The 3 Sistahs of Script:Natalie Standiford: author of How to Say Goodbye in Robot, The Dating Game and, most recently, Confessions of the Sullivans Sisters Cecil Castellucci: author of Boy Proof, Beige and, most recently, Rose Sees Red Siobhan Vivian: author of A Little Friendly Advice, Same Difference and, most recently, Not That Kind of Girl
Let the YA author games begin!Faze: As freelance authors, I would assume that the majority of your time is spent in solitary writing—does it ever get lonely? Do you ever want the traditional 9-5 work week? Natalie Standiford (NS): I never wish for a traditional work week. I had a full-time job for a few years right after college and couldn’t get used to the routine. I love working at home at my own pace. Occasionally it does get lonely—especially in the winter when I might not leave my apartment for days—but most of the time it’s fine. I like being alone (in fact I go crazy if I don’t get at least a little time to myself every day), and I see my friends in the evenings. A lot of them are writers too so they understand that itchy cabin fever feeling. Cecil Castellucci (CC): I never really want a 9-5 job for reals-y, but I have on occasion, when I am totally frustrated with writing and the artistic bohemian life, I fantasize about chucking it all and becoming a receptionist. That was my favejob when I was a temp. But while it does get lonely sometimes, although in Los Angeles, I don’t have the “winter” problem, I agree with NS. For me there are plenty of hikes with friends who are writers, artists, musicians, actors, etc. who also have non-traditional stay at home kind of jobs. Also, I really feel that you have to go out and do stuff; otherwise you have nothing to write about. Siobhan Vivian (SV): I’ve got a lot of writer friends, and we make dates to work at coffee shops together. It’s almost like going into an office! We’ll chitchat every hour or so, but mostly, we work in silence, side by side. It’s awesome, and keeps those lonely, isolated feelings at bay. Also…yay for iced coffees and scones! Faze: Is there ever any competition involved, seeing as you write for the same audience? NS: I don’t feel competitive with other writers, usually—I feel as if we’re all on the same team. To use a corny analogy: it’s like literature is a big patchwork quilt. Each writer works on her own patch, and together it makes this big beautiful crazy blanket. I’ve found YA writers to be amazingly supportive and generous with each other. CC: I would say for myself personally, it’s just within myself. Can I write a better book? Can I raise the bar for myself narratively. Now 5 feet. Now 7 feet. Now 11 feet. How high can I jump? What is my personal best? And while I have seen some incredible support in the literary community and in the YA community, I’ve also been saddened, that like in any group or scene, there are some people who are competitive and cutthroat. I have learned to stay away from those people who bring that weird darkness to the table and who do see art as a competition. It’s not. Sometimes I feel as though we never really leave High School. Which maybe is “good” for our particular field. But makes me heavy-hearted. SV: I agree with my two cohorts. I get so much inspiration and motivation from reading my friends’ books. Natalie and Cecil just happen to be two of my favourite writers, and I am always inspired by their work. I feel lucky to count them as friends! Faze: I’ve heard people say before that writers are generally introverted people—do you believe that this is true? NS: Not really. I think all writers must be introspective and have a rich inner life, but that doesn’t mean they’re shy. (That said, I think I am basically introverted, though I’m not sure my friends would describe me that way.) CC: I think the fact that writers have to sit down and be quiet and have a lot of crazy stuff going on their head makes it seem like we’re introverted. I also think introverted and extroverted are really subjective. For example, I feel shy in weird moments then again, I just did a reading where I stood up and sang acapella show tunes between each passage of my books and that didn’t faze me one bit. If there is one word that is the opposite of me, it’s shy. And I think my outgoing personality really helps my writing. Meeting and talking with different kinds of people (one of my favorite things to do) gives me so many ideas and inspiration for writing. In fact, Not That Kind of Girl came about when I chatted up a very shy high school girl during a school visit. Faze: Do you believe in writer’s block? If yes, have you ever experienced it? CC: I don’t believe in writer’s block. I believe in the I-might-not-be-ready-to-write-this-at-this-moment, OR this-story-is-giving-me-trouble, OR the maybe-I’ve-got-on-the-wrong-track-and-need-to-change-everything-and-that-frustrates-me-so-I-want-to-give-up, OR the my-idea-is-really-scary-and-I-don’t-know-if-I-can-do-it-so-I’m-paralyzed-with-fear-at-this-moment.
So I then think: I need to take a walk, take a bath, feed my inner artist heart, cry, or eat some chocolate. I think that sometimes a story just needs a little time to simmer. And that when you are doing other things, your brain is working it out for you. I say, allow yourself the chance to let the story reveal itself. It will. Patience my little Padawan.
SV: Ooh! I like Cecil’s answer. I’m going to try and follow her advice.For me, the only time I get blocked up is when I feel like I’m doing something wrong within my story. And then I freeze up. But I try to remind myself that doing something wrong is often how you figure out how to do something right. Making mistakes, taking wrong turns…all that is part of the writing process. NS:Cecil and Siobhan are so wise! I don’t believe in writer’s block either, but I do get stuck all the time. That doesn’t mean I can’t write; I just can’t write what I’m supposed to be working on at that moment. So I move on to something else. This is when outlining can be very useful. I don’t usually do elaborate outlines but having a good idea of where the story is going means that if I get stuck on one part I can skip ahead to another part—and when I come back to the first part I often have a better idea of how to write it. Sometimes talking about the problem helps, but usually I feel I’ve got to solve it on my own. Faze: Who was the hardest character to write about in each of your recent novels? What character did you have the most fun writing about? CC: Besides my main characters, which are always hard and fun, I think in Rose Sees Red, the character of Daisy was the hardest to write. She’s really mean, awful and cruel. My stomach hurt every time she showed up. The characters that were the most fun were the triplets. I thought it was fun to have the brother/sister dynamic of them being a unit, but also each of them being totally different yet connected on a deeper level. SV: My main character, Natalie, was the hardest for me. She can be very judgmental and hard on people–especially her best friend. It comes from a loving place inside Natalie, but it still can be completely annoying to have her nitpicking and criticizing everyone in the book. Spencer, the girl Natalie used to babysit was the most fun. She’s a total firecracker. I could make her do or say just about anything. And the two of them together made for some really combative, hilarious scenes. NS: For me Sassy was the hardest. Her state-of-mind was the trickiest one to describe, because she’s kind of deluded, yet there’s a truth behind her delusion. She has an odd wayof looking at the world that’s very delicate; I could feel it in my head but it was hard to translate into words and images. I had to work to make her point of view balanced and believable (in other words, to make her not seem crazy). Faze: Looking back, if you could change one thing about your high school experience, what would it be? SV: I would have dumped the boyfriend I had for my junior and senior years. There were so many other cute boys that I completely ignored in favor of a guy who ended up cheating on me. Grrrr. NS: I would have forced myself to get over my stage-shyness and try out for a part in the school play. CC: I would have gone out with the boy who sat next to me in math class senior year despite what my friends said about him being a weirdo. Faze: If someone were to ask your advice about how to get published, what would tell them? SV: Take all of your writing seriously… from emails, to texts, to Facebook status updates. Ponder each word, and always aim for creativity and eloquence. NS: Beautifully put, Siobhan! I would add: Before you show anyone your work, put it aside for a while, then look at it with a fresh eye and revise it. Repeat. And don’t be afraid to write what you REALLY want to write, even if it seems strange or hasn’t been done before. Write with passion. And don’t expect it to be easy, and don’t give up. CC: What the two ladies say. And I would add, put your good ears on. Be brave enough to listen to critiques. It doesn’t mean that your work isn’t good if people have things to say, good or bad, about your story. Remember, you don’t have to listen or do anything that doesn’t ring true. I think that really listening to what disengages or engages people can make your work stronger. And if you do cut stuff or change stuff, the idea might be perfect for your next project!