Although she describes her childhood self as having "a short attention span" and despising "anything that reeked of busy work" at school, Margaret Peterson Haddix grew up to be a successful journalist before she found the courage to pursue her dream of writing novels.
Haddix grew up on a farm in Washington Courthouse, Ohio - the same small town where her family has lived since the early 1800s. Her father was a farmer and her mother, a nurse; her time as a young woman was equally split between home and farm chores with her three siblings (two brothers and one sister), and numerous academic and extracurricular pursuits. She liked most of her classes at school but wasn't too fond of the schoolwork itself. "What I hated was not any particular subject, but anything that reeked of busy work; all the pointless assignments that took a lot of time but taught me nothing." Through it all, though, she always knew she wanted to write -- spending much of her free time reading and composing poetry in secret.
Her father was her inspiration, says Haddix, because of the wild and entertaining stories he always told -- stories "about one of our ancestors who was kidnapped, about some friends who survived lying on a railroad bridge while a train went over the top of them, about the kid who brought possum meat to the school cafeteria when my father was a boy."
Though her dad's stories sparked an interest in writing, life in a small town afforded Haddix very little exposure to career writers; she assumed early on that she would only be able to earn a living doing what she loved if she became a journalist. So when she attended college at Miami University in Oxford, Haddix majored in English and began writing for the school newspaper by the end of her freshman year.
With guidance from one of her second-year journalism professors, she obtained newspaper internships during her summer breaks from college -- first, at the Urbana (Ohio) Daily Citizen just after her sophomore year, and then at the Charlotte Observer and the Indianapolis News the summers after her junior and senior years.
Her first newspaper job was as copy editor for the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette (in Indiana). Just a few months later, she quit and moved on to the Indianapolis News, where she was a full-time reporter until 1991. All the while, though, Haddix worried that her rising career in journalism was distracting her from her true calling: that of a fiction writer.
In 1987, she married Doug Haddix, a newspaper editor. When he got a job offer in Illinois, Haddix quit her job at the Indianapolis News and moved north with him. There, she worked various part-time and temporary jobs, including English teacher at a community college in Danville, in order to start her first novel, Running Out of Time. Inspired by an article she had written for the Indianapolis News about workers in a "living history museum," Running "has become something of a classic of the form."
Haddix has two children, Meredith and Connor; today, Haddix, her husband, and her children live in a northwest suburb of Columbus. She has written thirteen juvenile novels, including the first three of seven books in the "Among the…" series (Among the Barons, Among the Betrayed, and Among the Imposters). She's currently working on book four, Among the Brave, and another, nonseries title, called Say What? She has won an International Reading Association Children's Book Award, and the American Library Association has named numerous Haddix titles Best Book for Young Adults, and/or Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers.
When asked why she likes writing for young audiences, Haddix replied: "Teenagers are naturally such good characters in books. They have great capacity for change, and they're often more interesting than adults."
Photos courtesy of Simon & Schuster.