An Interview with Nora Coon, A 19-year Old Author of Three Books

Posted: December 11, 2007 in Author Interview

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.

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