Teen Writers Bloc

A Blog by the New School Writing for Children MFA Class of 2012

Archive for the ‘The Craft of Writing’ Category

Alyson Thinks Your Point of View Matters Most

Posted by Alyson Gerber On March - 11 - 2013

TheListBook Alyson Thinks Your Point of View Matters Most“Always remember that it is of no consequence to you what other people think of you. What matters is what you think of them. That is how you live your life.” – Gore Vidal

When I heard Gore Vidal give this advice on Charlie Rose, I didn’t just pause my DVR. I swear, I felt my life pause. He seemed to be talking directly to me—writer/secret seventh grader (posing as an adult) who worries and wonders way too much about what other people think. I know I am not alone in the self-doubt department, especially among authors. But the idea that my perspective matters the most and that the way I see things is how I live my life—that got me thinking—not just about my personal point of view, but also about the characters I write and their perspectives.

Why are some characters able to hold our attention? Is it the way they see other people? Themselves? Their world? Is it the choices they make? And when a story requires more than one perspective, how can all the points of view matter? Do they have to matter equally?

I’ve done my best to read most of the new releases in Middle Grade and YA, and from what I’ve learned, there is no formula to writing a believable, engaging perspective. There isn’t one way to tell a story. Anything goes, as long as it is done well. But the way your characters see things—regardless of the first, second, or third person—matters a lot. It’s like any magic potion—lots of love, a pinch of common sense, and a few funny, unexpected ingredients.

Before I read The List by Siobhan Vivian, I was skeptical about a book told from 8 points of view. Anyone else feel that way? I wasn’t sure I’d be able to connect with the characters or follow all of the story lines. I have trouble juggling so many details. But it works. I was surprised as I read along that I didn’t get lost or have to flip back and re-read. I liked having the chance to dip into different people’s minds, to see the story of The List their way, and experience how each of them viewed the world around them. I liked that the novel belonged to each of them for a moment. For me, it solidified Vidal’s point, that what matters most is the way you see things—your point of view.

Book cover image courtesy of PUSH

For Sona, the Proof Is In the Proofing

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On January - 30 - 2013

Conjunctions main Full 300x136 For Sona, the Proof Is In the Proofing

So I have impeccable grammar, if I do say so myself. Yes, I’m a bit overly fond of the em dash, and I like to start sentences with conjunctions. But (and there I go again!) those are all purposeful decisions. The basics, I like to proudly declare, I’ve pretty much got down. It’s versus its. There, their and there. Whose and who’s. And I can really rock a comma. I know all of that like the back of my hand.

But here’s the thing (and again!). In this day and age, when I’m frequently writing something and then instantly sending it out into the Internets, things get a little sloppy. When you’re whizzing through text just to get to the end, mistakes are made. You put something out there — and then, reading it over three days later, you notice a typo here or there. Something that could have easily been fixed if you took a moment after spilling your guts to just clean up a little.

What’s happened in these days of insta-everything is that we forget to proof our work. And that makes us look less smart. I like to think I turn in clean copy every time, but I’m just as guilty of the slap dash as anyone else. That’s the thing I’ve got to remember — not just in the long run, when I’m focusing on a novel or story — but also in the everyday, when I’m putting my thoughts out into the world. As the title says, the proof is in the proofing. I have to remind myself: Spellcheck! Read through. Take a minute before you post. Put your best self forward. Even if you still use conjunctions to start a sentence.

Amy’s Advice (Not) Looking Forward: It’s Okay to Be Bad

Posted by Amy Ewing On December - 6 - 2012

frustration.gif 300x201 Amys Advice (Not) Looking Forward: Its Okay to Be BadI’m not one for making New Year’s resolutions, and this year will be no different. “Resolution” is such a stressful word. But I’m going to need something to get me through 2013. So what I’ve come up with is this.

Deep breaths. It’s okay to be bad.

Now, as a debut author with an outstanding agent and a superb editor, things are often sunshine and rainbows and unicorns and puppies. I have worked incredibly hard on my first book, which has undergone two major revisions and is hopefully nearing that wonderful moment when my editor will proclaim, “Yes! This is just how we want it. Send it to the copyeditor!” And I will dance around my apartment with joy.

And then the realization will slowly sink in. Book One is over. I have to write Book Two now. A first draft. Something entirely new.

It’s been over a year since I’ve written a first draft of anything, and to be honest, I am terrified. I’ve never written anything with so much expectation on it. Writing a first draft is like learning how to walk again, which is just about as much fun as it sounds. Lots of falling down, bumps and bruises, awkward movements. But I need to let myself off the hook. First drafts are supposed to be bad — they are where you fumble around and screw up and figure it out. I need to give myself permission to fail, to try things that may not work. I need to go into a little hole and pretend that I’m writing this book just for me, because at the end of the day, loving your story is the most important thing.

Of course, I say this now. I’m certain there will be dark times ahead, times where I think, “I can’t do this. I’m a failure. Why did anyone ever buy this series in the first place?? It’s terrrrrrible!” And hopefully, I’ll remember my 2012 words of encouragement.

Deep breaths. It’s okay to be bad.

 

Photo Credit: www.theelitemembership.com

Why does Caela write the most during football Season? (Also: Go Irish!)

Posted by Caela Carter On December - 4 - 2012

 Why does Caela write the most during football Season? (Also: Go Irish!)This fall, for the first time in 24 years, my beloved Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team is ranked #1, has a 12 and 0 record, and is heading to the National Championship in  Miami in January to take on the Alabama Crimson Tide in a fight for the crystal football.

(For you non-sporty people, that means they played twelve games, won them all, and get a chance to become this season’s champions.)

Twenty-four years ago, I admit I didn’t pay all that much attention to college football. I was a six-year-old girl. (Although, if you asked me, I would have told you I liked Notre Dame.) So, to me and everyone in my generation, this feels pretty remarkable.

But, this fall, other than the success of my football team, our recent graduation from The New School, and my new marriage, life was usual.

 Why does Caela write the most during football Season? (Also: Go Irish!)My husband (who is thankfully also an Irish alum) and I attended five football games — three at Notre Dame, one in Boston, and one in Dublin, Ireland, which we fit in on the way to our honeymoon. At the end of our honeymoon, after traveling for 24 straight hours home from Crete, we watched the Michigan State game on only a slight delay before getting some sleep. The next weekend, I was at a beautiful wedding and I spent the reception as one of four heads bent over the same iPhone to watch the Michigan game streaming live. (I felt slightly bad about this until the bride called out to me to ask about the score.) And suffice it to say, I lost my voice shouting at the TV in the Public House in New York City during the Oklahoma and USC games.

But my football commitment goes beyond simply watching and attending the Notre Dame games. My family spent hours of Thanksgiving Day talking about who would go to which bowls. My friends and I email/Facebook/Tweet constantly about this subject. My husband and I, along with our friends Linda and Nestor, wrote a musical tribute to our star defensive player, Manti Te’o, to the tune of Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite.” And, in some ways, this year’s time commitment has barely taken its toll because the Fifth Annual Carter Bowl (in which the members of my family pick teams and then trash talk brutally for the entirety of bowl season, all in a fight for the Carter Bowl trophy, pictured above — and, yes, that is a toilet bowl…) has not yet begun!

And yet, somehow, this was fall-as-usual for me in one other way. This year, for the third year in a row, I wrote the bulk of an entire draft of a novel during football season. In fact, during fall of 2010, (I attended four football games, moved to New York from Chicago, and spent every other Saturday watching football non-stop) I managed to complete my first draft of Me, Him, Them and It, which will become my debut novel when Bloomsbury publishes it this winter.

The past two years I marveled at this productivity. I thought to myself, “Imagine what I will accomplish in the winter when my brain can be consumed entirely by writing.”

But not this year. This year, I peer nervously ahead toward the winter months. Because in the past years, winter, spring and summer have not been ripe with words and inspiration the way I have planned. In some trick-math equation, more time does not equal more pages. So instead, I have to wonder, “why am I most productive during football season?”

Perhaps it’s simply the fall. As someone used to being on a school-schedule, maybe I’m just most productive when the leaves change because that was always the symbol of fresh starts and a new year. But, I don’t think so.

Maybe it’s that football provides some sort of structure for me. I always work hardest when there is a reward in store: write five pages today, go out to dinner tonight. But anyone who has followed a team like Notre Dame knows that this doesn’t necessarily work the same way. Because you are going to watch the game whether or not you deserve it. And because you approach the game with trepidation, unsure of whether it will be reward or torture.

No, after much thought, I’ve concluded that it’s pretty simple. I’m most productive during football season because I’m happiest. I mean, I’m a pretty darn happy woman in general, but during football season, even when we’re losing, I always know what my plans are on Saturday. In the moments that I’m being driven crazy by the world falling into the torrents of political upheaval and violence, I can always distract myself with a somewhat more trivial article on ESPN.com. And most importantly, my geographically disparate friends and family somehow feel a little closer when I know exactly what they’re all doing for at least four-hours of each week. (But it’s better when we’re winning.)

And, for me, happiness, more than time, leads to pages.

So now I just need to figure out something to create this much happiness in the winter. And don’t say basketball. I don’t have time for that!

Photo (and trophy) credit: Rich Carter

Mary Tries Thinking and It Doesn’t Work

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On December - 3 - 2012

Pig with Money 300x297 Mary Tries Thinking and It Doesn’t WorkSo lately I’ve been trying to come up with some new ideas. Chickens. Pot roast. Time travel three minutes. Ice dancing. What? Oh yeah, I’m writing a blog post. I’ve been trying to come up with ideas. Six documents open, three pages of notes, eighteen prom scenes, three aliens. Ten more documents open. Let me look at all of last year’s files. Wait, I wrote 20,000 words of that? Hmm. Mary, that is some weird s***. I have no idea what is going on here. Nineteen worlds, three hundred alternate universes, thirty-three more prom scenes. Why are you so depressing, Mary? Why do you think that joke is so funny? How much fake science will people read?

“Write 20,000 more words, Mary,” says the pink pig. As he speaks, he carefully picks my Canadian money out of my wallet.

“But it makes no sense!”

“It will make sense if there’s MORE! Heh heh heh.” He laughs like a donkey.

Sometimes I wonder why I start changing titles on stuff and create new folders and move part of it into a miscellaneous folder and then decide to redo the concept and write 18,000 words and then forget I did it. And then I always like the first version better anyway but WHICH FOLDER DID I SAVE IT IN?

Sometimes the prom happens over and over and over again.

There is an opening chapter of something somewhere that involved mysterious entities that have something to do with traffic. And possibly time travel. And several fairy tale characters. And an alien is always useful. And I promised someone a book about Space Marines. And somehow there is terraforming. Invisible people are pulling my hair out.

I have 973,823 million pages of notes.

What?

Steven: Oh, The Books I Wish I Could Write

Posted by Steven Salvatore Shaw On September - 14 - 2012

love is the higher law Steven: Oh, The Books I Wish I Could WriteWhen I think about the books I wish I had written, it’s not so much about the ONE book that I kick myself for not having written. Too often, I love a book because of all the different elements, but there’s always something I would’ve done differently. Not that I’m saying JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye isn’t perfect, or David Levithan’s Love is the Higher Law doesn’t inspire the pants off me, because it is and it does, respectively. What I’m saying is that as much as I admire these books and wish that my name was on the front covers, it doesn’t mean that I truly wish I had written these books.

For one, wanting to have written Catcher in the Rye is a HUGE idea. I mean, it was so overwhelming for Salinger that he retreated and became a recluse. And I can’t say that I blamed him. Where do you go after having written one of the most acclaimed, beloved, and hated books of all time? With that being said, Holden Caulfield seems to creep into my head every single time I write a new character. He’s so much a part of my psyche that he can’t help but assert his character when I write.

The same can be said for Levithan’s Love is the Higher Law. He captures three perfectly distinct voices and personalities so well that it makes me hate him. I long to be able to what he did, write the same story through different eyes and voices. Do I wish I had written that book? I mean, I would lie if I said “no” because, well, as an aspiring writer I would kill to be published. But Love is the Higher Law is so perfectly David Levithan that I could jealous all I want; I’ll never write like him, with the same fluidity and knack for making words sound less like words and more like the most epic love songs…

Sometimes I sit and daydream about body-swapping with JK Rowling. What would it be like to be in her head? What would it have been like to put pen to paper and watch as Harry Potter evolved from lead scratchings to flesh-and-bone hero? Not to mention her ability to build an entire world that lives alongside our own and make it seem 1,000% plausible! And I won’t lie, what would it be like to have her billions? Would I roll around naked in a giant Gringott-sized vault? Absolutely. But I digress…As much as I wish I could’ve written Harry Potter, my mind just wouldn’t have been to do Potter as much justice as Rowling clearly did.

What I’m trying to say is that all of these books influenced me hugely. All of them are like the books that I wish I could write because they have inspired me tremendously. Their voices linger in my head, their stories play out in my imagination, and their words wake me up every day and whisper, “write, write, write…”

P.S. Happy Birthday to me! I’m 26 and unpublished. Holler.

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

Jean-Paul Bass on Perseverance

Posted by Teen Writers Bloc On June - 22 - 2012

Perseverance Jean Paul Bass on PerseveranceI struggle with writing on a consistent schedule.  I only write when I am in the mood or if there is a deadline approaching, but being in the mood comes very infrequently.  There’s always something else I want to do and I keep pushing writing aside.  I had such high hopes for the summer.  I just knew I was going to be so prolific and wow everyone but after a few weeks of late nights at the computer, my enthusiasm waned when I hit a rough patch in the story and I haven’t revisited it since.

Just recently, I attended three different events.  Each event featured some of the hottest authors in YA today.  And at two of the events, the authors were alumni of The New School’s MFA program, more specifically, of the Writing for Children Program — Lisa Greenwald and Siobhan Vivian.

Once I got over feeling cool from being connected to these authors through the program, I got a little bummed.  Here were people who were in the same program as me and now look at them!  On stage, some with multiple book deals, talking about writing and being writers, and the audience can’t wait to hear what they have to say next.  I immediately tried imagining myself getting asked questions, promoting my book at events, and wondering what writing tips I could give my audience.  But I couldn’t sustain the fantasy for long because all of those authors have something I don’t have: perseverance.  Tenacity.  Determination.  Dogged pursuit of a goal.  Call it what you want but I ain’t got it.

At one of the events, an editor told us that she would be accepting unsolicited submissions from the audience for two weeks after the event and instead of getting excited, I felt like kicking myself.  Here was an awesome opportunity, a direct line to an editor, and I couldn’t use it because I didn’t have anything ready to send out.  I’ve been spending my summer goofing off when I should have been writing.

Imagining myself on stage with those other authors doesn’t get me very far, but thinking about writing, about sticking to a schedule and finishing a story just like those authors gets me inspired.  It’s all about perseverance, about seeing something through to the very end and not getting sidetracked.  That’s how they got on the stage and why they have book deals.

The summer’s not over yet.  I’ve got a few more months left to cultivate that stick-to-it-ive-ness skill that is so crucial to being successful.  I probably won’t be on stage giving advice anytime soon, but the next time an editor asks for a submission, I will be ready.

Guest blogger Jean-Paul Bass recently decided to quit her job to focus on writing full-time and she swears she doesn’t miss having a regular paycheck at all. She is currently working on her MFA in fiction and writing for children at The New School.  If she could finish her memoir about growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, before graduation, then she would be quite satisfied with herself.

Guest Blogger Gwendolyn Heasley on Publishing That Second Book

Posted by Teen Writers Bloc On June - 5 - 2012

ALong WayFromYou COVER 392x600 Guest Blogger Gwendolyn Heasley on Publishing That Second BookI think books are like boyfriends. Just because you’ve had a boyfriend before doesn’t make your next relationship any easier or less complicated. Like boyfriends, each book has its peculiarities and nuances.

I wrote the first draft of my debut novel Where I Belong in a MediaBistro class. I never dreamed that it would be published, so when I wrote it, I wrote it for only me.  I didn’t think about landing an agent. I didn’t think about what an editor would think. I didn’t cater to “the industry.” With some great luck (publishing does involve luck in my opinion), Where I Belong went from a pet hobby project to a real live book. With much help from my then editor, Catherine Onder, I learned a lot about editing and making a draft into a real book. Mainly, I learned editing is not only comma splices and run-on sentences.

So when I started on Where I Belong’s companion novel, A Long Way From You, I felt like a different person and writer than I had been when I wrote my first book. I knew about websites, book trailers, blogs, library visits, oh my! In the past year and a half, I had a crash course in the wonderful world of Young Adult Literature. Because of that, I naively thought it would be easier — not harder — to write my second book.

I was wrong. Very wrong.

You know that quote, “Dance like no one is watching.” When I wrote Where I Belong, I did write like no one, besides my MediaBistro online class, was watching. Yet when I sat down to write A Long Way From You, I felt like people were watching. I had made some mistakes with Where I Belong, and reviewers and critics alike had (sometimes) kindly pointed them out. Armed with this information (use contractions, you wouldn’t believe the fury over my lack of contractions), I found it harder to just write. I’d type a sentence, then wonder what my readers would think. I’d delete the sentence and type a new one. Then I’d wonder what my editor would think. I had too many voices in my head when I really just needed to be listening to my character.

I’m not going to say that one day, I woke up and the voices were gone. That never completely happened. But over time, my character spoke to me louder than the imaginary fear mongers. It took me longer to write A Long Way From You than Where I Belong, but I think that ended up being a good thing. In the end, I let my character tell her story. But I also improved as a writer, in part thanks to some of the critics. (Don’t be afraid of reviewers. Sometimes, they offer great — free — advice.)

My advice to anyone who feels stuck — on a second novel, on a first draft, on whatever — is to write like no one is watching. Put away the craft books for a while. Write for a while before asking for critique. Basically, just write. One word at a time and try to ignore any voices —but your characters. You will have to edit later no matter what, so enjoy the pleasure of not worrying for at least one draft!

I’m glad that I figured out that books are like boyfriends. I know my third book will be nothing like my second — and I’ll probably give completely different advice after writing it. But of course, I’ll romanticize it, just like I do old boyfriends.

Photos Courtesy Harper Collins

GwendolynHeasley AuthorPhoto 100x150 Guest Blogger Gwendolyn Heasley on Publishing That Second BookGuest blogger Gwendolyn Heasley, author of Where I Belong and its companion novel A Long Way From You, is a graduate of Davidson College and the University of Missouri-Columbia, where she earned her master’s degree in journalism. When she was a little girl, she desperately wanted to be the next Ann M. Martin — the author of the beloved The Baby-Sitter’s Club series. She’s incredibly grateful that the recession rendered her unemployed and made her chase her nearly forgotten dream. She lives in New York City, teaches college and eats entirely too much mac and cheese for an adult. She’s also currently at work on her third novel for Harper Collins.

pixel Guest Blogger Gwendolyn Heasley on Publishing That Second Book
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