Teen Writers Bloc

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Debut Author Interview: Lydia Kang discusses CONTROL

Posted by Caela Carter On December - 26 - 2013

 Debut Author Interview: Lydia Kang discusses CONTROLThis week, we’re super-excited to feature debut author Lydia Kang, whose sci-fi thriller YA novel, Control, hits shelves today. The book centers on explores family drama, alien abductions, and, of course, a good dose of romance. It’s definitely a book worth adding to your TBR pile!

We caught up with Lydia to chat about the differences between writing fiction and non-fiction, and the beauty of science colliding with literature.

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a writer? 

I’m a part time internist living in the midwest with my hubs and three kids. We have a lot of fish and pet stick bugs at our house! I started writing medical non-fiction in 2006. Little bits here and there, and I mostly published my stories about patient care in medical journals. In 2008, I joined a writer’s group that mashed up health care professionals with poets and writers. After that, the poetry started flowing and before long, I scratched the itch to write a book. I’ve always adored YA books, so it felt natural to try. Now, I’m still doing my doctor stuff a few days a week, and the rest of the time, I’m writing. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t know I could do it until I tried.

Can you give us a quick synopsis of  Control? How did you come up with the concept for the book? 

Control is about a 17 year-old girl, who loses her only parent in an accident. Her sister soon gets abducted while they’re in a foster agency, and my MC must align herself with illegal, underground genetically altered kids to help get her sister back. I always wanted to write a protagonist who wasn’t classically beautiful; who used her intelligence (she’s a bit of a research/lab rat prodigy) to get her out of scrapes. I’m a stickler for making the science work, so one thing that I think sets Control apart is that there is no pseudo-science when it comes to the traits of these kids. They had to make sense, anatomically, physiologically, and genetically. And I had to have romance! The book has so much in it, it’s hard to distill into one genre. It’s adventure, a medical thriller, a romance, and sci-fi all at the same time. And there’s poetry! It was a dream to write.

Control promises to be an action-packed page turner. Did you think much about pacing it as you wrote? Action scenes are generally thought to be one of the most challenging kind to write. How did you feel writing the action? 

I concentrated very hard on pacing, and made sure there wasn’t action only the sake of action. I used to be horrible at action! But I learned, and got better. There are several action scenes in Control and I really enjoyed writing them!

What’s your writing process? What does a typical writing day look like? 

I need to outline my stories before I write them. Individual scenes are written more spontaneously though. I’m sort of an omni-environmental writer. Sometimes it’s at a desk, sometimes on the floor, and often in a coffee shop. I need to listen to my Youtube playlist. My inspiration comes from just thinking about everyday things and using my imagination to ask the great “What if?”

What has your path to publication been like? What’s been the most surprising part of the writing/publishing process for you? 

The most surprising thing is that I actually did it! After I’d educated myself about the publishing process, I knew the odds were against me. I had to write a book that was well structured, well paced, with unforgettable characters and scenes and stakes that were worth turning the page for. I worked my tail off teaching myself and learning from other writers. Basically, I wrote every spare moment I had for two straight years until I found an agent and got a deal. Control is the third book I’ve written.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you yourself give aspiring authors?

“Show, don’t tell.” Man, that was hard to learn, but once you experience the nirvana, you never forget. Also, read voraciously and study what it is about your favorite writers that works. And write a lot. Keep the bar very, very high for the quality of your work. Always aim for “is this good enough to be next to (insert favorite, contemporary authors here).”

What was your favorite book when you were a kid/teenager? What are you reading now?

As a kid, I read the Little House book like a million times. I still read them! Laura was so smart and plucky. I’m also a huge Bronte and Austen fan. I’ve read those a billion times too and reread those all the time. I also loved L’Engle, Tolkien, Lloyd Alexander…there are too many! Right now I’m reading more non-fiction. I just finished The Poisoner’s Handbook and am reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. So amazing.

What’s next for you writing-wise (and otherwise!)?

I’d love to do a sequel or companion book for Control. I also have an idea for an historical fiction set in the 1917.

Do you believe in being part of a “bloc” of writers? Are critique groups and writing communities helpful to you?

Absolutely! A writing group got me started, and I found a group of critique partners I cannot live without!

Thanks for stopping by TWB, Lydia! 

Thank you so much for having me at your blog! You guys are awesome. icon smile Debut Author Interview: Lydia Kang discusses CONTROL

Debut Author Interview: Mindy McGinnis discusses NOT A DROP TO DRINK

Posted by Caela Carter On September - 10 - 2013

 Debut Author Interview: Mindy McGinnis discusses NOT A DROP TO DRINKThis week, we’re lucky to feature debut author Mindy McGinnis, whose dystopian YA novel, Not a Drop to Drink, hits shelves today. The book centers on teenaged Lynn and a world in which water is limited and Lynn, and everyone around her, will go any means to protect fresh water. t’s definitely a book worth adding to your TBR pile!

We caught up with Mindy to chat about dreams, destiny, Ohio, and the benefits of staring into space.

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a writer? 

I grew up in a small town in Ohio and went to Otterbein College in Ohio. I then took my degrees in English Literture and Religion and went back to the small town to be an assistant librarian in the same high school I graduated from. I’m rather Ohio-bound. I’m still working full-time as a YA librarian, and intend to keep doing it. I’m one of the very lucky (and very few) people who loves their job.

What made me want to be a writer? Life. Life and my brain. Also, writing is a job where you can stare into space and legitimately claim to be working. I’m an expert space-starer.

Can you give us a quick synopsis of NOT A DROP TO DRINK? How did you come up with the concept for the book? 

Not A Drop to Drink is set in a not-so-far future when freshwater is extremely rare. Rural dwellers who have hand-dug wells or ponds have their own sources, but must protect them constantly. My main character, Lynn, grew up completely isolated from any human beings other than her mother. Mother’s first priority was the welfare of her child, and that meant keeping their water safe. Lynn is taught at a young age to shoot first, ask questions later. The story begins with Lynn as a teenager, having spent her entire life this way. Changes come fast and hard, and Lynn has to learn how to protect her pond while entering into human relationships, which is quite hard for her.

The idea literally came to me in a dream after watching a documentary called Blue Gold, which talks about a projected water shortage for our planet. I woke up and thought, “Holy crap! This could be the one!” I wrote it in about six months, queried and landed Adriann Ranta as an agent in about two weeks. We were out on submission for about six months, and all told it will have been about two years after signing the contract with Katherine Tegen/Harper Collins to publication.

Not A Drop To Drink involves quite a diverse cast of characters. Apart from your main character, you feature a crippled boy, a mother, a pregnant woman. How did you handle developing your secondary characters? 

They were already so developed in my head, I didn’t have to do much more than deliver that on the paper. I swear it’s not a cop-out answer! They all had such a presence. All I had to do was write.

What’s your writing process? What does a typical writing day look like?

I’m a linear pantster — crazy right? I get an idea, I type “Chapter One,” and I see what happens. There is no typical writing day, I write when I have time — usually between 9 to 11 p.m.. And oh yeah, I write in bed.

What has your path to publication been like? 

The path has been awesome. I can’t say enough good things about my agent, my editor (Sarah Shumway) and the team at Katherine Tegen. But that’s the path of the past two years. There were ten years before that where I queried, failed, and kept querying. Yes, ten years.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you yourself give aspiring authors?

I’ve never had any “best” writing advice, but I would definitely tell aspiring authors that they should *not* think they have to write every day in order to succeed. Some people do, sure. I go months at a time without writing. I do space-staring instead.

What was your favorite book when you were a kid/teenager? What are you reading now?

I read The Stand by Stephen King when I was too young to really be doing that. So glad I did. Thanks Mom, for being cool. Right now I’m reading Pivot Point by Kasie West — awesome, original, well-written.

What’s next for you writing-wise (and otherwise!)?

Next for me is holding on by my fingernails as I debut.

Do you believe in being part of a “bloc” of writers? Are critique groups and writing communities helpful to you?

How about invaluable? I truly believe that if it weren’t for the amazing community over at AgentQuery Connect I would not have landed an agent, or enjoyed any of the experiences post-agented. I now serve as a volunteer moderator at AQC and I advise anyone who is looking for an educated, professional, kind community to drop in.

Also I have to say that if it weren’t for my critique partner RC Lewis (Stitching Snow, 2014) I would be known as Mindy “Comma Splice” McGinnis. She does more than that, too, but I always say it’s a good thing I have a keeper. She’s the keeper, I’m the kept. She’s my more responsible, self-controlled half.

Beyond large communities and personal relationships, small groups like Class of 2k13, Lucky 13s and most of all Friday the Thirteeners, keep me sane. Debuting is a very chaotic time, and being with like-minded individuals is balm for the brain.

Thanks so much for stoping by TWB, Mindy!

Debut Author Interview: Tamera Wissinger talks GONE FISHING

Posted by Caela Carter On March - 5 - 2013

Gone Fishing Debut Author Interview: Tamera Wissinger talks GONE FISHINGIt’s release day for another of our author-friends here at Teen Writers Bloc and Tamera Wissinger was kind enough to stop by and chat with us about her debut children’s book, GONE FISHING, writing-in-verse, and the joys of being outside! 


Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a writer? 

From the time I was very young, I’ve loved rhythm and rhyme, stories and storytelling. After I studied English in college, I went into the most illogical field: Human Resource Management. During that time I did a great deal of business writing, and I wrote stories and poetry at nights and on weekends. Eventually, the call of poetry and story writing became stronger. I’m fortunate to now be able to pursue writing full time.

Can you give us a quick synopsis of Gone Fishing? How did you come up with the concept for the book? 

Gone Fishing is about a young boy, Sam, who is excited for a fun fishing day with his dad, but when Sam’s little sister Lucy wants to come along, he’s afraid she’ll ruin the fun. There is also a section of nonfiction end matter called The Poet’s Tackle Box, where I’ve included tips and information on poetry writing and poetic forms.

The story is told through a series of poems, and it came to me in pieces, first as a single poem that is the opening to the book, and then a few other poems that created a poetry collection. Sam and his dad were the two main characters. Once Lucy came into the picture, the conflict began to develop and the story started to take shape. Even though the characters are fictional, I did draw on my fun memories of fishing with my own family when I was young.

What’s your writing process? What does a typical writing day look like? 

I’m usually an early riser, and my preferred habit is to wake up, eat breakfast, workout, get ready, and be at work in my home office by 9 a.m. It doesn’t always work out that way, but it’s my ideal since my most creative energy is in the morning. If I’ve had a productive morning, and/or am not on a deadline, I’ll do something else in the afternoon, maybe research for submissions, market, or my favorite non-writing activity: read. If I’m on deadline, I’ll keep writing in the afternoon or after dinner, even, to try and push through to the end.

My inspiration comes from a combination of my imagination, my memories and experiences, and my surroundings. Wherever I am, being outside and feeling connected to nature helps spark my creativity. I’m lucky to live in south Florida where there is an abundance of flora and fauna to feed my artistic side.

What has your path to publication been like? What’s been the most surprising part of the writing/publishing process for you? 

I just came across notes from the first children’s writing workshop that I took and was surprised to see that it was ten years ago! After that I joined SCBWI, met a network of fellow authors, became brave enough to receive feedback on my work, took more classes, and eventually attended and became a graduate of Hamline University’s MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. All of those interactions helped prepare me for work on Gone Fishing.

As far as the book, the opening poem that I mentioned was published as a stand-alone in a magazine in 2007, so technically I began work on this story more than five years ago. Houghton Mifflin accepted the book in 2011, and my editor and I worked on it together from there.

The most surprising part of the process is really a confirmation of something that I believed: that there is a warm and welcoming community of publishing professionals, booksellers, librarians, teachers, and authors who all value placing quality stories into the hands of children.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you yourself give aspiring authors?

Something that my husband told me: “If you want to write, then write.”

To that, I would add: give yourself what you need to be successful. Learn, connect, join a critique group, immerse yourself in reading and studying children’s literature, write and rewrite until you have a story that’s polished and then think about connecting with an agent or editor.

What was your favorite book when you were a kid/teenager? What are you reading now?

When I was a middle grade reader I was a huge fan of Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, and I still love Pippi. While Pippi is comical as an independent, strong, rich, and often inappropriate girl, at the heart of the story she’s also lonely and vulnerable, which made me love her even more.

I just finished a wonderful novel by debut author Tim Federle called Better Nate Than Never. It’s about a boy who runs away to New York City to try out for the lead in E.T. The Musical. Tim writes with a striking balance of passion, wit, and tenderness.

What’s next for you writing-wise (and otherwise!)?

Because much of my work is short, I go back and forth between several projects at a time. Right now I’m writing more poetry, a couple of quirky picture books, and a middle grade novel. I recently learned that my first picture book, a counting concept book, will be published by Sky Pony Press!

Aside from writing, I received a stand up paddleboard for Christmas and I’m learning how to maneuver that on the water. There is an art and science to doing it well.

Do you believe in being part of a “bloc” of writers? Are critique groups and writing communities helpful to you?

I think that both critique groups and writing communities are helpful and essential to writers. Because writing is almost always a solitary act, we don’t have the usual social outlets, quality checks, and direction that come with a traditional work environment. Critique groups and writing communities help fill that void, both as a quality and directional check on our work, and as a way to simply be connected with others who understand the challenges and joys of being an author.

What made you decide to write a novel-in-verse? What challenges did you face that might be unique to writing in verse as opposed to traditional prose? 

When I originally submitted the story, there were about twenty poems – enough for a picture book length story. My editor had the brilliant idea of trying to expand the number of poems to tell a deeper, broader story, and move the book from a picture book format to a novel in verse format. That meant doubling the poetry to around forty poems, and also adding the end matter poetry descriptions. I was all for it and went to work.

The biggest challenges as the story evolved were to make sure that the new poems helped advance the story, and that those poems offered an additional variety of poetic forms. It was almost like putting together a puzzle, with every subsequent piece becoming more challenging to put into place.

It was great to learn about Gone Fishing! We’ll have to get our hands on it. Thanks for stopping by, Tamera! 

Thank you for hosting me at Teen Writer’s Bloc today, Caela!

13496312 1 Debut Author Interview: Nicole McInnes discusses BRIANNA ON THE BRINKThis week, we’re super-excited to feature debut author Nicole McInnes, whose conteporary YA novel, Brianna on the Brink, hits on March 15. The book explores the devastating effects of a steamy one-night stand. It’s definitely a book worth adding to your TBR pile!

We caught up with Nicole to chat about the book, the writing process, and the long path to publication.

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a writer? 

I was born and raised just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, which meant I got to hang out in all sorts of cool places as a teenager — places like Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley and The Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco. I went to college at UC Santa Cruz for my undergraduate years and then moved to the mountains of northern Arizona for graduate school. I consider both states my home, though I still live in the mountains. As an undergraduate, I came to a crossroads where I had to choose between creative writing and theater arts as a major. I went with writing and haven’t looked back since. I think what most made me want to write were all the incredible books I’d read since childhood. I split my workday between writing my own books and teaching university writing and literature classes, which is a good fit for me.

Can you give us a quick synopsis of BRIANNA ON THE BRINK? How did you come up with the concept for the book? 

Here’s the scoop: Sixteen-year-old Brianna Taylor finds herself lost, alone and with a major surprise in store after a one-night-stand. Just when she’s got nowhere left to turn, help arrives from the one person who is closest to her big mistake, but accepting that help will leave Brianna forced to choose between clinging to the ledge of fear and abandonment – or jumping into the unknown where a second chance at hope might just be waiting.

The concept came to me thematically, which is to say I was thinking in terms of the big “what if” questions — questions like, “What if a married woman was betrayed in a major way by a teen girl who ended up being more of a lost child than an easy-to-hate villain?” I initially thought of the story from the woman’s point of view, but it wasn’t long before Brianna’s voice was the one demanding to be heard.

My process started with a lengthy drafting process followed by bribing my best beta readers to have a look followed by sending it off to my agent. I’m lucky to have a highly editorial agent (Stacey Glick at DGLM), so she and I worked on the manuscript some more before it was ready to go out. Once it landed at Holiday House, I got to work with editor extraordinaire Sylvie Frank, who really helped me make the story shine. I’m not quite sure what I did to deserve getting to work with such amazing people, from Stacey and Sylvie to the art and publicity folks at Holiday House, but there you have it.

What’s your writing process? What does a typical writing day look like? 

What is this “typical writing day” of which you speak? Seriously, my process is a bit of a glorious mess, but so far it seems to work pretty well. I try to write in the mornings, since that’s my most productive time, but the ideas really start flowing at night after I’ve gone to bed, turned off the lights, and am drifting into Lullaby Land (which is why I’ve learned to always keep a pad of paper and a pen in the nightstand. I’m pretty good at writing in the dark, too). I almost always write at home, since the background noise of a café or other, no doubt more interesting, place would drive me batty. My initial inspiration for characters and plots comes from anywhere and everywhere — from news stories to snippets of conversation I’ve overheard to songs on the radio…you name it.

What has your path to publication been like? 

My path to publication has been a long (decade-plus), uphill battle that, at times, felt like I was tunneling through solid rock with a cereal spoon. I’m looking forward to finally being an overnight success. The most surprising part of the entire journey has been the fact that I honestly wouldn’t change anything about it. This may sound barf-able to writers still struggling to get an agent or a book deal (and my 2005 self would probably slap me upside the head if she could), but it’s the truth. For one thing, I’m glad I’m debuting now in this age of instant connection with readers and other writers via social media. Also, I have a nagging suspicion that I needed the toughening up all those years of discouragement, envy and existentialist woe provided.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you yourself give aspiring authors?

The best writing advice is, hands down, this: Don’t ever give up. Never. Ever. Do you hear me? Well, I mean, give up if you decide you really don’t want/need to write, but if you’re intent on writing and selling books, you may well have to suffer through many levels of incredibly unpleasant, fire and brimstone badness to do so. Then again, you might be one of those perky 20-somethings who lands an agent and a book deal on the first try almost without thinking about it. In which case, good for you, Snowflake! (*grits teeth*)

 Debut Author Interview: Nicole McInnes discusses BRIANNA ON THE BRINKWhat was your favorite book when you were a kid/teenager? What are you reading now?

I was a pretty active reader as a kid, so it’s hard to pick just one favorite book.

I loved Judy Blume’s Blubber and Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret (natch). Also, I *may* have snuck behind my elementary school with a bunch of other girls so we could quickly flip through to the naughty bit pages in Forever, but that’s most likely just a rumor. Various horse stories — like The Black Stallion and Black Beauty — were always a big hit with me as was Wilson Rawls’ classic Where the Red Fern Grows, which I read over and over (even though I’d end up doing the extended ugly cry every time I reached the end).

I am currently reading Ransom Riggs’ mind-scrambling (in a good way) Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

What’s next for you writing-wise (and otherwise!)?

I have a completed manuscript draft in the hands of my agent and another that I’m just starting. Both are contemporary young adult, since I’ve fallen head-over-heels for the genre. One of these days, I plan to take a trip outside the house where I’ve heard there’s nature and something called “the sun.”

Do you believe in being part of a “bloc” of writers? Are critique groups and writing communities helpful to you?

Yes to both! I’m a member of The Lucky 13s and The Class of 2K13, and I’ve learned so much/laughed so hard with debut writers from both groups. Writing is such a solitary act by its very nature, so connection in whatever form works is a good thing.

 Thanks for stopping by, Nicole! 
Photo Credit: Holiday House

Debut Author Interview: Liz Fichera discusses HOOKED

Posted by Caela Carter On February - 8 - 2013

 Debut Author Interview: Liz Fichera discusses HOOKEDThis week, we’re super-excited to feature debut author Liz Fichera, whose contemporary YA novel, Hooked, hit shelves last month. The book explores race, gender and class sterotypes and it’s a romance to boot. It’s definitely a book worth adding to your TBR pile!

We caught up with Liz to chat about inspiration, romance, and what happens when the collide.

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a writer? 

I am originally from Park Ridge, Illinois, but I moved to Phoenix, Arizona, after college, never expecting to live in the desert among cactus and people who’d never seen snow. I was wrong. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was ten years old when I wrote a story about my collie dog, Lady. My mother and my fifth grade teacher, Miss Bone, gushed about my little story and I was “hooked”. But then circumstances and responsibilities got in the way and I didn’t become a full-time writer until about 7 years ago.

Can you give us a quick synopsis of HOOKED? How did you come up with the concept for the book? 

Hooked is a story about two unlikely people who find each other under unusual circumstances and face prejudice, bullying, and lots of obstacles along the way.  The quick synopsis is as follows: “Sparks fly when a Native American girl from the Rez with a killer golf swing falls for the boy on her team with the killer smile.”

I got the idea for the story when I was driving down a long stretch of desolate desert road near my home that borders that Gila River Indian Reservation.  I got this image of a Native American girl and she was waving a golf club at me.  Weirdly, though Arizona is full of both golf courses and Native American culture, rarely do you see them in the same sentence, much less the same book.  I knew that I had to write this story.  Many, many, many drafts later and many, many, many submissions later, my agent was able to sell the book.

What’s your writing process? 

I write every day, mostly in the afternoons and evenings. I write in my home office which doesn’t really look like an office per se.  It’s filled with family photos and art that I love and, of course, my laptop.  I get a lot of my inspiration during hikes in the desert.

What has your path to publication been like? 

I think my path has been pretty typical of most authors who publish traditionally—lots of rejection, submissions, persistence and writing.  Things seem to go really slowly (when you’re getting rejected by agents and publishers) and then bizarrely fast (when you’ve sold a book) and then painfully slowly again when you’re waiting for your release date.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you yourself give aspiring authors?

When my first book (which wasn’t Hooked) didn’t sell right away, my agent said, “Keep writing.”  And I did.  My advice to aspiring authors is to read, read, write, write, and then read and write some more.  Also, make sure you grow an extra layer of thick skin.

What was your favorite book when you were a kid/teenager?

As a kid, I loved The Boxcar Children and all of the Little House books. Loved them to pieces! When I was in high school, I read and loved a lot of the classics like Wuthering Heights and Anne of Green Gables.  I had a wonderful English teacher my freshman year and she taught me to understand and love Romeo and Juliet.

 Debut Author Interview: Liz Fichera discusses HOOKEDWhat’s next for you writing-wise (and otherwise!)?

I finished another YA contemporary this summer which is currently with my agent.  I’m now working on another YA contemporary about a Hopi Indian teen and I hope to visit Hopi Land in northeastern Arizona this summer to do more research for the story.  My focus is on YA contemporaries and realistic fiction.  They are my favorite to read and write.

Do you believe in being part of a “bloc” of writers? Are critique groups and writing communities helpful to you?

Absolutely! These groups are not only helpful but they are essential. Writers live such solitary lives. It’s important to stay connected with writing communities. If I didn’t, I think I would go a little bit crazy (crazier).

Okay, Hooked is a romance between golfers. (Yes there’s a lot more too it that — race, gender roles, etc. — that make us all the more excited to read it!) Which scenes do you enjoy writing more: sports or romance? 

It’s a romance (what’s a book without one?!), but it’s so much more than that.  It’s a book about dreaming big dreams and not letting anything or anyone stand in your way, including yourself.

It’s hard to pick which scenes I enjoy more.  I truly love writing all of them.  When I get into a writing roll and can *see* my characters and their motivations, my fingers don’t stop typing until I’ve told the story.

We’re so excited to read it, Liz. Thanks so much for stopping by TWB! 

Photo credit: Harlequin Teen

Author Interview: Nnedi Okorafor and Akata Witch

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On September - 10 - 2012

akatawitch Author Interview: Nnedi Okorafor and Akata Witch

Teen Writers Bloc member Mary Thompson sent me an email back in the spring and said I had to read this book called Akata Witch, and that I’d love it. She’d heard me droning on in workshop about the dearth of fantasy and fiction featuring kids of color and fantasy worlds not rooted in a European mythos. And she’d found a book that does it — and well!

Nnedi Okorafor took me on a whirlwind and I had to track her down for an interview so I could figure out how she’d done it all. We caught up with Nnedi this summer to discuss African magic, writing discipline, and her life as a writer.

Tell us a bit about yourself (bio) and how you became a writer? 

What did I do before “officially becoming a writer”? I was a writer and a Ph.D student who’d once been pre-med. I’m a professor, so I don’t need to write to eat. However, I write and produce as much as many who do write to eat. I consider myself a full-time writer. But it’s more a part of me than something I need to do to survive financially. It’s not a job. I didn’t “want” to become a writer; it’s just something I became. It was in me all along but it took certain events in my life to happen in order for this part of me to come forth.

How did you come up with the concept for the book? Can you talk a bit about your process, from conception to publication?

Honestly, I don’t know. I just started writing. I recall thinking it would be cool to write a story where black children of the African Diaspora experienced magic and adventure rooted in real African culture/history/location/beliefs. Also, the summer before I wrote the novel, I’d spent a week with the daughter of one of my mother’s friends. They were visiting from Nigeria. This daughter was nine-years-old and she didn’t want to hang out with her mother. So she hung with my daughter and me for those days. She was an Igbo girl with a strong feisty personality and she also happened to be albino. She was a lot of fun. I knew I wanted to write about her by the time she left. The main character of Akata Witch is based on her.

Once I started writing, it came together organically. Many of those things I researched because they interested me wound up in the novel, as did many of my experiences in Nigeria and with Nigerian culture. Lastly, the theme of cultural complexity was something I’d wanted to write about for a long time. I was born in the United States to two Nigerian Igbo parents. At the same time, my parents started taking me to Nigerian from a young age. So I grew up bi-cultural, identifying with two district cultures — American and Nigerians. I don’t identify as African-American; I indentify as Naijameican. (“Naija” is slang for “Nigerian.”) It’s an interesting position to occupy. It’s one that makes me very aware of the African Diaspora. I wanted to reflect this complexity and need for more dialogue with the Diaspora in this novel.

What’s your writing process?

I write every day. I’m disciplined. However, no day is the same. I have a nine-year-old daughter and I’m a professor; I have to be malleable. But before the day is done, I will have gotten at least two good hours of writing in, many times more than that. I can write at any time. I used to write in the early morning. These days, I find stories beg to be written late at night. I’ll write in the afternoon if I must. My inspiration comes from Africa , and the world as a whole. It also comes from places of energy, amusement, trouble, and action.

Can you talk a bit about world building, especially this African magic? Did you start with Sunny, the magic, or Nigeria? Or a mix of all three?

The magic in Akata Witch is mined from mysticism and beliefs that are part of my culture. These are things I grew up hearing and that are all around me, a part of my life. In the book, I may tweak things here and there or blow some life into things but that’s about it.

As far as world-building, that phrase feels unnatural to me because I don’t purposely “build worlds”. I just write the story and within the story the worlds exist. I can’t say what I started with Sunny because it’s all mixed together. I can say that the first thing I saw in my mind with Akata Witch was the character of Sunny, but once she started moving through her life, it all came with everything- the magic, her Nigerian-American-ness, the setting, etc.

What’s been the most surprising part of the writing/publishing process for you?

My path to publication was rough, but embedded with luck where it counted. A lot of the more negative aspects I encountered on that path were predictable and expected, though knowing did not make dealing with them any less distasteful. Really, I didn’t have expectations and I’m aware of the isms at work in this country, so I wasn’t surprised very often.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you yourself give aspiring authors?

Author Steve Barnes once said that you have to write a million words before you are any good. There’s no exact word count, of course, but the sentiment is 100 percent correct. You have to write and write and write, far more than you can image to hone your craft. For me, I think I DID have to write over a million words before I was any good. My first published novel was the fourth or fifth novel that I wrote. The ones I wrote before that were practice.

I pass this same advice on to aspiring authors. Write and write a LOT. Hone your craft. Don’t atrophy because you are obscessed with getting published until you are truly ready.

 Author Interview: Nnedi Okorafor and Akata WitchWhat was your favorite book when you were a kid/teenager? What are you reading now?

As a kid I loved Comet in Moominland by Tove Jansson and The Witches by Raold Dahl. As a teen, I’d have to say it was a tie between Stephan King’s The Talisman and Robert MacCammon Swan Song. Right now I’m reading and absolutely loving Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi.

What’s next for you writing-wise (and otherwise!)?

Right now I’m finishing up two adult novels. But soon I’m going to start writing Akata Witch 2. I’m also working on another young adult novel and several other writing projects that I can’t talk about just yet. I’ve also written a chapter book in the Disney Fairies line. It’s called Iridessa and the Secret of the Never Mine. I’m not sure of the release date yet but it should be later this year.

Do you believe in being part of a “bloc” of writers? Are critique groups and writing communities helpful to you?

I currently don’t belong to any critique groups, though I am a product of university writing workshops. There’s no formula. Whatever works.

Photos courtesy VIKING

Debut Author Interview: Erin Jade Lange Talks Butter

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On September - 5 - 2012

butter cmyk 395x600 Debut Author Interview: Erin Jade Lange Talks ButterThis week we’re chatting with first time author Erin Jade Lange, who parlayed her work in TV news into an edgy, unexpected YA read. Butter is the story of an obese, tortured high schooler who decides to eat himself to death — and share it with the world via the Internet. In the process, he earns fame and popularity, which makes him not want to do it anymore. But if he doesn’t do it, well, you see his dilemma. A gritty, disturbing and ultimately satisfying read, the character came to Lange in a flash of inspiration — and she worked feverishly to get his story told. We caught up with the journalist-turned-author to chat about her process, creating the universal in the specific, and why sometimes is better not to know what you’re getting yourself into.

Tell us a bit about yourself  and how you became a writer?

Before I became a writer, I…um…wrote. Ha! That is to say, I am a journalist, so I write facts all day long. I’ve always loved working with words, so I suppose it was inevitable that I would find two careers that allow me to do what I love. I am still working in TV news, but since that involves as much writing as being an author, I guess it’s safe to say I write full-time.

Can you give us a quick synopsis of Butter? How did you come up with the concept for the book? 

Butter is about an obese teenager at the end of his rope. He creates a website and invites people to watch him eat himself to death live on the Internet. As the clock counts down to his last meal, he is suddenly popular at school, and he no longer wants to go through with it. But if he doesn’t, he could lose his new “friends.” The book is about his choice.

Butter’s story came to me in one of those flash-of-inspiration moments, but that flash was probably the culmination of years of writing news stories about childhood obesity, teen suicide and internet bullying. I see these stories weekly, if not daily, at work — and the reality is often so much worse than the fiction.

The character is obviously quite different from you. How did you approach this? Did it come naturally, or was there a heavy process to creating character here?

He’s different on the surface. I’m obviously not a 423-pound teenage boy. But I think his experience is universal. Substitute “too fat” with “too thin” or “too short” or “too poor” or just about any other quality that might make someone a target in their teen years, and I think Butter’s ride isn’t that different from anyone else’s.

What’s your process? What does a typical writing day look like? 

My process is probably not typical. I do NOT write every day. If I get an idea, I work on it obsessively for weeks or months — putting off everything else, like chores or errands or time with friends — until it’s done. Then I give myself time off — again, weeks or months — before I start writing again.

Inspiration can come from anywhere, but I think it’s safe to say my writing is influenced by working in TV news. My next book, for example, isn’t quite as “ripped-from-the-headlines” as Butter, but it does take place in a depressed economy, which I’m sure is due to how much economic news I’ve been writing in the last few years.

What has your path to publication been like? What’s been the most surprising part of the writing/publishing process for you? 

I came up from the slush pile. Thanks to help from peers at AbsoluteWrite.com, I had a pretty decent query, so I got requests from agents right away. But the book wasn’t ready, and most agents responded with feedback and an invitation to revise and resubmit. At that point, I found a great crit partner who helped me polish the manuscript, and one of the agents who invited me to resubmit took me on! The most surprising part was how quickly she sold the book. I was very fortunate to have a short submission process. I can’t believe it’s been two YEARS since that moment, because it suddenly feels like time has just flown by.

BioPic 200x300 Debut Author Interview: Erin Jade Lange Talks ButterWhat’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you yourself give aspiring authors?

One of the best bits of advice I’ve heard is the same one I would pass on to other writers: FORGET THE RULES.

When I wrote Butter, I hadn’t heard yet that contemporary boy books were a tough sell or that swearing could make your book harder to get into schools or that any form of a prologue would make people roll their eyes. I just wrote what I wanted to write, and it worked out. The rules are generally good guidelines, but don’t let them stifle your creativity. The best book you can write is the one you WANT to write — not the one you think will get you published.

What was your favorite book when you were a kid/teenager? What are you reading now?

Charlotte’s Web was my first “favorite” book as a kid. I grew up with the Sweet Valley Twins and R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike, but if I had to pick one book that really stuck with me as a teenager, it would be Judy Blume’s Blubber.

I recently finished Push, by Sapphire — such a painful but important novel. And I just started Struck, by Jennifer Bosworth.

What’s next for you writing-wise (and otherwise!)?

I just turned in my first round of revisions for the next book, and I suspect more edits are on the way. That novel comes out next year, and I’m also getting married in a year, so 2013 is shaping up to be as exciting as 2012!

Do you believe in being part of a “bloc” of writers? Are critique groups and writing communities helpful to you?

I am a firm believer that writers need critique partners, but for me, too many opinions can muddy the waters. I prefer two or three solid crit partners to a big group. However, when it comes to support and advice, the more voices the better, so I encourage writers to get involved in online writing communities. I’ve met so many amazing people that way, and I feel very fortunate to be part of the vast internet tribe of writers.

Photo courtesy Bloomsbury

Debut Author Interview: Kristen-Paige Madonia on ‘Fingerprints of You’

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On August - 20 - 2012

img07 Debut Author Interview: Kristen Paige Madonia on Fingerprints of You

This week, we’re super-excited to feature debut author Kristen-Paige Madonia, whose literary YA novel, Fingerprints of You, hit shelves last week. The book centers on 17-year-old Lemon, who finds herself continuing the cycle of teenage pregnancy as she heads off on a cross-country journey to find the father she’s never known. The writing is sharp and vivid, and the Lemon’s coming-of-age is startlingly specific while being surprisingly universal. It’s definitely a book worth adding to your TBR pile!

We caught up with Kristen-Paige to chat about YA versus adult, whether an MFA is worth it, and the importance of having mentors through the publishing process.

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a writer?

Fingerprints of You is my debut novel, though my short fiction has appeared in such publications as Upstreet, New Orleans Review, American Fiction: Best Previously Unpublished Short Stories by Emerging Writers, Sycamore Review, and Inkwell. I was recently named the 2012 D. H. Lawrence Fellow and the 2011 Sewanee Writers’ Conference Tennessee Williams Scholar, and I have received fellowships from the Hambidge Center, the Vermont Studio Center, Juniper Summer Writing Institute, Virginia Center for Creative Arts, Hedgebrook Writers’ Retreat, the Millay Colony for the Arts, and the Studios of Key West. I’ve been writing and telling stories for as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t until I began applying to grad schools that I became truly focused on the craft. I received my MFA from California State University, Long Beach, and I currently live in Charlottesville, Virginia where I teach creative writing at the University of Virginia and the non-profit organization WriterHouse. In addition to teaching and writing, I’ve worked all kinds of jobs including positions as an assistant jeweler, a Barnes & Noble bookseller, a nanny, an assistant Kindergarden teacher, a receptionist, a wine pourer at a local vineyard, and an intern with a film and literary agency in Beverly Hills. Now that the book is launched, I’ve set aside a few months to travel so I can connect with readers in person at literary festivals and bookstores, but I’m looking forward to teaching again next spring.

Can you give us a quick synopsis of Fingerprints of You? How did you come up with the concept for the book? 

Fingerprints of You follows the journey of Lemon Williams, a 17-year-old girl, as she searches for her father, a man she has never met. Lemon becomes pregnant in the opening of the book, and I wanted to use the novel as a way to explore that bizarre but beautiful phase in life when you realize the world is much larger than you thought, and that you have the ability to decide what kind of person you want to become. It’s set on the road and amidst the inspiring music and art scene in San Francisco, and the book explores the challenges of growing up in a single-parent home and the various ways we can confront our pasts, our skeletons in the closet. But at the heart of it, Fingerprints of You is about the comfort we find in one another and the security of family; not blood-born family necessarily, but the families we create for ourselves from the people we love and the people that love us back. My work is often inspired by what I call “stolen moments” – I people-watch and eavesdrop constantly, so if I’m lucky I’ll catch something in my surroundings that can be used to fuel a new project, and that’s how Fingerprints of You began. I first imagined Lemon and Stella when I was living in San Francisco, just after finishing my MFA. I liked to work in coffee shops in the city, and one afternoon I spotted a woman and a teenager crossing Fillmore Street in front of the cafe where I was writing. They immediately became Lemon and Stella: a feisty mother-daughter duo in the mist of that strange period of time when the child is becoming an adult and the parent is becoming, in the eyes of the child, an individual or person outside of their parent role.

I love the name Lemon — where did that inspiration come from? 

Lemon’s mother, Stella, is a painter, and when the book opens it’s explained that each month she picks one color to base all of her work on; the September that Lemon was born was the month of “Lemon” — a pale yellow paint color she used for her art work during that time period. But for me it was always her name, from the first page of the first draft, though I can’t be sure why. Sometimes the writer doesn’t get to pick all the details, but instead is presented with them organically and then explores their origins as we write forward.

This is pretty gritty for YA — and called a literary YA on your site. Can you talk about the rap YA gets and why you wanted to write in this genre? 

I love that word, “gritty” — it’s being used frequently to describe literary novels that are straddling the line between fiction for teens and fiction for adults. When you first write a book you don’t think about anybody reading it, at least I didn’t. I was writing for other reasons, so the idea of teens versus adults just didn’t cross my mind during the writing process. But once I realized there was a chance that Fingerprints of You may be marketed in that way, I started reading contemporary YA novels and was blown away by how smart and powerful some of the books are. John Green, Deb Caletti, Jay Asher, Laurie Halse Anderson… I was amazed by the exceptional level of writing and by the community of readers and authors involved in the genre. I think YA demands a specific kind of energy, a sense of urgency and immediacy. Teen readers won’t wait out a slow beginning – they must be engaged from the first page. They won’t hang around to see if the novel gets good in the fifth chapter — they’ll simply shut the book and tell their friends not to bother. And I love that. They demand a great deal from the author, as they should, and for that reason I find the books to be full of life.

It’s a lively conversation, this blurred line between adult and young adult readerships, and I’m finding that there really isn’t a clear definition of the genre, which is one of the things I like best about be called a YA writer. I’m honored to be categorized that way — the community of writers and readers congregating under that label is an inspiring crowd to run with, and there’s an increased recognition that the age of the protagonist doesn’t deflate the literary merit of a book. I’m guessing the blurred lines will become even more indistinguishable, and that’s a good thing – it means readers will be exposed to a wider range of work, and authors won’t feel confined to write inside a specific set of rules dictated by a label.

Of course in some venues there’s still a slight stigma attached to the YA label; there are certain magazines that won’t publish YA reviews, certain book awards that won’t accept YA submissions. Margo Rabb published an incredible article in The New York Times a few years ago entitled, “I’m YA, and I’m O.K.” — which I recommend to anyone writing fiction that straddles the line between YA and adult. Like myself, she wrote a book she imagined being labeled as adult literary fiction but was sold to a YA division. There are inevitably challenges that come with that process, and many adults still don’t realize the high caliber literature that can now be found on YA shelves. It’s an odd thing–these labels based on audience–and I find it fascinating that literature is the only art form that’s adopted the YA category; we don’t classify visual art, paintings or sculptures, for teens versus adults just as we don’t claim music to be one or the other. But at the end of the day I couldn’t be happier with the home that Fingerprints of You found at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

You’ve published a lot of short stories and done a lot of fellowships. How did you approach this, and what did you discover in this path? Advice for other writers?  

I’ve been incredibly fortunate and have landed a number of successes that have changed the shape of my career, but I’ve also applied for almost every award and residency out there, so I’ve had my fare share of rejection as well! I tend to spend a great deal of time submitting my stories, so there is a lot of work involved, there’s a lot of waiting and dead-ends behind that list of successes you’re referring to. So in terms of advice, while there all kinds of tricks or tips I could share, I tend to keep it pretty simple. First off, there are no rules. None. There are writing  techniques that may work and tricks that may help when you’re first starting out, but really there is no one way to do this magical thing we call writing. So no rules.

Other than that, I suggest you don’t bother doing it unless your heart is one-hundred percent invested, unless nothing makes you happier than finding that perfect sentence or writing that wonderful cast of characters you want to spend hundreds of pages with. A lot of people will tell you “no.” Rejection is inevitably a large part of the process, so you have to be doing it for you, not for “them.” You must have thick skin and a great deal of faith, but really it all comes down to doing it for the right reasons – because you love creating stories, you love throwing words on a page. And finally, if you can afford it, I always recommend attending conferences or joining a writer’s group or  organization. It can be a lonely endeavor at times, and creating a community can make all the difference when it’s time to wade your way through rejection letters or celebrate the good news when it comes!

Having done it, MFA — yay or nay?

For me my MFA allowed me to focus on nothing but writing for two years, and that’s such a gift, it’s a circumstance that I’ll never be able to recreate, though I try by attending as many writing residences as possible. So yes, if you can afford the financial commitment and if you are in a phase of your life that allows you to attend an MFA program, I think it’s an invaluable experience. Absolutely. And of course there’s the benefit of working with other authors — while I’m not of the mindset that creative writing can be 100 % taught, I do think there are tools you can learn in a classroom that you cannot learn on your own.

img06 Debut Author Interview: Kristen Paige Madonia on Fingerprints of YouWhat’s your process? What does a typical writing day look like? 

In general, I don’t work well with outlines and tend to find them restricting… for me the process is messy and unpredictable and without rules, which one of the things I enjoy most about writing first drafts. I don’t usually know where a book is heading when I first start. It’s a process of discovery, and I like to allow the work to surprise me and to go places I hadn’t predicted or planned for. The days that I reserve for writing always start with coffee, and I try to work for at least a few hours before turning on the Internet, checking email, or logging onto Facebook or Twitter. My brain is clearer then, and it’s easier to connect with my characters before I invite any real-world chatter into my headspace. I write first drafts on my computer, but I always keep a journal with me wherever I go, and I use it for story and character notes, keeping book lists, eavesdropping in public places, and research. That journal gives me courage when it’s time to write, because I always know it’s filled with literary nuggets I can mine when I’m beginning new work. I break up my writing hours at home by reading or hiking. I live in a beautiful area, and I find that the best thing I can do for my fiction when I’m feeling stuck is to head to the mountains for fresh air and exercise. My iinspiration often comes from sensory details – the way a room sounds when it’s crowded, the smells of certain kinds of food, the way a person holds their body and what it might imply… those kinds of small images. I’m also greatly inspired by music, which certainly came into play with Fingerprints of You in terms of the rich live-music culture in San Francisco. And those stolen moments I was talking about — I often borrow clips of stranger’s conversations or something I’ve seen, an interaction or a specific setting, for inspiration for my work.

What has your path to publication been like? What’s been the most surprising part of the writing/publishing process for you? 

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, and I have my MFA; I’ve attended writing conferences and workshops, I’ve read countless books about the publishing industry, and a lot of my friends are published authors, but no matter how much you think you know, there’s just no way to understand the process until you go through it yourself. I’ve been working with my agent for some time now, and when the Fingerprints of You manuscript was ready for submission, we emailed and talked on the phone quite a bit. Eventually we chose six editors to send it to, and S&S BFYR were part of that original six. I know that makes the sale sound easy, but it wasn’t. Editors have to pitch a submission to a number of different departments (sales, marketing, etc.) and they have convince rooms full of people that your book is worth the purchase before they can make an offer, so there was a lot of waiting involved. And of course selling the book is only the first step! We sold the manuscript in September 2010, and here it being released in August 2012, almost 2 years later. But it really can’t be rushed because each step is unbelievably important – editing, copy editing, proofing, finalizing the book cover, receiving blurbs… I learned so much with each step, and the book is so much stronger because of all the work we all put into it. I was amazed by how many people were involved and so very grateful for their help and support. From my agent to my editor to my publicity team at Simon & Schuster, everyone that has been involved in the release of Fingerprints of You has been one hundred percent professional and determined to support the book as much as they possibly can. Publishers are in the business because they love books, and it’s easy to forget that sometimes when you’re collecting rejection letters and reading heartbreaking stories about authors who get orphaned or novels that get lost in big houses. But my experience has been nothing but positive.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you yourself give aspiring authors?

When my agent began sending out my first manuscript to publishing houses for submission, a novel that has yet to be sold, I became discouraged and contacted Judy Blume, one of my mentors and advocates, to ask for advice and feedback. At the time I was fearful we wouldn’t be able to sell the book and, consequently, my agent would lose interest, and my career would come to a screeching halt. And she said the most amazing thing: “It’s not your job to sell the book, that’s your agent’s job. Your job is to write the next one.” It was so obvious and simple, but I think of that whenever I’m feeling bogged down or intimidated by the business side of writing. At the end of the day, I’m a writer first. Nothing makes me happier than the process of creating the work, and that will always be the most important thing. So I like to remind aspiring authors that they must be prepared for rejection; they must be ready to hear “no” a lot. But as long as they’re writing for the love of the process, they’ll be able to carve their way through the phases of self-doubt and the fears of failure.

What was your favorite book when you were a kid/teenager? What are you reading now?

As a teenager, like many teenagers do, I fell in the love with the Beats, and part of my literary heart will always belong to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. There’s something timeless about the spontaneous cross-country road trip, the jazz and the booze, the poetry, and the indulgent sex and drug binges. It’s a journey book, a genre I obviously favor, and the characters are on a quest for faith and love and friendship, as they hunt for a sense of an authentic and meaningful life.

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley is a new favorite, and I was thrilled to hear the news when he won the William C. Morris Debut Award and the Michael L. Printz Award. It’s a super smart YA book, and I’ve been recommending it to everyone I know.  I also recently read Model Home by Eric Puchner, which I loved, and Eleanor Henderson’s Ten Thousand Saints, a brilliant book and fascinating study of point of view. But right now Richard Ford’s Canada and Alice Elliott Dark’s short story collection In the Gloaming are on my nightstand.

What’s next for you writing-wise (and otherwise!)?

I just finished a first draft of another book, which means it’s kind of awful and really messy. It’s very different than Fingerprints of You. It required a lot of research, and I’m experimenting with point of view and the idea of memory and the filters of time. It has been a completely different process than writing Fingerprints of You, and that’s been challenging, but I think it’s been good for me and good for the work. So I’m letting that sit for a couple months now, and I’m starting to take notes for the book after that, a novel with a teenaged narrator that I imagine will be a YA book. But for now I’m just trying to enjoy the debut experience. I’ve been working on Fingerprints of You since 2008, and sending it out into the world is such an amazing thing, so I want to make sure I enjoy every moment of it.

Do you believe in being part of a “bloc” of writers? Are critique groups and writing communities helpful to you?

Absolutely. As a writer you spend a lot of time alone, so establishing a kind of community is crucial. I have a writers’ group that I meet with once a month, and it makes a world of difference to have that kind of support system, to remember you’re not the only one wading through this strange and unpredictable world of writing. I also teach at the literary nonprofit called WriterHouse, and I always feel invigorated and inspired after attending events and working with my students there.

Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us!

Thanks so much for having me on Teen Writers Bloc, Sona!

Fingerprints of You Cover Courtesy Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Author Interview: TWB’s Own Mary G. Thompson!

Posted by Teen Writers Bloc On July - 26 - 2012

 Author Interview: TWBs Own Mary G. Thompson!Teen Writers Bloc has interviewed a bunch of totally awesome YA and MG authors over the years (wow, has it been years already?!), but our latest is extra exciting because we’re interviewing one of our own!

TWB contributor Mary G. Thompson‘s debut middle grade novel Wuftoom is on sale now, and she’s dishing all her secrets about her writing process, her upcoming novels, and her former life as a lawyer!

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a writer?

Well, a long long time ago, in a demented alternate universe, I was a lawyer. This involved a lot of long hours and stress, and except for the fun of wearing a suit and having a large office with multiple desks, it wasn’t the rewarding career I’d always dreamed of. Don’t get me wrong, having more than one desk does make one feel very important. Also, I had a nice big window with a great view of a freeway, and that was really interesting. But the whole time, I really wanted to write. I’d write after work and on the weekends, and I found that I much preferred sitting in a comfy chair with a laptop and no desk at all. So I wrote Wuftoom and a couple more manuscripts, and I started attending writers’ conferences, and I met my agent, and the rest, as they say, has something to do with the number of desks you can stack in a courtroom while shouting “I object!” and pretending to try on a leather glove.

Can you give us a quick synopsis of Wuftoom? How did you come up with the concept for the book?

Wuftoom is about a twelve-year-old boy who is turning into a disgusting wormlike creature. Everyone else thinks he’s sick, but he knows what’s really happening because this creature visits him all the time. Evan is terrified of turning into this monstrosity, so he makes a bargain with the evil Vitflys. The Vitflys give him the power to inhabit the bodies of other boys so he can have a taste of life again, but in exchange, he has to promise to help the Vitflys destroy the Wuftoom. Of course, as Evan’s transformation progresses, things become a whole lot more complicated. The Wuftoom also want something. And are the Wuftoom really as bad as Evan thought? The Vitflys threaten Evan’s mother, and Evan has to figure out where his loyalties lie.

The concept just sort of popped into my head. I suddenly pictured the boy, Evan, sitting on his bed in a dark room, debilitated by membranes, and the creature was sliding toward him across the floor. It was immediately apparent that Evan was turning into the creature. I then wrote out a quick outline, but I didn’t really follow it. The original concept was actually (if you can believe it) much darker and a lot worse for Evan. It ended up evolving into the more heartfelt, fun-gross adventure it is today.

 Author Interview: TWBs Own Mary G. Thompson!What’s your writing process?

With Wuftoom, I wrote after work in various coffee shops and chain restaurants, or when I could, at home in my comfy chair. That was not an ideal situation, which is why I decided to quit the job and come study at The New School. Now I try to write first thing in the “morning,” which means something different to me than to most people. I just try to write every day or whenever possible. Even if I don’t feel “inspired,” I sit there pulling my hair out until something gets written.

What has your path to publication been like?

After I wrote Wuftoom, I started attending writers’ conferences and managed to get an agent pretty quickly. It took a long time to sell the book after that, though. I hated all that waiting, but my agent never gave up on me, and four and a half years after I finished the book, it’s finally on bookstore shelves! I think the most surprising part is how much support I’ve gotten. People I haven’t seen in a long time have gone out of their way to congratulate me, and of course, my classmates at The New School have been fantastic, even though we just met less than two years ago. Not that I expected mass disapproval, I just didn’t expect people to be so nice. Yay!

Can you talk a bit about world building? What is your process?

I start with the main character and their basic situation. With Wuftoom, it was Evan turning into this disgusting creature, and with Escape From The Pipe Men! it was Ryan and Becky having grown up in this zoo and not really knowing anything about how normal kids live on Earth. Then I work outwards and build the world around the kid’s adventure. There are times when I have to stop and spend a lot of time figuring out what the world looks like and how it works, but I try to always keep the main character and the adventure in mind. As the character explores the world, so do I, and by the time I’ve revised the book about a thousand times, the world has magically become a real place — at least to me!

You’ve already sold a few other books since Wuftoom. Can you talk about looking at writing as a job and seeing it as a business as much as art? 

I’ve sold two books after Wuftoom: Escape From the Pipe Men! (Spring 2013) and Evil Fairies Love Hair (Fall 2013). I’m also trying to sell more at various different age levels, so watch this space! I do see writing as an art, but I also approach it as a business in that I don’t believe in inspiration or writer’s block. I think you just have working and not working, industry or laziness, motivation or lack of it. If you are genuinely motivated to succeed, you will do everything you can with what time you have. When I had a full time day job, what I was able to do was limited, but I was still able to accomplish something. Now that I’m sort of mostly a full time author, I really don’t have any excuses! I always feel like I could be doing more, and I think that feeling is essential. You can never be happy as a writer! You always have to want more and be flagellating yourself for every failure to meet a goal.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you yourself give aspiring authors?

Somebody at a conference once said something that really stuck with me. If someone says “I love this line!” you’re in trouble. Nobody should be noticing the “writing.” They should be so absorbed in the story that nothing like that jumps out at them. I guess that’s along the same lines as Stephen King’s advice: “Kill your darlings.”

My advice to aspiring authors would be finish your book. I don’t care if you think it’s crap or if it really is crap. I wrote two books before Wuftoom that never went anywhere, and I think finishing those manuscripts, even if no one will ever see them, taught me the skills I needed to get it right.

What was your favorite book when you were a kid/teenager? What are you reading now?

My favorite book as a kid was Archer’s Goon by Diana Wynne Jones. It’s one of her lesser known books, and I think it deserves a lot more recognition. It’s about a town that’s run by these seven weird guys, and it’s totally out there and weird and creative. It’s stuck with me all these years. Right now I’m reading Rotters by Daniel Kraus. It’s about a somewhat disturbed kid who moves in with the father he’s never met and discovers the old man is a grave robber. It’s not fantasy, but it has a great, absorbing horror feel.

What’s next for you writing-wise (and otherwise!)?

My next book is a lighter-toned middle grade sci-fi called Escape From The Pipe Men! It’s about two kids who have grown up in an alien zoo and go on an adventure across the universe. Get ready for multiple eyes, legs, tentacles, portals, and of course, an exciting alien space fight! Look for it in Spring 2013!

Do you believe in being part of a “bloc” of writers? Are critique groups and writing communities helpful to you?

Interacting with other writers is essential for my sanity, because there are some things about the job that people who aren’t writers don’t understand. I love reading my friends’ work and sharing mine. That said, it is not a good idea to write a book in a committee. You have to take some and leave some.

Mary G. Thompson was raised in Cottage Grove and Eugene, OR. She was a practicing attorney for more than 7 years, including almost 5 years in the U.S. Navy, before moving to New York to write full time. She was educated at Boston University, the University of Oregon, and The New School.

Book cover image courtesy of Clarion Books

Author Interview: Jewell Parker Rhodes

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On May - 31 - 2012

Ninth Ward 000 409x600 Author Interview: Jewell Parker RhodesLast year I trekked to the Brooklyn with Sona Charaipotra to the Brooklyn Book Festival and got a great big hug from author Jewell Parker Rhodes after hearing her read. She was wonderfully bubbly and reminded me of my own mother. And then, we discovered she is the mother of one of the students in The New School Writing for Children program in the Class of 2013 — Kelly McWilliams (an author herself). We caught up with her despite her busy schedule.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself (bio) and how you became a writer?

When I was a little girl, I was a voracious reader. My family used to call me the “little professor.” The librarians could not give me books fast enough. Partly, I think I was escaping some tough times in Pittsburgh. I never had an easy childhood. I got into college (Carnegie-Mellon) on a dance scholarship, which saved my life. One day I went to the library I found a book written by a black man. A black man! No one ever told me that black people could write. I’d never even considered the option. I quit dancing and started in the English program. They didn’t want to admit me, because of my low SAT scores, but a lovely woman, who because my mentor ever after, saw my potential.

I worked hard in school. I was under-educated by the Pittsburgh system, despite my extensive reading. I had no idea what a “foil” was, or “foreshadowing,” or any literary devices whatsoever. It was like my classmates were speaking a different language. I was in the library every day trying desperately to catch up. And then, when it came to writing, I was absolutely the WORST writer in my program. They came in with lots of education, years of practice, and talent, but only one of them is still writing today. I was the one that persevered.

2. What made you want to be a writer? Do you write full-time now?

I love stories. I love to read. My grandmother used to tell me stories on the porch. There is so much power in sharing your own stories with others. As a black woman, I was called to that power, and it gives me strength, purpose, and peace of mind. I do not write full-time now, but I am involved with writing in some way, all the time. I teach at the Arizona State University MFA program in fiction; this semester, I taught an undergraduate literature course in the short story, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I am also chair of the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing, with which I manage a lot of global outreach. Some of my work has included traveling to China and Singapore, countries, which historically have not had many creative programs, to help set up programs in creative writing. I get to travel a lot, which I love!

3. How did you come up with your story for NINTH WARD? Was the hurricane your primary influence?

I have always written about New Orleans. My first novel, Voodoo Dreams, was about Marie Laveau, the voodoo queen. I have also set a mystery series in New Orleans. When the hurricane hit, I was glued to my television, and as I watched the horrible drama unfold, I kept thinking, what about the children? You caught glimpses of them now and again. Glimpses of terrified faces. But no one focused on them. That’s when I heard Lanesha’s voice – the voice of a little girl, caught up in the hurricane. I was called to write that book, no doubt about it.

 Author Interview: Jewell Parker Rhodes3. What’s your writing process? What does a typical writing day look like? Where does your inspiration come from?

Oh, dear. I’m ashamed to say I have no typical writing day. My advice to you young writers is to write every day, but I never follow my own advice. I write in fits and bursts, sometimes taking as much as six weeks off! I write according to deadline, these days – I   doubt I’ve met a single one – but when that deadline comes around, I like to head to a nice hotel (with my husband and my terrier, of course) and do nothing but write and order room service and have the linens changed for me. My husband is crucial to the process. He’s a wonderful help as an editor, a first reader, and a steady hand with plot. I don’t know what I would do without him.

4. What has your path to publication been like? What’s been the most surprising part of the writing/publishing process for you?

My first novel was rejected seven times. That’s right. It was awful. But that book, over twenty years old now, is still in print and still on the shelves. What I learned about the publishing process is this: you might get a lot of “no.” But you only need one “yes.”

5. What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you yourself give aspiring authors?

Best advice I’ve ever gotten? I’ve gotten so much good advice from so many places and people, I simply can’t choose! I’d say, seek out authors, seek out artists of all kinds, and get as much advice as you can. Ask questions. Find mentors. Read books, and not just fiction, either. Read theory, so that you learn more about the nature of what it is that you are doing.

6. What was your favorite book when you were a kid/teenager? What are you reading now?

I treasured Anne of Green Gables when I was a girl. Right now, I am reading ON STORIES: And Other Essays on Literature by C.S. Lewis. Also, anything and everything by Walter Dean Myers, my hero.

 Author Interview: Jewell Parker Rhodes7. What’s next for you writing-wise (and otherwise!)?

I’m currently revising a new book for middle-graders, called Sugar, about a girl growing up on a sugarcane plantation.

8. Do you believe in being part of a “bloc” of writers? Are critique groups and writing communities helpful to you? Or trusted readers?

My husband and daughter are my readers now. I also love going to the SCBWI conferences in New York and Los Angeles! However, I am craving a “bloc” of writers, as you put it, but this technological era is way ahead of me. I’m just starting a blog on children’s literature now. You can find it at laneshasays.com. I would love any comments from the wonderful students of the New School. Writing for Children is brand new to me! And so is blogging!

9. Your work is imbued with a sense of African-American spiritualism, did you grow up with this surrounding you?

My grandmother was a very spiritual person. She was the most loving, stable adult in my life, and I am happy to say that she passed a little of her magic on to me.


Photo Credit: Little Brown Books for Young Readers, Picador

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