What do you love most about your creative life? Why?
The very best part for me is the moment I surrender completely to the story. I call it “entering the slipstream.” Real life falls away; time stands still. You’re transported. You live the story, exhilarated, and when you finally emerge, it’s as if surfacing from deep underwater. You blink, momentarily disoriented, and discover in amazement that hours have passed, hours that to you seemed like minutes.
I’ve talked with artists across the creative spectrum about this – painters, poets, dancers, musicians, sculptors, and so on – and am intrigued to find that it’s a common experience. It’s where the magic happens, where art is born. It’s the point at which you know beyond a doubt, this is what I was put on this earth to do.
How do you psych yourself up to write and to keep writing?
Ah, that’s the trick, isn’t it? Getting to that slipstream can be tough. There are days when I’m instantly in the groove and it’s no effort at all, and others when I would rather do anything but write. You know it’s bad when you’d rather clean the fridge than work on a story! And then there are days when you’re raring to go and nothing comes out the end of your pen but ink.
I have found that in many cases, the greater my resistance to writing, the greater the reward when I finally manage it. There’s an excellent book on this subject, one I highly recommend to all writers. It’s called The War of Art (Grand Central, 2003), and in it author Steven Pressfield deconstructs this resistance brilliantly.
For me, when the muse balks, I go into what I call “Golden Retriever mode.” I’m like that dog who circles and circles in front of the hearth before finally settling down for a nap. Only in my case I’m settling myself down to write.
I might tidy a bit, take a walk, putter in the garden, fix myself a cup of tea. That sort of thing. Eventually, these stealth tactics lull the muse, and I can sneak up on her and make her get back to work.
When and where do you write? Why does that time and space work for you?
I write mostly in my office here at home, sitting in a comfortable armchair. I rarely write at my desk. I often start out longhand before switching to my laptop. It’s a bit like priming the pump, I suppose. I’m a morning person, and am up early. I’m always in my office by nine at the latest. This is my job, and I’m disciplined about showing up on time for it.
I’ve been writing for a living for over 25 years, first as a journalist shortly after college, then as a freelance writer and now as a novelist. I have a well-honed work ethic, which I think is half the battle in just about anything we undertake in life.
Occasionally I’ll write in a coffee shop, just for a change of pace. If the weather is nice, in the afternoons I head for the back yard. There’s a quiet, sheltered corner under our cherry tree that serves as my satellite office. I like to sit there and read, answer mail, maybe blog a bit – work on the business side of things.
So far, as a reader, what is your favorite children’s-YA book of 2009 and why?
There are several, but leading the pack is unquestionably Heart of a Shepherd by Rosanne Parry (Random House, 2009). It’s an absolutely stunning debut novel about war and its impact on family – in this case, a ranching family in Eastern Oregon. It will break your heart.
How do you define professional success?
Longevity. I look at writers like Susan Cooper and Avi, Jane Yolen and Walter Dean Myers and Richard Peck (I’m currently madly in love with his books) and others I admire, writers who have been in the game for decades and are still going strong. That’s who I want to be when I grow up.
What can your fans look forward to next?
I have a couple more Mother-Daughter Book Club (Simon & Schuster, 2007-) tales up my sleeve, and there are also several picture books in the pipeline that I’m really excited about. I’m eager to see how the artists involved envision the stories. Illustration is just a complete mystery to me. I’m in awe of anyone with artistic talent – I can’t even draw a stick figure!
After that, as far as novels go I’m looking forward to working on something a little different. Still middle-grade, as that’s the shoe that fits most comfortably and the voice that always seems to emerge whenever I sit down to write fiction, but the story I have in mind at the moment is a departure from contemporary realism into more of the fairy tale/fantasy realm. I’m holding it close at the moment, because it’s still a newborn, so that’s all I’m able to share just now.
The Craft, Career & Cheer series features conversations with children’s-YA book creators about positive aspects of their creative and professional lives.