Teen Writers Bloc

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

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!

It’s Release Day for Jessica Verdi’s My Life After Now!

Posted by Caela Carter On April - 2 - 2013

It’s a super-wonderful-exciting day at Teen Writers Bloc—release day for Jessica Verdi‘s My Life After Now

 Its Release Day for Jessica Verdis My Life After Now!What now?

Lucy just had the worst week ever. Seriously, mega bad. And suddenly, it’s all too much—she wants out. Out of her house, out of her head, out of her life. She wants to be a whole new Lucy. So she does something the old Lucy would never dream of.

And now her life will never be the same. Now, how will she be able to have a boyfriend? What will she tell her friends? How will she face her family?

Now her life is completely different…every moment is a gift. Because now she might not have many moments left.

Jessica stared writing this gripping, startling, heart-wrenching, yet hopeful novel during our second semester at The New School and by the time we read the first few pages of her first draft, we all knew she had started something special. Turns out the folks at Sourcebooks Fire agreed with us and, at long last, now you can too! Trust me, you’ll want to get your hands on this book!

Even better, if you’re in the New York area, come and celebrate Jess’s release with us next Tuesday, April 9 at 7:00PM at powerHouse Arena in Brooklyn! You can enjoy wine, a reading, a book talk, and get a signed copy (if you can wait that long to get your hands on it!)

Reading Bad for Kids, New Study Shows

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On April - 1 - 2013

ID 10053661 300x199 Reading Bad for Kids, New Study ShowsScientists at the National Institutes of Health have published the results of a groundbreaking longitudinal study in this month’s Journal of Psychology and Education. According the study, which followed six thousand children from ages seven through thirty-five, reading reduces both educational and career outcomes over a person’s lifetime and is linked with an increase in criminal behavior. The scientists measured the amount of reading done by the children using self-reports and parental reports as well as by monitoring the children’s library card usage. The results show that library use is particularly pernicious—there was a direct correlation between the number of books checked out per year at ages seven through fourteen and the number of arrests suffered by the children as adults. One in five of the heaviest readers (one hundred or more books per year) failed to graduate from high school, while those who read the least (zero to five books) were the most likely to have a graduate degree. Readers were also more likely to be divorced and less likely to have health insurance. Teen Writers Bloc spoke with Dr. Ralph Schumaker, the lead author of the study.

“Some people might find the results surprising,” said Dr. Schumaker, “but we’ve always known that reading impedes children’s development of social skills. Since success in life is based on likeability and not intelligence, we can expect to see some disadvantages. Readers get frustrated by their inability to connect with their TV-watching peers, and they retreat into lives of vice and crime.” Dr. Schumaker then described the life of one study participant, Paul Fletcher, who read two hundred books per year as a child and is now incarcerated in Federal prison. “His wife left him for a normal TV-watcher, and he lost it and went on a bank robbery spree,” said Dr. Schumaker. “He wore a mask with giant glasses painted on it. I guess he was making some kind of statement, but you know, it’s sad. If he had just read fewer books, he could be making a good living.”

The study also revealed that the heaviest readers tended to get pooped on by birds more regularly than non-readers, but the authors note that causation in that case has not been proved.

What does this mean for children’s authors like the members of Teen Writers Bloc? “We’re all in shock,” said Teen Writers Bloc member Alyson Gerber. “We love writing books, but we don’t want to be responsible for bank robbery or bird poop. We’re going to have to think long and hard about what to do now.”

What do you think? Should we stop writing children’s books and burn our library cards? Tell us in the comments!

Photo credit: Phaitoon

 Teen Author Festival: The Only Way Out is Through Panel at WORD in Brooklyn“So, serious question,” David Levithan asked the five authors who were on his panel on realistic YA fiction at WORD in Brooklyn last night. “How many of you have had sex for clothing?”

That question was inspired by our own Jessica Verdi who had just read from her debut novel, My Life After Now, about a girl who has HIV. (And, no, Jess’s character and Jess herself have not had sex for clothing either.) Jess’s book does not technically hit shelves until April 2nd, but patrons who were present last night got to buy the earliest signed copies.

Other highlights of the panel included Ellen Hopkins (Crank, Tricks, and so many more) giving us all a sneak peek (sneak listen?) of a project she’s working on for Spring 2014; Tim Decker (The Punk Ethic) discussing how his project went from graphic novel to standard form; Crissa-Jean Chappell (Narc) talking about writing across gender lines; and Amy McNamaras (Lovely, Dark and Deep) story about standing up to genre-snobbery among her poetry friends.

 Teen Author Festival: The Only Way Out is Through Panel at WORD in BrooklynIn addition to a few pages of each of these saucy, clever and intriguing books (which included our own Jessica saying “sex” about 37 times—go Jess!) listeners like me were treated to a discussion on proces. And there’s nothing I love more than hearing how other writers manage to make the magic happen!

I especially liked David’s question about how a project starts. In response, it felt like each panel member had a recipe for what makes a story.

In fact, Tim said he pictures his work-in-progress like a petri dish: he puts a few things in there together and sees how they will react. Crissa-Jean defined author as “being evil all the time” because she takes a character she likes, then tries to make him uncomfortable for hundreds of pages. That’s, of course, the only way he’ll change. Amy said that, for her, a story becomes a story when she has a character and a place she can put together. And Jess said she started with the issue before she even knew the gender or race of her character.

I’m always amazed by how many different answers a question like that can produce!

Other pearls of wisdom I’m going to take away include Crissa-Jean addressing her self-censor. She said that sometimes when she’s drafting she hears an “inner voice” telling her she’s gone “too far”—but she calls that voice a “green light.” I love that idea. Push through that inner voice and go further than even you as the writer are comfortable with to get to the truth.

Jessica said focusing on her character and her character’s own individual experience helped her to avoid sounding preachy.

Ellen Hopkins told us not to read reviews of your own writing. (But it’s so hard, Ellen!) Apparently there are some silly people out there who think all of her characters are the same, which is just, you know, ridiculous.

And David Levithan, our moderator and the mastermind behind the Teen Author Festival (and one of our valued professors from The New School) said that when you find your comfort zone as a writer, you have to run in the other direction!

There are so many more awesome book events this week as part of the Teen Author Festival! Check out the full schedule here!

Also, you can see our own Mary G. Thompson on Friday at 4:40 where she’ll be part of a panel on Alternate World vs. Imaginary world.

And, you can see me, Caela Carter, on Friday at 3:00 on a panel discussing teens and bad choices.

Jess, Mary and Caela will all be signing books at Books of Wonder on Sunday along with about 90 other authors!

 

Come to the Teen Author Festival!

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On March - 18 - 2013

Screen Shot 2013 02 25 at 11.45.23 AM 99x150 Come to the Teen Author Festival!Hello Teen Writers Bloc readers! This week is the annual Teen Author Festival, hosted by none other than our former professor/bestselling author/Scholastic super-editor David Levithan. There will be more than ninety fantastic authors participating this year, and for the first time, the festival will include three of our own: Caela Carter, Jessica Verdi, and me (Mary G. Thompson)! You can find the entire schedule of events (starting today!) at the Teen Author Festival Facebook page. You’ll want go to as many of the events as you can, because there’s going to be a whole lot of awesome!

You can find us at the following times and places:

 Come to the Teen Author Festival!Jessica Verdi (My Life After Now):

Tuesday, March 19, 7:00-8:30, Word Bookstore, 126 Franklin St., Greenpoint.

The only way out is through: Engaging truth through YA.

—also featuring Crissa Chappell, Tim Decker, Ellen Hopkins, Amy McNamara, and moderator David Levithan

Caela Carter (Me, Him, Them, and It):

Friday, March 22, 3:00-4:00, 42nd St. New York Public Library, Berger Forum, 2nd Floor

Taking a Turn: YA Characters Dealing with Bad and Unexpected Choices

—also featuring Eireann Corrigan, Alissa Grosso, Terra Elan McVoy, Jacquelyn Mitchard, Elizabeth Scott, K. M. Walton, and moderator Aaron Hartzler

 Come to the Teen Author Festival!Mary G. Thompson (Wuftoom):

Friday, March 22, 4:40-5:30, 42nd St. New York Public Library, Berger Forum, 2nd Floor

Alternate World vs. Imaginary World

—also featuring Sarah Beth Durst, Jeff Hirsch, Emmy Laybourne, Lauren Miller, E. C. Myers, Diana Peterfreund, and moderator Chris Shoemaker

All three of us will be signing at Books of Wonder, 18 W 18th St., on Sunday, March 24th! Caela will be there from 1:00-1:45, and Jess and I will be there from 3:15-4:00 (yes, Jess and I have been separated from Caela by the dreaded alphabetical order bias. Curses!).

Please check out the list of the events and support your favorite NYC authors! There are so many awesome people involved, you can’t help but find something you’ll love!

Guest Blogger Jesse Karp, Author of ‘What We Become,’ On the Sequel

Posted by Teen Writers Bloc On March - 11 - 2013

REV.WhatWeBecome 398x600 Guest Blogger Jesse Karp, Author of What We Become, On the SequelAccording to Hollywood, our culture’s largest purveyor of populist storytelling, the general wisdom on making a successful sequel is “the same, but more,” with the operative word being “more.” It’s pretty easy to see this in action (A Good Day to Die Hard is a recent example). Now, I’m not saying you can’t tell a big, enjoyable escapist story with this formula. However, one can also look at a sequel as a chance to expand and deepen the experience of the first installment.

In writing What We Become, a sequel of my book Those That Wake, I tried to adhere to three general rules to construct as compelling and satisfying a continuation as I could.

1. Deepen your themes and pay off your ideas – Presumably you’ve laid out your themes clearly the first time around, so rather than simply repeating them, delve more deeply into them and get below the more obvious conclusions. A famous sequel that did this extremely well, I think, was The Empire Strikes Back, in which the themes of heroism and fighting tyranny were deepened from the first movie as the narrative delved into the anguish, pain and sacrifice that heroism requires and how a victory may only be the first step in a more arduous struggle. Similarly, ideas and concepts introduced in a first part no longer have the novelty of the new and should be “paid off” with surprising and satisfying new applications.  Again, The Empire Strikes Back does a nifty job of this, by taking the idea of the Jedi and the Force introduced in Star Wars and immersing its main character in the philosophy of these ideas and showing off to audiences a wider array of functions.

In What We Become, I have taken the theme of not giving up, central to Those That Wake, and plunged in as far as it will take me. What happens when you can’t stop fighting?  What is the final cost of never giving up? What is the third choice, the one that is not about fighting or giving up? I’ve also given a new perspective to the theme of a world manipulated from behind the scenes by moving away from the more fantastical take on it in Those That Wake to one that, while still stranger than pure reality, is more grounded in the real world and recent history. Meanwhile, some of my Big Ideas, like the Librarian and the Global Dynamic, are taken to their natural fruition and have their origins and intricacies revealed in unexpected ways.

 2. Grow your characters – Hopefully, your characters had a full and satisfying arc the first time around.  So where does that leave you to go with them?  Well, an arc is just the narrative of a character’s growing understanding.  Coming to understand things always leads to seeing a larger world, greater possibilities and how much more there could still be left to understand.  Those initial arcs can flow organically into larger and more expansive arcs.  Characters in stories get to grow more neatly than actual humans, whose experiences and understanding are not divided into clear, narrative sections.  But a good fictional character should keep searching and growing as long as they live, just like actual people.

While Mal was the ostensible hero of Those that Wake, his arc in that book was very much about showing him his limitations. Laura, meanwhile, had a more classic arc, essentially moving from dependence to self-sufficiency. I have, in what I hope are interesting and surprising ways, reversed their roles for What We Become. Laura takes on more classically heroic characteristics here, even going on a physical quest for something crucial, Mal has his arc ultimately and completely fulfilled.  Using his arc in the first book as a mere first step, I push Mal to those aforementioned limitations and see what he has to do to actually break through them.

I’ve also introduced two new characters to share the main spotlight, whose own development as characters serves not only to flesh them out, but to highlight other aspects of Mal and Laura, making all four of them into more fully-formed and psychologically complex and authentic characters.

3. Don’t take your readers for granted or leave them behind – If things went right, you’re going to have some returning readers. Some of them may remember the details of the story very well and some may only remember a few key moments and strong characters. At the same time, you’ve got to assume that there are going to be at least a few people who wandered into your story right in the middle. So, you’ve got to be able to gently recap crucial information without being intrusive or artificial about it. You’ve got to integrate the recap naturally into the flow of the new story.

Having new characters caught up in the ongoing adventure helps with this considerably, as they will need to be brought up to speed even as events proceed at an engaging pace. In What We Become, I have also tied some of the revelations into the mysteries of Those That Wake, not so that you need to understand what came before, but so that if you do, the current story will take on multiple layers, and revelations will have a larger impact. At the same time, I have also worked hard to create echoes of elements from the first book: character moments, lines of dialog, situations, even tricks I play with chapter titles. For those who went through the first part, you want the second part to recall it and to connect with it to create a larger, more complete structure, but not necessarily be dependent on it. That’s why, I figure, they put the word “companion” on the cover of What We Become, rather than “sequel.”

You always want to give your readers a deeper, more expansive experience. In a sequel, the most effective way to do this is to give them something they haven’t seen before but that improves and is improved by what they have seen before. In other words “more, but not the same.”

 Guest Blogger Jesse Karp, Author of What We Become, On the SequelJesse Karp is the author of Those That Wake, the sequel What We Become, and the non-fiction work Graphic Novels in Your School Library. He is also a school librarian in Manhattan, where he lives with his wife and two daughters.  Please visit him at beyondwhereyoustand.com.

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

Characters We Love: Clare Vanderpool’s Early Auden

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On March - 8 - 2013

Navigating Early 198x300 Characters We Love: Clare Vanderpool’s Early AudenThis month we’re talking about our favorite characters. I recently had the pleasure of reading Clare Vanderpool’s new historical middle grade Navigating Early. The book takes place at the end of WWII, and I loved that even though the book is set in a certain era, there were no hit-you-over-the-head era clichés. I’ve found obvious era markers to be a problem in some children’s historical books, and once I saw that this book wasn’t going that way, I knew it was going to be something special. But the real reason the book is special isn’t the setting or even the narrator and ostensible main character, Jack. Jack, who at the beginning of the book is dropped off at boarding school feeling lost and alone, is sympathetic but not particularly unique. It’s when Jack meets Early that the story really gains its heart.

If Early were growing up today, he’d probably be diagnosed with some form of autism, but in the world of the 1940s, he’s not a kid with a “disorder”—he’s just weird. He sits in the basement room he’s commandeered listening to music and doing whatever he feels like, since no one forces him to go to class. He has to listen to Billie Holiday when it’s raining, and he takes everything literally, and he’s always sure he’s right, but he’s also the most friendly and open person Jack meets. We soon learn that Early is obsessed with the number pi and a story he tells about it, and what happens to the numbers as they go on. I confess that I didn’t like the pi story or some of the parallels between it and the main story. I’m just not a fan of coincidences. But I loved Early’s insistence on his story, and how he knew exactly what he had to do, and how he was such a good friend and so earnest and likeable that Jack just had to go along with it. I love it when the weird kid is the hero, and I love seeing a character who could be seen as disabled portrayed as uniquely loveable and intelligent and strong-willed. I understood why Jack was willing to follow Early on his crazy quest into the wilderness because I probably would have done it too!

Cover image: Delacorte Press

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!

pixel Debut Author Interview: Tamera Wissinger talks GONE FISHING
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