I love this question, Emma. I sometimes first envision a book as a shining, shimmering castle on a distant hill. It is my greatest longing to recreate that vision so that not only I can inhabit it, but you, as my reader, can, too. The castle always appears the same: distant, sparkling, ethereal. There is never anything menacing about it. But I ache with yearning as I gaze at it in the distance.
We are told by psychologists that when we dream of a house we are really dreaming of our inner selves. Perhaps the castle I see in my vision is some sort of waking dream.
When I’m writing I enter an alternate reality, going deep within myself so that I am not aware of the physical act of making a book; I am inhabiting a reality separate from the one my body occupies. It is an extraordinary experience. One that I’ve repeated over and over because of how deeply satisfying it is.
I’m not certain this comes close to answering your question, Emma, but I think it might come close to answering one of mine.
I often take two years to complete a novel. OUT OF THE DUST took two years. PHOENIX RISING, two years. BROOKLYN BRIDGE, two years, too.
THE MUSIC OF DOLPHINS is also in the “two year” club.
I spend about a year doing research, another year writing and revising.
And no, I do not do the work on a deserted island under a palm tree. Most of the time I labor away in a tiny office in Vermont.
I’m not certain how to answer this.
When we are very young we take many things seriously only to be patted on the head by the adults around us. When I was very young I took writing seriously. But the adults in my family were gently (and sometimes not so gently) dismissive. So I stopped sharing my writing rather than suffer the embarrassment of having my deepest inner thoughts become the subject of family ridicule.
I began sharing my writing again in high school because of an understanding and supportive English teacher named Robert Corrigan. If not for the support of teachers like Mr. Corrigan it’s possible I would never have become a published author.
And even so, it took another twenty-five years before an editor took my writing for children seriously enough to publish it. That editor was Brenda Bowen. Thank you, dear Brenda.
1. When it comes to writing, poetry was my first love. I started writing poems as a very young girl. Often my books begin as poems and evolve over the long writing process into prose.
2. In my attempt to convey to the reader what it might have been like to live under such challenging conditions, I thought poetry might be an ideal way to subtly key the reader into the importance of every word and every action. It felt essential to cut out anything extraneous, to include only what was absolutely necessary to tell this story and give it a lean but credible shape.
This book tested my emerging skills as a writer. All the research I’d done was dry. My aunt told me her tales from the point of view of a 78 year old. How could I translate everything I’d learned into young Rifka’s voice?
I started LETTERS FROM RIFKA over at least a half dozen times. Each time I read the “new” first chapter to my critique group they would say, “Yes, this is good, keep going.” But reading the chapter aloud, I knew it still wasn’t right.
I felt so frustrated…I’d spent so much time preparing to write this book, learning about the early part of the 20th century in the U.S. and Europe, reading up on the economics,the politics, the culture of the time…but I couldn’t figure out how to relate all of that material credibly, in the voice of a twelve year old.
Finally, I put the question to myself before going to bed one night…”How do I write this book?”
When I woke the next morning the answer came to me. Letters! Make it an epistolary novel!
As soon as I wrote, “Dear Tovah…” I knew I had found my way into the book.
I am asked for a sequel to LETTERS FROM RIFKA more often than any other book I’ve published. And I have been tempted at times to give it a try. But the reality is I have said everything that needed to be said about Rifka in the one book. A sequel would, in the end, most likely disappoint you. Even though “Rifka” might have gone on to live a fascinating life, it was her transition from the Old World to the New World, her transition from childhood to adolescence, her transition from being nurtured to nurturing others that truly interested me which is why it is the part of her life I chose to write about. A sequel might be entertaining, diverting, but I’m not certain it would be compelling enough to win your hearts in the way they deserve to be won. But I thank you for wanting a sequel from the depths of my heart.
That’s such an interesting question. I do like nicknames. Often the story behind the nickname is entertaining or illuminating. I use nicknames in my books with some regularity. Often, a character does not have a clear understanding of who he or she is. A nickname is one of the tools in a writer’s toolbox. A nickname can help the reader learn more about the character, sometimes more than the character knows about her or himself.
I don’t believe I had a real nickname as a child. But my family has affectionately called me “fog” over the years because, I think, sometimes I’m not entirely visible to them.
Many years ago my family bought this house by paying the back taxes on it. The family living in this house had exactly a year to catch up on their delinquent taxes.
They managed to pay back everything they owed in the eleventh month. The money we’d paid for the house was returned to us, and the original owners remained in possession of their home.
They later sold the property to someone else and you can see the new owners had several construction projects going on when I drove past. During the eleven months we “owned” this house I would drive by often…I was, indeed, the lady in the red car.
I love this house though I’ve never stepped foot inside it. I did however get a very nice book out of the experience.
I like sugar far more than is good for me.
This is chocolate peppermint-stick fudge, a gift from a friend.
I practically inhaled it.
I did visit Oklahoma, but ONLY after I’d written Out of the Dust. It’s peculiar, like looking in a rearview mirror, to have written about the Panhandle first, then visited after.
I created the book by spending a dedicated year researching. It was comforting, when I finally visited that gracious state and its welcoming people, to see I’d come fairly close to getting it “right”. I guess all that research paid off.