Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Matt de la Peña: SCBWI Pre-Conference Interview

The SCBWI summer conference is just days away. People are on planes, packing bags, and anticipating the event of the year. This year's conference is sold out, but you can still be there with us, just follow the live conference blog and tweets. We would love to have you join us.

Just before he flew out to California, I had the pleasure of asking Matt de la Peña a few questions. 

Matt de la Peña is the author of four critically-acclaimed YA novels—Ball Don't Lie, Mexican WhiteBoy, We Were Here and I Will Save You—and the award-winning picture book A Nation’s Hope: The story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis. This year his fifth YA novel, The Living, will be released as will his fist middle grade novel, Curse of the Ancients. Matt received his MFA in creative writing from San Diego State University and his BA from the University of the Pacific.  He teaches creative writing at NYU and Vermont College and visits high schools and colleges throughout the country. 

I know you just met an intense deadline. Can you give us a little taste of what's coming soon from you?

My newest YA novel, THE LIVING, comes out in November. And I just finished the sequel to THE LIVING a couple days ago (tentatively titled THE FORGOTTEN). In this two-book series, my main character, Shy, lands a summer job on a cruise ship, and while he's out at sea the "big one" slams California (a massive earthquake). THE LIVING is part adventure story, part romance, with a little bit of class and race exploration thrown into the mix. I also have a picture book coming out next year called LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET (illustrated by the talented Christian Robinson).

Once you've turned in a manuscript, do you usually have another in the works or will you start the brainstorming and drafting now?
I have a file on my computer labeled "future novel ideas." Whenever I'm writing a book under contract, and I find myself beginning to fall under the spell of the "slutty new idea," I take a few rough notes about the idea, file it away, and get back to the story I'm supposed to be writing. As soon as I'm finished with a project my reward is that I get to open the "future novel ideas" file and sift through the descriptions, looking for my next journey. I love trying to figure out what to do next. Each story has so much possibility. (Some of them are dumb, of course). And luckily my memory isn't the best, so I never remember how incredibly long and arduous the process of writing a book is. This allows me to start with the same naive smile I've started every book with.  

You'll be presenting an Intensive on dialogue during the conference. Is there a common mistake you see writers make when it comes to writing dialogue?
I get bummed when I read dialogue that's too cute or too "on the nose." And I throw the book out the window when I come across exposition that's masquerading as dialogue. On the flip side, nothing makes me happier than reading a well-crafted scene with artful and organic dialogue that still manages to stay on point.

Speed Round:

Favorite part of the writing process?
I love revision so much!

Least favorite part of the writing process?
First draft. (This is where drugs and alcohol come into play. Not really. But something like that. Because the whole "white page" thing really hurts.)

Favorite writing snack?
Iced lattes.

Favorite place to write?
The Brooklyn Writers Space, where I've written my last six books.

How do you celebrate when you get to "the end"?
An old fashioned or two at my favorite bar in Brooklyn. Three if the book was especially hard to write. 

Follow Matt on Twitter: @mattdelapena
Follow SCBWI on Twitter: @scbwi
Official conference hashtag: #LA13SCBWI

Monday, July 15, 2013

Peter Lerangis: SCBWI Team Blog Pre-Conference Interview

Peter Lerangis is the award-winning author of more than 160 books for kids that have sold over 5 million copies, including the New York Times best-selling THE COLOSSUS RISES, Book 1 of The Seven Wonders Series. 

Peter took time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions before the conference. I have no doubt we are in for a fun ride with him come August.

When you were a biochemistry major at Harvard, or working as a paralegal, was there ever an inkling of that writer of over 160 books somewhere inside of you?

Yes, it was just behind my spleen and a little toward the vertebrae.  I thought the doctors got it out, but they were not inklingectomy specialists and instead removed that little thingy that controls your ability to say no.  As it happened, one day I took a wrong turn for a biochemical paralegal party and found myself in a publishers party instead, and it was downhill from there.

Truth is, I always did want to be a writer and performer.  Biochemistry and law were things I thought I had to do, so I gave them a try.  It wasn’t until I was actually accepted into law school that I had the guts to try a career in musical theater, figuring I could defer admission and then go back if I wanted.  I developed a copyediting career in between shows, because I was a terrible waiter.  Which of course led me to the stable, sensible career of free-lance writer. 

I wonder if law school would still take me ...

After your many books and amazing successes, how has your writing process changed from when you first began your writing career?

I use neither charcoal nor crayons anymore, resulting in beautiful hands but a really crappy carpal tunnel.  Also, I develop and write ideas using my name along with my warped sensibility, instead of a pseudonym along with my warped sensibility. 

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received about writing or the industry?

Marry rich.  But like every other really excellent piece of advice, I ignored it.  And I’m glad.

Want to see even more of Peter before the conference?

Peter on Twitter.

And, check him out rocking a toga at Comic Con NYC.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

CAROLYN MACKLER: SCBWI Pre-Conference Interview

There are so many reasons I love SCBWI conferences, but one of the best parts of attending has been meeting and hearing from some of my very favorite authors. 

My go-to author as a young reader was Judy Blume. SCBWI full-filled my dream of meeting her. But my writer crush as a young-adult writer (as I started to dip my toes in the YA waters) was (still is) Carolyn Mackler. SCBWI has given me the opportunity to meet her and hear her speak, and this summer I'll get to do it again. Yay!

Carolyn Mackler is the award-winning author of many novels for teens including: the Printz Honor Book THE EARTH, MY BUTT, AND OTHER BIG ROUND THINGS; VEGAN VIRGIN VALENTINE (one of my very favorite books); and her most recent, THE FUTURE OF US, co-written with bestselling author Jay Asher. 

If it isn't enough to have her on this summer's conference faculty, Carolyn was kind enough to answer a few questions before we all gather in a few short weeks. 

Do you have a favorite part of the writing process?
I love finishing a draft of a novel – any draft, really – and finally letting someone read it and see what's been in my head for the past several months.  My husband is always my first reader, and I hover over his shoulder saying, "What part are you reading now?  Did that make you laugh?  Hang on, why are you laughing?  Did that make you cry?"  Finally I force myself to leave the apartment and let him read in peace.

Do you have a favorite piece of advice that was shared with you?
When I first started writing novels, Judy Blume told me that she reads sections out loud to hear how they sound.  This is enormously helpful for me.  I catch so much in the editing process when I read out loud – words I repeated, dialogue that doesn't sound organic.  It's always funny to sit at my desk, reading and gesturing to an empty room.  I wonder what people in neighboring buildings think!

What is your favorite writing fuel?
 Coffee.  I can't imagine writing without coffee.  Coffee, vanilla soy milk, sugar.  That's my vice.

Can you give us any hints about the project you are working on now?
I'm working on a YA novel called EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN.  It's a big one – five teenagers over all four years of high school.  They meet at freshmen orientation and vow to reconvene at graduation.  I'm in revisions now.  It's about 400 pages, so it's a looong process.

I know I can't be the only one anxious to get my hands on that one!

Want even more of Carolyn before the conference? 

Still need to register for the conference? Click HERE to not miss Carolyn and the rest of the amazing faculty. The conference is nearly sold out!

Conference Hashttag: #LA13SCBWI

Thursday, January 17, 2013

MATTHEW J KIRBY: SCBWI Pre-Conference Interview #NY13NYC

Ever wonder if you should get involved with SCBWI? Attend a conference or other event? Matthew Kirby is one of many SCBWI success stories who might stop you from continuing to wonder and actually get to doing.

Matthew is the award-winning author of CLOCKWORK THREE, ICEFALL, and the forthcoming fifth book in the Infinity Ring series. As I type, my own daughter has her nose buried in ICEFALL and she's loving it.

It was my pleasure to ask Matthew a few questions and I look forward to hearing him at the conference where he will be presenting as part of the Writers Intensive: Elements of the Novel.

You found your writing sweet spot in books for young readers. When you made the switch from writing for adults to writing for kids, what changed for you as writer (other than publication)?

The switch came about in a moment one day, driving alone in my car. An epiphany, I guess, though it felt more like someone smacking me upside the head than a shining revelation. I had been writing seriously for six or seven years, and by that I mean I was actively writing and submitting (and growing an impressive pile of rejection letters). During those years, I was trying to break into adult fiction markets, mostly science fiction and fantasy. I'd had a few minor successes along the way, but I was approaching what felt like my limit for disappointment and discouragement, and I was at that point I think many of us reach where we contemplate giving up. But you need to know that at that time, I was a school psychologist working in elementary schools. My leisure reading was almost exclusively in middle grade and YA, genres I loved. AND most of the protagonists in the stories I was writing and submitting to adult markets were kids. Should have been obvious, right? That's what I mean by a smack upside the head. So I was driving along, and suddenly all these things occurred to me at once, and I paused and said to myself, "Wow. I wonder if I'm a children's writer." Then I wondered if there was an organization for children's writers. I went home, found SCBWI, and joined that same day. I attended my first annual conference the following summer, and the experience was incredible. I felt like I had finally found the place I truly belonged as a writer.

Congrats on ICEFALL'S many awards. In a recent blog post about your PEN Center USA Award, you mentioned Ursula Le Guin, who also provided a blurb for ICEFALL (wow!). How has her work influenced your own writing?

It is no exaggeration to say that I am a writer because I read Ursula K. Le Guin. When I was twelve or thirteen, my parents gave me A Wizard of Earthsea, and the experience of that book was transformative. There is a place in the story where the main character, Ged, engages in a forbidden summoning spell, something way beyond his ability to understand and control. He opens a portal onto another plane, and this is how Le Guin described what happens next: "...and through that bright misshapen breach clambered something like a clot of black shadow, quick and hideous, and it leaped straight out at Ged's face." 

As a young reader, that sentence stopped me in my tracks. The power of it. The words. The whole scene is breathtaking. I went back and reread it, and reread it, and reread it. I marked the page with its own bookmark, and even as I moved forward with the story, I'd go back occasionally to that moment to read it again. In that book, in that scene, in that sentence, and even in that single word, "clot", I became aware of the act and art of writing and storytelling. I'd always enjoyed making up stories, and I'd been doing so since the third grade. But I'd never before considered it something powerful or important, and I'd certainly never thought about becoming a writer when I grew up. But after reading Le Guin, I knew that's what I wanted to do. And to this day, I carry a love for words and a care for the words I choose in my own writing. 

I'm very fond of something Richard Peck said at an SCBWI annual conference a few years ago. "We write by the light of every book we've ever read." That is true. And for me, Ursula K. Le Guin shines brightest.         

What is your favorite part of the writing process? Least favorite?

My favorite part is the beginning of a new story. The casting about for the voice and the language in which that story wants to be told, and the magic and thrill of finding it (I'll never forget the moment when I first met ICEFALL's Solveig). In the beginning of my writing process, a story can be anything, and contain anything. It's all possibilities when I start a new book. The characters haven't made any choices yet that might limit their later choices. That changes as the story moves forward and assumes its shape, after which the possibilities become limited to what is true and authentic to that story and its characters. Basically, when I begin a book, it seems big, but as I write, it gets smaller and smaller until the end. While that means I face an inevitable deflation when I stand at the end of a book and look back over it, there remains the quiet joy that comes from seeing something for what it is. And it has to be that way. Stories about everything are really about nothing, and offer no meaning, ask no questions, and provide little truth.

My least favorite part of writing is revision. I hate it, and I always have. Left to my own devices, I am far more likely to go after what is new and shiny than return to polish something I've already found. But my writers' group and my editor show me on a continual basis why it's important. So with their help and feedback, I make myself do it, and I hope my stories are better for it. 

What’s next for you?

Next fall, I have two books coming out. One of those will be my installment in Scholastic's INFINITY RING series, a new multi-platform time-travel adventure. It's been a blast working with the other authors on the series. The other book will be a standalone, a Jules Verne-esque Colonial American fantasy. I've also begun work on a new trilogy called THE QUANTUM LEAGUE. It's a contemporary magical crime saga, with quantum physics and dueling magicians. The first book will come out in spring 2014.

Sounds exciting! Thanks, Matthew!
You can follow on twitter at: @writerMattKirby