Monday, May 30, 2011

A Peek at the Creative Space of Uma Krishnaswami

Today we step inside the writing space of Uma Krishnaswami. Uma is the author of Out of the Way, Out of the Way (illustrated by Uma Krishnaswamy--same name, different person); Remembering Grandpa (illustrated by Layne Johnson); The Happiest Tree: A Yoga Story (illustrated by Ruth Jeyaveeran); and many other titles. Her latest novel, The Grand Plan to Fix Everything, was published this month and has received starred reviews from both Kirkus and Publishers Weekly. Here's a bit about The Grand Plan:
Eleven-year-old Dini loves movies--watching them, reading about them, trying to write her own--especially Bollywood movies. But when her mother tells her some big news, it does not at all jive with the script of her life she has in mind. Her family is moving to India . . . and, not even to Bombay, which is the center of the Bollywood universe and home to Dini’s all-time most favorite star, Dolly. No, Dini is moving to a teeny, tiny village she can’t even find on a map. Swapnagiri. But Swapnagiri is full of surprises like mischievous monkeys and a girl who chirps like a bird—and the biggest surprise of all: Dolly.
So now, Dini is hard at work on a new life's script, the script in which she gets to meet the amazing Dolly Singh. But, life is often more unpredictable than the movies and when Dini starts plotting her story things get a little out of control.
Uma also teaches for the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. To learn more about her visit her website and follow her blog.




Describe your workspace.

My office is a large room that is quite central to the house, with the walls lined with books. It often turns into a cluttered space, as I'm constantly battling piles of books that mysteriously pop up around me. But I know where everything is and it's a comfortable space for me.


I have another workspace, however. It's a place I go to when I need it for reasons of both practicality and solace. I'm referring to the landscaped grounds of my local public library. Here's a video that will show you what I mean.

video

Describe a typical workday.

There isn't one, although I begin every day with a cup of tea. While the kettle boils I do a qigong set, a Chinese therapeutic exercise set I learned in my tai chi class. Three of the four cats usually sit and watch me. Only this one set draws their attention in this way, and I have no idea why. The rest of the day--that depends on whether I'm writing or revising or teaching. 

Yoda the cat.



On writing days I potter in the morning and write in the afternoon. This pottering phase (going out for a walk, or cleaning up or washing dishes, whatever) is crucial. When I get stuck writing, I stop and read. When I'm in draft mode I shut my e-mail down so it doesn't get in the way, or I'd never get anything written. 

On revising days, I wake up earlier than usual and hit the computer for a couple of mulling hours, reading what I have and thinking about it. I may go for a walk after that. Then I start digging into the work and throwing large chunks away, rewriting to fill the spaces. I'm usually exhausted by 5 or so and not much good for anything the rest of the day. Revision is the most exciting part for me, but it also exhausts me the most and I can really lose track of the real world while I'm in that zone. We have one of those exercise gliders. I moved it to my office and I've set up so that I can walk on it and type at the same time. When I get stiff from sitting at my desk I can just move my laptop over to the table near the glider, and keep on going.

Then there are the teaching days. I teach in the Vermont College of Fine Arts low-residency MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. On about ten days of each month, I begin by clearing my desk of my own work so I can focus only on my students' stories. I start working at 9 am, stop for lunch, and start again, with a few e-mail checks as needed in between. 

List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.

1. I have a small figure of Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of learning, on my desk. She was a bit wobbly and kept falling over until we mounted her on one of those squashed pennies you can get at gift shops. Now she's stable, and can keep an eye on me to make sure I don't slack off.


2. A Louisa May Alcott ornament sent by a friend, with this quote on it: "She is too fond of books and it has addled her brain." Yes, that would be me. 


3. A small carved elephant that has been a favorite of mine from my childhood.


Do you have any rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them.

I make myself a cup of tea. I log out of e-mail. If she'll cooperate, I pick up one of our cats, Mu, who likes to be walked around. Once she's had a good purr, I feel ready for work.

What do you listen to while you work?

Nothing. I can't abide any sounds when I write, other than the birds outside. No radio, no music, no anything. I'm very easily distractible. I'm one of those people who needs silence in a room if she's talking on the phone. 

What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?

I alternate between black tea (I try to limit that on account of the caffeine) and a variety of herbal teas. It has to be hot, whatever it is, never mind the time of year. Snack of choice? That changes, but currently it's sesame sticks, and dried unsweetened mango, or dates.

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

It depends on what I'm doing. When I'm preparing to work on a project, that is often best done by not focusing on it at all. I'll do a dozen other things but the work is simmering in my mind all that time. When I'm working on a new draft, it's often word count, pure and simple. If I want to write 500-800 good words a day I probably need to write 1500 bad ones, so word count matters. In revision, it's more the big story picture that keeps me grounded. As for picture books, I'm not even sure what keeps me focused or if I even am. I use them as relief from novels, so to me they feel more like therapy when I wear out over a longer work.

Do you write longhand, on a computer, or another way?

I sometimes start in longhand, and then go to the computer when my mind is working faster than my handwriting can keep up with. I have a really spidery, illegible hand, so it usually doesn't take long. 

How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?

I don't outline to begin with. I leap in anywhere and write whatever I know, which in the beginning isn't much at all. As the characters emerge I let them develop. I do write notes off the page, in a notebook, and sometimes I write questions. When I get to the middle of a work, I'll sometimes work up a rough outline just to see what I have so far and where it seems to be heading. 

If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?

Jane Austen, although heaven knows it's not Chawton and she may be quite shocked at its state of disarray. I'd hope she'd find the hummer feeders diverting, and the view of the oddly shaped rocks on the bluff.


What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?

It was something that was never intended as writing advice. Rather it's something my tai chi teacher's teacher told me. He's Sigong Dug Corpolongo of Lotus Dragon studios in Albuquerque NM, and this is what he said: "Complete every movement. An incomplete action lacks power." Isn't that wonderful? Can't you just see that playing out in writing? I can't tell you how many times I find myself placing a character in a scene, beginning an emotional reaction and then leaving it hanging. James Baldwin talks about protecting ourselves and I'm always doing that in writing. But the notion of the complete action is a really important one and it's as true in tai chi and writing as it is in life.


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Monday, May 23, 2011

A Peek at the Creative Space of Sheila O'Connor

Joining us this week for Creative Spaces is author Sheila O'Connor. Sheila's first YA novel, Sparrow Road, publishes this month from Putnam:
It's the summer before seventh grade, and twelve-year-old Raine O'Rourke's mother suddenly takes a job hours from home at mysterious Sparrow Road--a creepy, dilapidated mansion that houses an eccentric group of artists. As Raine tries to make sense of her new surroundings, she forges friendships with a cast of quirky characters including the outrageous and funky Josie.

Together, Raine and Josie decide to solve the mysteries of Sparrow Road--from its haunting history as an orphanage to the secrets of its silent, brooding owner, Viktor. But it's an unexpected secret from Raine's own life that changes her forever.
Sheila O’Connor has also published two novels for adults: Tokens of Grace and Where No Gods Came. Where No Gods Came won the Minnesota Book Award and the Michigan Award for Literary Fiction, and was selected as a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers title. Her work has been recognized with Bush Foundation, Loft McKnight, and Minnesota State Arts Board fellowships.  She teaches fiction in the MFA program at Hamline University where she also serves as editor of Water~Stone Review. A long-time poet with the Writer-in-the-Schools program, she has taught writing to thousands of young people.  She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

To learn more about Sheila O'Connor visit her website.








Describe your workspace.

Last summer I had a little writer's shed built.  It’s a single room, very simple, with plenty of windows for me to see the world.  I don’t have much in it, a couple of chairs, a writing desk, a bed where my dog sleeps.  I like a space without distraction—so there isn’t much in there.  





Describe a typical workday.  

When I’m writing a book, I typically write five days a week, for four or five hours at a stretch, and I begin first thing in the morning.  The early writing allows me to have a clear mind—free from the details of the world.  I’m fairly disciplined about this schedule—my own rule is I can’t quit until I reach five pages.  If I get to five pages before four or five hours (I rarely do) then I’m free to go.  I wish I could keep shorter hours, but I do most of my writing in the summer which means I have a lot to accomplish in those months.  When I’ve reached my five pages, I stop, print, and set it on a table to look at the next morning. In the light of the next day, I decide if there’s anything worth keeping.  Sometimes the answer is yes, but often it’s no.  


List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.
 
My favorite things are all handmade gifts.  In celebration of the publication of Sparrow Road my daughter made me a painting and my son a garden stone.  Both of those are precious to me. I also have a hand-sewn star from my dear friend Deb.  When I go out to my shed, I feel their good spirits surround me.




Do you have any rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them.  

Well, there’s the rereading the previous day's work as I mentioned above.  I also like to warm up with pre-writing—listing or mapping in a notebook—messy jottings to get me ready for the work I have ahead.  For me, the most important ritual is entering the space that holds the story—a space where there is nothing but the story work to be done.  When I close the door to my shed I enter story world.
 

What do you listen to while you work?  

I’m a silence writer myself—no noise would be ideal for me.  Of course there’s always some noise from the world—but perfect peace is my dream.  

What keeps you focused while you’re working?  

The only way I know to stay focused is to stay put at the desk.  If I’m totally stuck, or exhaustion is setting in, I’ll take a rest, close my eyes, wait for something good to come. 

Do you write longhand, on a computer, or another way?  

I write at the computer mostly—but there are times I write a scene by longhand, especially if some warm-up exercise leads me suddenly to prose.  In revision, I often move between longhand and the keyboard.  

How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?

I let the story lead me.  I follow the truth of the story, the characters, the events, the inevitability of certain outcomes.  I’m always focused on the causal relationship—how one thing would organically lead to the next.  


If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?

I have shared my workspace with fellow writers, both spaces I’ve rented and my shed, and I’m always happy to do it.  I like the thought of someone else’s dream coming alive in that space.  


What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?

My favorite piece of advice is actually Einstein’s, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”  I’m at my best when I allow the dream to become the book, when I trust the process and the story to reveal itself to me.  The craft will come, the intellect will have its day during revision, but the story dream, I consider that the most essential work. 
 



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Monday, May 16, 2011

A Peek at the Creative Space of Bethanie Deeney Murguia

Joining us this week for Creative Spaces is author/illustrator Bethanie Deeney Murguia. Bethanie's picture book debut, Buglette the Messy Sleeper, published this month from Tricycle Press.

Buglette is an adorable ladybug who has ambitious, adventurous dreams while she sleeps which result in her being a messy sleeper. From the publisher, "Buglette's quirky sleeping habits worry her family--what if her messy sleeping wakes the scary crow?--until her big dreams help her to save the day."

Bethanie received an MFA in Illustration from the School of Visual Arts in New York. She was an art director for Hearst Magazines, and now lives in Sausalito, California, with her husband and two little buglettes of her own.

To learn more about Bethanie, visit her website at www.aquapup.com and her blog about writing and illustrating at bethaniemurguia.blogspot.com.

Bethanie is also running a contest on her blog where she is giving away autographed copies of her book! She is giving away one signed book for every 10 comments, up to 50 comments total. And if she receives more than 50 comments she will also be giving away an original framed piece of artwork. Click on this link to comment and enter the contest. The contest deadline is May 21, 2011.




Describe your workspace.

I work in the corner of my kitchen. I have serious studio envy. I love to dream about the REAL studio I will have someday. But for now, being in the kitchen has its benefits. I am a stay-at-home mom with two children under five and most of my day revolves around the kitchen. I keep my sketches and work in progress on the wall. That way, even if I am not technically working, I am subconsciously solving problems every time I glance at my art table. My desk is next to a sliding door that opens onto our lovely little backyard deck. On warm days, I open the door to the smell of jasmine and the conversations of our neighborhood chickens.

This is my kitchen before I began to use it as a studio.


And after:


When I am writing, I typically try to escape to the café. I prefer to write in an environment that supplies coffee and a certain amount of energy and bustle. Plus, there is an element of danger in entering my favorite café that keeps me alert. Is it because I was not born in California that this sign actually makes me think twice before entering?







Describe a typical workday. 

As a stay-at-home mom, there is no typical workday. I have childcare for a few hours each week. I always plan ahead for that time to be sure it is used well. I find that I am extremely productive during those short periods because they are so limited and so valuable. Otherwise, I work primarily at night and on the weekends. The bulk of my work is done after the kids go to bed.

On some days, my eldest daughter works with me while my youngest naps.


What media do you use and which is your favorite? 

I work traditionally. I spent many years working digitally when I was a designer. Getting away from the computer to make art is freeing—I am a very tactile person. I love the ritual of painting with watercolor. I stretch my paper onto boards. Each painting becomes precious because I’ve taken the time to stretch the paper. When I work digitally, I don’t have that sense of investment. It is too easy to start over again and again because I don’t thoroughly think things through before beginning. Over the years, I’ve combined watercolor with a variety of media—pen and ink, colored pencil and crayon. Right now, I am really digging pen and ink.

List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.

I keep letters from art directors, editors, and illustrators nearby for inspiration. I won this drawing from Mo Willems last year during the ripple blog fundraising effort. Extra credit if anyone can recognize the handwriting on the postcard to the right that says: “To Bethanie”)





I have a drawer filled with swatches and palettes that I’ve used for previous paintings. When I’m getting ready to begin a painting, I spread out my palettes and choose color combinations. It’s a great way for me to find my way into a painting. Plus, they help me to remember which paints I’ve mixed to make specific colors in the past.



In anticipation of Buglette, The Messy Sleeper’s release, I made a Buglette doll. She keeps me company.



Do you have any rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them.

I always have my iPad at my side. I keep reference photos in the iPad photo library and I keep PDFs of my work in progress on the iPad bookshelf. I download music, podcasts and, just recently, I’ve discovered the joy of listening to audiobooks while I paint.

What do you listen to while you work?

I listen to music when I’m sketching and/or writing and I listen to podcasts or audiobooks when I’m painting. These days I’ve been playing a lot of Lucinda Williams, The Wailin’ Jennys, The Be Good Tanyas, and The Head and the Heart. I tend to get into ruts and listen to the same things over and over again. Is that bad? (You don’t have to answer.)

What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?

I don’t eat much while I’m working. It distracts me. When I’m writing, I love coffee. Confession: I just drink decaf because that’s enough to get me totally wired.

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

I try to set goals for myself ahead of time. I have always been a list keeper and goal setter. Depending on the task at hand, listening to something helps to keep me focused.

What aspect of writing/illustrating do you find most challenging and why?

I am always very daunted when it is time to make the leap from sketches to final illustrations because there are so many decisions to be made about color, value, details and so on.

How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?

I keep a “seed” notebook of things that strike my fancy: situations, words, phrases, quirky behaviors, and so forth. My kids provide quite a bit of inspiration. When I have quiet moments, I read the notebook. Every so often, one of those seeds begins to grow. Once that happens, I usually do character sketches and/or thumbnail illustrations. I worked as an art director for many years so it feels very natural for me to think of a story in terms of spreads.

If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?


Well, I already have quite a bit of company in my workspace (two kids and one dog) and I honestly can’t imagine it any other way. In fact, my studiomates are so thoughtful that I often find gifts on my drawing table. The tally from last week includes two barrettes, one stuffed bear, and one half-eaten PB&J sandwich.

What is the best piece of writing/illustrating advice you’ve heard or received?

This is somewhat practical and utilitarian, but it’s something that I go back to again and again. When you are struggling with a work in progress, write the flap copy. Force yourself to summarize the book in two or three sentences. This helps me to find and focus on the heart of the story.

Thank you for inviting me to stop by, Jennifer!



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Monday, May 9, 2011

A Peek at the Creative Space of Lynne Marie

Today we're taking a peek inside the workspace of my friend Lynne Marie. Lynne's picture book debut, Hedgehog's Goes to Kindergarten, was recently published. Here's a brief summary of the book:

"It's the first day of kindergarten and little hedgehog Spike is afraid to ride the big bus alone. He needs a buddy to make the ride a bit less scary.

But no one wants to sit next to Spike's sharp quills on the bumpy bus ride.  Will he ever find someone to share his seat?" 
http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_Ka-bjXloppc/TRtaRxdoqiI/AAAAAAAAAhY/LF1TY_wnLrg/S220/HedgehogFINAL.JPG
Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten is available through Scholastic Book Clubs as a book or a book and CD package or you can contact Lynne Marie at WriteSpike@gmail.com for information on ordering a personalized copy. (You can also write to Lynne at that email if you'd like to be on her mailing list for contests, blog updates, and other fun news). To learn more about the book visit www.HedgehogGoestoKindergarten.blogspot.com. You can also visit Lynne's blog, My Word Playground, where she features a variety of writers and illustrators and shares a lot of great writing and illustrating tips.





Describe your workspace. 

I would  characterize my workspace much like the personality trait of a Pisces (which I am)--chaotic order. Which means, basically, that it is full of organized clutter! You’ll find photos, mementos, arts and crafts, various pieces from my rabbit, hedgehogs, Titanic-related and book collections, as well as so many things I love and find inspiring. I create my own creative cocoon. I would also describe it as moody, but not in a bad way. I say that because depending on the current theme of my writing or my life, it may be filled with different kinds of things. For example, when I am writing about hedgehogs, my hedgehog things and pictures will be predominantly displayed. As I look about I can see I definitely am visually inspired. I never even realized it, but just now as I am taking pictures, I think that a little gift from my best friend Connie (coupled with the fact that I actually owned hedgehogs) was part of the inspiration for Spike and Mama Hedgehog.


Pictured: Connie Mustang, Megan Atwood, Lynne Marie, Linda Joy Singleton and Verla Kay at SCBWI LA Conference, 2003


Describe a typical workday.
 

For me, a typical workday begins when my daughter crawls into my bed and wakes me up at 6:30 AM! From that time until 9:00 most of my morning is spent making her breakfast, packing her lunch, getting her dressed and off to school. At 9:00 AM I sit down with the daily goals I penned out the night before, and I get to them! My time is usually divided between reading e-mails, writing, and critiquing. And of course, there are the days that life gets in the way.

List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful. 

I have so many favorite things that it is really hard to choose. But one is definitely office artwork: my framed IBBY Congress 2004 poster and my signed Scatterbrain Sam poster, both of which I got while at the Highlights Foundation Writer’s Workshop at Chautauqua in 2002 and 2003. I absolutely love the illustrations of animals (my favorite) in both of them, and such wonderful Chautauqua memories are connected to them.




Another piece would be my collectible Barbie “Rose” doll from the Titanic movie (one of my favorite movies of all time along with Gone With the Wind, Braveheart, and Pearl Harbor). Long before the movie came out I became affected/intrigued by this tragedy and have read everything on it. I’ve even traveled to Halifax, Nova Scotia; Cobh, Ireland; Fall River, Massachusetts; and many other places to view Titanic-related places and artifacts. So when James Cameron’s film came out, I was glad that Titanic’s story was made accessible to those who are not interested in “straight history.”



My picture book and novel collection is very dear to me because almost every single one on my bookshelf is signed to me, my son Kevin or Kayla by the author and has a memory attached to it – a name, a place and a face.



Do you have any rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them.

Getting my morning coffee is a definite ritual, and cleaning off my desk and making it neat before I begin would be two that I can think of. Also, making lists!

What do you listen to while you work? 

I love many kinds of music and listen while I’m checking e-mail or doing busy work. When I’m writing however, I need quiet, or something like Yanni or Enya, or the Titanic or Braveheart soundtracks. Once in a while, I’ll listen to something from my huge collection of Broadway musical soundtracks. Heathcliff, a little-known British play, is a favorite and my all-time favorite is Frank Wildhorn’s The Scarlet Pimpernel.




What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?

Most definitely flavored gourmet coffee in the mornings, fruit-flavored water during the daytime and flavored caffeine-free teas at night. I love any and all flavored coffees with mint being a favorite, and exotic flavored teas like grapefruit, pomegranate, and pear, as well as orange and apple/cinnamon. For a snack, I like to nosh on pecans, pineapple chunks, or apple slices with peanut butter.

What keeps you focused while you’re working? 

First and foremost, not picking up the telephone when it rings. Also, quiet. Sometimes, I need to go into that "creative coma" and let my story play out in my head so that I can work it out and then transfer it on to the page.


Do you write longhand, on a computer, or another way? 

I love the computer but do not fare well on a laptop. I have a wonderful little Fujitsu, but I really like being at home in my office, where I am in my comfort zone with my big desktop keyboard. I ALWAYS have a composition notebook with me for notes. I am always jotting down notes, thoughts and ideas, especially when I travel or go to conferences. Every time I have gone to a foreign country, I have filled an entire notebook with details that I can use to remember my trip, or for a story or article.

Here’s a picture of one shelf of my notebook collection--you can see some look like they’ve been through the war, LOL

How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique? 

I can’t say that any story idea was every truly born the same way. Sometimes an idea just hatches, sometimes I have to plant a seed. Other times, I catch a glimpse and must go for a walk or do busy work like housecleaning to see it clearly. Even other times, I have to read a book or watch a movie and think about anything but an idea, and it just comes to the surface while I am not looking for it. I am also a big fan of picture book writing weeks, marathons, and the like.

But once the idea is conceived, I do try and hang it over a story skeleton to make certain that important structural elements are included. After that part of the process, I may change the story a lot or a little, but I know that it has a sound foundation underneath to build upon.

If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?

I actually share my workspace with my daughter. I love having her in my little corner of the world. It can, at times be very distracting, too, but I guess that’s the price I have to pay for inspiration.

Aside from her, I would love to share it with my best friend, Connie. She’s also a writer and we make a good team.


What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?

“Keep your eye on the goal and not the obstacle.” I think that piece of advice has gotten me through the roughest parts of my life, and the biggest problems and distractions I have faced. 




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Monday, May 2, 2011

A Peek at the Creative Space of Tessa Gratton

Joining us today for Creative Spaces is YA novelist, Tessa Gratton. Tessa's debut novel Blood Magic will be published later this month on May 24, but you can read the first three chapters here. Warning: You will be sucked in. And then you will have to wait weeks to read more. But you can make yourself feel better about that by preordering a copy or requesting it at your local library.

Here is a brief summary of Blood Magic:

Everywhere Silla Kennicot turns, she sees blood. She can’t stop thinking about her parents’ alleged murder-suicide. Then, a book filled with spells arrives mysteriously in the mail. The spells share one common ingredient: blood. Nick, the new guy at school who makes Silla’s pulse race, has a few secrets of his own. Drawn together by a combination of fate and chemistry, they must discover who knows their secret and protect their powerful magic.
You may also be familiar with her writing from the Merry Sisters of Fate, a collaborative fiction blog she runs with Maggie Stiefvater and Brenna Yovanoff, where they share YA short stories every week.

To learn more about Tessa Gratton visit her website and her blog



Describe your workspace.

I work in a square room that is 3 walls of windows and one wall of bookshelves, at a large L-shaped desk. This room was added to my house 10 years ago by a retired Catholic priest, and I like to think that makes it extra Zen. My Big Mac takes up space, but mostly I have room to spread out and pile books everywhere.


Describe a typical workday.

Alarm by 6:30 am, coffee and email, read blogs and industry news. Hang out on Twitter and mess around with my crit partner Maggie for a while before we both buckle down and get to writing. I write/revise/tweet/email until around 4 or 5pm. Occasionally I take a cereal break or a treadmill break.

List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.

My 27 year old Wicket the Ewok plastic bank. It sits next to my computer – I’ve had it since I was about 3, and it reminds me that this is my job now. My amazing, amazing job.


A print of a painting by Stephanie Pui-mun Law. It was a gift to myself to represent the first novel I finished as an adult, revised, and submitted to agents.


A scroll with my name on it that my parents got me for my birthday when we lived in Japan. I lived in Japan for 3 years when I was a teenager, and it changed me in so many ways.


Do you have any rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them.

Other than needing coffee in the morning and checking my email first, no. I try not to develop rituals, so that I can work anytime, anywhere.

What do you listen to while you work?

Sometimes the wind through the trees, sometimes my dog crying to go outside, sometimes music I’ve picked out that helps me get into the groove of a particular book or scene. Often that means just one song on repeat for countless hours at a time.

What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?

Coffee, Diet Coke, or water. I try to make it water more often than not. As for food--cereal, unless I’m revising, in which case it's cereal and Nerds candy. If I get desperate for protein I eat a handful of nuts or roll up some deli meat. The key is ease and speed.

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

My willpower. And passion for what I’m doing.
 
Do you write longhand, on a computer, or another way?

Computer! I can write faster, more cleanly, and delete with the click of a button on the computer. I do keep Moleskin notebooks on my person at all times for jotting down epiphanies or character thoughts if I’m away from the computer. And I take all my notes longhand, also draw timelines and outlines that way sometimes--just to get a different feel for the story.

How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?

All of the above? I don’t do regular outlines, but sometimes will work on a story path that connects different scenes that I know happen. I also make character arc outlines, that trace the changes in my characters, their moments of truth, their moments of doubt. Their emotional climaxes. But I tend to have a vague idea of the overall story, and then write scene-to-scene.

If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?

I’m not sure I could do this long term without quitting, actually. Thinking about it with any kind of permanence makes me nauseated. I desperately need my alone time. But if I HAD to pick, I’d go with my partner Natalie or my BFF/Crit partner Maggie Stiefvater. I really, truly, think that we’d all end up dead though. It would not be pretty.

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?

Trust yourself.



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