This week’s Writer 2 Writer interview is with Ohio-based author Jody Casella. Her debut novel THIN SPACE is a paranormal YA mystery about a boy coming to terms with his twin brother’s death. It sounds amazing! I can’t wait until it’s published on Sept. 10, 2013 (Beyond Words; Simon & Schuster).
When did you decide you wanted to write for teens? Talk about your journey to becoming a published author.
I always wanted to be a writer. I majored in creative writing in college, started an MFA in poetry, then sort of lost steam somewhere along the way. Suddenly, writing seemed very impractical, so I started teaching. I got married, had kids, became the stereotypical carpooling PTA mom, but the writing thing kept nagging at me. One day, I cleaned up an old story from college and sent it to Cicada, a literary magazine for teens, and it was accepted. That got me writing again (and also tricked me into thinking a book deal was just around the corner). It took twelve more years of writing and rewriting and gajillion rejections before I sold my first novel.
Tell me about THIN SPACE. I love the concept.
Thin Space is about a guy whose brother died in a car accident and he feels responsible for a variety of reasons and he’s just tormented with guilt. He’s heard about this ancient Celtic belief in thin spaces–that there are some places where the wall is thinner between our world and the world of the dead. To go into one, you have to be barefoot. My poor sweet guy becomes obsessed with the idea. He thinks if he finds a thin space, he can see his brother again and all his problems will be solved. There’s a hint of romance and some (hopefully) unexpected twists. Also, humor. I think it helps to have a few laughs–especially when the themes of a book are potentially dark.
How do your stories come to you? Do you begin with a character? A concept? A plotline?
I usually have two or three seemingly unrelated ideas that for whatever reason want to mix together. I read a blurb about the Celtic thin space in a magazine and it struck me as a cool premise for a story. Around the same time I saw this boy step off my son’s bus, barefoot. It turned out the kid was always barefoot–at school, outside in winter. It bugged me. Where were the guy’s parents? What did the school think about this behavior? What did the kid have against shoes? Those two unrelated things–the barefoot guy and the belief in thin spaces–came together in a weird and interesting way when I started writing Thin Space.
Do you work from an outline?
Not at the start, which sounds like a backwards way to write a book, but I was the student in English class who wrote the outline AFTER I wrote the rough draft. Over the years I’ve figured out that what works best for me is to write the story to discover what the story is. Then I go back and start piecing together the big mess I end up with. There are many many revisions!
What time of day do you write? Do you have a certain process?
My goal is to write first thing in the morning, but it rarely works out. I’m always so muddled. I need multiple cups of coffee. I have to walk my dog. There are breakfast dishes to clean up. The whole morning this pressure is building in my head. Write Write Write, it says. And finally, after every excuse and distraction is taken care of, I do. When I’m writing a first draft, I have a specific word count goal, usually 1500 words. I don’t stop until I reach it. When I’m revising, I count chapters or scenes or set some other kind of task. I’m very goal-oriented.
What does a good day of writing for you look like? How about a bad day?
A good day is when I can get to work as soon as possible and meet my goal in a few hours. A bad day: it’s 8:00 at night, I’ve forgotten to make dinner, and I’m still in my pajamas, tearing my hair out to get the last 250 words.
Talk about other art forms that influence your work.
I love music but I’m not one of those writers who can listen to it as I write. I don’t have play lists, but I do I have songs that seems to match the mood of the books I’m working on. My song for Thin Space was “All These Things That I’ve Done” by The Killers.
How do you balance writing and family?
It’s gotten better over the years (although my family might disagree with me). When the kids were little, I didn’t write much because I know how distracted I am when I go into the zone or whatever you want to call it. I would’ve burned my house down. I did almost burn my house down. The solution my husband came up with is a home office. I go in, I write. I come out, I stop. At least, that’s the plan.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
“Go all in.” I went to the Highlights Children’s Writers conference at Chautauqua a few years ago and met Patti Lee Gauch, retired editor from Philomel. She talked in one of her sessions about how so many writers pull back rather than write an intense scene or deal with something difficult. I realized I had been doing that–second guessing myself, thinking that what I was writing was crazy or silly, etc. Thin Space is the book where I took Patti’s advice. I didn’t know what I was writing or where the stuff was coming from, but I just went with it. It was amazing, really, to break through and write where the story and the characters wanted to go.
Do you have a favorite book about writing?
Three way tie between BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott, Stephen King’s ON WRITING, and Steven Pressfield’s WAR of ART.
What’s next? What are you working on now?
I wrote these two books, companions, set in a realistic contemporary world but with a fantasy/mythological element to them–if that is even a genre. I started the books ten years ago and I keep rewriting them every year or so. It’s kind of a joke between my critique partner and me. But I love the world and the characters. Whether those books ever get published or not, I want to get them right, whatever that means. Maybe this time…
Where can readers find you?
My blog/website On the Verge where I write about writing and review the Young Adult novels I love. I contribute a monthly post to the awesome YA Outside the Lines blog, and I’m hanging out in all the other usual social media places–Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and having a cool time connecting with other writers and readers.
YA Outside the Lines:
Tweets by jodcase
Facebook writer page: