Thursday, March 22, 2012

Got Authors? An Interview with Margie Gelbwasser

Today we welcome my friend, Margie Gelbwasser. Margie's first book, Inconvenient, is being followed by her newest book, Pieces of Us, which is out this month from Flux Books. I was lucky to receive an advanced copy of the book--it's raw and real and an amazingly powerful read.

If you are in the Northern NJ area, come celebrate the publication of Pieces of Us tonight, March 22nd at the Paramus Barnes and Noble at 7:30pm. Margie will be signing copies of her book.

Here's a summary:

Two families. Four teens.
A summer full of secrets.
Every summer, hidden away in a lakeside community in upstate New York, four teens leave behind their old identities…and escape from their everyday lives.
Yet back in Philadelphia during the school year, Alex cannot suppress his anger at his father (who killed himself), his mother (whom he blames for it), and the girls who give it up too easily. His younger brother, Kyle, is angry too—at his abusive brother, and at their mother who doesn’t seem to care. Meanwhile, in suburban New Jersey, Katie plays the role of Miss Perfect while trying to forget the nightmare that changed her life. But Julie, her younger sister, sees Katie only as everything she’s not. And their mother will never let Julie forget it.
Up at the lake, they can be anything, anyone. Free. But then Katie’s secret gets out, forcing each of them to face reality—before it tears them to pieces.

We asked Margie a few questions about her life as a writer and she graciously answered them for us:

1.      What inspired you to write Pieces of Us?
There were a few things, but one inspiration was what happened to me in high school and college. A few boys thought it fun to call me a whore and a slut. My friends said it shouldn't bother me because it wasn't true. It bothered me anyway. Eventually, they grew bored and moved on to other things. A year or two later, I went to college and kissed a few boys. Next thing I knew, someone asked a friend back home if it was true that “Margie had become a real slut now.” Again, my friends told me to not let it get to me. Who cared what these people thought? It passed and I let it go, but when I began writing Pieces of Us and Katie's story I thought about how much worse teens have it these days. Unlike my experience in the '90s, the bullying of today's teens is much harder to let go. These days, someone would have taken a picture of me kissing a boy or two. They could have just doctored the photo too. The photo/video would have been sent to hundreds of cell phones, posted on FB walls, sent in e-mails. The victim would wake up and go to sleep to texts. Bullying these days has reached new heights and it is much harder for a victim to escape.

2. Any advice for writers starting out?
Just write. If you don't test out ideas or keep waiting for “the one”, you may miss a great novel opportunity.

3. Besides your main character, who do you find most intriguing?
Kyle is my favorite character in Pieces of Us. I just want to hold him and protect him and tell him everything will be OK. I feel he is the character in the novel who has the least choices, but I also have most hope for his future.

4. Is Pieces of Us auto-biographical in any way?
I used my own bullying experiences as springboards but what happened to me is on a FAR lesser scale than what happens to Katie. Also, the story of Alex and Kyle was based on two brothers I knew in the bungalow colonies (lake houses in the book) my sister and I went to every summer. The older brother was a player and all the girls wanted him. He was fourteen. The younger one was five. Whenever the older one got a girlfriend, he encouraged the five year old to grab her breast or hit her on the butt. The girls thought it was funny. The younger brother thought it was funny. I was nine and thought it was strange. When I started writing PIECES OF US and about the lake houses, those brothers popped into my head. I wondered what would happen if the situation escalated through the years, if it was darker.

5. What’s the best email or review you’ve ever received from a teen reader?
I have read reviews for POU that have really touched me, but I'm not sure of the age of the reader, so I'll stick with an encounter I had with a teen who read Inconvenient. I attended a book club of INC, and there was a teen there who spoke about her experiences and how thankful she was to me for writing INC so accurately. She also told me how she appreciated the ending because everything doesn't get all wrapped up, which was her reality. Knowing she found the book helpful meant so much.

6. Are there any lines in your book you had to “fight for” with your editor?
I've heard about this happening with people, but I never had this issue with my editor, Brian Farrey, or my copy editor, Sandy Sullivan. However, I trust them when it comes to seeing what my books need so I would be very willing to take their advice. If anything, I reread lines I've written and go back and ask them if they're sure the words/sentences are good enough and tell the story in the best way they can.

7. Are there any lines in your book that were edited out but you wish had made the cut?
Nope. With Sandy, there was an issue of headers. I really thought more of them would help readers better understand the flow in the story. She disagreed. We went back and forth on it a few times (mainly because I worry about how well I convey time when I write). Then, she sent me two versions of POU—one with the extra headers, one without—as her last plea for her case. She said if I still felt as I did, she would let it go. I am SO SO glad she did not let it go and went so far as to show me both versions. She was so correct and the book is so much smoother and less cluttered this way. Sandy's suggestions and line edits are always so spot on, and I am so glad I listen to her. :-)

8. When did you figure out the title for you book?
I'm trying to remember what the original title of an early draft was, and I can't. By the time I finished, it didn't quite fit anymore and Brian and I went through a few choices. We thought of Pieces of You, Pieces of Us, and a few others. I love the Pieces of Us title. I think it's so appropriate as the book tells about the broken lives of all the characters.

10. How much do you rely on your critique group?
I don't have a group but I have two main readers, who are also very good friends of mine—Shaun Hutchinson and Vinessa Anthony. They are awesome about reading early drafts, later drafts, latest drafts, even later drafts—you get the picture. :-) They truly help me see how to expand characters if I'm stuck, providing big picture critiques as well as line edits, and are phenomenal for bouncing off ideas.

11. Were there any characters who showed up unexpectedly who became critical to the plot?
Kyle. He was always there, but originally the story was more Katie's. As the plot evolved, both Shaun and my editor kept saying they really saw this as Kyle's story. I began to see that too and expanded him more.

12. Did your children, spouse or significant other read your novel? Their reactions?
Well, my son is only four-and-a-half so this is a little out of his league. :-) As for my hubby, he has a superb brain when it comes to numbers, but he's not much of a reader. But I know he's proud of my accomplishments anyway.

13. What was the most challenging part/scene to write and why was it so challenging?
A lot of this book was challenging. There is a lot of abuse and graphic material and it often took a lot out of me to write about these things. To be in a dark mindset for that many months was a little draining at times, but the beauty of writing in multiple points of view is that I had the freedom to jump around and work on a new character if one's circumstance got to be too much.

14. What was your road to publication like?
Much easier than with the first one. I got a two book deal with INC, so there was a lot of comfort and relief in knowing I just had to write another novel and (assuming my editor liked it) it would get published.

15. What advice do you have for teen authors when it comes to writing a novel?
Don't limit yourself to writing it how you THINK it should be written or how others tell you a novel HAS to be structured. It's ok to jump around, to write parts that interest you then go back and put them where you see fit. Also, revisions are so important so find a trusted reader or two and give them your novel when you are ready for feedback. On that same note, don't get feedback too early on or you may get discouraged. Give yourself the opportunity to feel out your story and characters. Write at least 1/2 of your book before you ask for extensive critique. If you're stuck before that point, opt for discussing the book and its problems as opposed to giving a reader everything you've written. I firmly believe allowing others to critique your work too early is a recipe for destruction. However, I see no problem with sharing pages just to show what you have. Just don't ask for a critique of those early pages yet.

16. What writer’s maxim have you found to be either true or false? What happened to make you believe it?
There were two. 1) The idea that you have to write every day or for a certain amount of time each day was really daunting. Yet, many interviews I've read with writers, stressed how important that was. It was a lot of pressure and I'd often end up not writing at all because I did not have the needed time. Now, I write once or twice a week, sometimes more. I don't create a set number of words I need to get through but I do follow an outline and attempt to finish an x number of scenes. That works for me and makes me feel accomplished when I've done something. Which brings me to 2). I used to scoff at people who said “real writers” outlined. I tried outlining and it never worked for me. Then I started working on novel number 3 (I'm only 10K words in). It's very structured and told in two POV, which each person's story very dependent chronologically on the other's. It was very hard to just start writing and not know where it was going so I outlined. And, OMG, it was like a whole new world opened up. I love it!! Writing is so much more productive because I know where each chapter is headed and I can make the most of my writing time. So I'm a convert. HOWEVER, I still don't believe outlining makes one a “real” or “good” writer. Everyone has his/her own way of creating a successful story.

17. What do you do when you get writer’s block?
I make myself write anyway, even if it's just a few sentences. They don't have to be related to the last chapter I've written; they can simply be a scene I have in my head I've been dying to write. Just writing through the block is helpful.

18. What are 3 things you have on your desk/in your office?
I don't have a desk or office. I write in Panera, Starbucks, or on my couch. So I only have my laptop and power cord. Can't go anywhere w/out the cord because my battery is terrible.

19. What is the thing that has surprised you most about publication?
How the heavens don't open up and your whole world doesn't change. :-) It's kind of like before you turn a milestone birthday, you think the next day is going to be so different, but it isn't. One day you're 29. The next day you're 30. Life goes on. Also, how little control you have over the process of book-selling. For example, you can't control how long it will be before the book is bought or published or even IF it is bought/published. You also can't control how others interpret your words. You can't control A LOT. That's been hard for me since I'm very type A.

Thank you so much for having me!!

Thanks for joining us!


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