This Friday, Jill and Molly will be dropping by 57th Street Books to chat about the writing process at a roundtable event sponsored by the Illinois chapter of the SCBWI. Before they strike up this great conversation Friday night, we decided to get a few of the easy questions out of the way right here on Cooler:
Where do you write?
Jill: I have a beautiful 10 foot by 10 foot cabin by the sea, with heated floors and windows all around and a scotch dispenser that never gets empty.
Oh wait, that’s only in my fantasy. Let’s see, I actually write in corners. I have a laptop desk in my living room that allows me to stare at a bookshelf. I have my favorite coffee shops, and then my favorite seats in those coffee shops. But I have to say the best place I’ve ever written, hands down, is at Ragdale in Lake Forest. There’s definitely something in the air when you get a lot of artists staying
together in one space. You can’t beat that mojo.
Molly:Can my answer also be Ragdale? I had such a beautiful desk there, and a giant bulletin board where I could plot out my whole book in one place. And the food…!!
Do you type or write by hand?
Jill: I remember when that question used to be, “Do you use pen or pencil?” Technology has changed us and it’s changed the way our brains function. So this question actually turns out to be quite important because I always tell my students that we have an “imagination artery” leading from our heads down to our hands and if we’re using a computer, that darn backspace key will conspire to block the artery and make us doubt our words. There’s something so romantic and private about writing in a notebook. Plus, you can draw pictures!
Molly: When I wrote poetry, it was always by hand, but for fiction I need the speed of the keyboard. That said, I’ve been writing in journals since 9th grade, and I always have a notebook in my purse. I agree with Jill that you’re tapping into a slightly different part of yourself when you write on paper. It’s a physical, grounding act.
What’s it like to be published?
Jill: Nice. Very, very nice.
Although it’s interesting that once you’ve published a work, you’re expected to interact with your reading audience and it’s at that point that you have to be prepared to account for your words. Way back in 1996 I published a book for young adults about children growing in gay or lesbian households and I did a series of readings to promote it. At every single one, I had at least one person in the audience tell me I was going to hell and at least one person who wanted to hug me for putting their story in print. At one reading, someone, I never saw exactly who, slipped me a folded piece of yellow notebook paper with the saddest story of being kicked out of his/her family for being gay and how the book provided a light of hope. It was so beautifully written. It haunted me for weeks and and really forced me to think about the power of our words.
Molly: It’s weird. I write in a kind of blindness, a willful ignorance of my reader, because I think it’s hard enough to suss out a story in an honest, vulnerable way without worrying about who’s going to read it, question it, judge it, hate it, or even love it. But while that blindness serves the writing process, it also makes me forget that eventually I will have readers. The same is true for my blog—I’m always surprised when people tell me they’ve read something I’ve posted, even though intellectually I know someone’s reading it, because I can see the Google Analytics stats.
Are your characters based on people you know in real life?
Jill: A wise person once said, “All biography is fiction, all fiction biography.”
I like to go for a character who might start out with aspects of a real person but who, in the writing, becomes totally herself. Charles Baxter talks about giving to character images or memories from our lives. That’s a great first step. But to make a character truly meaningful and flawed and complex, you have to force that person into interactions and let them make mistakes and reveal themselves.
Molly: Yes. They’re all based on Jill.
To hear more, join Jill and Molly at 57th Street Books on Friday, November 4th at 6:30 PM. This event is free and open to the public, but if you plan to attend, please RSVP to Kate Hannigan at firstname.lastname@example.org.