Anna-Marie asked some fantastic questions, and I’m excited to share the interview with you all. We actually had to cut some material because we talked too much. But here is a little of the extra Q&A:
I’ve heard you say that one of your favorite writing tips is not to develop writing rituals. How has this proven good advice for you? I know I would use rituals as a crutch (“I only write at night!” “I need to have coffee while I write!”) so telling myself that rituals don’t get the work done means that I can potentially sneak in writing time anywhere/anytime. Not that I always do, but at least it’s one less excuse. 😉
Do you have any writing rituals that have crept in anyway? A favorite time of day to draft? A favorite drink or snack while revising? As much as I love coffee and tea, my favorite writing beverage is lots and lots of water. Woohoo hydration! I also tend to like drafting at night, but that might be because I do the day job thing so most of my writing time is in the evening. My biggest ritual is probably having carefully crafted playlists for each project. I can write without them, but I love having a book soundtrack playing in the background for inspiration.
Today I’m interviewed as part of the Writer Odyssey Wednesday series at Chasing the Crazies. Amy and I talk about querying agents, the inspiration for The Chance You Won’t Return, getting through the rough times, and my favorite piece of writerly advice. Thanks so much to Amy for including me in this fabulous series!
From this interview, author Ian McEwan recounts the first time a book truly affected him:
Do you remember the first book that made you cry?
It was “The Gauntlet,” by Ronald Welch. I was 10 years old and in hospital, so I had time to read this wonderful historical novel for children in a day. Its hero, Peter, is transported in a dreamlike state back 600 years to a late medieval Welsh castle. Many adventures and battles and much falconry ensue. When at last Peter returns to the present, the castle is the awesome ruin it was in the opening pages, and all the scenes and the dear friends he has made have vanished. “Their bones must have crumbled into dust in the quiet churchyard of Llanferon.” It was a new idea to me then, time obliterating loved ones and turning them to dust — and I was stricken for a while. But no other novel on the children’s book trolley would do. The next day I read “The Gauntlet” again.
I love this memory–the excitement of the story, the pain of realizing that time must pass, the resulting emotional connection with the book. You can’t give up the first book that rocks your sense of the world.
“Like all authors, I’m asked if characters are biographical, if I put people I know into my fiction. You can see from my process that that would be impossible for me. I begin by seeing a narrative, so I can’t put people I know in it—they simply wouldn’t behave properly, they wouldn’t be cooperative and do what I asked of them. So I invent the people I need, and that’s a lot more fun anyway. I can continually refine the characters, their histories, and their damage, until they are exactly the right people I need.”
I think this is one of the best responses to the “Who’s this character based on?” question ever. I hate when people assume that fiction comes entirely out of your life experiences. I tend to find the particular characters who are experiencing this particular story. Sometimes that matches up with things I’ve experienced or heard about in real life, but a lot of the time it comes from learning more about that character and that story.
Do you tend to invent your characters, use people you’ve met in real life, or a combination?
“A Wrinkle in Time” saved me because it so captured the grief and sense of isolation I felt as a child. I was 8 years old when it came out, in third grade, and I believed in it — in the plot, the people and the emotional truth of their experience. This place was never a good match for me, but the book greatly diminished my sense of isolation as great books have done ever since. I must have read it a dozen times.
Such a fantastic description of how a book can profoundly affect your life. I especially like that Lamott didn’t find a book that exactly reflected her experiences–it was the underlying emotion that struck her.
“Holy cow but your stories are courageous. I don’t want to spoil things for readers who haven’t read all your titles yet, but you’ve dealt with war, with sex boundaries, with religion. What is it about difficult topics that attracts you?
I don’t set out to deal with “difficult” subjects. I’m just interested in the things that puzzled me as a kid, in my teens, 20s, 30s, in my 40s. Now. Why do people fall in love and why do they not….why do some people believe in god (I never did). Why are some people straight and some gay? Where does identity come from? How do you know who you are? How do you find out? Why does my mother say no one will marry me if I don’t wear more pink? (not that I hold a grudge)
All the subjects that I found so difficult during my adolescence (which is still trundling on to an embarrassing extent in my, ahem, 50s) like family ties, and chemistry, and gender, and what saves people from themselves….I had such a long struggle to see life in focus that I’m a bit obsessed with the struggle.”
This idea of examining the struggle is one reason I find literature in general so compelling. It can be hard enough to examine these kinds of questions on your own; reading can help you better understand others and your own place in the universe.
Also, I like that these are questions and issues that span across literature in general. YA doesn’t have to be lighter or fluffier than books for adults. It looks at these same questions from the perspective of people who are just starting to engage with the larger world–and I find that exciting.
After reading this interview, I’m pretty sure Libba Bray is going at the top of my “We Need to Be Friends Please” list. This alone gets my vote of awesome:
CultureMap: You say that it was “love at first sight” for you with YA. What drew you to it?
Libba Bray: I just read this great quote by Junot Diaz, he was talking about true intimacy, and he was saying that it was the willingness to be vulnerable and to be found out. That’s what I felt that YA did. It wasn’t pretentious, and it wasn’t hiding its heart. It wanted to be found out…
It felt like those moments when you go to a party and you’re standing around for a long time, going, I don’t fit in here, what am I going to talk to these people about? And everybody’s getting drunk, and then you find this one person, and you end up sitting in some corner talking about all these arcane things.
And then before you know it you’re having a conversation about the meaning of life and it’s four o’clock in the morning. That kind of feeling, that kind of intimacy — I felt like that’s what I got from YA.
I feel like this is the perfect way to describe a career in YA. When I was in college and grad school, most of my fellow writers focused on literary fiction. There’s a lot about literary fiction I like, but it never felt as compelling to me as YA. Like Bray says, I feel that YA isn’t “hiding its heart.” I love that there’s so much heart.