Uncategorized, Writing General

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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Uncategorized, Writing General

Interview with Caryn Caldwell

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Caryn Caldwell is a pre-published, award-winning author who like many of us (me included) are sandwiching our writing life between children, husbands, day-jobs and the occasional cat. Recently I got to chat with the delightful Ms. Caldwell about writing, time management and the drive to create.

Where did you grow up and where do you live now?

I am a child of the Ohio suburbs, but I always dreamed of moving west. I now live in Utah (by way of Colorado), with easy access to both the desert and the mountains — just the way I like it.

What were your favorite books as a child? What was the first book that you fell in love with?

It’s almost impossible for me to list favorite childhood books because I read everything I could, and I loved everything I read. It wasn’t until I grew up that I became much pickier. If I HAD to narrow it down, though, I’d say that I loved books by Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, and Christopher Pike and was a big fan of anything that won the Newbery. My brother and I also spent many wonderful hours listening to my mom read The Boxcar Children series aloud to us.

What happened that made you decide to become a writer?

I knew I could never be a writer when I grew up. Authors were these amazing creatures, completely untouchable and hallowed. Still, I always enjoyed writing and did it consistently until, one day, I wondered if I actually could write a whole book. Not a publishable book. Not even a good one. Just a book. As soon as I typed THE END on that first one, I was hooked. I wrote several more for practice before I even began to look for an agent.

What inspires you to write?

I am inspired to write by so many things. Sometimes it’s just the sheer fun of figuring out a puzzling plot piece or finding just the right word. Sometimes I have ideas I want to explore or characters to play with, and writing is one way to do that. When things are very hard and I’m having trouble finding the motivation, I remind myself how far I’ve come. I don’t want all that work to be in vain. Plus there’s no high like the one that comes from a successful day at the keyboard — except reading those words again later and realizing that, hey, they aren’t too bad!

How have your various day (and night) jobs (mom, librarian, teacher) shaped your writing?

It’s tough to find the time to write while also being a mom and having a day job, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. If I didn’t have the other stuff to pull me away, I would probably become a hermit, and I’d quickly run out of things to write about. Having other activities also gives me structure and helps me manage my time better. I can’t put off my writing because I don’t have the flexibility to do so; as a result, I am better about focusing during my allotted time than I probably would be otherwise. That said, whenever I have long breaks I love to dive into the world of my story, and it can be very difficult to surface again.

Describe your creative process – early mornings? late nights? Coffee? Tea? Whiskey?

My daughter goes to a full-time preschool/daycare, and I work in the afternoons/evenings, so morning has become my writing time. That works well since I’m freshest in the mornings. When I’m trying to get the words down, though, it can be fun to write very late at night when I’m too tired for my internal editor to surface. Some of my favorite lines have come out when I’ve been falling asleep at the keyboard, just letting the words pour out. Thank goodness I have mornings to revise with a wide-awake brain!

When writing, I always have water beside me, and I frequently have music — usually songs I’ve heard so many times that I barely notice them, but that I still enjoy. Eating gets in the way of my writing, so I’m not much of a snacker. Cats interfere, too, but they make good company, and mine needy so I let them stay. When sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram call to me, I use a special program that bans me from the internet. I work extra hard so I can earn that social networking time.

What books and/or authors have shaped you as a writer?

Honestly, I think every book I’ve ever read has shaped me in some way. They’ve widened my vocabulary and reinforced my school lessons on grammar and punctuation. The ones I enjoyed also taught me about story structure, voice, character-building, etc. The ones I didn’t enjoy taught me what not to do (or, at least, what doesn’t work for me). Reading has been especially helpful now that I’ve become a writer, since I read with a more analytical eye, trying to figure out what works, what doesn’t, and why.

How did you find your agent?

I had just begun querying my previous book when a popular writers’ blog mentioned an open call for Hen & Ink. I visited the website and liked what I found there, so I queried. I loved Erzsi’s enthusiasm during our email correspondence, and when she offered representation I was impressed by what her clients had to say about her, so I happily signed on.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently revising a young adult contemporary romance. The premise is under wraps for now, but I can say that I’ve enjoyed the book immensely and am looking forward to sharing it when the time is right.

If people are interested in learning more about your work, where can they find you?

I have a website at http://www.caryncaldwell.com. It has more information on my books, as well as a blog. I can also be found on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, among other sites (all of which are linked to on my website). I love to connect and hope to see you online!

Twitter: https://twitter.com/caryncaldwell

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authorcaryncaldwell

Instagram: http://instagram.com/caryncaldwell

Writing General

Four Tips to Improve Your Writing Life

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January is a time for resolutions and diets. I love resolutions. Diets, not so much. If one of your new year’s resolutions is to start a journal, complete a rough draft or begin a blog, I’ve put together four of the best pieces of writing advice that I’ve ever heard, read or stolen.

1. Feel the Fear and Create Anyway

Making art is scary. In fact it’s so frightening that most people aren’t able to muster the courage to begin. How many cocktail parties conversations have include the phrase “I would love write a book but I don’t have the time, talent etc…”?

Contrary to common belief, everyone has a creative capacity within them.  Yes, even you. And if that creativity goes unused for any reason, who know the masterpieces the world will unknowingly miss?

Once you accept that the art of creation comes with a wheelbarrow of fear and terror, somehow that nasty monster under the bed becomes a little less scary.

2. First Draft = Trash 

Or to quote the wonderful Anne Lamott, “the only way I can get anything written is to write really, really shitty first drafts.” No one sits down to the computer and writes anything that without revision and editing should see the light of day. Instead, sit with the fear and write whatever comes out. Don’t judge it. Just continue. Put one word down after the other. Turn off the inner critic or at least drown it out with loud music, prayer or your family’s pleas for attention. You have to teach yourself how to get down word after word on the page, screen or tablet until a sentence finally appears on the page. That’s the only way the next War and Peace or even 50 Shades of Grey will be written, one word, sentence, paragraph at a time.

3. Regular Practice with Small Goals

I used to fantasize about living in a writers’ colony. In my mind it would be a cross between a spa and a meditation center, where meals would be delivered to my door and my living quarters scoured daily by invisible elves.  But the truth is that art is made by ordinary people and our writing lives are not lived in writers’ colonies, no matter how pleasant the fantasy. We live amongst loud telephone calls, banging pots and quarreling children.

With chaos as a constant, you must set a time everyday to write. I like to work early in the morning before everyone wakes up. Others work late at night. Whatever time you choose, make your daily goal small. If you miss a day, forgive yourself and restart the next day. Don’t try to make up your lost time, it won’t happen. Instead you will find yourself frustrated and even more afraid of the double word count in front of you. Shrug off your missed time and continue. Remember, if you write only 150 words a day you will have written a novel in one year. Small efforts daily add up to much more than the occasional Herculean effort.

4. Finish Your Project

It is easy to give up. You say to yourself, “if this project was really meant to be then it would be easier to write…” In fact, nothing is further from the truth. To quote the award winning author Neil Gaiman, “Whatever it takes to finish things, finish. You will learn more from a glorious failure than you ever will from something you never finished.” Sometimes it is right after things get tough, that things get right.

Wishing you all a new year full of projects completed and dreams realized!