Archive for July, 2013

This is NOT An Interview for a Writing Manual

July 24th, 2013 by Terra | 3 Comments | Filed in Talking with Other Authors

The Young Adult Review Network is a site I’ve enjoyed and admired for quite some time, both as a guest poster and also simply as a reader. It’s chock-a-block full of good advice and interviews with authors and poets, and, more importantly, is a great outlet for young writers’ work.

So when Kerri Majors, editor and founder of  YARN (not to mention a writer herself) told me she had a new book on living the writing life coming out, I was thrilled. This month we finally see copies of This is Not A Writing Manual available in stores, so I wanted to interview Kerri about the book and some of its finer points.

TEM:  As Editor and Founder of YARN, a resource I really love, you’ve spent a long time working with and helping young writers. What role did that job play in the creation of This is Not a Writing Manual?

KM: Without YARN, I never would have written this book.  It was only after we won an award from the National Book Foundation that I got to thinking about myself as more than just an aspiring, thwarted fiction writer.  I started thinking more about what writing had meant in my life in a bigger sense: I’d been a teacher of writing, an editor, as well as a writer of fiction and non-fiction.

I was also so impressed by the YA writing community, which is full of readers and writers of all ages who really support each other and the teenagers who read but also bravely write in the genre.Because of YARN, I started to want to talk directly to those young writers, to share with them things that I’d learned about writing in the many years I’d been trying to be a writer—just like them.

TEM: This Is Not A Writing Manual is not, in fact, a writing manual. Though highly instructive, it has a more learn-from-my-life, memoir-y kind of feel. What led you to write the book this way instead of as a traditional writing manual?

KM:  Part of the reason is that a writing memoir specifically for young writers (14-24 years old) didn’t yet exist, whereas some manuals did exist.  And thinking back to my own teen and college writing days, I realized I really could have used a book that would mentor me through those early years of figuring out how to make a living, nurture my writing, and deal with the ups and downs of the writing life.

In my late twenties, I read and loved Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.  Lamott’s warm tone and honesty about the writing life were exactly what I needed at the time, and I hoped to provide something similar to younger writers.  Her book is emphatically not a manual, and none of the other kinds of writing advice I’ve responded to in books and out has been manual-ish, either.  I think writers like to see the big picture.  I wanted to offer a big-picture kind of look at the writing life.

TEM: Why do you think books like This Is Not A Writing Manual are important for teen writers to have in their lives?

KM:  I probably just answered this question above, but I should add that—for me at least—I found all the advice I received about writing and making a living to be very disjointed (while I was growing up).  One person told me one thing, and another person told me the opposite.  It was hard to put it all together in a meaningful way that would help me make decisions about my own life.

In short, I—like many young writers—needed a guide.  Not a guidebook.  Someone more like Virgil in Dante’s Inferno, someone to show me the ropes then let me make my own decisions. I am one kind of guide.  There are many others I hope young writers will seek out, to help them make sense of their own particular situations:  Stephen King, E.B. White, Anne Lamott, Milan Kundera, Charles Baxter…It’s a long list!

TEM: One of my favorite bits of advice in this book comes in the “The Creative Writing Major” chapter, where you advise readers to, yes, take some classes, but also “learn about the stuff that will make your writing interesting.” Can you tell us a more specific experience that has helped make YOUR writing more interesting?

KM:  In the book I talk about minoring in Art History, which I never expected to do when I started college.  I kind of stumbled on it while shopping for classes to fulfill breadth requirements, and I’ll be forever glad I did.  I loved to study art and history side by side, and then to discover that I could actually integrate this knowledge into my fiction was a total revelation.

To that, I’d add that that travel has shaped my writing in crucial ways.  I’ve traveled mostly outside of school, but schools and school clubs offer inexpensive and easy ways to get to locations you might not get to on your own (Europe, the Grand Canyon, Washington DC, junior years abroad, etc).  My first published short story was based on a trip I took to visit a friend in Vietnam, and more broadly, seeing and experiencing a wide variety of cultures, foods, and geographies has given me a strong sense of the vast diversity in the world.  I may not always write about that diversity directly, but every time I write, it acts sort of as “wallpaper in my mind” (to borrow a favorite phrase from a favorite former history professor).

TEM:  I’m so glad you included the chapter “Hating Your Best Friend,” because jealousy and envy were two feelings I truly did not expect to feel once I became published. I think it’s something we all feel, but don’t always talk about. At what stage in writing did you know you needed to include this section?

KM:  It’s so interesting that you say you didn’t expect to feel them “once” you’d “become published.”  Hear that writers out there?  It NEVER GOES AWAY.  It’s interesting because this is also a chapter that the non-writers who have read my book have responded positively to.  They point out that envy is something people feel in many aspects of life (professional as well as personal), and they were glad I fessed up to my own darkest envious days, because any/everyone can relate.

I knew from the beginning that I would include this chapter (though it didn’t take it’s actual shape until I was under contract), because for better and worse, it’s been such a big part of my writing life and the lives of other writers (which I just happen to know from chatting with a few).  I certainly don’t think I can help young writers avoid feeling envy in their careers; rather, I’m hoping to help them feel less alone and desperate when they do feel it.

TEM:  The Appendix of This is Not a Writing Manual is so helpful. What other Real Jobs for writers have you thought of since finishing the book? And where do you think blogging fits in here?

KSM: Thanks for asking, and while I’m at it, I want to remind people with the book that some of the careers I mentioned couldn’t fit, so be sure to visit the URL provided in the book for the rest!

To be honest, I haven’t thought of more since I published the book.  Have you?  Add away! [TEM Note: I think pretty much any job benefits from good readers and writers--people who can think critically, and articulate concepts well. You could probably even be a better fireman with some Creative Writing under your belt. The path isn't always direct, but when people asked me what I was going to do with an English Major, I looked at them and said, "What can't I do?" (The answer was Chemistry. I sucked at Chemistry.)]

Blogging is in the Appendix under Journalism, and I think it’s a great way to get noticed.  You’re not likely to make enough money to live on, but it’s great practice in the art and discipline of writing, and it keeps you connected to the writing and publishing community.  I would only suggest doing a blog if you have a subject you care a lot about, not just to get noticed.  Otherwise, it’ll seem like a major drag.  Like all aspects of writing, you have to love it to do it.

TEM:  So, what are the current “Another World” type things you’re watching and consuming these days to help your writing?

KM:  I so miss that soap opera!  I tried watching other daytime soaps (which are moving online these days—so interesting!), but I never loved the characters in the same way I did the characters from AW. Other TV I’m loving is Game of Thrones, Spartacus (though it frequently gets too violent for my tastes), and an excellent internet series called The Outs.  I LOVED Sex and the City when it ran, and still miss it…But those examples aren’t the kind of “light” entertainment that AW was.  TV has gotten so high brow!!

I do still enjoy a good chick lit novel.  Emily Giffin is one of my faves.  Oh!  And I should confess that I thoroughly enjoyed Fifty Shades of Gray last summer.  No matter what kind of entertainment I’m consuming, my writer’s mind is always on and tuning in to what the medium has to teach me about writing.

TEM:  Lastly, if there’s ONE big take-away you hope readers get from This Is Not a Writing Manual, what is it?

KM:  The writing life is long and full of pleasures that have nothing to do with publication, if you leave yourself open to them.  For instance, I am doing a series of writing workshops with kids at the Belmont Library this July, and they are awesome!  I love hearing the kids’ writing and their smart, savvy ideas about writing.  And I love editing YARN.

So, be flexible.  Be willing to be surprised.

TEM:  I couldn’t have said it better, myself! Thanks, Kerri, and congratulations!

Add BEING FRIENDS WITH BOYS To Your Summer Reading Pile!

July 10th, 2013 by Terra | No Comments | Filed in Being Friends with Boys

Been meaning to read BEING FRIENDS WITH BOYS and haven’t yet? Well, there is a giveaway sweepstakes on right now until July 15th! Enter to win one of eight signed copies of BEING FRIENDS WITH BOYS, *and* a newly-created Sad Jackal band logo sticker!


The Page Turners Have Spoken, And They Are Conflicted!

July 3rd, 2013 by Terra | No Comments | Filed in Being Friends with Boys
There are many fantastic elements to my job as a bookseller at Little Shop of Stories, but hands down one of my favorite tasks is running my two book clubs. Kids & Companions is a group for kids ages 8-11, and a grownup reading partner of their choice, and the Page Turners are all girls in 6th, 7th, and 8th grades. Once a month, we read a book and meet to discuss it together, and I always gain new insights on life, love, and the pursuit of literature during our conversations.

Last month, by the Page Turners’ request, we read my fourth novel, Being Friends With Boys. Since there are so many great guys in that book –and I have a hard time choosing a favorite, myself– I asked the girls which one was their favorite or least favorite of the fellows. Here’s what they had to say, and since even Charlotte has trouble deciding on a favorite, I suppose I should not have been surprised that they had trouble coming to a consensus, too!

My favorite boy in Being Friends With Boys was Oliver because I can see he really does have a good heart even if he doesn’t always show it.   Even though he has a short temper and a tendency to give the silent treatment, I think at the end of the day, he would do anything for his friends, especially Charlotte.  I think, deep down, he cares for Charlotte probably more than she knows and would never try to hurt her.
My Least Favorite Boy in Being Friends With Boys was Benji because I feel like he had a bit of a ulterior motive when he flirts with Charlotte.  I mean, it’s just a little weird that a boy that Charlotte barely knows or ever talks to starts to randomly pass her notes and ask her to study.  I find it very hard to believe that he has a genuine crush on Charlotte and wants to be her long-term boyfriend considering his…um…reputation.  Even though he proved himself to be a great friend . . .  I was still a little wary of him the whole time.
- Chloe Nathan, 12

My favorite boy in Being Friends with Boys was Trip, because of the way he was described. I think, out of all the other characters in the book (although well described ), you could picture Trip in your mind and grow to love that image.
– Hope Barrineau, age 12

I loved the book Being Friends with Boys.  I connected very well  with the characters in the book.  My favorite boy was Benji.  I held an interest for the misunderstood rebel throughout the book. The interest began when I read about how he dropped the note onto Charlotte’s desk asking her to study. I felt like he would be her “replacement” for Trip, and in a way he was. So I was really mad when she used him . . . he trusted and liked her and Charlotte just let him down.
But my least favorite boy was Oliver.  He was a very interesting character but he sometimes didn’t treat Charlotte with the respect she deserved.  I also didn’t like how he started taking credit for the things Charlotte did.  I felt like he was the leader who was  trying to make an image for him and he took it a little too far.
Being Friends with Boys was an amazing book, and I am definitely going to read more of Ms. McVoy.
–Mary Lisle Shewan, age 12

My favorite boy in Being Friends With Boys was Oliver, because even when he was being a regular jerky boy, he realized that being there for Charlotte was one of his top priorities.
–Hanna Scott, age 12

My favorite boy in Being Friends With Boys would have to be Oliver; even though he can sometimes be a meanie to Charlotte, they still have a great relationship. Oliver and Charlotte are almost like brother and sister. They have their fights, but it always turns out okay. He seems like an awesome guy to hang out with, and plus he’s in a band and cute!
In some ways Benji is my least favorite. He smokes pot, skips class, and seems like a “punk.” I dislike him for that reason, but once you actually get to know him, he’s super sweet! Trip, well, at first you think he’s great. He seems like a loyal friend to Charlotte until he isn’t. Trip totally just deserts Charlotte, leaving her wondering why he just left. I hated it when he did that! This is why all in all Trip is probably my least favorite boy of them all.
–Jenny Capriola, age 12
Thanks so much, ladies, for your responses! I can’t wait to discuss our NEXT book with you!