Sunday, December 18, 2011

Here – On Our Stage – The Fabulous Dawn Lairamore!

It's that time of year, so I'm a little slow with posts, but this one is really worth waiting for! Things will pick up after the first of the year. And I would like to wish all of you the happiest of holidays, whichever holidays you celebrate. I wish you quiet time with those you love and an absolutely fabulous new year. 

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First, some holiday gifts for my writing friends – some links that can help you out or make your writing life a little better or easier.

A lecture by Stephen J. Cannell on the three-act structure

And now I am happy to present, for your edification and reading pleasure, an interview with Dawn Lairamore, author of two fabulous middle-grade fantasy books, Ivy’s EverAfter and Ivy and the Meanstalk. I recently did a review for Sacramento and San Francisco Book Reviews of Ivy and the Meanstalk which you can read by clicking HERE. It’s a 5-star review, of course. This is a very fun book. If you click on the book titles, it will take you to the listing where you can order the book. Clicking on the book covers, alas, will take you no where. Now, sit back, relax, and enjoy Dawn’s interview.

What did you do to prepare for writing Ivy’s Ever After and Ivy and the Meanstalk? What I mean is, did you have to do much in the way of research?

Dawn Lairamore
No, actually.  Because Ivy and Meanstalk take much of their inspiration from the familiar fairy tales that most of us know and love, there wasn’t the need for much in the way of research.  I did research little things, such as looking at diagrams of medieval castles to make such I was using the terminology of all the various parts and structures correctly, and the like.

How did you discover your fictional characters? This may sound odd about a fantasy book, but are any based on real people? I’m pretty sure I’ve met Romil somewhere along the way.

Rosi, I’m so sorry—I truly hope he wasn’t an ex-boyfriend or someone you dated, lol!

None of the characters in my books are based outright on real people, although I think bits and pieces of people I know sometimes seep in here and there.  The more dreamy, romantic side of Rose reminds me a lot of my best friend when we were that age (and she can still be a little like that sometimes, although don’t tell her I said so).  From time to time, I can see little pieces of me in Ivy and even Elridge.  I often am asked if Ivy was based on me.  In truth, I think Ivy is more the fourteen-year-old I would have liked to have been (confident, adventurous, true to herself) than the fourteen-year-old I actually was (shy and kind of awkward).

How do you find your story ideas? Do they just come to you or do you spend a lot of time trying to think of ideas?

I’ve always had a very active imagination—overactive some people might say—and I daydream a lot.  Many of my story ideas come from just letting my mind wander and seeing what pops up.

Do you do any writing exercises to get things flowing?

Not often, no.  But I know writers who really value writing exercises and find them extremely helpful.  It’s different for everyone.

How long did you work on each of your books? Was the second one easier or harder than the first? Why?

I worked on Ivy off and on for about two years.  It wasn’t until the second year that I really worked on it with any type of consistency.  I wrote Meanstalk in about eight months.  (It helped that this time, I was writing to a deadline.)

It did seem easier the second time.  I believe writing is like any other skill: it gets stronger with practice and experience, which is why writers must write, write, write!

Your writing has such a great, natural flow to it. Do you spend a lot of time planning your writing – outlining and such – or is it a much more organic process for you?

Why, thank you!  It’s a little bit of both for me.  I usually don’t start a book with an outline on hand, because frankly, I don’t know enough at that point to even make an outline.  So much of the story and characters form and develop as I write.  At some point, though, maybe about ten chapters in, when I have a better sense of the story and where it needs to go, I do create a basic outline plotting the rest of the book to the end.  I don’t always follow this outline down to the last letter, and many things change or move in a new or different direction as I write, but I do find that having the outline is a great tool for keeping me focused.

Writing can be a lonely business. Do you work with critique groups or critique partners? Maybe you could talk a little about your writing process.

I’m a loner for much of the writing process.  In general, I don’t seek out feedback until I have a completed manuscript that I’m somewhat comfortable with.  At that point, I think it is really valuable to have people look at it and give me feedback, so if there is something confusing about the story or something that perhaps feels like it could use some fleshing out or any other issues, I can address that.  But I find getting feedback in the middle of the writing process, before I’ve even completed a first draft, a bit distracting.  After all, I’m still trying to figure out where the story is going myself, and adding in other people’s thoughts and opinions at this point seems to muddy the waters a bit and makes me lose focus.  Again, it’s different for everyone.  I think the opinions of others is a valuable part of the writing process; I just like to make use of it in the later stages of my writing.

Do you ever have writer’s block? If so, how do you overcome that?

I think everyone gets writer’s block from time to time.  There are many ways to stir your imagination and get it going again: read a lot in the genre in which you are writing to get your creative juices flowing, do research, look at pictures and videos online that are somehow related to your story or subject matter—you never know what this will inspire!  If you are struggling with a particular chapter or scene, there are writing exercises that are sometimes helpful: try writing the scene from the point of view of a different character, or write a scene in which the opposite of what you want happens: the villain wins, the hero and heroine go their separate ways, evil triumphs over good.  You don’t have to use these scenes in your final story, of course, but sometimes taking an alternate approach can make you look at things from a different perspective and inspire new ideas.

As writers, we all hear so much about the editing process. Did you have to do a lot of re-writing once Ivy’s Ever After and Ivy and the Meanstalk were placed with Holiday House?

Actually, no, not a whole lot.  My fabulous, wonderful, brilliant editor made amazing suggestions that I have no doubt added dimension and depth to the books, but we had very similar visions for the story, so it was more polishing and refining than re-writing.  You hear a lot of writers talk about how they dread the editing process, but I have to say that I loved it!  Editing is all about making your books better, and I was thrilled with the results.

What has been most thrilling for you since your books have come out?

I absolutely love hearing from readers.  The day I got my very first letter from a reader was really special.  It was from a mother who had gotten the book for her eight-year-old daughter.  Her daughter loved the book so much that on the last day of school, when her class was supposed to come dressed as their favorite character from a book, she dressed as Ivy.  That just blew my mind—that a young reader had dressed up as a character that up until a handful of years ago had only existed as a figment of my imagination.  What an amazing thing!

Whose writing has most influenced you in your writing?

I don’t believe there is any one person or author who has had the most influence.  I read pretty widely and appreciate a wide variety of stories and writing styles.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given as a writer?

Take feedback seriously, whether it comes from an editor, a friend, a member of your critique group, or whoever.  Don’t be dismissive of anything right off the bat.  Even if a certain suggestion ends up not being right for your story, at least give it fair consideration.  Sometimes suggestions that seem very wrong at first actually make a lot of sense when you stop to think about them.

It’s never easy to find enough time to write. What gets in the way for you? How do you find time to write?

Most weeks, unless there are very extenuating circumstances, I set aside one day to focus on writing—and I write.  Even if I’m tempted to go to the movies, have lunch with a friend, or do laundry instead, I force myself to sit in front of the computer and write.  I think of it like exercising or going to the gym: it has to be a priority in your life, or you’re never going to do it with any type of consistency.

What do you hear from your young readers?

Oh my gosh, they send such great letters and e-mails—it’s the best thing ever!  I think they really enjoy the humor of the books, and many of them appreciate that Princess Ivy is so true to herself despite the pressure to conform.  I love that they come away from the books with such a positive message.

What is the last book you read?

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton.  The Secret Garden was one of my favorite books as a child, which is why I was drawn to Ms. Morton’s book.

If you had a couple of days with nothing else to do, what book would you most like to read that you’ve already read and why?

That’s a hard one, because truthfully there are a lot of books I wouldn’t mind reading again.  It would probably depend on my mood.  Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice are my favorite classics.  Robin McKinley’s Beauty if I’m in the mood for a fairy tale.  William Goldman’s The Princess Bride if I want to have a laugh.

What advice would you pass along to those of us who haven’t gotten that first book published?  

We’ve all heard it a million times, but it is so true: persistence pays off!

Thank you for so generously sharing your time and thoughts. Is there anything I didn’t ask about that you’d like to tell us?

Thanks so much, Rosi.  I’d love to invite your readers to visit my website, where they can find out more about my books and read chapters from both Ivy’s Ever After and Ivy and the Meanstalk:

Have a great holiday season. See you next year!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

This and That and Ellen Klages

I had a good day today. First I met with my good friend and fellow writer, JaNay Brown. We are working on a collection of seasonal poems and are making great progress. She’s a very talented writer, and I am excited to be working with her on this project. I felt pretty energized after our meeting today, and that would have been enough to be a good day, but there was more.

Ellen Klages
I had received an email recently announcing a mini-workshop being put on by the San Francisco North and East Bay Region of SCBWI. They had a holiday get-together that was fabulous. That particular region puts on a lot of events that are really nice – mini-workshops, nice get-togethers, and a great autumn one-day conference. I go to their events when I can, although most are a hundred miles or more away from my home. This one was really worth my while.

Ellen Klages came to talk to us about research in children’s fiction. Since I have recently written (and am still polishing) a historical novel, this was of particular interest to me. Her talk was both informative and affirming for me. If you don’t know who Ellen Klages is, get yourself to a bookstore and buy her books. I read her books years ago, but think it’s time to read them again. I would say get yourself to a library, but I think for most of you, you will want to read her books more than one time, and you will want to own them. Her writing is spectacular.If you ever have a chance to see her, do it. She not only has great information about writing to share, but is inspiring, funny, and entertaining.

Her award-winning debut novel, The Green Glass Sea, is one of my favorite books. It is listed as a middle-grade novel, but I can’t imagine anyone over the age of eight or nine who wouldn’t enjoy this book. It is historical fiction, set in Los Alamos, New Mexico (a town that didn’t exist, according to the government) at the time when J. Robert Oppenheimer led a group of the brightest minds in the country in their quest for the atomic bomb. Klages’s protagonist is eleven-year-old Dewey, the daughter of one of the mathematicians working on the Manhattan Project. Dewey, a mechanically-minded girl, is a bit of a misfit in that time, although it is probably the best place for her to be, truth be known. This is as fascinating a coming-of-age novel as I have ever read.  If you have ever wanted to be transported to another time, read this book. You will be immediately transported to the 1940s. Dewey is a very real kid in a very real time – a time Klages makes so tangible, you will find yourself there for the entire time you read this wonderful book. The story is compelling, the characters endearing, and the writing flawless. The icing on the cake is there is a sequel – White Sands, Red Menace – to make your day a little brighter. (If you click on the title, it will link you to the book on Amazon.)

Ellen Klages is a great writer. There is not one superfluous word in her books. You can read her books as a reader for a great story or as a writer for a lesson in how to craft a great story. I recommend these. Oh – I guess you knew that!

Last post, I promised someone would win a book. My granddaughter Gracie picked Morgan Mussell, so I will contact him and find out what kind of book he would like to receive – children’s, middle-grade, YA, or adult. Congratulations, Morgan! Thanks for stopping by.

I promised some good links for writers on my last post. Here they are.

Elizabeth Gibson often posts good stuff on The Speculative Salon and this one is no exception. Just what writers need after a holiday:

Margaret Duarte shares some great sites for building a better blog:

Hope Clark always has terrific information to share. If you don’t receive her free newsletters, you should. Take a look at this issue and scroll down to the article by Margo Dill “How Else Can I Make Money as a Children's Writer?” That caught my attention!

If you are reading this in your email, don’t forget to click on the headline to go to my blog. If you haven’t subscribed yet, please do. And please leave a comment. If you have trouble leaving a comment, please click on the title of the post and comments should pop up at the bottom. If you don’t have one of the accounts they ask for or don’t want to use that, please use Anonymous, but let me know who you are. Thanks. I love to hear from you.