Thursday, May 20, 2010

Anne Spollen on YA Writing

I loved Anne Spollen's Light Beneath Ferns so much that I asked her to do a blog post about it and/or her writing. Come to find out, not only do we share similar perspectives on a lot of things, we share really similar writing styles. No wonder I was able to nuzzle my way between the lines of her book and cuddle in. It's like we're in each others' heads. So yeah, Anne says she took over my blog. But my soul does feels a little crowded . . .

I am taking over Donna’s blog for a little while. It would probably be a whole lot more interesting if I could take over her mind or her soul, but her blog is all I can manage for now. When you think about it, in a small way, for a short amount of time, writers DO get to take over your mind and soul. (And, I guess now, occasionally your blog…)

For those of you who don’t know me, I am a YA writer with two books currently out, and more writing news to share soon. One of the things I try to do when I blog hop is anticipate questions folks might want to ask. An awful lot of avid book readers and blog stalkers (yes, I stalk blogs, too) are aspiring writers, so I think a good place to begin would be to speak about writing.

Whenever people ask me why I write, I always answer, “Because I have to.” Writing is my one addiction. (I am visualizing the people who know me, nodding and saying, “Yes, but so is her chocolate consumption” – but that’s another post)

I have always had to write, the way some people have to jog or eat certain foods to feel normal. If I don’t write for longer than a few days, I feel really irritable, as if my mind is cluttered and clouded. Writing is therapy. All the images and impressions that have been gathering in my brain come out on paper.

I write really quickly, not really caring how it all hangs together at first. I go back and revise later on, after the ideas are down and my brain is less frenzied. It’s not entirely unlike a binge and purge episode, only in this case it’s images and bits of dialogue that are rambling around in my head instead of food.

I know in writing classes they teach you to make outlines or to fill in plot outlines in organized, logical sequences. A friend of mine once gave me colored index cards to organize my work. She explained her writing teacher told her to use the blue ones for character, the salmon ones for setting details and so forth.

For a long time, I thought maybe there was a correct, accepted way to write the way there is a correct, accepted way to go about producing an oil painting. I don’t plan. I don’t make outlines. Sometimes what I am writing takes a totally unexpected direction. I don’t quite understand the process of writing, but now I do understand that there is no method, no way of utilizing color coded cards or outlines that works. What works is telling a good story. It’s that simple – and that impossible.

I think what happens is I see someone, or hear something, and at the time, it does not seem at all significant. Later on, that experience shows up on paper.

When I began The Shape of Water, my first story, I saw a girl standing on a beach: I recognized the beach as the one I had grown up on. It was windy, and the girl walked over to the marshes and lit them on fire. A disturbing image, and I’m not sure where it came from, but I began this odd kind of “listening” when I revisited the image and the novel began to take shape.

Years ago, when my boys were still cruising around on big wheels, I would take them to a rural cemetery across the street from our house. It was safer there than the road as there was no traffic. Sometimes I saw this really wild teenage girl sitting by a rock at the edge of the cemetery. She looked so much happier there than she did when we saw her at the bus stop or walking around. She used to watch the river. Somehow that girl, the image of that girl, returned to me and I began writing Light Beneath Ferns.

Which brings me to my second question, one I am asked whenever I am asked about writing:

So why do you write about teenagers? Why not write an adult novel?

I may write an adult novel one day, but that question is usually asked in the exact tone that my English teachers used to coerce me into writing something for an essay contest. In other words, you have more potential than you’re using…

I have a standard answer for this question: I like to write for and about teens because I believe we are all still secretly recovering from middle school. I think that time in a person’s life is so easily recalled; the details are still so vivid.

In childhood, it never mattered who you ate lunch with or whether or not you wore white socks (I absolutely could not wear white socks when in middle school – I’m not sure of the reason, but when I found them in my drawer, I would dispose of them the way someone would dispose of uranium) Then comes middle school where everything matters, and it matters tremendously. Adolescence provides such a clear division in human experience, and I like to mine that border as it is so rich. People connect to that time instantly. I think that’s the appeal of YA, either, “Oh, that’s how it is. This author is speaking directly to me,” or “Yes, I remember that. Thank God I’m past all that now.”

I want to thank Donna for giving me a new place to rant a little today, and for her perceptive reading of Light Beneath Ferns. Sometimes it’s not just the readers who say, “Oh, this author gets me!” it’s the author saying, “Yes, that reader gets me!” Luckily, Donna was that reader.


Stacy Stew said...

I think that YA novels are great, because we were all teenagers once and can relate. Plus regardless if it is YA or not, a good book, is a good book.

Cherry said...

I have to agree with Stacy, a good book is a good book. It probably wouldn't matter to me if Anne writes YA or adult. What matters to me is, if it is a good book :)

Jemi Fraser said...

I agree too - I enjoy a lot of YA books as an adult - the emotions are universal :)

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