Dreaming Big in 1969: Interview with author Nan Marino

It is always a thrill to find out you live practically next town over to an interesting, creative person. But imagine reading a book you love, then discovering its author is (a) basically your neighbor, and (b) is a writing maniac and a dreamer just like you.

Imagine then, getting together with the said author, to drink green tea on a terrace of a lovely local restaurant, and talk writing for two hours on a Wednesday evening.

Nan Marino (the taller one, on the right) and me in Barnegat, New Jersey

It was almost as cool as a trip to the moon. 🙂


When Nan Marino was a kid growing up in the 1960s in Massapequa Park, New York, she thought she might be an architect one day. Or a diplomat. A journalist.  Or a writer. “I’m sure I was going to be a writer,” Nan told me. “But it was pretty much a career of the week.”

But, thinking back on it now, Nan had always been a writer. She was that shy girl in school. The one who spent her days dreaming, perfectly happy to be alone. “I spent a lot of time on garage roofs,” she says. She liked to climb trees, too, and stay there for hours. “Now you say that to a group of writers, and I can’t believe how many kids spent time on garage roofs!”

When Nan was in college, a summer job friend wrote to her in a good-bye note, “I think you should be a writer.” The note even listed the reasons why. “Because you look at things in a different way than other people do,” the note said. Nan was surprised. And pleased. Nobody had ever seriously suggested this to her before. Now she couldn’t get the note out of her mind.

After college, Nan became a librarian. She had immersed herself in the world of books that way. Then another friend asked her to write a story — about penguin nesting dolls! Nan did. It was her first picture book, which she tried to submit to publishers here and there. Now she laughs about it. “I don’t know why it didn’t get sold!” she says, dismissing her first effort with an easy smile. She brings the story to her school visits to share with kids now.

Even if the story didn’t quite take Nan places, the important thing was, Nan had discovered writing. And she was hooked. In the next fifteen years more manuscripts followed — and more rejections. Nan sometimes gave up hope. But she never gave up writing.


Last year, her middle-grade book “Neil Armstrong is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me” swept readers off their feet. Tamara Ann Simpson, the mean eleven-year-old heroine with a heartache somehow touched everyone, from kids to reviewers. The simple story of friendship and loss featuring a sweet, sensitive, but lying boy living in foster care, told from the point of view of the tough kickball-playing girl who hates him, is set in July of 1969 — the summer of the moonwalk.

Many things came together to inspire the story. Memories of a time long-gone and visions of new characters simmered for years until Nan was ready to pour it all out into a book. The actual writing/revising only took her a few months. One inspiration for the story was a real kid from her hometown who had once challenged the neighborhood to a game of kickball — much like Nan’s memorable character, the puny Muscle Man McGinty in “Neil Armstrong is My Uncle.”

“Was the kid as bad as McGinty?” I ask Nan.

“If you play against ten kids, you’re going to lose badly, so yeah,” she says. “But  the thing about him that amazed me was that he kept playing. He just wouldn’t give up.”


“How does it all feel?” I ask her. “Celebrating your debut book’s first-year-anniversary?”

She flashes a smile at me. Her smiles are full of thought, generous and always a little dreamy. “It’s just been a year of dreams come true,” she says.

photo credit: NASA, 1969

Writing the story — which is set in the small New York town where she grew up — Nan wanted to recreate the turbulent but also idealistic 1960s of her childhood. Many people think of the 1960s as the “duck-and-cover” times, the era of the Vietnam war and the cold war, the time of racial strife and great paranoia, and the idea that the world was about to end in a nuclear holocaust. But Nan has another perspective. She reminds us that the 60s was also the time of big dreams.

“Kids were told that soon there would be three-day work weeks!” Nan says. “Even though there was so much turmoil around us, we walked around believing that when we grow up our lives would be like that cartoon, the Jetsons — or like Star Trek. Kids now don’t get told that we have these amazing times ahead.”

Still, when Nan conducts school visits, she reminds the kids of today to dream, too.

“I give them the rocking chair test,” Nan says.

She asks the kids to close their eyes and pretend they are ninety years old, sitting in a rocking chair. Then she asks them to think about their dreams. Of course, in the best-case scenarios, they will be thinking of the things that had already happened, the wishes that came true. But if, for some reason, the dream did not materialize, Nan asks the kids this question: “When you are ninety years old, in your rocking chair, would you sit there and say, ‘well, at least I’ve done everything in my power to try and make it happen?’ Or would you rather sit there and wonder what would have happened if only you had tried just a little bit harder?”

Cheers to Nan Marino, to the big dreamers of the 1960s, and to the future generation of dreamers who might just surprise us all with the things they dream up!


15 thoughts on “Dreaming Big in 1969: Interview with author Nan Marino

    • Sooooo-o much fun is right, Nan! I’m just so glad you feel like I “got” it. You know? The essence of your story and your book’s. That’s an interviewer’s biggest reward!

      But then, a bonus, I, too, feel like I have made a friend.

      Many hugs,

  1. A lovely interview with an author to be reckoned with. I’m only a little jealous that you got to meet Nan in person. Just a tiny bit. Hardly at all. AARGH SO JEALOUS

  2. I’m so glad you got the chance to meet Nan. She wrote that penguin story for me many years ago so I could use a set of nesting dolls with my kindergarten classes. You see, I’m a librarian too. Even though I’ve known Nan for over 30 years, I still learned some new things about her through your blog. I can’t wait for her next book–and I have another set of nesting dolls…

  3. Terrific post! Nan sounds amazing. I love her rocking chair visualization and that she is encouraging today’s kids to dream big.

  4. @Andy: yes, she is all those things, you read the book? Isn’t it great? 🙂
    @Pamela: yes, and I love her optimistic take on the 1960s! 🙂
    @Kate: nice to “meet” you! So you knew all those years ago, what Nan was capable of. I bet the nesting dolls story was cute! 🙂

  5. What a lovely story. I’m a friend of Nan and Kate’s, and was lucky to grow up with them both in Massapequa. (No, I’m not a librarian too — but I am in book publishing!) Last year I had a great time meeting Buzz Aldrin with Nan at the Huntington Book Revue where he was doing a signing. She gave him a copy of her book and he was delighted. It was a really special night, and I was glad I was there.

  6. I teach 5th grade and my kids l o v e d Neil Armstrong is my Uncle. Loved your interview with Nan. I felt like I was there.

  7. @Debbie: Thanks! Sounds like an amazing night – no, sounds like a historic occasion!! 🙂
    @Jane: I am so glad you liked the interview! 🙂 (Not suprirsed you and your kids loved Nan’s book, however!!!)

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