Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Inside the Writer's Studio, with Jo Whittemore author of Odd Girl In

Today at Inside the Writer’s Studio we have with us the hilariously funny, Jo Whittemore. Jo is the kind of author one can call on in a pinch. When I moved last year, Jo and her husband (the man who can wear a loveseat as a hat and carry it up and down three flights of stairs) were the first to arrive. Jo is that kind of gal. She shows up—in life and on the page. And in both efforts, she is the perfect combination of funny and wise. Jo is here to celebrate her new release, Odd Girl In.

Here is a bit more about Odd Girl In.

Alexis "Alex" Evins is a first-class prankster. When she plays a particularly disastrous prank (hair + fire=bad), her dad sends Alex (and her older brothers) to a character-building after-school program. There, the Evins siblings are faced with the ultimate test of teamwork, leadership, and responsibility. Can the "Evil Evins" pass the course in one piece, or are they destined for an epic fail?

And what are the reviewers saying?

"...witty, laugh-out-loud romp. Whittemore handles not only the comedy but deftly portrays Alex’s and her brothers’ advancement into a more mature state of mind. It should keep middle-schoolers laughing from start to finish. Funny and perky."--Kirkus

"Secondary characters have surprising depth. There’s plenty of humor along the way to redemption and healing as Alex and her brothers learn to work as a team and as a family."--School Library Journal

Thanks for being here Jo!

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 used to be a blank page panicker, but over the years I’ve realized you have to view writing a book like eating a pizza. Though you can visualize it in its entirety, you would never attempt to eat a whole pizza at once, just like you shouldn’t attempt to write a book all at once. You eat the pizza bite by bite, slice by slice until you’re done. By that notion, you write a book page by page, chapter by chapter, until it’s done. When I’m facing a blank page, I don’t let myself get overwhelmed by the thought “I have to write a book!” I settle with a simpler, easy-to-grasp goal of “I have to write a page.”

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 essential to me. People say writing is a solo craft, but I don’t think I know a single author who works entirely alone. You have to have a critique group (or partner) to keep you on track, remind you that your writing is good and help you navigate through the tough parts of your story. You have to have mentors, who can guide you on your career path, encourage you to reach that next level and believe in your work. You have to have writing friends who can sympathize on a bad day, motivate you to succeed by sharing their own successes, and celebrate with you when things go well.

I’m blessed to have so many wonderful authors in my hometown community AND the virtual community. These are friends I’ve met through SCBWI meetings, book signings, message boards, even Facebook and Twitter. They inspire me with their success stories and their tenacity. We shouldn’t be jealous of each other’s good fortune. We should use it as motivation to reach a similar level of awesome. I try and inspire others by sharing personal experiences, both good and bad, and helping them see the worth in their writing and the light at the end of the tunnel.

Theme can be seen as a dirty word but as writers I believe we all have something to say, something we want to share with the world. What is that something for you?

I love the idea of theme, and I didn’t realize I was even writing to one until I heard Marion Dane Bauer speak at the SCBWI LA conference last year. I’d been noticing what I called a trend in my books, where the main characters are usually girls who don’t conform to cliques and “girly” behavior. It concerned me at first, because I thought maybe all my stories were the same, but after hearing Marion Dane Bauer’s speech, I realized the stories were different, but there was a definite theme prevalent in my writing: Different does not equal bad.  

How important is voice in your work? How does “voice” come to you?

Voice, to me, keeps the reader turning the pages when there’s no action or happiness to be found. If the voice is captivating, a simple conversation is full of intrigue, and the reader has to know why so-and-so refuses to eat pudding. And a character in a dark situation needs us to keep reading so we’ll know it all turns out okay. The voice is what connects us to a character. 
Voice comes to me after I’ve worked out the plot of a story in my head. I’m usually going for funny, so the voice will lend itself to either intentional or unintentional humor. If I’m going for intentional, I’m usually working with a smart, witty character that can crack a joke or issue a retort without a second thought. If I’m going for unintentional, I’m usually working with a sweet, goofy, naïve person who is unaware their words or actions are rife with comedy.

I once heard Deb Caletti say when asked how her life has changed since becoming a published author that she feels she is living the life she is meant to live. How has your life changed since you became a published author? Has it? What lessons have you learned that you’d care to share since becoming published?

Ha! I feel like this is a customer testimony. “Since I’ve become a published author, I’ve dropped ten pounds and have whiter teeth!” But seriously, being published HAS changed my life, in good ways and bad. The good? I’ve become less of a recluse and have ventured out of my shell to make friends and meet new people, something pre-pub Jo would have avoided. For that matter, it’s made me more confident in myself and helped me identify personal strengths. The bad? It’s also helped me identify personal weaknesses! But at least I know what I need to work on.
Lessons to share? Don’t sell yourself short…but don’t oversell yourself either. When I first started many years ago, I boasted to anyone who asked about my book that I was going to be the next J.K. Rowling. Today, other than the fact that we both go by the name Jo, there are no similarities. I’m not even wearing designer underwear.

Another lesson? Watch what you say! The creation of Facebook, Twitter, and blogs mean gossip and negative comments spread much faster to people you might not want to hear. And don’t watch just what you say about other people; watch what you say about yourself. I once had a down day and wanted to post woe-is-me thoughts, but before I could, another writer told me how my good humor always made her feel better. Instead of going public with my pity party, I told a few close friends. The world didn’t need to watch me beat up on myself.

Quickly name 5 favorite stories—could be books or movies even. Do these stories have anything in common with one another? Do they have anything in common with your own work? What comparisons can you make in terms of what matters to you in your own work and what you like to read/experience?

1. The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith (Heinemann, 1956)
2. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg (Atheneum Press, 1967)
3. The Silver Spoon Mystery by Dorothy Sterling (Scholastic, 1958)
4. Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers (Not sure who original publisher was, 1934)
5. The Good Master by Kate Seredy (Viking, 1935)

All of these are comfort books for me. One thing they all have in common? They’re from before I was even born! They were originally gifts when I was a kid, and I didn’t read them for the longest time, either because I’d already seen the movie (The Hundred and One Dalmatians, Mary Poppins) or they sounded boring (Mixed-Up Files is set at a museum, The Silver Spoon Mystery was set in the 50s, The Good Master was set in Hungary). But when I finally read them, I fell in love with them. I want to write these kinds of books, the ones kids fall in love with and turn to when they’re sick or sad or just need a bit of cozy.

Inspired by the Actors Studio, what sound do you love? What sound do you hate?
I love the sound of laughter. I hate the sound of crying. I’m prone to duplicating these sounds (and their emotions) when I hear them.

If your protagonist and antagonist were competing on American Idol what songs would each sing? And who would have the better voice?
Let’s see. For the newest book, Odd Girl In, the protagonist is a loner tomboy named Alex, and she’d sing Raise Your Glass by Pink. The antagonist is an overachiever named Chloe, and she’d sing Headstrong by Trapt. I’d say Chloe would have the better voice because she’d do anything to win and would hire a vocal coach to help her nail the song.

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.
I have stitches in the middle of my forehead from the time I got overexcited about cookies and whacked my head on a banister when I jumped up and down for joy.

Ouch! Told you readers that Jo was exciteable!

Thanks to Jo Whittemore for being with us. For more on Jo, be sure to check out her website, her involvement with the Texas Sweethearts & Scoundrels (and if in Austin for TLA, please stop by the Texas Sweetheart & Scoundrel reception amid the hustle and bustle of the conference floor) and come see Jo, Varian Johnson, and myself when we join Cindy Pon and Malinda Lo for their Diversity in YA  stop here in Austin on May 9th, at BookPeople. 

No comments:

Post a Comment