Tag Archives: Meg Medina

Signed Books Motivate Me to Keep Writing

I buy oodles of books. They pile up on shelves, and on a wide windowsill beside my writing desk. They collect dust in stacks on a braided blue rug, and from time to time I clean them off. Every year we donate one or two boxes worth to a library sale, clearing space for new reads. But I can’t bear to part with any of the books that authors have signed to me. To me.

 

These pictures show only some of the many signed YA and middle grade titles in my collection. I also have a slew written for adults—nonfiction, poetry, memoir, mystery, thrillers, and literary fiction. I’d like to say I’ve read them all, but the truth is that some sit in my to-be-read stack (which got three books taller after last week’s RVA Lit Crawl. Richmond, VA, is a great town in which to be a writer. Have I said that before? Yeah.)

 

It takes a long time to draft a novel, and even longer to revise it, and in my case we’re talking years. I’m currently in a stage of deep and messy revision on two novels, and sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever get them out into the world. Sometimes I feel discouraged.

 

 

Then I pick up a signed book, feel its weight, turn a few pages, and run a finger across the inscription. I picture the author who signed it. I try to recall the conversation we had on the day I got the signature. I remember getting tongue-tied when I met Lois Lowry because The Giver is one of my all time favorites and I couldn’t believe I was actually meeting the author. We were in Richmond in the bookstore formerly known as Narnia (now bbgb books), and for Lois it had been a long day. I think she’d done some school visits, and by late afternoon was probably ready for a nap, but there I was, eager and tongue-tied, and as I recall, I mumbled that I was writing a book for young readers. “Good luck,” I think she said. Or maybe, “It’s a rewarding job.” Or maybe I’ve forgotten her exact words, but I haven’t forgotten her encouragement, her warmth, her smile.

 

Sometimes when I look at my name handwritten in a book, I imagine the author writing a new novel, hunched over a desk or leaning back in an overstuffed chair with a laptop, sipping coffee, typing away. I always picture these authors smiling, but who knows? Maybe they cry while they write. (Nah. Don’t tell me that. And actually, come to think of it, one of these authors has passed away, so I have to picture her smiling from heaven.) In any case, the image of most of these authors hard at work on another book motives me to get back to my manuscript.

Every morning when I slip into my backless chair, the shelves above my desk like telephone wires full of birds chatting and singing, ready to take flight, I feel the authors smiling. I imagine they’re smiling at me. At me! And I pick up my gel pen and begin to write…

 

Ruta Sepetys on Multiple Points of View

 

 

This month, I caught up with Ruta Sepetys, recently home from a two-month book tour for her latest historical YA, Salt to the Sea. It’s a gripping World War II story of a group of teenagers running for safety while the Russian army marches toward Germany and American bombers fly overhead. Set in 1945 in what is now Poland, the story leads up to the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff in the Baltic Sea, the greatest tragedy in maritime history.

 

 

In this video clip on Ruta’s website, we learn a bit about the family history that inspired Ruta to set her novel during WWII. Watching this clip is well worth four minutes of your time:

Ruta notes that “empathy is one of the greatest and most beautiful contributions that we can achieve through writing.” Empathy. Yes! So necessary when it comes to crafting a character, and especially when writing multiple characters and multiple points of view. I’m thrilled to have Ruta here to tell us how she did it.

A.B. Westrick: Welcome, Ruta. So glad you could share your thoughts about craft and process.

Ruta Sepetys: Thank you so much for having me!

ABW: Let’s start with that awful Alfred character—awful and oddly funny. The story is tense and Alfred provides a lot of comic relief in circumstances that are otherwise bleak. Was Alfred part of your early drafts, or did you weave him into the story later when you realized the need to lighten things up? How did you go about crafting him? To what extent is he based on someone you know? Continue reading

The bully character: when less is more

I’m so glad toYacqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass have had the opportunity to interview Meg Medina, author of Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, coming out this month from Candlewick Press. It’s a tense, tightly written novel about surviving high school. Click here to watch the trailer, and read on to hear what Meg had to say about crafting her bully, Yaqui, and her protagonist, Piddy Sanchez.

A.B. Westrick: From the opening line, Yaqui Delgado’s threat carries the tension even though her physical presence is (relatively) minimal. Here, less bully makes for more bully. A brilliant story structure! What was your process in writing the story this way? Was that first line always your first line, or did it emerge in the course of revisions?

Meg Medina: The first line of this novel has never changed, and that’s not something I can say about anything else I’ve written. It was plucked from real life, which we’ll get to a little later. As an author, it provided me with a way to reveal the main problem of the novel in one crude and forceful blow.

Keeping Yaqui as a threatening presence, rather than fleshing her out was tricky. At first I wondered if I should develop her more. Readers would wonder, I thought, about what fills someone with such rage.

In the end, I decided to tell the story squarely from Piddy’s perspective and to let Yaqui loom in the way that a scary idea looms in your mind. It haunts you and crowds out everything else.

To help me do that, I wrote in first person present and was able to get far inside Piddy’s thinking, moment to moment through all of her frightening experiences. This made it Piddy’s story, the story of being on the receiving end of random abuse.

Yaqui would have had a very rich and probably sad story of her own. But I wanted this novel to be about how a strong girl gets undone and eventually survives violence like this.

ABW: More than once Yaqui’s posse delivers her threats. This felt very real. To what extent did this character and situation come from personal life experience, and to what extent from researching bully behaviors?

Meg MedinaMM: Sadly, the events were based mostly on an experience I had in middle school in New York. The opening scene is virtually identical. A girl I’d never laid eyes on approached me to deliver the news that someone was going to kick my ass. Like Piddy, I had no idea who she meant. I can tell you that those were two very long and scary years, and I was able to pull a lot from memory.

As for research, my own children were teens while I was writing, so I had the benefit of a front row seat to high school today. I paid close attention to their accounts of notes being passed, “slut folders” on people’s desktops, hateful comments during class, girl fight websites, and Facebook “drama.”  The girl posse, I’m sad to report, is alive and well.  I also did some formal digging into how schools are responding now, the rules for suspensions, and so on. My cousin, a retired NYC principal, was very helpful.

ABW: Many secondary characters, especially Joey, Lila, and Ma, emerge as complex, warts and all. How do you go about creating your characters? How much are they based on people you know, and how much comes from your imagination?

MM:  Every character I write is a compilation of so many of the imperfect and troubled people I have loved in my life: My mother, my old neighbors, aunts – parts of them are there. But there are plenty of characters that are completely fabricated.

The key thing about characters is that they need qualities that make them irresistible and revolting all at once. If they’re imaginative, they might be liars. If they’re loyal, perhaps they’re dangerously controlling. Or they might be generous but also thieves. What I love about the contradictions and flaws is that they force you to ask good questions as a writer. Why is this character like this?

I start with a general idea of the characters, an idea about the types of people who might populate the landscape. I look around and see who has shown up for auditions, so to speak. In this case, I filled my mind with old boyfriends and cops; a building superintendent; neighbors; the owner of a beauty shop, teachers, deans. As I wrote the scenes, the individuals stepped in and revealed themselves. It was in watching them deal with problems that I really got to know them better. Lila is probably my favorite character. She’s sensual and gorgeous, but she’ll brain you with a plunger handle if you mess with her. She has such trouble with being a responsible adult and yet she is a lifeline to Piddy.

ABW: You wrote Yaqui Delgado after having written a middle-grade novel, a YA novel, and a picture book. What is different about the process of writing a novel versus writing a picture book? Writing YA versus writing for younger readers? What are you working on now?

MM: I just sold my second picture book manuscript to Candlewick, so I am now working on that. It’s about a girl whose grandmother comes to live with the family. Only trouble is, abuela does not speak English, and my narrator speaks so-so español. It’s a story about how we create connections in family, how we cross divides and reach understanding.

Picture books are so joyous for me. There is no other way to describe it. They are little poems that you have to get just right. And even after my poem leaves me, it’s still fun. For example, right now, the team at Candlewick is doing the illustrator search. I go to sleep imagining how my part will merge into something entirely new through art.

But I do love novels, too. The biggest difference between writing novels and picture book is similar to the difference between Impressionism and Realism. In picture books, I am using dabs of story and dialogue to suggest a larger world of how the family works and how the child fits into that family.

With novels, I am taking the time to draw in the hard lines, to really explore and show my characters and their troubles, step by step. Also, novels take stamina. You could be working on a piece for years, after all. And more, if you’re writing a novel for teens, you’ll be exploring the hard questions we face as we’re reaching for adulthood. I tell you, it’s not for the weak.

ABW: Thank you again, Meg, for opening up about your process in writing Piddy’s heartfelt story. I’m looking forward to giving away the ARC!

And for Richmond, VA-area folks: Meg’s book launch party for Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass is this coming Saturday, March 16th, 2-4:30 p.m. at Art 180, 114 West Marshall Street, Richmond. I’ll see you there!

To win the ARC of Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, signed by the author, leave a comment below. I’ll choose one winner randomly from the comments received. Deadline: March 25, 2013.