Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Gae Polisner - Writing Wednesdays

I’m trying to remember the first time I “met” author Gae Polisner. It must have been on social media after reading her brilliant book, The Pull of Gravity. Gae is beyond kind and shortly after that agreed to Skype with my class. To say the Skype was eye opening to me would be an understatement. (You can read about my experience with that HERE.) Then she earned my gratitude forever by Skyping with my own book club as we sat around my laptop talking to her from my dining room, drinking wine, and crying over her brilliant book The Summer of Letting Go. Gae means the world to me and I’m beyond grateful she agreed to answer all of my questions for this week’s Writing Wednesdays. Welcome to Gae!

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

My writing life is an almost-daily endeavor -- but I do NOT write every day and do not believe you need to write every day in order to be a real writer. Other things in my life often take precedence over writing: my family, my dog, my hobbies, exercise, volunteer work, etc. and there are days I just don’t feel it. Get too caught up in the news. Feel distracted. Etc. Having said that, most days, I get up, make my coffee, and write. And some days -- if I’m engrossed in a manuscript, or stuck in revisions on deadline -- I’ll be at the computer writing 10, 12 hours a day.

I do almost all my writing on the computer. Only when I have a rough draft do I print up a hard copy to read it from that perspective and make revisions right on the hard copy. Usually, by 10-20 pages in, I have SO many marks and revisions, I feel overwhelmed, go back to the computer to input the changes, and end up doing the rest of the revisions on the computer, never returning to that hard copy again, LOL. I’ve learned now, only to print up 10 - 30 pages at a time.

Where do you get your inspiration?

I’ve yet to really have a good answer for this. I mean, I can definitely tell you where I get sparks of ideas from -- newspaper articles I read, curious stories (click bait), etc. -- but so often, I really don’t know where the inspiration comes from. Sometimes, I just have a character or a scene that comes to me, and I start there and start asking “Why?”

So, for example, IN SIGHT OF STARS began when the scene that now appears on pp. 9 -10 in the book came to me, a scene where a boy who is very serious about becoming an artist, is in art class with this girl he’s drawn to (forgive the pun), and he can’t help himself and reaches out and draws on her paper. This was the scene I wrote -- I could see Sarah’s hair on the paper, I could feel Klee lean across and trace the strands with his charcoal -- and I knew this, for any artist, is a cardinal sin: You DON’T draw on someone else’s art without permission. But Klee did, in the scene in my head. So I asked, well, “Why? Why would he do this?” And the answer that came to me was that he was on the edge, not feeling in control of himself, desperate to connect. And when I asked, well, “Why?” again, the answer came, “He’s suffered some tragedy. His father, the loss of his father has undone him.” And again, I asked “Why?” and so on, and so on. And ultimately, a story that started out about art because a story of an emotional break and healing. . .

As for names, those usually take lots of specific thought, but also have to do with what a name feels like to me (and since that is subjective, could mean that same name feels very different to a reader). For example, when I wrote THE PULL OF GRAVITY, I wanted my MC to be an “every guy” that boys going through those awkward early teens could relate to. I wanted a solid more common name that felt both light and sturdy. I came up with Nick. One quick syllable: Nick. It felt exactly right. And when I was thinking about his last name, the thought that kept coming to me was, “I want something pretty garden variety.” That thought -- and the word garden -- led me to Gardner. Nick Gardner. In IN SIGHT OF STARS, it was kind of the opposite. My MC comes from a family of art and wants to be an artist. He’s named Klee after his mother’s favorite artist, the Swiss painter Paul Klee, even though his father focused almost solely on Van Gogh. That fact alone tells you something about the dynamic in his family -- allowing you to make assumptions that may also be wrong. The fact that Klee is pronounced “Clay” factors strongly into the opening of the story.

Because my name is Gae -- a hard name to grow up with -- I am often giving my characters either struggles with their name, or nicknames (something I dearly wanted to stick as a kid/teen and could never make really happen).

What was your journey into writing?

I wrote all the time as a kid and teen and young adult, poems and short stories, primarily. I took creative writing in HS and college but NEVER thought of being a writer. It would have been Pie In the Sky, beyond my wildest dreams. Besides, writing a novel is far different than poems or short stories, and I really wasn’t a person with a ton of novel ideas just floating in my head.

After college, I went to law school and became a practicing attorney (I still maintain a very small and quiet practice . . . when the cases come to me. . . ) I didn’t return to writing until my early thirties. I just wanted to see if I could write 100 pages (my first and second manuscripts were both women’s fiction; it was finally my third manuscript, a YA, that sold). It is beyond my wildest dreams that I have my fifth and sixth novels coming out in 2020.

Were you a writer in middle school? A reader?

I answered half up there *points up* and YES, I was a voracious and fast reader in middle school, high school, and college (Gosh, I miss HER!!! I’m so, so slow and distracted now…). In elementary school through college, I probably read two or three novels per week. Even after I graduated, when I was living in NYC, I’d read 2 - 3 novels per week. I want to be her again. I blame computers and social media. UGH.

What was your publishing journey like?

In addition to what I told you above: checkered, full of rejection, frustrating at times, and, as I said, beyond my wildest dreams to have succeeded at any level.

What is the best writing advice you’ve received?

“Keep your eyes on your own paper,” is some of the best advice. Meaning, stop comparing yourself to others and stop trying to be them or replicate how THEY do it. We can only be who we are, do what we do how we do it. “Comparison IS the thief of joy.” Quote, Theodore Roosevelt’s, emphasis mine.

Best thing about being a writer?

Showing my boys that it is possible, with the right combination of skill, perseverance and luck, to become not only who, but what, you want to be. And that it DOES, for nearly all of us, take a ton of perseverance.

I also cherish the notes and relationships with readers my stories have touched.

Hardest part of being a writer?

Everything else.

But mostly the public or external aspects -- not comparing my own moderate level of success with those who have far more. Not comparing someone else’s stellar work with mine and thinking, “UGH, I’ll never write anything as brilliant as that!”

What do you do when you’re stuck?

Those who know me could answer in unison: Swim.

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

I have an inner voice, period, that is so unkind. Evil, really. The older I get, the better I learn to talk back to it. “Shhh, quiet.”

Part of being able to persevere is learning to quiet that inner voice. I could NOT do it when I was younger and it dictated all of my quitting and failures. I’m so glad I finally learned in my 30’s to do so. Mostly, I did for my sons, so that they would learn to quiet theirs by example.

What are you reading now that you’re loving?

I’ve not read a lot lately because, with two books coming out in 2020, I’ve been steeped in revisions for both on deadline (first time I’ve ever been juggling two books in the production phases… ) When I do read (which I do often by listening to audiobooks, I’ve been allowing myself to read more adult fiction. The last GREAT book I read (meaning, it resonated with me, personally, as well as winning external accolades like the Pulitzer, LOL) is a Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. I’m listening to a book I’m loving so far called Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. It’s so quirky and surprising. . . and I’m reading the ARC of a middle grade that comes out in May called PLANET EARTH IS BLUE by Nicole Panteleakos. So far, it is beautiful.


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