From skydiving to writing romances about pirates, Gerri Brousseau has done it all

A Pirate’s Ransom

Gerri Brousseau is a rare writer indeed. While most of us put our creative impulses into staring into space and writing about our friends while we waited for story inspiration, Gerri used to jump out of airplanes. These days, though, she finds her adrenaline rushes sitting at her laptop, creating dashing romantic characters and giving them exciting complications.

Her debut novel, A Pirate’s Ransom,  was just published this month–and she already has another one coming out in November.

Writing, she says, comes easily for her. It could be that it’s easy compared to finding the courage to jump out of an airplane–but whatever. Here is the Waterbury resident’s take on writing, pirates, love, romance and procrastination.

Enjoy!

Gerri Brousseau

Tell us about your new book.

Here is the description from the back of the book … Despair filled Lady Catherine as she boarded the ship for England, and toward marriage to man she’s never met—the Duke of Devonshire.  But the sea is no place for a lady.  She’s captured by the Pirate Captain, Edmund Drake and held for ransom; a ransom that has nothing to do with coin.  But when she’s stolen from him, he realizes she has captured his heart. She becomes the pawn in a dangerous rivalry between two pirates—the handsome pirate Captain Edmund Drake and his notorious and fearsome opponent, Blackbeard.  How far will Captain Drake go to reclaim his prize?  Which pirate will decide her fate?  And who will pay … A Pirate’s Ransom?

But let me assure you, the Duke has more of a commanding presence than you would think and who the heck is the Contessa Theodora de Lorenzo … hmm … guess you’ll just have to read the book to find out.

Where did the germ of the story come from? How did you first know you were going to write this story?

Most of my story ideas come from dreams. I have always sort of daydreamed about being captured by a handsome pirate who would sail away with my heart. So, I thought I would give it a go. This idea sort of started out as a glimmer of a story and grew into the pirate adventure I dreamed it would be.

Did this book come to you easily, or did you have to wrestle it to the ground once or twice? Did you ever give up on it?

When I sit down to write, I sort of let my characters tell their story. It comes easily and then I go back and do some fine tuning. I never gave up on it. I always had faith in my story. It was just a matter of finding a publisher who agreed with me.

Do you have a writing process you could share with readers, a way you like to proceed when you’re writing a book?

I get an idea for a story. I think about it a bit so I have a solid beginning, turning point and end. Then I sit with the lap top and just start typing. I write fast fiction – finish it quick with my internal editor turned off. Then once it’s finished, I go back and do the fine tuning.

Are you a “pantser” (writing by the seat of your pants, discovering the story as you go along), or do you have the entire plot outlined before you begin? Or something in between?

Pantser all the way. I know the beginning, turning point and end, but I let the story flow out of me. I don’t like outlines because it makes me feel too confined.

How do you get yourself to write when you don’t feel inspired? Is there anything that can  bring that mood, or voice, back to you?

I tend to take a bit of a break between works. It clears my mind. If I am truly uninspired, I will go for a walk, watch a movie, or listen to music. Many things inspire me. For example, I am working on something now that was inspired from listening to Spanish guitar music. The smallest thing will inspire me, for example fireflies, the smell of being in a wine cellar, the picture of a lighthouse. When I get an idea for a story, I make a quick one paragraph synopsis in the computer and just let it stay until the characters are screaming in my head to have me tell their story. That is when it will get written.

When did you first know you were a writer?

As far back as I can remember I was writing stories. I think in a past life I might have been a scribe or something. I only seriously decided to try my hand at writing a novel in 2009.

 If you weren’t a writer, what job would you like to do?

I would like to have a job like Robin Leach … Remember Life Styles of the Rich and Famous … the guy traveled around the world and did stories on rich and famous people. I guess if you can’t be rich and famous, you can at least travel in their circles … right?

What’s your favorite, and least favorite, part of the writing process?

I love every aspect of writing. When I was waiting to get my first round edits back from the editor, I was nervous, but I found I even enjoyed doing those. I like the first draft but realize that with the editor’s help, I’ll love the last revision … and hopefully, so will my readers.

What’s your process of revision? Do you have readers who give you advice? At what point do you enlist their aid?

When I finish my first draft and have read it over, I will send it over to my one and only critique partner. She reads it and sends it back to me with her suggestions. Once I feel I have done all I can do with it, I will send it off to my publisher for their consideration.

Readers tend to think that everything authors write is autobiographical. How do you handle those sorts of questions—people assuming that everything in your book really happened to you?

I write historical romance, so not too much in those books could happen to me. Although I have fantasized about being swept away by a handsome pirate, that has not happened to me … no. Still, I understand what you’re saying. How could you describe something you have not experienced? I have a very, VERY active imagination and I do a ton of research for the historical aspects of my work. As for the love scenes … To some extent things are from personal experience … but no, not every love scene has occurred in my personal life. When people ask me if these things have happened to me I simply tell them I have a great imagination. I do get snickering comments from men telling me if I ever need help doing research for any love scenes to let them know. Those comments I simply ignore.

Have you ever written a character who’s close to someone you know, and have you worried that that person will be furious with you?

No not intentionally. If there is any similarity between my fictional characters and anyone I know it is purely coincidental. However, I do have a friend named Theodora and I asked her if I could use her name in my novel. She agreed and was overjoyed to find out the character in A Pirate’s Ransom, The Contessa Theodora de Lorenzo was … shall I say, a woman of renowned talents. I am presently working on a novel and have asked another friend if I could use her last name for it. Honestly, I find that people are excited about it and honored when I ask. I would never do it without first asking.

Have you ever gotten up in the middle of the night to write a scene that simply will not let you rest?

Yes. I keep a pad and pen on my bedside table for just such occasions. Sometimes I find the scene is so exciting, I can’t get back to sleep and have to get to the laptop and actually write it.

Do you procrastinate? What’s your favorite mode of procrastination when you’re supposed to be writing?

Yes, I can be quite the procrastinator. I try not to berate myself for it because it usually turns into some productive thought. I will usually watch a movie. Sometimes I will go on Facebook and see what my friends are up to. One thing I will admit to NEVER doing by way of procrastination is housework. God, I hate doing housework.

What about being a writer has made you truly happy?

Hearing people who have read the book say they love it. Little comments from my readers make me smile. I got a few emails which I will share with you. One person said she burned dinner because she couldn’t put the book down. Another said she went to bed, tossed and turned for 30 minutes and had to get back up to keep reading. That makes me happy. I want my readers to love reading my books as much as I loved writing them.

What do you tell people who want to be writers, too?

I tell them to write from their heart. Write every day. Believe in yourself and your work and above all else, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER give up.

A Pirate’s Ransom is her debut novel is available now at Available at: http://www.soulmatepublishing.com

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/kindle/dp/B0091PRUTO/ref=rdr_kindle_ext_eos_detail

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-pirtes-ransom-gerri-brousseau/1112651492?ean=2940015206692

According to Legend will be released in November, 2012.

Visit Gerri’s website at http://www.gerribrousseau.com.

 

David Fitzpatrick, of Guilford, tells his story of mental illness, in Sharp, a compelling new memoir

David Fitzpatrick

David Fitzpatrick had a regular, normal childhood, growing up in Guilford, where he loved sports and wanted to please his teachers and family members. But then things started to go terribly wrong–he was bullied by an older brother and tormented in college by his roommates–and by the time he graduated from college, he was finding release from his inner torment by cutting himself.

Then came 17 years of being a “professional mental patient.”

Today, Fitzpatrick is the author of Sharp,  the story of his journey and how writing and the care of some extraordinary people brought him back to himself. Publishers Weekly calls the book “a mesmeric, dire memoir of his agonizing journey through hell and back.”

“A combination of low self-esteem, social anxiety, and depression over a breakup with a girlfriend precipitated the first cutting incident, leading to the first of many incarcerations in the psychiatric wing of hospitals, shock treatments, “psychotropic cocktails” that increasingly bloated his body, intensive therapy with idiosyncratic doctors, and occasional tender acquaintances with young anorexic women patients. After nearly two decades of spiraling mental illness leading to self-injury, the author was finally able to “recapture his mind” with the help of targeted drugs, therapy, family support, and, perhaps most key, a mission (thanks to Wally Lamb’s encouragement) to write his dark, affecting human story for “the mentally ill voices who don’t ever get to speak, to shout and be heard.” (Publishers Weekly)

Fitzpatrick submitted an essay about his experiences to New Haven Review, where it was published and received lots of attention. He wrote most of the book while he was a student in the Fairfield University Master of Fine Arts program for non-fiction–and now it is here.

David will be reading from his book at R. J. Julia Booksellers at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 29. Call (203) 245-3959 for reservations. *(see other readings below)

And now, it’s a pleasure to welcome David to Books New Haven.

Tell us about your book.

This is a tale about a man losing his mind for nearly two decades, and getting stuck in the sticky psychic tendrils of hospitalizations, shock, medication and inertia, only to be revived and reborn with the assistance of two very talented doctors, and a whole slew of broken people years later. Those broken souls – both family, fellow patients, and benevolent strangers – helped reshape me, and returned me to a stable and mostly damn good life.

How did you first know that you wanted to write this story? What were the factors that engaged you from the beginning?

 I wrote at all points in my life, so the writing came natural. But my agent – also my eighth grade basketball camp friend, Richard Abate–suggested I should do it when I first left the group home in New Haven. That was August, 2007, and it felt too raw then, but a year later, Fairfield University’s MFA program came along and started up, and I jumped on board. I’d always thought at a distance, “Jesus, this hospital stuff would not be believed,” when I was in the midst of it, but then I started writing for the program, I realized I really could tell this story. It had love, madness, hellish experience, anguish and suicidal rage, joy, sex and enough macabre moments to keep one up late at night. Mostly, though, writing was how I stayed attached to reality. For a few years I couldn’t read, couldn’t really engage anyone save my family, so I wrote. Feebly, badly, horribly at times, but it kept me tethered somehow to the world. And then when it started to get better, hope started knocking in my gut, and I followed that. Grasped onto it and felt it, used it as a guide as I climbed out of the mess.

How did you find writing memoir to be different from writing fiction? How was it similar?

I haven’t written much fiction, save for a few stories that were published in small online magazines. And I was in the creative nonfiction program at Fairfield, so I realized, at least right then, the closer I get to truth, the more my writing shines and improves. And then I got semi-obsessed with it, and realized I wanted to show the total collapse/disintegration of a young man, the full story, and then his rebuilding and rebirth.  I guess as much as fiction was fun, the parameters of truth, or at least, my truth, my memory and honest portrayal of it, attracted me more. I know two people can look at a shark in the water from exactly the same distance, and write totally different versions of their honest experience, but still, I know what I saw, what I felt, and I thought I want to capture the shark truthfully (is that too dramatic or goofy? Probably, but I thought I’d go for it.)

Were you ever frustrated by having to stick to the facts of the story?

I was. At one point in my story, Christmas of 1993, I traveled to Chicago to be in a month-long hospital program with seven women from around the country who struggled with self-injury, and I wanted to make a late night New Year’s Eve moment more perfect than it actually was. What happened was we sat around and danced off and on, to Auld Lang Syne and ate sugar-free cookies and drank diet-Coke. What I wanted to write was a scene where I dance with an equally troubled girl, shuffling and twisting and then somehow, a quick kiss and a disco ball is attached to the ceiling of this hospital room, and everyone starts dancing, or crying in the sparkling lights. It was nice and it worked beautifully, maybe one of the best scenes I ever wrote. But the problem was – I don’t think it was true, I think I wanted to add all that drama because it would’ve been perfect for the story. The kiss never took place. So I had to cut it.

There are so many more layers when you’re writing about people who really did exist. What sorts of feedback (and blowback) did you get after the book came out? Were there people whose reactions you particularly feared?

Well, the book came out three days ago, so…so far, so good! I have an older brother who was verbally and physically hostile to me (I don’t call it abuse, I want the reader to get to that on their own) and I changed his name. He had spoken to me a few years before when he heard I was writing a memoir, and though he was pissed off, he said something like, “The least thing you could do is change my name.” So I did. I also wrote about the hazing I experienced from college roommates, and so I spent about three hours on the phone with lawyers and the editor, changing their names and their appearances. Also, did the same for some patients I met along the way – I didn’t want to do it at first, but then I saw it made sense and showed restraint. Plus, I realized some of the patients might want to tell their story themselves.

Did this book come to you easily, or did you have to wrestle it to the ground once or twice? Did you ever give up on it?

I wrote the first draft – a draft I was ready to hand in to my agent — in about seven or eight months. And my agent took it and wouldn’t read it. He sat me down and said, “You’ve got to be kidding me, the book’s not due for another four and a half months and you want to hand it in? This isn’t MFA time, David,” he said. “This is big league stuff, you should go back to it and add the layers, add the emotion behind it, add the urgency, add the joy.”

Then when I went back to it, I realized I almost blew the whole book.  I had nearly handed in a pathetic excuse for a work. Just a shell of what Sharp is today. So, then I started really writing intensely, working scenes over, adding the depth and heft Rich suggested. And then I started feeling the book, really going back to the emotions, the urgency, and it became a totally different memoir. In the end I handed it in one month before it was due, and by then I knew I’d given it everything I had. I never gave up on it, but like I said, I almost handed in a half-ass story.

Do you have a writing process you could share with readers, a way you like to proceed when you’re writing a book?

I like to write in my office in front of a backyard of trees, but if I’m feeling particularly stuck and feel like the computer isn’t working for me, I pick up a yellow legal pad. Then I look around the room, or at a river or somewhere on a street where I pull over, and imagine the words pouring right from my belly. If it’s working well that way, I’ll just keep at it until I feel like I’ve gotten everything out of the legal pad for that time. Then I go back to the computer and get into a rhythm of copying over the prose, and then I feel like I can write well on the computer. It’s sort of like doing finger painting before moving to the brushes. It helps me access the belly, the gut feelings.

When did you first know you were a writer?

I don’t think I called myself a writer until I started at the MFA program. But I think I knew in middle school, or even earlier. Just liked to look at books, sentences – even though I’m not great with grammar, just the flow and the enjoyment of a poem or turn of phrase. Anything by Salinger, Cheever or Updike or now, Mary Gaitskill or Joy Williams makes me salivate.

If you weren’t a writer, what job would you like to do?

I’m not good at much so hopefully this writer-thing will keep me above water for the rest of my life. I was good at sports as a kid but then everybody grew and I could see that wasn’t going to take me to the bank, and my Dad is a car dealer but I’m lucky if I can find the gas tank, so that didn’t work. It was just a matter of time – writing really is all I’ve got.

What’s your process of revision? Do you have readers who give you advice? At what point do you enlist their aid?

My wife – the indomitable, strong, and good editor and writer, Amy – reads everything before anyone. We usually argue some but I like to hear her thoughts on it. I have some friends that I show the work to, and for Sharp, I workshopped a lot of the material as I came through the Fairfield University program. Now I wait until I feel something is really good before I send it to my agent.

Do you procrastinate? What’s your favorite mode of procrastination when you’re supposed to be writing?

I watch a lot of old Youtube videos, play some old jazz. I can’t write if the music I’m listening to has singing in it, so I use old jazz Cd’s. Facebook is a real time suck – I’ve only been doing it for five months but oh, my God, it takes up the time. Sometimes I tell myself I need to read some inspiring writing so I read passages by Paul Lisicky, his stuff is poetic prose, and always psychs me up. Sometimes I lay around. And then – something comes to me – and just like that I’m back with the legal pad or keyboard.

What about being a writer has made you truly happy?

Probably the grooves I get in when things are really rolling. Mostly it’s hard work and searching inside for the right phrase, but sometimes, I get in a zone, and time slips away and I feel unstoppable. Of course, then I go back to it the next day, and it looks awful, but usually there’s some writing that takes place in that zone, in that groove, that really is special. So that kind of feeling, the kind I felt when writing large swaths of Sharp, that makes me happy.

What do you tell people who want to be writers, too?

Give it a shot, try it out, start with a journal or a prompt but as Robert Olen Butler writes – and I’m paraphrasing – if you are the kind of soul who averts their eyes from a difficult moment or scene, it might not be the right thing for you. I would think you should want to dive in to the strange or macabre or uncomfortable, you have to the point where that stuff is in your wheelhouse.

Would you like to talk about what’s next for you?

I’ve started a novel about three friends who go crazy in their teens during a summer at the Cape, and a photo is taken of the three of them, and thirty-five years later, those iconic photos come to bite the protagonist in the ass. Only a quarter of the way through it but hopefully I can get it done, get it really rolling.

Read more about him, including some samples of his work, at his website, http://www.davidfitzpatrickbooks.com. 

Book signings and readings:

Sept. 6, 7 p.m.: Broadside Books in Northampton, MA

Sept. 12, 7:30-9 p.m.: Manjares Fine Pastry and Coffee, Westville. (sponsored by New Haven Review)

Sept. 13, 7-8:30 p.m.: Barnes & Noble, Blue Back Square, West Hartford.

Sept. 19, 7-8 p.m.: Guilford Public Library (with his agent and friend, Richard Abate)

Sept. 24, 7 p.m.: Barnes & Noble, 82nd & Broadway, New York, with Wally Lamb

Keeping it real: Matthew Dicks’s new novel, Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend

I met Matthew Dicks and his wife, Elysha, in R. J. Julia Booksellers one day, and we got into a wonderful conversation about novels, writing, how fun it is to buy books all the time, and the fact that he and his wife were expecting a new baby. He told me that he also was expecting a new book in August, and since I had just gotten the idea for this Books New Haven blog, I signed him up as my first true novelist-in-waiting.

And now, TA-DAH!–here it is at last: the publication date for Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, a book which is already getting rave reviews. Dicks is not only the author of two other books before this one. SOMETHING MISSING (2009, Doubleday Broadway) and UNEXPECTEDLY, MILO (2010, Doubleday Broadway), he also works as an elementary school teacher. He and Elysha and their two children, Clara and Charles, live in Newington.
You can find out more about him at his website at http://matthewdicks.com, and you should most certainly visit him at his very entertaining blog at http://matthewdicks.com/blog.
Want to see him in person? Here are some upcoming appearances:

August 21, 2012 at 6:00: Book release at Barnes and Noble Booksellers, Blue Back Square, West Hartford, CT
September 13, 2012 at 6:30: Hartford Public Library
September 21, 2012: Clinton Bookshop, Clinton, CT
September 27, 2012 at 7:00: RJ Julia Booksellers, Madison, CT

And now, here is Matthew, to talk about imaginary friends, the art of not being too precious when you’re a writer, and how it is that he owes everything to a high school teacher who once doubted him.
Tell us about your new book.

Matthew Dicks

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend is a story told by Budo, the imaginary friend to a boy named Max. Max is an unusual child who is likely functioning somewhere along the autistic spectrum, and as a result, he has come to rely on his imaginary friend for many things. But Budo has his own life as well, separate from Max, in which he meets and befriends other imaginary beings, navigates the world of human persons and worries about his continued existence in the very tenuous life of an imaginary friend. When Max finds himself in great peril, only Budo can save him. In doing so, however, Budo must risk his own existence as well. It’s a story about friendship, courage, love and the power of imagination.

Where did the germ of the story come from? How did you first know you were going to write this story?

The idea for the book originates back in in childhood. When I was about ten years old, I was speaking to my mother about a trip that we had made to Roger Williams Park in Providence, Rhode Island.  I was reminding her of an afternoon spent in the Japanese Gardens, and how Johnson Johnson and I played tag on the connecting islands in the middle pond.

“Matt,” she said.  “You know Johnson Johnson wasn’t real. Right?”

“Huh?”

“You know Johnson Johnson was your imaginary friend. Right?”

“No,” I said, thinking my mother was crazy. “Johnson Johnson. The boy who lived with us for a while.”

“Matt, there was no Johnson Johnson. He was imaginary.”

“No. Johnson Johnson. The boy who lived with us. Like Jessica.”

Jessica was a foster child who had come to live with my family for about six weeks, and she was one of several children who my parents would take in from time to time when I was young.  In my mind, Johnson Johnson had been just another one of these kids. The first of them.

But it turns out that Johnson Johnson was not real.  I had made him up.  Even with a brother and a sister, I had somehow needed someone else to keep me company, and so I invented Johnson Johnson, who my mother had always assumed was named after Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder.

I couldn’t believe it.  Years later I would watch the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a story about technology that allows people to erase unwanted sections of their lives, and I instantly understood the concept and sympathized with the characters.  In a single stroke, hundreds of memories of my childhood had been altered forever. The boy who I thought had accompanied me to all of my early adventures had suddenly been erased, and for weeks afterward, I would find my mind stumbling upon memories in which Johnson Johnson still existed.  Memories in need of erasing.

I mentioned this to a fellow teacher a couple years ago, and she said it would make the basis for an excellent book. I thought she was crazy, but my agent and wife agreed, so I began writing. I promised to give the book an honest effort for the duration of the summer, but if August was ending and I was not happy with the result, I would shift gears.

It took me one day to realize that I had a good story in the works.

I have learned to always listen to my wife and agent.

Did this book come to you easily, or did you have to wrestle it to the ground once or twice? Did you ever give up on it?

The book came surprisingly easy to me. While I am not the best when it comes to plot, I have always found it easy in inhabit a character’s mind, so once I found my way into Budo’s mind, he told the story for me. It was the first time I have written a novel in the first person, and I thought that it would be impossible. Instead, it was easier than I could have ever imagined.

Do you have a writing process you could share with readers, a way you like to proceed when you’re writing a book?

My process is simple: I write as often as I can, in any space that I can, for whatever duration of time I have. This means I will sit down for ten minutes and write three good sentences or I will sit down for eight hours and write 5,000 words. I find the need for a specific drink, a specific location, a special pen or a particular style of music to be a little silly. I am not precious when it comes to my writing time. I am simply demanding. I fear that too many writers use the excuse of time or location to avoid writing. I write at my dining room table. I write in the lunchroom at school. I write at the library and at the bookstore and in airports and in hotel rooms. If you want to write, you will not allow time, location or method to stand in your way.

As for the actual process, I never know the full story when I begin writing. I find a character and begin, and I eventually manage to find the plot. This means that much of my revision is centered on focusing my story and eliminating some of the meandering that took place while searching for it. Learning that I could eventually find the story as well as its conclusion was an important lesson that I learned far too late in life.

Are you a “pantser” (writing by the seat of your pants, discovering the story as you go along), or do you have the entire plot outlined before you begin? Or something in between?

I’m a pantser. In the beginning, I wrote in constant fear that I would never find the end to my story, but I’ve learned to trust my characters and my instincts. There’s always a story in those pages. I just have to press on until I reach it.

I would much rather be a meticulous outliner. It strikes me as less precarious. That just isn’t me.

How do you get yourself to write when you don’t feel inspired? Is there anything that can  bring that mood, or voice, back to you?

It will sound terribly annoying to writers who suffer from writer’s block, but I have never been uninspired to write. Keeping multiple projects going at one time may assist in this a bit, but even if I had the one story, I suspect that I would always be excited to return to it.

When did you first know you were a writer?

In the acknowledgements of SOMETHING MISSING, I thank Mark Compopiano, my high school English teacher, for teaching me that “words can change minds.”

When I entered Mr. Compo’s English class, I thought of myself of a good writer. Though I couldn’t type or spell to save my life and nothing that I submitted was ever on time, the words and sentences came easily to me, and I had a lot to say. I wrote for the school newspaper and kept a diary off and on during my high school career, and I wrote I lot of notes and letters to girls.

Though I never thought that writing could become a career for me, I also managed to make a little money with my ability. For a short period of time, I went into the business of writing and selling term papers for my fellow students. Charging between $25-$100 depending on the topic and length of the term paper, I managed to buy my first car, a 1978 Chevy Malibu, with the profits of this covert operation.

The day that changed life as a writer was November 29, 1988. On that day, I handed in an assignment in which I was asked to write a satirical piece that expressed humor. I wrote a piece on how America claims to be the land of the free, yet young men can be forcibly sent to foreign countries in order to kill strangers. I also noted that it is illegal to engage in prostitution and commit suicide, both seemingly personal decisions, and that many states restricted the rights of homosexuals.

In reading this piece today, I cringe. It is not well written. It is not funny. And it is barely satirical. But on that day in November, I was certain that I was handing in a gem, so three days later, December 2, 1988, when Mr. Compo handed back the assignment with a grade of B-, I was confounded. Scrawled across the paper were the words Not satire (as well as Many spelling errors!). At the top of the page, Mr. Compo had written:

Some of this is not satire. It’s too obvious.

I disagreed. Despite his years of experience, I had decided in that moment that Mr. Compo was wrong. He had no clue what satire was and had missed the whole point of my piece. Emboldened by overconfidence, I approached his desk and protested my grade. We debated the merits of my piece for a while, and finally, he offered a solution:

Read the piece to the class. If a majority believes that it is satire, I will increase the score on your paper by one letter grade. But if a majority agrees with me, we decrease your score by one letter grade.

Basking in self-assurance and unable to refuse a challenge, I agreed. Though this was a serious English class, and I knew that my classmates would be fair and objective, I was also certain that I was right and that they would side with me.

They did.

By a unanimous vote, the class declared my work as satire and my B- was instantly transformed into an A-. I still have the assignment upon which the change in score is noted.

After reading the piece, Mr. Compo admitted that the tone in which I read the piece helped in delineating the satire quite a bit, and what initially sounded dry and rhetorical came to life as I spoke the words.

Some of David Sedaris’s work can be like this. Read it and you think, “That was amusing.” Listen to him read it and you’re rolling on the floor in fits of laughter.

Don’t get me wrong. I was no David Sedaris, nor am I anywhere in his league today. My piece, which was entitled Welcome to America, is amateurish, silly, and somewhat embarrassing as I read it today, but on that December morning, I learned that my words can change minds. On that morning, I had changed the mind of a man I respected a great deal, perhaps the man who I respected the most at that time, and from then on, I knew that I wanted to write.

It would be another fifteen years before I would even begin writing SOMETHING MISSING, but the short stories, the Op-Eds, the poetry, and everything else that followed can be traced back to that December morning when I read a piece of writing and changed a teacher’s mind.

If you weren’t a writer, what job would you like to do?

For a long time, I said I wanted to write for a living and teach for pleasure. While I still happily collect a paycheck as an elementary schoolteacher, I think I am as close as I can get to making this dream a reality. I have also begun doing some public speaking and life coaching and would like to do more of this in the future.

What’s your favorite, and least favorite, part of the writing process? One writer describes the “sticky phase,” when everything you see and hear seems destined to slip into your novel somehow. Does that happen to you? Do you love the first draft, or prefer the last revision?

I honestly adore every aspect of the process. The creation that takes place in the first draft is thrilling, and I have always liked the precision associated with the revision process. It’s the waiting that I despise. Waiting for my wife to read a chapter. Waiting for my agent to read a manuscript. Waiting for the book to actually make it to the bookstores. The waiting kills me.

What’s your process of revision? Do you have readers who give you advice? At what point do you enlist their aid?

I have about ten readers who read along as I write, chapter by chapter. Having grown up with videogames, I find myself requiring and thriving on constant feedback. My readers take on a variety of roles in terms of their feedback. Some are excellent at locating typos and grammar problems in a manuscript. Some pose excellent questions. Some are vicious in their critique, rarely uttering a single positive remark. Some are skilled at locating inconsistencies in the manuscript. A few just like what I write and say lots of nice things. All these people are important to my process.

Readers tend to think that everything authors write is autobiographical. How do you handle those sorts of questions—people assuming that everything in your book really happened to you?

In some cases, this is true. When I draw from real life experiences, these instances often make great stories to tell at book signings and other speaking engagements. I’m quite transparent in terms of my inspiration, so I have no objection to answering these questions honestly.

Have you ever written a character who’s close to someone you know, and have you worried that that person will be furious with you?

In Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, the character of Mrs. Gosk is actually not fictional at all. In trying to find the perfect teacher for my protagonists, I realized that I already knew the perfect teacher and had been working with her for the past fourteen years. So I simply inserted her into my story as a major character, not changing one thing about her. I didn’t tell her that I was doing this, but I knew she wouldn’t mind. Ultimately she loved the story and her role in it. If you listen to the audiobook, you can hear me and Mrs. Gosk talk about the book in an interview at the end.

The only other time I wrote a character who closely resembled a real person, that chapter was ultimately cut from the novel. Better left on the cutting room floor, too, since I had only inserted the character in an act of spite, which is probably why the chapter didn’t work in the first place.

Have you ever gotten up in the middle of the night to write a scene that simply will not let you rest?

Never. I sleep 4-5 hours a night and take my sleep very seriously.

Do you procrastinate? What’s your favorite mode of procrastination when you’re supposed to be writing?

I don’t procrastinate, but I believe in saving tedious chores like paying the bills, completing paperwork, writing reports, mowing the lawn and the like until the last minute, because I try to live each day like it is my last. And if today is going to be my last day on Earth, the last thing I want to do is spend it balancing my checkbook. Better to wait until it’s absolutely necessary.

What about being a writer has made you truly happy?

Many things.

Publishing my novels has been the realization of a lifelong dream that began in childhood, and managing to achieve this goal by finding my way through the slush pile rather than through some industry contact or friend of a friend has madet the success even more gratifying.

Receiving notes and email and tweets from readers throughout the US and around the world has been an unexpected and amazing experience. To hear that my story helped someone through a difficult time in their life is something I could have never imagined when I began this career, and yet it happens more often than you would ever believe.

Thanks to my writing, my wife has been able to spend the first eighteen months of each of our children’s lives at home with them, and when she returned to work, she was able to work part-time so that should could spend more time with the kids. This has meant a great deal to her and to me (and hopefully to the kids as well).

And walking into a bookstore and seeing my books on the shelves never gets old. My heart skips a beat every time.

What do you tell people who want to be writers, too?

I tell them to write and to avoid being precious about their craft. If you spend your life waiting for the kids to go to college or for the perfect desk or a much-needed sabbatical (all excuses that I have heard), then you will not succeed. If you can only write at the coffee shop or the library or at the beach (all excuses that I have heard), you will probably never publish. If you refuse to begin your book until you have an agent or a book contract (excuses I have heard), you should quit now.

Writers suffer from the inability to not communicate in the written form. If you do not suffer from this disease, you must find a way to contract it as soon as possible.

No excuses. Sit your ass down and write.

How to feed a kid: flashbook cookbook by Guilford mom Shannon Pappert

Boddler Bites

Shannon Pappert of Guilford is the heroine of the chicken- nuggets-and-macaroni set. When her little boy was a baby, she discovered something that’s almost miraculous in the swing-set crowd: little children–“boddlers,” she calls them, the cross between a baby and a toddler–don’t have to be consigned to eating–well, yucky junk food that’s loaded with fats and sugars. Turns out, that when food is prepared in a fun, delicious way, kids like all the things that regular, big people like: even things like beets and kale and eggplant!
Shannon wrote a cookbook that’s as different from a regular cookbook as broccoli is from pizza. It’s a flip book, a recipe guide, a grocery store companion, and something that little children love to look at. It’s gotten lots of attention and love out there in the parenting/nutrition world, and has even inspired some heavy-hitters like Whole Foods market to think about children’s nutrition classes.
And now Shannon will be speaking at R. J. Julia Booksellers on Aug. 20th at 6:30 p.m. about how to feed your child good, fun, wholesome, happy-kid foods even when they’re back at school.
Call (203) 245-3059 to make reservations. Tickets are $5, which can be used toward the purchase of the book.  And here’s Shannon to talk about her revelatory moment…and her wonderful flip book.

Shannon Pappert of Guilford

Tell us about your book.
 
Millions of parents struggle with the dilemma of “breast to bottle to baby food–and now what?”
Boddler Bites Food in a Flash, The ABC’s of Feeding your Boddler (older baby + younger toddler), is a flashcard flip book that solves the problem of what to feed young children after baby food that is both quick and nutritious.  Children can learn the alphabet and find wholesome foods they’re eager to eat while parents are given 100+ recipe ideas to quickly prepare these healthy foods for their boddler age children.

Where did the germ of the story come from? How did you first know you were going to write this story?
The seed for Boddler Bites was planted while I was feeding my 5 month old son bananas from a baby food jar and glanced at my fruit bowl and saw a whole, yellow banana staring at me.  Why was I feeding him something from a jar when there was real food right there? My passion for feeding my son the healthiest foods turned into countless hours of research and writing down my simple food ideas, for foods that he gobbled up.  This continued past the baby food stage, when most busy parents fall in to the trap of buying and feeding their kids highly processed, prepackaged kid foods.  When I saw my mom friends constantly asking for my recipe ideas,I knew I could help so many other frustrated parents.
 
What did you most want to get across to readers that they might not have known about before you wrote this book?
Children can love healthy foods including vegetables!  Parents need to introduce these wholesome foods at the earliest age possible, so it becomes their normal “kid-food” and they’ll see that their kids are excited to eat quinoa, edamame, cauliflower and pumpkin pancakes, and lots of other things.  A key component is that parents also need to be the role models and eat these foods with their children.  That makes a huge impact on the child’s food choices.
 
Did this book come to you easily, or did you have to wrestle it to the ground once or twice? Did you ever give up on it?
The idea of a cookbook came very easily to me.  However, if you are not a celebrity or married to one, cookbooks are very difficult to sell.  I had to think outside the box. But I truly knew that parents as much as children needed to be taught the basics on nutrition and given a practical, non-intimidating food guide that was quick and easy.  That’s when I thought of Food in a Flash, and how perfect the flash card format would complement this goal. 
 
Was the research fairly easy to come by, or did you have trouble finding the sources you needed?
The research was easy because I was excited to continue to learn about the best foods I could offer my growing baby.  Most of my research was done via the internet, nutrition books, wellness and trade magazines.
 
What has been the most satisfying thing about compiling this information and getting the book written?
 All the “thank yous” I have received and hearing phrases like “My daughter now eats beets!” and “My kids are actually drinking kale!”  I love it, knowing I had a hand in their developing healthy lifestyle.
 
 
What has happened since this book has been published? What kinds of reactions have you gotten?
I’ve had tremendous responses from national magazines and industry experts.  Parents and Parenting Magazines both said Boddler Bites was absolutely “genius”, “a true service to parents” and Babytalk Editors said, “If we were Oprah, this would be one of our favorite things.”  Even Rachael Ray hand-selected Boddler Bites as a Fave in her Magazine, Everyday with Rachael Ray!  There’s been numerous television and radio interviews,  blog write-ups and newspaper articles.  Several Whole Foods stores have also started selling the flash cards and are even giving children’s nutrition classes based on Boddler Bites.
 
What’s next for you? Will there be a follow-up?
I’m not sure what’s around the corner, but I have a lot of ideas!
 

 

Extrahumans: third book in trilogy by Susan Jane Bigelow is out this month

Susan Jane Bigelow

By day, Susan Jane Bigelow of Enfield writes a political news website, CT News Junkie, where she writes opinion and analysis about the Nutmeg State. She’s also a librarian and likes biking, reading, walking, Doctor Who, My Little Pony and all kinds of other things. She lives in Enfield with her wife and two cats.

But by night–watch out! Susan Jane Bigelow writes the Extrahuman series, of which book three is now just about to be released. She’s the kind of writer who can sit right down and hammer out 4,000 words just like that. (snapping fingers)

The Spark

Here she is, to tell us how she does it.
Tell us about your new book.

THE SPARK is the third book in the Extrahumans series, which is basically about people with extraordinary powers trying to live under a repressive government in the future. This story revolves around Dee, who can light fires with her mind and is incredibly lucky, and her attempts to blend in, put to rest the demons of her past, and come to terms with her powers. All of this happens against a backdrop of revolution and possible political change in the city where she lives.

Where did the germ of the story come from? How did you first know you were going to write this story?

When I finished the second book in the series, FLY INTO FIRE, I knew that I had to write something about Dee. She was the character in that book whose story wasn’t even remotely complete, and her character was so interesting to me that I wanted to write more about her. I sat down and wrote the first scene. Hey, I thought, this is easy! But then I ran into a wall, and didn’t work on it again for almost two years. The thing that really got me started again was watching the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, and thinking about what that might look like if it happened around Dee.

Did this book come to you easily, or did you have to wrestle it to the ground once or twice? Did you ever give up on it?

This is the most ambitious and difficult book I’ve written so far. I really had to fight my way through the rough draft, and the story kept getting away from me. There are a lot of threads to tie together in this one, and it’s far less a straight action-adventure story like the other two. Because of that, it felt like it was really fighting me. To cope, I started writing what I called my “pace book,” which was a much lighter and more fun space adventure story set in a different universe. Whenever working on THE SPARK got to be too much, I worked on THE DAUGHTER STAR instead for a while. Annoyingly I finished the pace book first and had to get through to the end on my own.

Do you have a writing process you could share with readers, a way you like to proceed when you’re writing a book? (Some authors say they write the first draft out in long-hand, on yellow legal pads, with a special, sacred pen, after throwing salt over their shoulders and repeating an incantation…while others say they write the first draft in a two-week-long fever and then spend the next two years revising. Others don’t even begin until they know the whole story).

I tend to write about 1,000-3,000 words per day when I’m in first draft mode, though that can vary. I like listening to music. In fact I often like listening to the same music over and over again. For this particular book I listened to P.J. Harvey’s amazing album Let England Shake. If you listen to that album while reading this book, you may get a better sense of the atmosphere I was trying to convey. Once I get past 50,000 words written, I jump into overdrive and usually complete the draft within a matter of weeks or even days. 50,000 words is a psychological barrier for me past which I think of it as a “real book.” I’m sure I think that way because I did NaNoWriMo one year.

Are you a “pantser” (writing by the seat of your pants, discovering the story as you go along), or do you have the entire plot outlined before you begin? Or something in between?

Yeah, I’m largely a pantser, though I’m trying to plan ahead a little more these days.

How do you get yourself to write when you don’t feel inspired? Is there anything that can bring that mood, or voice, back to you?

Sometimes music helps, or taking a break. Weirdly, complaining seems to help. I once complained that I was completely blocked and would never be able to write another book. The next day I started a rough draft for something completely new, and finished it about six weeks later. But mostly I just plow through as much as I can stand and hope the next day is better.

When did you first know you were a writer?

I always loved writing stories, even as a little kid. My parents bought us an Apple IIgs back in the 1980s, and I spent hours on that thing typing up huge, terrible space novels. I don’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t write, whether it was stories or political commentary or other stuff.

If you weren’t a writer, what job would you like to do?

I actually am a reference librarian when I’m not writing, and I love doing that!

What’s your favorite, and least favorite, part of the writing process? One writer describes the “sticky phase,” when everything you see and hear seems destined to slip into your novel somehow. Does that happen to you? Do you love the first draft, or prefer the last revision?

There’s something exhilarating about writing a first draft and seeing a story start to come together. I love it when everything is clicking and I can add 4,000 words per day. It’s a total rush! Editing, on the other hand, is a lot less satisfying. I still like it, and I often find it fun to solve the problems I couldn’t fix during my rough draft.

What’s your process of revision? Do you have readers who give you advice? At what point do you enlist their aid?

I don’t have any formal beta readers, though I’ve thought about it from time to time. The only person I really consult is my wife, who I often show books to after I’ve done at least three revisions. She is a voracious reader, and if there are problems with the book she will spot them!

Readers tend to think that everything authors write is autobiographical. How do you handle those sorts of questions—people assuming that everything in your book really happened to you?

I do not actually have superpowers or live in space. [shifty eyes]

That’s one nice thing about writing science fiction and fantasy—people don’t ask those questions a lot!

Have you ever written a character who’s close to someone you know, and have you worried that that person will be furious with you?

Yes. And I am really scared about that. Maybe they won’t notice.

Have you ever gotten up in the middle of the night to write a scene that simply will not let you rest?

Definitely! I often think that if I don’t at least make some notes or write a few lines of dialogue, I’ll lose the whole thing. It’s usually really good stuff, too.

Do you procrastinate? What’s your favorite mode of procrastination when you’re supposed to be writing?

I procrastinate like crazy. My favorite procrastination tool is Twitter.

What about being a writer has made you truly happy?

I love having readers. It’s not just an ego thing (though it kind of is in some ways) but I love being able to share what I’ve created with other people. If I see my book listed on a library website, and I see it’s checked out, that makes me incredibly happy.

What do you tell people who want to be writers, too?

I usually tell them what my writing teacher told me a long time ago: keep writing. Don’t ever stop. Don’t give up, keep getting better, and don’t be afraid to abandon projects that don’t work in favor of something new.

The History of Connecticut Food: Eric Lehman and Amy Nawrocki

Amy Nawrocki and Eric D. Lehman

Eric D. Lehman and Amy Nawrocki are possibly the busiest writers in the state–certainly the busiest writers over here at Books New Haven. Here they both are, for the second time, with a brand new book, A History of Connecticut Food.  This is a book they wrote for the rest of us, sampling the different cuisines of Connecticut, so that we wouldn’t have to. They risked weight gain as well as endured the tedium of slaving over a hot stove, trying out new old recipes, all for us, the reading public.

A History of Connecticut Food

This kind of personal sacrifice is nothing new for them: they did just this same kind of research when they wrote A History of Connecticut Wine: Vineyard in Your Backyard.That time they had to visit and sample many types of wine.

When they’re not eating and drinking and exploring Connecticut’s fine history, they do other writing, too. Eric’s essays, reviews and stories have appeared in dozens of journals and magazines. His books include Bridgeport: Tales from the Park City; Hamden: Tales from the Sleeping Giant; and The Insider’s Guide to Connecticut. Amy is an award-winning poet whose three collections, Potato Eaters, Nomad’s End and Lune de Miel, are available from Finishing Line Press. They teach English and creative writing at the University of Bridgeport and live in Hamden with their two cats.

Presumably, they find time sometime to sleep–but not until they appear at R. J. Julia Booksellers to talk about food and for a wine reception on Thursday, Aug. 9, at 7 p.m.  Call (203) 245-3959 for reservations.

Meanwhile, here is Eric talking about their new book and the fun of food:

A History of Connecticut Food was a challenging book to write, but the
research was certainly fun. We spent six months in background study and
then six months cooking, baking, and eating. Let’s just say that we put on
a bit of weight. But the result is a tasty exploration of the crops,
livestock and seafood that have shaped our complex cuisines or more than
four centuries.

Our main purpose is to show how many local traditions we have here, and
how much history has been lost over the years. For example, Connecticut
used to be second to Georgia in growing peaches (wordsmith Noah Webster
had a peach orchard in the backyard of his New Haven home). We also found
that there are many food traditions like the hot lobster roll or
clear-broth clam chowder that were invented here, but for some reason we
don’t take credit for. So, part of our project was to set those records
straight.

We wrote the book as a combination of history and recipes, because we
believe that you really can’t have one without the other; there are too
many histories of food without recipes and too many historical cook books
without narrative. There are colonial specialties like Indian pudding,
19th century favorites like fried oysters, and 20th century inventions
like steamed cheeseburgers.  We pored over many old cookbooks for recipes,
including American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, published in Hartford in
1796, the first known cookbook written by an American, as well as local
books like The Lymes Heritage Cookbook. We also were privileged to have
some of the state’s best chefs contribute modern interpretations of old
recipes and contemporary dishes that use classic ingredients.

Not being chefs ourselves, we wanted to make sure that all these recipes
were accessible to home cooks, and of course had many challenges when
adapting measurements like a “hen’s egg of butter” to modern proportions.
Colonial cooks especially cooked and baked huge quantities, so reducing
these to manageable size was also a challenge.

What we realized while writing this book, and what we hope comes across to
the reader, is that until very recently food was always local. There was a
sense of self deeply rooted in your home, your cow, your garden. This
meant a stronger connection to food. Hopefully we’re doing our part to
help recapture that connection, and make you hungry to investigate your
own local traditions. And of course, we hope that you’ll also be hungry
for some of this fantastic Connecticut food.

A History of Connecticut Food was a challenging book to write, but the
research was certainly fun. We spent six months in background study and
then six months cooking, baking, and eating. Let’s just say that we put on
a bit of weight. But the result is a tasty exploration of the crops,
livestock and seafood that have shaped our complex cuisines for more than
four centuries.

Our main purpose is to show how many local traditions we have here, and
how much history has been lost over the years. For example, Connecticut
used to be second to Georgia in growing peaches (wordsmith Noah Webster
had a peach orchard in the backyard of his New Haven home). We also found
that there are many food traditions like the hot lobster roll or
clear-broth clam chowder that were invented here, but for some reason we
don’t take credit for. So, part of our project was to set those records
straight.

We wrote the book as a combination of history and recipes, because we
believe that you really can’t have one without the other; there are too
many histories of food without recipes and too many historical cook books
without narrative. There are colonial specialties like Indian pudding,
19th century favorites like fried oysters, and 20th century inventions
like steamed cheeseburgers.  We pored over many old cookbooks for recipes,
including American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, published in Hartford in
1796, the first known cookbook written by an American, as well as local
books like The Lymes Heritage Cookbook. We also were privileged to have
some of the state’s best chefs contribute modern interpretations of old
recipes and contemporary dishes that use classic ingredients.

Not being chefs ourselves, we wanted to make sure that all these recipes
were accessible to home cooks, and of course had many challenges when
adapting measurements like a “hen’s egg of butter” to modern proportions.
Colonial cooks especially cooked and baked huge quantities, so reducing
these to manageable size was also a challenge.

What we realized while writing this book, and what we hope comes across to
the reader, is that until very recently food was always local. There was a
sense of self deeply rooted in your home, your cow, your garden. This
meant a stronger connection to food. Hopefully we’re doing our part to
help recapture that connection, and make you hungry to investigate your
own local traditions. And of course, we hope that you’ll also be hungry
for some of this fantastic Connecticut food.

Louise Rozett of Hamden sings, acts, writes plays–and now has a new novel

Louise Rozett , of Hamden, is an actress and a playwright and sings in a band. And now she’s a debut author, too. Her first book, Confessions of an Angry Girl, comes out at the end of August, published by Harlequin Teen.

Louise attended Hamden High and then earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Vassar College and a master’s in acting from The Theatre School at DePaul University.
Visit Louiserozett.com for more.

Meanwhile, we’re pleased to welcome Louise to Books New Haven and hear about her writing process, and about her new book.

Tell us about your new book.

Confessions of an Angry Girl is about Rose Zarelli, a high school freshman with rage issues. She’s having a tough year because her father lost his job and took work as a contractor in Iraq, and was killed. On top of that, she likes the “wrong” guy, and his scary girlfriend is now her nemesis; and her best friend is suddenly infinitely cooler than Rose and talking about losing her virginity. Rose isn’t ready for many of the complex issues that arise in high school—especially not now, when she’s learning how to manage grief—and she finds herself without much of a support system at a crucial moment in her life. It really makes her angry.

Where did the germ of the story come from? How did you first know you were going to write this story?

The character of Rose just came into my head one day, when I was writing a book for adults. The book’s chapters alternated between the present and the past (high school), and I realized that I was really drawn to Rose when she was 14, more so than when she was 30 (although I still really like those chapters). So I pulled out the high school chapters and strung them together to see what I had. And that’s when I realized that I had an Angry Girl on my hands.

I’ve always been fascinated by how girls feel and express anger, probably because it took me a long time to understand that I was allowed to be angry. I think girls are somehow subliminally—or maybe not so subliminally—taught that they are supposed to be nice, quiet and accommodating, and while those things have their place in certain situations in civilized society, they shouldn’t automatically overrule the expression of emotion. Girls should be able to feel and express their anger without being told that they aren’t being polite.

Did this book come to you easily, or did you have to wrestle it to the ground once or twice? Did you ever give up on it?

I was puzzled by this book for a while when I first starting writing it, which I’m now realizing was almost 12 years ago. I worked on it on and off for about 6 years before I realized what I wanted to do with it. And then even once I realized that, I let it languish on my hard drive for a while. But at a certain point about 3 or 4 years ago, it really started to call to me after I had become interested in YA literature, so I decided to go for it and see if I could tell Rose’s story.

Do you have a writing process you could share with readers, a way you like to proceed when you’re writing a book? Are you a planner, who maps out everything in advance, or a “pantser,” who writes by the seat of your pants?

I’m often envious of writers who have a clearly defined process, because I assume that it must spare them the agony of wondering how they are going to get what’s in their heads onto the page. I just sit down and start with whatever’s in my head. And I’m definitely a “pantser”—I literally can’t outline in advance. The ideas don’t come to me until the voices start talking, so to speak. I often feel like I’m just channeling characters who are dictating to me what happens in the story. I love it when they’re talking to me—sometimes I can barely keep up with what they’re saying (which, I must add, makes me very grateful that I learned how to type properly at Hamden High—I’m fast, thanks to that class!). For me, the outlining comes after the first draft, during the revision process. That’s when I like to tack things up on the wall or create a master document. When I’ve got a draft to work with, I can start to see the issues with structure and character arc, but I need the draft in order to do it.

How do you get yourself to write when you don’t feel inspired? Is there anything that can bring that mood, or voice, back to you?

There are definitely days when I don’t have the energy to have all those voices in my head. And I let myself off the hook on those days—it doesn’t do me any good to sit down and stare at a blank screen. If I’m feeling uninspired, I turn to books, film, and TV. If I read or watch something that is really well written, even if it couldn’t be more different than what I’m working on at the moment, I usually want to get to my computer and start writing the moment it’s over. Right now, I’m watching the first season of The Walking Dead, written by Frank Darabont, and it’s a pretty profound experience for me. The series asks what human beings are capable of in the face of disaster, and what it means to be human, which are questions that really fascinate me. The writing is often so good that I feel like I learn by leaps and bounds when I watch it. I felt that way about The Wire, too, which I think is probably the best thing I’ve ever seen on TV.

When did you first know you were a writer?

I studied psychology in college and acting in graduate school. It turns out that both courses of study have really helped me as a writer. I’ve been writing on and off for most of my life, but I don’t think I really saw myself as a writer until I was a senior in high school and Julian Schlusberg—who was a spectacular drama teacher at Hamden High and is now at The Foote School—offered to mount a student-directed production of a play I had written. He generously provided me with one of those moments of true validation that change how you see yourself, and thus have the power to change the course of your life.

If you weren’t a writer, what job would you like to do?

I don’t act very much anymore, and I miss it—I’d like to get back to it someday. I did musical theatre when I first moved to New York, and it was pretty magical. I still dream of working with Stephen Sondheim. (Find me a musical theatre performer who doesn’t!)

What’s your favorite, and least favorite, part of the writing process? One writer describes the “sticky phase,” when everything you see and hear seems destined to slip into your novel somehow. Does that happen to you? Do you love the first draft, or prefer the last revision?

My least favorite part of writing is the first draft, which might have something to do with my being a “pantser”! The revision process, however, I find delicious. That’s not to say it’s easy for me, because it’s absolutely not. But there’s something about the editing and tweaking and cutting and pasting and problem solving that really appeals to me. Revising is often a much clearer process for me than writing the first draft. (I hope I haven’t just jinxed myself—I’m doing revisions on Confessions of an Almost-Girlfriend, the sequel to Angry Girl, right now!)

What’s your process of revision? Do you have readers who give you advice? At what point do you enlist their aid?

I do have a writer’s group, and I have a few trusted people who read early drafts and give me feedback. But I have to be very careful about when I enlist their aid. If I do it too early, I can start to feel insecure. I have to do it when I’m clear enough about the story I’m trying to tell that I can filter the feedback properly and say to myself, Yes! That’s a great point! or No, that’s not right for me—I can let that one go by. But the people who read my stuff are so good, it’s usually the former!

Readers tend to think that everything authors write is autobiographical. How do you handle those sorts of questions—people assuming that everything in your book really happened to you?

I’ve been wondering lately if my high school friends will see themselves in the characters in Confessions of an Angry Girl, particularly because I borrowed a few first names—they helped me to get back into the high school mindset. But the truth is that the characters I write about really are amalgams of lots of different people and ideas and concepts that have affected me in various ways over the years, and I don’t think I could separate all those influential strands if I tried. I do think there is some of me in Rose, but my high school experience was a lot easier and a lot more fun that hers is.

Have you ever written a character who’s close to someone you know, and have you worried that that person will be furious with you?

I haven’t, but there is someone in my life who I really want to write about who I think would ultimately be hurt by my portrayal of her. Unfortunately (or fortunately!) for me, she’s such a character and so recognizable that I don’t think I can do it! Although now that I think about it, she sees herself very differently than the world sees her, so maybe she would be recognizable to others but not to herself. I’m not sure I’m courageous enough to find out!

Do you procrastinate? What’s your favorite mode of procrastination when you’re supposed to be writing?

I do procrastinate—I procrastinate like crazy. And that generally takes the form of emailing people, making social plans, networking, eating chocolate, going to the gym…the list could go on forever. But I’ve realized that most of the time, when I think I’m procrastinating, my brain is actually solving a problem or generating an idea. I’ve learned to give myself that time (within reason!), because it usually pays off.

What about being a writer has made you truly happy?

Writing is very different for me than singing and acting—I’m not tortured by writing in the same way I am by singing and acting. I used to think this meant that I’m not a real writer—and in fact, I’ve had people tell me that—but now I think it means that I have a connection to writing that is simpler, cleaner, less messy than my connection to acting and singing. For example, my relationship to singing is so complicated and dark and twisted sometimes that I can hardly bear to listen to music because all I can hear is what I can’t do, what I’ll never be. But I can be happily inspired by great writers without feeling despair over the fact that I will never be William Faulkner. I’m not sure why I feel that way, but I love it—I love that I can enjoy and be inspired by the work of others while still appreciating my own work.

What do you tell people who want to be writers, too?

I have two pieces of advice for people who want to write. The first one is very common, which is, just sit down and do it. Make a schedule for yourself that works, whether it’s an hour a day, or two hours three times a week, or only on the weekends—figure out what works for you, write it down in your calendar like you would an appointment and commit to it. If you’re struggling with what to say, then write about your frustration. But get some words on the page.

The second piece of advice is, be nice to yourself while you’re writing. I think this is really important. A lot of people start writing and they stop after a few tries because they go back and read what they wrote, and they decide it’s terrible. But they’re being completely unfair to themselves—they’re judging something that isn’t ready to be judged. Writing is a process of creation and revision, and more creation and more revision—it takes time. You have to be critical eventually, but if you do it while your ideas are still young and taking shape, you’ll give up before you’ve even started.

Want to hear Louise read from her book? Here are scheduled appearances:

8/30, 7pm  YA night with Meagan Brothers, Patricia Dunn, and Louise Rozett

WORD

126 Franklin St.

Brooklyn, New York

http://wordbrooklyn.com/

WORD is delighted to be hosting three YA authors for a joint reading and Q&A: Meagan

Brothers (Supergirl Mixtapes), Patricia Dunn (Rebels by Accident), and Louise Rozett

(Confessions of an Angry Girl).

9/23, 10–6

Brooklyn Book Festival

http://www.brooklynbookfestival.org