Thursday, March 10, 2016

7 Questions For: Author Jeanne DuPrau

Jeanne DuPrau is the author of The New York Times bestseller The City of Ember and its companion novels The People of Sparks, The Prophet of Yonwood, and The Diamond of Darkhold. She lives in Menlo Park.

She spends several hours of every day at her computer, thinking up sentences. She has this quote taped to her wall: "A writer is someone for whom writing is harder than it is for other people" (Thomas Mann).

This gives her courage, because she finds writing very hard. So many words to choose from! So many different things that could happen in a story at any moment! Writing is one tough decision after another. 

But it's also the most satisfying thing she knows how to do. So she keeps doing it. So far, she has written five novels, six books of non-fiction, and quite a few essays and stories. 

She doesn't write every minute of every day. She also putters around in her gardens.

Click here to read my review of The City of Ember.

And now Jeanne DuPrau faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

Bleak House, Charles Dickens

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

And so many more that I can’t possibly choose among them. Novels, essays, mysteries, spy stories, science fiction, books about dogs, books about history, books about technology…. I could go on and on.

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

I don’t spend nearly as much time writing as I used to, unless you count emails. If we’re talking about writing books, then I sometimes spend two hours a day, sometimes more, sometimes no time at all. The problem with writing is that you have to sit still (or stand still) while you do it, and the older you get, the less comfortable that is. 

I spend an enormous amount of time reading. I always have a pile of library books going, along with books I couldn’t resist buying though I have no room for them on my shelves any more. I read while I eat, I read online, I read in bed. I can’t make a guess about how many hours a week it would all add up to.

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

I always aimed to be a published writer. I knew writing was what I wanted to do and what I was good at, and I knew that having other people read what I wrote was a big part of the point of doing it. I sold my first piece of writing—a magazine article—when I was in my twenties, and I went on to publish essays, book reviews, stories, non-fiction books, and finally books of fiction. 

People often ask me what the secret to getting published is. My answer is that nothing about it is a secret. You must work hard at learning to write well, and you must be so interested in life and in the world that you have ideas you’re drawn to write about.

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

I think both are true. My mother was a good writer, and she did her best to make a good writer out of me. I took to it. She did the same with my sisters, who did not take to it in the same way. I had excellent English teachers in school, and I was very interested in what they taught me—grammar, spelling, sentence structure, composition—and I wanted to employ those skills in the exercise of my imagination. I probably had excellent math teachers, too, but their subject didn’t spark in me the same kind of interest. So I think I was born with a writing inclination, and I was lucky enough to be taught well, too.

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

My favorite thing is getting something right, usually after a long struggle. Most often I’m a slow, effortful writer. I have to revise over and over. I have to think. But I find nothing more satisfying than having succeeded (at least more or less) at what I’ve set out to do.

I have two least favorite things. One of them is working on something for a long time that I never do get right. The other is the backache that comes from sitting in a chair for too long.

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)

First of all, love reading. Try to notice why certain books draw you in and fire you up and others don’t.

Then, if you have ideas or stories in your mind, try writing. Remember that it takes a lot of time and work to be a good writer, just as it does to be a concert pianist or a top-flight tennis player or any kind of professional. Learn the craft. Write a lot, throw away what you write, start again, write more. Focus on what you’re writing about and how to make it clear and alive to someone who might be reading it. 

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

I would have lunch with Mark Twain, because he had a sharp wit and a great sense of humor, he was a keen observer of his time, he knew many interesting people, and he had a full life—success and failure, love and grief, war and peace. Also because I read Tom Sawyer over and over when I was child. At our lunch, I would tell him this, and then I would just sit back and listen to him talk.

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