Sharon Biggs Waller, my good friend and an amazing author who writes breathtaking historical fiction, tagged me on this four-question blog tour in which we talk about process—a subject I love to interview other authors about and have many times on my blog. Sharon is the author of A MAD, WICKED FOLLY, and if you haven’t already read her book, you should! It’s wonderful. You can check out Sharon’s post about her process here http://sharonbiggswaller.com/.
On with the post!
What am I working on?
I’ve just completed a draft on my third young adult novel and I’m hard at work on revisions. First drafts are tough, but I love, love, love revisions. Like my two other YAs—HOW MY SUMMER WENT UP IN FLAMES and FAMOUS LAST WORDS—this one is also contemporary fiction starring an MG who’s a proud Jersey girl. It’s a love story set at the New Jersey Shore, post Hurricane Sandy.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
This is a tough question for me to answer. It’s probably better answered by anyone who reads my books. Every book is unique because every author is unique. I think we all put ourselves into our work in some way, and I’m not just talking about all the blood, sweat, and tears. For me, writing a novel feels a bit like quilting. Or what I imagine quilting to be like. In the interest of full disclosure here I must admit I’ve never actually made a quilt. I don’t even own one. But when I write, it’s as if bits from my life, or the lives of people I know, get pieced together into one, cohesive story that looks very different from the scraps of material from which it was created. The same can be said for characters and setting. I feel like there’s a little bit of my DNA—or the DNA of someone I’ve known—in every one of my characters. When it comes to settings, I like to use places that I know well. It helps me visualize the story. In FAMOUS LAST WORDS, it was the newsroom and the town in northern New Jersey where the protagonist lived. In HOW MY SUMMER WENT UP IN FLAMES the main character, Rosie, takes a cross-country road trip that I once took. In my latest novel, it’s the New Jersey shore—a place I love that has been grossly misrepresented. Part of my reason for writing my latest novel was to show readers what the real Jersey shore is like. There’s a line from the movie Almost Famous that I absolutely love. Penny Lane, one of the groupie girls in the movie, says: “Isn’t it funny? The truth just sounds different.” I guess the long answer to a question I thought I couldn’t answer is even though I write fiction, basing my novels on real places, people, and experiences helps the story ring true for me and I hope that’s what readers find unique or least interesting.
Why do I write what I do?
Growing up, my generation didn’t have a lot in the way of young adult novels. There was S.E. Hinton’s THE OUTSIDERS, which I loved, and all the wonderful novels by Judy Blume, but I felt like by the time I hit my teen years, I was reading either classics or adult fiction. But there was this guy name John Hughes — the late, great genius director who just seemed to get teens. Or at least he got the teens I knew. He understood the kids who hung out on the fringes in high school. The ones who preferred the back row in every class and the bleachers at high school dances. His films didn’t win Academy Awards, but I didn’t care. Even though I didn’t know after I saw The Breakfast Club or Sixteen Candles for the first time that someday I’d be writing for teens, he still inspired me. John Hughes made me want to become the kind of adult who never forgot what it was like to be young. I hope some readers see themselves in my characters and through that connection learn to laugh at some of the stuff that seems so awful when you’re in high school.
How does your writing process work?
I almost always start with a character and a premise. A girl gets a job writing obits for a local newspaper and learns how to live. A girl gets served with a temporary restraining order and goes on a road trip. A girl makes a big mistake before a big storm and has to rebuild her life. (I’m realizing it’s probably time for me to write a story about a boy!) Anyway, once I have the premise, I start writing. I spend a lot of time coming up with the first sentence of my novels and I rework the first few chapters many, many times while I write. I don’t work from an outline initially, but once the story is written, I’ll go back and make a rough outline of what I have, just to make sure the order of the scenes makes sense. It’s a technique I learned from the plot whisper Martha Alderson, whose books I was introduced to by Sharon Biggs Waller. See how I brought that full circle? The actual writing is fueled by coffee, music, running, and occasionally long stretches of time where it appears as if I’m merely picking my gel manicure off my nails or staring out the window at a squirrel. Just know that sometimes writing doesn’t look like writing at all.
One of the very best parts about becoming an author, other than the fact that people are out there reading my books (thank you people!!!), is that I’ve gotten to meet and become friends with so many talented writers, who are always so willing to share their time and knowledge to help me better my craft. The two authors I’ve tagged for the blog tour definitely fall into this category. Jennifer Ann Man is the author of SUNNY SWEET IS SO NOT SORRY and SUNNY SWEET IS SO DEAD MEAT (May 2014)—the first two books in the four-part SUNNY series. Jody Casella is the author of the paranormal young adult mystery THIN SPACE. I admire both of them and their writing so much! Tune into their blogs next week to hear about their processes.