Good Monday morning, Everyone!
I’m here to talk writing (What else?). My friend, fellow YARN editor and YA writer Diana Renn tagged me in a fun My Writing Process blog tour. Last week, she dished about her upcoming mysteries, Latitude Zero and Blue Voyage, globe trotting teens, and her messy-despite-her-best-organizational-attempts writing process.
And now it’s my turn to answer the 4 official questions of the tour! Then I get to tag 2 more lucky writers. Okay, here goes:
What are you working on?
Well, I needed a break from thinking about my novel (which is about a teen girl who starts her own food truck after her dad gets laid off), so I dusted off a short story I’d drafted several years ago about a school shooting. The POV is actually adult, but in many ways it’s YA, because it’s very much about an incident that happened to the narrator in high school, which he relives in the course of the story. The narrator is not the shooter, but he had gone out with the shooter in high school, and he’s been carrying around a great deal of guilt about something he did to him back then.
Though I didn’t write the story in response to any one school shooting, the whole problem of school shootings has nestled deeply in my creative brain—maybe because one day when I was in 8th grade, after the last bell, I looked into the parking lot of my school to see it positively jammed with parents’ cars and police cars. The Cleveland School shooting had just happened a few miles away from my own school in Stockton, CA. It was way back then that I started wondering, as a writer, how such a thing could happen, and how it would affect people connected to the shooter (yes, the shooter, not just the victims). Twenty-six years after that, and one year after Newtown, I started thinking about the story again, got it out, revised it, and sent it to a few journals just last week.
How does your work differ from others of its genre?
It depends on which genre we’re talking about. If we’re talking YA (which is technically a category, not a genre, but many people refer to it as a genre), I’m different because I work in fiction and nonfiction (and I also still dabble in adult fiction, as I just described above). I am currently working on a YA contemporary novel, but my first published book is a YA memoir.
Now, “YA memoir” is a genre, but it’s teeny weeny so far—I certainly hope it grows because there are so many compelling real-life teen stories dying to be told. One of my favorites is Aaron Hartzler’s Rapture Practice, about why he got kicked out of his evangelical Christian school; it’s a funny, heartbreaking read made all the more wrenching because you know it actually happened. Within YA memoir, or even YA nonfiction more broadly, I’m different because I focus on the writing life, and my development as a writer. One of my favorite comments on TINAWM has been by an actress who said that most of what I said about the writing life can also apply to acting, so I hope that I’m writing not just about writing, but about becoming an artist and the ups and downs of that path.
Why do you write what you do?
I write non-fiction because I think all people of all ages relate strongly to real-life stories of struggle and (occasional) transcendence. It wasn’t until recently that I truly began to appreciate this myself, when I read a bunch of memoirs in a short period—Tiger Mother, Wild, Bringing Up Bebe, This is Not the Story You Think It Is—and I was hooked. I want to bring that kind of work to the YA audience, through my own writing, and what I publish in YARN (and BTW, if you are a writer reading this, please consider writing a YA essay for YARN!).
I write the fiction I do because…..well, as so many writers before me have also said, a character just starts talking to me. And she won’t shut up. Honestly, I would have given up fiction ages ago if these characters and story ideas had stopped nagging me! Writing fiction is HARD WORK, and it doesn’t pay very well (monetarily or emotionally), so the main reason to write it is because you have to in order to get to sleep every night.
How does your writing process work?
For fiction, I’m a pantser, not a plotter. I like the unmapped road trip feel of writing a first draft of fiction. This often means I have to make big changes on a second draft, because I only figured out half way through the first draft what I was really trying to do. In my last novel, one character who had been a guy became a girl. But that’s okay with me; I like surprises as a reader and writer.
For book-length nonfiction, I had to outline in order to get the book contract (the outline was an essential part of the proposal). And I really enjoyed just sort of getting to fill in the blanks of my outline when it came to actually write the book. I skipped around, though, and did not write in order, because for TINAWM at least, there wasn’t a chronological narrative. As I wrote, I added and changed some of what I’d put in that original outline, but surprisingly little.
So, as with most things in writing: It depends.
And now I get to pass the baton!! To Lyn Miller-Lachman, Lego enthusiast and author of the YA novels Rogue and Gringolandia. And to John Cusick, literary agent and author of YA novels Cherry Money Baby and Girl Parts, whose My Writing Process blogs will appear next Monday, March 24.
I hope you’ll follow this blog tour with me! I love reading about the processes of other writers—it’s like a mini-MFA/refresher. Just by reading, I learn so much, and feel part of a community of people who are working hard like me on the long road of writing life. And be sure to check out Erin Cashman’s answers this Monday!
As always, comments are welcome!