Interview with Award-Winning Screenwriter Angela Burchett

BurchettGet to know Angela… 

Angela Burchett is an international award-winning screenwriter and also a film producer. She has written, co-written or adapted over 10 films. Her workshops for authors range from high school level to adult. Recently taking off her film hat, she is shopping one novel and has begun the first in a five-book Christian suspense series. Angela, who sometimes uses the pseudonym Angela E. Gabriel, lives in the Southeast with her pet ducks, horses, her husband and his chickens. To learn more, follow her on Twitter.

Let the conversation begin! 

What is the most important thing to keep in mind when writing?

Know your market! Ask yourself who will read your book, who is the target audience? Writing is part creativity and part business savvy, so always keep in mind that you will need to know how to market yourself and your work. If you are going to pitch your new urban fantasy novel, you cannot simply throw it to an agency as a story for EVERYONE and they will ALL LOVE IT! Know that it is intended for “Native American females ages 14-18” or “young adults 18-28.” If you know who they can market to, then you can answer this in your query/proposal. Knowing your demographic (your audience), will help you keep your story appropriate to them as you write, as if you are verbally telling your story directly to them. (Also, I have to add my pet peeve… please do not rely solely on spell check! Buy a great dictionary and keep it with you.) 

Do you always know how a story’s going to end?  

For the most part, yes. Sometimes the characters will dictate a surprise close to the end, if fiction. A lot of screenwriting can change on the fly, so while I always have an idea, I leave myself loose for changes. 

Or at least, whether your main character has a happy or tragic ending?

Indeed. I knew I wanted Kasia to struggle in the initial books of this series, so not every book will end happily for her. As her story arcs, some tragedy remains, however, she does end up satisfied in her heart. In my first novel I knew before I began writing that only three characters would actually live.

Do you know what happens to your characters after the last page ends?

With screenwriting, no. Given that it is a process in which the characters are filled by an actor in due course, I know they and their director will take the character on their path. If I kept ‘babysitting’ the script, I could never let go. Screenwriting means write the best film you can, and trust the production team to do their jobs. With fiction, I sometimes miss a character so much that I will cross him/her over into another book or short story. I have a cross-over already with the Christian Rayburn character. 

Does something different inspire you to write every story, or is it sometimes the same thing?

They all have different sources. Every single one of them. 

What are your favorite scenes to write? 

Action and dialogue with screenwriting. Comedy in that venue is harder. Fiction and short story writing give me much more excitement in some ways because I do like to set up an atmosphere. I like writing high action/suspense/thrilling scenes that move the story forward. 

Do you develop your characters or your plot lines first?

Screenwriting is usually based off plot lines. I have had many short stories and one novel based solely from characters. 

Which one is a better base to build a story off of?

To me, it depends on your gut reaction. I may drive by someone who looks totally interesting, and then five minutes later I am dictating into my digital recorder a story about them and anything can evolve from that point. When approached for a film, there is usually a story in mind and I end up creating characters to help the movement or content. 

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Interview with New York Times Bestselling Author Emma Walton Hamilton

EmmaHGet to know Emma… 

Emma Walton Hamilton is a best-selling children’s author, editor, arts educator and arts and literacy advocate. She has co-authored over twenty children’s books with her mother, Julie Andrews, six of which have been on the New York Times best-seller list, including the The Very Fairy Princess and The Very Fairy Princess Takes the Stage (#1 NY Times Bestsellers), Julie Andrews’ Collection Of Poems, Songs And Lullabies (illustrated by James McMullan); the Dumpy The Dump Truck series of picture books, board books and Early Readers (illustrated by Tony Walton); Simeon’s GiftThe Great American Mousical and THANKS TO YOU – Wisdom From Mother And Child (#1 New York Times Bestseller). 

Emma’s own book for parents and caregivers, Raising Bookworms: Getting Kids Reading for Pleasure and Empowerment, premiered as a #1 best-seller on Amazon.com in the literacy category and won a Parent’s Choice Gold Medal, and silver medals from the Living Now and IPPY Book Awards, respectively.  It also received Honorable Mention from ForeWord Magazine’s Best Book of the Year. 

Emma is a faculty member for Stony Brook Southampton’s MFA in Writing and Literature Program, where she serves as Director of the annual Southampton Children’s Literature Conference, and Executive Director of YAWP (the Young American Writers Project), an inter-disciplinary writing program for middle and high school students on Long Island. To learn more, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin!

Do you begin with character or plot?

Almost always character.  A book that is light on plot can succeed if it has truly compelling characters, but a plot-heavy book with not much in the way of interesting or believable characters is doomed. Plot makes you turn the pages to find out what happens next, but character is what makes you care… it’s what hooks us emotionally in the story.  I tend to start with character, or characters, and then try to figure out what their story is, or what happens to them.

Tell us about the book you’re working on.

I mostly write in partnership with my mother, Julie Andrews. We’re currently working on several projects at once. We’ve just finished a second poetry anthology, called Julie Andrews’ Collection of Poems and Songs to Celebrate the Seasons. It’s being illustrated by the wonderful Marjorie Priceman. We are also working on the third and fourth books in our Very Fairy Princess series, and I’m at work on a picture book of my own entitled Patience, about a little girl who is anything but.

What is your favorite quote? And why?

I’m not sure if this my favorite, but its certainly the one I seem to have lived my life by. It’s Thoreau, from Walden: “If you have built castles in the air your work need not be lost. That is where they should be. Now put foundations under them.”  I used this quote in my high school yearbook, and at the time I don’t think I had any idea what it meant.  Now, 30-something years later, I realize that everything I’ve accomplished in my life has been the result of jumping into something feet-first, and then figuring it out how to do it – or put the foundation under it – after the fact.

Where do you get your ideas?

My kids are the prime source for my ideas. Their personalities, the events in their lives, the things they say and do – all have been wonderful fodder for our children’s books. But my mother and I also get ideas from other sources – a quote or a saying we come across, finding an old legend that was ripe for developing, or things from our own childhoods.

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

I was fortunate to take a workshop last year with the great poet Billy Collins. He spoke about poetry as being an ongoing conversation between poets across the centuries. He said every aspiring poet or writer should first listen to the conversation (i.e. read as much as possible), and then figure out what they might contribute to it.  The idea of written work as a thoughtful contribution to an ongoing dialogue across history (as opposed to idle chatter or shouting one’s ideas of the moment from a mountaintop) really stuck with me, and I think it applies to any kind of literary endeavor.

What’s the first item on your bucket list?

I’m doing it! For years, the first item on my bucket list was to learn to play the piano.  I’ve always regretted not learning to play an instrument, and have long said that one day I would finally learn how to read music, and specifically to play piano. I finally got tired of hearing myself say it.  I realized that if I waited for some right moment in my life when I could better afford the time and money, I would never do it.  It has turned out to be a total pleasure – and the lessons and practice time have become an oasis during which I really feel I recharge my creative batteries. That has been an unexpected bonus.

The-Very-Fairy-Princess-Here-Comes-The-Flower-GirlOutliner or seat-of-the-pantser?

Definitely an outliner, at least at the beginning of a new project.  But once I’m in the groove, I like to be surprised, or venture beyond the outline if the spirit (or the muse) moves me to do so.

What element would you add to your writing space if money wasn’t an issue?

A treadmill desk! The hardest part about writing for me is the amount of sitting it requires. My waistline has suffered considerably in recent years.  I’ve been reading up on treadmill desks and I think they sound like the perfect thing for me… but they’re not inexpensive, and they do take up a lot of space.

What advice would you give to new writers?

First and foremost, read. Steep yourself in the culture of the world or genre you are writing for by reading everything you can.  That’s not to say you should imitate anyone else – but it is a business, and I think it’s hugely important to really know and understand what the standards, formats, and market trends are, and as Billy Collins said, to think about what you can contribute to the ‘conversation.’

I also strongly recommend connecting with a writing community. Attend conferences, take workshops, join a critique group or writers’ forum on the web, work with a freelance editor, whatever works for you – but don’t write in a vacuum, and don’t imagine you can or should do it brilliantly all by yourself without any feedback or support. 

As with any profession or craft, it’s essential to reach out, to connect, to network, in order to keep growing.  I see the value of this every day in my work as Director of the Southampton Children’s Literature Conference and also as host of the Children’s Book Hub website, which is a center of resources and support for aspiring and emerging children’s book authors.

The writers there not only receive regular support and feedback through monthly teleseminars, Q&A’s and webcasts, but they also network with one another through the member forum.  I always come away from conferences or time on the Hub feeling energized and ready to re-commit to my own work. 

julie-andrews-590-gyi006239

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Interview with Bestselling Author Anita Higman

AnitaHIGet to know Anita…

Bestselling and award-winning author, Anita Higman, has twenty-six books published (several coauthored) for adults and children, and she has five books coming out in the next two years. She has been honored in the past as a Barnes & Noble “Author of the Month” for Houston, and her latest coauthored book, Love Finds You Under the Mistletoe, was on the Nielsen’s bestseller list for five weeks as well as #6 on the CBA bestseller list (for fiction in January, 2011). Some of Ms. Higman’s publishers are Guideposts/Summerside Press, Barbour Publishing, Bethany House, McGraw-Hill, Roman & Littlefield, Lillenas Drama, and Simon & Schuster/Howard Publishing. 

A few of Anita’s books are Love Finds You in Humble Texas, Another Stab at Life, Another Hour to Kill, Ozark Weddings (coauthored), Pokeweed and Mrs. Gasp, and The Celestial Helix. She also has contributions in eleven nonfiction compilations. 

One of Ms. Higman’s coauthored books entitled, A Tribute to Early Texas, has won a San Antonio Conservation Society Citation as well as a Westerners International Book Award. She was named a Favorite New Author in the 15th Annual Heartsong Presents Awards, and in the 16th Annual Heartsong Presents Awards her coauthored novel, Castles in the Air, was one of the winners in the Favorite Contemporary Romance category. Also Anita contributed to an animation script that won a Gold Remi Award. For more information on Anita, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin!

Do you require silence when you write?

Some of my writing career took place while my kids were growing up, so I got used to noise and constant interruptions. Because of this happy, chaotic family environment I trained myself to work in any kind of situation. Now, with an empty nest, I admit it’s much easier to concentrate on my work, but sometimes it feels too quiet in the house.

Or do you like the buzz of people around?

Sometimes I enjoy the buzz of people around me, so on occasion I write at one of the local cafés. I take a small writing device with me—one that doesn’t have internet access—instead of my laptop, which is good, because it means I will keep writing instead of checking my email every few minutes. Obviously I get a lot more work done this way!

Where is your favorite spot to write?

I enjoy writing in my office at home. I have a comfortable chair, plenty of water to drink, and the kitchen is never too far away.

Do you eat while you write? If so, what?

Sometimes I eat snacks while I’m writing, but I try to make them healthy goodies such as a combo of nuts and dried fruit and organic chocolate chips. Also, for a long time now I’ve been drinking ice tea in the afternoon. I drink ginger/peach or blackberry/sage blends from Republic of Tea. I brew it up and then ice it down. Both make a great drink for staying awake at the computer.

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

To practice the craft of writing and be persistent. This is a hard business with a lot of rejection, so it was good for me to know that I had a decent chance of being published if I would keep practicing and never give up.

AnitaH

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Author Interview with Bethany Wiggins

WigginsGet to know Bethany…

Bethany Wiggins has always been an avid reader, but not an avid student. Seriously! She failed ninth grade English because she read novels instead of doing her homework. In high school, she sat alone at lunch and read massive hardback fantasy novels (Tad Williams and Robert Jordan anyone?). It wasn’t until the end of her senior year that the other students realized she was reading fiction–not the Bible.

Seven years ago, Bethany’s sister dared her to start writing an hour a day until she completed a novel. Bethany wrote a seven-hundred page fantasy novel that she wisely let no one read–but it taught her how to write. Since then she has completed six more novels, each one a little better than the one before. The fifth book she wrote, Shifting, is represented by Marlene Stringer of the Stringer Literary Agency, and will be published by Walker Books September 27, 2011.To learn more, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin! 

What initially drew you to writing?

I never aspired to be a writer, perfectly content instead to be an avid reader. But one day, eight years ago, my sister told me about a man named Louis Sachar (the dude who wrote the awesomeness known as HOLES) who said all it took to write a book was an hour of writing a day and a year. My sister and I made a pact that we’d start writing an hour a day for a year and see what happened. Well, to make a long story short, I discovered that writing my own stuff was even better than reading someone else’s and I was hooked!

How many words do you write each day?

I don’t count words anymore. And I don’t set a time limit/maximum on what I write. I write when the story is ready to come out, because that is when I am the most creative. Sometimes I will go days without writing while the story simmers and grows in my mind. And then the story is ready to pour out so I will fill pages and pages with words.

Are you an outliner or a seat-of-the-pants writer?

I used to be a panster, but the more I write, the more I find it necessary to outline–even if it is just outlining the main plot points in my head, or darting down random notes on old receipts in my purse as I stand in the library checkout line. But for me to make a plot really fit together is sort of like doing a jigsaw puzzle. And if I don’t know what it is supposed to look like, it is a lot harder to make it all connect in the end.

What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?

Music IS my creative battery. If I can find music that moves me, brings me to tears, fills me with emotion, I am creatively charged to the point of bursting. A few songs that are working for me right now are:

A Season in Hell by Moby
Catch My Fall by Joanna Stevens
Another Day by Sleepthief, Aethervox & Kyoko Baertsoen
Secret Crowds by Angels and Airwaves
Crossfire by Brandon Flowers

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

Write what you love and someone else will love it too.

What advice would you give young writers?

If you want something badly enough, and you are willing to work for it, there is nothing you can’t achieve. Practice. Work. Work. Work some more. And you can achieve your dreams. Also, cherish everything that happens to you, both good and bad, and write those emotions into your stories.

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Author Interview with Ginae Lee Scott

get-attachment-15Get to know Ginae… 

Ginae Lee Scott is married with three children and has brought color and humorous stories to her illustrated books for children. Her chapter book, Adventures with Samantha Fellows will keep the young reader reading. Eight chapters of continuous story, with every chapter a new adventure. Mulberry Lane, Karoub’s Christmas Story, is a favorite for every reading level. Her first novel, Looking Through the Water, is beautiful and gripping. She is also the founder of Scarlet Thread Faith and the owner of the soon-to-be publishing company, Turn the Page Publishing. For more information on Ginny, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin!

What was your favorite book to write?

I have enjoyed writing all my books for different reasons but my favorite has to be my new novel, Looking Through the Water. Due to the size of the book I was able to get to know my characters better. The book took over a year to write and during that time I spent a lot of time developing each character, thus getting to know them. When the characters become life-like, it is an awesome experience for the writer.

Can you tell us about the new book you’re working on?

The new book I am working on is a YA Novel, the title is Lilliana. Lilliana is a wonderful, inspiring story. The book is coming to life and the characters are realistic people you could relate too, feel for and wish the best for. The story takes place in a Florida rural area. Lily is sixteen and has a ‘big purpose’ in her high school and the student’s lives who attend there.

Her father is the local pastor of a huge church. He is suffering from a great loss. Lily doesn’t realize it yet but she has a purpose in his life also. How does a teenager trying to figure out her own life, help others? In Lilliana, the bigger picture is in place…. there is always a purpose.

What was the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

An editor on my book, Mulberry Lane, told me the manuscript was almost perfect. Too perfect. He told me, “remember you are the writer, I am the editor,  write, you are to write not edit. As a writer if you stop to edit—you could lose your train of thought. Write. edit later!” I do fall into editing because you want it perfect but I agree, when the “writing” is upon you, write only!

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Bonnie Shimko

BonnieshimGet to know Bonnie…

My first novel, LETTERS IN THE ATTIC, was published by Academy Chicago Publishers when I was sixty and won a Lambda Literary Award.

My new young adult novel, KAT’S PROMISE, has just been released by Harcourt. I’ve always been fascinated by coming-of-age stories, and like Kat, “I like sad and dark–troubled characters with empty cupboards and empty souls.” 

When I was growing up, there was a stark, scary orphanage building in my hometown. I couldn’t stop thinking about the kids who were inside, and what went on behind those cold cement walls. From those imaginings, Kat was born. To learn more, visit my website.

Let the conversation begin! 

What initially drew you to writing?

Unlike most authors, I never wanted to be one. I was a second-grade teacher for thirty-three years and didn’t write a thing, other than report card comments and grocery lists. Oh, wait. I’m lying. I did write a limerick for a contest in the Saturday Evening Post magazine. I thought it was pretty good–a winner, for sure. I was actually thinking how I’d spend the $100 prize. But some woman in Iowa won my fame and my $100, so I gave up my limerick-writing dream. Years later, when I retired, I didn’t have enough to do, so I bought a computer, took a class to learn how to use it, and starting writing books. My first novel was published when I was sixty!

What was your favorite book to write?

My first one, Letters in the Attic, because I was totally surprised that I could actually write a book. Then, amazingly, it was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award. I got to go to Los Angeles, have dinner in a swanky hotel with famous people in tuxedos and fancy dresses, and have my name in the program (my book was competing against Harvey Fierstein’s–just before he won the Tony for Hairspray—and three others in the children’s/young adult category). And, miracle of miracles, Letters in the Attic won. I’m looking at the award right now and it takes me right back to that wonderful night.

Where do you get your ideas?

They just arrive–usually in the shower. I know the beginning and the end of the book, but I have no idea how I’m going to get from one point to the other. Same with characters. They just appear and take me where they want to go. When I get stuck, I know that I’m trying to make the story go in the wrong direction, and my characters are digging their heels in the dirt so I won’t go too far off course.

Tell us about the book you’re working on.

It’s a young adult novel called The Voices in Maggie Feigenbaum’s Head. She’s a tiny bit sweet, a tiny bit funny, and a big bit psychotic. It’s weird, but fun to write.

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

I’m not sure where I read or heard this, but it’s “Don’t define yourself by your writing.” Writers can get pretty down on themselves because of all the rejection, bad reviews, etc. If you make sure that your writing is only one part of who you are (and not the most important part) you’ll be a lot happier and reviews that compare your work to a bad case of the flu won’t sting nearly as much.

PrivateThoughts-1

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Author Interview with Allan Woodrow

WoodrowGet to know Allan…

When growing up in Michigan, Allan Woodrow always wanted to be an author. But his teachers told him to write about what he knew, and he discovered he didn’t know very much. It turns out he didn’t know very much for quite a long time.

Allan isn’t sure he really knows anything more now than he did in third grade, but he got tired of waiting and decided to start writing anyway. The Rotten Adventures of Zachary Ruthless (Harper Collins) is his debut novel. It released in Spring, 2011, with additional Adventures launching every six months or so. Allan lives in the Chicago area with his wife, kids and two goldfish. The goldfish are particularly nasty. For more info, visit his website

Let the conversation begin!

Do you begin with character or plot?

Plot, and it’s the bane of my writing existence. I usually start with a plot then find my character doesn’t want to go along with my plot at all. We’re constantly fighting each other. We’ve been known to attract askance glances due to abrasive shouting matches at coffee houses.

Where do you get your ideas?

To be honest, I have absolutely no idea. Unfortunately, most of the ideas I get are horrible. My computer is lined with 10,000-15,000 word semi-books that seemed perfect until running out of steam and revealing themselves as worthless. I just wish I could figure out their worthlessness sooner, but that’s about the number of words I need to figure it out.

Would you rather write a string of mainstream books or one classic? 

Let’s see. I can write just ONE classic, and then try, vainly, to reach those heights again only to continue failing, turning to drink, homeless, miserable, and eventually dying of liver disease. Or I can write a slew of popular books that are eagerly awaited by my swarms of devoted worshippers. Hmmm. Unsure. Will my liver deceased-death be quick or drag on for a while?

If you could only write one more book, what would it be about?

It would be about 80,000 words long.

What advice would you give young writers?

How young?

0-3 years old: You shouldn’t eat your pencil.

4-5 years old: Aren’t you a bit old to still be eating your pencil?

6-13 years old: Yes, farts are funny.

14-years old and older: Do yourself a favor and stop writing and learn computer science. You’ll be happier and less lonely, in the long run.

What was the weirdest food you’ve ever eaten?

Ant eggs and fried worms in Mexico City (two separate dishes). Both delicious, especially the worms (and that’s not a joke).

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

Don’t tell anyone what you’re writing until your first draft is done, or you’ll lose all motivation and never finish it. I don’t know why that’s true, but it is.

What would you like your life to look like in ten years?

I’d like to not be one of the undead. I’ve read a lot of zombie books lately, and it appears there will be many of them in the future, so I think not being a zombie would be a great achievement.

What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?

I just need a sense of urgency, like a deadline (even self-created). I write best under pressure. So I just have to remind myself that it is likely – statistically speaking – that I’ll be a zombie within the next ten years, and I need to write as fast as I can. Nothing like healthy panic to get my creative juices charged immediately.

What book was the easiest to write? Hardest?

The easiest book FOR ME to write, or just in general? I’m guessing Shakespeare had a hard time, what with all that iambic pentameter going on. War and Peace is just long, and it was before computers. Tolstoy must have had finger blisters. For me, book 2 of my Zachary Ruthless series was a struggle. I just couldn’t get a handle on it. But books 3 and 4, especially book 4, went very smoothly. Shameless plug: book 2 comes out around Christmas, Book 3 in Spring 2012, and Book 4 around Christmas, 2012 … at least that’s the plan for now.

Do you let anyone read your work-in-progress? Or do you keep it a secret?

It’s a secret until I’m satisfied, then I send it to critique partners, who invariably discover some obvious contradiction or problem that I somehow, frustratingly, missed. As I said earlier, if I divulge any part of my book before at least the first draft is done, it will never be finished. It took me years to figure that out, although I have to give credit for that observation to Vincent Patrick, author of The Pope of Greenwich Village. I randomly struck up a conversation with him at a hotel bar during a business trip twenty years ago, and he told me that. I ignored that advice for many years.

Outliner or seat-of-the-pantser?

Outline, outline, outline. A blank page scares me. I need to know, at least vaguely, where I’m going. BTW, tarantulas also scare me. Not necessarily relevant, but I thought I’d mention it.

From idea to completion, how long does it take to write a book?

It takes 1-3 months to write a Zachary Ruthless book. Usually 2-3 weeks for the first draft, and then it’s either pretty close, or horribly far away from being completed.

In grade school, what did you want to be when you grew up? Why?

I wanted to be a writer. It’s sad that I haven’t figured out what to do with myself since I was in the fourth grade.

Earliest childhood memory?

It’s actually a sort of depressing memory, of some bigger kids teasing me on the first day of preschool when I was three-years old. It’s probably why I hate, to this day, all three-year-olds.

If this was your last day on Earth, what would you do?

Sort of depends on why it’s my last day on Earth. Am I moving to Mars, is the world about to end, or am I dying from liver disease since I can’t reclaim my past writing glory? Regardless, I’m probably writing, trying to beat some self-imposed deadline.

Daily word count?

2000 words Monday-Friday, 1000 words each weekend day …when I’m writing a manuscript first draft and not in some endless revision cycle, which I seem to be in more often than not. 

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Interview with Newbery Honor Author Susan Patron

SusanpatronGet to know Susan…

Susan Patron worked for 35 years as a youth services librarian for the Los Angeles Public Library before retiring in 2007, the same year she was awarded the Newbery medal for The Higher Power of Lucky (Atheneum). She has written a trilogy of picture books (the “Billy Que” stories) and an autobiographical chapter book, Maybe Yes, Maybe No, Maybe Maybe. She lives with her husband, René, a rare book restorer, in Los Angeles. For more info, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin!

Best writing advice you’ve ever received?

Write every day. I used to think this was simply about discipline.  Now I know it’s about staying connected with the story and the characters so that the fictional world becomes an extension of my being. By writing every day, I live in two worlds: the mundane one of sandwich-making and teeth-brushing and bill-paying, and the imaginative one where I apply detail after detail like tiny mouth-to-mouth breaths, hoping to bring it to life. If I fail to check in every day, I have to work hard to re-enter that realm, which gives way to despair and self-doubt, also known as writer’s block.  The only way I know to avoid it is to write every day. 

What one word describes you? 

Reticent.  I’m a very private person.  This makes me, apart from occasional hard-won grace on the written page, inarticulate and self-conscious.  Thus I’m poor at self-promotion and social networking.  

Easiest book to write? Hardest?

Lucky for Good, the final book in the “Hard Pan” trilogy, demanded to be written. I hadn’t planned on writing a sequel, much less a trilogy. But after finishing The Higher Power of Lucky, I realized there was more to Lucky’s story:  she experiences this mad, wonderful, intense friendship with another girl and very nearly wrecks her deep and longstanding relationship with her boyfriend (not boyfriend) (yet) as a result.  

That was Lucky Breaks. But on finishing that, once again I felt the narrative was incomplete. I didn’t know the answers, but I sensed that some hard questions about Lucky’s life remained. It broke my heart to write some of the scenes in Lucky for Good, and tears would pour down my face at times. This book was both the hardest AND the easiest to write. Hardest because it made me take Lucky to some painful places, and easiest because the characters took over, directing the action, and all I did was pay attention and write down what they said and did as fast as I could. 

Tell us about the book you’re working on.

I just finished revising Behind the Masks, a historical fiction novel for Scholastic’s “Dear America” series.  This started off as a huge challenge because the series requires a first-person diary format, a historical timeframe, and I was given a 9-month deadline.  I’d never written in the first person, never attempted historical fiction, and generally take about two years (now that I’m writing full-time) to complete a novel.  Amazingly, once I decided on the period (1880) and setting (Bodie, California, during the height of its gold rush), the story poured out of me and was very exciting to research and to write.  A most delicious character, a tiny ghost, plays a significant role, and all the characters at some point wear masks to hide their identity, their desires, their power, their true selves.  This book is scheduled to be published early in 2012. 

Do you begin with character or plot?

My “Hard Pan” trilogy (Atheneum) actually began with setting:  The first thing I knew about the story was that it would take place in a tiny former mining town in the eastern Sierra region of California.  The harsh and beautiful landscape, with its powerful social and economic effects on daily life, was for me as important as any character.  Actually it was the first character. 

SusanP

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Author Interview with Diana Greenwood

Get to know Diana…

Diana Greenwood was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, as a Canadian born abroad and held dual citizenship until the age of 21. She spent her young years in Winnipeg, Manitoba and has fond memories of snow forts, snowball fights with neighborhood kids, and ski races on the hills that formed when snow plows cleared the street. Long winters meant plenty of time indoors, too, and Diana devoured book after book while always craving more. She grew up playing with the Bobbsey Twins, Laura Ingalls, Huck and Tom, the Hardy Boys, Jo, Francie Nolan, and Oliver Twist. She tried to duplicate the adventures of her favorite characters by writing poems, stories, and scripts for summer performances in her backyard. Today, she still has those childhood editions on her bookshelf and spends her days writing stories of young people embarking on life-changing journeys. Diana makes her home in the Napa Valley, where she watches college football, volunteers at her church, and continues to devour books. Insight is her debut novel. For more info, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin! 

What’s one rule you’re dying to break?

The run-on sentence. Writers are often told that a run-on sentence is bad writing, hard for a reader to grasp and meaning is lost. All of which may be true, but sometimes a character just talks like that. Dickens did it with some success. Faulkner ran on and even John Steinbeck had a tendency to ramble. Voice is sometimes about the mood, personality, and speaking style of the main character. One of my favorite illustrations of this is in HOW I LIVE NOW by Meg Rosoff, a hauntingly lovely story told in first person present with glorious sentences that go on and on. So if that’s how a character needs to speak, run-on, I say. 

If this was your last day on Earth, what would you do?

I would curl up under a quilt with my daughter who is also my best friend. We’d drink tea and have raspberry scones with lemon curd and listen to marching band music. I would spend my last 24 hours writing down everything I admire and love about her and I expect that my time would expire before I could complete that list.

From idea to completion, how long does it take you to write a book?

The length of time it takes is such a personal thing. It’s different for every writer and probably for each book. I believe that writers put too much pressure on themselves to complete a novel when they hear that you “should” be able to complete a novel in a year to a year and a half. Shoulda, woulda, coulda, my mom would say, her way of reminding that hindsight helps naught. Rushing a book means more revising. Rushing revision means sending out too early. Sending out too early means starting over when it’s rejected and although rejection is part of the publishing world, you increase your chances of selling a story when the work is really ready. So I would say it takes what it takes.

As a divorced, full-time single mom, I know all about life getting in the way of writing. I wrote in the car while I waited for my daughter at music lessons or in the parking lot before the school bell rang. I wrote in the laundry room and at my desk after she was asleep, and I scribbled notes everywhere including while working at my other two jobs (which I still have). You write because you must but you write when you can.

It took about two years to complete a first draft of INSIGHT, three or so years to revise it cover to cover five times, and about another year to sell it after the final revision was sent out. I received good feedback along the way and the support of my fabulous agent, Jen Rofé at Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Inc. Only two editors saw that final revision and the right editor bought it. In my opinion, we only have control over the quality of the writing. The timing is up to God.

What advice would you give young writers?

I ran a fiction club for middle school writers and there are two things that I think really stuck with them. The first is that when writing fiction, let go of your internal censor. Sometimes this imagined censor is a well-meaning teacher who stresses the importance of spelling and grammar, which can hang up the flow of a first draft. Young people are so accustomed to producing for a grade that it takes time to see writing as pleasure rather than an “assignment.” Sometimes the censor is an adult of authority whose voice is in your head, making you think that if you write dark, you are a bad person. Sometimes the censor is yourself, your lack of confidence in attempting to tell a story. I told my kids to shut the censors down, write what you feel, and remember that the characters on the page are not you in real life.

The second thing I advise young writers to do is learn how to accept and offer critiques. We introduced the concept of feedback by reading work aloud in the class, a fear each had to conquer, and then students partnered to practice finding positive elements in each other’s work while also pointing out flaws. Learning how to critique the story, not the person, and staying open-minded when peers have opinions about your work is great practice for the future.

I am still in touch with most of my students and they are all still writing, one of them published in an anthology and another, a published poet. Can you tell I’m proud of them? 

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

From Jane Yolen, paraphrased: “Don’t agonize over manuscripts you’ll never complete.” This statement is, in a way, freeing; permission to move on. Some stories deserve to live in the dust under the bed. Some ideas will never come to fruition. Don’t waste time on something that is a ball and chain to your creative energy.

Having said that, I am of the mindset that you need to write a novel or two before you really write a novel. Not everything you write is publishable but realizing that you’ve done the work, finished a first draft, learned along the way, and become a better writer because of the process is a huge step in a writer’s growth. Even if that manuscript never crosses an editor’s desk.

What element would you add to your writing space if money wasn’t an issue?

Floor to ceiling built-in bookshelves so all my books could live in one place, organized by genre and alphabetized by author, of course, and the bookshelf would have a spot for a mini fridge so I wouldn’t have to get up. On the other hand, if money were not an issue, I’d design and build an entirely new house wrapped around the perfect writing room. In the south ofFrance. 

What’s the first item on your bucket list?

I want to ski Whistler before my knees give out.

Do you begin with character or plot?

For me, the characters always come first and it’s usually with a snippet of dialogue or a situation the character is smack in the middle of and must confront. I *think* for a long time before I start writing and in that thinking time I get to know the person who will lead the story. From there I “what if” and begin notes. Setting is huge for me, one of the reasons I adore historical fiction, so I imagine the world in which my character lives as whole and real and alive. Three dimensional. Vibrating.

Story evolves as the conflict and main character’s reactions are revealed in that world and from there, the main character leads the story. I am not a plotter but I do outline once a draft is underway. By outline I mean that I roughly sketch potential events in each chapter so the main character has a goal to work toward. I do not do step by step outlines as I feel too confined by them. I work scene by scene and usually only have a glimpse of the ending but if I understand my theme, I will be able to get my character through his or her journey.

 Tell us about the book you’re working on.

I’m currently working on two projects; another historical fiction called Three-Penny Poet where the main character in the untamed Chicagoof 1933 is forced to confront mental illness in his family, and a futuristic YA that explores faith in a skeptical world. In the future I’d like to switch gears and work on contemporary humor for middle grade, which I expect will appeal to my sarcastic side.

Dream vacation?

Six months in a French chateau with Lois Lowry, Sharon Creech, Gennifer Choldenko, Marcus Zusak, Jennifer Donnelly, Libba Bray, Karen Cushman, John Green, Holly Black, Deborah Wiles, Katherine Paterson, and Neil Gaiman. (John would cook) I would spend the entire vacation listening. 

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