Monday, May 30, 2011

Mystery & Magic

May & June: Observations on Art & Fear

My idea of  an "actor"
Back in the 90’s when I wanted to be an actor I had a stereotype in my head of what an actor should be.  An actor should be thin, wear back, stand tall, be unafraid, be adventurous, be sullen, be the life of the party, be out there—living on the edge. I don’t know why I thought this. Some of my friends, most of my friends were actors, and some of them were all those things but only some. I wasn’t an actor because I didn’t see myself as one. It came down to that…the mystery and the magic of a self-proclamation.

  I talk to students from seventeen to seventy who are afraid to call themselves writers. I get it. I understand it. But I do think holding up that banner and announcing to the world: I care about THIS; THIS is who I am is important. Publishers may accept our work or pass on it. I do in my role as editor of the YA and Children’s portion of Hunger Mountain, we may dub or bestow someone with the title “author” but what we can’t do is ever bestow the power of the self-definition of writer on someone. That has to be done long before publication in any form, arts journal, small press, or major publishing house can or will.

In Art & Fear, Bayles & Orland state: “ The belief that ‘real’ art possesses some indefinable magic ingredient puts pressure on you to prove your work contains the same….” And later when talking about comparing oneself to others, this is stated: “Whatever they (other artists) have is something needed to do their work—it wouldn’t help you in your work even if you had it."

I didn’t need to be tall and thin and wear black and be bold and adventurous to be an actor. Lots of actors aren’t. I also don’t need to be or do anything but be who I am as a writer. All I need to do is do the work, the exhausting but exhilarating work. I need to sit down and write. I need to capture my thoughts, work with them, shape them, and then share them. Share them to small groups first and hopefully with large audiences later. That is all the mystery and magic there is—hard but enjoyable work.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Weekly Round Up--For Those of Us Not at BEA

The temps in Austin climbed to 105 earlier this week. Yikes, it was hot. But, over at the Writing Barn we can now stay cool as we check on the daily progress. The french doors have arrived and the AC had long been installed. We cooled the place down last night and took a couple of new pics. 

instructor apartment/guest bedroom      
Kitchen with loft area above. Stove gets installed today.  

Instructor/guest bathroom    

French doors with inner blinds.
By next week, we have some of the furniture in (my comfy love seat and overstuffed chair from my apartment) and the books in the bookshelves--should the cement floor get painted this weekend in the main area of the barn. There still will be a screened porch to come where the horse stalls were but much, much progress has been made!

In the Wider World

Another week has come and gone and with it some good news: BEA is winding down in NYC, a  Dear Teen Me post from Cynthia Leitich Smith (geektastic!), the blog tour of The Grand Plan to Fix Everything by Uma Krishnaswami--and some sad--the death of author/librarian Bridget Zinn. I never met Bridget Zinn but I know those who have. A group of Austin authors were writing yesterday and Jenny Moss shared a picture of Bridget holding a beautiful colorful umbrella. She looked like a thirty-something on her way to school for the first day. When I got home the PW Children's Bookshelf had arrived in my inbox and I read a tribute to Bridget by her agent and friend, Michael Sterns. If you haven't already, read it--hug someone you love--and countdown the days until Bridget's novel Poison is released.  

Bridget and her writing group--with colorful umbrella.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Inside the Writer's Studio with Uma Krishnaswami

It is my Grand Pleasure to welcome author Uma Krishnaswami to Inside the Writer’s Studio today. Uma began teaching at VCFA after I graduated but the thing about VCFA is its arms reach far out into the writing world. You don’t have to physically be there to be considered family. And, I am honored to be part of the VCFA family with the talented Uma. (And as yesterday was Oprah’s last show I have to make the Letterman joke. Uma—Oprah. Oprah—Uma. THIS is the Uma Oprah should meet.) Recently, Uma Krishnaswami led a craft class at the YA A to Z Conference and I led a Q &A with Uma about the book she is here to talk about today, The Grand Plan to Fix Everything. This inventive book has also been racking up some Grand (aka *starred* ) reviews. 

The Grand Plan to Fix Everything
Hooray for Bollywood. Eleven-year-old Dini is not pleased at all at the prospect of leaving Takoma Park, Md., and her best friend Maddie to live in a small town in southern India for two years. But though she knows it’s ridiculous, bakvaas, as Indians say, she wonders if she might get to meet her idol, Dolly Singh, Bollywood film star. Dini and Maddie are devoted Dolly fans. And, in a series of events as wonderfully convoluted and satisfyingly resolved as any movie plot could be, she does. The fast-paced tale introduces and manages to connect an Indian-American family, a postal worker from Mumbai, a movie producer and his erratic star, a car mechanic, a tea plantation owner, a local baker and assorted monkeys—all coming together for a grand finale party and dance. Set in imagined Swapnagiri (which means Dream Mountain), this high-energy concoction is thoroughly believable and entertaining. The story is told in a third-person present-tense voice that rings true to its protagonist, who sees her life as a movie script. Though Dini and Maddie are halfway around the world from each other, they communicate through cell phones and computer chat, keeping up their friendship while making new ones. Full of references to Bollywood movie traditions and local customs, this is a delightful romp with a fresh setting and a distinctive and appealing main character. - KIRKUS, April 1, 2011, *STAR

The Grand Plan to Fix Everything
Krishnaswami perfectly captures movie-star infatuation, best-friendship, geographical displacement, and youthful determination in this exuberant blend of American tween life and Indian village culture. When 11-year-old Dini's physician mother gets a grant to work at a clinic in the tiny village of Swapnagiri in India, Dini is plucked out of her contented life in suburban Maryland. Distraught about abandoning her BFF Maddie--who truly understands Dini's passion for Indian movie-star Dolly Singh--and their plans to attend Bollywood dance camp, she nevertheless remains optimistic as she tries to plot her new life, and those of the people she meets, as a screenplay. Krishnaswami (Naming Maya) interlaces Dini's story with lighthearted portrayals of the Indian film industry and postal system; she neatly and satisfactorily resolves every dilemma, suggesting elements of magic ("[W]hen you are moving... to a place whose name means ‘dream mountain,' your mind begins to open up in strange ways") while remaining firmly grounded in reality. An out-of-the-ordinary setting, a distinctive middle-grade character with an unusual passion, and the pace of a lively Bollywood "fillum" make this novel a delight.
--Publishers Weekly, April 4, 2011, *STAR

Let us welcome Uma. Now, on to the interview…

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

I’m the slow cooker in the story kitchen, so my work always progresses through very long simmering rather than dramatic lightning moments. I take things that happen to me and places where I’ve been, and then slowly, slowly work them into fiction. “How slowly?” you may ask. I will tell you that there is a house named Sunny Villa in The Grand Plan to Fix Everything. The tea estate in the book is named for the house. It’s the place where our star-struck young heroine Dini ends up, and the place where she plans to track down the movie star she admires, so she can fix…you, know, eveyrthing. Well, when I was just a baby (in the last century) my parents lived in a house in these very mountains in south India. A house with a name—you guessed it, Sunny Villa. 

Here it is, this house from my childhood, and it is the house in the story, in a town much like the town in the story. It took me all of five years of trying to get at this story from many, many angles before I realized that this house needed to be in it, and that its red walls and blinking eyelash shutters were telling me something and I had better pay attention. It's a muddled, tedious way of constructing story but it's my way. 

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 think it’s the concept of home, and of geographies that overlap and criss-cross in maddening, mysterious ways to create that concept in the heart. I find myself returning to this idea again and again, whether it’s a picture book about a boy waiting for his adopted baby sister to arrive (Bringing Asha Home) or a child’s-eye view of the rain (Monsoon) or, as in The Grand Plan to Fix Everything, friendships that survive and thrive in spite of, or sometimes, in very crazy ways, because of, the vast distances that separate the friends as well as their own often quite muddled internal sense of place. It’s funny stuff, in The Grand Plan to Fix Everything, but it also has a layer of reality to it that I think many children in our fast-paced shrinking world will recognize.

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

 I'll answer that by talking about this book in particular. Is it true of everything I write? I don't know. But voice was essential to this story finding its form. The story of Dini, and Dolly the movie star, hung around in my files and notebooks for a couple of years, looking for a voice. It wasn't until a passage about the town arrived in my mind, almost exactly the way it is now, that the voice kicked in, and it was only then that the story began to move forward. It's a slightly loony voice, with a definite omniscience to it. It asserts itself in varying degrees in the scenes with the girls and the eccentric adult characters in the book. It's the voice that links all the various storylines that come together in the end. It is critical to the book. As to where it came from, I think perhaps it grew out of books I read when I was 12 and 13: P.G.Wodehouse, Paul Gallico, and the Don Camillo stories by Giovanni Guareschi. All their story voices poured into my mind long ago, and emerged in some sort of mad fusion in the voice of this book. 

I am keen on examining structure. A favorite quote of mine goes something like this: “We only look at a poorly formed story and call it formula. Structure is the art that conceals itself.” How important is structure to you and what are some techniques that help you build a story?

My quests for voice and structure run parallel to each other forever, and when they begin to converge, I know I'm onto something. I wish I could figure out structure first in some logical way, but I can't, so I have to settle for circling around the story, sometimes for a year or two, before I begin to know the characters enough to understand what's likely to happen to them. In the case of The Grand Plan to Fix Everything, once I had the voice I knew that the story needed to rotate among several micro-settings in which a host of characters are all inching towards each other with Dini desperately trying to corral everyone into cooperation. And once I realized that Dini would see her own life playing out as one of the Bollywood "fillums" she adores, that's when I knew how not only this book but also its sequel (due out next year) would need to be structured. Techniques? I do the usual things--timelines and maps and notes off the page, but I'm terrible at most of them. Still, they're not the art form, the novel is, so I don't sweat it. I just do my best to pay attention to my characters and to the places in which they're moving through time. 

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

I think Ursula LeGuin's Steering the Craft is my best-thumbed craft book. "An Opinion Piece on Paragraphing" where she dismisses all "rules" about the desired lengths of paragraphs, is just one of my favorite passages. But here's a book that is not really a how-to book but it's just incredible reading. It's Six Memos for the Next Millennium by Italo Calvino. I've read it so often that my copy pops open to pages I particularly love, and there are so many of them that when it's not tidily on the shelf, the book splays permanently open, fanning out to several dozen places just for me.
Describe your main character's favorite meal? And why does she love it?

Dini, in The Grand Plan, eats at a bakery in the little hill town of Swapnagiri, and acquires a taste for curry puffs: pastry crust stuffed with potatoes and onions, and another secret ingredient that you have to read the book to identify. The curry puffs are paired with a luscious chocolate cake and rose-petal milkshake, with or without chocolate sprinkles. My big fear is that someone will ask me for a recipe for those curry puffs, and I have honestly never, ever tried them with that secret ingredient. But I am sure they are quite wonderful and the moment I make them, all my fears will completely vanish and I can make grand plans to fix anything at all. 

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.
About me? I am addicted to dried mango. The unsulphured, organic kind. Why didn't I make that the secret ingredient? Oh, I am kicking myself but it's too late.

 Do Not Miss

A Grand Giveaway! Three lucky Grand Prize winners will each receive one copy of THE GRAND PLAN TO FIX EVERYTHING along with a starry assortment of bangles and trinkets that Dolly Singh, famous famous Bollywood movie star, would adore! An additional 3 runners-up will receive a copy of THE GRAND PLAN TO FIX EVERYTHING. To enter, send an e-mail to In the body of the e-mail, include your name, mailing address, and e-mail address (if you're under 13, submit a parent's name and e-mail address). One entry per person and prizes will only be shipped to US or Canadian addresses. Entries must be received by midnight (PDT) on 6/30/11. Winners will be selected in a random drawing on 7/1/11 and notified via email.

Today is VCFA Day on Uma’s Grand Plan Tour. Check out other interviews with Uma with Kathi Appelt, Michelle Knudsen, and Sarah Johnson. Thanks Uma for being with us and look for an essay about the art (& insanity) of teaching writing penned by Uma that will appear in the fall issue of Hunger Mountain.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Last Last Day

Today is my official last day at the Writers' League of Texas. It's been wonderful to be the behind the scenes gal helping to make the conferences and classes happen. I've loved talking to members and hearing reports of not one but two agents offering representation. I've loved moderating panels and thinking about books and the business all day long. I have. But life took some interesting twists this year and I have some new things to focus on: home, partner, dog, wedding, new work-in-progress, my private teaching, my health and well being. They all rank right up there at number one and we shall see how they inform my days. I will still be blogging, still be writing, still be reading but life is in transition. I didn't foresee the wonder and love that has come into my life (though I did believe in it wholeheartedly) so who knows what is next....A big thanks to the WLT and to Austin for welcoming me and giving me such a great landing space when I first arrived in town. As many know I often end my emails with in saying farewell there I end with Hugs!

And if you haven't seen it, yesterday I was interviewed by the lovely Brittney Breakey over at Author Turf. I share a bit about a MG WIP (though my YA WIP--my non-Southern project is now taking center stage creative wise), books I love, and what book has been the hardest to get right. 

Tell us about the book you’re working on.
I am working on a new middle grade—this one is set in a fictional town in Texas (where I now live) instead of Georgia (where I grew up.) The main character, Fancy Melody Monroe, has talked her daddy into moving, trailer and all (he stays strapped into a Lazy Boy recliner as the semi hauls their single-wide from Georgia to Texas, as he has what Fancy calls, “epidermi-no-sunitis,”a condition which causes him to never leave the trailer) to her mama’s hometown of Creation Creek, Texas. Once there, Fancy digs in the dirt—and in the past—looking for clues to where her Mama may have run off to. It’s current working title is, Flights of Fancy and I am loving getting to know Fancy and her hurts and her longings.  Click here for more.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Fear of Flaws

May & June: Observations on Art & Fear

My best friend since 15, Hollie Hunt, actress and director
Last week I shared about my fears around taking up two new creative pursuits, African dancing and mosaic making. I remember encountering these same fears and doubts twelve years or so ago, when I moved to NYC to become an actor but instead found myself as a writer. This happened as it was meant to happen. I am not an actor, or as my best friend said, “Some actors can write but they are not writers and some writers can act but they are not actors. You, Bethany, are a writer—not an actor.”

Ah, I am glad I heard those words—as hard as they were to hear at the time. Hollie was right. I am a writer, not an actor. It is now what  I have dedicated my life to—to telling stories, and to helping others find and tell the stories inside them. It feels right and it always felt right, if I am honest with myself. That is why I think being a writer is a calling for me. 
But not everything creative is a calling. I don’t expect myself to learn African dance and have it be anything other than good cardiovascular exercise, a way for me to move my body, and experience the story of dance in a way that I haven’t yet experienced story. I don’t expect to become a major mosaic artist but I would like to see how my brain takes shards and pieces and fragments of things—mirrors, or ceramics, or wood and pieces them back together again.

I have been broken before and I will be broken again. It is only by encountering and interacting with my flaws do I feel whole.
Bayles & Orland say in Art & Fear,

“If you think good work is somehow synonymous with perfect work you are headed for big trouble. Art is human, error is human, ergo, art is error. Inevitably, your work, (like, uh, the preceding syllogism) will be flawed. Why? Because you are a human being, and only human beings, warts and all make art. “ (29).

Ugh, these series of blog posts are going to end with me having met my creative fears head on, aren’t they? Ok, I am human, I will wrestle with my fears—maybe I will even dance with them.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Weekly Round Up--May Flowers Style

Everyone in Austin has been sneezing--why? It's a year round allergy capital! Did I know this before I moved here? Nope. But although the eyes have been runny, itchy--the throat scratchy--and the head a bit cloudier than usual I wouldn't change the springtime in Austin for any reason.
Not Earth Mother--but yours truly, celebrating a new crop of wildflowers that sprung up after a big rain.

The barn is getting transformed daily into The Writing Barn--a place where writers will write, teachers will teach, and visiting lecturers will lecture.

The kitchen area, under the barn loft,
The loft area.
The floor to ceiling bookshelves. I can stand inside one of the boxes.

Writing wise, I've been tinkering and playing with a new picture book. I have high hopes to dig into a YA WIP when I can fully concentrate on those worlds. Teaching wi, I am working with a bright and capable YA writer and have a few other prospective students waiting in the wings. So despite the itchy eyes--all is well!

Goings on in Awesome Austin

If you missed Chris Barton's book release party for Can I See Your I.D.--don't miss him at the Round Rock, La Fronteria B&N where he will be signing all three of his books tomorrow afternoon from 2-4.

The Diversity in YA Tour's Austin stop was wonderful. Thanks for coming out and thanks for all the books bought after the celebratory conversation.

The Diversity in YA Panel shows off our writing guns.

If you missed the must read post of the week--don't. Head on over to Cynsations and read an interview with Egmont USA publisher Elizabeth Law and talented funny man Allen Zadoff. If you leave a comment, you may win a partial critique from Elizabeth Law! Go comment--now!

Outside Awesome Austin

Sarah Sullivan's new picture book Passing The Music Down was featured in last Sunday's New York Times Book Review. 

Today, Trent Reedy (VCFA grad and former soldier) will be appearing on The Today Show alongside his editor Cheryl Klein, as Trent's novel Words in the Dust has been picked for Al Rocker's Today Show Book Club. Congrats, Trent! (I will try to post a clip after he appears from you tube or from the Today Show.)

Tada! And here's The Today Show clip!

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Sneak Peak over at Hunger Mountain!

From my Welcome from the Editor

We are thrilled to offer a sneak peak into Joe Lunievicz’s debut novel, Open Wounds (WestSide Books, 2011). I had the pleasure of reading this novel while still in manuscript form and have been waiting with bated breath to see it reach the shelves, which it will in early June. I was hooked from word one and know you will be too.

 Earlier, this week, Open Wounds earned it’s first review—starred from Publisher’s Weekly: “Lunievicz’s impressive debut is a dark, often brutal story, balancing some of the meanest villains in recent memory with a beautifully portrayed historical New York and a movie-obsessed boy determined to overcome the hand life has dealt him…Lunievicz paints a grim picture of Depression-era New York: anti-Semitism, violence, and poverty (an early eviction scene stands out) dominate the storytelling, yet bright spots like Cid’s love of cinema are painted with equal brilliance and realism.”

Come back later this month to read “In the Half Light”, an essay written by Joe detailing how he followed the subconscious to discover Cid Wymann, his main character, amid the clashing of swords.

And come back to HERE when I host Joe next month at Inside the Writer's Studio!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Inside the Writer's Studio with Janet Gurtler

Today at Inside the Writer’s Studio we welcome Janet Gurtler author of I’m Not Her. Janet and I have been online friends for a good long time. We’ve buoyed each other, vented when we needed to, and crack each other up often. Janet is a superb writer. She is dry, witty, and under the surface her characters boil with tension. She is so adept at creating a full round teen life. Her latest releases, I’m Not Her and If I Tell cement her as a realistic YA voice we will long be listening to. So, let’s welcome her, all the way from Canada to be our guest here today.

About the book (from Sourcebooks Fire)

"For the first time in my life, I didn't feel envy..."

Tess is the exact opposite of her beautiful, athletic sister. And that's okay. Kristina is the sporty one, Tess is the smart one, and they each have their place. Until Kristina is diagnosed with cancer. Suddenly Tess is the center of the popular crowd, everyone eager for updates. There are senior boys flirting with her. But, the smiles of her picture perfect family are cracking and her sister could be dying. Now Tess has to fill a new role: the strong one. Because if she doesn't hold it together, who will?

Janet Gurtler tests the bonds of sisterhood in this moving debut that readers of Jodi Picoult and Sarah Dessen will savor.

Welcome, Janet! (And see Janet’s feature essay in The Varying Shade of Shadows issues of the lit journal Hunger Mountain.)

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

I’M NOT HER came to me with the image of two sisters at a party, (which is how I’m Not Her opens). I saw one sister, looking pretty and confident and popular, dancing to music while the other sister sat all alone watching and envying her while a boy gushes about her sister. I was thinking about how things aren’t always as they seem, and what if the perfect sister had her perfection ripped out from her. How would it change both sisters’ lives? The big C changes everything for both sisters.

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?

I was SO fortunate to find an online community of writers who helped (and continue to help) with inevitable ups and downs in the publishing business. This group really does keep me going.  When my first book came out, I joined the DEBS, a group of YA writers who launched books in 2009. The DEBS have been a big part of keeping my head above the water and inspiring me to keep writing when things get tough. I’m inspired by the amount of sharing and caring we have built in this diverse group of writers, from NY Bestselling Authors to well, me.  I have a great trust in the group and love having people to go to, people who “get” things I might be going through. I like to think that I return the favor by guarding the trust gifted to me. 

When I published my first book I also connected with this amazing author online, an author who is kind of my soul mate and a total inspiration to me. Her name is Bethany Hegedus. J She amazes me with her brilliance and her support of my work. (Awwww, thanks Janet and ditto!)

I was also lucky enough to find a local group of YA writers to help keep me going. We meet monthly and swap books and talk about the business and cheer each other on and compare notes, no matter where we are in the publishing process. 

Is there a favorite quote you turn to when the rejection blues get to you?

Quotes are delicious.  I love them. That said, my favorite quote for dealing with rejection (or a bad review which feels like a rejection) is more like a mantra. “Problems bother you only to the degree you permit them to.”

Meaning that I am the one allowing the rejection to get me down, and I can choose not to let it. Of course, I am quite human and do sometimes wallow, but in the end, picking myself up and keeping on is part of the business of being an author. Rejection comes in many forms and at all stages for an author. I should turn to quotes more often that food when I’m having the rejection blues. But no matter how delicious the quote, food usually tastes better.

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?

Funny I was thinking about this the other night as I lay in bed drifting off to sleep. Yes. Most of my thoughts before sleep are about books!  I was contemplating what it is that my books have in common. My reoccurring themes at their most basic are Man vs. Society and Man vs. Himself. 

Something almost every one of my main character shares is a journey of some sort, a journey of finding out who they really are, versus whom everyone else wants them to be.  My something is in the lines of “BE WHO YOU ARE.” Be true to yourself and try to strip away all the crap that weighs us down and usually ends up in bad decisions.

Is there anything that you are afraid/worried/concerned of tackling in your work? Genre-wise? Audience-wise? Topic-wise?

I think my anxiety with I’M NOT HER is my fear of appearing to portray cancer in the wrong way because I’m showing it from the other side, the point of view of the sister who does not have cancer. I’m cognizant of not trying to take away from the people who are the ones suffering, the ones who are sick, but also trying to show the overwhelming affect it has on the other family members. I wanted to show honesty and truth in human emotion. That despite the love and concern there can be resentment and moments of self-pity that often cause even more guilt for the “healthy ones.” Sometimes the thoughts and even actions of Tess, the sister who doesn’t have cancer, are selfish and unpleasant, but she is human (and flawed like most of us). 

I was also a little nervous writing in first person present, as some people really don’t like this POV, but for this story, that is how it flowed.  It’s the only book I’ve written in this POV. 

What do you feel is your strength as a craftsperson? How do you turn your weaknesses into strengths?

I think my strength is in developing multidimensional characters. At least I hope that’s a strength, it’s certainly something I aspire to do. I’d like to think that teens or adults who read I’M NOT HER might recognize pieces of themselves in my characters and the way they react to the foils thrown at them by life.

I use craft books and critiques to try to strengthen my weaknesses, which I don’t want to point out because then they’ll glare even more. ;) 

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

I think voice is the most important quality in my books because I write character driven stories. 

Voice is a lot of listening to the character in my head, but also trying to notice things in the same way that the character would notice them. It’s both a conscious and unconscious process for me.  For example in I’M NOT HER, Tess is an artist, so I tried to see things the way she would from an artist’s point of view.  I try to imagine how she would phrase things.  Parts of the author’s experiences flow into character and story, but learning to filter them or rework them is the part of the conscious process of voice.  

Character. Tell us about the relationship between your protagonist and antagonist. How does this relationship grow and change throughout the work? What does your main character want? And how long did it take you to clarify those wants?

The protagonist in my story is Tess, a young girl who wants nothing of her athletic and popular sister’s life. She doesn’t aspire to the friends or social trappings of her sister but wants to be recognized as a talented Artist, an honor student and for her own brand of accomplishments that aren’t as valued as her sister’s.  

The antagonist is the cancer that is threatening the limb and life of her sister. The cancer is threatening her sister’s life and also taking away Tess’s chances at things she thinks she wants, her aspiration to be in the Honor Society, flying under that radar at school and even winning an art contest.  Tess has to change, to learn to be stronger and find her own voice to help her sister in her fight. 

Tess’s basic wants are established in the first chapter and the evolution of her character and her changing desires based on the hardships thrown at her sister is part of her growth. 

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? 

I love strong character driven books. I am a huge fan of contemporary, though I have been known to enjoy a good paranormal story as well.  My first love was A Wrinkle in Time and it was because I related so strongly to Meg in that story. In my grade six head, I was her. So misunderstood and struggling to find strength. Internal struggle is something that resonates with me and comes out in what I write. Personal growth is important to me as a reader.
Juno I loved because she was the wittiest, funniest most real character I’d seen in ages. I like to think that my books are also filled with some quirky humor and I have always been told I’m very down to earth or “real” in my life. I do not really know how to pretend to be someone I’m not. Well. I do but I prefer the real deal. The characters in My Sister’s Keeper were real, going through pain and heart ache, but multidimensional and so empathetic. I admit that I am drawn to books and movies that make me cry. (Juno, Before I Die, If I Stay)
I love going deep, finding out what makes people tick, looking beyond what appears to be on the surface and I think this comes out in what I read and what I write.

Which literary character, yours or another author’s, do you most relate to? And why?
There are many parts of Tess, in I’m Not Her that I relate to. She feels very self-conscious and socially awkward at times, and I definitely felt like that as a teen. Yet inside of her is someone who wants to believe she has value and wants to be heard and accepted on her own terms.  

I also love and weep for tragic characters. I remember going out with some high school friends in my late twenties, and we were talking about our lives as teens and what we’d later learned about some of our friends. There were so many things we didn’t talk about as teens, or didn’t know about each other back then.  Things that made a lot of sense to me or perhaps explained some of behavior. Alcoholic parents, abusive parents, mental illnesses the list goes on and on.  I guess what I’m saying is I that relate to conflicted characters and strive to show some of the underlying motivations of the troubling behavior. 

Inspired by the Actor’s Studio, what sound do you love? What sound do you hate?

One of my favorite sounds is thin ice (on the street in winter) crunching under my feet. I still actively seek out thin ice to crackle and crunch. And I *may* have passed this love to my son. 

I hate the sound of people using speaker phones. Really, really hate it. I can’t explain why, but when someone puts another person on speaker phone and I’m in the room, I get wild inside.

Be brave. Share a paragraph from a WIP. 

I looked around the almost empty hallway for an excuse to get away.  A few feet from us a janitor pushed a mop on the dirty floor. He glanced over and Miles lifted his hand in a wave.  The janitor nodded and then turned his attention back to the floor, as if the dirt embedded in the tile was much more interesting than my run-in with the new kid. He pushed his mop and disappeared around a corner.
Miles leaned his head closer to mine. “I heard you’ve changed,” he said.
“Hair challenged. That’s about it.” A single bell filled the air in the now empty halls. I spun around and hurried towards my homeroom class. An aroma of musk cologne followed me.
“Hey, wait,” Miles called.
I kept going but felt something grab at my fingers.
At once the air squeezed out of my lungs. I struggled to breathe as images invaded my mind. The world around me disappeared and I watched his memory play like a live video stream inside my head.
He had his arm wrapped protectively around a girl. A hoody covered her face but I saw fear etched into his features.  He bent his head and mouthed something in the girl’s ear and the two of them began to run. Then he looked back over his shoulder and his expression turned to panic.
“Leave her alone,” Miles yelled. “You don’t want to hurt her.”
I looked past him, trying to see what he was looking at.
He let go. I sucked in precious air, and looked down at my exposed skin. In school five minutes and already two visions. Worse than I’d imagined. The sharp pain returned at the back of my head. 

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 am afraid of horses. I like them at a distance, but I’m afraid of riding them.

Janet, thanks for being here today and sharing about your process, about Tess and Kristina and how they came to be, and for making us laugh! Fans of Janet Gurtler will not have to wait long for her next book—If I Tell—also from Sourcebooks Fire (but not a sequel to I’m Not Her) releases this fall.