My friend Kris Ohlson http://kristinohlson.com/blog/some-thoughts-writing asked if I’d join a tour of writers posting thoughts about their work and process. Because writing is for the most part a solitary pursuit, I’m happy to jump on the bus and ride along.
A word about Kris: I’ve known her forever, as both a generous friend and favorite writer. She’s the only person I know who makes her living entirely through writing–anyone who’s ever tried can attest what grit, wit, and sheer brainpower that requires. Her newest book is the non-fiction “The Soil Will Save Us”, and it brims with revelations about the ground beneath our feet and optimism for our beleagured planet. Read it, pass it on. As Kris urges, “Be a hero of the underground!”
And now for The Questions.
What am I working on? Happily, a three part answer! I’m almost finished with edits for two books that will publish next year, and I’m working on a new one.
“Moonpenny Island” is a middle grade novel coming out with Balzer & Bray, HarperCollins. It’s the story of Flor, whose mother and best friend have both left their tiny, rocky island. Flor’s determined not to lose anyone else–and that means her big sister, who she’s sure is keeping a dangerous secret. There’s also a lot about fossils and Charles Darwin and a treacherous, bottomless swim hole.
Up till a few days ago, I could’ve told you the title of my new chapter book, but suddenly it’s up for grabs. It’s sure to have “Cody” in it, though. Cody adores ants, her genius brother Wyatt, and her scaredy cat new friend Spencer. She also loves to help, with mixed results. This is the first in a series (yay!) and wait till you see the tender yet hilarious illustrations by Eliza Wheeler. Candlewick is publishing this one, o frabjous day!
I’m finishing (please please please) a first draft of my new middle grade novel, tentatively titled “Just a Second”. This book is a shade darker than anything I’ve published before, and each day when I finish and go for my walk, I feel pretty roiled up inside. Because I’m always scared to jinx myself by talking about things too soon, I’ll just say it’s a story about a girl who hates to choose but is finally forced to.
How does my work differ from others in its genre? I’m not sure how to answer that. I like to think mine’s another voice in the wonderful chorus of children’s writers singing their hearts out today. Kids need different books at different times in their lives. My books are quiet. I hope they make readers feel comforted and un-alone, but also more courageous.
Why do I write what I do? Oh, who knows!
How does my writing process work? I’m tempted to say: see above, but I hate to be branded a shirker.
My work often starts with a place–an island, a dead end street, some little enclave. Setting tends to dictate my plots, my characters’ choices or lack of choices. Usually I make a lot of notes on the physical place, and on my characters’ habits, likes and dislikes. Lines start to form in my head, and I write them down too, but at some point it all brims and tips and I can’t resist beginning the actual book, even though I still don’t know nearly enough. Thus: a million drafts, a million revises. Wreckage, despair. Light on the horizon. Lather, rinse, repeat.
I guess for me a good question would be: why do you keep writing? And the answer would be simple: I need to make life complicated.
I now hereby tag the terrific fiction and essay writer Laura Walter. www.lauramaylenewalter.com Laura has an award winning collection of stories, “Living Arrangements”, and her work has appeared in the best literary journals, including most recently The Sun. She’s working on her MFA and I am very, very lucky to be a member of her writing group. Bonus: her blog is as witty, deft and inventive as her fiction.