Books About Books and Big News

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It has been just too dang long.

 

I have not forgotten about this space online, but I’ve been fortunate to have other writing projects over the last—eek, how long?—that have occupied my time and creative brain space. Including . . .

 

. . . my first book! Don’t Forget to Say Thank You: And Other Parenting Lessons That Brought Me Closer to God is scheduled for publication this fall by Ave Maria Press. It’s not a novel, but consider this: While I’d been working on my novel for over six years, this book took just over six months from the first time I opened a Word doc for it to getting a “yes” from an acquisitions meeting.

 

More on that to come (I just saw the cover and love it!), and in the meantime, a post I’ve been chewing on for some time. I’m sharing four of my favorite books about books—don’t be fooled by those that look like they’re for children!—and I hope to find some new gems you’ll leave in the comments.

 

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce

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Lyrical, lovely, and will make you want to live in a library (if you don’t already desire that!). The short film won an Academy Award.

 

The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger (author of The Time Traveler’s Wife)51cYvfpa4SL._SY324_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg.

Another one I wish were real life. Released first serially in The Guardian, this story is a treat to read all in one sitting.

 

We Are in a Book by Mo Willems

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You can buy this for the next baby shower you go to, but after you read it, you’re going to want to keep it for yourself. Banana!

 

It’s a Book by Lane Smith

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If you’re giving this one to a kid, choose the board book version—the ending is a little more kid-friendly. In a world driven by technology, it’s good to remember the simple joys and tremendous value of a real book in your hands.

 

 

What are your favorite books about books?

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What Lisa Ann Sandell Learned While Writing a Novel

Today I’m excited to share an interview with the talented Lisa Ann Sandell, executive editor at Scholastic Press and author of The Weight of the Sky, Song of the Sparrow, A Map of the Known World, and contributor to the collection, 21 Proms. Lisa writes for young readers in both prose and verse, and has generously offered to share her wisdom on writing and publishing.

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Here we go!

You were an editor before you were a published author. How did your day job prepare you for being on the other end of a project for the first time?

I think I was an associate editor, assisting two more senior editors, when my first novel sold to Viking. I was incredibly excited. I wanted to be as professional as possible and wanted to deliver the cleanest manuscript I could. I just wanted to do my best to make the process as smooth as I could. As a writer, I tend to agonize over the most minute details – I can scrutinize a comma for hours. I’m not sure whether that stems from the ingrained habit of poring over details like this in my day job, or whether it’s just my personality!

Now that you have published three novels of your own, what has changed about the way you work as an editor?

As an editor I always try to be highly sensitive to the authors’ feelings and needs, and above all to their sense of a book’s integrity. A book is an author’s baby, and I make sure to keep that at the fore of all my work. I love editing; I love working with authors – it is always an adventure, always an amazing and rewarding collaboration. Working with an author on a book I love and that resonates with me and speaks to me and moves me is just the most wonderful gift.

What are the challenges of performing both roles simultaneously? What are the benefits? 

The primary challenge of doing both jobs at once is finding enough time in the day to do everything I want to do. So much of my editing work gets done at night and on weekends. When I was working on my own novels, that time was split between my editing and reading responsibilities and carving out some pockets of time to focus on my own writing. It’s a juggling act. But now that I’m a mom, I have to say, it all seems so easy in retrospect – ha! The greatest benefit of working as both an editor and a writer is that I just feel more mindful overall – of text, of story, of what it means to deliver a book into the world.

Your sculpture played a large role in A Map of the Known World. How does engaging in other creative activities influence your writing?

I think creativity begets creativity. Letting my imagination and my mind and my hands play in one medium simply allows for everything to feel more free and opened-up when I turn to the next medium.

Your work is largely influenced by personal experiences—living in Jerusalem, the artistic legacy your grandparents left you, etc.—and yet the stories are not autobiographical. Do you find yourself more compelled by the idea of “writing what you know” or of discovering something new?

I very much wrote of what I knew in my first book, The Weight of the Sky, and once I was done with that story, I went on to write something that I knew about only academically. Song of the Sparrow was probably the most enjoyable writing project I’ve ever embarked upon. I loved diving into the research, and I loved writing about a world that I mostly got to imagine from scratch. But I do love research, digging through old texts, looking up random facts, like what sorts of vegetation would have grown in the time and place where the story is set. I think, for me, the most ideal sort of story to tell is one that contains some measure of context by which I can connect to the world I have to build, but that also has a very wide field in which I can play and learn.

You write beautifully in both free verse and prose. What advice would you give to an author interested in playing with structure and form?

Thank you so much – that is very kind of you! I think the best advice I can give is to just read as widely and deeply as possible. Reading the works of one’s predecessors and understanding the craft will give younger writers the tools to explore and experiment and invent on their own. Then, go play!

Anything else you’d like to share?

Thank you so much for this fabulous opportunity!

Where can readers find you online (Website, twitter, goodreads, facebook, tumblr, etc.)?

I am on twitter (@lisaannsandell), goodreads, and facebook, but here’s my embarrassing confession: With two little toddlers at home and a lot of books to edit, I’m not online nearly enough. Readers can also visit my website: www.lisaannsandell.com

Thank you, Lisa, for your time and thoughtfulness. Now, back to writing . . . or whatever creative venture is speaking to you today!

Return to Blogging

My late winter hiatus turned out much longer than expected. But then, it was a long winter—too much sickness, the passing of my grandmother, and more heavy snow than I would have liked.

But now we are here in spring. I have a beautiful little girl, whom my bigger boys love dearly. My first contraction came at our local library, which I hope says something about her interests as she grows. In the few weeks after she was born, I spent a lot of time in our rocking chair snuggling, nursing, and reading. A few of my favorite things, you might say, and good inspiration for new writing projects.

Currently, I am two-thirds of the way through a CampNaNoWriMo WIP that is pulling together a lot of ideas I’ve had over the last few years, as well as surprising me with a bunch of new ones. It may sound crazy to be writing right now, but life has slowed down so much since my girl was born that my brain has had a good deal of space to be creative. Must find a way to keep this up as she gets bigger!

Here on the blog, there are a couple of interviews on the horizon, one I hope to post later this week or early next. Freelance work is up and running, and my writers’ group is active and well.

This spring feels like a new chapter in so many ways, more than normal. I hope it’s that way for you, too, and that there are exciting pages coming your way soon.

Back to work!

Why Comp Titles Are Important

I love books. I love food. I love books about food—reading them, writing them, and, it turns out, writing about them.

One of the fun things about striving for publication is researching and reading comparable titles for an understanding of the marketplace. In my case, that means “foodie fiction,” books in which the characters or plot are heavily influenced by cooking, baking, or the restaurant industry. These are books I would read just because I enjoy them, but because I’m working towards publishing my novel, I get to call them “work.”

After my latest read, I thought I might give a submission to my favorite online magazine, Verily, a go. I’ve been dreaming of writing for Verily for a long time now, but hadn’t come up with quite the right piece. The submissions page for their culture section said they were open to round-ups of books, movies, or other media, which was just what I had in mind. This article was one I’d already happily done the research for, and writing it was just plain fun.

I’m thrilled to share the link to my first published piece outside of a blog: http://www.verilymag.com/grammys-2015-kanye-west-fifty-shades-of-grey-jon-stewart-kingsman/. Check out Verily’s weekly post, “While You Were Out,” posted this past Friday, February 13, and scroll down for “Foodie Fiction for Your February” by yours truly.

Every little bit is one step closer!

Now back to the rewrite . . .

What Lauren Oliver Learned While Writing a Novel

I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to interview New York Times-bestselling author Lauren Oliver on her experiences as an editor, a writer, and the founder of literary incubator Paper Lantern Lit.

 

In October of last year, I heard Ms. Oliver speak on a panel at the Boston Book Festival. She discussed her writing honestly and humbly, and I left inspired, encouraged, and wanting to know more. I’m excited to share our conversation here, as the newest installment of this publishing-professional-turned-novelist interview series. Grab a pen, because you’re going to want to take notes.

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Before you were a published author, you were an editorial assistant at a YA imprint. What did you learn there that fueled or challenged your own path to publication?

Before I worked as an editor, I was writing long and structure-less books tedious in their description and characterizations. Working for a commercial YA imprint actually taught me about story for the first time—about the need for tension and resolution, about the way that the components of narrative work.

 

You still work with authors as one of the founders of Paper Lantern Lit, a literary incubator. How does working with other writers’ work encourage your own writing? 

I just like being immersed in the field. I have a great macro sense of the industry because working at PLL requires it, which helps, I think, to keep my antennae up. And working with creative people inspires creativity. As humans, we’re emulators and sponges: we absorb the attitudes of the people around us.

 

PLL develops ideas and then pairs them with talented writers to craft manuscripts. How does this method relate to the way you write? Do you always have an outline first?

I don’t. I very rarely begin with an outline, although I always do develop some kind of outline to work from or within ultimately. Otherwise I end up reverting to kind of meandering ruminations about the nature of people. Nobody wants to read that.

 

I was fortunate to hear you speak on a panel titled “Fiction with a Twist” at the Boston Book Festival in October 2014. There, you remarked that you’ve gotten tangled up in reactions and sales of your books, and you intend to spend time becoming a better writer. Part of that will entail becoming a student again, enrolling in graduate classes. What in particular are you looking to retrain in yourself, and how?

I just want to get better. I want to get better, and I want to be able to separate what I’m doing from my expectations of its commercial success in order to take more risks and push my boundaries.

 

You said at the festival that you read very broadly. Are there certain genres or titles you intend to study as part of the “retraining” process?

No, although there are books I’ve been meaning to read or re-read—Chris Adrian’s short stories, for example; Love In the Time of Cholera; Wolf Hall—so I’ll tackle those. But I’m always reading so widely and with such voraciousness, it’s not so much a question of my reading habits as it is my writing habits.

 

Do you have a single writing process or a different procedure for each of your audiences (middle-grade, young adult, and adult)? What did you try to figure out what works for you? Are you satisfied with your process, or do you intend to change things as you “retrain” yourself?

My writing process is the same, roughly, in that I always write my way in to the world and the characters before thinking overall about structure. I am trying to get even more granular on a sentence level, to read everything out loud in revisions, to be merciless about what I cut. And I’m trying to get smarter about research and the way I use it.

 

At the festival, you said you always feel you are attempting to do something you’re not quite qualified to do. Do expect that to change? What aspect of writing will always be a challenge, and what do you think you are capable of mastering, or at least improving upon?

I hope it doesn’t change, honestly. I hope I’m always stretching myself and trying to be ambitious when it comes to my work. If you’re not attempting to grow, what’s the point, really? I think that progress probably looks like punctuated equilibrium—I might “master” an element of storytelling for a period of years only to have a completely and revolutionary new feeling or response or reaction subsequently that leads me to become a neophyte again.

 

It was encouraging to hear you say that writing is a calling—you simply have to do it—and that you are looking to restore the joy for yourself in that. In which part of the journey of writing a novel do you find the greatest joy? 

I mean, there is a joy embedded in the daily practice itself. There is joy in getting a sentence right, in getting a character right, in nailing down a detail. The joy and the difficulty are intertwined, I think.

 

I can’t wait to read your next novel, Vanishing Girls, due out March 10, 2015. It will be your tenth full-length book published. What did the experience of writing and publishing the other nine contribute to making this one what it is?

I think it’s obvious from the evolution of my books that over the course of my career I’ve become increasingly interested in things I tended to dismiss at the start, like detailed world-building and the way structure informs story and vice versa. I’ve tried to refine and distinguish the characters’ voices in Vanishing Girls, and that preoccupation is even more evident in my next book.

 

Anything else you’d like to share?

Thanks for having me!

 

Where can readers find you online? (Website, twitter, goodreads, facebook, tumblr, etc.)

All of the above! All of my info is on www.laurenoliverbooks.com, including information that directs you to my social media.

 

Thank you, Lauren!