Saturday, December 19, 2009

Editor's Cookies?

That's right.  One of the many reasons my editor rocks is that she sends holiday cookies.  She is a seriously busy woman who still finds ways to remind her writers that this business is the best one to be in.

This is the second year I've received cookies and this year, my husband and I were checking the mail.  When the envelope came, my husband came in our kitchen and said, "Editor's Cookies!"

This is how they come:

Here's why we gobble them down:

They are as tasty as they look.  Chocolate Meringue and Cranberry Bars.

I don't want this post to suggest that I value my editor's cookies more than her notes, only that her cookies have a very different affect on me.

So yummy.  Gotta go... I'm getting crumbs in my laptop.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Joshua Swanson is Jace!

Split on audio is fast becoming a reality.  Listening Library snagged the award-winning Joshua Swanson for the gig.  I'm thrilled!  He is wry and seems to find the funny in scripts -- something absolutely necessary for Split to work.  I can't wait to hear him embody my protagonist, Jace.

Check him out:  Demos

Posted using ShareThis

Friday, December 11, 2009

Agent or Fairy Godmother? You Decide.

It is Happy Agent Day in the Blogosphere, so I'm celebrating my agent, Rosemary Stimola.  Rosemary is actually a fairy godmother in disguise.  Here are my top 5 reasons why:

#5)  With a wave of her wand, she can make emails appear in my inbox.

Recently, I was worried about not receiving some nameless information from a nameless person at a nameless company.  When I called Rosemary and relayed my concern, she first calmed me down, telling me not to worry about it.  Then she said she shared my concern that I wasn't getting any communication.  She put in a call and --ding-- I got mail.

#4) Receiving email from her is like getting a treat.

First, she has lightening-speed response time.  I have yet to wait 24 hours for a response.  Not even when she broke her ankle and warned me she might be a little slower with responses.  When I queried her, she asked for a full manuscript within nine hours. This woman knows what 'prompt reply' means.  She must have coined the term.

Second, she has her own style of emailing, which just oozes personality  Here's an example:

hey, lovely news!
am about to leave office for weekend, so will get contracts out to you on my letterhead for signature early next week!
more on subs then as well...
very pleased to have you on board!
ro stimo

#3) Her experience in the biz is reliable.

The most important aspect of the agent-writer relationship, as Andrew Karre once told me, is trust. At the time, I didn't quite understand why, but now I do.  Truth is, I'm a writer and I don't know how this industry works:  with Rosemary's help, I'm learning what is reasonable to expect from my publisher, what is important, and what I shouldn't worry about.  She's been at this for a long time now and is one of the top-sellers on Publisher's Marketplace; she knows what she's up to. That keeps years on my life and takes more off my plate.

#2.5 because it is related to #3, but a little higher up) We're in this together

When she offered to represent me, I asked to interview her, which made me a little self conscious.  But Rosemary thought it was a great idea because, as she said, the agent-writer relationship is like a marriage.  It's a long-term commitment and you need to know what you're in for.

And she does treat me like a partner in my career.  We talked about what houses to send Split to when it was just an aspiring manuscript.  After relaying her list, she asked if there was any house I wanted that wasn't on her list.  When I said yes, she included it.  She went through my contract with Knopf for Split with me word by word, and it's around 12 pages.  And explained things to me I couldn't understand (me: "remind me...what are sub rights?").

#2) Best opening line for an auction ever.

When it became official that Split would go to auction, I wasn't sure that my feet were actually on the ground.  The idea that one house wanted to publish it would have sent me to Cloud Nine.  But having more than one house interested and willing to bid on Split was like being rocketed into the stratosphere of high-hopes.  Cloud Nine was so small from way up there.

On the day of the auction for Split, she called me in the morning with the offers and said, "Are you still breathing?"
I laughed, releasing some of my jitters.  "Barely."
"Deep breaths," she said, amused.  "I can't have you pass out on me now."

Talk about setting the tone for the day:  celebratory, surreal, and business-like.

#1) She's incredibly diplomatic, knowing how to set the tone of a conversation, (see #2) and has balls of steel.

In other words, she is exactly the kind of woman I want representing me --  polite, knowledgeable, reasonable, and won't back down when she's right.  Which she usually is.

After all, what fairy godmother is in the wrong?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Death Knell #1

I know that businesses routinely close. I know we shouldn't get attached to corporations. But there are some for which, when the bell tolls, we don't need to ask who it tolls for, because we know that we've all lost.

Goodbye Kirkus Review.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Audio Book Recording Begins

After a disheartening week in which I was waiting for good news that never came, I have a little something to celebrate. Yes, in my inauspicious inbox, I found an email that let me know that the audio book for Split will be recorded this month!

And with this step, like all the others on the what-do-you-mean-I'm-getting-published road, I have to convince myself that I haven't gone completely around the bend and fantasized the entire contract.

3 months and one day until kick off.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Interview with Julie Schumacher

BACKSTORY: I met Julie Schumacher almost three years ago as one of her students in University of Minnesota’s MFA program, but knew her through her work and venerated reputation within the Twin Cities writing community prior to that. I first encountered her work in Book of One Hundred Truths, which won a Minnesota Book Award in 2007, and was drawn into the work at the end of the first chapter in which our narrator states, "I should probably mention something right now before this story goes any further: my name is Theodora Grumman, and I am a liar.” Um, yes, Hooked.

Schumacher’s latest novel Black Box has been named a Junior Library Guild selection, ALA Best Book for Young Adults 2009, and a ALA Quick Pick (for Reluctant Readers) 2009. Even more honorably, Black Box makes my list of fav books for the year. Impressed by the choices and techniques that Schumacher brought to this novel, I taught it in my young adult and voice class at the Loft last summer. And, because Julie gives her time and attention, she agreed to answer some questions.


Q: I think the decision to go into flashback from page 4-20 was a risk (i.e a ballsy and brilliant move) Did you see this as risky? Were you concerned about losing the forward motion of the book?

**SPOILER** Why did you chose to start where you did and not, as this question implies, when Dora swallowed the handful of anti-depressants?

JS: Yes, I do see it as risky (because of the forward-momentum issue), and the editor had a bit of a problem with it at first, for the same reason. I don't see it as brilliant, at all: this is one of those cases in which, Yes, I knew the early flashback presented a problem, and Yes, I knew I'd probably have to argue for it/justify it, but.... that's where the book started from fairly early drafts, and it Just Felt Right, so I was willing to leave it there and to argue for it. This was always Elena's book, and I think that entry into the hospital would have been the moment that struck Elena hardest. I imagined that moment as the one that would always be foremost in her mind. It would be the moment when she recognized, for the first time, that something was truly happening to her family -- a story was unfurling itself in front of her, and she had to begin to try to tell it.

Q: Right before the flashback Dora poses the question: "How did my sister fall through the hole in her life..." Because of that (and something I think you said to me earlier), I'm wondering if you structure your books as a series of questions for the reader to answer?

JS: Interesting. I do think that part of the author's job -- particularly in y/a lit -- is to raise a series of questions in the reader's mind that will inspire that reader to continue turning the pages. If the reader isn't, at some level, wondering "what happened next?" you lose your audience. I didn't consciously think about structuring the book via a series of questions, though. The "How did my sister fall..." is the one huge primary question in Elena's mind, e.g. "How can this have happened to us?"

Q: My students (and I) were blown away by the one line chapters and asked me: "How does she get away with that?" I'm wondering if you have any insights about how you made that work?

JS: Initially there were a few more one-line chapters, and the editor (wisely) said, "These will be more powerful/more effective if there are fewer of them." So I excised a few very short chapters (folding them into larger chapters) -- while insisting that I had to keep #5 ("Dora got worse") and #61 ("A bottle of pills, a tube of glue. She broke her promise.") I see these two as echoes of one another. In any case, my intention, with these very short sections, was to try to capture Elena's distress and her fragmented thinking, the sense of shock. In chapter 5, there is no room for anything else in Elena's mind but "Dora got worse." Those three words entirely occupy her thoughts and her imagination, crowding everything else out. In effect, I didn't see these short chapters as stylistic flourishes, but as a way of conveying the quality of Elena's emotions.

Q: **SPOILER** Toward the end, Dora is talking to the grandma therapist, she narrates, "I felt as if I were waiting for the end of the story, for the moment the crisis passed and the characters wisely understood what had happened to them and someone shut the book with a satisfying snap. But what if the story didn't end and the book stayed open?" Your book, does have an open ending. At what point in the writing process did the scene with the grandma therapist come into the novel? Do you feel that it, if you are giving the reader an ending that is not as clear cut, you need to foreshadow it? I ask, in part, because I've been seeing this more frequently in open endings.

JS: I didn't feel obliged to foreshadow the ambiguity at the end of the book. But I wrote the ending relatively early (something I often try to do), and then struggled to find the best ways to work toward it, so that the final page wouldn't seem to come out of nowhere. I suppose one of those ways in which I worked toward the ending was the passage you're referring to. In general, I think the aim is for all the portions of a novel to cohere and to echo each other, and to add to the power of the whole.

Q: I think you set us up nicely, foreshadowing that the ending won't be exactly clean, but it is an ending that has no clear (if any) denouement. Again, a risky successful move. Which I see as even more risky because it is a YA novel and you're employing an ending that really requires a sophisticated reader, that requires that reader determine whether Dora's ability to face her emotions is enough for her to heal or not. Did you see that as risky? I see this as an ending that makes me understand the whole of the book in a different way, which is not the way I'm used to thinking of endings, actually. In our class we discussed what makes a good ending, what would you say?

JS: While I was working my way toward the end of the book, I knew I couldn't write either a "happy ending" (it would be unrealistic, and not in keeping with the tone of the novel) or a disaster scenario. (If Dora had died, Elena would have had to say so earlier -- for Elena to get to the end of the book and only then reveal that her sister was dead would be too manipulative.) So I knew I was aiming for ambiguity in some form or another. I have always loved (and often taught) Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, which ends with the handmaid "stepping up into the darkness, or else the light" -- either being rescued, or heading off to her doom. And I often tell my students, if you're headed toward a choice between two possible endings, Ending A and Ending B always head for C. You want an ending that will cast a shadow over everything that has preceded it, so that the reader will want to look again at the beginning of the book in the new context of the ending. (I'm not advocating for a "surprise" ending, but for complication and resonance.)

More specifically, regarding Black Box: what mattered to me most in the novel was Elena's reaction to Dora, the progress of Elena's emotions being more central or primal than Dora's deterioration. Logically, even if Dora were to get better, Elena would always worry, would always be left with some emotional ambiguity. So that's where I decided to leave her.

I have gotten emails from some teenage readers asking me whether Dora is going to be all right. To me, that's a great source of satisfaction: to have a reader contact me, worried about the welfare of a person I have invented. I want my readers to worry about Dora; I worry about her as well.

Thanks to Julie Schumacher for providing this insight into her book.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

2k10 trailer

2k10 is a group of debut authors who have bound together for support and such. I've met some great women on line and I can't wait to read all the books this coming year. We've been working hard as of late to launch our new website (coming very soon!) and asked Madison at M2productions to put together a trailer for us. Talented girl. Here's what she came up with. (Stick around, Split is second to last)

I love the images she came up with for Split -- how the fist is foregrounded and the background is blurry, left to your imagination. The kid in the tennis shoes taking off... lovely, given the fact that the book features running, both metaphorically and literally.

I'm absolutely thrilled with it and I'm considering asking her to do one for Split, now that I've seen her work. But I have to wonder about trailers in general. What do you think? Do book trailers make a difference for you? Has one ever helped you decide to buy a book?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Kicking off a New Reading Series TODAY

HM Bowuman and I are co-curating a new bi-monthly Reading Series at the Loft featuring writers of Children's Literature. The idea behind the series is to pair up a nationally recognized author with an emerging one in a kind of "if you liked..., you might also like ..."

We're so excited to get the authors we have for this month: Pete Hautman and JT Dutton. Here's the pitch: Come, enjoy, steal (or earn) a chocolate car.

Listen to Pete Hautman, winner of the National Book Award, read from his new novel, How to Steal a Car. We've got a newcomer in the line up, too: J.T. Duttonauthor of Freaked, will be coming through our fine twin cities just for a this reading.

When: TODAY, November 21st at 2 PM.

Where: The Loft. Open Book, 1011 Washington Ave. 2nd floor

And there's more! Chocolate cars, which you can try to steal or earn with a question! (Pete won't be giving lessons on car-jacking, but he will be signing books).

Not enough? We have even more.

DISCUSSION: Julie Shumacher will be discussing how to get published alongside editors from Milkweed, Carolrhorda and Flux.

When: Saturday, November 21st at 4 PM.

Where: The Loft. Open Book, 1011 Washington Ave., Minneapolis, MN

As you might already know, Pete was one of my mentors in the Loft's Mentor Series a couple of years back and, even though he no longer has the official title, he's remains one of my writing gurus.

Besides, the guy can write.

Here's an excerpt from Pete's newest book:

The way this whole thing got started was completely coincidental and not like I planned it or anything. Jen and I had been at Ridgedale a few days before and we got kicked out of Abercrombie & Fitch because Jen was carrying around this enormous drippy wafflecone, so we went outside and sat on one of the benches in front of Macy’s so she could suck down the rest of it. We were talking and watching people walk to and from their cars when I noticed this salesman-type guy younger than our parents but way older than us score a prize parking slot close to the front entrance. The guy got out looking very pleased with himself and set his car keys on the hood and started digging in his briefcase for something. His keys slid off the hood and landed by his feet. He didn’t notice.

I looked at Jen but she was having some sort of crisis with her cone.
A couple seconds later, the guy found whatever it was he was looking for. He closed his briefcase and took off toward Macy’s entrance, passing real close to us. I opened my mouth to tell him he’d dropped his keys, but for some reason I didn’t.

After he was gone I said to Jen, “That guy dropped his keys.”
I walked over to his car and picked them up.

See what I mean?

In fact, JT Dutton is also a mentor of mine. (I'm so lucky!), through the Class of 2k10. We've been emailing each other and she has given me some great advice already on being a debut author. More specifically, she has helped me with my second book blues. She reassured me that yes, the second book is a unique beastie and that the third book is much easier. I'm actually going to get to meet her today, which has me grinning. I hope to have an excerpt and interview for you later!

For now, hope to see you there.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Why Writers Fear Marketers

They can make anything look like something else.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Problem with Writing a Problem Novel

Problem novels have a lousy reputation, especially amongst adults. Which begs a few questions for which I, in my delusions of grandeurs(DoG), will answer. (See the trick here is that I pose questions that I know the answer to. Pay no attention to man behind the curtain.)

First, what are problem novels? In YA, they’re novels in which the characters of the novel try to cope with issues like rape, domestic violence, homelessness, alcoholism etc.

Why are they so seemingly unpopular? They are accused (and some times rightly so) of being preachy and overwritten, cleaving to a particular perspective (see the comments section) or providing little real characterization where the author uses the characters as props.

But the real problem with problem novels arises when the author tries to give a solution, wrapped in a neat after-school special bow.

Consider Blackbox by Julie Schumacher (more on her later, including an interview). This is a novel that absolutely refuses to provide a quick and easy solution. Or Godless by Pete Hautman.

So, what does that mean for those of us who love to write these dreaded novels? We can use the Schumacher/Hautman/ [insert many other names here] model: Refuse to give into the temptation to tell your reader what you’re story is about. Sound like familiar writing advice? Well, it is quick combination of “Show, don’t tell” and “Trust your reader.” If we do it for adults, then we definitely owe it to teens. Teens are reading to, in part, develop their own perspective on the issues, not to adopt the author's.

In my DoG, here are some things pay close attention to:

  • Your ending: have you given a moral to your tale? Have your earned your ending?
  • Your language: who is talking? The author or the character?
  • Your characters: are they ever a tool or have you given them true autonomy to drive the story, even if it is in a direction you didn't want/expect?

To paraphrase Laurie Halse Anderson (who seems to get a lot of ink in this blog), the job of a problem writer is to pose the problem and let the readers discover the solution.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Brightening up my week

I haven't posted in a little while because school has started and the reams of paper are climbing over my head.

Seriously, when will I learn to cut back? My friends tell me that when I'm forty I'll learn to say no. So, while I'm looking forward to that birthday, I'm also a bit frightened that it will take me around 38 years to re-learn the favorite word of all 2 year olds.

But, if you were to dig me out from under the books and manuscript pages, you'd find me smiling about a
review of Split.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Complicated Art of Giving Feedback

After reading this Salon article, reposted by Moonrat, I started thinking about feedback, which honestly, I think about a lot between my final year in University of Minnesota’s MFA program, two writer’s groups, teaching, and doctoring manuscripts (i.e. manuscript consulting). The question the writer’s friend has in the Salon article is, basically, how do I keep a friend and still give honest feedback. Unasked, I’m chiming in.

Of course, all friendships are different, but I do think friends should strive to be honest. But be honest about everything: strengths and weaknesses both.

So, if you're gracious enough to read for a writer, then here are my tips for giving feedback:

1) Telling the author she’s pretty.

Okay. Not literally. This is a phrase that my writer's group came up with to indicate that every piece has it's good points. You need to tell her what works, and not just to protect the ego before ripping her work (not her) apart. The value is simple: pedagogical studies indicate that we learn better from our strengths than our weaknesses.

And here's the hard part: You should try to tell her WHY it worked. And you thought giving compliments was simple.

2) Be a mirror.

Writers get lost in our own work and worlds. On the 5th draft of my novel, Split, my agent asked me something about a character’s history. I was shocked to discover that her history was not only absent in the 5th draft, it wasn’t in any draft; it was still in my head. So, tell the writer what you see. For instance: 'Jenny is a 15 year old girl who likes to take chances.' Sure, it makes you sound a little simpler than you are. It’s a 'well, duh' kind of thing. But as writers we don’t know what is on the page and what is still in our heads.

Mirrors also help because the mirror contains no value judgement. The value judgement is all up to the person looking at the reflection. It's true that sometimes, as writers, we're trying to do something you don't like. Like make you hate a character right from the start, or frustrate you with a character's choices. My editor wrote a question in my manuscript that went something along this lines of, 'why doesn't she just ...?' I asked her about whether my character's motivation was unclear and she said no, she was just so frustrated by my character's choices she had to write something. I count that as one of my best compliments ever; I knew I had what I was trying to do.

Very useful feedback, indeed. Do tell the writer your responses.

You guessed it; mirroring is actually the hard stuff.

3) Tell her what needs more attention.

Whether it’s sloppy sentence structure of characters whose arcs are flat, writers come to critiquers to know what they can do better. So, with care, tell her what parts you didn’t believe or thought the writing was weak or whatever your concerns are.

Surprisingly, this is the easy part.

One caveat though: If the manuscript is solid, don’t make up something to sound smart. More on that in another post when I discuss some of the perils of workshopping.

4) Trust the writer.

As writers, we’re told to trust the reader. As critiquers, trust the writer. Give her some time, expect she’ll figure out what to do, and know that she appreciates the hard work you’ve done for her.

5) Finally, thank her.

Exposing our work to a reader is a little like posing naked for a photograph and then asking what you think about the lighting and the composition. If she's willing to show it to you, she trusts you. Value the compliment.

I know we're asking a lot when we ask for a critique, but writers could not produce the fantastic works they have without the help of their friends/editors/readers. Just look at Maxwell Perkins’ writers. Thomas Wolfe is no slouch, but I’m equally impressed by the person who reigned him in.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Acts of Faith

A first book is an act of faith. You hope your imagination will bring you some place worth going and that your intuition will not fail you. You dig deeply into your imagination and create characters; you fuss with plot and structure; and you pray. A lot.

But I did not think past my first book; it was all I could handle – creating a manuscript and hoping it would turn into a real book someday. Thinking beyond that was plain hubris.

That kind of thinking. magical thinking, makes sense to me when it comes to the unpredictable and mysterious world of publishing. It’s like women who don’t discuss their pregnancy until after the first trimester (I blabbed immediately) or throwing salt over your shoulder (I can never remember which shoulder). A lot of us are ruled by superstitious half-truths that we don’t buck, lest bad luck befall us.

But magical thinking didn’t serve me well after I got my contract.

Now, I know, it's not kosher to complain about something as remarkable as a contract. Who has that much ego and hubris and looking a gift horse in the mouth? Well, every author who has come across a second book, I believe. But because we, who have a debut novel emerging, are aware of our luck and are grateful for what we have, we don’t discuss our second book struggles. Or at least, not as much as we should.

But I’ve come up with some weapons for attacking the second book blues. Here’s one of my best weapons coping with rising expectations. Elizabeth Gilbert faced much, much higher expectations after publishing the enormously successful Eat, Pray, Love. Here’s what this funny woman had to say about it. I hope it inspires you, like it has me.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Interview with Laurie Halse Anderson

In May, I was lucky enough to introduce Laurie Halse Anderson before she read at the Loft in Minneapolis, MN. (See Meeting a Writing Hero.) Being the generous woman she is, she agreed to let me conduct an interview which she gave via email, in spite of a personal tragedy.

Laurie Halse Anderson has garnered accolades and awards too numerous to enumerate here, but here are some of the highlights: ALA Best Books 2008, ALA Quick Picks 2008, New York Times Best Seller List, International Teacher's Association Teacher's Choice, National Book Award Finalist, and Printz Award Finalist. And that's just for her young adult books. (She also writes historical fiction and, as she calls them, kids books) .

Anderson's work tends toward a lot of risks, both in subject matters and form, and my interview questions were focused on the courage to take such risks and the process of such a ballsy writer.

Without further ado:

Swati: Your books address big problems that teens face, including emotional abuse, rape, and most recently, eating disorders. Have you faced criticism for choosing these topics? How do you respond to it?

Laurie: The criticism mostly comes from people who feel that by talking about these problems, I am somehow encouraging more teens to dive into dangerous behaviors. I completely disagree with this. I know that the only way to reduce the incidence of dangerous behaviors, and to help heal the emotional wounds suffered by so many of our teens, is to talk about these big problems.

Swati: You had a great deal of success with Speak. How did that affect you the next time you sat down to write? How did you cope with that?

Laurie: It has taken a while to move past Speak. The only way to do it was to write a lot more books. It is healthy for writers to realize that they can only control the quality of their work, not how people are going to react to it.

Swati: Comparing Twisted to your other work, do you find writing from the point of view of a girl and a boy different? Are there challenges for each? Is it easier for you to access a girl’s voice? If so, how did you access Tyler’s voice?

Laurie: A girl's voice comes easier, but that makes uncovering a boy's voice more work and thus, more rewarding. To help discover that voice, I interviewed countless boys and men, and tried to listen to them without judging their answers. It was a lot of fun to delve into the physical, kinesthetic realities that Tyler experienced. I think a lot of boys experience life more through their bodies than many girls.

Swati: Are you influenced by what is on the market already? Chains and Octavian Nothing by M.T. Anderson – both books told from the perspectives of slaves during the revolutionary war – came out at about the same time. Did that concern you?

Laurie: It does not concern me because I avoid knowing what is on the market. M.T. Anderson and I seem to be plugged into the same wavelength, that's for sure. I think it is wonderful that we've written about the same topic. Americans deserve many stories about slavery. Every writer is going to approach it differently.

Swati: You use a variety of techniques that are unique, including blank pages and the strike out feature in Wintergirls and pseudo-playwriting format to indicate Melinda’s silence in Speak. This really helps define the voice, and also challenge your readers to read a little differently. What helps you decide to take those risks? Are these more intellectual decisions or are they organic?
Laurie: Those were all organic decisions that evolved in the heat of writing the early draft. One of the things I most love about writing for teens is that they are open-minded and embrace new narrative techniques. I love playing around with new stuff - the goal is to communicate the story effectively.

Swati: You said that your fans wanted you to write about eating disorders and that is what drew you to Wintergirls. Did that affect the way you researched and/or the way you wrote?

Laurie: It did not affect the writing. It drove the research. I did not fully understand the emotional pain of eating disorders, and it was those letters that compelled me to dig into the subject so I could understand.

Swati: **SPOILER QUESTION**: One of my favorite parts of Wintergirls is how Lia instigated the competition between herself and Cassie eventually, took responsibility for undermining her friend’s recovery. How did that come to you?

Laurie: I guess it came from my understanding that one cannot grow without taking responsibility for one's actions. I think is what keeps many people stuck in immature attitudes, because it can be very painful to acknowledge mistakes.

Swati: Can you tell me about what you’re working on now?
Laurie: I'm working on FORGE, the next historical novel, and beginning to think about my next YA.

Swati: Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Laurie: To anyone out there with the dream of writing, I'd like to say this: Write the story in your heart - the one that only you can write. Don't worry about trends or critics or what your mother is going to say. Don't think; just write.

Want more? Watch and listen to her discuss her stunning book, Wintergirls.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Meeting A Writing Hero

In May of this year, I got to meet one of my writing idols, Laurie Halse Anderson. I discovered her books years ago, when my son, who we’ll call The Possum, was only about four. We had spent so much time in bookstores over the years that The Possum had become an excellent book browser by age four. He could out do me. So, while he browsed books in at a local children’s bookstore, I wandered bored. I assumed there was nothing for me to do.

I struck up a conversation with a bookseller, Liz. Liz should have reminded me of a stereotypical librarian – small glasses, whitening hair, a passion for books – but she is not anything like the shushing, stern librarian I knew in grade school. (The librarians I meet nowadays seem to be about breaking those stereotypes). Liz is warm and has a great ability to sense what books will appeal and finds the best about every book.

When I asked Liz if she had anything for adults, she looked me over and then grabbed Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson’s debut novel. What I discovered, when I went home and read it, was that the world of young adult literature had changed from the time I read it as a child. It had become voice-y; it had become an arena for authors to push what was acceptable in literature, both in terms of content and in terms of form.

Two days later, my son and I were back at the store, only this time he had to drag me out, clutching 3 more YA books. Speak snared me. I started reading YA, and lots of it, listening to many of Liz's recommendations. And, now of course, I see it was what got me writing YA.

When I heard that I could meet Laurie Halse Anderson at a reading she gave at the Loft, I pulled every string I could think of to make sure I wouldn’t be just another face at the back of the signing line. One of the Loft’s staff, who has known me for a while, picked up my excitement instantly and suggested that I introduce Laurie instead.

When Laurie arrived and we were introduced, (“Halse, rhymes with Waltz – Halse”), I had to work hard not to gush. But I was rewarded for my self-control because I got to listen to her, not myself. I learned that Ms. Anderson is generous, freely giving me advice on my second book fears and agreeing to an interview, which will be featured on the More on Mondays blog on Monday, August 31.

She looked as I expected: she is slender and seems gentle in her tone. Then when she read to her audience (and make no mistake, it was her audience), she rejected the mic in favor of a strong voice, engaged the audience (answering all their questions, but asking a few of her own) and demonstrated a level of respect for the many students who came to see her.

Most heroes pale upon meeting. Laurie Halse Anderson did not.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Inaugural Blog

Recently, I was sitting in at Harvest Moon CafĂ© with a member of my writer’s group who was complaining about tweets that go something like this: “Swati is eating apples” or “Swati is tired.” Other tweets, he told me, are valuable, such as “I just posted a new blog.” He objects to the idea that every thought someone has needs to be expressed, that it needs to be shared, and that by writing it down, we imply that eating apples is inherently interesting.

As someone who has written those status lines on facebook and who loves reading others’ similar stati, I disagreed. I do like hearing that my cousin, who I only see once every two years, is making posole. It is the only way I have to enter her daily life. I am, like most of us, separated in physical distance to most of the people I am closest to. Twitter or facebook transform that which has disconnected us (a computer in a solitary room) into a source of connection.

Then again, I’m a writer. I love all sorts of communication. And for me, communication is connection.

In this inaugural blog, I’m questioning why should I write this and whether anyone should care if I’ve eaten apples, or even the more inherently interesting experiences like auction day for my contract (more on this later). And I remind myself that this blog is a form of connection to anyone who wishes to read. Whether it’s a blog, a short story, or even a novel, I write to connect, to reach across the distance.

So, welcome to my blog. I hope that you’ll come again to the blog, just to reach back.

I promise not to mention all my culinary delights. This blog will be focused on my writing, the life of a writer, and the process of publication. I will also be featuring interviews with authors, usually young adult authors who have had some sort of influence on me.

Coming soon: Laurie Halse Anderson, multiple award-winner, who was gracious enough to give me my inaugural interview and shortly thereafter, Julie Schumacher.