Tag: interviews

Talking about writing: A.M. Bostwick

Today I present A.M. Bostwick. What can be said about her? She loves chocolate and hates writing bios about herself! But seriously, Abigail writes Middle Grade and Young Adult novels in her Northwoods of Wisconsin home. An early draft of her young adult novel, Break the Spell, was a finalist in the 2013 Wisconsin Romance Writers of America Fab 5 contest. Her first novel, The Great Cat Nap, was published in 2013 and recently earned the Tofte/Wright Children’s Literature Award. It also was a first-round finalist in the Chicken House Open Coop contest. She has been a guest author for National Library Week at her local library this year, and is a new volunteer with the Council for Wisconsin Writers. While now dedicated to her life as a neurotic, reclusive writer, Abigail spent most of her career in journalism. She has degrees in art and geography/geology. She loves her husband, Chihuahua, thrill-seeking cat as well as reading and running.

Thank you, Abigail, for accepting my offer of interrogation!

You have a book! A real book, one that even has an award! Perhaps more importantly, you have a children’s book that is both noir AND involves cats. How exactly did that come about?

Thanks for having me! Ah, a loaded question – my favorite! The simple answer is: I wanted to write to amuse myself, and my readers. I wanted it to be fun. As a child, I loved reading about animals (while surrounded by my cats, dogs, hamsters, rabbits and various wildlife rescues…). I also was known for sneaking peaks at my dad’s extensive Raymond Chandler novel collection. Some of my first grade school stories were, ironically (or maybe not), about cats who went on wild adventures. In The Great Cat Nap, I had envisioned a feline detective solving animal and human crimes alike. Yet, there wasn’t quite enough conflict. I decided to put my main character, Ace, in the hands of a newspaper editor. He’s then pulled into the detective world, quite a bit against his better judgment, but draws on his knowledge of playing reporter at the newspaper. I spent about 10 years reporting, so I had fun incorporating that aspect. There’s so much of reporting that’s like detective work – investigating, interviewing, putting all the pieces together, knocking on doors of people who yell at you…. Ace as this noir detective in a dark downtown full of seedy characters was the final product – and I found it fitting that a cat played this role. A cat can be so secretive, so sleek and smooth. Yet they rarely hesitate to take a risk or get their whiskers where they shouldn’t be.

It’s always so hard for me to stay focused when doing these interviews. So many cool ideas, so much interesting personal history.

What drew you to writing for children? I have children, and I wish I would write for them, but my mind insists on going elsewhere. It sounds as though you feel a clear connection with who you were as a child and where you go as a writer now. is that true?

I feel like childhood was/is such a pivotal time. I don’t know who I’d be today if I wasn’t such an avid reader and writer as a child. My parents really fostered my love of reading – they were both big readers, too. And when I handed them story after story after story, they always encouraged me to keep writing (even when I unearthed an ancient typewriter and banged away at the kitchen table so my stories would look more “professional”). I love the notion that my writing may do for a child – even one child – what books did for me at that age. Inspire me. They gave me another world. Childhood is such a time of open doors. There are so many that children can take, and reading is just one of them. I hope that my writing can foster a love of reading among children, because it’s truly a passion that stays with you for a lifetime.

What doors does writing open for you now? Once upon a time, back when I wasn’t writing, I assumed it was all about what happened once someone’s work was in the hands of readers. It wasn’t until I finished my first novel that I realized how much writing changed things for me and how I functioned in the world. It was like having lived in a ancient castle for my whole life, and never having explored anywhere but a few rooms. Writing made me start to look in all of them.

So, given the fact that we don’t start out with any promise of publication, I’m interested in what makes other writers write.

For me, writing and publication are two different things. I think as writers aspiring to be authors, we all start out the same: With nothing but a blank page, and a dream. For many years, I was writing but nothing book-length. I was a bit afraid to even try. I never thought I could do it, more less find my way to publication. At one point, I remember walking into my favorite indie bookstore, and I thought, if they made it, maybe I can, too. I sat down and wrote my first novel. And it was terrible. Poor Ace, his adventure was dreadful. I tried again. And again. I wrote middle grade. I wrote young adult. I knew my books may never get published. I felt, and still do, that if I spend every day of my life writing, and never again see publication, that’s not a bad way to live. Of course, I want to be published again, but that’s not wholly why I write. Like you so eloquently said, writing changes how you function in the world. It’s an entirely different world than what it was before. A writer notices things that were not there before. They eavesdrop. They make poor conversation. They take notes at inappropriate times during family functions. They daydream. They read books differently. I like who I am when I’m writing. I have never been so wholly myself as when I began devoting myself to writing – and there’s still a whole lot for me to discover.

Ah, yes, the poor conversations of writers. My best example of that involves asking my husband at an inopportune moment how long it would take for a body to decay in the woods. It was logically sound to me, but may have left him fearing for his life.

You clearly had the fiction bug from a very early age. How did working in journalism…hmm…relate? Did it satisfy that writing itch in some way, or was it too different? Do you draw from technique learned there in your current work? Tell the truth, are you better at deadlines than the rest of us?

Haha! Yes, I’ve been there. As well as my poor husband. He often just shakes his head at me and comments that I am clearly disturbed or a writer. I can hardly disagree.

It’s funny, when I went into journalism, I thought I’d love it for the writing. But reporting is so much beyond the writing. I was naïve. For a girl as shy as me, it was a real shock. But I liked the challenge of pushing myself. I had to talk to people I didn’t know, I had to show up at places I wouldn’t normally be in, and I had to get used to people not liking me or what I wrote about. (I covered a lot of crime and politics). I think I drove home crying a lot of my first year. It’s a tough thing to get over. Yet, I did. I think I’m better for it. It never really did satisfy that writing itch you mention – I had the chance to be creative, but at the same time, it wasn’t MY story. I was always writing someone else’s story. While fulfilling, it wasn’t what I was seeking, either. When I turned to writing books, it was difficult to break out of the mold of “…only (so many) words in (so many) inches!” In the newspaper world, it’s all about saying as much as you can, in as little space as you can. So broaching a fiction-length novel was intimidating and I found it hard not to edit everything down to a few pages. I will admit, I’m good at deadlines. I’m a bit of a control junkie, and if there’s something hanging over my head, I chase it!

I would think a solid background of covering crime and politics would be ideal training for readings and awards ceremonies. No matter what you do, people are bound to be nicer to you and it will all be a relief. As a fellow shy person, I have to tip my hat to you for being able to stick with it.

So, are there more cats in your future? What are you working on now? What would you work on, if you could work on absolutely anything? (Okay, that’s three things, not one, but they’re kind of related.)

I appreciate that. I had great co-workers, and I worked for great publishers. That helped.

I would like to write more about Ace, a sequel perhaps, and a prequel. Some of my young readers have asked me for a sequel, and I’m encouraged and humbled by that. Currently, I’m revising a young adult/new adult manuscript I wrote last summer. I’ve revised it many times, and I’m finally liking how it’s shaping up. I think. Don’t ask me tomorrow, I’m liable to hate it again by then. I’m not sure what I would write if I could write anything! I cross the line between middle grade to young adult and new adult and it feels like I never really have a say in it. But that’s okay. I tend to write what inspires me the most at the moment, though when I start a project, I always finish it before moving to the next. I know I love writing for children and young people – I hope to always write for these impressionable age sets!

Interested in learning more about The Great Cat Nap? Visit Abigail’s website for an excerpt and info on where to purchase.

Talking about writing–Christine Robbins

It’s been an embarrassingly long time since I posted anything here. In my defense–anything I had to say would have been boring. Want to talk about the cost of new furnaces? Medicating cats? Cooking yet another pot of soup? If so, call me up. I’ll fill you in on all the mundane life stuff I didn’t include here.

Today I have a special treat to make up for all my time away—someone other than me to do the talking! I promised this interview several weeks ago, but time differences can wreak havoc on a schedule, and we weren’t able to carve out interview space until a few days ago.

My guest is Christine Robbins, a wonderful poet, a good friend, and a stellar critiquer of my fiction. She grew up in Northern Virginia and has lived in Olympia,Washington for most of her adult life. She is a graduate of The Evergreen State College and received an MFA in creative writing from the Rainier Writing Workshop in 2012. Her poems have been published in The Georgia Review, Talking River Review and the …And Love… anthology (Jacar Press). A sample of her work, the stunning Waiting-for-a-Diagnosis Suite, can be found here. I’m very grateful to her for consenting to play guinea pig and answer my rather eclectic collection of questions about writing. Thanks, Christine!

How would you like to introduce yourself as a writer? I’m leaving that purposefully vague, because I’m interested in how writers define that term for themselves.

I’ve always written poetry, but I’ve recently allowed myself to take it seriously – that’s the real issue, isn’t it? When I was in my late teens / early twenties, I wrote poetry all the time but then came the years of raising young children and working – and I didn’t write very often. I was usually at some stage of working on a poem, but it would take me months to complete. Then suddenly my kids were old enough and my time to write and read opened again. And then I was just hungry to go back to school, so I did. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened had I made room for this earlier – I’m 43 and just finished an MFA this past summer, but I have the time and the drive now, so here I go!

What role did the MFA process play in your writing?

Even making the decision to apply felt huge. I’d been thinking about it for years and at my grandmother’s funeral in Indiana, I had a great talk with my cousin’s wife about her MFA program. A few years later, I applied as a non-matriculating student – I felt completely under qualified – I had nothing published and I’d never really shared my work in any real way. But I felt comfortable there – it was a low residency program (Rainier Writing Workshop) and I was knocked out by the faculty and the classes. I think that pulled me in – it became less about my fear and more about my hunger for what was there. Spending three years writing and attending residencies – sending work to mentors I trust as people and as artists – shifted my confidence and also let me carefully guard the writing space I carved out for myself. I’m keeping the same pace now – I write at least one poem and read at least one book of poetry every week.

What comprises your writing space, by which I mean that dreaming space of writing, not your desk (thought you’re welcome to describe that as well)? I’m interested in the place where writing grows, and what is necessary to keep it fertile.

I like to be deeply alone to write anything new. I write in my bed with the door closed or if everyone is out of the house and it’s cold, I sit on the couch by the wood-stove, or I sit in the yard in the sun if it’s hot outside. I guess I want to be alone and warm. I write by hand with black gel pens and two notebooks – I re-write poems over and over and it helps to have two notebooks so I don’t need to flip pages during a re-write. I write for at least an hour before I feel something shift in the quality and pace of what I’m writing. That’s the time it gets exciting – something lifts and moves in a way that surprises me. Sometimes it doesn’t happen and it feels sort of the way insomnia feels – the lift never takes – the ceiling is still right there. It helps me to read books of poetry that make me want to talk back somehow – books of poetry that feel like they can enter the way I walk and not change it, but make my steps fully mine. It feels like a conversation I want to enter. I also find that I stew over a poem for days before I write it – an image or a line will start taking shape before I have the expansive time set aside to write. I need that expansive time for something new. For later re-writes, the colder more clinical mind is a good thing.

Has writing changed the way you relate to reading? There’s a lot of emphasis on reading critically if you choose to be a writer, and I went through a period where that was very damaging to my life as a reader. And my life as a reader has always been a crucial piece of who I am. It was a little like redefining a romantic relationship after having a baby–that painful and wonderful period of allowing everything to breathe and grow and evolve.

Writing has even changed the way I listen to bad pop music – that turn of line works and that one doesn’t. Or reading fiction – I believe this voice and not that one. But it has especially changed the way I read poetry. I pay more attention and I find that there are some poems that make me want to follow my husband or kids around the house and read aloud to them – the poems I want to string up on a flag pole and say “look at THIS”. But I don’t leave it there the way I used to – I’m gleaning what I read for what I’m trying to do. It isn’t a simple pleasure for me anymore – it’s redefined, like you said. I also find myself getting envious of others’ poems but in a good way. I think it’s back to the idea of entering into a conversation with other writers – I don’t just want to read – I want to talk back.

I love that sense, that feel of being challenged to speak when reading something, of the place I inhabit suddenly being shifted by someone else’s words. I didn’t write for a very very long time, and I think what I needed to do was to wait until I could hear that challenge and answer it in my own voice, with confidence. I think voice and confidence are so closely entwined. What things have helped you strengthen your voice (which is lovely and strong)?

It’s interesting – what you’re saying about voice and confidence makes me trust coming to writing a little later in life. I don’t think it took as long for me to find and trust my voice as it might have in my 20s, although of course that’s still evolving. I still feel very new at this. I have the sense that life is moving quickly and it keeps moving faster but I wouldn’t trade even one minute of what I’ve learned from living. My mentor, Kevin Goodan (whose poetry astonishes me) once told me that when I move into something strange, I scare myself and pull back and I should stop that. That feedback came to me at exactly the right time – I think I’d been waiting for that permission forever – and right after that feedback, I wrote the first poem that really felt like my own writing. I also feel like I’m stronger as a writer and as a person when I stay in a vulnerable place and I don’t need to have any answers. I guess that takes confidence though – to sit with the mystery and allow myself to be an idiot. It’s a place I certainly enjoy.

Yes–it is very hard not to pull back from those unexpected places! I think writing also requires a level of trust–in oneself, or the world, or words–that comes more easily with age for some of us.

One last question, I think, before I have to go do important mom things like bedtime. It’s unfortunate, because I could continue on for quite a while. A writer’s life shapes her writing, but I’m also curious about how you feel your writing has shaped your life? I find, for example, that there are things I say in my writing that I would never have thought to tell myself otherwise.

Yes the mom things! (And I think we could talk for hours, and the interview should also be reversed.) I can relate to the idea of writing freeing up an honest internal dialogue and it’s often surprising. Just being there with a pen and being willing to engage with what comes – it matters. Sometimes I read about something or feel or witness something that haunts me and I need to find a way to give it my voice – which might be the best thing I have to offer. I think writing also shapes my relationship to humility. I’ll never really capture what I’m trying to write, but I try anyway. I think trying anyway is a pretty good way to go about life.

On the horizon

It’s a tad nippy currently, the sort of cold that makes me consider sleeping with the pipes in the basement to encourage them to stay warm.

I’m going to start something new here, hopefully next week. I’m lining up writers to interview about their writing, and their approach to writing, and where their writing grows from, and anything else that makes its way onto my list of questions. I’m unbearably curious about most things, and writing even more so. Not so much the “and then I sent out ten queries letters and got an agent and had an auction” end of things, but rather the itch that makes a writer write. And conducting interviews gives me an excellent excuse to be nosy. I have my first writer ready, a wonderful poet, and I can’t wait to start.

I’ll be back tomorrow with my post for The Next Big Thing blog hop. If you’re not familiar with it, check out M.E. Garber’s post here.

Actually, let’s say that I’ll be back here tomorrow as long as I don’t end up an icicle first.