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.