Monday, August 17, 2009

Enchanting Interview: Amy Efaw

1. How long have you been writing? Was this something that you always knew you would do?

I starting writing like most kids do, when my English teacher assigned a writing project. And I noticed how easy it was to get an “A” when I wrote something – poetry or short stories or essays or even reports; I was good at all kinds of writing styles. But I really made a decision to try to write for “real” once I had kids.

I started trying to write picture books (three to be exact) and sent them off to publishers. I collected nothing but rejection letters. Then I decided to write a novel based on my experiences at West Point, and I sold that book – BATTLE DRESS – before I had even finished it! That book was published in 2000 with HarperCollins. The second novel I ever tried to write was AFTER. So, I’ve been pretty lucky. Some authors write several books before they ever get one published.

2. What drew you to write for Young Adults?

I think a big part of me is still stuck in “Planet Teenager” (as my husband likes to call it).

But, seriously, I might get into trouble for saying this, but I’m going to do it anyway – I think in many ways you have to be a better writer to hold a teen’s attention than an adult’s. We young adult authors have a lot of competition – video games and movies and MySpace and TV and iPods and text messaging, etc. If we don’t grab our audience right away, our book will be tossed, collecting dust under some bed and never to be cracked again. Adults tend to be more patient when they read; they’ll give books more time to draw them in.
Also, I believe that teens tend to be more open to new ideas than adults. Not that I write with an agenda in mind, but as an author, I think it’s an awesome thing to possibly affect the way people look at a particular issue or expose them to a new concept.

3. If your life and/or writing career were a book, what would the title be?

I know I’m totally ripping from Sharon Creech’s novel, but it would be ABSOLUTELY NORMAL CHAOS. Definitely. At least during this particular time of my life!

4. Our readers always like to know, what is your writing process like?

I write very slowly and meticulously. I write chapter by chapter, chronologically, for the story. Every once in a while, I’ll be suddenly inspired and will write a scene ahead of time, but that’s very rare.

On any given writing day, I’ll start by reading over what I wrote during the previous writing session. That gets me in the “mood” for what I’ll be working on next. I edit as I read through it, so I’m always revising. This method can be a bad thing because it takes a long time for me to write anything. But it’s a good thing, too. It makes for relatively polished first drafts.

I DO NOT use outlines, at least not the written out kind. But I do a lot of thinking before I ever start writing, so when I finally do sit down and get to work, I’m ready to roll.

5. Do you have any specific writing rituals, both in general and with AFTER?

I wouldn’t call this a “ritual” exactly, but my best time of day for writing is late at night – between 10 PM and, like, 2 AM generally. It’s the only time that I can just relax, not care about the stuff that I have to do during the day, and concentrate.

BTW, I just looked at my watch; it says 1:32 AM right now! So there you have it!

6. Response to AFTER has been rolling in for a while. How are fans responding?

The feedback I’ve received, particularly from book bloggers like you, has been great! It seems like almost everyone who’s read AFTER has “gotten it.” I haven’t heard from anybody who’s said that they think the story is bogus. This is important because the idea that a girl could deny the fact that she was pregnant would seem pretty far-fetched to most people. And that’s probably where most readers are when they step into this book. If I’ve gotten readers to understand, believe the phenomenon exists, and maybe even feel some compassion for the main character (even if they hate what she’s done) by the time they’ve finished the book, then I think I’ve done a good job.

A few readers have expressed some disappointment in the ending. It’s very interesting because, at the same time, they also say that they don’t know how the story could have ended otherwise. They don’t know how to – or can’t – articulate where exactly their dissatisfaction lies.

Some didn’t like the fact that all the relationships in the story didn’t come to full completion, that everything wasn’t tied up neatly at the end. All I can say to that is . . . that’s just not real life. And this is my own preference of course, but I personally roll my eyes when I read books where everything conveniently pulls together perfectly at the end. It kinda bugs me! I think it sort of cheats the reader because that’s just not how the world works. And especially books as tough as AFTER, in my opinion, need very realistic endings. AFTER doesn’t deal with a pretty subject; a pretty ending would not have worked. Pretty endings are for a different type of book. But that’s just my view!

7. I read that you did quite a bit of research before writing AFTER. How did this impact your story? Did it change the story from your original idea?

Not really. Since my story is more character-driven, I started with the character, Devon. And I didn’t write anything until I was able to figure out who she would be. The very first thing I did was pull hundreds of “Dumpster baby” newspaper accounts off the Internet and read them. By doing this, I discovered that most “Dumpster baby” stories share some definite common characteristics. Out of those common characteristics, I was able to compile a profile of the type of teen girl who might conceal her pregnancy and then throw her baby into the trash. That profiled character became Devon.

Then before I started writing about the scenes inside the juvenile detention center, I spent hours and hours observing girls inside one. And so on. Whenever I came to a place while writing AFTER where I needed to figure something out, I’d stop and do the research before moving on. That way, I wasn’t guessing, and I wasn’t wasting time writing scenes that were unrealistic and would eventually be cut or need extensive revision.

This makes for slow writing, but I think it makes for a better, stronger, and tighter story.

8. What scene was the hardest for you to write in AFTER?

Probably the courtroom scenes. I had a lot to accomplish in those scenes, but I didn’t want them to read like a transcript from a trial. I wanted them to be accurate of what it’s like to be in court, but they had to move the story along and not be so full of detail that they dragged down the narrative.

9. What was your favorite scene in AFTER?

That’s a hard question to answer! But I think one of my favorite scenes was when Devon and Connor are walking along Point Defiance, when their romance is just starting. There’s so little “light” in this book, that this scene just sort of lifts the darkness for a needed, brief moment.

10. Did you ever experience any difficulties or roadblocks while writing AFTER?

Yeah, a big one. I had originally signed a contract for AFTER with another publishing company, and I did this based on a synopsis and about twenty-five pages (similar to what I did with my first young adult novel, BATTLE DRESS). And then the editor who had acquired AFTER left publishing altogether, so my novel was handed over to another editor there. However, it took me so long to finish AFTER that my “new” editor (and publisher) lost patience and decided to terminate the contract. By that time, I had finished a solid draft of the novel, but, alas, too late.

Four anxious months crawled by. I worried AFTER would never become a real book. But my very capable agent, Amy Berkower, put it in Viking’s hands, and they snapped it up!

And, really, I’m so glad that this happened! I love Viking and especially my amazing editor, Joy Peskin. AFTER wouldn’t have been the same book without her.

11. What's next for you?

Another book! Finger’s crossed . . .

Interview by Cinnamon
August 2009

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