Hi, Ellen. I cannot thank you enough for giving me an interview during your very precious week off. I’m honored to have you at For the Love of YA for a few reasons: 1.) You’re awesome. 2.) You shed light on censorship, and 3.) you became an online presence to protect the YA I also tried to protect. Sometimes we don’t win, but when we fight, people listen, and those people may go out and effect change eventually. And that’s why you are listed in the annals of my YA Heroes. I think I’ll make some kind of badge for that. 🙂
Here are my burning questions:
1.) Creating characters can be intimidating, but I can’t imagine doing so with the tight economy of words that verse requires. This makes me wonder if your characters are so real because you spend massive amounts of time carefully selecting words or if your characters just come effortlessly from your fingertips. Could you tell a bit about how you create your characters and what process you go through to build them?
Character building is what I do first and foremost. It’s almost all I do in the prewriting process because I believe plot should flow from character. I generally start with a topic/theme. Think about what kinds of people would be affected by the issue I’m writing about. Motivation is key, so I think about that. What would drive a person’s needs/wants? Who are the people around the main characters—love interests, family, friends? Usually by the time I sit down to start a book, I know the main characters inside out. Still, they can surprise me.
2.) When and why did you choose to write in verse? Do you ever just want to give up and write in prose?
3.) Within the realm of raw reality, you have such a talent for sensitively portraying the “other” in our society: poor, homosexual, addicted, etc. What gave you the passion to portray characters that represent the social fringe?
4.) Because of your dedication to the marginalized, you’ve been pushed to the same many times. I think we all know of the Humble, TX incident, and how you handled the censorship with grace, but at the end of the day, how do you cope with unfeeling attacks against your craft, against the characters you’ve undoubtedly come to love and understand? And how do you stay encouraged?
5.) Also about Tricks, what inspired you to take on multiple protagonists? And how did you settle on five?
6.) First, let me say: I love Tricks. But I can see it being very controversial because it’s so real (and trust me, I know controversy *winks). What words of encouragement do you have for librarians or teachers out there who want to make it available to students?
7.) I think I understand people who censor, or attempt to censor, and though I find their attempts naïve and misguided, I think many (probably most) only want what is best for kids. With the clashing ideologies, though, it’s often times tough to open intelligent and calm dialogues with the opposition. However, is there a message that you really want to get across to those agents of censorship that have, or will, come against books like Tricks?
8.) What made you want to be a writer? Were there times you thought about (or did) something else as your career path?
9.) When I teach main idea, I ask students to read a paragraph and condense it into just six words (a trick I learned from a Writing Project pro a few years ago). But I’ve never done this with a lingual economist before! Here is the question, and you get only six words to answer: Why do you write YA?
10.) Could you give some advice to YA writers out there who are breaching controversial topics?
Most intimidating moment? Telling my (now husband, then live-in relationship) that after seven years of cohabitation, that we were either getting married or he needed to take a hike.
First car? 1968 Mustang. Wish I still had it.
Favorite fast-food restaurant? Rarely eat fast food. But probably Q-doba.
Air-conditioning or windows down? Depends on the month/temp/weather. Mostly air con.
Most nostalgic song? John Lennon’s Imagine.
An influential or inspiring book you’ve read? Stephen King’s On Writing.
Thanks again. I hate that I missed you in Florida, but perhaps we’ll meet up in Chicago for ALAN 2011. Until then, be well, write more, and keep on kicking censorship where it counts!