Butt Meets Chair: Jody Casella (and a giveaway!)

Can you meet a person “organically online”? I hope so, because that’s how I think of the way I met the smart-n-classy Jody Casella. Right around the time The Beginning of After came out, Jody started commenting on my blog — she’d really enjoyed my book and just sold her own debut novel Thin Space. She said she appreciated my insights on the debut-YA-author experience…and I appreciated her appreciation, because I had no idea whether the things I was saying and sharing made any damn sense.

Later, Jody and I started corresponding by email, and I was truly flattered when she asked me to blurb Thin Space. I said yes, then quietly panicked about what to do if I didn’t like it.

No worries there. Thin Space was a terrific, gripping read. I loved it, and loved being able to provide Jody with a quotable few lines (regardless of whether my opinion means anything to anyone). It’s the story of Marshall, survivor of a car accident that killed his twin brother Austin, and his search for salvation by way of a “thin space” — a place where the barrier between this world and the next is thin enough to step through. Genre-wise, it’s contemporary meets supernatural, in the most believable and heartwrenching of ways.

I think one of the reasons I responded to the book so strongly was that I recognized a kindred sensibility there. Obviously, our debut novels both deal with themes of tragedy, loss, and grief. But there’s something else, too. Maybe the fact that Jody and I both realized our dreams of being published authors a little later in life, and after previous careers (in Jody’s case, as a high school English teacher). Thin Space was published last month by Simon & Schuster/Beyond Words. It’s been wonderful to see this debut get the positive reception it deserves, and how Jody’s years of writing “on the verge” finally brought her to the place she was meant to be.

I’ve taken a too-long break from blogging, and I was going to say something ironic about “getting off my ass for Butt Meets Chair” but honestly, Jen, why try so hard? Jody’s answers to these interview questions (note the excellent visual aids) provide entertainment enough, and I’m just really happy to be resuming this series with her today.

How would you describe your writing “routine”?

I used to be a revise-as-you-go type of writer. A sentence had to be perfect before I would let myself move on to the next one. This method takes time, but I told myself that it was worth it. When I finally finished a manuscript, it couldn’t be called a first draft, right? I mean, look at all those perfectly crafted sentences!

Shockingly, I never had any luck selling those manuscripts. Because I am a slow learner, I wrote four books using this method before admitting that it might be time to try something else. (Let me mention here that I don’t believe there is any one “right” way to write a novel. But something I wish I had known earlier is that it’s good to be open to different strategies.)

My big breakthrough came six years ago when I signed up for NaNoWriMo. Two days into it, I realized that if I wanted to finish my 50,000 word book by the end of the month, I needed to let go of my crippling perfectionism, tell the critical editor voice in my head to shut up, and simply write. Every day. A certain number of words. Get that first draft out and worry about revising later when I have an actual completed thing to revise.

I’ve been a daily word counter ever since. I write 1500 words per day. When I am revising, I choose a certain number of scenes or chapters to work on. I don’t stop until I complete the goal. Some days this means I am finished early and can do what I like for the remainder of the day. Other days, well, I’m tapping away into the night.

Do you write most of the time in one space? What does it look and feel like?

At the moment my “space” is the living room couch in front of a big picture window. My dog perches on the back of the couch and alerts me to all potential breaches in our home security.

When you mix it up with your writing spaces, where do you go?

I have a nice office, but I don’t use it anymore. See above: dog. I’ve also written in coffee shops–Panera, Starbucks, any place with accessible electrical outlets and free coffee refills. I wrote Thin Space at the local public library. I love that place. It’s warm and bright and smells like books.

I also work at the library sometimes. The periodicals section has a particular mojo for me. How do different writing spaces affect your process?

Your question makes me realize that I can write anywhere. Once I fall into that zone, I don’t hear conversations or music or twitchy dogs. I do kinda miss my office, but only because I was more organized when I used it. Now, my stuff is spread out all over the living room.

Do you have any rituals that help you transition from life mode into writing mode?

I plunk out on my couch and flip an hourglass. I have no idea how long it takes for the sand to run out. Maybe fifteen minutes? However long it is, it’s exactly the right amount of time to get me into the day’s project.

So besides the hourglass, what do you need to have with you when you write? What do you need to be removed from?

What I need: coffee.
What I wish I could blow to smithereens: the Internet, Doritos snack packs.

Do you give yourself rewards of some kind for getting your daily writing goals accomplished?

Not usually, because I refuse to stop until I accomplish my goals. It’s my daily work– what I DO–and I don’t think of it as something that needs a reward. That said, after a particularly grueling day, I will not refuse a glass of wine, and I live for the nights when my teen daughter invites me to watch a fun, mindless TV show with her.

How do you get past the times when you can’t focus or feel like it’s just “not happening today”?

If I waited until I felt like “it was happening,” I might never write.

Whatever I feel or don’t feel, I write until I make my words. It doesn’t matter if they are bad or good. I’ve had days when I thought what I was writing was horrible and the next day I look at it and find that it’s okay or there is a glimmer of something useful in it. I’ve written hundreds of pages that I ended up cutting later. I see none of this as a waste of my time.

I just heard the brilliant writer and illustrator David Wiesner say at a conference: “You can’t just think about an idea. You’ve got to do the work.”

I love that.

God, yes. Thank you for that new mantra! What distracts you when you’ve got your butt in the chair? How do you fight those distractions?

The big one is the Internet. I’m on social media a lot, as most writers are these days. It’s supposed to be a form of marketing and promotion, and it is, but I like the connecting-with-other-writers-and-readers aspect. I pop onto Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr. I read blogs and book reviews and articles about writing. It’s so easy to get sucked in, and the next thing I know it’s lunch time and I haven’t even started my words.

I am still figuring out how to use but not abuse. If anyone has any tricks, PLEASE let me know.

What’s your totally weird writing “eccentricity”?

Hmm. I just asked my daughter and she blurted out something that is hilarious. And totally not true. So, I refuse to share it with you.

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Well, pooh! Fine. Visit Jody online (and tell her I said hi) at www.jodycasella.com.

Also, I’m giving away a signed ARC of Thin Space. Enter hereabouts:

a Rafflecopter giveaway