Ashley Lowery, Deseret News
At her Salt Lake home, Deseret News columnist Ann Cannon discusses writing young-adult books.

It all started with "Cal Cameron by Day, Spider-Man by Night," which won the prestigious Delacorte Prize for Outstanding Young Adult Novel of 1987.

Eleven novels later, Ann Edwards Cannon, sometimes known as A.E. Cannon on book jackets and a Deseret News FamilyLife columnist, is still using her fertile imagination and keen sense of humor to turn out delicious young-adult literature.

During an interview in her Salt Lake home, Cannon said, "There was this feeling that boys wouldn't read a book about boys written by a woman. So, we went with the sex-neutral initials in the manner of S.E. Hinton and M.E. Kerr. It's the ultimate publishing cliche. Whenever you see initials, it's usually a girl trying to pass herself off as a guy."

Although Cannon is no longer convinced initials are needed, her newest book, "The Loser's Guide to Life and Love," is attributed to A.E. Cannon. Think J.K. Rowling. Cannon's book is a contemporary twist on Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and features Ed, his two best friends, Scout and Quark, plus a girl named Ellie.

Cannon has also written "The Shadow Brothers," "Charlotte's Rose" and "On the Go with Pirate Pete and Pirate Joe." When still a first-grader, Cannon was forced to spend a year in bed recovering from a serious illness. The result was an acceleration of her interest in books and the development of her imagination. The books introduced her "to people who had tea parties on the ceiling and others who went down rabbit holes."

For ideas, Cannon has relied somewhat on her five sons for capturing a boy's voice and for her own experiences for capturing a girl's voice.

The daughter of LaVell Edwards, Brigham Young University's famed football coach, she attended high school in Provo and took two academic degrees in English from BYU. While still a student, she started writing her own young-adult literature and sending it to publishers. The degrees have been useful when she has wanted to teach at BYU and Westminster College in Salt Lake City.

Married to Ken Cannon, an attorney, she was 25 when she had her first child. Immediately, she could see the creative nature of both motherhood and writing. "As a young mother, I could put the kids to bed and then stay up and write 'til 2 a.m. But now I'm just shot after 6 p.m., so I have to do most of my writing in the early mornings."

The parrot and the huge, friendly, long-haired Newfoundland dog keep her company.

Although Cannon's interest has always been young-adult books, she has picked up on a bias held by several people who periodically told her that what she was doing was "good practice for writing real books."

She was so determined to be a successful writer, though, that as she progressed she also took short-term jobs "writing manuals for multimarketing people. Whatever came along, I did it. I always tell beginning writers not to be too choosy at first."

Cannon never thinks "in terms of vocabulary or sentence structure to fit a certain age group. It would make me feel constrained. I have a really good memory about what it was like to be a certain young age and the things I cared about. And I've closely observed kids along the way, too."

And like most writers, she admits to eavesdropping when eating out. "I often wonder why the conversation I'm hearing in the next booth at a restaurant is more interesting than my own. I write notes on my hand or the back of my checkbook so I can remember it when I get home."

Cannon also realizes that her life as a writer sometimes put her too far inside her own head. "Sometimes I get so preoccupied with what I'm working on that I think I just as well be an alcoholic passed out on the couch, because I'm not accessible enough to my kids."

Cannon especially admires writers Meg Cabot, Robert Cormier and local children's writer Barbara Williams. She also enjoys many British writers, such as M.C. Beaton, Muriel Sparks and Nick Hornby. "I like it when librarians and teachers like your book, but the best is if a kid likes your book!"

Like most writers, Cannon occasionally suffers from writer's block. "I said to Ken this morning, 'I don't want to do this any more. I feel tired, unoriginal, unimaginative and masochistic about writing.' But you just have to power yourself through it. It helps to have done this before, because you know if you keep writing you can make something come together. But it is hard for me."

Cannon recalled getting various awards from her first three books, "then all of a sudden, I couldn't sell anything for a number of years. Markets do shift and writing is very personal."

She has also written a family/humor column for the Deseret News for the past 11 years. "When John Hughes, the editor, asked me to do it, he envisioned an Erma Bombeck-type column. Now hardly anyone has even heard of Erma Bombeck!"

She sets aside an entire day to write her weekly column. "That way I can capture in the moment a lot of things that are happening." She doesn't understand why some readers who criticize her don't stop reading her column, "but they don't!"

While many writers spend a lot of time sitting back and observing, Cannon has "the feeling that I get wound up and talk more than I should sometimes. I remember stories. I'm a middle-ground person between being quiet and being talkative."

She has always been interested in the fact that people tend to think anyone can write a book. "It's not as mysterious as composing a concerto or painting a picture. But when someone tells me they are going to quit their jobs and become a writer I always say, 'Don't quit your job!"'

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