Last night, Laurie Halse Anderson announced that she doesn’t “do things in a small way.” She was actually explaining why she’d picked 100 pounds of strawberries the day she finished the manuscript for Wintergirls but I think that phrase captures her perfectly. With equal portions of humor and pathos, she shared her writing journey, which has involved, among other things, a detour to a pig farm, course work at Onondago Community College (“which is where my life of the mind began”), a degree in linguistics, and much shoveling of snow.
She may be smiling warmly in the photo above, but behind that warmth is pure steel. I felt a bit like a parishioner squirming in the pew as she preached hellfire and brimstone to those of us who say we have a novel to finish but instead post to our blogs, play around on Facebook or even tweet. (ahem)
In addition to being inspired by her determination and drive, I am also moved by her courage. She confessed that Wintergirls was a hard novel for her, one she never intended to write. But mail and email from her readers and her own body image issues left her with no choice. It’s a hard book to read, but so important and Laurie’s compassionate heart makes sure that readers can find resources for dealing with any of the issues her YA novels touch on.
When writing YA titles like Speak and Wintergirls, Laurie has no idea where they will end. She spends time first getting to know her characters. Her historicals, however, are carefully plotted. She never shows early drafts to anyone and often reads her manuscripts into her computer or a tape recorder so she can hear the words.
No, we are not getting ready to pucker up here. Instead, I think Laurie’s about ready to whisper in my ear a warning about what she calls “The Temptresses” — those ideas for stories that wrap themselves around your shoulders and say, “I’m much more fun and interesting than that story you’re revising. Come spend time with me.” I suspect she sniffed out the temptress that’s been wafting around me, like an overdose of Chanel No.5, trying to lure me away from my current project. Her version of “Get Thee Back”: open a file for future stories and give yourself a few pages to get those tempting ideas down. Then leave them there and return to the book at hand. Looking at her track record, I’d have to say this method must work.
The final thing I want to share is her answer to a question from Lorie Ann Grover, ReaderGirlz Diva, who asked Laurie what had changed for her in the ten years since Speak. Her answer? That she wasn’t afraid to try new things anymore; where in the past, she might tell herself she couldn’t or shouldn’t do something (like draw, her new passion), now she says, “I want to so I will.”
I am so sorry for those of you who missed an evening with Laurie. You would’ve gone home, as I did, full of joy and hope and . . .
eager to get back to work.