Archive for December, 2007

Okay, people! Get your thinkin’ caps on. Two real, live authors would love to hear what you think about books and reading.

Thanks so much to Lisa and John for guest posting this week!

whyweread.jpg

We read the books. We did the research. And we put forth a lot of crackpot theories. But we want to hear from real readers – real book-lovers. Why and how do you read what you read?

Below are several questions prompted by our findings in Why We Read What We Read. If you’ve got the time and inclination, we’d love it if you’d answer a few of them. (Or, if you’d prefer not to post publicly, you can send us a message at http://www.whywereadbooks.com/contact/). We would be ever so overjoyed to hear from real, live human beings on these topics that mean so much to us.

1. Our findings suggest that most readers focus on fiction or nonfiction — but not both — with women preferring the former and men the latter. Does your reading follow those patterns?

2. Do you read multiple genres? If so, which ones? Are there any genres you won’t read? What would it take you to read something outside your normal genres? If you do read primarily one genre, what about it do you find so satisfying?

3. Do you like to read all the works of a few favorite authors or do you prefer to try out unfamiliar authors? Is it better to know what you’re getting, even if a book is just okay, or take a risk on a (possibly great and possibly terrible) new author?

4. How do you pick the books you read? Do you mainly rely on reviews, recommendations from friends, Oprah, book clubs, blogs, random selections from bookstore shelves?

5. Do you read religious books? If so, are you looking to learn about an unfamiliar religion, or deepen your existing religious beliefs?

6. Do you read political books? If so, do you read them more for information or ammunition? Do you read books written by members of opposing political parties? Why or why not?

7. Much bestselling literary fiction focuses on female friendships and/or relationships between mothers and daughters. Are these topics you enjoy? How do you feel about how women are portrayed in contemporary literary fiction?

8. Are you in a book group? What kinds of books does your club choose? Are the members of your group primarily one age group and/or gender?

9. Ultimately, why do you think you read? Is the satisfaction you gain from reading mostly intellectual, emotional, spiritual, or social (i.e. participation in book groups)? Are you looking for entertainment, new ideas, escape, a powerful experience, comfort, discomfort?

And with that, we’ll creep back to our own blog (http://www.whywereadbooks.com/blog) and get back to reviewing the books

America

loves most. Thanks, Lisa, for having us -– and for doing all you do to promote literacy and great books!

Why I Chose Library Studies

Posted: December 20, 2007 in Intellectual Freedom

Printed from the Independent Weekly website: http://www.indyweek.com
POSTED ON DECEMBER 19, 2007:

Banned books, blank minds

By Lisa Sorg

In Fahrenheit 451, author Ray Bradbury imagined a future in which books were illegal, citizens watched TV on ginormous sets and listened to “Seashell Radio” attached to their ears.

Fifty-four years after the novel was published, we have the 63-inch plasma television, which, in a typical American household, is on an average of eight hours a day. We have the iPod (full disclosure: I own one), whose immersive environment shields us from our surroundings. And some school districts such as Johnston County are banning certain books—in effect, outlawing them—for content the thought police have deemed offensive.

A Dec. 14 News & Observer article announced that after banning the award-winning story How the García Girls Lost Their Accents in response to a parental complaint, school officials are now “scouring library shelves for potentially offensive books to remove.”

That’s certainly an excellent use of their time. According to the district’s Web site, 21 of 39 Johnson County schools didn’t meet federally mandated adequate yearly progress, standards that measure advancement toward student proficiency in reading, language arts and math. Instead of encouraging students to read—and in turn discussing and questioning a book’s content—school officials are vilifying the written word. They are becoming 21st-century versions of Capt. Beatty, the character in Bradbury’s novel who calls books “treacherous weapons.”

Beatty is right about one thing: Books are weapons. They can challenge the status quo. Upend conventional thinking. Illustrate diverse viewpoints. Reflect the human condition, as does How the García Girls Lost Their Accents, Julia Alvarez’s semi-autobiographical story of sisters whose family immigrates from the Dominican Republic to the Bronx. It’s a gritty, yet poignant tale, a lot like life.

Unless, of course, you’re bent on living a hermetically sealed existence, immune from difficulty and difficult subject matter. If book-banners are intent on leading such a sanitized life then here are some immediate measures to take:

Worried about profanity? Take your kid off the school bus, because those vehicles are filthy four-letter words on wheels.

Sexual situations? Ditch the TV set. Toss the radio in the trash. Do not turn on the computer. Eschew all magazines and newspapers. And absolutely avoid the mall. Rip a few pages out of the Bible, too, for there are references to prostitutes.

Certainly, society has become coarsened and oversexualized. But banning books will not transport us to the imaginary set of Leave It to Beaver. Rather, it will push us into a repressive world where we blindly follow orders and refuse to question our leaders; where we shield ourselves from disturbing images and thoughts, lest they disrupt our rosy worldview.

Wait, I think we’re already there.

URL for this story: http://www.indyweek.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=165517

From the Toronto Star:

Board widens ban on fantasy novels
TheStar.com – GTA – Board widens ban on fantasy novels

Halton Catholic rejects committee’s advice

December 20, 2007
Daniel Girard
Kristin Rushowy
Education Reporters

The Halton Catholic school board has rejected the recommendation of its book committee and banned the children’s fantasy novel The Golden Compass, as well as the subsequent books in the trilogy, which were not officially under review.

The board said the novels in author Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy are not in keeping with “the Catholic values that we are trying to teach children.”

A majority of trustees felt the series was “not in line with our governing values … so they chose to take it out of the library,” board chair Alice Anne LeMay said in an interview. LeMay said she favoured the proposal to limit access to the books to those in Grades 7 and up.

The decision, made in a vote Tuesday, follows a move by the board last month to pull The Golden Compass from library shelves after a complaint. The board’s elementary principals were also directed not to distribute a Scholastic flyer that had the book available to order.

The book review committee recommended The Golden Compass, now a major film, be returned to shelves and made available to students in Grade 7 and up.

The Golden Compass tells the story of a young girl’s travels to the edge of another universe, where she’s involved in a battle between good and evil. Written by Pullman, a self-described atheist, it’s seen by critics as anti-religion.

“I’m pretty comfortable in our faith to know that a book won’t force them to waver in it,” said Angie Pettyjohn, a member of the school council at St. Joan of Arc Catholic School in Oakville who has kids in Grades 5 and 8.

The Dufferin-Peel Catholic school board, which has The Golden Compass in some libraries but is not teaching it in classes, has received at least one complaint, said community relations manager Bruce Campbell.

York Catholic schools have it on library shelves for a recommended audience of Grade 7 to 10, and had had no complaints, said a spokesperson.

Another guest post from Lisa Adams and John Heath, co-authors of Why We Read What We Read. Enjoy!

whyweread.jpg

Lots of people ask us for a list of the best and worst bestsellers that we reviewed while writing Why We Read What We Read. To that, we usually say, read the book yourself! But that look in your eye is unnerving, so we’re going to tell you anyway. “Best” and “worst,” however, are way too boring, so we’ve come up with our own special award series: the Killer Albinos!

The Killer Albinos, were, of course, named for Silas, Dan Brown’s alabaster villain in The Da Vinci Code. Who else but a killer albino could represent—nay, symbolize!—America’s contemporary bestselling landscape? No one. Silas is the ultimate. He is our new mascot.

But as such, he can’t win any awards. Thus we hand over the Killer Albino for BEST ALBINO WHO ISN’T SILAS to that kid who plays Draco in the Harry Potter movies, because even though he isn’t supposed to be an albino he rather looks like one.

Okay, okay…books.

One thing that made us pretty mad throughout our project was how short and insubstantial many bestsellers actually were. Here we were spending years researching and writing this dumb book, and a lot of other people were making millions of dollars on junk they probably wrote in a weekend. We were stupid; they were lame—it was all a bit infuriating.

It was hard to decide just who was doing the least amount of work, however. Celebrities like Dr. Laura and Bill O’Reilly basically paste together their radio/TV transcripts and slap in a little commentary. Mystery/thriller author James Patterson is also a contender; all of his books are short to begin with, and most are co-authored by what we can only imagine are desperate unknowns hoping to break into the mystery scene—how much does the big-name actually do? But the official Killer Albino Award for LEAST EFFORT goes to Spencer Johnson for Who Moved My Cheese? This unspectacular little parable, popular mainly in the business world, is less than 100 pages, its giant print supplemented by drawings of cheese and mice. Yet in the first ten years of Amazon.com’s existence, it was the #1 seller, and over 10 million copies are now in print.

On the other side of the equation are those authors who don’t seem to do anything but write. By far, romance writers are the most prolific in the world of bestsellers, often cranking out multiple novels a year. And these babies are long—usually in the 300-500 page range. Sure, the authors get to cut a few corners simply by writing in a genre that deliberately limits plot and character options, but each of those words still has to be written.

Of these busy ladies, though, no one does it quite like Nora Roberts, who takes away the Killer Albino for MOST LIKELY TO BE A CYBORG. This dynamo publishes about 8-9 full-length novels every year—one every six weeks! Only a robot (or perhaps the perpetually productive Bluestalking Reader) could possibly accomplish such a feat.

Romances certainly possess a strong fantastical component, but with 10-15 of them hitting the bestselling charts each week, we couldn’t possibly choose. Instead we award the Killer Albino for BEST FEMALE FANTASY to He’s Just Not That Into You by Greg Berendt and Liz Tucillo. We actually like this funny little book quite a bit and agree wholeheartedly with its basic premise. However, its constant assertions that every lonely female is perfect, lovable, and—most importantly—HOT, quickly start to border on the ludicrous. This book will make the perfect pick-me-up holiday gift for all the ailing girls you know, especially if they are none of the above.

The boys, on the other hand, can enjoy some testosterone-soaked splendor from Clive Cussler, who takes the award for BEST MALE FANTASY with his Dirk Pitt series. Dirk is a Real Man, a swashbuckling adventurer, Casanova, and fine-dining enthusiast (heavy on the wine and exotic game). He’s so studly it hurts. These books are so patently wish-fulfillmenty that we feel a little embarrassed for anyone caught reading them—it’s sort of the literary equivalent of buying a really, really big truck.

But there’s no shame in reading about historical heroes, and, while the bestseller lists are not overflowing with choices in this genre, one of the best authors consistently hits the charts. Thus we hand over the Killer Albino for MANLIEST MEN IN TIGHTS to David McCullough for his recent smash 1776.

Other authors, especially the ones considered “literary,” prefer the realm of the anti-hero. One of the most enjoyable of these is Jonathan Franzen, who creates a fabulous cast of misfits in The Corrections. This hilariously hopeless family beats out other pathetic charmers to take the Killer Albino for MOST LOVABLY DYSFUNCTIONAL.

Then there’s the underdog hero—the one who wins our hearts not with a beefy bod and a fine chardonnay (as in the genre fiction), or a life more crass and humiliating than our own (as in the anti-hero fiction), but with a mighty spirit strong enough to overcome a plague of limitations. “Affliction fiction” is ragingly popular, stories that take readers into the angst-ridden souls of outcasts of every flavor. Whether these characters must overcome a diminutive stature, a troubling disease, or an ill-developed brain, chances are they will do so with irrepressible moxie. This genre tends to slather on the sap, but some offerings can be delightful, such as The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon—which wins the Killer Albino for BEST PORTRAYAL OF A SPECIAL PERSON.

Then again, sometimes talent and sap can exist in one man. Mitch Albom takes the SURPRISE TALENT AWARD for his heartwarming crop of mega-sellers, Tuesdays with Morrie, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, and For One More Day. You might not care for Albom’s trademark sentimental undertones, but don’t be too mean—the man actually writes well. Can you blame the guy for knowing his audience?

Some surprises are not so pleasant, however—like the realization that millions of men believe what John Gray says about women in Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. But, while a bit sad, the amazing success of the Mars-Venus books is not too shocking. The hit that really blows our minds, thus winning the YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME AWARD, is Embraced by the Light by Betty J. Eadie. In this book, Eadie describes her long near-death experience and visit to heaven. She sends messages of love and peace, but still—what a racket! More than six million people bought her book, however, paving the way for the recent success of 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper, which has already sold over 1.4 million copies in just two years. Man, if only we weren’t so ethical, we know what our next book would be!

Finally, there are plenty of authors that earn their spots on the bestseller lists with great skill and powerful storytelling—the ones that deserve to be there not because they tapped into some trend or zeitgeist, but simply because they write wonderful books. Even they, however, rarely make it without serious luck and serious help. Oprah Winfrey—does anyone else have such power?—can even take a book that goes against America’s tastes and make it a top-seller. Thus our final Killer Albino, the LUCKIEST BASTARD AWARD, goes to Andre Dubus III for his wonderful book House of Sand and Fog. This novel has everything that America tends to shun: unsympathetic characters, moral grays, and undiluted tragedy. Yet Oprah loved it, and made it the success it deserves to be. Bravo, Andre! And bravo, Oprah!

whyweread.jpg

I’m thrilled to hand over my forum to Lisa Adams this week, co-author along with John Heath, of the recent wonderful book about current bestselling books and why people read them. Lisa will be guest posting on Wednesday and Friday.

To kick things off, here is an interview I conducted with Lisa. If this whets your appetite, you can visit her website and learn more about the book. The authors also maintain a blog featuring lots more updates on subjects related to books and reading. Check it out!

LG: What inspired you to write ‘Why We Read What We Read?’ What message do you hope readers will take away, after reading it?

LA: We wrote Why We Read What We Read because we were just plain curious about bestsellers and reading habits. We knew the titles of many bestsellers and had even read some, but we noticed that our own reading did not correlate very well with the official lists. (Man, has THAT changed!) What were we missing? What has America been interested in, and how in or out of touch were we? We really had no clue about the overall picture—the kinds of books people were reading, or how they tied together across genres. And what we found was so shocking, dismaying and hilarious all at once that we just had to share.

Mainly, we want readers to learn a bit about what’s going on out there in American bestsellers and have a fun time doing it. Most previous books on bestsellers have been scholarly and straightforward, but that just wouldn’t do for silly people like us. We wanted the book to be entertaining in its own right, so we had to go for spunky and irreverent. And we certainly hope people enjoy that.

Buried in the spunkiness, though, is a serious message: the way we are reading is actually pretty dangerous from a democratic perspective. When you have a whole society of people choosing to read books that attempt to deny/eliminate complexity and confirm what readers already believe, you don’t end up with a community that knows how to discuss or resolve real-world problems. It actually does matter if, how, and why we read.

LG: How long did it take to research such an ambitious, informative book?

LA: We started working on the book in spring of 2003. We were all gleeful and excited and so we began our research and wrote the first few chapters over a period of several months.

That’s about the time we realized we had made a serious mistake in writing a time-sensitive book. Our chapters were pure genius (we agreed on that), yet wicked people kept putting out more bestsellers, thus requiring us almost daily to alter our brilliant prose! We knew we had two choices: 1) finish the dang thing, or 2) spend our lives rewriting it.

Or did we? We opted for hidden choice #3: seeing if anyone was actually interested in publishing our book. When we got our contract with Sourcebooks, we had six weeks to write the last three chapters! We had tried to keep up with our reading, but Lisa still had to read something like 30 novels last December. And John had to read another book by Ann Coulter. It was insane, but at least it stopped the endless revising.

So, concept to publication, it took about three and a half years.

LG: Was it difficult collaborating on this project?

LA: After the first year it became increasingly difficult to work together, since we had each taken out a restraining order on the other.

No, seriously, it was so much easier than either of us expected. As writers we have different strengths, but they both work well in a silly, snarky book like this one. We knew the style and structure we wanted. So the collaboration was great. For each section, one of us would take a stab at a first draft, and the other would then edit. Sure, we had our disagreements over various words and passages, but one of us always managed to intimidate the other into submission. The collaboration worked because each of us genuinely appreciated what the other person brought to the book, and in the end it was better than it would have been had either of us gone solo.

LG: What’s your background? How did you come to be so interested in the subjects of books and reading?

LA: No secret here: we’re just big nerds. We’ve always been book-lovers. John’s a nerdy literature professor, and Lisa is a nerdy writer and a nerdy writing instructor. Even our dog is nerdy, constantly pointing out passages in Marley and Me in a vain effort to prove she could be worse. We fantasize about having our own library all the time.

But we’re also fascinated by American culture. We kept hearing people talking at social events about the books they were reading, and we started to wonder how much their choices overlapped with our own and those of the majority of Americans.

LG: Which authors do you admire? What books have most shaped your life?

John: Although there have been numerous books, both novels and non-fiction, that have been influential, it’s more a matter of style and tone. The authors who first made me want to read, and especially write, were the great New Yorker authors of the 20s and 30s: White, Thurber, Parker, and Benchley, as well as the biting wit of Mencken. Clearly I’m hopelessly out of date, which is why Why We Read What We Read was such an eye-opener.
Lisa: I remember lying face-down on my bed as a kid, sobbing my eyes out because Mary—Laura Ingalls Wilder’s snotty sister, who happened to be my favorite character in the Little House on the Prairie books—had just gone blind. Though I had always loved books, I think it was at that moment that I realized how real they were to me. They’ve always been part of my life, my thinking. Nowadays I love just about anything that is both beautifully crafted and thematically compelling. The topic or genre isn’t as important as the construction of the language and the exploration of the characters and/or ideas.

LG: Is there anything you’ve read this year that’s been particularly impressive, and that you’d recommend?

LA: Since we’ve mainly been keeping up with the bestseller lists this year, we probably haven’t come across too many hidden gems—but we quite enjoyed The Emperor of Scent by Chandler Burr (a surprisingly fascinating book about the science of smell).

LG: What sort of writing schedule do you keep? Are you disciplined about it, and how do you balance life and writing?

LA: Oh man. We wish we could say we write every day, but that’s not even close to true. The ironic thing is, as wonderful as it is to get published, the revisions, editing, and post-publication PR kind of suck up all the time and energy that you’d normally put in to writing. So that’s mainly what we’ve been doing this year. In general, we both have flexible jobs, but not a whole lot of spare time. We simply try to write as much as we can, taking advantage of the windows of opportunity that open. And, of course, we play the lottery.

LG: What writing projects are you working on now? What’s next for the both of you?

LA: Prepare for a freakishly eclectic list!

Right now we are starting work on a vocabulary textbook for middle schools, to be followed by a romantic comedy screenplay. (Yes, two great tastes that go great together.) Then separately, we’ve always got various works in progress. John co-writes musical plays for elementary school classrooms and is working on a book about the ancient Greek tragic vision (fun stuff!), while Lisa is chipping away at her adult and juvenile fiction.

Misc. Bits & Bobs in Book News

Posted: December 13, 2007 in Hot Book News

dorislessing2.jpg

Doris Lessing’s Moving Nobel Prize Address

Her address, read by her editor.

Sad News About Author Terry Pratchett

On his website Pratchett announced he’s been diagnosed with a rare form of early onset Alzheimer’s.

terrypratchett.jpg

Rockford Public Library Takes Over Barnes & Noble!

(from Shelf Awareness)

The old Barnes & Noble felt so much like a library that–

The Rockford Public Library in Rockford, Ill., has bought a former B&N and is moving its Northeast branch into the 23,000-sq.-ft. space, which is nearly three times as large as its current location, the Rockford Register Star reported. Renovations will include phone and data wiring, remodeling the bathrooms and creating three rooms. No word on whether the old library is being converted to a bookstore.

Mais Non! Amazon Ordered to Stop Free Book Deliveries in France

Story in The New York Times.

amazonlogo.jpg

I’m not sure it gets more impressive than this. A 19-year old college student who has already published three nonfiction books.

I virtually “bumped into” Nora Coon while working on my doomed National Novel Writing Month project, which bit that dust kicked up by grad school. Nora very kindly agreed to answer a few interview questions for me. I find her a fascinating young woman. I think you will, too.

Check out Nora’s Blog at: http://seegirlwrite.blogspot.com

1). Can you tell me, briefly, about the three books you’ve published? How difficult was it for a teenager to get into print?

Certainly. I have three books published: It’s Your Rite, Teen Dreams Jobs, and The Diabetes Game. Both It’s Your Rite and Teen Dream Jobs were published by Beyond Words Publishing (www.beyondword.com).

It’s Your Rite is a collection of girls’ coming-of-age stories. I put the collection together and contributed several parts. Teen Dream Jobs is a how-to book that tells teenagers how to get a job that they actually enjoy. The Diabetes Game was published by Rewarding Health (www.rewardinghealth.com).

I suppose you could call that a more personal book – it’s a book for teenagers with diabetes, about how to have a normal (i.e. enjoyable) life with diabetes. I’ve had Type 1 diabetes (the kind that doesn’t go away) since I was 11 years old, and The Diabetes Game was published in my senior year of high school.

I had, I think, a fairly unusual entry into the publishing world. When I was 12, I attended a local writing conference in Portland, Oregon – the Willamette Writer’s Conference (www.willamettewriters.com). I signed up to pitch a book to Michelle McCann, who was then the Children’s Editor at Beyond Words Publishing. While she didn’t accept the book, she invited me to pitch to her again, and later asked if I would like to intern (I had neglected to mention my precise age).

After a good deal of legal maneuvering, I began interning at Beyond Words. I spent nearly two years there; I was homeschooling at the time, so I had a lot of free time. Shortly after I arrived, they asked me to write a piece for a collection they were putting together about kids traveling (Going Places). That was the first time I actually got paid for my writing, though I’d had some poems published in (www.teenink.com) and won an essay contest.

I’d been interning at Beyond Words for about a year when my supervisor, the new Children’s Editor, told me about a book they’d thought of – It’s Your Rite, in its earliest stages – and asked if I’d be willing to put it together. I said yes, and that was it. A year later, I pitched Teen Dream Jobs to her, and she bought it.

2). What inspires you to write? What started your love of this profession?

It’s tough for me to pin down exactly what inspires me – I just love to tell stories. You could spin it as me being a control freak, or me being fascinated by human nature, or a hundred other things, but it boils down to a love of stories.

When I try to figure out what started my love of writing, I have to turn to my mother; I started writing around the age of four, which is before I have any real memories. She could tell you any one of a hundred stories about the first time I wrote a story, but I’m afraid she’s really to blame. Since I was about three years old, she’s been telling me all kinds of stories – simple ones at
first, about princesses who wished that it would stop raining, or girls who didn’t want to take baths, and then more complex stories involving travels to “lands of adventure”, as she called them.

Sorry, Mom. It’s all your fault.

3). How has NaNoWriMo helped your writing? What sort of piece are you working
on, and do you hope to publish it?

NaNoWriMo gave me a kick that I really needed, back in my senior year of high school, and since then I’ve relied on it whenever I could use a boost. It’s the absolute lack of quality expectations that helps, I think – no one cares how good your writing is. All they care about is whether or not you write. This year I’ve dragged my mother into it as well, and she’s absolutely loving it.

As for my piece this year – well. How can I say this? It was originally intended as an experiment to see if I could write high-concept literary fiction, and (surprise, surprise) I can’t. At least, not without tossing in drag racing, modern-day Malaysian pirates, pyromaniacs, and exotic dancers. Last year’s novel, though it didn’t quite stick to the original plot, was a little more faithful.

When it comes to publication, my usual philosophy is “never say never”, but in this case I’ll go ahead and say: never. I view NaNoWriMo novels as more of pressure cookers to see if the characters are any good – if they are, maybe I’ll yank them out of their current plot and setting and stick them somewhere else. My writing is generally very character-driven anyway.

Remarkably, the only NaNo piece that I’m seriously editing for submission is my National Novel Writing Day 2007 novel. So far, about twenty pages are ready for viewing by the general public, and I’m pretty sure all of those were additions after I finished the first draft.

4). How many years have you been doing NaNoWriMo? Do you intend to keep
participating, or do you think at some point it will have less relevance to your career?

This is my third year doing NaNoWriMo specifically; I also participated in National Novel Writing Day twice. So far, I’ve succeeded once at NaNoWriMo (last year) and once at NaNoWriDay (the first time). I absolutely intend to keep participating – I think that there’s something incredibly freeing about not allowing yourself to worry about what you’re writing, and simply writing instead.

5). How tough is it balancing being a student and also a writer? How do you fit it all in?

It’s very difficult sometimes – interestingly, it was actually harder to balance during high school. That might have something to do with the fact that in high school, I was under contract for both Teen Dream Jobs (my freshman year) and The Diabetes Game (my senior year), which meant a lot of extra work. I actually had to drop a course during my freshman year in order to finish Teen Dream Jobs, and was forced to opt out of a creative writing elective course in my senior year to get The Diabetes Game done.

My first year doing NaNoWriMo was also my senior year of high school, and I just couldn’t do it – I had a 13-page research paper on Chechnya due in early December, and I barely made it to 20,000 words. I came dangerously close to failing geometry thanks to my penchant for writing during class, and to this day I probably couldn’t tell you much about arcs and cosines. I’m very lopsided when it comes to academics.

Now that I’m in college, I have a bit more freedom. I still don’t always fit it all in, and I’m embarrassed to admit that usually the schoolwork goes first. My professors have been as understanding as anyone could expect them to be when I explain about NaNoWriMo, but I definitely struggle to fit everything in.

And then I’m left wondering why, since my Saturday nights still seem to end up free. Poor time management, I suppose.

6). What writers do you admire? Which have most influenced your own writing?

I have a wide range of beloved authors, including Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Joseph Heller, Jane Austen, Shakespeare, Homer (yes, I admit it! I loved The Odyssey!), Robin McKinley, Brian Jacques…as well as some favorite picture book authors whose names I can’t recall. As for my strongest influences, I think whoever I’m reading at the time tends to influence my writing. After a Brian Jacques binge during fourth and fifth grade, my writing suddenly included a lot of highly detailed feasts and battles. Interestingly, as I look back over that list, I realize that none of those authors write/wrote contemporary YA fiction, which is pretty much all I’m doing right now. I suppose it’s more the style and less the subject matter that shows up in my writing. Sadly, I haven’t been able to do a great deal of extracurricular fiction reading since beginning college. I did read one fantastic book, though, over fall break: The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak.

7). Aside from writing, what are your major interests? Speaking of major, what’s your college major?

That’s a tough one. My major interests besides writing…reading, I suppose? But that doesn’t really count. I’m a big soccer fan, though I was never much of an athlete myself. Honestly, most of what interests me involves storytelling in one form or another – I love movies, television, books, and every once in a while I’ll make a very poor clay animation film. I’m afraid my brain is
permanently set in “story” mode. Even when I go to art museums, I’m always drawn to paintings and sculptures that tell some kind of story.

As for my college major, that would be English. We don’t have a Creative Writing major here at Grinnell College, but almost every semester we have guest professors from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop who teach writing courses. I’ve considered a double major in English and History (since what is history but stories that happen to be true?), but I’m not sure I’m up to that level of
commitment.

8). What are your plans for the future? Is being a writer something you plan to put more effort into pursuing?

Absolutely. There are plenty of uncertainties in my future – the largest being how I’ll support myself – but writing is a definite. I’d like to strike a balance between novels and nonfiction books, if possible. Besides writing, I’ve come up with altogether too many ideas for my future. Recent plans include: working as a travel writer and staying away from First World countries for a few years (I met a guy who did this while I was in South America), getting a pilot’s license and flying down in the British Virgin Islands (the result of briefly flying a plane while staying in the B.V.I.), earning a degree in Library Sciences and being a children’s librarian/working in the Library of Congress… It’s all pretty fluid. No matter what else I do, I’ll definitely be writing.