Wednesday, May 9, 2018

7 Questions For: Author Gennifer Choldenko

Gennifer Choldenko is best known for her Tales from Alcatraz series, which has sold more than 2 million copies. Book #1: Al Capone Does My Shirts was a Newbery Honor Book and the recipient of twenty other awards. Book #4: Al Capone Throws Me a Curve is due out in 2018. BookPage said of her most recent novel, Chasing Secrets: “Choldenko’s ability to research obscure yet intriguing topics is uncanny, and as she did with the popular Al Capone trilogy she turns a tough topic into a high interest read … a compelling work of historical fiction.” Gennifer lives with her loyal husband and naughty dog in the San Francisco Bay Area.

In her own words: There’s a Lego in my bum which fits with the Lego in my chair and when I sit down to write, I hear the satisfying snap of the two pieces fitting together. I love words, dictionaries, thesauruses, sharp pencils, the smell of book ink and the delicious art of carving out sentences on clean white paper. I love to slip into another person’s skin and feel what it’s like to live another life. I love when characters come to me out of nowhere and make me cry so hard my mascara runs or laugh until my stomach hurts. I love the crazy fun and infinite possibility of storytelling.

What prepared me for a life of writing fiction? Though I have a BA from Brandeis University in English and American Literature and a BFA in illustration from Rhode Island School of Design, the true answer is probably genes. I come from a long line of Irish storytellers on my father’s side and theatre people on my mother’s. I always knew I loved to write, but it took me a long time to summon the courage to chase the dream. I finally went for it when I realized I would prefer to be a failure at something I wanted to do, then a success at something I didn’t. 

While I was pretending I wasn’t a writer, trying to be a nice person with a nice quiet job somewhere, I sold lingerie, lipstick and lamp shades. I wrote junk mail. I taught visually and hearing-impaired kids horseback riding. I held a prestigious job in rubbish removal and I worked in a factory wearing a paper gown while wielding a large mallet on small serving packages of ketchup. 

One Third Nerd, my funniest novel yet, is due out in January 2019. My most famous novel, Al Capone Does My Shirts, garnered 20 awards, one of which was the Newbery Honor. The Tales of Alcatraz series has sold more than 2 million copies. What will probably be the last book in the series: Al Capone Throws Me a Curve is the best of the fifteen books I’ve written so far. 

I am a fitness fanatic; a book-obsessed, tennis-playing woman who thinks like a twelve-year-old. If I ever get the good fortune to meet you, offer me coffee and I will be your friend for life.

And now Gennifer Choldenko faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

Charlotte’s Web, Holes, All the Light We Cannot See

(In my view, All the Light We Cannot See is YA.)

In the competition for top fourth book: El Deafo, A Little Princess, The Watsons Go to Birmingham, Harriet the Spy, The Book Thief, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

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

The last six months, I’ve been writing seven days a week, which I really enjoy. On weekend days, I generally write for two hours; during the week, four to five hours.  Sometimes I read during my writing time. Today, I spent less time writing because my ideas for my newest book feel thin.  I haven’t done a good enough job researching.  So I worked on finding the information I need.

As for reading for pure pleasure: two hours.  I read during breakfast and lunch.  I am a huge fan of audio books.  I “read with my ears” while I walk the dog, do errands, clean the house and drive. Right now, I’m listening to Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese.

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

I’ve always loved to write.  For seven years, I made a living writing advertising.  But then writing advertising started to make me hate myself.  I just couldn’t do it anymore.  I tried writing fiction for adults, but I found that boring.  Who cares about adults?  After a few wrong turns, I finally figured out what energized me was writing for kids.  I am twelve on the inside and I care passionately about things that other twelve-year-olds care about.  

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

There are three intrinsicqualities that have to come together to make a writer: talent, personality andambition.  My brother is a talented writer, but he’s such a people person he can’t handle the alone time.  My daughter is immensely talented but she hates how subjective the writing process is.  She prefers math and science, where the answers are clear.

Once you have talent, a writerly personality and ambition, then you need to figure out how to build your skill set. And that is a lifelong endeavor.

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

Wow, I have so many favorite things.  I love the endorphin high I get when a new idea pops in my head.  I love when a scene comes to me and I can’t type fast enough to get it all down.  I love revising.  (My license plate?  REWRITZ.)  I love when my characters talk to me and I become so involved in their stories that I don’t want to leave my fictional world.  Really there’s no part of writing I don’t like, but there is a part of the writing business I dislike.  I’m terrified when a book launches.  It feels like I’ve sent my kindergarten age child out on the streets to fend for herself.

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)

1.Don’t beat up your muse.  Be grateful for every gift she gives.

2. Revel in the process.  It isn’t about getting through it or getting it over with.

3. Every year ask yourself what part of your writing skill set needs work.  Then strategize how to up your game.

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

Frank L. Baum and JK Rowling.  I don’t think Frank L. Baum is the best writer, but his imagination was incredible.  He fired off every cylinder.  J.K. Rowling is both a terrific writer and she is intensely imaginative.  What would Frank and Joanne order?  What would they say to each other?  I would love to hear them discuss how their ideas came to them. 

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