Laura Wiess is the author of the critically acclaimed MTV Books/S&S novels Such a Pretty Girl, chosen by the ALA as a Best Books for Young Adults and YALSA as a Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers, Leftovers, How It Ends and Ordinary Beauty. Her new novel Me Since You will be out in 2013. Originally from Milltown, New Jersey, she now lives in Pennsylvania’s Endless Mountains region. To learn more, visit her website.
Let the conversation begin!
Describe your writing journey, from aspiring writer to published author.
I inherited my love of books from my mother, who read to me when I was little, bought me books and took me to the library to indulge. We would visit once every two weeks, filling bags with as many books as we thought we could read in those fourteen days and then go home and enjoy.
I started writing fiction around first grade (I still have some of the short stories) and in high school. Creative Writing was my one easy A.
I never dreamed of being an author, though, of actually submitting anything I’d written to an editor at a publishing company for consideration. Never even thought it was possible until one day when I was in my twenties and writing another story for my friends and family, and suddenly I just stopped and asked myself if I wanted to go on doing it this way forever, or if I wanted to try and learn how to craft real, compelling fiction and see if I had what it took to actually get something accepted for publication by an outside source. To get real feedback, not just from people who loved me and would always tell me my writing was good but an absolute stranger who didn’t care if I ever wrote a word or not, and who would be brutally honest.
The thought was scary but exciting so I decided yes, let’s do it.
I went back to the library and took out every book I could find on crafting fiction, on theme, characters, dialogue, revision, everything. You name it, I read it and then started writing again. And rewriting. Setting the stories aside, going back to them with fresh eyes and rewriting some more.
I started sending them out, and receiving rejections. Landslides of them, which was frustrating and hurtful but fine too, because it meant I had more work to do and more to learn. (And it taught me to grow a tough hide and think of the rejections as a challenge rather than letting them discourage me. I mean the first time you put on skis you’re not immediately qualified to be in the Olympics, right?) So I dug in and kept at it because I loved writing and was willing to spend as long as it took – months, years – to make it happen.
I still learn from everything I read, and write. Happily, that never ends.
The first short story I had accepted for publication wasn’t for money but for contributor’s copies of the magazine, and I was ecstatic. I had done it, sold a story to an editor who’d liked it enough to publish it! Talk about a dream come true.
There was no stopping me after that. The rejections kept coming but now they were peppered with acceptances, too, and that made me even more determined.
My first YA novel Downtown Boy was published by HarperCollins approximately five years after starting the journey of learning to write fiction. It wasn’t the first novel I’d written, it was the third, and I was over the rainbow when it was accepted.
Next up, I wrote a ten book YA series for Kensington called Girl Friends under the pseudonym Nicole Grey, and then another YA romance called Backstage Pass for Kensington. (I’ve written under several different names.)
And then someone I loved died suddenly and tragically, and I just stopped writing. Couldn’t write. Couldn’t focus. It was terrible. A very difficult and lonely time.
What I didn’t know then was that for a writer nothing is ever wasted, no emotion, experience or occurrence, not even that necessary but painful hiatus. It’s all living and learning.
Happily, I was given the opportunity to assist Katherine Applegate with her very popular middle grade series Animorphs, and so I helped out with three of those, which eased me back into a very welcome and sorely missed writing mindset.
The idea for my next book Such a Pretty Girl hit while I was making dinner and listening to the news. They were discussing a convicted child molester who was being released early from prison and going home. I stopped what I was doing and thought, Home? Home to who? Who would stay married to a child molester? And then, even more disturbing What if he had children himself? How would they feel about him coming home? And what if he had a daughter?
That’s how Meredith from Such a Pretty Girl was born. That book sold to MTV Books/Simon & Schuster, as did Leftovers, How It Ends, Ordinary Beauty and the one I’m working on now, Me Since You, which will be my twentieth novel and is due out in 2013.
I am so glad I decided to say yes to trying that day, and didn’t give up.
Have you ever had something happen to you that you thought was bad but it turned out to be for the best?
One of the most delightful and intriguing things about life is how you can trip off the curb and go down in a puddle only to find a $100 bill waiting there for you. It’s like if you look hard enough, there always seems to be a consolation prize and often they turn out to be better than the original goal. I very much enjoy when that happens.
What did you do growing up that got you into trouble?
Read instead of doing my chores. Cut classes to be social. (I did that a lot.) Was constantly on the phone. Stayed out past curfew and got grounded. Argued and asked why incessantly. Went places I wasn’t supposed to go with people I wasn’t supposed to go with to do things I wasn’t supposed to do.
Happily, I never did anything to really hurt myself or that I couldn’t change for the better. My best friend and I got into some bizarre situations though, like the night we chased peeping toms who were actually burglars through her neighborhood in the middle of the night. Barefoot. And right into the arms of the law, thank goodness, as I have no idea what we would have done with them if we’d actually caught them.
Probably talked them to death.
It was a blast. We had a lot of fine adventures, which is undoubtedly why my parents went gray so early.
What do you miss most about being a kid?
The absolute freedom of summer vacation, the excitement of having the whole world spread out before you, the idea that anything is possible and everything is new and just waiting to be discovered. Two solid months of pure kid bliss. Oh yes, I miss that.
If you could throw any kind of party, what would it be like?
I’m caught between two and they’re very different. The first is a house party in the spring or summer for the people I love, which would give us all time to relax, hang out and talk, eat, enjoy and explore the area.
The other one would be in the evening with a wider circle of family and friends, in a packed room with a funky R&B band, great dinner and drinks, killer outfits and much laughter and sparkling spirits. Think New Year’s Eve in the summer and without the hats.
If you could choose an age to remain forever, what would it be?
I like where I am so I’m not sure I would if I could but if I had to pick, I’d say thirty-four. It’s old enough to have learned some really powerful life lessons and still right in the prime of life.
Would you rather publish a string of mainstream books or one classic?
There are so many stories to write, so many questions to ask and answers to try and find. I’ll go with a string of mainstream books.
If you won the lottery, what is the first thing you would do?
Once I rechecked the numbers to make sure I wasn’t delirious, I’d make a surprise trip home to my family to give them the good news, set aside a chunk for my future, make sure everyone I loved was taken care of and my favorite charities received their share. And then I’d hire a fabulous pet-sitter and do some serious traveling.
So if it happens and you’re looking for me, I’m the one down in Tahiti, lounging on the silky white sand with a laptop and a new manuscript in progress, a drink in my hand and my toes dangling in the warm, turquoise waters.
If you could only write one more book, what would it be about?
Besides Me Since You, which I’m working on now, it would be a YA romantic comedy exploring the delightfully quirky beauty and courage of family.
And yes, that one is also in the works.
Do you begin with character or plot?
I’m a character-driven writer but ideas usually spark thanks to something I’ve seen or heard that fascinates me, something that makes me wonder Hmm, what if…? Such a Pretty Girl would never have been written if the main character, Meredith, hadn’t been someone I loved and cared about. She was born, lived and drove the story in answer to a question. It was her story all the way.
What is your favorite quote? And why?
As you can probably tell by now, I have a hard time picking just one of anything, so I’ll leave you with these:
“It’s the cracked ones who let the light into the world.”
“What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the Master calls a butterfly.”
“Books. Cats. Life is good.”
The why is because I think they speak to hope, to taking chances and making it through, to looking at things differently, and to the beauty of bravery, experience and change. The last one I love because it’s just true.