Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Katherine Applegate - Writing Wednesdays

I am beyond honored today to welcome Katherine Applegate to the blog. I first “met” Katherine through reading her book, Home of the Brave. In this story I met an amazing kid named Kek and watched his story of immigration, family, and love unfolded in front of my eyes. I thought Applegate was brilliant.

Then I read The One and Only Ivan and knew she was.

Currently I’m reading her book, Wishtree to my students in our Advisory class on Fridays. While reading it we talk about love, hate, and the power of being an upstander. Applegates books are ones to treasure.

Reading Katherine's answers made me nod my head, feel a sense of community, and laugh out loud. I love her for that alone. And with that, I turn over her thoughts on writing to you.

Talk to me about your writing life - what does it look like?

My writing life is kind of messy, but that’s ok: writing a book is a messy process!
I’m a Mac person, and use a desktop computer most of the time, but I have a laptop I use on the road and at odd moments. That said, I always have a pad of college-ruled paper nearby, and a handful of PaperMate Sharpwriter pencils. (I know some writers who adore Blackwing pencils, and I have some of those, too. We writers love to obsess over trivia.)

On the “pantser” (seat-of-the-pants writer) versus outliner dichotomy, I come down somewhere in the middle. I need some scaffolding, and so a preliminary outline is useful, but I tend to throw it all away at the end of the day.

I love revising and detest the blank page. (My husband, also a writer, is the exact opposite.) It’s so important for new writers to understand that we all approach the creative process differently, and there are no right or wrong answers. But to me, revision is the very best part of writing. It’s like sculpting--a little here, a little there--slowly you see the diamonds mixed in with the coal. (And there’s a lot of coal.)

I used to think I needed a perfect office to be a writer. Turned out that was just another way to procrastinate. I once wrote most of a book on a drive home from Disney World, while my husband blared Rancid on the radio and my kids complained. (God bless headphones.)

Every writer has times where the writing comes more easily. For me, that’s first thing in the day, after some coffee (OK--lots of coffee!) and sometimes late at night. Most writers I know can’t do more than three or so hours of serious writing without their brains turning to mush, and that’s certainly true for me. (Of course, there are lots of other pieces to the job of writing: revisions, fan mail, social media, conventions, school visits, etc. And staring blankly into space counts as writing, too.)

Where do you get your inspiration?

More than anything, the news. THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN came from a New York Times article I read about the real Ivan. ENDLING was inspired by the word itself, newly coined. My daughter read about it and mentioned it to me.

What was your journey into writing?

Also messy! (I’m sensing a theme emerging.) BA in liberal arts, followed by lots of waiting tables, followed by lots of fear of failure, followed by ghostwriting. I wrote 17 SWEET VALLEY TWINS, plus tons of Disney books and other things under pseudonyms. I learned a lot that way.

Were you a writer in middle school? A reader?

I wrote some poetry. But I wasn’t much of a reader. This always surprises kids because it’s not the usual writerly path. But I always tell them that sometimes it takes a while to fall in love with books. You have to find just the right ones. But it’s worth the wait!

What was your publishing journey like?

See above. My first big break was doing ANIMORPHS, a 63-book series my husband and I wrote for Scholastic. We wrote about 40 or so -- one a month!

What is the best writing advice you’ve received?

Read, read, read. Then read some more.

What is some writing advice you’d like to give either to my students or to other aspiring writers?

Allow yourself to fail. Fail gloriously and often. Tell your inner editor to shut up while you’re busy creating. And expect your first drafts to be crummy. They always are.  As someone once said: The only thing you can’t rewrite is a blank page.

Best thing about being a writer?

The readers. And that moment when you craft a sentence you’re proud of.

Hardest part of being a writer?

Figuring out how to write the aforementioned sentence.

What do you do when you’re stuck?

Take a nap. Take a shower. Take a walk. Try again.

Do you have an “inner editor” voice that is unkind?

She’s a total bitch.

What are you reading now that you’re loving?

BLOOD WATER PAINT by Joy McCullough, about the artist Artemisia Gentileschi. Gorgeous writing.

Finally, do you want to share the inspiration for your most recent project?

I wrote Wishtree during the election. I wanted to talk about the way we were treating entire groups of people--about the vitriol and unkindness we were witnessing. It was good therapy.


Thanks again to the amazing Katherine Applegate for giving of her time to share her thoughts with us. If you'd like to find Katherine online, here are some links.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Now What? Finishing First Drafts and Next Steps - Writing Wednesdays

This past Saturday, late afternoon, I sat in my bedroom in the armchair of an area that is kind-of like my office. Typically a weekend afternoon when I wanted to write would find me at Starbucks. There I can focus, let the rest of the world fall away. There are other coffee shops I love - Steeple Gallery in my town, Cafe Kopi in Champaign, but for some reason the Starbucks that I go to is absolutely perfect for me. It’s a little dark, usually has an open spot, and the most interesting people come and go. I love it there.

This weekend, however, was a different story. Late Friday night into Saturday, the snow began to fall. By midday on Saturday we had around eight inches. My heart sank, I knew there was no way I could reasonably drive almost thirty miles one way to get to Starbucks. I knew that in all likelihood I would be finishing the epilogue that day and part of me was sad that I wouldn’t be at Starbucks to write it. Knowing there was nothing else I could do, I grabbed some coffee and headed upstairs to my room.

I began with rereading what I had written last. My brain immediately fell back into the world I had created. I made some quick edits, then moved on to the epilogue. As the story unfolded in my mind, I tried to capture on the computer what I was feeling and seeing. While in Starbucks, I am surrounded by a constant hum, people having conversations, folks ordering coffee, light music in the background. At home I had a different hum, music played from my phone - songs that are tied to my story in my mind. Chris came in and out of our bedroom, grabbing laundry to do, asking me about dinner. They boys moved about the house, playing video games, talking to each other. Our dogs ran through the room more than once, wrestling, seeking attention, lazing on our bed. While distractions were far more plentiful at home than at Starbucks, when I typed my last words and realized I’d done it, I’d written a story, my heart overflowed. This was where I was meant to end this journey.

As for what’s next, that will unfold gradually. I’ve started an Instagram account under the name I plan on using when I publish. I’m not linking it to this blog or any of my other social media accounts - I teach middle school students and they are beautifully supportive kids, but this book is not for them. While they will likely find out the pen name at some point, at least I’ve put a layer between it and them. If you’d like to know my Instagram account, please message me here or on any of my social media accounts. As long as I don’t teach you, I’d gladly give it to you. :)

Beyond that, I’m going to create a website at some point. Then, write, revise, write, revise. I’m pretty certain I’ll be taking the self-publish/ indie publishing route. I just don’t even know where to start otherwise. Self-publishing means I will need to hire out editing and find someone to create my cover. And, as I said, I will be writing. While part of that will likely be revision work, a bulk of my writing will be new. I plan on starting the next book in this series, which right now I feel like will encompass five books. I’ve been listening to a lot of writing podcasts and the advice seems to be that if you are self-publishing, you should try to publish three books within weeks of each other when you are starting out. This allows you to build an audience.

So, there you have it. That’s where I am in the world of writing. Huge accomplishment reached, but so much more lies ahead. Thanks for taking this journey with me, it has been a blast so far.

And if you didn’t see last week’s Writing Wednesday post, it was an interview with one of my favorite romance writers, Kate Canterbary. Check it out HERE. I’ve shared a lot of her writing advice with my students already.

Coming up in the next few weeks will me more thoughts on writing from me, as well as more interviews: Jaleigh Johnson and Katherine Applegate are the next two with far more to come soon.

Have a great writing (and reading) week!

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Kate Canterbary - Writing Wednesdays

I can only start this blog series with Kate Canterbary, because she's the reason for it. In the past I've interviewed authors here and on the Voices From the Middle podcast for NCTE. I love hearing about the writing lives of others. However, when I began writing myself, I realized I needed to talk to others who also wrote what I was trying to write. I debated, who should I contact? And would they even reply? 

The idea came to me immediately, I wanted to contact Kate Canterbary. While Kate doesn't know me, I feel like I know her from her Instagram feed. Luckily for her, Boston, Massachusetts and Monticello, Illinois are a distance apart. Otherwise I'm certain I'd be dreaming up ways we could be best friends. I'm so grateful to Kate for answering my questions below. I hope you all will show her some love and can gain some insights into the world of writing through her. And with that, friends, let me introduce you to the amazing Kate Canterbary.

Talk to me about your writing life - what does it look like?

Kate: It looks different every time. I don’t have a singular method and I’ve found each book demands something different. Some books require extensive planning and outlining upfront -- I can’t move forward until I have a precise view of the path forward. Other books come to me in high-level ideas and I just work toward hitting a handful of moments and letting the characters tell me how the rest will work out.

I go between notebook and computer for writing. No real method to that madness--whatever feels right at the moment. Sometimes, the computer screen and the word/page count at the bottom can be really intimidating. Paper can be more forgiving, more approachable. I can write pages and pages, make notes to myself in the margin, cross things out and draw arrows to other things. But when I have a story percolating in my head (or I’m out of time and just need to get it done), typing is the way to go.

I edit almost exclusively on paper. I print out page proofs and mark them up. Some of my best work is the product of x-ing out a page and rewriting it on the back.

I don’t have a strict daily schedule. If there’s one thing I really hate, it’s feeling hemmed in. Even by myself. I write quickly and effectively early in the morning but I have a small child to wake, dress, and feed so my day usually begins after school drop-off. I usually go to a coffee shop or cafe to write for a few hours. Most of the time, I get a fair amount done in that time. If not, I pick up again after the dinner, bath, bedtime routine.

I don’t set word count goals for myself. Again, I hate being boxed in like that. I think progress is more important than hitting a target. Sure, there are times when I just need to In those situations, it’s more about finishing scenes/chapters/beats than word count.

I guess what I’m saying is I’m rebel without a cause ;-)  

Where do you get your inspiration?

Kate: Everywhere. There’s no limit to inspiration.

I was at coffee shop the other day and noticed a woman sitting two tables away. She had light blue hair and an old-fashioned sky hostess tote bag, and she was knitting while listening to something on her phone. I wasn’t sure what she was knitting. Maybe potholders or baby hats or doilies or something. But she stayed there, knitting and listening, for four hours on a Friday morning. And I had so many questions. I wanted to know whether she was knitting for business or pleasure. I wanted to know whether she was listening to a podcast or music or an audiobook. I wanted to know why an otherwise cool, funky chick was in a not-so-cool, not-so-funky town. Had she moved back home after spending some time in New York City or Boston? And if so, why? What -- or who -- brought her home? Was she trying to make a business of her handicrafts or was she filling her time (and hands) with something while she waited on...anything. Was she quietly famous for her knit hat-doily-potholder creations? What did she love and what did she hope for and what scared her?

That was from glancing around a coffee shop one morning. It’s everywhere.

What was your journey into writing?

Kate: I started writing a neighborhood newspaper when I was nine or ten. I reported on local goings-on and while that was plenty entertaining, I didn’t love the constraints of reality. I started writing fiction shortly after. When I was in seventh/eighth grade, I wrote two young adult novels. They were passed around the school bus and one teacher took a look at them too (and summarily crushed my tender writer spirit) but other than that, nothing came of those works.

I spent the majority of my high school and college years were spent working on newspapers, both at school and mainstream publications. I learned a tremendous amount in that time and met incredible people though I always had a fiction story rattling around my mind.

After college, I landed in the non-profit world. It’s a very hustle-bustle place and I did well. There was no time for stories in my head or even much reading. I did that for a little more than a decade before I found myself in books again. That time, it was reading. I picked up a Nora Roberts book at an airport and before my six hour flight was up, I’d read it cover to cover and was ready to read it again.

That book found me at a time when my life was in flux and it reminded me of all the things I love about reading and writing. It took a few more years but after my daughter was born, I had a tremendous amount of nursing and rocking time on my hands. It was the first moment since middle school that I’d had the time to think and let stories unfold again, and I let them. I let them grow and I allowed myself to listen to characters again.

Were you a writer in middle school? A reader?

Kate: Yes and yes. I read Maeve Binchy and Danielle Steel and Lurlene McDaniels and Michael Crichton and Mary Higgins Clark. I also read the entire Sweet Valley series despite the definite disapproval of a teacher who frequently required me to read “real” books.

What was your publishing journey like?

Kate: Nonlinear. Publishing is not a recipe. One cannot hop on a publishing blog, download the steps, and replicate. Sure, you can accomplish each discrete operation with success but that doesn’t mean it will culminate in success.

My first three books had lackluster releases. I think “lackluster” is a mild term. The books didn’t tank but they didn’t have any epic debuts either. And this is where the nonlinear piece comes in--just because they didn’t have strong releases doesn’t mean they haven’t done well. In fact, they’ve found deep and wide audiences.

Finding my audience took time and it took more work than I anticipated at the outset. I learned that no one will care as much about your book as you do and you should never trust anyone--editor, designer, vendor, publicist--with your success. If you want something done, you’re the one who has to make that happen.

I’m a diehard indie author. I’ve turned down traditional publishing deals for a number of reasons and while I don’t want to foreclose future possibilities (because I haven’t met Future Me yet), I am extremely comfortable and content in indie publishing.

What is the best writing advice you’ve received?

Kate: I’m not sure I received this advice so much as stumbled upon the realization that authenticity trumps originality.

We’re all trying to write something different. We all want to be special. But special comes from finding your voice and owning your voice and being authentic in using your voice.

And don’t read reviews. There’s a difference between feedback from an editor and/or critique partner and reviews. Reviews are for readers. The book is done and out of your hands.

What is some writing advice you’d like to give either to my students or to other aspiring writers?

Kate: Feedback is a scalpel, not a cleaver. Approach it that way. Some teachers/editors will give you the perfect pushes and notes that is simultaneously supportive, challenging, and meaningful while also honoring your voice and vision. Some teachers/editors might deliver feedback in a way that’s overwhelming or bruising to the creative’s tender spirit. It’s up to you how you handle that feedback. You could get sad or defensive--and I certainly have--but you can also walk away, yell into a pillow, and then push on the spots that need more work. That can be better. Don’t throw it away. Don’t start over. Don’t abandon your voice and your vision.

Best thing about being a writer?
Kate: The power. (lol) In all honesty, writers get to raise entire worlds from the ground up. They get to create people. And you get to live in the worlds you create. Spend all day thinking about the people and places and experiences. It’s a wonderful, weird power.

Hardest part of being a writer?

Kate: Writing is emotional labor. This might be more salient for the character driven stories I write than other genres but any meaningful story will require the author to carry a significant amount of emotional weight. It’s hard work to get yourself into the heads of characters experience an emotion well enough to write it and it’s hard work leaving those emotions when you close the document or notebook for the day.

What do you do when you’re stuck?

Kate: I write conversations. I think about characters talking about nothing important and let them go. Dialogue comes easily to me and when I’m stuck, I just listen to the characters for a bit. Even if I end up cutting it, those conversations usually get me back into the heads of those characters.

Do you have an “inner editor” voice that is unkind?

Kate: Definitely. That’s one of the reasons I like writing on paper. It feels less official. Like I’m allowed to get away with more. My inner editor is always pushing me to set the scene even when I want to just write the interactions and exchanges. She’s also reminding me that I used the same word two sentences ago and need to find a new one.

What are you reading now that you’re loving?

Kate: I’ve been reading a lot of historical romances recently. I’ve found I’m more confident about my words if I’m not concurrently reading something from the genre I’m writing. I’m a fan of Tessa Dare and Sarah MacLean.

Finally, do you want to share the inspiration for Before Girl?

Kate: This is a great example of highly obscure inspiration. I started writing Before Girl as a weekly serial for my reader group almost three years ago. It came on the heels of a stressful personal time and I was struggling to find my writing mojo so I let myself write for fun rather than a deadline.

The inspiration came in the form of observing several non-interactions at the gym. A woman was walking on a treadmill, listening to tunes, minding her own business. And a man jogging on another treadmill was clearly interested in her. When a treadmill beside her opened up, he hopped off his and moved closer. He kept sneaking glances at her. There were moments when it seemed like he was about to say something but stopped himself. And I watched this for a week.

Thank you, Kate! And, my blog readers, I want to end with this. In my Google Doc to Kate, I ended with my gratitude for her books. Romance books came into my life in July of 2017. I truly believe they have made me stronger and more "me" than I have been in years. I thanked Kate for what she puts out into the world and she wrote this. This, my friends, is what I needed to hear and I'm sharing it here incase you needed to hear it too.

Kate: I really believe romance is the genre of hope--even in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges--and we could all use a little hope these days.

If you'd like to check Kate out ahead of time, here are some links to where you can find her online. Enjoy! 





Books and Main 
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