FAQ - ON WRITING
Q: What do you like best about writing? Why?
A: By the time my mom was 22 years old, she had three children.
Neither my dad nor my mom had the emotional or psychological tools to create a happy, peaceful marriage. As a result, there was some pretty intense and prolonged fighting.
Books became my escape. And a place to figure out how the world works. And they still are. I can escape into a world where the characters are flawed and complex and, yet, slowly but surely, they figure out how they work and how the world works. Just like I hope I keep doing all the days of my life!
Q: Do you know the whole story before you begin writing? Do you outline?
A: I know where I am headed before I begin writing. I know the issues I want to explore. Even though my next book is a secret (shhhhhh), I know it will be about the struggles surrounding identity formation and how to become an authentic person.
I have a very detailed, 20-page, scene by scene outline. I use it. But I also re-outline as I go. Because once I start writing, the story starts unfolding in my head like a movie with scenes that flow from one to the other.
And in the act of writing, it becomes clear that while all the roads are headed to the ending I have in my mind, I don’t always get there on the roads I had mapped out. There are new paths that are always surprising me.
Q: How do you develop a voice for your characters? Do you, or do they come to you full-blown?
A: No conscious clue how voice develops. I see the person in my imagination. Then he or she starts talking. And I start listening,
Q: How long did it take to write and publish your first book?
A: I worked on The Pumpkin War -- on and off -- for four years.
I started the book for my daughters. I had written almost two dozen T.V. movies so I wanted to write a book without a producer telling me what to do.
Then this love letter to my daughters turned into an actual book. I worked with Jim Thomas, an incredible editor, and I did multiple rewrites for him. When we thought it was ready, I then I spent a year trying to get an agent to rep the book. I chose 10 agents and sleuthed out their emails and wrote them cold.
I would start with the line, “This is what people are saying about you behind your back.” Trust me, they kept reading. Some expressed interest. Some wanted rewrites. I did rewrites for four different agents -- but I only did the notes that resonated with me and that I agreed with.
Each of them ultimately passed.
Then I found the amazing Mollie Glick at CAA and she read the book in 3 days. She had me do 3 rewrites. When we both felt the book was ready to take out in to the marketplace, she sent it out to 8 or 9 editors.
Within 42 hours, we had 3 offers. Does that sound “fast?” Just remember that I have been working at the craft of writing since I was 16 years old.
Trust me. It wasn’t that “fast.”
Q: Did you ever feel like giving up while writing your book?
A: I am convinced that for a writer to succeed they have to be highly motivated by wanting to get it right,
They want to tell a story and tell it beautifully and tell it powerfully with not one extra word or misplaced period.
I never wanted to give up. I wanted to get it right. And I couldn’t stop until I did.
Q: How did you manage your kids and still write books?
A: Mocha lattes.
Q: What is your favorite library?
A: That’s easy. New York City Public Library.
Q: Do you have a favorite spot to write in? Where is it?
A: I can write almost anywhere. Except at home.
I have a hard time writing if I think I will be interrupted. But I can easily write at my favorite coffee house, plug in my earbuds, turn on the sound of waves breaking in the ocean and….start writing.
Q: What is your writing uniform?
A: Clean clothes. I can’t write in pajamas.
I know writers who do. Good for them. But for me, writing is a job. I treat it like a job and I get dressed for work.
Q: What advice would you give to anybody, kid or adult, who wants to be a writer?
A: Study the writers you love. Look at what they do word-by-word. Outline their work. See how they get from A to B.
And then….write. And try not to think about how incredibly long it takes to actually get good.
It is, indeed, a craft. And write. Every. Single. Day. No exceptions. Treat it as a job. And never forget a writer’s most valuable words: “I’ll fix it later.” Just keep writing.
Q: What are two things you know now that you wish you had known when you were just starting as a writer?
A: While I always wanted to write for kids in the middle grade space, I started my career in film and television movies because I didn’t think I had anything to say because I didn’t know enough and hadn’t lived enough to write a book of substance.
So early in my career, I always worked for producers. My one regret is that I didn’t choose a slightly different path. Instead of writing T.V. movies,
I wish I had written for episodic series. Then, I would’ve been mentored by writers. That would’ve been such a gift. And I wish I hadn’t been intimidated by more accomplished writers. That was just dumb. And a waste of time.
And time is precious.