Thursday, March 14, 2013

An Interview with Author Lauren Bjorkman by Guest Blogger Lorie Steed

Hello... 

This month I have asked a good friend of mind to guest blog for me, because one of the really cool things I get to do as an author (especially as a sci-fi/fantasy author, editor, and podcaster) is attend multigenre conventions. 

The bad part of it is when I have to do three of them in a row; they can really wear you down, especially when you also hold down a full-time job as I do as a YA/Tech librarian. Over the past three weeks I was at WTHCon where I met up with my publisher at Scaldcrow Games (scaldcrow.com) where we showed of the Worlds of Pulp RPG. Then I traveled to MystiCon where I got to interview Peter Davison, the 5th Doctor, from Doctor Who (interview) for Gallifrey Pirate Radio. And finally I was at StellarCon where I ran into my very good friend and incredible YA author Janine Spendlove (website), who has agreed to an interview; so be on the look out for an interview from her in the upcoming months from me. 

But I knew all of this was coming up and I asked Lorie Steed, a school librarian and incredible writer in her own right to see if she would be interested in guest blogging for me. So I could take a break after three weekends of cons and four weeks without a day off. And luckily enough she agreed and has written up an interview with Lauren Bjorkman. 

Until next month enjoy. 

Davey

Guest Post by Lorie Steed: An Interview with Author Lauren Bjorkman

About the Author: Lauren Bjorkman studied Mandarin in college. On her honeymoon to China, she learned to pick up a single grain of rice with chopsticks. She believes in ghosts and appreciates the color pink more than she admits, especially to her friends who wear tasteful earth tones. She lives in Taos, New Mexico with her husband, two sons, and cats Zorro and Zenobia. She likes the letter Z. You can find out more about Lauren at her website: http://laurenbjorkman.com, and you can listen to Lauren talking with her teen hosts about love and advice columns on World Talk Radio, right here.

Miss Fortune Cookie is the smart, funny, and suspenseful tale of secret advice blogger Erin, whose quirky sense of humor and helpful advice bring her alter ego Miss Fortune Cookie a small amount of fame, even though Erin isn't always sure of herself or her status with Chinese-American friends Linny and Mei. As "the lesser third" of the trio, Erin nevertheless acts as a confidante to each of them in turn—but what happens when she gives one of them some advice that has potentially damaging consequences?

Lauren Bjorkman's latest book is a fun, thoughtful exploration of what it means to be a daughter, a friend, and a high school senior applying to college. Will Mei choose to stay with her boyfriend in California or honor her mother's wishes and attend Harvard? Will Erin get into an Ivy League school or attend UC Berkeley with Linny? Will Miss Fortune Cookie take her own advice and follow her heart?

Read Miss Fortune Cookie to find out, and in the meantime, check out the interview below to get some insights on writing from author Lauren Bjorkman. Leave a comment with a fortune cookie saying or piece of advice and you'll be entered into a drawing to win this prize pack! Have fun and good luck!


Note:

This is Lorie, your guest blogger here, who forgot to mention you need to leave an e-mail address so we can contact you if you win. You can also tweet about the giveaway for an extra chance to win; just be sure to leave the link to the tweet as well. Good luck everyone!

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/f5e3841/

If you are entering from outside the US, temporary tattoos will be substituted for nail polish, as nail polish cannot be sent via airmail. Also, you will receive a copy of the book from The Book Depository. A signed bookplate will be mailed to you by the author.

And here's our interview!

1—What YA books or authors have you read and enjoyed recently?

Most recently, the delicious and romantic Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. Her Paris setting totally slew me. Janet Gurtler’s Who I Kissed took me on an emotional roller coaster ride. I love to read contemporary YAs that are funny and full of heart. I recommend anything by K.L. Going, John Green, Carolyn Mackler, Sherman Alexie, Maureen Johnson, and David Levithan.

2—Could you talk a bit about your writing process? When/where do you write? How much planning do you do in advance, and what form does that planning take? Do you revise all along or wait until you have a complete draft? How many drafts do you go through from start to finish?

When I started writing, I lived in the tiniest house imaginable in Hawaii, and would take my laptop to café. Later, I wrote in bed. When my back rebelled getting scrunched, I switched to a more conventional table and computer in my bedroom. We moved last year. Now I have a mini-office. With a door!

Outlines generally make me nervous—PTSD from high school, I think. Over time my process has evolved, though. I still consider myself a pantser, but I do a lot of advance work—synopses, character inventories, conflict webs, settings, rudimentary plots points, scene weaves—before starting a novel. After fifty pages I re-evaluate the story from start to finish, and create an outline type thing then.

Not wanting to embarrass myself in front of my critique partners, I revise as I go. On the one hand, it seems silly to polish a scene that later gets cut, on the other, I believe that no time spent writing is wasted. Sometimes I’ll rescue jokes, snippets of witty dialog, and other little darlings to use in the future. From start to finish, I write anywhere from four to six drafts.

3—Most of us have faced writer's block. When does it hit you the most—when you're in between projects, or in the middle of one? When you get stuck, what do you do to get yourself unstuck?

I’ve never found myself just staring at a blank screen. Still, just like some people have bad hair days, I have bad writing days. If I force it, I feel like an untalented cockroach by the end of the day, or like I’ve eaten a bag of cockroaches. In any case, it’s disgusting.

To break out from a bad writing day, I have to spend time away from my computer thinking about my story. I might concentrate on a character’s arc. Or a scene that’s not working. Or what seems to be missing. Sometimes I pretend to be one of my characters for a while, and see the action through his or her eyes. My best thinking time happens in the car (no kids), in the shower, pacing, or while trying to fall asleep.

When things get really bad, I use a book about writing to guide the process, something like The Writer’s Journey or The Anatomy of Story. Reading other authors while stuck can help too. If I hold the problem in my mind, and see how another writer solved that same kind of problem, it gives me new ideas.

4—Which novel was harder to write, My Invented Life or Miss Fortune Cookie, and why?

Miss Fortune Cookie. When my editor offered on My Invented Life, she included a second untitled book in the deal. After finishing the last copy-edits on book 1, I developed a brief proposal for the yet unwritten Miss Fortune Cookie. My editor loved the concept, and off I went. Unfortunately, during the writing process the book changed from the original pitch. My editor didn’t like the new direction, so I had to do several major rewrites. On the plus side, she was right, and the book came out better because of all the hard work we did.

5—In Miss Fortune Cookie, each chapter begins with a different fortune. To what degree does each chapter's content relate to the content of the fortune? Did the fortune cookie sayings you collected give you ideas for particular scenes?

The original chapter headings were an eclectic mix of fortunes, sayings, and quotes by famous people—all of them funny. My editor suggested that people particularly enjoy fortunes that predict the future. I gave it some thought, and realized she was right. In the final draft, I changed two-thirds of the fortunes so they would consistently predict the future in a funny way.

6—Chinese culture and tradition is an integral part of Erin and Miss Fortune Cookie. How much of what's in the book comes from your own background, and how much had to be researched?

My great grandmother taught in an elementary school in China. Though I never met her, my grandmother told me stories of her life. Because of her, I studied Chinese history in high school. Then I met my husband to-be. He was born in Sweden, has a degree in Classical Chinese poetry and a Chinese soul. His passion for all things Chinese inspired me to take Mandarin in college and immerse myself in Chinese literature and philosophy.

Because of all that, I didn’t have to study much Chinese culture. Most of my research focused on teen blogging, advice columns, Lowell High School, the history of the fortune cookie, and the locations in the story—SF Chinatown, Muni, and The Elbo Room. Most of the Chinese phrases came from memory, but I had to look up how to say, “your lips are very beautiful.” I re-read Confucius and Lao Tze, as well as my favorite ghost stories, which was great fun.

7—You address LGBT issues in both My Invented Life and Miss Fortune Cookie, and Miss Fortune Cookie also works in themes of privilege versus poverty. Why do you think these are important topics for teens to read about, no matter what their personal experiences?

Until space travel becomes easy, everyone has to live together on this one planet and get along.

I lived on a sailboat during my Elementary school years, and about three years in foreign countries. My experiences led me to believe that people have much in common beneath the surface and that everyone deserves the same rights and respect. Yet differences cause such division and heartache.

When I learned about the experiences of some of my LGBT classmates at a high school reunion, hearing what they went through devastated me. Though, I’m not a lesbian or even bi, I relate powerfully to the underdog. The subject haunted me, and I knew I had to write a book about it. A little research on the topic strengthened by resolve—LGBT teens have the highest rates of dropping out and suicide. Still, my orientation is happy and funny, so I ended up writing a happy and funny LGBT novel that touches lightly on the more serious aspects.

On the subject of poverty and privilege—I grew up without money. Most of my possessions were gifts or came from garage sales, thrift stores, and flea markets. By my 13th birthday, I paid for own movie tickets and clothes. So writing Erin’s money woes was easy for me.

Also, it bothers me that so many movies and novels glamorize the lifestyles of the very wealthy. Even when the “message” is money doesn’t buy happiness, I think those images plant the unhealthy desire for more stuff. I don’t want any part of that.

8—The shifting dynamics between Erin, Linny, and Mei was, to me, one of the most interesting aspects of the book. Erin thinking of herself as "the lesser friend" and "not Chinese enough" especially resonated, even though ironically, both Linny and Mei ask her to keep secrets from the other at some point. What messages about friendship and identity did you want to leave your readers with?

The word “message” makes me cringe. I do everything in my power to AVOID leaving messages. Instead, I hope my readers will relate to the struggles my characters go through while being entertained. If my readers use my story to reflect on their own lives, that’s icing on the cake. Miss Fortune Cookie is a love letter to anyone who feels inadequate—not thin enough, pretty enough, smart enough, Chinese enough. You fill in the blank. A friend told me she got Erin perfectly because she grew up non-Greek in a Greek neighborhood.

I grew up feeling outside, other, fringe. Because of that, I try to make others feel included.

9—I loved reading about the girls' relationships with their mothers, in particular Mei's complex relationship with Shufang. Is there a reason you chose to make all the girls fatherless in some way?

My mother died when I was young. In my teen years, several of my friends had lost their mothers, too, and this became an important bond between us. I wanted to capture that feeling in the novel.

10—Good novels pay attention not just to the main cast, but also take time to include well-rounded secondary characters. I absolutely loved Cigarette Willie, Lincoln, and Shanice. Were these characters planned from the beginning? Did any of them surprise you?

The whole lot of them came out of nowhere. Cigarette Willie was supposed to be a cameo. In my original “outline,” I planned for Erin to offer a homeless man a sandwich. Until I wrote the scene, I had no idea he’d follow her home, or that he knew Erin’s mom in the past. I borrowed his name and history from a man I knew in Key West.

Lincoln had a minor role in my first draft—a motorcycle crashes into his apartment through the front window. Erin and Weyland witnessed the accident and went to rescue the rider. Long after the accident disappeared from the manuscript, Lincoln persisted. In a late draft, he became Erin’s advice column consultant, the perfect role for him.

These characters sprang from an idea that Erin needed to survive a few adventures to see that the big, bad world isn’t so big and bad, after all—The Odyssey for the fearful.

11—What scene did you have the most fun writing?

The kissing scene in the hotel. I had a blast writing the scene in the Elbo Room. The virgin martini cracks me up. And when Erin and Weyland get to know each other during the chase scene. The whole book, really.

12—Is there a personal experience or story you can share that might offer encouragement to writers who worry that their work will never be published?

My first novel still languishes on my hard drive next to a half-finished second novel. I began writing My Invented Life in 2003, completing a draft in 2004. After receiving some feedback from editors at writers’ conferences, I revised it completely. In 2005, I started hunting for agents. When an agent requested a partial, then a full, my hopes soared. In the end, he turned it down with feedback. Though disappointed, I knew by then the professional approach. I asked him if he’d take a second look after I revised. He agreed, and gave me more suggestions. The rewrite took me ten months. After all that, he rejected the book a second time. It felt like the end.

Luckily or unluckily, depending how you see it, I love writing too much to quit. A few weeks later, I started a new novel. Around that time, I signed up for a novel writing workshop that required a twenty-page sample. In class, we critiqued each other’s work. When the workshop ended, my instructor took me aside. He’d enjoyed my piece and heard from another student that I had a finished novel, as well. Would I mind if he recommended me to his agent? Not long after, his agent offered to represent me, and found a publisher for My Invented Life.

The writing emo-coaster raised me from the pit to the top in just a few months. It may not happen the same way for you—but if you love writing and you’re persistent, I believe that your day will come.

13—As a writer, what is the best and/or worst advice you’ve ever received?

Worst advice—write for the market.

It’s important to know the market, of course. If you’ve been dying to write about demons, and demons suddenly become hot, go for it. If you have to write about vampires, you can study the market to make sure your take is unique.

Write what lights your fire. There’s always a market for a really good book in any genre. 



5 comments:

  1. Hi, this is Lorie, your guest blogger. It seems right now you have to be logged in to leave a comment. I also had trouble with Safari so you might want to try a different browser; Chrome seems to work as long as you are logged in. Davey will look into this tomorrow when he has computer access, so if you've had trouble commenting, check back tomorrow and try again. If you still have trouble, you can e-mail me at loriesteed@gmail.com with your comment and/or tweet link, and I'll make sure you get entered into the giveaway. Thanks for your patience!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Just to clarify how this works, click on the Rafflecopter link below the prize pack photo. From there, enter your e-mail address or log in with Facebook. You can enter two ways: (1) verify that you've left a comment. Again, if you have trouble commenting here you can e-mail me at loriesteed@gmail.com with your comment and I will enter you. (2) You can also enter a second time by tweeting about this contest & leaving a link to your tweet. Feel free to use the text below:

    Giveaway: Enter to win a prize pack from Miss Fortune Cookie author Lauren Bjorkman at YAtopia! http://yatopia.blogspot.com/2013/03/an-interview-with-author-lauren.html #giveaways #yalit

    ReplyDelete
  3. Here's my fortune cookie : )
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    I'm logged in but just in case here's my email: ame1184 at gmail dot com

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    Bonnie

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