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

Interview with Jessica Lee Anderson

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When I last visited with Jessica Lee Anderson, she was celebrating her first novel, Trudy, being plucked from the slush pile and winning the Milkweed Prize for Children’s Literature. Four years later, Jessica is celebrating another creation – the birth of her beautiful daughter. Recently I caught up with Jessica and chatted with her about motherhood, creativity and managing your time.

 

What has changed in your life since the last time we chatted in 2010?

 

Forgive me for starting with a cliché, but wow, these years flew by! Since 2010, my young adult novel, Calli, released from Milkweed Editions, and I had the honor of presenting at several events like the Texas Book Festival, Austin Teen Book Festival, YAK Fest, and YAB Fest. I attended several writing retreats with an inspiring group of writers and worked on an assortment of manuscripts to include some work-for-hire projects. In 2013, I celebrated the most exciting of releases—my beautiful baby girl! 

 

Has being a mother changed you as a writer? If so, how?

 

My schedule has definitely changed the most. I write from home, so I revolve my writing around my daughter’s naps during the day and try to get some writing in after she goes to sleep in the evenings. Thirty minutes or an hour here or there can really add up. When I have childcare available, I head to a coffee shop for a short while. With time being so limited, it is easier to pass on watching those cute puppy videos on YouTube. One thing I’ve been trying to work on is eliminating that feeling of “writer’s guilt” (feeling guilty that I’m not writing when there is a down moment) so I can cherish this time with my little miracle. I also broke down and bought a smart phone to use technology to my advantage. 

 

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

 

My daughter usually takes her first nap around 9 a.m., so I try to get some plotting/brainstorming/goal setting time in and jump on the page for as long as I can (which can be as little as a twenty minutes or an hour plus). The same goes for the afternoon, and then I get about an hour or two of writing in after she falls asleep in the evening. Her nap schedule is constantly changing, so my “writing” workday changes too and consists of taking advantage of free moments when they’re available. While I haven’t been meeting my group regularly at coffee shops like I used to, I now periodically host writing workdays at my house. Fellow Coop-mate Carmen Oliver is coming over for a writing date this week!

 

You’ve written for all types of audiences. How does your writing process differ as your audience changes?

 

I enjoy writing for a variety of ages and like the challenge of writing sparse yet rich texts for younger readers as well as the challenge of developing characters, settings, plots, and dialogue in longer works for older readers. While I read my writing out loud when writing for older readers, I find this is critical when writing for younger readers. I agonize over word counts, vocabulary choices, and reading levels for this age group. This process can flow into how I write for older readers, so I often write longhand in a notebook to help avoid my internal editor from taking over.

 

What are you working on now?

 

I’m currently revising an early chapter book about a girl who experiences some surprises when she moves on a farm as well as working on a coming of age novel middle grade novel. 

 

Do you have any upcoming appearances or events?

 

I don’t know any specific details about my schedule yet, but I’ll be at the TLA annual conference this April and look forward to seeing many friends and making many new ones!

 

 

Please check-out Jessica’s website at http://jessicaleeanderson.com for more information. Jessica’s books are all available online or at your favorite indie bookseller!

 

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Uncategorized

Interview with Nikki Loftin

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Author Nikki Loftin is everywhere these days. As a writer of poems, essays and novels, you can find her work scattered through-out your local bookstore or newsstand. In addition, locals will be able to see Ms. Loftin this spring when she will be the keynote speaker at the annual Houston Writer’s Guild conference. Recently I caught up with Nikki and we chatted about her daily schedule, working in pajamas, and the healing properties of chocolate.

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

I have lived my whole life in the heart of Texas. I was born in Austin, grew up in Round Rock, and moved to Wimberley after high school. I earned my undergraduate and graduate degrees from UT Austin. Now I live in between Dripping Springs and Oak Hill, southwest of Austin, with my Scottish husband, two sons, two dogs, and three chickens. I have a great view of the Texas Hill Country from my writing window!

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

First, I check email, Twitter, and Facebook for important overnight developments. Also, funny pictures of cats. Then, if it’s on one of the days I don’t work at my other job – where I teach dance aerobics (Zumba) at the Austin YMCA – I stay in my pajamas. This is very important. Getting out of the pajamas would free me up to do all sorts of non-writerly things: grocery shopping, errands, lunches out with friends. If I keep the pajamas on until the boys get home on the bus, it’s been a very good writing day indeed.

Then, I brew a pot of cinnamon tea – or coffee if I’m still bleary-eyed. I break down the number of words I want to get through if I’m working on a novel – usually between 1,000 and 3,000 per day. I take breaks every couple of pages, to keep my brain from overheating. (Many of these breaks involve chocolate, the reason for my other job as a fitness instructor.)

Of course, if I’m writing a shorter piece or a poem, it’s a much different process – fewer words, more staring out the window and thinking deep, black-turtleneck-worthy thoughts. 

I frequently check Twitter, Facebook, and the Internet in general for any further, vitally important developments involving hilarious cat antics.

You’ve written for all types of audiences. How does your writing process differ as your audience changes?

Great question! I write for children, young adults, and adults. I’m not sure my process changes for the audience, though. It does, however, differ fairly radically for the type of project I’m working on.

For a novel, it begins with a “what if?” I’ll be walking along, living my life, not hurting anyone, when a scenario will come rushing at me and throw me completely off course.  The idea for my forthcoming novel, The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy, attacked me in a fish-and-chips restaurant a year and a half ago: What if Hansel and Gretel were alive today, in America, and they went to a charter school where the teachers were witches? When an idea happens, I have to talk about it to whoever happens to be nearby. (You should feel very sorry for my husband and hairdresser). Then I mull for a few days, even weeks. I take a lot of walks, listening to instrumental music. Usually on one of these walks, the first lines will come to me and I will run home and start writing. (Cue pajamas, tea, cute cats.) It may seem like an odd process, but I finish about three or four novel-length manuscripts a year this way.

In between novels, I like to write short stories and essays. The change of pace, and the immediate gratification of starting and finishing a piece in the same day, is like a reward after the months of longer-horizon work drafting and revising a novel. 

Poems are different. They’re like butterflies – they come into my mind when they want to. I have to drop everything to capture a poem. If I’m fast enough with a pen or pencil, and write it down when it flutters past, I get to keep it. If I ignore a poem, it goes away, and (I assume) finds a more attentive poet to bless.

Where do you get your inspiration?

Everywhere. The world is full of fascinating things, people and places and events worth telling stories about. We know that when we’re kids, but somehow we lose our sense of wonder as we grow up. I try to remember how I saw things, how I really looked at the world, when I was a child. I let my mind play.

Sometimes, though, I get ideas through obstinacy. For instance, when I finished my first novel (a malformed, grammatically twisted creature that lives in the dark recesses of my hard drive), I read on a well-respected agent’s website that books about that particular topic were overdone. They indicated that middle grade novelists should write sports books. I knew nothing about sports, and that fact annoyed me. So I did just enough research on soccer to write my next novel, which won the Writer’s League of Texas manuscript contest (and, in a circuitous way, the attention of my future literary agent).

Who are your favorite writers and why?

I love Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking books. She created characters that stayed with me my whole life, and books I couldn’t wait to read aloud to my own children. I still remember sleeping upside down in my bed like Pippi – and laughing when, thirty years later, I caught my son doing the same thing. 

I love so many present-day writers who mix magic and humor into their work: Roald Dahl, Ingrid Law, Neil Gaiman, Rebecca Stead, Kate DiCamillo, and Jane Yolen.

But I’m obsessed with older stories, too. I compulsively buy and read fairy tales from all over the world, and re-read the Odyssey and Dante’s Inferno every few years.   

What advice would you give aspiring writers?

We’re all faking it. We’re all using the Think Method and blowing on imaginary trombones. Don’t be fooled by the way authors on the other side of the publication fence seem to read every book, write thousands of words a day, know everything, and have excellent skin, teeth, and hair. They don’t have all the answers. Don’t look to an author for the magic bullet, the secret elixir. The only thing you have to do to be published is write, read, study, and stay in the pajamas.  I didn’t have any connections in the industry when I began writing, and most of the published authors I know didn’t either. What they all have – and what I hope to cultivate in my own life – is the burning desire to write, to create, and to share what they’ve written with the world. It helps to have the ability to withstand a thousand No’s on your way to the Big Yes. Chocolate helps dull the pain of rejection.

Write fast, if you can. The more words, the better. You will get better the more you practice, just like with any instrument or sport. Write whatever comes to you: short stories, essays, poems, plays, novels, picture books. They will not all be published. It doesn’t matter; they are practice. Keep writing. Never stop.

What are you working on now?

I am about to send my second novel to my editor! This one, currently titled Chloe Green and the Grimoire Garden, is the story of a girl named Chloe who has a peculiar sort of Midas Touch: the ultimate green thumb. I can’t reveal much more about it, since not even my editor has seen it yet. But there’s magic, poison, witches, and evil camp counselors in this one!

Do you have any upcoming appearances or events?

I’m thrilled to serve on the faculty of the Austin Regional SCBWI Conference, “Something for Everyone,” February 17-19. This conference is always amazing, with talks on craft, publishing, and tons of opportunities to meet agents, editors, and other children’s lit writers.

http://www.austinscbwi.com/conference2012/

On April 13-14, I’ll be the keynote speaker at the Houston Writer’s Guild annual conference. http://www.houstonwritersguild.org/welcome.html

You can purchase Nikki’s books online or at your favorite local bookstore. If you’d like to learn more about Nikki please check out her website at www.nikkiloftin.com.