Interview with Shana Burg author of A Thousand Never Evers

Shana Burg’s first novel A Thousand Never Evers, burst onto the literary scene only a year ago, but it has already collected a basketful of wonderful reviews and prestigious awards. Set in Kuckachoo, Mississippi in 1963, the novel follows a young girl whose innocent act results in the disappearance of her brother. Recently I visited with the talented Ms. Burg about books, writing and inspiration.

Describe your path to writing.

I got hooked on writing in fourth grade, when my teacher assigned us to write a book of poetry. I haven’t stopped since. I’d always write stories, poems, and plays. As a teenager, I worked for an organization that let kids write news stories that were published nationwide. In college, I wrote for the newspaper.

But when I graduated college, I thought writing for a living was a dream, not something you could actually do. So I got lots of other jobs, but I always continued writing on the side. Many years later, I was teaching sixth grade. I took my students to hear an author speak, and something in me sparked. I went home and that afternoon, I began writing my first book, A Thousand Never Evers. I never looked back, even though it took eight years from that day until it was published.

Where do you find inspiration?

I’m drawn to the sixth grade condition. I remember this year in my own development so vividly. It’s a year when all of a sudden the old rules of childhood no longer apply. You look around and see for the first time that people don’t always share their toys, that adults can be fallible. Overnight you’re catapulted into bizarre territory where nothing is normal anymore—most especially not yourself. So I get inspiration for my writing from interacting with middle school students. They always make me laugh and teach me tons.

Describe a normal “writing” workday.

I wish I had one! There’s no normal writing day for me. It’s always a question of juggling a million mom things with the writing. So I take my son to school, clean up a bit, write, do the laundry, write again, plan for a bookstore or library event, write some more. I also do school visits, so on those days I don’t write at all. When I do sit down to write, I set the kitchen timer for 45 minutes and disable the Internet on my computer, so that I’m not distracted by email. (It’s just a matter of pressing one little button.) Those 45 minutes are sacred and nothing can interrupt me. If I get in three writing blocks like this in a day, I’m happy.

Who are your favorite writers and why?

My favorite writers are people who entertain me while teaching about another time and place. Some inspirations are Khaled Hosseini, who wrote The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. Also Pearl S. Buck author of The Good Earth. For younger readers, I love Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse and The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis.

What advice would you give aspiring writers and why?

Have adventures; travel if you can, push your comfort zone. Take notes when you meet quirky people. Jot down when your kids say something funny. Journal about the unusual things that happened in your own childhood. If you do this, then you’ll have a treasure trove to pick through when you do get a couple minutes to write. And your writing will spring to life in a way that is uniquely your own.

 

To learn more about Shana, her books and her life, check out her website at www.shanaburg.com.

This interview was originally published in the August 2009 version of the Houston Banner.


Interview with Author Bettina Restrepo

Bettina Restrepo has splashed onto the literary scene this summer with the picture book Moose and Magpie, an entertaining and humorous book about the life of a moose. A reformed business woman turned author, Bettina has also written a young adult novel entitled Illegal that is soon to be published by Harper Collins. Recently we caught up with Bettina to talk about books, writing and inspiration.

 

Describe your path to writing.

 

I wanted to win a creative writing contest, but came in 2nd place to a girl who had great penmanship. It was straight up and down with pretty loops at the end of the sentences. I don’t know what her story was about – but mine was completely inappropriate.

 

“The Teacher Compactor” was a sad tale about a machine that came to life and ate teachers when they weren’t looking. No wonder I got second place – I thought it wasn’t fair! I quit writing for many years because I hated to lose.  

 

But, I have always loved telling stories. The more convoluted, the better. My husband, an engineer, says I never get to the point. I meander through the fields, describing each flower, the sunset, and the taste of the toast in the inn before I would ever tell you there was a murder. I like to observe and then explain.

 

Where do you find inspiration?

Inspiration is everywhere and in every day life!

 

Describe a normal “writing” workday.

I take my little boy to school and find a workspace. This space might be a library, coffee shop, empty classroom at the school. Sometimes I might even go back home (which is a long drive since my son attends a special school for children with speech and hearing disorders).

 

It doesn’t have to be quiet, but sometimes it helps, because I listen to the characters in my head. They talk and I listen (I am merely the typist). My mind is always listening, so I can’t say that the 2-3 hours that I sit in the chair and rearrange words are my “working” time. I’m always working. Looking. Seeing. Listening. Absorbing.

 

So, I sit in a chair and editing and rearrange words about 15 hours a week. I market myself another 5-10 hours a week (communications with editors, PR, agent, website, bookstores, etc). Then, there is the book keeping part of it. I also nap daily – which is part of my work routine. I need time to dream and recharge – otherwise the people in my head can’t talk. They will just beat their hands against the glass like prisoners without the telephone. I won’t be able to hear them. They will riot. I will be frustrated. All will suffer. Then, school will be over, and I will start my other job. Mommy, chauffeur, wife. I’m lucky my husband hasn’t fired me, yet. Neither has the dog. Both are very forgiving.

 

Who are your favorite writers and why?

I love new writers. Their hearts are big and new, like toddlers. Their words are bright and shiny. They have fought hard to get into the world. 

 

What advice would you give aspiring writers and why?

Be a rat. Rats are savvy. They learn from their mistakes. 

 

Humans can be very determined, but they expect if they do the same thing over and over again, they will yield a different result. This is also the definition of insanity. If I continued to submit the same story I started with in 2002 and never changed or edited it, I would be in the same place – the rejection pile.

 

A rat in a maze that is fed a piece a cheese at one door will learn to visit that door. But, when the cheese is moved, the rat will learn to move.

 

Aspiring writers may have the talent, but you will need the ability to edit and receive criticism to succeed.

 

 

To learn more about Bettina, her books and her life, check out her website at http://www.bettinarestrepo.com. Her picture book Moose and Magpie is available at your local bookstore or at your favorite online book provider.

This interview orginally appeared in the July 2009 edition of the Houston Banner