When and how did you start writing?
I just found the first story I ever wrote...I was five, and it was a happy tale about a child who really wanted the neighbor’s dog. And then the neighbor gave the dog to the child. I dedicated it to...my neighbor. Who never did give me the dog. It was my first real rejection, but I kept on writing. In high school I started focusing more on poetry, and in college that was my degree concentration (because I like being broke). Once I graduated from college, I moved to northern Michigan and took a job with my small town newspaper. I still serve as the editor, and I get to write everything from NYT best-selling author interviews to pet pig obituaries.
Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?
Judy Blume was a huge part of my childhood. But my tastes varied widely (still do!) and I devoured anything and everything I was given, from Sweet Valley High to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. And oh, how I loved Pony Boy.
Can you talk us through the writing of your first book? What were the key moments?
Well, my *first* book is trunked in a drawer. This book, however, went through about five full rewrites before I queried it. I’m a “pantser"-- or at least was a pantser. I had no clue where the story was going when I started it, so every little discovery I made about a character or the way I wanted the plot to move required me to start again from the beginning. I started it about two years ago, but put it away after maybe 10 pages. Then, last January I was on a two-week trip with my family. We went to Lake Tahoe, and while they skied, I started writing. I felt ready to query by the end of June, and then accepted Sarah’s offer the first week in July. It sounds fast, but there was a whole lot of back work that went into it-- like six months worth of research.
When Sarah returned from vacation, she sent me a nine-page document-- basically an editorial letter. It cracked everything open for me, though not all at once. She jotted notes about what she loved and what she thought I could work on, and gave me some suggestions about what direction the story could take. We chatted on the phone, and then she gave me very specific advice: no writing for at least two weeks. Instead, she said, she wanted me to think things through. To follow plot threads. To know where I was going. That idea was scary and really, really hard for me. I kept a small notebook and scribbled thoughts down, but I actually didn’t start my last revision until six weeks after getting the letter...This was probably the most important time for my book. I learned so much about who I wanted my characters to be, what their motivations were, and what needed to change to grow the suspense and tension. I didn’t finish until the beginning of January.
Was it hard to get an agent? Can you talk us through the process?
I won’t say I was lucky in the agent search department (I did query the trunked book with little success for about a minute before, you know, trunking it)...More that this time, I was super prepared before querying. I researched like crazy. Revised and revised and revised my query for over a month. I sent out a handful of queries, including one to an agent I’d developed a pretty friendly relationship with over Twitter/blogs/etc., who had already read parts of my work. She requested the full, and as did several others (there were rejections too). A week went by. Crickets. Another week started. More crickets.
And then came a few tweets about a manuscript that was being read and loved, and then an email...and then another email late that night asking for a call. I cried. After the first offer came in I sent out that slew of “offer of representation” emails, and the first person to jump back-- literally a minute after I hit send, was Sarah. She was getting ready to hop a plane to London the next day, but said she’s started reading and hoped she’d have time to finish. Later that evening, she sent me a “halfway done, please don’t do anything without talking to me” email. Which was followed the next day by a “time for a chat?” email. As soon as Sarah and I spoke, I knew she was the right fit for me. Because she’s amazing.
Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time? Where do you look for inspiration?
I have three kids (an eighth grader, a homeschooled second grader, and a preschooler), plus my “day” job, which I do mostly from home. So I write whenever I find the time. I’m either writing at our kitchen desk while homework is happening at the table behind me, or at my writing desk in my bedroom, or when I can, I slink away to our downtown coffee shop for a few hours. That’s one of my favorite things to do, especially because my longtime CP-- a fellow Greenhouser!-- can often meet me there. I love working alongside other writers-- soaking up creative energy and bouncing ideas off each other is so fun. In terms of organizing my time...that’s been a New Year’s resolution (for the past five years). I hope to figure it by, say, 2020?
Life is inspiration. I pull a lot from my own experiences, from little snippets of conversation I might overhear, from a certain image I can’t get out of my head. With WORDS AND THEIR MEANINGS, a discussion with an old professor about what it really means to be a writer sparked Anna’s character.
Can you tell us about your next book?
I’m working on a new project right now that might be described as “Gone Girl” meets “Graffiti Moon"-- a dual narrative about two people who meet in a bus station in the middle of nowhere, Nevada, and how their paths change course. I can’t say much more than that because I’m still in the process of writing it!
Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?
I know everybody says it, but read like it’s your main source of nutrition and write as much as possible. And when you have a finished manuscript, find readers who will be honest and supportive all at once. Then revise. Read your entire novel out loud. Revise again. Research agents, know your field, and don’t ever, ever give up!
Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?
1) The biggest thing I learned from my first book is that it’s okay to plan. I don’t need to outline every detail (though that works great for some people!), but knowing where I’m going is a huge help. Keeping in mind exactly what I’m trying to say-- what the heart of the story is-- is a good way to stay on track. Now, I put down key points in the plot, and it becomes a matter of connecting the dots.
2) Read a manuscript out loud. A lot. I’ve always been a big fan of this, and I honestly believe it can be what separates good writing from great writing.
3) Create character backstories. I’m amazed at how much easier it is to develop multi-dimensional characters and motivations if I’ve see them outside the story.
Which favorite authors would you invite to a dinner party?
Weird truth: I used to draw this very dinner party over and over again. My guest list changes a lot, but here’s the current make up: Kurt Vonnegut, Raymond Carver, Rainbow Rowell, Sara Zarr A.S. King, F. Scott Fitzgerald (to fix the drinks), Sandra Ciseneros, Mary Oliver, John Green, J.K. Rowling, Stephen Chobosk, Richard Braughtigan....And the entire Greenhouse, because the authors in this agency are both brilliantly talented and incredibly kind (and super fun, which makes for a good dinner party).
What fictional character do you wish you’d invented?
Fictional characters I most wish I invented at this very moment? Eleanor and Park. They are weird and broken and whole in wonderful, very real ways.