Those of you in the Seattle area can get yourselves over to the Ballard Public Library tomorrow night (March 24) at 6:30 pm to hear the uber-talented Laurie Halse (pronounced “haltz”) Anderson read from and talk about her newest book, Wintergirls. In addition to being a darn fine writer, she has the distinction of being the last writer interviewed by my beloved and recently departed Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
Generous heart that she is, Laurie made time in her insanely busy schedule to answer a few questions for those of you who won’t be able to hear her speak tomorrow night:
• Were you a flashlight-under-the covers or a run-and-play-and-collect-bugs kind of kid?
BOTH! I read at night way past my bedtime, and ran outside first thing in the morning. I was very fond of salamanders and strange fungal growths that grew on trees. My family camped a lot when I was a kid. The family that we camped with had a boy who was just a few years older than me.
He was my best friend when I was a kid. He is my husband today. You can find all sorts of things in the forest!
• I understand that, in second grade, you discovered haiku and the joy of creative writing. What was the nudge/spark that set you in front of that blank paper to write for children and young adults?
I am always hearing lines from stories in my head. I care about kids and teenagers more than I care about adults. I combined those two aspects and became a writer.
• Do you have any special writing talismans/tokens in your writing space? If so, what are they?
I have a nibbed pen and a pot of ink to dip it in. If I can’t find my writing voice, I turn off the computer and scratch away on paper with the old-fashioned pen. The only award that I keep in plain sight is the SCBWI Golden Kite Award. It is a statue of a child flying a kite; it reminds me to be a child when writing.
• I love the title concept explored by Carolyn See in her Making A Literary Life: What helps you sustain and nourish your literary life?
Reading books by authors I admire. Working in the garden. Running and walking down country roads. Staying connected to my husband and our children. Exploring and playing with other art forms: music, drawing, and dance. All of this feeds my soul.
• What’s the worst writing advice you ever received?
“Write what you know.” What’s the point? I already know that stuff. I want to learn, to grow. So I try to write about what I don’t know, or, if I write about what I know, I push myself to a new level of understanding or a new perspective.
• How long was it between “I’ve got an idea” to “We’d like to publish your book”? And what happened in between those moments?
“I’ve got an idea” was when I was in second grade…. in 1967. My first book was published in 1996. In between I lost myself for a while and buried my dreams. Then I found myself again and started walking the right path.
• You’ve done it all – picture books, historical novels, contemporary novels. How does that work?
I have a very short attention span and am allergic to doing the same thing over and over again. I generally have one book in the research phase, one in the earliest draft form, one in revision, and one getting ready for publication. I am never bored, which is a good thing, because a Bored Laurie is not a pretty sight. Think thunderclouds. Big thunderclouds swirling into funnels.
• You mention having playlists for each novel. What was your playlist for Chains? For Wintergirls?
Lots of Mozart and Jill Scott and Coldplay and the music of a fiddler named Mark O’Connor.
(This is so cool, Laurie, because Mark O’Connor is a Seattle-area native!)
- “Pills for Sara” Winterpills
- “Breathe (2 AM”) Anna Nalick
- “Razorblades” Story of the Year
- “We Do What We Can” Sheryl Crow
- “Aqueous Transmission” Incubus
- “Icicle” Tori Amos
- “Good Enough” Sarah McLachlan
- “You Gotta Be” Des’ree
- “Bring Me to Life” Evanescence
- “My Immortal” Evanescence
- “I’m So Sick” Flyleaf
- “Cassie” Flyleaf (found this at the end of the writing of the book. Freaked me all the way out.)
• When you do an editing sweep, what are you looking for?
It depends on where I am in the process. The first couple of drafts are to find the voice and lay down the bones of the plot structure. Then I develop the emotional peaks and valleys and make sure all the action is properly motivated. Then I try and pick the exact right details in each setting that will show something extra about the characters or situation. And last, but not at all the least, I revise to make the language is strong and pure.
• Other than a deadline, how do you know when you’re done with a novel?
I have never finished any of my novels. This is why I cannot bear to read them once they’re published.
• What was the scariest thing you’ve done as a writer?
Sitting down to work every morning is still pretty scary. Also, calling a halt to school visits (guaranteed income) so I could spend more time writing (not-guaranteed income).
• What are you proudest of in your work?
Thousands of teenagers have said they hated reading until they read one of my books. I want that on my tombstone.
• What, if anything, in the writer’s life has caught you by surprise?
How much time I spend not-writing! For the last couple of years, I’ve spent 8 -10 weeks a year on the road, speaking on conferences and going on book tours. It’s a lot of fun, but it steals precious writing time. When I’m at home, about half of each work week (which is at least 50 hours a week) is spent on reader correspondence, publicity, and marketing.
series of questions about work habits:
o Computer or long-hand? Both. It depends on where I am in the process.
o Coffee or tea? Both. It depends on the time of day.
o Desk: neat or tidy? Tidy.
o Essential writing snack food: rice cakes with cottage cheese or hummus.
• Is there anything you wish I’d asked you? If so, what is it?
Since SPEAK is 10 years old, you could have asked “Is your career where you imagined it would be?” The answer is no. I never imagined I would have so many amazing opportunities to tell stories and connect with readers. My pot of ink overfloweth.
Thank you, Laurie, for spending this time with me, chatting about things writing. Thanks, too, for the reminders to put the writing first and to be thankful for the opportunity to live this glorious life of words.