw in every now and then a reference to a cell phone or a computer…
ROBERTS: An iPod, right?
Ms. MARTIN: …or an Internet. Yes, exactly. The other thing that happened at about the same time was that my mother, who has Alzheimer's, couldn't read any longer, and my father gave me a lot of her books, including the books by a British writer whose pen name is Miss Reed, and they were all stories set in a British countryside, tiny little towns, and it was stories of the people in the towns and how their lives connect and interconnect. But the books don't necessarily feel old-fashioned, and I had liked that very much.
ROBERTS: One of the characters in "Main Street" is suffering from Alzheimer's just as your mother is. What was it like to write that for you?
Ms. MARTIN: Sometimes painful. Well, this is Mrs. Willet in "Main Street," who has Alzheimer's. And she and her husband are very much based on my own parents and some of the experiences that they have had after my mother was diagnosed. It is painful to write about Mrs. Willet. And I also feel that I can write about her with perhaps more authenticity than I can write even about some of the main characters.
ROBERTS: The town of Camden Falls is almost a character in these books. Can you read us a passage that describes it?
Ms. MARTIN: Sure. This is the second chapter in the first book in which Flora and Ruby are just arriving in Camden Falls, and the chapter is told from the point of view as an old woman, Mary Wealthy(ph), who lives in town and is watching their arrival.
(Reading) Camden Falls, population 14,672, was an old New England town. Not old by, say, European standards, but old for a town in the United States. It was about to celebrate its 350th birthday. Signs announcing the celebration, which would take place the next spring, had already been posted up and down Main Street. There were to be exhibits, a play, a parade, a carnival, fireworks. Mary watched as Min Reed's car approached. It slowed to a stop across the street from Needle and Thread. Afternoon, Mary, called Min, waving from her window. Afternoon, Min, replied Mary. The car continued down Main Street. Almost home, Mary thought as she watched the car. Min and her granddaughters were almost home.
ROBERTS: Looking at the publication schedule for this series, it's brutal, I mean, it's writing three books a year, at least. How do you do that? What -where do you write? How do you write that sheer volume of material?
Ms. MARTIN: Well, I'm laughing because, first of all, the publishing schedule for the "Baby-sitters Club" books was one a month throughout the year.
(Soundbite of laughter)
ROBERTS: Oh, my goodness.
Ms. MARTIN: So three a year is…
ROBERTS: It's like a vacation.
Ms. MARTIN: …is quite tame.
Ms. MARTIN: Yeah. But I have to admit that there's a difference between being in my 50s and being in my early 30s. I do think that I am a slower and more thoughtful writer now than I was when I was working on the "Babysitters Club."
ROBERTS: Ann Martin, thanks so much for joining us.
Ms. MARTIN: Thank you. My pleasure.
ROBERTS: Ann Martin's new series is called "Main Street."
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ROBERTS: This is NPR's WEEKEND EDITION. Lynn Neary will host next week. I'm Rebecca Roberts.