The lovely Jen of “A Book and a Latte” blog gave me a taste of my own medicine. She asked if I’d participate in her “How I Write” interview series in honor of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), and I felt it was only fair for me to examine my own work process after forcing other authors to do the same.
I really enjoyed answering her questions; it’s always good to take a moment to think about how you do things, and why, and whether or not they actually work. Check it out: Jennifer Castle: How I Write
Also, for those who are interested in the “tools’ I mention in this interview:
Scrivener, aka crazy awesome software for writers of all types and media.
Freedom, aka Internet Blocking Productivity Software, aka how to stay the f*ck off Facebook and get the job done.
For stretchy pants, I recommend Target and Kohl’s. (I’m kidding. Sort of.)
For pleasant distraction and stress-relief, I recommend:
I leave you with this, which could be a picture of me working in my office, except I’m taller and MY footie pajamas are blue:
This past September, I had the pleasure of moderating a YA lit panel at the Brooklyn Book Festival called “It’s A Hard Knock Life,” which included Barry Lyga, Susane Colasanti, and debut author Louise Rozett. We spent a lovely hour on a heartbreakingly perfect fall day talking about how we like making life suck for our characters. And I didn’t sound like a babbling moron in front of a savvy literary crowd, so that was a bonus.
One of the best parts of this experience was getting to read Louise’s novel, “Confessions of an Angry Girl” (Harlequin Teen). You know when you pick up a book and the voice just grabs you because it feels so familiar? You think maybe the author has been listening inside your head or at the very least knows exactly how you see the world? That. That is what I felt with this story. And, of course, I connect instantly with funny, honest, character-driven realistic fiction that explores the themes of everyday life both big and small. It’s kind of up my alley.
Lucky for us, Louise was game for a “Butt Meets Chair” interview, which I give to you now.
How would you describe your writing “routine”?
I always feel like such a bad writer when people ask me that question! I rarely ask specific things of myself on any given day, unless I’m experiencing intense deadline pressure. I usually just sit down and write what comes, or revise what I feel like revising, for as long as I am lost in it (or as long as my money-making gigs allow me to focus on something besides them). It’s a special form of torture, because I’m basically flying blind. But I don’t know how to do it any other way. (Bad, bad little writer.) This, of course, is not a method that I would ever recommend to anyone, particularly not the writing students I dream of having someday. I will tell my students that they should come up with outlines and plans and goals—aka, do as I say, not as I do!
Do you write most of the time in one space or do you “float”? How do different writing spaces affect your process?
I’m a total nomad. I usually start of at the kitchen table, which I love. It’s very cozy, and I have a tiny little lamp on it that makes me feel like everything’s going to be okay. When my butt gets tired of the hard chair, I end up on one couch for a while, but it’s not close to an outlet and I start to feel panicky when I can see the battery running down on my laptop, and panicky is not a good mindset for writing, of course. So then I move to another couch, which happens to be in front of the only window in my entire apartment that yields any sunlight—that location makes me feel like I won’t always be trapped in my apartment desperately trying to figure out how to write a book. But then, my dog starts harrumphing and sighing and acting like I’m making too much noise while he’s trying to sleep (yes, I desperately need Cesar Millan to help me take back my life from dog), so I move to my desk in another room, near my closet, where he will not be disturbed by me. I have a whole bunch of pieces of different colored construction paper on the closet door, put up by me once upon a time, when I was convinced that I was going to get organized and storyboard. There are a few very lonely Post-Its on those pieces of paper—my brain quickly rebelled and I just couldn’t keep storyboarding. As a last resort, when I absolutely need to get away from everyone and everything—including those accusatory pieces of construction paper—I end up in the bedroom with the door closed, and I feel a bit like Virginia Woolf in her room-of-one’s-own.
How do you transition from “life mode” to “writing mode”?
I have a very weird and embarrassing ritual. Before I start writing, I watch an episode of “General Hospital” on my computer. I kid you not. I have been watching “General Hospital” on and off for, oh, about 35 years now (I switched to “Guiding Light” somewhere in the late 80s/early 90s for a while, but I came back to GH), and for the last 5 years, I’ve been watching it online. It makes me feel less guilty somehow to watch it on my computer because I can answer emails and do other things online while it’s playing in the background. But those characters are really close friends at this point—I know pretty much everything there is to know about them–and they help me leave the world of dog care/bill paying/financial worries/generalized anxiety, and transition into what I like to think of as my super-cool writer self. (Oh my god, I sound like a LUNATIC, don’t I. Sigh.)
When you’ve actually got the butt in the chair, what happens first?
I indulge myself in a little bit of reading. I read whatever I was working on last in order to figure out what to do next. And I make a point of finding a few things that I really like about whatever I wrote or revised last. Basically, I try to start each writing session by being nice to myself. I suppose it follows to say that this is a ritual that comes from not always having been nice to myself in a number of different ways. But I’m old enough and have been around the block enough times now to know that it’s as important to be kind to yourself as it is to be kind to other people. That mental space is as important for writing as any physical space ever could be.
Okay, I’m going to have to steal that. Be nice to yourself. Yes! Because it’s too easy to start your butt-in-chair time with negativity, and that’s not good for anyone. So, what do you need to have with you when you write, and what do you need to BANISH?
I am super attached to my laptop! I really am. I just love it. I feel like it’s my partner in crime. It keeps up with my brain, which spews stuff at an alarming rate sometimes—a rate that my hands could never keep up with if I were writing by hand. But beyond that, I don’t need any gadgets or tools or snacks. I turn off my cell phone ringer and put the phone away so it can’t get at me, and I also turn off my wireless. I try not to go online at all while I’m writing, and usually I have the discipline to stick with that.
Louise's beloved hot chocolate collection sitting on her equally beloved laptop. You can also see evidence in the background of what she calls BearCare, which is a basket of Happy Hips treats for her two-year-old, 120-pound Bernese Mountain Dog named Lester Freamon, after the character on The Wire.
Do you reward yourself for getting shit done?
Sometimes I make myself a big, huge mug of hot chocolate—like, we’re talking Jacques Torres or Valrhona hot chocolate, not Swiss Miss—when I’m done. But I feel I must confess that I sometimes make the big, huge mug of hot chocolate before I write a single word. Depends on the mental state for the day!
How do you get past the times when you can’t focus or feel like it’s just “not happening today”?
Some people can force themselves to sit down and crank stuff out, but I just get agitated when I try to make that happen. So I let it go and hope for better luck next time.
What distracts you when you’ve got your butt in the chair, and how do you shoo it away?
My anxieties—about writing a good book, about making a living, about doing the right thing in all aspects of my life—are often sitting on the table right next to my laptop. I work as hard as I can to drive them away by focusing on the story I’m trying to tell, by listening to the character voices instead of the anxiety voices. My characters are generally total loudmouths, so they are usually able to drown out the anxiety, and I am eternally grateful to them for that.
I love that Louise knows how to give herself what she needs, in the form of chocolate, kindness, and which voices to listen to. I’m realizing that being self-aware is one of the keys to a consistent and productive writing process.
I should add that after Louise sent me back her responses, we engaged in a most awesome fangirly email thread about “General Hospital,” which was a huge part of my pre-teen and teen existence (Noah! Robert! Frisco! Blackie!). It quickly spiralled into a squee-fest over this video:
Thank you, Louise, for that…and for sharing so much of yourself…and for introducing me to your character Rose Zarelli. I’m hoping we can all hang out again soon.
I am quietly thrilled to be able to share the cover and official synopsis for my upcoming novel “You Look Different in Real Life,” which will be published by HarperTeen on June 4, 2013.
I won’t babble on or try to say something deep here, because you really just want the goods, right?
Here are the goods:
The premise was simple: five kids, just living their lives. There’d be a new movie about them every five years, starting in kindergarten. But no one could have predicted what the cameras would capture. And no one could have predicted that Justine would be the star. Now sixteen, Justine doesn’t feel like a star anymore. In fact, when she hears the crew has gotten the green light to film Five at Sixteen, all she feels is dread. The kids who shared the same table in kindergarten have become teenagers who hardly know one another. And Justine, who was so funny and edgy in the first two movies, just feels like a disappointment. But these teens have a bond that goes deeper than what’s on film. They’ve all shared the painful details of their lives with countless viewers. They all know how it feels to have fans as well as friends. So when this latest movie gives them the chance to reunite, Justine and her costars are going to take it. Because sometimes, the only way to see yourself is through someone else’s eyes.
Smart, fresh, and frequently funny, “You Look Different in Real Life” is a piercing novel about life in an age where the lines between what’s personal and what’s public aren’t always clear.
The goods are pretty damn great, don’t you think? I have to say I love this cover. The colors…well, I could roll around in these colors for a while. I adore the typography and what’s happening there, with some of it sharp and some of it out-of-focus, almost like it’s in motion. The girl evokes the main character/narrator Justine in so many ways, and like the girl on the cover of “The Beginning of After,” her expression can be interpreted however the viewer wishes. In fact, I think designer Angela Navarra and art director Cara Petrus did a wonderful job of creating a cover that syncs up in mood and style with the TBOA cover, although these are two very different stories.
What’s your take? Would this cover call to you from a bookshelf the way it would me?
I’m not sure when ARC’s will be available, but if you’re a book blogger and would like to request one, please email me with the following information (this way I can provide the publisher with all the details they need):
Blog name and URL
Number of followers, traffic estimates (if you can), and how long you’ve been publishing your blog
As I’m sure you know, publishers only print a limited number of ARC’s, so I can’t guarantee that everyone who requests will receive one. But this way I can keep you on a list to notify you of e-galley availability, giveaways, and more.
Thank you so much, and I can’t wait for this book to get into the hands of readers! I hope you’re as excited about it as I am. (I really am excited now. Nothing like a cover reveal to perk you right out of your “ugh, seven months til pub day” doldrums!)