Thursday, July 19, 2012

Molly Backes Interview

Last summer I took a writing class taught by the super awesome Molly Backes at the Story Studio in Chicago.  Besides being a great writing teacher, Molly is also a super-talented author.  Her voice will draw you into her stories right away, and you will be in awe of her totally flawed, compelling characters. Her newest book Princesses of Iowa was released last May and is a must read.  So enough rambling.  Here's my interview with the fab Molly Backes:

What inspired you to write The Princesses of Iowa?

MB:  I can't point to one particular moment or thought that inspired the book - as I always tell my students, the subconscious mind is like a crockpot:  you dump a lot of ingredients in, let it simmer for a while, and come back to find a mean (or sometimes just a mess).  I was teaching 7th and 8th grade English in rural New Mexico when I started the book, so the Princessess crockpot has a lot of middle school angst and thoughts about conformity, identity, and girlhood, as well as a healthy does of homesickness for the Midwest.

The characters are so real and riddled with compelling imperfections.  Are any of the characters based on real people you know?

MB:  Thank you!  I stold some of Mr. Tremont's best lines (and lesson plans) from writing teachers I've had, and filled in the rest with my own teaching voice - one reader told me she thought "Hey, he stole that from Molly!"  as she was reading - but the rest of the characters are totally fictional.  I did work intentionally to give them all flaws, so thank you for noticing!

Your main character lives in Paris for a summer and works as an au pair before the story starts.  Have you ever been to Paris or were you an au pair in Paris and if not, would you totally kill to go there?

MB:  I spent a few days there when I was seventeen, but most of it was spent either mooning around Shakespeare's Books or curled up with my journal in the Jardin du Luxembourg, alternately writing about the people around me and obsessing about my college application essays.  No babysitting involved!

What made you decide to be a fiction writer?

MB:  Wether or not to be a writer was never a decision - I've never felt I had much choice in the matter.  I did, however, consciously shift my focus from writing poetry to writing fiction about ten years ago, in part because I'd heard it was tough to make a living as a poet (and writing fiction is so lucrative, haha).

You are such an awesome writing teacher.  What do you think is the most important thing young writers should know about the craft of fiction writing?

MB:  Thank you! I read something years ago about a writer's apprenticeship being a million words on the page, and I still think about that a lot.  You have to write a lot.  We're a very impatient culture, and we're a culture that celebrates youth and prodigy and early success, and it's easy to get wrapped up in the rush to publish.  I have met so many young writers who tell me they MUST be published before they turn 25, and high school students who ask me about how to get an agent.  Publishing is fine, but publishing isn't the point.  The point is writing.  The writing is what matters.  Focus on the writing, and the rest will come in time.

Finally, are you teaching any classes for young writers over at the Story Studio in Winnetka or Chicago this summer or in the fall?

MB:  I'll be teaching my Advanced Young Adult and Children's Writing Workshop, as well as an Intro to the YA Novel and a class called "Start your Novel Now" in the fall, all classes for adults.  I'm not personally teaching classes for young folks these days, but Story Studio is running some week-long writing camps as well as some single-session classes for kids in grads 6-10 at our Winnetka location.

Oh, and how is your best-ever dog?

MB:  She's the best.  As ever. :-)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Indie Interview

Last week, a group of fabulous indie authors who call themselves The Indelibles celebrated Independence Day by interviewing various authors on their blog.  I had the great honor of being interviewed by the fantastical Megg Jensen.  Yeah!

We talked about my new novel, a little bit about what my writing process is, some of my favorite things and finally (here's the best part) I had to ask the magic 8 ball a question.  Read the whole thing here.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


Since Wish I Could Have Said Goodbye is out there in the world, Carmella D'Agostino has become very real to people and her story has sparked so many questions from readers wanting to know more about her - and me.  Is she real?  Is she me?  Is she someone I know or did I make her up?  Is she parts of real people?  Readers also want to know if I lost a sister or someone close to me.

First of all, Carmella is a completely made up character, and you probably already know, the characters we love the most are almost always fabricated in the mind of the writer.  One thing about Carmella (and all of my characters) is they find strength in finding humor in their life.  This is one trait that definitely comes from me and who I am.  Humor is how I deal with life, and it is how I cope.

Second, I did lose my older sister, so I know first hand what it feels like to lose someone you love.  Writing is what got me through the toughest days of adjusting to my life without a big sister.  It was the darkest time in my life. I was lucky to have family and friends who really worked hard to help me cope with my loss. I think losing people we love is the hardest thing in life to deal with, which is why I wanted to write a book about it.

So now what about you?  Did Carmella seem like someone you know?  Did you worry about her? Did you want to see her continue on with her life and her story after the book ended?  What other things do you want to know about me and my writing. Drop me a comment, let me know.  I'd love to hear from you.

Till next time...