Tag Archives: secondary characters

Hear the Character’s Voice: Interview & Giveaway

Just Like JackieWhat a great debut from Lindsey Stoddard! When I read Just like Jackie, I couldn’t wait to feature Lindsey and her writing on my blog.

In addition to doing this interview, I’m giving away one copy of Just like Jackie! For a chance to win, hop to the end of this page and fill out the form. Then come back, enjoy the interview, and glean some craft-of-writing insights. What Lindsey says about hearing a character’s voice is a fabulous tip. Deadline to enter the giveaway: July 25, 2018, at 11:59 PM.

I first met Lindsey at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Back then she was teaching middle school (my all-time favorite age group) while drafting stories and working on her MFA. She now writes full time, or as full as she can with two little ones in tow.

A. B. Westrick: Lindsey, welcome to my blog!

Lindsey Stoddard: Hello from Vermont!

ABW: Ah, Vermont… I’ll bet it’s gorgeous in New England right now—best place on earth in the summer. I guess maple syrup season is awesome, too, but we’ll get to that in minute.

First let’s talk about your feisty and oh-so-lovable heroine, Robbie. I read in your interview at Through the Tollbooth that part of your writing process involved channeling your anger as a child. Robbie’s anger comes through with honesty, and my question is: how much are you and your protagonist alike? Did you have to learn anger-management techniques like she does in the novel? Were you also a regular in your guidance counselor’s office? Where does the real Lindsey end and the fictional Robbie begin?

Lindsey StoddardLS: Robbie is holding onto much more anger than little Lindsey ever had to. I would have been mortified if ever called to the principal and I certainly wasn’t a regular in my guidance office. I used that punch-in-the-nose moment from my own childhood as my anchor because I believe most middle grade kids have felt that kind of rage. It’s an age when kids are really honing their sense of justice, what’s fair and right, and what’s not. That moment in my childhood when the neighborhood boy hit the bird nest out of the tree with his whiffle ball bat brought out that feisty side of me, and that’s where Robbie was born.

ABW: It fits with the adage, “write what you know.” But I want to ask about what you didn’t know. What parts of this story required research? Are you as adept at car repair as Robbie is? Are you a big baseball fan? Can you recite baseball stats as easily as counting to ten?

LS: I wish I knew as much about cars as Robbie does! Growing up my dad worked for Toyota and I used to love visiting the dealership and watching the mechanics in the service department work on cars. I always thought it would be such a cool thing to know how to do, so I gave that skill and passion to Robbie. It required a bunch of research and lots of calls home to my dad to make sure I got it right. I also grew up in a big Red Sox loving family, so I know baseball very well—not recite-stats-as-easily-as-counting-to-ten well—but well enough to know the game and the players, etc. I had to research and check each one of those statistics that Robbie knows so easily.

ABW: I noticed that when you needed a metaphor, you’d bring in images from baseball or car maintenance, and I thought the images worked beautifully in the story. They felt organic—true to Robbie’s character. Did these images come to you while writing your first draft, or were they part of the revision process? Or let me ask the question this way: when you write, do some elements of a scene come first and others later? Tell us a bit about your process.

Lindsey Stoddard + dogLS: The first part of a book for me is hearing the character’s voice in my head. I don’t even take out a pen until I hear it strongly and consistently and until I even start talking like her. Then I move to the notebook and write from her POV until it’s really clear. Then I start in. Those baseball and car metaphors are just the way Robbie thinks and talks. They were there from the first draft.

ABW: Oh, that’s great. You just gave me the title for this post. Love it!

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At its heart, Just like Jackie is a story of family and a child’s desire to keep hers from falling apart. You invite readers to glimpse multiple families in different configurations, facing various challenges. When you set out to write this novel, did you know the story would go in this direction? Or did you begin simply with a girl and her grandpa, and find that along the way, the larger theme of family emerged?

LS: It started with Robbie and Grandpa. I focused in on their relationship, what makes it special, what they share, how they communicate, etc. Working on that family made me ask the question of other families represented in the book. What’s below the surface there? As I began crafting secondary characters, I became engaged in their situations too, until it became a theme—family is who you get, but it’s also who you find and who you keep. And that all families, no matter what they look like, are built from the same stuff, love and trust, support and resilience.

ABW: Nice. I like how your theme emerged during your process. How long did it take you to write Just like Jackie? And what can you tell us about the novel you have coming out next year?

LS: I have heard it said that an author has been writing her first book her whole life. That is certainly true for Just like Jackie. When I sat down to write Robbie’s story it took me about a year, but the seeds were planted long ago when I was growing up in Vermont, sugaring with my grandpa, admiring my math teacher’s old Green Chevrolet truck, “CHE ROLE,” watching the Red Sox with my family, peeking into the service department at White River Toyota, and witnessing my Nana, Gloria’s, direct, clear, no-nonsense determination and manner.

Right as RainRight as Rain (coming in February 2019) is the story of a girl whose family is in the wake of grief and loss when they make a sudden move from Vermont to the Washington Heights neighborhood in NYC. There, Rain decides she has to fight to keep her family together in the only way she knows how, with facts and figures and research, and in the process, finds that she has a lot of people on her team.

Just as in Just like Jackie, Right as Rain is a book about finding your people, and hanging on to them no matter what.

ABW: Sounds great. Can’t wait to read it!

Let’s wrap up with words of wisdom for aspiring authors. What insights would you share with someone who aspires to write a novel?

LS: Every day is a writing day! Try to get your words in, try to get your butt in the chair, but know that if you don’t, it’s still a writing day. Listen. Remember. You never know what will spark an idea, or fix an issue mid-manuscript. Your process is your process until it has to change, which it will again and again. Before I had babies I was a notebook jotter, a scattered pages across the cafe table writer (and I’m sure I will be someday again!) but now, my time is tight and I’m drafting more in my head in anticipation of the moments I get with my laptop. It’s not easy to get your words in every day, it’s not easy to get your butt in the chair, and it’s not easy to have to revise your process to fit your life at that moment—but every day is a writing day.

ABW: So true. Yes! Every day. And take joy in the process. Thank you again for this interview, Lindsey.

Bookstock FestivalReaders who want to know more about Lindsey can check out her website, find her on Twitter, and head to Bookstock in Woodstock, Vermont, on July 27!

 

 

For a chance to win a copy of Just like Jackie, sign in and enter below:

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Traveling through Time: Cold Summer

Cold SummerI met Gwen Cole two years ago at a fun author event (thank you, Richmond Public Library, for supporting YAVA -Young Adult Virginia Authors!), and really enjoyed her time-traveling teenager Kale Jackson. Cold Summer came out last year, and Gwen is here on my blog today for a little Q&A. Cold Summer: Debut novel. Time travel. Teen crush on the next-door neighbor. Summer romance. What’s not to love?

But before we get to the interview, congratulations, Gwen, on the release of your second novel, Ride On. I hear that it’s coming out Tuesday, May 22, from Sky Pony Press. Two novels in two years! Fantastic.

And I love that you’re doing a pre-order giveaway! Hey readers—May 21 is the deadline to sign up for swag: postcards, bookmark and a signed bookplate. Take a moment to sign up, then come on back. Hop to the end of this interview for more about Ride On, and keep reading here for our Cold Summer Q&A. We’re gonna talk time travel…

A.B. Westrick: Welcome to my blog, Gwen!

Gwen Cole: Great to be here!

ABW: Cold Summer is a fun story, and I want to start by asking about your favorite reads. Have you always been a fan of time-travel books? [Why the hyphen? See my *Note to grammar geeks.] Did you begin Cold Summer knowing it would be a time-travel story, or did it morph into that along the way?

Ride-On pre-order giveawayGC: At first, Cold Summer was just a fun summer book, but then I got bored with it. I knew it needed something more, and during that time I was really into watching the HBO miniseries, Band of Brothers. That show helped me figure out exactly what I wanted to do.

I’ve actually never been a fan of time-travel books because most of them are usually too complex with the time-travel aspect. So I knew I wanted my time travel to be easy to understand. But I’ve been a fan of time-travel movies, like The Time Traveler’s Wife and Back to the Future.

ABW: I’ve also thought many time-travel stories were incredibly complex. Even stories written for kids, such as Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me. I had to re-read that one twice in order to understand what was going on!

I’ve noticed that in time-travel books, writers seem to have a variety of rules for the road—triggers that cause characters to shift from one dimension to another, how time passes while they’re traveling, whether the characters’ clothing stays on, etc. In Cold Summer, the time-traveling character often smells like winter, and I love that he does. How did you decide on shivering as one of the markers that Kale Jackson would soon time travel?

GC: One of the first images that came to me for this story was of Kale in the middle of summer wearing a hoodie and being cold. I liked that this trigger was something that could be seen in the normal world and yet not be obvious to people who don’t know his secret. Shivering is a normal human reaction, but for Kale, it’s something he tries hard not to do because he’s trying to avoid time traveling. There’s a scene in the book when Kale is at the grocery store in the frozen food department, and just feeling that cold air from the refrigerator almost sets him off. I can’t imagine how he deals with winter. 😉

ABW: Oh, right. This would be a whole other story if you’d set it during the winter! Haha. Did you have to do research for the novel? If so, can you share a detail you didn’t know before you started writing, then added to the manuscript?

Gwen ColeGC: All my research had to do with WWII, for obvious reasons, but I went into this book knowing I didn’t want it to read like historical fiction. I didn’t want too many details bogging down the pace. I wanted a character-driven story, and for that, I focused on what Kale would being feeling, emotionally and physically. I also wanted a certain feel to the chapters while he was in the past. But as for research, a few of the things I had to learn about were WWII guns and what medics would carry with them.

ABW: You definitely succeeded in making the story character-driven and not bogging readers down in WWII details. Now, tell me about the secondary characters, especially the adults in the story. The mothers and aunts are either dead, widowed, or divorced and living elsewhere. The co-protagonists are teenagers—a girl and a guy—who interact mostly with the guy’s father and the girl’s uncle. It totally works. I’m just wondering if there was a reason why you chose to keep adult women characters pretty much off-camera.

 GC: This is a great question, but one for which I don’t have a good answer! For some weird reason, I always have the fathers and uncles present (even in other books). I have a wonderful relationship with my mother, so I can’t really pinpoint why that is. Maybe something I’ll have to be mindful of or think about for future books. But for Cold Summer, Uncle Jasper was one of my first characters, and he came naturally into the story as the “father figure” in the lives of both of the protagonists.

ABW: Right—both protagonists. So far we’ve only talked about Kale, the one who time travels. I enjoyed getting to know Harper, too, and I liked the way you developed their relationship. A neighbor-next-door romance but with the complication of time travel. Nice.

I’m curious about the editing and revision process you went through. (I assume you had to make some revisions along the way, but correct me if I’m wrong.) What was your experience with your editor like? What sorts of changes were you asked to make before the manuscript was ready for publication?

GC: I love my editor at Sky Pony, and I was so happy to work with her again on my newest book, Ride On. Nicole had great thoughts on ways to strengthen the story and also scenes I could cut. But because this was the book I queried with, and I’d edited it with my agent before submission, it was in pretty good shape to start with, so the edits Nicole wanted weren’t too heavy.

ABW: That’s great. Did you always plan to write fiction?

GC: Oh definitely. Fiction has been my favorite to read and write my whole life. There’s just nothing else like diving into a book and discovering a whole new world. And I’m beyond lucking to be the one writing those worlds. I just want to write books people enjoy reading.

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Ride OnABW: And you do! And you have Ride On coming out May 22. What can you tell us about it? 

GC: Ride On is my futuristic western. Something like True Grit meets The Book of Eli.

ABW: Ha! Oh, I love that. Publishing pros are always asking for comparable titles and mash-ups, and your image here is great.

GC: I had so much fun writing this book and I hope everyone enjoys it just as much when they read it. Here’s the summary: 

In the near post-apocalyptic future, the skies are always gray and people are constantly searching for the sun. For teenage outlaw Seph, it’s the only world he’s ever known. With his horse, his favorite pistol, and his knowledge for survival passed down from his dead father, Seph knows it’s safer to be alone. But after a run-in with a local gang that call themselves the Lawmen, and having been wrongly accused of murder, Seph teams up with Avery—a determined girl whose twin brother has been taken by the same gang.

After living in a small, rundown town her whole life, Avery knows nothing of the Wild—the lands controlled by nobody where travel is risky. With Seph’s help, they track down her brother but quickly find the tables have turned and they are now the ones being hunted. With rumors of mysterious dangers to the south and a safe sanctuary to the west, they’ve only got one option, but getting there won’t be easy with the Lawmen on their trail. The only thing that matters in the Wild is how fast your trigger hand is, but Seph doesn’t know if his will be fast enough to save them all.

ABW: Save them all. Excellent. I look forward to reading.

Chop Suey Books logoBOOK RELEASE!:

If you’re in the Richmond, VA, area, stop by Chop Suey Books, 2913 W. Cary Street, at 6:00 PM on Tuesday, May 22, to meet Gwen and get a personalized copy of Ride On (plus giveaway swag)!

If you want to know more about Gwen and her books, check out her website, and look for her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Wattpad.

*For Grammar Geeks: My rule of thumb for hyphenating “time travel” was this: no hyphen as a noun or verb; yes hyphen as an adjective. Whattaya think? Agree? Disagree?

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Sailing Oceans with Padma Venkatraman

How’s this for serendipity? When I met conference keynoter Padma Venkatraman at the James River Writers conference in October 2016, she recognized my book. She’d read it! Turns out her book had also received the NCSS Notable Trade Book Award. We were award-sisters! And right then, I knew I had to interview Padma for my blog.

I’ve just read her multiple-award-winning novel A Time to Dance about a girl who dreams of dancing again after losing a leg in a bus accident. It’s intense, at times funny and sad, soul-touching, heart-warming—all in all, a great read.

A.B. Westrick: Welcome, Padma!

Padma Venkatrama: Hello! Thanks for having me.

ABW: Your keynote address was inspirational, and I’d love for you to repeat a bit of what I heard you say at the James River Writers conference. Would you please talk about “going method”—the way you approached the task of writing about a character who’d lost a leg? It was so interesting. What did you do, and how did it influence your writing process?

PV: I’d like to begin by sharing with your readers the incident that inspired A Time to DanceOn a trip to India in my late teens, I was bitten by a viper, one of the most poisonous Indian snakes.

ABW: Oh, no!

PV: Oh, yes! It’s a miracle I survived without having to have my leg amputated. That experience—of nearly losing life and limb—solidified my sense of spirituality (which isn’t necessarily bound to any religion). Read More