Cabin Tales Author Interview #8: Monique Polak

An interview with Monique Polak, author of 29 books for young people and teacher of English and Humanities at Marianopolis College in Montreal. Hear about her attraction to delinquent characters, her commitment to work through good writing days and bad ones, and her ability to recognize a promising story idea by the tingling in her arms. 20 minutes.

Read the full transcript:

Show Notes

[0:00] Intro

[1:20] Interview with Monique Polak

Room for one more cover

MP: I keep a journal. Every single morning…. if I hear a story or someone tells me something that I think is like beautiful or meaningful, my arms tingle. … when you’re looking for stories they come to you. You notice them. And it’s kind of a magic, wonderful thing. …

[2:50] CA: When you’re drafting, do you think of your audience and the impact you want and do you choose your words carefully? Or just let it flow? 

MP: A combination of the two, probably a little more towards letting it flow. …

[3:30] CA: Do you have that favorite POV to write from? 

MP: I I I…. I do love being in somebody else’s head. … I’ve noticed that a lot of the characters I like to write about are “bad” kids. … I like to think that I’m open even to opposing points of view… it fascinates me.

Hate Mail cover

[5:50] CA: Do you know the ending of your story when you begin? 

MP: Sometimes yes and sometimes no. … the happy ending, like Walt Disney, that doesn’t work anymore. But growth works. Growth is what we all want….

[6:30] CA: Do you do character outlines or…?

MP: … I do a lot of interviews … But I don’t really do what you’re talking about. And maybe I should. … it’s that feeling that I’m not good enough, that it’s not as good as I want it to be, that I didn’t get to the point where I wanted to go, I honestly think that’s what keeps me at it. … I’m pretty hard on myself…. But I think I have a good sense of story. And I think I have a good heart… I’m very interested in emotions and I love exploring that in stories.

[8:20] CA: Do you have any advice that you would give to young writers who are stuck in the middle of a story? 

I am a Feminist cover

MP: Yeah, just do it. Quit complaining and do it. Or continue complaining and do it. .. do it and be proud that you’re doing it. … The only reason that I made it in this field is because I didn’t give up. I had a lot of struggles at the beginning…. But if you want it enough, and if you work at it enough, you’ll get it. … All I wanted was one book. …. And now I have 29 published… That’s because I suffered. And I suffered for all 29.…

[10:00] CA: Do you work do you work on one project at a time? 

MP: My preference is to work on one at a time…. Two fiction projects might be hard for me, though I have done that. … I’ve been a full-time teacher for 34 years. … My time is very tight when I’m teaching. I have to kind of fight for my writing time. But I do. …

[10:40] CA: And you write for that age group, then you also write for younger kids. Is there a different frame of mind for you when you write for different ages?

MP: Yes and no. … surprisingly more no than yes.  I just tell my story. …

What World is Left cover

[11:35] CA: Do you read your work out loud?

MP: Yes, all the time. …

[12:00] CA: Did you tell stories around a campfire as a kid, or at bedtime or…?

MP: Yes. First of all I listened to stories… I brake for stories. … If I’m allowed, I listen overtly. Otherwise I listen on the sly. When I was a kid, … I would hide under the dining room table… listening to the … grown-up stories that I wasn’t allowed to be listening to.  … my mother was an amazing storyteller. …. It’s like kind of power you have when you tell a story.

… when I went to camp, I told them I was a Princess … And I made my bunkmates do everything for me … then I actually wrote a book, Princess Angelica: Camp Catastrophe. But she gets into trouble. I never got into trouble; they believe me the whole summer. …

[14:20] CA: Do you have any phobias? 

MP: Claustrophobia. … I hate dirt on the floor…

Princess Angelica cover

[14:55] CA: And do you collect anything? 

MP: Yes. … this little office is a shrine to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. …. Alice everything. … And then personally, I kind of collect dresses …

[16:00] CA: Have you ever written about a curse? 
MP: Not directly… more like a psychological kind of curse. … We continue paying a price for things that have happened in the past.

[16:20] CA: If you were to meet an untimely death and you had the opportunity to hang around as a ghost, would you? 

MP: Yeah of course. Because there be more stories. … So much children’s literature is about death. … It is one of my favorite topics.

[18:05] Monique Polak introduces herself

MP: Hi. I’m Monique Polak. I’m an author and a teacher and I live in Montreal. And I also work as a journalist. And I love to write. And I have published 29 books. I’m very proud of that. And I have three more coming out that I’m working quite hard on as we speak. I teach at a CEGEP and I’m a specialist on Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

[18:45] Find out more about Monique Polak

You can hear more advice from Monique Polak on Cabin Tales Episode 1.5, “Author Interviews about Setting,” on Episode 2, “Nasty People meet Nasty Ends,” about Character, and on Episode 8, “The Never-ending story,” about Revision. You can find out a whole lot more about Monique Polak and her books from her website at

[19:55] Thanks and coming up on the podcast

I’ll be back next week with leftovers from my interview with Amelinda Bérubé, author of spooky stories for young adults.

Thanks for listening.


Music on the podcast is from “Stories of the Old Mansion” by Akashic Records, provided by Jamendo (Standard license for online use).

Host: Catherine Austen writes books for children, short stories for adults, and reports for corporate clients. Visit her at

Visit the Cabin Tales home page.


Guest Author:

Monique Polak is the Montreal-based author of 29 books for young people and a two-time winner of the Quebec Writers’ Federation Prize for Children’s and YA Literature. She has been teaching English and Humanities at Marianopolis College in Montreal for over 30 years. Find her online at


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