Go behind the scenes with these monthly craft talks at ForeverYoungAdult's InkCouragement.
Is Editing "A Violence?": The editing process doesn't end just because you're a published author--and you might still end up with a manuscript that looks like it started bleeding red ink.(September 2015)
What Workshops and Wine Have in Common: Both get better with time! Tips for how to give and receive writing critique (and none of them involve chugging adult beverages). (August 2015)
We're Crafty: How can reading someone else's work help your own understanding of how to craft a novel? I explain, using Paper Towns as an example. (July 2015)
A Change Might do you Good: Shifting points of view can free your manuscript and you. (June 2015)
"Murder Your Darlings," Darling: It might be emotionally messy but disposing of characters can clean up your narratives. (May 2015)
Putting Words on Paper : Some counsel on that crucial first step of getting your words down on paper. (April 2015)
Many years ago, one of my readers, Kendra J., asked to interview me for an English project. I, of course, quickly agreed. She sent me twenty thoughtful questions on my first novel, NOT ANYTHING, and I answered. I've posted the Q&A below. Thanks, Kendra J!
16 Questions from Kendra J.
1. Where are you from?
I consider myself a Miami girl with Midwestern sensibilities. To be more specific, I spent ten formative years in Ohio and then moved to Miami, Florida. I lived in Miami for the next ten to fifteen years, more or less. Currently, I live in Northern Virginia.
2. What do you see as the influences on your writing?
A lot of my writing is influenced by personal experiences and the experiences of my friends and family. I think my writing is also shaped by reading the works of talented writers like Sarah Dessen, John Green, M.T. Anderson, and Laurie Halse Anderson, to name a few.
3. When and why did you begin writing?
I began writing around the age of eleven as a way to privately express myself. I liked words and playing around with the way the words were arranged on paper, so creative writing seemed to be a natural outlet for me.
4. When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I never really considered myself a writer until I began working for a newspaper in New Jersey. That was around 2000-01. I was twenty-five, and for the first time I was writing for a living. It was then that I thought, “Yep, I’m a writer.”
5. What inspired you to write your first book?
I attempted to write a novel when I was thirteen or fourteen, but I couldn’t get past page fifty. I tried again when I was twenty-one and that time I made it all the way to page one-hundred and something. It wasn’t until I was twenty-six that I began to work on Not Anything. That story started like a short scene and progressed into something larger. I think the reason why I was able to complete this novel was because I was finally writing about a time in my life that I fully understood, my teen years.
6. What was the hardest part of writing your first book?
The hardest part about writing Not Anything was deciding on an ending. I know that most people like a happily-ever-after ending, but I wasn’t sure that was an honest way to end the story. In the end, Susie doesn’t necessarily get everything she wants, but she finds herself. I thought that choice was a little more true to life.
7. Do you have a specific writing style?
Maybe. I tend to write organically, meaning I don’t really plot out my stories. I start with a character and I go from there. I try to figure out how her/his story develops and then I follow the threads of that story as it unravels.
8. What genre are you most comfortable writing?
Young-adult fiction, I suppose. Like I said, I feel like I have a certain amount of clarity when it comes to the teen experience. Lord knows that I’ve spent enough time analyzing my own struggles as a teenager, and, believe me, I had many.
9. How did you come up with the title for your first book?
That was really difficult! I couldn’t think of anything that would fit with Susie’s story. Then, one day, I was describing the novel to a friend of mine, and I said to him, “You know, she’s just a girl who feels like she’s not anything.” And then I paused, and I thought about what I had just said. It was then that I realized the title of the novel would be Not Anything.
10. Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to understand?
I didn’t intentionally plant any messages in the novel, but I still think some exist. I think the novel is a lot about becoming comfortable in your own skin. I think it’s also about letting go of grief and understanding that sometimes you have to be able to move past one experience in order to fully enjoy another. There’s also a lot to be said for the complexities of the relationships in the novel. I think Susie learns to deal with her father on a more human level, rather than a parental level. She comes to understand that her father is more than just this word, “DAD,” but a human being with human emotions and human flaws.
11. How much of the book is realistic?
Well, none of it is based on my real experiences, except for a lot of the driver’s ed dynamics and, of course, the location, Miami. That being said, I think everything in the novel is realistic. I made sure that everything that happens in the novel could, and would, happen in real life.
12. Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Not specifically. I did lose a close family friend before the writing of this novel. I think that experience made me understand and accurately portray Susie’s grief in the novel.
13. What books have most influenced your life most?
As a child I read a lot of Judy Blume, Francine Pascal and Beverly Cleary. I graduated to Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte after that. Both Austen and Bronte have written novels that I could easily read over and over again.
14. Are you reading any books now?
I just finished reading Feed by M.T. Anderson. It’s a brilliant YA science fiction novel, and I highly recommend it to all readers. For something a little more lyrical, check out Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block. (Obviously, this list keeps changing. Recently, I read several Matt de la Pena books. Highly recommended!)
15. What is your favorite book and why?
My favorite book is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I just love the epic romance and tragedy of that novel. The writing is so exquisitely rendered that you easily lose yourself in Jane’s life.
16. Do you have any advice for other writers?
Just keep at it. Don’t be easily discouraged. Understand that rejection is all part of the process. The more years you spend writing, the better you’ll become at it.