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.) Read More
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Tagged Anne Blankman, bbgb books, Christopher Rylander, Elisabeth Dahl, Elle Cosimano, Gigi Amateau, Hannah Barnaby, Jewell Parker Rhodes, Kat Spears, kathi appelt, Kimberly Willis Holt, Kristen Kittscher, Kristen Lippert-Martin, Kristin Levine, Lamar Giles, Lana Krumwiede, Lois Lowry, Louise Hawes, Lyn Miller-Lachmann, M.T. Anderson, Marty Crisp, Mary Quattlebaum, Matt de la Peña, Meg Medina, megan shepherd, Padma Venkatraman, Paula Danziger, Rita Williams-Garcia, Susan Fletcher, Tara Sullivan, Valerie O. Patterson, Wendy Shang
I learn a ton when I interview my characters. Over the years, I’ve compiled a set of questions for them, such as…
What are your parents’ expectations of you?
Where do you belong? Feel most at home?
What do you deserve? What are your inalienable rights?
What makes you feel worthy?
What sorts of circumstances unnerve you? Describe one.
Tell me about a defining moment in your life.
Etc., etc. It goes on for a bit. Author Gigi Amateau told me that she concludes her interviews with, “Hey [character], I’m here for you. What do you want from me? How can I help?”
Last week I interviewed one of my characters, a teenage boy who has asked other kids at summer music camp to call him Dizzy Gillespie in honor of the great jazz musician. It was an awesome interview. The kid told me how he stands up to bully-types but feels nervous when he does, how his connection with a particular dog makes him think about reincarnation and parallel realities. I won’t necessarily use these tidbits in the novel, but it’s good stuff to know about him. He rambled and I listened, and my fingers flew fast over the keyboard.
When I ended with Gigi’s question, he surprised me. Dizzy said, “You can help by writing me into more scenes. Get me out of the background and onto center stage. I’m the character who’s bringing this story to life. Kids are going to read this book for me, and the sooner you recognize that, the better your book will be.”
Wow. I had to smile. I love this guy! Up until now, Dizzy has been a strong secondary character—a force to reckon with—and his actions have done wonders for moving the plot forward. But he’s not the protagonist. I’ve thought of him as laid back and cool, and haven’t noticed how intensely competitive he is. Now I get that if he doesn’t get his way, he’ll try to steal every scene I put him in. He’s dangerous, and I’m loving it. I’m having a blast writing this novel.
When was the last time you interviewed your characters?
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Tagged character, craft, Dizzy Gillespie, emotional truth, Gigi Amateau, interviews, plot, process, protagonist, scenes, story, writing