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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