New Voice: Hilary Weisman Graham on Reunited

By Cynthia Leitich Smith

Hilary Weisman Graham is the first-time author of Reunited

(Simon & Schuster, 2012)(blog). From the promotional copy:

1 concert. 2000 miles. 3 ex-best friends.

Alice, Summer, and Tiernan used to be best friends—as well as the self-proclaimed biggest fans of the band Level3. But when the band broke up, so did their friendship. Now, four years later, they’ve just graduated from high school. 

When Level3 announces a one-time reunion show in Texas, Alice impulsively buys tickets and invites her two former friends along for the trip. 

Reluctant at first, both girls agree to go, each with her own ulterior motive. But old resentments and other roadblocks—from unintended detours to lost concert tickets—keep getting in the girls’ way. 

Will their friendship get an encore, or is the show really over?

Was there one writing workshop or conference that led to an “ah-ha!” moment in your craft? What happened, and how did it help you?

My “ah-ha” moment happened on live television. Well, it wasn’t actually on air, but it did occur while I was a cast member of a reality TV show.

During the summer of 2007, I was selected to be a contestant on the Mark Burnett/Steven Spielberg-produced “On the Lot,” which, if you never caught it, was like “American Idol” for filmmakers, and aired on Fox for only one season.

The goal of the show was to find “America’s next great director,” and I’d been handpicked out of a pool of 12,000 applicants.

Up until that point, I’d spent my career as a filmmaker and TV producer, but writing had always been a big part of my job. Even in my free time, I found myself participating in poetry slams, or composing humorous essays to share with my friends. But up until the reality show, I considered myself a “filmmaker who wrote,” as opposed to a Writer.

Visit Hilary’s website.

And then I found myself in Los Angeles, competing head-to-head with seventeen other talented filmmakers from around the globe—literally living and breathing filmmaking for two straight months—when it suddenly became very clear to me that it was the writing part that I’d always most enjoyed (and was best at), only I’d never realized it before.

At the time, it felt like an epiphany. Though once I began looking back on my past, it seems almost laughable that it took me until the ripe old age of 37 to figure out that writing was my calling, since the signs had been there all along.

Could you describe both your pre-and-post contract revision process? What did you learn along the way? How did you feel at each stage? What advice do you have for other writers on the subject of revision?

The most important advice I could ever give to aspiring writers is: revise, revise, revise!

The first version hardly ever works. On paper, or in life.

Think about the first version of the adult you. Got a mental picture of it?

Just like you were not a suave seductress, tossing out insightful yet witty bon mots about the latest John Updike novel while simultaneously sweating in your jelly shoes at the seventh grade dance, the first draft of your fiction is also not quite ready for the grown-up world.

But we all gotta start somewhere.

In Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, the wonderful Anne Lamott urges writers to write crappy first drafts. This advice is important, if not inevitable.

But the thing I find that most often holds new writers back from this process is that they’re too proud about the toil it took to make this thing they created to notice its flaws.

Do You Know How Hard They Worked on This?


Well, guess what, people? That hard work you did is just the beginning!

Because if you’re truly doing service to your story, your prose, and your characters, the bottom line is that it’s going to take several passes to get it just right. And yes, it’s a ton of work, but each time you refine it, you discover new ways to make your story even better, until finally, it’s (almost) exactly as you envisioned it. But never completely.

Revising is dependent on your capacity for detachment, so if you’re having trouble looking at your own work objectively, remember it’s a practice and you need to give it time.

Sometimes, the best thing you can do is walk away from what you’re writing for a day or two (or a month) so that you’re able to look at it with fresh, unbiased eyes.

Because I’m comfortable with the revision process, the revising I did that was based on my editor’s notes versus the revising I did on my own felt about the same.

When and where do you write? Why does that time and space work for you?

I write five days a week, Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. while my son is at school. Sometimes, if I’m on a tight deadline, I’ll write at night and on weekends, too. And I’m fortunate enough to have my very own home office, complete with an elliptical machine for whenever I need to get those endorphins flowing.

Hilary says: “In Reunited, the girls road-trip cross-country in a pea-green 1976 VW
camper bus, affectionately known as the Pea-Pod. In reality, my husband
and I own this orange 1977 VW van.”

As a contemporary fiction writer, how did you deal with the pervasiveness of rapidly changing technologies? Did you worry about dating your manuscript? Did you worry about it seeming inauthentic if you didn’t address these factors? Why or why not?

One of my agent’s only notes on my latest book proposal was to take out all of the pop culture references (or at least reduce them greatly) so that the book wouldn’t feel dated.

Personally, I feel it’s really important to ground my characters in our present world by acknowledging the people and things that are prevalent in today’s culture. And in all likelihood, Usher, Starbucks, and Facebook will still be around five years from now.

But I also get his point. There’s a fine line between throwing in a pop culture reference in a name-droppy way, or as background, versus using it for what it represents about our present-day society in the larger picture.

As a reader, when I come across references to pop-culture stuff I don’t get (like in The Catcher in the Rye, for example) it’s pretty easy to intuit what these things are meant to signify, even if I’m not personally familiar with them.

Hilary says: “Senior year in high school, my friends and I had an F. Scoot Fitzgerald
theme party at my friend Nancy’s house which included wearing ‘period
garb” as well as some competitive croquet-playing. In case you can’t
tell, I’m the one on the right.”

How have you approached the task of promoting your debut book? What online or real-space efforts are you making? Where did you get your ideas? To whom did you turn for support? Are you enjoying the process, or does it feel like a chore? What advice do you have on this front for your fellow debut authors and for those in the years to come?

As a first-time author, perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned from my fellow novelists is that in today’s world, writing is only half the job. Between publishers tightening their budgets and readers who log onto Google searching for “bonus content” the second they finish a book, writers of all genres—and YA in particular—are embracing the internet not just as a promotional tool, but as a way to supplement the reading experience.

So, once I’d turned in my chapters, instead of kicking back and celebrating, I launched into my next job—building Reunited’s online universe.

Visit Level3

After I’d redesigned my website and set up the obligatory Twitter account, Facebook page, YouTube channel, and blog (sigh) it was time for the fun stuff, like shooting Reunited’s book trailer, or going into the studio to produce two songs for the book’s fictional band, Level3.

And everyone knows you can’t have a rock band without a website. So, a few mouse clicks later, was born, the piece du résistance in Reunited’s meta-world. There, fans can read blog posts written by the band members, watch behind-the-scenes footage and music videos, and even download Level3’s songs for free.

Sometimes, all the additional work it takes to do this “other stuff” feels draining, but most of the time, I really do enjoy this part of it. The actual writing may have ended months ago, but thanks to Reunited’s online presence, the story is still very much alive.

Cynsational Notes

Check out Hilary’s blog. Find her at facebook, Goodreads, YouTube and Twitter.