Today I’m interviewed as part of the Writer Odyssey Wednesday series at Chasing the Crazies. Amy and I talk about querying agents, the inspiration for The Chance You Won’t Return, getting through the rough times, and my favorite piece of writerly advice. Thanks so much to Amy for including me in this fabulous series!
Lots of cool links this week:
- Love the idea for the Young Authors Give Back tour.
- Hipster Shakespeare and other historical figures re-imagined as contemporary figures.
- An Arrested Development-Great Gatsby mashup is the best thing ever.
- Also the best thing ever: Maureen Johnson’s call for book cover gender-flips.
- Celebrate National Short Story Month by submitting to Flavorwire’s short fiction contest.
- Great piece by Erika Dreifus on being a Jewish writer vs. writing Jewish fiction.
- I need to keep these suggestions for preparing for author interviews and Q&As on file.
- Attention teen wrtiers and storytellers! NPR wants to hear your stories.
- This genre reveal party idea is hilarious, but I do kind of want cake for real now.
- Pretty sure I need this tote.
- Obviously I like books featuring mother-child relationships.
From this interview, author Ian McEwan recounts the first time a book truly affected him:
Do you remember the first book that made you cry?
It was “The Gauntlet,” by Ronald Welch. I was 10 years old and in hospital, so I had time to read this wonderful historical novel for children in a day. Its hero, Peter, is transported in a dreamlike state back 600 years to a late medieval Welsh castle. Many adventures and battles and much falconry ensue. When at last Peter returns to the present, the castle is the awesome ruin it was in the opening pages, and all the scenes and the dear friends he has made have vanished. “Their bones must have crumbled into dust in the quiet churchyard of Llanferon.” It was a new idea to me then, time obliterating loved ones and turning them to dust — and I was stricken for a while. But no other novel on the children’s book trolley would do. The next day I read “The Gauntlet” again.
I love this memory–the excitement of the story, the pain of realizing that time must pass, the resulting emotional connection with the book. You can’t give up the first book that rocks your sense of the world.
I also like McEwan’s response to which literary character he’d like to be, so make sure to check out the full interview.
“Like all authors, I’m asked if characters are biographical, if I put people I know into my fiction. You can see from my process that that would be impossible for me. I begin by seeing a narrative, so I can’t put people I know in it—they simply wouldn’t behave properly, they wouldn’t be cooperative and do what I asked of them. So I invent the people I need, and that’s a lot more fun anyway. I can continually refine the characters, their histories, and their damage, until they are exactly the right people I need.”
I think this is one of the best responses to the “Who’s this character based on?” question ever. I hate when people assume that fiction comes entirely out of your life experiences. I tend to find the particular characters who are experiencing this particular story. Sometimes that matches up with things I’ve experienced or heard about in real life, but a lot of the time it comes from learning more about that character and that story.
Do you tend to invent your characters, use people you’ve met in real life, or a combination?
A great moment from this interview with Anne Lamott:
What book changed your life?
“A Wrinkle in Time” saved me because it so captured the grief and sense of isolation I felt as a child. I was 8 years old when it came out, in third grade, and I believed in it — in the plot, the people and the emotional truth of their experience. This place was never a good match for me, but the book greatly diminished my sense of isolation as great books have done ever since. I must have read it a dozen times.
Such a fantastic description of how a book can profoundly affect your life. I especially like that Lamott didn’t find a book that exactly reflected her experiences–it was the underlying emotion that struck her.
Make sure to check out the rest of the interview as well. I’d also recommend Lamott’s book about writing, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, which is a favorite.
Martha Brockenbrough has a great interview with Meg Rosoff. One part I especially liked:
“Holy cow but your stories are courageous. I don’t want to spoil things for readers who haven’t read all your titles yet, but you’ve dealt with war, with sex boundaries, with religion. What is it about difficult topics that attracts you?
I don’t set out to deal with “difficult” subjects. I’m just interested in the things that puzzled me as a kid, in my teens, 20s, 30s, in my 40s. Now. Why do people fall in love and why do they not….why do some people believe in god (I never did). Why are some people straight and some gay? Where does identity come from? How do you know who you are? How do you find out? Why does my mother say no one will marry me if I don’t wear more pink? (not that I hold a grudge)
All the subjects that I found so difficult during my adolescence (which is still trundling on to an embarrassing extent in my, ahem, 50s) like family ties, and chemistry, and gender, and what saves people from themselves….I had such a long struggle to see life in focus that I’m a bit obsessed with the struggle.”
This idea of examining the struggle is one reason I find literature in general so compelling. It can be hard enough to examine these kinds of questions on your own; reading can help you better understand others and your own place in the universe.
Also, I like that these are questions and issues that span across literature in general. YA doesn’t have to be lighter or fluffier than books for adults. It looks at these same questions from the perspective of people who are just starting to engage with the larger world–and I find that exciting.
Make sure to check out the full the interview; lots of good thoughts on the writing process in there, too.
After reading this interview, I’m pretty sure Libba Bray is going at the top of my “We Need to Be Friends Please” list. This alone gets my vote of awesome:
CultureMap: You say that it was “love at first sight” for you with YA. What drew you to it?
Libba Bray: I just read this great quote by Junot Diaz, he was talking about true intimacy, and he was saying that it was the willingness to be vulnerable and to be found out. That’s what I felt that YA did. It wasn’t pretentious, and it wasn’t hiding its heart. It wanted to be found out…
It felt like those moments when you go to a party and you’re standing around for a long time, going, I don’t fit in here, what am I going to talk to these people about? And everybody’s getting drunk, and then you find this one person, and you end up sitting in some corner talking about all these arcane things.
And then before you know it you’re having a conversation about the meaning of life and it’s four o’clock in the morning. That kind of feeling, that kind of intimacy — I felt like that’s what I got from YA.
I feel like this is the perfect way to describe a career in YA. When I was in college and grad school, most of my fellow writers focused on literary fiction. There’s a lot about literary fiction I like, but it never felt as compelling to me as YA. Like Bray says, I feel that YA isn’t “hiding its heart.” I love that there’s so much heart.
Lots of great links I’ve been hoarding:
- Relationships don’t end with boyfriends and girlfriend; a great post on representing all kinds of relationships in fiction.
- What sparked some famous novels.
- I’m a little obsessed with this list of YA novels by state.
- Great opening lines in poetry.
- Valerie Tripp taught me about D-Day, apple butter, and air raids.
- Fellow critique group member Katie looks at how paleontology prepared her for writing fiction. Basically, Katie does all the awesome stuff.
- Another fellow critique group member (and 2013 debut author) Tara Sullivan interviews me on her blog. Check it out for a little background on Queen of the Air, some song recommendations, and a blast-from-the-past photo of yours truly.
From YARN’s interview with John Corey Whaley, author of this year’s Printz winner, Where Things Come Back:
YARN: WTCB has a retrospective feel, with Cullen looking back on the way he felt “back then.” Can you shed any light on how old you imagined the narrator being at the time he tells this story? And also—this is an unusual choice for YA fiction, which is so often told in the immediate here-and-now of the teen’s life. Why did you choose this more distant and—dare we say—more adult form of narration?
JCW: Great question…and a tough one. I can’t say I set out to write from a specifically “adult” perspective, but that’s just sort of what happened. I guess I wanted to be able to include observations on life and details in the story that couldn’t have worked out if Cullen had been telling it in the present tense. As far as how old I imagined Cullen as he’s telling the story goes—I can’t really say. I want to say he’s at least out of high school, but I don’t really examine the character’s “life after the book” so much.
Really interested to see this. The question of narrative distance is huge in discussions about how YA novels differentiate from adult novels. Really glad to see Whaley talk about perspective and time in WTCB, and that he didn’t limit himself to the here and now. I think it’s a great example of you can break pretty much every rule in YA. It doesn’t need to be from an intensely immediate perspective. I recently read WTCB, and I think giving Cullen that little bit of distance was a huge help to the narrative.
Make sure to check out the whole interview through the link.
Shannon Hale talks about meeting hearing from her fans:
She’s so positive and enthusiastic about her readers, which I just love. I got to see Shannon Hale a couple of years ago at a reading, and she was just as warm and engaging in person.