Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Inside the Writer's Studio with Liz Gallagher

Today at Inside the Writer’s Studio we welcome friend and VCFA alumna Liz Gallagher. While in grad school I would often run into Liz in downtown Montpelier at one coffee shop or another. I’d pull up a chair and we’d talk shop and share our thoughts over cups of strong coffee. Liz lives in Seattle and if there is one thing aside from the craft of YA that she knows it is where to get a good cup of Joe.

About the book (from the publisher, Wendy Lamb Books)
My Not So Still Life
Vanessa is wise beyond her years. She's never really fit in at school, where all the kids act and dress the same. She's an artist who expresses her talent in the wacky colors she dyes her hair, her makeup and clothes. She's working on her biggest art project, and counting the days until she's grown up and can really start living. That adult world seems closer when Vanessa gets her dream job at the art supply store, Palette, where she worships the couple who runs it, Oscar and Maye. And she's drawn to a mysterious guy named James, who leads her into new, sometimes risky situations. Is she ready for this world, or not.

Thanks for being with us today Liz. I nabbed an ARC of My Not So Still Life at TLA and I absolutely adore the cover and can’t wait to dig into what I know will be a fine, fine read. Now, on the interview..

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 a huge part of keeping me inspired! I'm fortunate to have the Vermont College community, which is mostly virtual for me now. Also virtually and via cross-country phone calls when we get a second, I often lean on Lara Zeises to talk out the writing life. 

I'm so lucky to live in Seattle, where lots of other YA and kids' writers also live. I met Kevin Emerson  a few years ago at the coffee shop where we both write. I literally tapped him on the shoulder because the barista told me he wrote for kids too. Ever since, he's been someone I love to bounce ideas back and forth with. Heather Davis and I are close friends. We get together on the weekends to have writing dates, where we work and talk. I have a teen librarian friend, Jackie Parker, who's also fabulous for book chat. Plus, the Seattle chapter of SCBWI is bursting with talented writers who I adore. The Readergirlz Divas and former Divas are a great support for me too. My Not-So-Still Life wouldn't have a name without my writer friends! I literally had Heather, Lara and Jackie stewing on ideas.

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 agree, I think we all have some idea we're chewing on. For me, it's to do with how every person feels unsure of themselves at some point. And how that's okay. I write about kids whose lives haven't been touched by any major issues, kids who are just going about their lives in a basically happy, well-adjusted way. Yet, these kids still have problems. They aren't sure where they fit in. They feel out of sorts. They might have low self-esteem. Publishers Weekly recently reviewed My Not-So-Still Life and I think they hit the nail on the head when they talked about my main character, Vanessa:

For all the trappings of the outsider indie artist that Vanessa flaunts … she's actually quite insecure, naïve, and--gasp--normal underneath. That is perhaps where Gallagher's story is most successful: demonstrating that even the most outwardly confident teens often still have a lot of growing up to do.

My theme is the universal ways in which growing up isn't easy and isn't something you can rush.

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

Voice is very important to me in my own work and in the work I enjoy. When I see a movie, I might not even be able to tell you the plot points a week later—but I'll be able to tell you how I felt, the mood. And I think the mood of a book is so closely connected to voice. I almost always write in first person. I think that's because I need to hear my character talking in order to know what she's feeling. I want the reader to feel close to her too, so I tend to use the voice reveal my character. 

The voice of Vanessa, the main character in My Not-So-Still Life, came to me when I was writing The Opposite of Invisible. In that book, she's a (semi-)minor character. We only get her voice through dialogue because the story is told in another character's first person narration. So when I started writing MNSSL, I read through everything Vanessa said in the first book. It was tricky because the voice had to get much more intimate for her to narrate her own story. I think having to decode what was going on in her mind when she was talking is how I got to know her as her own strong character. What came out was a lot of short, declarative sentences because she's a confident girl who thinks she knows what she's doing all the time, even when she falters. 

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 want to set all of my stories in real places. Still, I know that the world of the book will be different from the real world. Part of the magic of fiction is making the reader feel as if they've been somewhere specific. I'm definitely inspired by Seattle, where I live. My two published novels are both set here.
I wanted the first book to feel cozy because the main character is in a cocoon of a best friendship. To me, the Seattle rain makes a great stage for that. She's always burrowing into sweatshirt hoods, she's getting warm lattes at real coffee shops, she's curling up under blankets.
I like to think I present a different Seattle in My Not-So-Still Life. It's spring in this book, and the setting is the Ballard neighborhood, where Opposite is set in Fremont. Ballard is very connected to the water, so I made water a favorite thing of Vanessa's family. Her grandfather spends a lot of time in the garden too, which connects to the theme of growth. Vanessa's happy that it's warm enough to wear fishnets instead of tights. Throughout the story, she's looking for cherry blossoms to bloom. She's got an outward vibe where Alice, in Opposite, has an inward one, and I think the two views of Seattle support each character's mood.

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

Yes, I do! My favorite craft book is Robert Olen Butler's From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction. I often think about how he says that writing is part of the sensual experience. I think that's where I get a lot of the ideas about setting that I mentioned here. 

Describe your main characters favorite meal? And why do they love it?

Vanessa and her best friend Nick eat a lot of microwave burritos. I think she loves them because she can make them herself, quickly. She wants to be self-sufficient. At a late point in the book, she makes pancakes for her family and that's a big step toward making an effort to be at home in her life rather than to try and grow up to fast and leave the nest.

Be brave. Share a paragraph from a WIP. 

When she wakes up in the night, Livvy shivers. Her blanket is all the protection she has against nightmares and it's not enough. She pulls it up to her nose, but breathing is hard. So she reveals her entire face to whatever unseen things might be in the room. She continues to shiver.

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.

Little known fact about me: My mom and I have matching tattoos, the same rose with another little bud. I wanted to get it in honor of her because her middle name is Rose. She decided to get one too, so we went together. I couldn't believe how calm she was! 

Thanks for having me, Bethany! You're definitely part of my virtual community of writers.

Thanks for being here Liz. Aside from devouring your latest book I now want to devour a microwave burrito!

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