Interview with Claudia Classon

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With the advent of ebooks, the short story is enjoying a renaissance with adults and adolescents alike. One of the most prolific short story authors of late is the award winning writer Claudia Classon. Recently I caught up to with Ms. Classon and quizzed her about her background, influences and upcoming projects.

Where did you grow-up and where do you live now? How has your geography shaped your writing?

I was born a New Yawkuh. I spent my first six years in the Bronx (where my ancestors had lived for over 70 years), then my family moved to Westchester county and that’s where I lived for my childhood and most of my adult life. In 2005 my husband’s company sent us overseas to Paris for three years, and when we moved back, it was to Princeton, NJ. I’m definitely more comfortable writing about locations with which I’m most familiar, so my novel TREEHUGGER (not yet published) is set in a fictitious village in the Hudson Valley, and my short stories published in SUCKER Literary Magazine are set in and around New York and the suburbs.

What is a normal “writing” workday like for you?

I try to work most days, even if I’m only re-reading and thinking about how to approach a new or revised scene. When I’m in the middle of a revision, as I am now, or working on something new, I’ll fit in as much writing time as I can. I have a part-time job in publishing that I go to three days a week, so on those days I usually work in the evenings. In any case, I’m not an early riser, so I do better work at night.

You are a very successful author of short stories. How does crafting a short story differ from creating longer works?
Thank you for that “very.” ☺
It’s like the difference between writing a piano etude and a symphony. Most short stories focus on a limited number of characters and generally have only one main plot. A novel tells a larger story, has sub-plots, features a greater number of characters, and weaves together complex relationships between these various elements. A thing they have in common is the same rules of narrative structure: Beginning, rising action, conflict, climax, denouement. Breaking the rules in a short story is a bit easier, though, and is often done. You can also write a non-linear novel, but it’s probably not something I would attempt.

Who are your favorite writers and why?

I never know how to narrow down this list. Definitely Shakespeare and Tolkien (no “why” necessary). As for YA lit…I have to start with Laurie Halse Anderson, because Speak was an epiphany for me—the main character’s voice and her problem were like nothing I’d ever read in a teen book and it made me want to write for the kind of reader who could connect with that book. I adore Richard Peck’s books for their brilliant characters and sly social commentary. Lauren Oliver has taught me so much about wrenching emotions out of your characters, plus her prose is superb. Gary Schmidt, Jack Gantos, and Sherman Alexie have given me a better idea of boy-perspective, plus they know how to write funny. Neil Gaiman and Libba Bray can make the absurd seem real. I’ll stop here, but not because there aren’t others.

What advice would you give aspiring writers?

-You gotta be in it to win it: Don’t just picture yourself as an author. Write, often. Too many would-be writers are too scared or too self-conscious to start.
– Learn the rules so you can break them. There are rules for what constitutes good narrative writing. Some people can absorb and use them just by reading well-written books or books on writing technique. Others benefit from taking writing courses. Whatever way works for you, learn the rules before you try to break them.
– Start with a molehill, not a mountain. Practice plotting short stories before you try to tackle a novel. Work with a limited number of characters and subplots. Once you get the hang of it, you can tackle Mt. Everest. Many writers have a complete story arc in mind before they start writing (e.g., novice J.K. Rowling who had a SEVEN BOOK story arc planned before she started to write the Harry Potter series—jeesh).
– Open your mind to the world. Almost everyone writes about what they know, so learn as much as you can about things that interest you. Travel. Read. Let people share their stories with you.
– Read, read, read. Read everything. Then when you know what it is you like to write about, immerse yourself in that type of literature. I keep a list of all the books I’ve read—particularly children’s and YA fiction. In the past ten years, I have read over 750 YA and middle grade books—I just counted them, honest.

What are you working on now?

My main project right now is a full revision of my YA novel TREEHUGGER, a contemporary romance/thriller. I recently found a wonderful writing group in Princeton—I had been searching for one for over five years! I met two of the group’s members at a SCBWI function last fall, and they have been critiquing the revision as it goes along. I also have a couple of picture book ideas out with my agent, Erzsi Deàk of Hen & Ink. I’m exploring turning one of the ideas into a chapter book series. And I have a couple of novel fragments and short stories that may need to be revisited in the future.

What are you reading right now?

I’m often reading old-and-new at the same time. Since I am not that familiar with chapter books, I’ve been coming home from the library with armfuls of classic chapter books to consult (Ivy and Bean, Junie B. Jones, etc.). As for YA, I just finished Lauren Oliver’s new book Panic, which I loved. I recently read both of Rainbow Rowell’s books (Fangirl, Eleanor & Park). Red Rising is the impressive first book in a new SF series by Pierce Brown, and I devoured the first two books in Michelle Gagnon’s PERSEFONE trilogy (Don’t Turn Around, Don’t Look Now)—I can’t wait for the third book. All these authors were “upcoming” in the not-so-distant past.

Check-out more about Claudia’s work at her blog, http://wordprowler.blogspot.com/ and discover her short stories and much more in the literary magazine, Sucker Literary available at http://www.suckerliterary.com/.

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Interview with Alayne Kay Christian

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Everyone’s creative spark can be lit at different times and places. For example, Alayne Kay Christian was a writer all of her life, but it wasn’t until the birth of her granddaughter that she was inspired to create a picture book. Recently Alayne took time out of her busy schedule to chat with me about her creative process, the ins and outs of publishing and also her amazing agent (and mine!) Erzsi Deak.

How did you decide to become a writer and a publisher?

I have written most of my life. When my long-distance granddaughter was born, I wanted her to always feel close to Grandma and Grandpa even across the miles. So, for her second birthday, I wrote and illustrated a book for her. The book was titled CLOSE TO YOU. Each person at the birthday party who read the book, ended up with tears welling in their eyes and saying, “You have to publish this.”
Their reactions and comments were wonderful compliments. An even bigger compliment was my husband pushing me to try to get the book published. My husband was really the one who decided to become a publisher – that’s just the kind of guy he is. After a year of pushing me to try to get my book published, I told him that I didn’t know the first thing about getting a picture book published. He said, “I’ll publish it.” He up and started a publishing company because that’s the kind of guy he is 😉 Last year, he did a guest post on my blog titled WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BE A PUBLISHER? He didn’t cover everything, but he painted a pretty good picture of what it took for him to achieve this challenge.
By the time the editors, illustrator, and book designer were done, my book was quite different from my original handmade book, and the title had changed to BUTTERFLY KISSES FOR GRANDMA AND GRANDPA.
As for me, once the book arrived and the impressive reviews and awards starting pouring in, I was hooked. I had to learn more about the kid lit industry, and I was driven to write, and write, and write some more.

Where did you grow up and how did where you grew up shape your writing?

I grew up in the city of Chicago, Illinois. Although, I have some stories in the back of my mind that are inspired by where and how I grew up, I don’t think, so far, that the actual place has shaped my writing. I do think growing up in the city shaped me as a person, and my writing comes from me, so there is that. However, I believe that spending time in the country as a child shaped me equally. Each summer, as a child, my family went to stay on my grandparents’ farm in Minnesota. I tend to think that my experiences in the country shape my writing most. Exploring the countryside, fishing the lakes, playing in the river, smelling the barn . . . I could go on for days. These experiences filled me with a love for nature and a sense of freedom that remains with me. I think the last line of the bio on my book jacket sums it up pretty well. “Alayne’s writing shares the creative spirit and kinship with nature that organically resides in her heart.” I think I was born with that creative spirit and kinship with nature, but I believe my days in the country as a child brought them to life. They organically reside in my heart. As an adult, being in the country or having any opportunity to be with nature or in wide-open spaces feeds my soul and renews my creative spirit.
What has changed in your life since your picture book Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa was published?
Because my book has been quite successful, by independently published standards, I am much more confident in my knowledge and ability to write, submit, and publish. Also the experience lead me down a path of taking classes, reading books, and learning from other’s in the writing/publishing industry. I now know how to go about submitting my work to agents and editors. I also know how to publish a high quality book, market a book, and work with distributors. I know what it feels like to read my words to a group of children and see their excitement and joy. I know what it feels like to have my mother call and tell me that my book is in her library system. I know what it feels like when my book shows up in my own library system, and my granddaughter thinks I’m famous because of it. I know what it’s like to hear an excited granddaughter tell me her library now has her grandma’s book on the shelf, and BUTTERFLY KISSES FOR GRANDMA AND GRANDPA will be featured in her neighborhood’s bookmobile. I’ll step away from the hearts and flowers and move on to some other ways things have changed for me. I now have an agent. I signed with the fabulous Erzsi Deak, Hen&ink Literary Studio, late last year. I belong to a huge and supportive writing community, which includes SCBWI and 12 x 12. I belong to critique groups. I’m branching out from picture books into early chapter books. I have a blog, and I have founded groups to support other writers. I do everything I can to help other writers, so that they never have to say, “I don’t know the first thing about getting a picture book published.”

How has being a mother and grandmother changed you as a writer?

As I mentioned above, my writing career really started with the birth of my long-distance granddaughter. The same week we agreed to leave Chicago and move to North Carolina, we also learned our daughter was pregnant. The emotions I felt lead me to writing my first picture book. I’ve carried numerous picture book ideas with me for many years, but I’m not sure that I would have ever written a picture book if not for my granddaughter. I’m pretty excited about writing chapter books that she can read now that she’s older. It is a perfect next step.
On my website for BUTTERFLY KISSES FOR GRANDMA AND GRANDPA, I offer my story MAKING PEACE WITH BEING A LONG-DISTANCE GRANDPARENT. I share my experience and the thought process that inspired the book.
What is a normal “writing” workday like for you?
One of my favorite parts of my writing workday is to lie in bed in the morning and think. I get story ideas. I solve story problems. I fill in story plots. I believe that is when I’m most connected to my creative spirit. After fifteen to thirty minutes of connecting time, I am ready to go. I spend several hours writing, revising, reading, studying, or whatever is on my agenda for that day. I take a break to exercise, run errands, and have lunch. I write a couple more hours in the afternoon and take a break to do a little around the house. If there is time, I do writing related tasks for a few more hours before dinner.

Describe some of the books and authors who have influenced you as a writer.

Tammi Sauer has influenced me because of her rapid success. I’m sure it doesn’t feel rapid to her, but in my eyes, it’s like boom, boom, boom – book, book, book. Tammi first caught my attention at the 2011 SCBWI North Texas conference where I heard her speak. I took her breakout sessions, and I sat with her at lunch. She never failed to impress. I believe three of her picture books were released that year. Since the conference, another seven Tammi Sauer picture books have been released. She reads and speaks to massive crowds of children year round. It is just plain fun to watch her career. She inspires me, and I think there is much to be learned from her and her works.
I am also impressed with Kathryn Otoshi and her successful, independent published books: ONE; ZERO; and soon to be released TWO. She and her books are proof that quality independent published books and their authors and illustrators warrant respect and recognition.
Up and coming picture book authors that influence me are:
Corey Rosen Schwartz –
THREE NINJA PIGS
Newly released GOLDI ROCKS AND THE THREE BEARS
Soon to be released NINJA RED RIDING HOOD.
Tara Lazar – THE MONSTORE and her upcoming book (2015) I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK.
Studying the books and the journeys of each of the above authors offer a different learning experience. They are all great inspirations to me.
Believe me, there are many other authors who inspire or influence me than those I mentioned above. And there are far too many books to even begin trying to mention them all. I limited my answer to the first several authors or books that popped into my mind.
I wanted to talk about chapter books and books on writing, but I think I already took up too much space with the above. Maybe another day.

What are you working on now?

My top priority is to convert some picture books to early chapter books. In addition, I have a goal to get some sellable picture book manuscripts in Erzsi’s hands, so she can start getting some of my work out there. I am also brewing new picture books and polishing old manuscripts. I’m working on taking advantage of a couple unused rooms in my home and making one room my writing space and the other my brainstorming, thinking, and meditating space. And just to shake up my creativity, I’m also planning on doing a few character sketches and going back to some old-fashioned handwritten manuscripts.

You can learn more about Alayne Kay Christian on her website
http://www.alaynekaychristian.com and purchase her wonderful picture book online or at your favorite local bookstore

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