Blogs by L.T. Suzuki
LK Gardner-Griffie Interview
10/15/2011 10:09:22 PM
Pearson Prize Teen Choice Award-Winner LK Gardner-Griffie discusses her novels and the writing life!
LTS: For today’s author feature, I’d like to introduce you to the fabulous, award-winning YA author LK Gardner-Griffie! I’d like to begin by having you share a little information about yourself with our readers. I know you like to sing, but what else do you enjoy doing when you’re not writing?
LKGG: I enjoy so many things, but there are only so many hours in the day, so my ability to get out and do the things I enjoy is somewhat limited. My husband and I are avid college baseball fans and are season tickets for Cal State Fullerton Titans. I'm the crazy lady with the skateboard and the stuffed animals in the stands. But in addition to singing and college baseball, I love music (I used to play the French Horn and was urged to play professionally), driving my convertible, walking on the beach at night, talking with friends, and interacting with kids.
LTS: You have been writing since you were a child of nine, but when did you take fiction writing seriously, enough to inspire you to become a published author?
LKGG: Well, at nine, I knew no one would take me seriously, and I have this pesky logical side of my brain which kept telling me the odds of being able to make a living with writing, even as a child. So while I loved to write, and have always had a story burning in my brain, I didn't think of it as a viable career choice. But when I was in my early twenties, I wanted to inspire my younger sister to read, and thought I should write story that had more substance than the Sweet Valley High books she was hooked on at the time. That for me was when I became serious about my writing, because I decided that even if it didn't pay the bills, it didn't mean it didn't have value.
LTS: I understand your debut novel, Misfit McCabe was a runner-up for the 2010 Pearson Prize Teen Choice Award! What was the inspiration behind this story and can you tell us a little bit about your protagonist, 14-year-old Katie McCabe?
LKGG: The inspiration for the story was a dream. I woke up and thought it would make a good book, and interestingly enough, few of the dream components changed, but a whole lot more was added to it to make a complete story. As for Katie, she is impulsive, an idealist, a staunch friend, and she thinks she's a rebel, but is really a little too innocent to be a true rebel. Raised in a microscopic town, she has yearned to experience more life, but when those experiences come, they're a little more than she bargained for.
LTS: Without giving away too much, can you reveal what’s in store for the readers when they crack open Misfit McCabe?
LKGG: Misfit McCabe opens with Katie and her best friend, Tim, burning down a shed. And while she is focused on how to get out of being punished for it, her dad drops a bombshell—he's sick and has to go into the hospital, and since Katie's mom died when she was a baby, she is being sent to live with relatives she's never met. When she gets to her uncle's house, the first person from town she meets is an enemy with ties to her past who believes in dangerous retribution. But she also meets Tom who likes her and wants to be more than a friend.
LTS: Congratulations on your late 2009 release, Nowhere Feels Like Home, the sequel to Misfit McCabe winning the 2010 Pearson Prize Teen Choice Award! What was your first reaction when you heard this news?
LKGG: Thank you! I was blown away the previous year with the runner up to the award with Misfit McCabe – mainly because my books are for the young side of Young Adult or older Middle Grade readers, and since the contest was judge by high school students I didn't think my book stood a chance of winning, but I was honored to be invited to participate in the contest. So when I received the email telling me Nowhere Feels Like Home won, I was ecstatic. I felt extreme validation for my work and the connection to my characters. And it was a difficult time because they notified me in March of the results which would not be made public until May – and I'm NOT a patient person!
I enjoyed participating in the Pearson Prize Teen Choice Award contest because it was an opportunity to participate in a program which encouraged reading and writing, and the judges of the contest were my target readers and not adults. The Learning For a Cause program, of which the Pearson Prize Award was a part, joined with Youth Fusion Quebec in August of 2010, and to my knowledge the contest is no longer being run, which is sad because it was such a great concept to get new material into the school for kids to read.
LTS: The road to publication is difficult at the best of times. Was it difficult for you to land an agent? Do you have any advice you’d like to share with the author struggling to find representation?
LKGG: I think I might be the last person to offer advice on how to obtain representation – except put out the best product you possibly can and don't give up. And the reason I put myself in the category of not really having great advice on finding an agent is that when I landed an agent, the publishing industry was a completely different beast than it is today. I received an offer of representation after doing all of the "wrong" things. I attended a local writing conference and two agents spoke during the course of the day. One stood up there and told us she didn't have any time to take on any new clients and even if she did, didn't have time to find a publisher for the work. The other spoke about some of the difficulties agents face, and I appreciated what she had to say, so when the conference was over and she was surrounded by a group of people asking questions, I stood on the fringe and listened. My intent, knowing I didn't know anything about the publishing industry, was to soak up as much information as I could. But then she asked me whether I had a question and I asked how to find out who agented juvenile fiction (and yes, this was prior to the advent of the internet). So she asked me to send her my manuscript and if she thought it was worthwhile, she'd send it to a friend who repped juvenile. I didn't have a complete manuscript at that point, didn't have a query letter written, didn't have a synopsis, but I went forward with it anyway. I sent it in on the Wednesday prior to the Thanksgiving holiday, and the agent called me on Sunday and offered representation. After the agency dissolved, I found myself on the hunt again, but life intervened and for several years my work sat on the shelf. I self-published the Misfit McCabe books because I wanted them in print for family and friends and while I'll continue to put out this series on my own, I am currently searching for the right agent for my career.
LTS: I’m curious about your writing style. Are you one of those disciplined writers who must dedicate a certain time each day to producing so many words, or are you more relaxed and tend to write when it strikes your fancy?
LKGG: I tend to write when time permits, or when I can steal a few moments here and there. I have never written to a specific schedule, but I am disciplined in that I do try to write on a daily basis, whether it be drafting, editing, working on a synopsis, etc.—although I do sometimes miss a day depending on what is happening in the rest of my life.
LTS: Still on the subject of writing styles, are you a plotter or pantser? The readers would like to know if you tend to plot out your story line in great detail or if your writing is more organic with the characters and events unfolding as you write.
LKGG: I'm a combination of plotter and panster. In the beginning, I had to outline (loosely) my story so the plot line didn't get lost in the rambles my characters take me on. But with my recently completed Middle Grade novel, my muse insisted upon no outline and to simply follow the characters' lead. It allowed me to rediscover my joy of writing. And currently I'm working on one Middle Grade, which has been outlined a little more rigidly than I am used to and another Middle Grade for which there is no outline.
LTS: Some authors meditate, others need to fuel up on coffee or listen to music. Do you have any rituals, ones that can be shared with the readers, that you must do before you hunker down for a writing session?
LKGG: I used to be persnickety about my environment—had to have music, and only songs I knew all the lyrics to, I had to start off with a steaming mega-mug of tea, and I had to have toys: a squishy ball to bounce on the desktop, a stuffed toy with a purple velvety dress, and the house had to be quiet. As life became busier, my "needs" for writing became time and my manuscripts…all of the rest are nice-to-have, but not essential. I like to have music to block out as much other noise as possible, and still need to know the lyrics otherwise I will get pulled out of the book and into the song. And I need to have something to drink or dehydration sets in, but for short stints of writing a keyboard and screen are it.
LTS: At one time or another, most writers hit the wall and their work stalls because of the dreaded writer’s block. What do you do to get around or over this mental wall to resume writing?
LKGG: After the freak out? Fortunately, I have good writer support and have friends who talk me down off the ledge. The way I get "over" the wall is to break down what has me stalled, and if I can figure out why I'm stalled, I can usually get started again. Or, if I'm stalled and either can't figure out why, or knowing why doesn't get me past the block, then I jump to another area of the book and work on that, or jump to another manuscript.
LTS: Who is your favourite author and how has he/she inspired you to write or influenced your writing style or choice of genre?
LKGG: I have never been good with playing favorites. I always have to seem to qualify it, so have a difficult time in answering on favorite TV show, Movie, Book, Singer—you name it. But for books I can say that when young, I consumed Agatha Christie. I have read every mystery she wrote. But I don't write mysteries, yet. In terms of influencing me to write, there is one I can point to: Louisa May Alcott. Little Women, Little Men, and Jo's Boys all spurred me to want to write. I knew Jo and I would have been kindred spirits; the stories she made up, her impulsive nature, quick to temper, but underneath a heart that bled for others could have been written about me. And part of my goal in writing is to give the reader that same sense of identification I had with Jo March.
LTS: What is the most profound discovery you’ve made in terms of your writing and how it has touched the lives of others?
LKGG: I think the thing that has touched my heart the most profoundly (so far) came when I sent a couple of books to a teen shelter in Utah. One of my writer friends works with family services in Ogden, and as the holidays approached, I asked if she could use some books for the shelter since at the time they were housed in the same building. After the books arrived, two girls who were in the shelter, a sixteen-year-old and a fourteen-year-old, scooped up the books. The girls both refused to communicate with the counselors. But after they read Misfit McCabe, they talked to the counselors about the book. If ever I need a sense of validation about the goal of my writing, I think about those girls. They found Katie someone they could identify with, and that means everything to me.
LTS: What is the most important lesson you’ve learned on the road to publication?
LKGG: The two P's—Persistence and Patience. And I have plenty of the former, and none of the latter. The road to publication is paved with rejection at every turn, so it's important to celebrate the small successes and build on them to bring on bigger success. Sometimes I look back at the path and I'm amazed at how far I've come (which helps when the road ahead seems never-ending.) And I'm not a patient person…I want everything yesterday, if not sooner. But the publishing world moves at the blinding speed of the tortoise, so I had to learn to wait for things to happen. And in the meantime, I work on other things.
LTS: What are you reading now, and how did this particular book make it onto your to-read list?
LKGG: I'm reading Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler, which made it on to my to-read list because of the absurdities of the challenges against it. One of my hot-button points has always been censorship, and it always incenses me when the decisions to challenge or ban books has been made without actually reading the book. And whether or not a particular child is ready to read the book in question is a decision that should be made by the parents, and not some stranger.
LTS: What do you foresee in your future over the next five years and do you hope to branch out from YA into other genres? Can your fans expect another title to add to Katie’s adventures in the near future?
LKGG: Right now, the Young Adult/Middle Grade market is where my heart is. Those are the stories which are coming to me, so I don't expect to depart from it in the near future. Although, I do have an idea for an adult mystery I want to work on one of these days, so it is possible. Over the next five years, I hope to have the current books I'm working on out for public consumption as well as more in the works. I have one completed Middle Grade, one nearly completed Young Adult, two Middle Grade in draft status, and two Young Adult in draft status. And yes, the nearly completed Young Adult is the next book in the Misfit McCabe series, which should be finalized this month. Tattered (or at least that is the title at the moment) will be the third book in the series, which I expect to go to five books.
LTS: Thank you so much for taking the time to discuss your novels and to share in your writing experience! I’ll catch you on Twitter!
LKGG: Thanks so much for the opportunity to share with you and your followers.
For more information about LK Gardner-Griffie and her novels, check out:
Website: http://www.griffieworld.com or http://www.misfitmccabe.com
Follow her on Twitter: .lkgg
Where to buy the book: Primarily on Amazon.com, but I also sell them on my website and will soon have a much broader distribution.
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