Tuesday, October 20, 2015

GUEST POST: "Annihilation Day" by Alex Flynn

While The Misshapes: The Coming Storm, and The Misshapes: Annihilation Day, may be part one and two of a three-part trilogy, the writing process between the two books couldn't have been more different. The Coming Storm had a long process to wrestle with the divine flash of inspiration, the initial charge of realizing that you can create a whole weird world from scratch, the wonderful feeling that you can make jokes and have thrills even when you're playing around with the idea of "What if you're not the chosen one?"

Annihilation Day, on the other hand, had a different road. We were able to write it with the knowledge that it would get published, which was a big comfort. However, in the time we had to write it, we had a series of unfortunate events in our lives: moving, a broken leg, a death in the family. We had to carve out the space to write and focus on The Misshapes during this epoch of our lives. If the first book had the luxury of time, of writing and discussing and rewriting, this book needed discipline. Before we ever put a word on the page, we laid out the whole book. There was brainstorming, giant notepads, outlines, and chapter sketches. The process behind this book felt more akin to being in a writing room for a TV show as opposed to what may be a normal novel-writing process.

The most exciting part about writing Annihilation Day was the fact that we had already set up the world of Sarah and The Misshapes. We're committed to writing an anti-chosen one story, and we had laid out a difficult task in the first book: telling the reader about the protagonist's world, even though, thanks to various twists, this world was lived-in and normal for Sarah. In book two, we had a different path. Doolittle Falls was already built. It had Heroes, Supervillains, Misshapes, and (the much ignored) "Normals" (you know, the powerless). PeriGenomics was twisting its mustache, and we got write about a universe that was far less simple. No more black and white, good and evil; now it was time for shades of grey, for moral choices.

In the history of trilogies, the second book is where the author (singular or, um, plural, in this case) gets a chance to dive deeper into the world, and to go darker. Much of the time, the second book is the villain's book. It's a chance to explore the motives behind the antagonist and a chance to see our heroes not as "the chosen one," but more so as people who are choosing to act in a heroic fashion. Perhaps the ne plus ultra of the second in a series is The Empire Strikes Back, our favorite Star Wars movie. Evil wins in that film. Darkness falls over the empire. The heroes (or Misshapes, in this case) are losing.

For The Misshapes, Annihilation Day means that there's some growing up ahead. Alliances change. Struggles emerge. And our central character, Sarah Robertson, explores the mystery that's shaped much of her life: is her mother -- a former Hero turned Supervillain -- really a force of evil? Is the narrative around Lady Oblivion the truth, or is it a cover-up? 

If The Coming Storm was about a young girl learning about her power, no matter how silly or useless it seems to be, then Annihilation Day is about an older, wiser Sarah using that power to become a superhero. Her path may be knottier and weirder than the average touched-by-powers teen, but the result is funny and heartbreaking in equal measures. It's as if the resulting book echoed our strange process of writing it.

But one thing we can guarantee from Annihilation Day is this: there's weirder weather ahead, including the debut of the fire tornado.

Alex Flynn is the pseudonym for the writing team of Stuart Sherman and Elisabeth Donnelly. They met at a clandestine book club in Boston, where they broke into a fortified tower in order to discuss literature. They like garrulous Irish writers, Pushing Daisies, and anything involving The Tick, from the comic book to the short-lived series with Patrick Warburton. Their secret lair is currently in a hollowed out volcano in Brooklyn.

Click here to see them face the 7 Questions.

Click here to read my review of The Misshapes

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

7 Questions For: Literary Agent Victoria Selvaggio

With a strong background in business ownership, Victoria A. Selvaggio comes to The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency as an Associate Agent with over 6 years of actively working as a volunteer and Regional Advisor for SCBWI Northern Ohio.  Drawn to the publishing scene first as an author writing all genres, with her most recent publication in the 2015 Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market, Vicki’s passion for honing the craft carried over into reading manuscripts for the agency. Currently, she is excited to read compelling manuscripts that will resonate with her long after she’s done.

In addition to being an agent, she's also the author of BECAUSE I'M AFRAID and THE HOPE CHEST. She was most recently published in the 2015 Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market.

Twitter: Victoria Selvaggio @vselvaggio1
Facebook: Vicki Selvaggio
Linkedin: Victoria Selvaggio

And now Victoria Selvaggio faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

While this is hard to answer as I’m constantly falling in love with one book after another, I’ll share books from my childhood. These stories remain vivid in my memory as if I’ve read them yesterday...they’ve encouraged me and set me on my own writing path.

THE GIVING TREE by Shel Silverstein – As a child I loved this story. As an adult and parent, I understand it completely. I have yet to read it without having a sense of empathy and compassion wash over me—this story brings me to tears.

A SUMMER TO DIE by Lois Lowry—Having an older sister, this story opened my eyes on how quickly life can change. I did (and still do) argue with my sister…and yes back then, I wanted to draw my own line many times. But, no line would ever stop my sister from being my sister. Back then and now, I am truly blessed!

DOLORES CLAIBORNE by Stephen King—Stephen King influenced my path as an author…He encouraged me to find my own voice—to continue pushing until I reached my own goals and beyond. I’ve read almost everything he’s penned (that’s in print). THE TALISMAN, PET SEMATARY, CUJO, CHRISTINE, IT…I could go on. While I absolutely CAN’T pick a favorite, I’ve listed DOLORES CLAIBORNE—it is the perfect example to show how a story can work without (or limited) dialogue. It shows that mastering the art of writing is a skill and if perfected correctly, regardless how one portrays a story, a reader will fall in love! 

Question Six: What are your top three favorite movies and television shows?

Another hard question, as I don’t have a lot of spare time (I do a lot of recording)!

For television:

I love watching THE WALKING DEAD and I’m starting to find FEAR THE WALKING DEAD compelling.
MAJOR CRIMES—I enjoy the mystery, humor, and wonderful cast of actors.
BATES MOTEL—I want “poor” Norman to be normal. The writers have done such a good job making you feel compassion for him when he’s murdering people left and right.

For Movies:

KING KONG—I know, I know…this is an oldie. But, I’m still so fascinated with this idea.
THE SIXTH SENSE—Another oldie, but right up my alley.
THE HUNGER GAMES—The scene where Katniss volunteers in Prim’s place—that’s what I look for in a manuscript—Captivating emotion.

Question Five: What are the qualities of your ideal client?  

My dream client:

·         -Hard-working
·         -Intelligent and knowledgeable about the publishing process
·         -A good understanding of business and the market
·         -Respectful
·         -Patient
·         -Realistic
·         -Sets goals and reaches them
·         -Great communicator and open to sharing thoughts/feelings, especially if we disagree
·         -And finally, has researched me—feels there’s something that will “click” when we talk for the very first time, regardless if it’s those first couple of e-mails, or my telephone call offering representation. Connection is key and not just with the story. I want to build lasting relationships with my clients, and I want my clients to feel the same way!

Question Four: What sort of project(s) would you most like to receive a query for?  

For any genre—a story that will remain with me forever. As with my listed books for question #1, the genre doesn’t matter—the story and how I feel about it days, months, and years later is what’s most important.

I’m all about the journey, the experience—captivate me, educate me, inspire me! 

Question Three: What is your favorite thing about being an agent? What is your least favorite thing?

We are all destined for the “right” path. Becoming an agent was mine! After several years as Regional Advisor for SCBWI: Northern Ohio, and becoming a published author myself, I found myself limited on what I could do to help writers and illustrators reach their goals. I was able to provide tools (education, motivation, inspiration), but building careers was out of reach, so I strived to make it reachable.
For me, I love, love, LOVE, working one-on-one with my clients!

While all jobs have their disadvantages, I can’t seem to find many as an agent. I love going to work every day. It’s as simple as that!

Regarding my response time…I will note this as my least favorite thing about my job. Due to the overwhelming e-mails and queries I receive, and as my protocol (as an author knowing what it’s like to be on the waiting side), I respond personally to each one. Unfortunately, this takes time. 

Question Two: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)

As with all professions, becoming a published author and/or illustrator takes education, dedication, and confidence. We all have imaginations and the ability to create, but learning how to hone this craft and bring life to words and/or illustrations, is only reachable for those who are willing to persevere!

As with all professions, one should expect rejections, obstacles/challenges, and possibly, when the timing is right, success!

Question One: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

Those who know me personally could answer this easily-- Stephen King, of course!
I find his path to publication fascinating.

I find his published works to be more than enjoyment for reading. For me, they’re instruments/tools—I’ve learned so much on mastering voice, playing with a manuscript’s structure, and even pushing those standard writing rules a tad.

His publications encouraged me to write about the sweet and innocent, while weaving in the crazy and unimaginable. They helped me push my own limits as a writer--learning to not hold back, writing about my deepest fears, while sharing those things that show my vulnerability.

And mostly, they encouraged me to be me--to write what I need to write!

While many of us will never know how we influence another’s life, I would love to properly thank Stephen King some day.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

7 Questions For: Author Sarah J. Schmitt

Sarah J. Schmitt is a K-8 school librarian and Youth Service Professional for Teens at a public library who, in addition to planning a variety of events, enjoys opening up the world of books to reluctant readers. She runs a teen writing program that combines Skype visits from well-known authors and screenwriters and critique group style feedback. 

Prior to immersing herself in the world of the written word, Sarah earned her Masters of Science in Higher Education Administration and Student Affairs from Indiana University where she worked with first year college students as they acclimated to college life. Sarah lives outside of Indianapolis with her husband, two kidlets and a cat who might actually be a secret agent. She is an active member of SCBWI, ALA and the Indiana Library Federation and is a regular participant at the Midwest Writer's Workshop. Her debut novel, IT'S A WONDERFUL DEATH, comes out Fall 2015 from Sky Pony Press.

Click here to read my review of It's A Wonderful Death.

And now Sarah J. Schmitt faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

This is always a tough question. There are so many books. So many to love. I'll go with my favorite series, classic and audiobook, just to keep it exciting. My favorite series of all time is Harry Potter. I have two kidlets who have FINALLY gotten to the age where we can read them as a family and it's such a cool experience to read them together! (Although I have to give a series shout out to Mike Mullin's Ashfall trilogy because holy cow the adrenaline rush!) My favorite classic is Pride and Prejudice. I read the book once a year and watch the BBC mini-series at least three times a year. The script is word for word the book. Finally, my favorite audiobook is hands down Beauty Queens by Libba Bray. Libba does the narration and her voices are spot on with how I read the characters! If you haven't listened to it, you must do so right now. I'll wait.

Question Six: How much time do you spend each week writing? Reading?

The reading part is pretty easy. I would say I spend, on average, about 20 hours reading each week. I wish it were more, but things are kinda crazy right now with my debut getting ready to come out. Writing is completely different because I'm what I like to call a binge writer. I won't write anything for a couple of months and then sit down and hammer out a (very) rough draft in a few weeks. Once the draft is done, I spend about 20 hours a week in edits and revision until I'm ready to share with the rest of the world. (Okay, my crit partners.) It takes a little longer for the rest of the world.

Question Five: What was the path that led you to publication?

It's A Wonderful Death is my first published novel but I completed two other novels before finally getting an agent. I signed with Liza Fleissig of Liza Royce Agency in June and after reworking the manuscript, we went out on submission in August. By November, we had an offer with a UK publisher and had an October 2014 release date. On June 9, 2014, my agent called and I asked if I was sitting down. I said I was but I was driving an F250. Her response, "Pull over." It was then that I found out my publisher was closing. You know that part in the movie when everything goes wonky and the world slows down and gets quiet. When the main character can only hear the sound of their own breath. It would have been like that if I were breathing. But, while I was in the fetal position, Liza did what she does best and by September, I had an offer from Sky Pony Press for an October 2015 release. It wasn't the easiest path, but regardless, I ended up exactly where I belong. 

Question Four: Do you believe writers are born, taught or both? Which was true for you?

I think it's both. Writing is a passion that comes from inside. It's something you HAVE to do. However, I think just having that passion isn't enough. Writers need to learn their craft. They need to study every part of it. And they need to read everything they can so they can develop their own voice. I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was in elementary school. But it took a couple decades for me to hone my craft and figure out what kind of writer I wanted to be. I'm still learning. I heard someone say that being a writer is agreeing to do homework for the rest of your life. I agree with that statement. 

Question Three: What is your favorite thing about writing? What is your least favorite thing?

My favorite part about writing is revision. I love it. I know this might make me a minority among authors, but there's something about taking a rough draft and polishing it until it shines. When I'm writing, it's very individual. Since I normally work with critique partners, revision is the time when I can let my extrovert out. 

My least favorite thing about writing is the blank page. It's like a beacon taunting me. It's also a signal that there are a lot of hours of writing before revisions.

Question Two: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)

Read. Read. Read. Read. It blows my mind when I meet people who say they want to write books but they don't like to read. 

Question One: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

J.K. Rowling. There's so many things I would want to ask her, but in reality, I would probably just sit and stare, unable to put three words together in a coherent order. In the end, I would just hope some of her literary genius would rub off on me. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Book of the Week: IT'S A WONDERFUL DEATH by Sarah J. Schmitt

First Paragraph(s): The gypsy fortune-teller at the Halloween carnival predicts I’ll have a long life full of possibilities. Of course, that’s right before she uses me as a human shield to avoid the outstretched hand of a black-cloak-clad, sickle-wielding Grim Reaper and then flees hysterically from the tent. Really, if you think about it, that makes her a liar and a murderer. I better get a refund. 
And no matter what the Grim Reaper says about not meaning to collect my soul, it doesn’t change the fact that I’m looking down at my lifeless body while my friends stare at each other. Hello? Call 911. Or maybe someone could start doing CPR. Idiots. 
“Come with me,” the Reaper insists, tugging on my arm. “There isn’t much time.” 
I shake him off and shoot my best withering glare in his direction. “I don’t think so. You saw what she did. You were coming for her, not me. She’s the one you should be hauling out of here.” 
And then he shrugs his shoulders. Is he kidding? He rips my soul from my body and the next minute acts like I’m asking to change the station on the car radio. 

Have you ever read such an exciting opening, Esteemed Reader? Probably you have, there are a lot of great books in the world, so you've got me there. But you have to admit that's one's pretty darn good:) There are few ways as interesting to open a novel as with the death of the main character and by the end of the first paragraph, Schmitt has established the tone of this novel and the voice of the story. 

"Sarah J. Schmitt's It's a Wonderful Death is a wonderful read." --Robert Kent, Middle Grade Ninja (this blurb available for future editions). Also this one: "It's a wonderful breath of fresh air." Or my all time favorite blurb that Gideon's Spear declined to use for some reason (they hate selling lots of books and making fat stacks of cash, I guess): "In the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust, having watched everyone you ever knew or loved burn to a cinder, as you sit waiting for the radiation sickness to put you out and at last take your pain away, those hours will be made less agonizing by reading Darby Karchut's Gideon's Spear Sarah J. Schmitt's It's a Wonderful Death."

Actually, one of the for real blurbs being used in the marketing of this book is from our old friend Mike Mullin. My own YA novel has one of those. And so if you're wondering, do all you Indiana YA authors know each other and blurb each other's books all day? The answer is yes; yes, we do. I've bumped into Sarah at multiple conferences and she always makes me smile and I'm looking forward to seeing her at future events. It's always exciting to read an excellent debut novel sure to launch its author toward super-stardom, but it's even more exciting when that author is someone you know and like and want good things to happen for.

It's a Wonderful Death is a fun fantasy set in the afterlife (or maybe the pre-afterlife) with just enough moral underpinning to be part Sunday school lesson as taught by somebody cool and funny who knows she's making it all up as do we, so there's none of that icky religious aftertaste:) Although Sarah J. Schmitt's afterlife seems to be influenced primarily by Christian and Greek mythology, Buddha puts in an appearance and all faiths (or lack thereof) are welcome:

“What if I don’t believe in God?”
He looks at me like he can’t believe what I’m asking. “Do you think all this is happening in your imagination?”
“No, I mean, what if I’m Buddhist or Hindu or something else?”
Understanding dawns on his face. “Do you think God cares what name you use? That’s something you humans get caught up in.”

If you're looking for some hardcore religious fiction, surely somebody's working on another extension to the Left Behind series, but this isn't that. This is closer to Dead Like Me or Defending Your Life, and I say we need more books about the afterlife we don't have to pretend are nonfiction. In fact, writing such a novel is on my bucket list and I'm always curious to read someone else's interpretation.

It's a Wonderful Death is related to us through the prism of sarcastic and snarky Rowena Joy Jones, a high school senior whose job is to win homecoming queen and who never apologizes to anyone ever. If she's sounds a bit irritating to you, Esteemed Reader, remember she dies in the first paragraph of the novel:) Here's how RJ Jones reflects on her passing while floating above her body in a fun variation on the old character looking-at-themselves-in-a-mirror routine:

I scan the rest of my body and notice the way my neck is tilting at a weird angle. Of course that could be because my jet black hair is pulled up in a messy bun. No one can lay comfortably with a bun. It’s physically impossible.
Other than all that, I look like I always do: perfect.

The afterlife, or perhaps Limbo is more accurate, first appears to be a ride on the The Polar Express to... wait for it... the Bureau of Motor Vehicles! Not really, but RJ does have to be processed, which involves sitting around in a large waiting room with other newly departed souls. In fact, there's a lot of being bounced from courtrooms and lawyers and guardian angles that goes into to standing at the golden gates of Heaven which are directly across from the gates of Hell. One of my favorite details is that RJ has to allow her life to be flashed before her eyes courtesy of laser disc:

He sighs. “It’s where they check you in and give you the recording of your life.”
“You mean like a DVD?” 
“Actually, they use laser discs up here.”
“Laser what?”
The Reaper gives me a look of exasperation. “You never stop asking questions, do you? Think of it like this: if an album and DVD had a baby, it would look like a laser disc. It’s a failed technology experiment from the nineteen eighties and nineties.”
“Album?” I ask.
 “You don’t know what an album is?”
In spite of everything, I’m having a good time watching him get flustered by my random questions. It’s one of many weapons in my verbal arsenal. “Relax, I know what it is. I saw one in a museum once.”

One of my favorite details is that RJ has to allow her life to be flashed before her eyes courtesy of laser disc, and she doesn't like what she sees: The older I get the more hateful this video is making me look. There’s no way I was that mean. Is there? And here is how Sarah J. Schmitt is able to not only show us not only who RJ has been but how her decisions, however small they seem at the time, have shaped her life. And all of this brings us to central conflict of our tale, judgement:

With a sigh, Peter sits down on the ground and motions for me to do the same. “Everyone has a plan before them. They have a purpose. Each choice they make keeps them on their path or leads them off course.” 
“Okay,” I say, still not understanding what he’s trying to say. 
“Well, you were pretty far off the path. In fact, you weren’t even in the same forest you started in.”
My shoulders drop. “But I still had my whole life in front of me. Maybe I would’ve changed.”
“Maybe,” he admits. “But for the first seventeen years you put yourself before others. You were more interested in being popular than being a good person.” 
“People can be both,” I argue. He shrugs. Wow. There is nothing like having Saint Peter insinuate that you suck as a human being.

And then later:

Zachriel continues: “In her mind, she knows she has done certain things that can never be redeemed, no matter how long she lives on Earth. She is shockingly callous in her treatment of others and easily manipulated by those she considers to be her friends.” 
The person he’s describing sounds weak and pathetic. There’s no way he’s talking about me. And why doesn’t he mention any of the good things I’ve done? 
“She has accomplished some marginal success in her life,” he adds. “There are acts of charity and moments where she seems on the verge of moving toward the path she’s meant to be on.” 
Well, that’s something. And then he drops the bomb. 
“But those moments are few and far between. In my opinion, to recast the fate of the world for this soul would be a waste of time. There is no evidence to 85 indicate that she would in fact make any changes in her life or that her continued presence among the living would make for a better society.”

So is RJ cast into Hell and tortured for eternity or is she returned to her life forever changed by her experience to run through the streets of Bedford Falls and be all Merry-Christmas-movie-houououousssse? Esteemed Reader, you'll have to read It's a Wonderful Death to find out and you should. It's a fun, irreverent story that's clever and witty throughout and it kept me chuckling from start to finish. And I have a feeling we haven't seen the last of RJ Jones and we certainly haven't seen the last of Sarah J. Schmitt. We'll see her here on Thursday to face the 7 Questions:)

As always, I'll leave you with some of my favorite passages from It's a Wonderful Death:

“Can’t you at least tell me where we’re going?” I ask, sucking in my breath, which is pointless since I don’t actually need to breathe anymore. Still, there’s something comforting in doing it.

As much as I call Felicity my bestie, the truth is, we’re only friends because we know too much about each other to be enemies. It’s a relationship of tactical means.

“Well, look here,” he says, his thick Caribbean Island accent rolling off his tongue, and I can almost feel a tropical breeze blow gently through the room.

Hazel is trembling like the last leaf left on a tree in November.

“Over there. Next to gate. Is that Saint Peter?” 
Yeats glances up toward the line waiting to get into Heaven. “That would be him.” 
I stretch my neck to get a better look. “Who’s that guy sitting next to him?” 
“Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of the Buddha,” Yeats scoffs. 
I try to cover up my surprise with indignation. “Yeah, I know who he is, but why is he here?” 
“I thought we covered this already,” Hazel says with a sigh. “It’s not God who has problems with other religions. That’s a mankind thing. Buddhists have as much right to the eternal grace as anyone else.” 
A smirk spreads over my face. “What about Scientologists?” 
Hazel’s face turns bright red as she starts to answer, but Yeats steps in front of her. “Why don’t we go see Peter?” He takes my elbow and leads me through the crowd, leaving Hazel to simmer.

STANDARD DISCLAIMER: Book of the Week is simply the best book I happened to read in a given week. There are likely other books as good or better that I just didn’t happen to read that week. Also, all reviews here will be written to highlight a book’s positive qualities. It is my policy that if I don’t have something nice to say online, I won’t say anything at all (usually). I’ll leave you to discover the negative qualities of each week’s book on your own.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

7 Questions For: Author Barbara Shoup

Barbara Shoup is the author eight novels, including Night Watch, Wish You Were Here, Stranded in Harmony, Faithful Women, Vermeer's Daughter, Everything You Want, An American Tune, and Looking for Jack Kerouac, as well as the co-author of Novel Ideas: Contemporary Authors Share the Creative Process and Story Matters. 

Her young adult novels, Wish You Were Here and Stranded in Harmony were selected as American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults. Vermeer's Daughter was a School Library Journal Best Adult Book for Young Adults. She was the recipient of the 2006 PEN Phyllis Reynolds Naylor Working Writer Fellowship. 

She lives in Indianapolis, where she is the Executive Director of Indiana Writers Center.

Click here to read my review of Looking for Jack Kerouac.

And now Barbara Shoup faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

AARGH. That’s impossible. There are so many books I love. But here are a few that I’ve found especially enlightening as a writer because they are wonderful stories and offer insight the process by which stories are made: 

The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien 
Atonement by Ian McEwan 
Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively
Life after Life by Kate Atkinson.

Question Six: How much time do you spend each week writing? Reading?

I usually get up around 5 AM and write for a few hours every morning before the “real” day starts. This works best for me when I’m in the middle of something. It’s harder when I’m still trying to get something going. I still get up early, but I sit and stare a lot. 

Reading? I’m addicted. I read every night before I go to sleep, which can be anywhere from ten minutes to several hours. (Depending on how tired I am.) I always have a book or my kindle with me, so I read in restaurants, cafes, hospitals, airports—any place I have a few extra moments. I read in the car when I’m a passenger; when I’m the driver, I’m listening to an audio. Once I start a book I like, it’s marathon time. I’m in that world; I can’t stop. I’ve been known to read eight (or more) hours straight. (When I went to the hospital to give birth to my daughter, Kate, I was in the middle of a big, fat Michener book and kept trying to read while in labor and, afterwards, holding Kate and reading at the same time. I know. It’s awful.

Question Five: What was the path that led you to publication?

I didn’t have any training as a writer and took my first writing classes at the Indiana Writers Center. I don’t know what I would have done if it hadn’t been there to get me started and make me feel like being a writer was possible. I was lucky. I jumped into the novel, got an agent with the first one I finished (though it never sold). The second novel I wrote, Night Watch, sold pretty quickly. But it was twelve years before I published the next novel, Wish You Were Here. That was hard! I kept writing, though a lot of times I wondered why.

Question Four: Do you believe writers are born, taught or both? Which was true for you?

Both. I think the best writers were born with the ability to see things more clearly than other people, though they may not figure this out for a long time. They’re curious about how the world works, often painfully aware of the complexity of human existence. They’re always trying to figure out what it means to be alive. This doesn’t make you a writer, though. Writing is a craft. You have to learn it. If you’re lucky, you have some good teachers and mentors along the way.

I definitely got that “thing” about seeing things more clearly (often painfully clearly). But it took me years to learn how to translate that sensibility into words and stories. I went to writers conferences, found other writers to share work with, and had a wonderful mentor, a woman quite a lot older than I was, who took me under her wing and taught me so much. I still hear her voice when I’m revising.

Question Three: What is your favorite thing about writing? What is your least favorite thing?

I love how sometimes, writing, I write something that surprises me, something I didn’t know I knew. 

My least favorite thing is starting…anything. Once I get going, I just keep following the thread and, eventually, I get there. But starting? Ugh.

Question Two: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)

I love this quote from Flaubert, which I think says it all: “Talent is a long patience, and originality an effort of will and intense observation.” 

Question One: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

Kurt Vonnegut. He was so smart, funny, honest—and had such a large heart.