Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Inside the Writer's Studio with Kimberly Marcus, author of Exposed

Today for Inside the Writer’s Studio we welcome debut novelist Kimberly Marcus. Her raw free verse novel Exposed has had much pre-buzz and I am thrilled the book is now out and we all can read what those behind the scenes have been buzzing about. I’ve met Kimberly in person at various conferences in the Northeast, and she is down-to-earth, warm, and funny as she is talented. 

Here is a bit about the novel from the publisher, Random House:

In the dim light of the darkroom, I'm alone, but not for long.
As white turns to gray, Kate is with me.
The background of the dance studio blurred, so the focus is all on her
legs extended in a perfect soaring split.
The straight line to my squiggle,
my forever-best friend.

Sixteen-year-old Liz is Photogirl—sharp, focused and confident in what she sees through her camera lens. Confident that she and Kate will be best friends forever.

But everything changes in one blurry night. Suddenly, Kate is avoiding her, and people are looking the other way when she passes in the halls. As the aftershocks from a startling accusation rip through Liz's world, everything she thought she knew about photography, family, friendship and herself shifts out of focus. What happens when the picture you see no longer makes sense? What do you do when you may lose everything you love most? Told in stunning, searingly raw free verse, Exposed is Kimberly Marcus's gut-wrenching, riveting debut and will appeal to fans of Ellen Hopkins, Laurie Halse Anderson and Virginia Euwer Wolff.

And look at the raves from authors we all know and love!

“Exposed is on the money. Not a word out of place and it tells a great grim truth.”
Chris Crutcher,award-winning author of Whale Talk

“Tight, edgy emotionally true down to the bone. I couldn’t put it down!”
Tamora Pierce, New York Times bestselling author of Bloodhound

“Honest, heartfelt, moving, and memorable.”
Nancy Werlin, New York Times bestselling author of Impossible

“Gripping and thoughtful, Exposed takes a penetrating look at how a single night can change you forever.”
Patricia McCormick, author of Sold, a National Book Award finalist

Is there a story behind Exposed that you wish to share? (Ie: the ah-ha or lightning moment where the story inspiration struck)

Years back, when I was focused on writing picture books but contemplating the thought of writing a novel, I met an editor at a writer’s conference. We started up a conversation in which I mentioned that I was a therapist, with a particular interest in trauma work. She said to me, “If you ever decide to write a book about trauma, I’d love to see it.” I’d been thinking of how my clinical background might serve to inform a novel-length idea, and her comment was just the boost I needed to get started.

How do you stay inspired to face the dreaded blank page? Is it something you dread? Look forward to? Share a bit about your writing process.

I’m happy to share a bit of my writing process, but I don’t profess that it should be a model for anyone else! I tend to dread the blank page, and feel much more comfortable picking a story apart during the revision phase than I do trying to get out a first draft. I make stabs at writing in a linear fashion, but seem to find that most scenes come to me out of sequence. And scenes tend to come to me, most often, as snippets of running dialogue between characters. I don’t tend to worry too much about tag lines, or word choice, or description in the initial stages of writing. Those things get attended to later, when I’m going back to figure out exactly what it is that I’m trying to do with that particular scene, what the emotional core should be. After that I think about things like the best word choice, necessary tag lines, description, and imagery. And then I try to put the whole thing together in a way that makes sense!

How important is community in keeping you inspired? What authors are a part of your virtual and/or hometown community? How do they keep you inspired? How do you inspire them?

Community is key to keeping me inspired. I’ve been blessed with a fabulous in-person writers group. We meet once a month and they keep me on my toes. I also have two trusted readers, who also happen be talented writers and trusted friends, who are willing to read drafts of my work before I dare show those drafts to anyone else. And I have a small group of writers whose valued opinions I save for the later, and hopefully neater, drafts.

What were some of the challenges you encountered when working on this novel/picture book? How did you overcome those challenges?

One challenge in working on Exposed was figuring out whose story it was to tell. Originally, this story wasn’t told from Liz’s point of view. It was told from the point of view of her best friend, Kate. Then, for a while, it was told in alternating voices between the two characters. But the more I worked to flesh the story out, the more interested I became in Liz’s view of what was happening. Eventually, I gave the story entirely to her. Another challenge was finding the best form for telling the story. Exposed is written in free verse poetry, but it didn’t start out that way. It started out as a novel in prose. At one point in its writing, I became stuck on a scene. A friend, who knew my love of poetry, suggested I try recreating the scene in free verse as an exercise to get unstuck. It worked, helping me to create a snapshot of emotion, so I decided to write the whole book that way.

How does “place” come through in your writing? How important is place in this current novel/picture book? Is it tied to a place you once lived or are familiar with or is it a new world entirely?

I think there are many interpretations of the meaning for “place,” including the emotional spot your character is in. But, with regard to place as setting, Exposed takes place in the fictionalized town of Shoreview (a beach community on Cape Cod in Massachusetts) and on the nearby island of Martha’s Vineyard.Shoreview is based on the real town of Falmouth, MA. The beach town and island locations are important to the plot because Liz works in the concession stands on the ferries that travel back and forth between Shoreview and the Vineyard, and because she is focusing part of her photography portfolio on off-season shots of the island and its residents. The beach is also important, as it’s the place where Liz and Kate met and spent so much of their time together. I grew up not far from Cape Cod and have spent a a great deal of time there myself, mostly in a home in Falmouth. I’ve also vacationed for years on Martha’s Vineyard and consider it one of my favorite places.

How do you balance the internal and external arc in the story? Which comes to you first—the external action or what is emotionally at stake? How do you weave the two together?

I think the balancing of those arcs is, for me, one of the toughest parts of the writing process. Thankfully, I have a fabulous editor to help me out! The emotional arc is, almost always, the one that comes to me first. Perhaps that’s because the external arc is one I usually see as more tied to plot, and plot doesn’t pop into my head in a speedy fashion (though I would love it if that happened!). I try to weave from the get-go, but it’s usually only after a few revisions that I figure out how the threads might work together as a whole.

Do you have a favorite craft book? If so, what is it? And what is your favorite take away?

One of my favorite craft books is The Screenwriter’s Workbook, by Syd Field. As you can probably tell from the title, this is not a book on how to craft novels - but I find it quite helpful, especially in terms of structure and pacing. I’ve read a number of wonderful craft books, but also some that are quite dense in tone and content. I think one reason I like this particular one so much is that the author breaks down screenplays from movies I’ve seen as a way to show how they are developed. This makes for an interesting, relatable way to view my own process of writing.

Inspired by the Actors Studio, what sound do you love? What sound do you hate?

 I love the sound of the ocean. I hate the sound of my alarm clock!

In ode to Maebelle, the main character in my new book Truth with a Capital T, who keeps a book of little known facts about just about everything, please share a wacky piece of trivia that has stuck with you or please share a little known fact about YOU.

In Exposed, Liz takes some photos of the Flying Horses Carousel on Martha’s Vineyard.This is a real carousel, in the Vineyard town of Oak Bluffs. It’s the oldest operating platform carousel in the country, and it’s listed as a National Historic Landmark, with horses that don’t go up and down like modern carousels. This might not classify as wacky, but here’s something I find interesting: Their manes and tales are made from real horsehair, and their glass eyes each contain a tiny hand-carved animal.

Thanks to Kimberly for being with us. Exposed is long-awaited and I am so thrilled I can now get my hands on a copy!

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