Lynn E. Hazen is a San Francisco native and children’s book author living in the Mission. She also earned an M.A. in Education from San Francisco State University and owns and directs The Preschool. Her books include: The Amazing Trail of Seymour Snail, chronicling the journey of an artistically inclined snail as he tries to work in the field he loves the most; Mermaid Mary Margaret, the diary of a girl discovering her inner mermaid while on a cruise with her recently widowed grandmother; Shifty, which follows the antics of a young man living in foster care and finding his path through life in San Francisco; Buzz Bumble To the Rescue, a bee-centric fable about jealousy and heroism; and Cinder Rabbit, the story of a rabbit who struggles to hop. We asked her a few questions about her writing, young people, and living in San Francisco.
Mission Local: The Amazing Trail of Seymour Snail probably resonates with a lot of artists because it essentially details the struggle of being recognized for creative work in an environment fixated on running businesses, completing tasks, following a hierarchy…Is this a struggle you experienced yourself? How did you find your place in the world of doing creative work?
Lynn Hazen: Ha ha! I like that you’ve taken my little snail’s journey to heart. From an imaginary snail’s perspective, I think Seymour is just trying to express himself creatively, hang out with his friends and not to get stepped on! Seymour is oblivious to the big mean world, which I think adds to his charm (and to the tension and humor of his story). I suppose he is more focused on expressing himself than being recognized. The process of making art is often its own (and only reward), but yes, for snails and humans, it’s nice to have encouragement to create (as well as the time, space and compensation to keep creating!)
Seymour is also a snail so he is inherently slow. I can relate to endeavors taking much longer for me to accomplish than I expect. Seymour’s story was also partly inspired by how long it can take to hear back from the publishing world when you’ve submit your stories. I imagined that there was a snail working in the New York publishing house’s mailroom where I had sent my work, and that snail took forever to carry my manuscript to an editor’s desk. So yes, I suppose I can relate to Seymour’s creative journey on many levels.
For my own creative journey, I feel I’m still en route, inspired by children and encouraged by friends and family, other writers, artists, and the children’s book community. Being a preschool director for the last 30+ years, watching kids of all ages live and learn, laugh and grow, has been wonderful inspiration. My teaching life and writing life complement each other. I’m lucky to have more than one job I love.
ML: The young protagonists in your books all grapple with very mature challenges — Soli finds himself responsible for his whole family at a young age, Soli and Seymour both navigate the job market, Mary Margaret has to work through death and supporting others through a loss. Has raising and working with children inspired you to write about the clever and resilient ways young people cope with difficulty?
LH: Yes, the stories I write for younger children, school-aged kids and teens are often inspired by emotional truths and the amazing children and teens I’ve met. I think stories can also save us—both the reader and the writer—in some way, through humor, emotion, empathy and connection with the characters’ choices on the page. Stories, both real and imagined, can help nurture resilience.
ML: Any new projects in the pipeline?
LH: I’m always writing and ever hopeful that my stories will resonate with editors and the eventual reader. I have a couple of picture books that seem promising—one about an elusive black cat. I’m also working, very slowly it appears, on another middle grade novel, and a mystery martial arts series for young readers set in San Francisco.
ML: What’s it like to live in the Mission as a writer and a preschool director? (Mission Local has done plenty of coverage of artists and educators being pushed out of the area so it seems like it could be tough) .
LH: I love the Mission—the sunshine, the quality of light, the people, the library, the good food, the convenience of BART and walking everywhere. Again, I’m very lucky to be here. The Mission has changed of course, but it is still a great place for families, so my preschool has thrived and provided me with a good way to serve children and families in the community, while providing an occupation I thoroughly enjoy.
ML: Somewhat related, how do you find the time to be a parent, writer, and preschool manager?
LH: It’s always a juggle to find time to do everything. My own kids are grown now. Being the owner of a small business like The Preschool, I’ve been able to modify the schedule (and I have great team of teachers who help me). Thirty years ago, The Preschool was a full day program—5 days a week from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. I was younger and more energetic then! Now The Preschool is half day, 8 to noon, four days a week. So that gives me a bit more time to write, while still being able to connect with young children and neighborhood families.
ML: Shifty makes reference to a lot of very specific San Francisco locations, and to the shifting population. How has the city changed since you wrote it?
LH: Yes, San Francisco is constantly changing. One example—not since I wrote the book but earlier—is that my son used to play pickup basketball games and go to Mission Science Workshop in the location where the Mission campus of City College on Valencia is now. Luckily Mission Science Workshop still exists, housed now at Mission High School. The Mission campus of CCSF is a great addition to the neighborhood. I’ve taken classes in yoga, dance, poetry, multimedia and screenwriting (I wrote a Seymour Snail screenplay and kids’ app and I’d love to find a children’s app developer). So sometimes changes (like Mission campus CCSF’s course offerings) are good.
Seeing longtime San Francisco and neighborhood families priced out of the rental and housing market is a difficult change. Also seeing beloved small businesses close (like Que Tal on Guerrero) makes me sad.
Thank goodness other businesses remain—like Scarlet Sage and Lucca’s Deli (where my own grandmother took me when I was a child). I often shopped with my own kids at Lucca’s on our way back from their Tae Kwon Do studio (which is now The Marsh). The Tae Kwon Do studio is gone. The older guys behind the counter at Lucca’s have retired since my kids were young but I still shop at Lucca’s and I’m happy to see they still give young kids free breadsticks while their parents shop. So some neighborhood traditions remain through multiple generations.
ML: I love that Shifty was San Francisco-based. Do you ever get the sense that you’re filling a niche in the young adult fiction world by choosing to write a book based in this city? Or are there maybe other authors whose work highlights SF that you could recommend?
San Francisco author, Jim Averbeck, penned a great middle grade mystery, A Hitch at the Fairmont. It’s historical fiction and has a lot of fun with locations around San Francisco as well as with the films (and character) of Alfred Hitchcock.
Take a look at that one. Also talk to the youth librarians at the main and Mission Libraries. They are a wealth of knowledge.
As for Shifty, yes, I really wanted San Francisco to be a memorable supporting character in the book. I love San Francisco and am grateful to call SF and the Mission my home.