It’s List of Five Friday over at The Great Noveling Adventure and since my husband never knows what to get me for my birthday (which is next week) I thought I’d take the opportunity to drop a not so subtle hint about what he could get me.
If you’re tired of the same old “writerly gifts”, maybe you’ll find these ideas inspiring.
Also, for those of you participating in NaNoWriMo and needing to meet your word count goals, I run writing #sprints on Twitter every week day morning over @Novel_Adventure. Feel free to join me!
As I mentioned last week, a series of fortunate events led to me receiving a copy of Robin Talley’s debut novel LIES WE TELL OURSELVES. I posted a review over on The Great Noveling Adventure blog and promised an interview with the author herself this week. And here it is!
(Stay tuned after the interview for your chance to win a copy of this outstanding book.)
In 1959 Virginia, the lives of two girls on opposite sides of the battle for civil rights will be changed forever.
Sarah Dunbar is one of the first black students to attend the previously all-white Jefferson High School. An honors student at her old school, she is put into remedial classes, spit on and tormented daily.
Linda Hairston is the daughter of one of the town’s most vocal opponents of school integration. She has been taught all her life that the races should be kept “separate but equal.”
Forced to work together on a school project, Sarah and Linda must confront harsh truths about race, power and how they really feel about one another. (Summary from author’s website.)
Valerie Lawson: What was the inspiration for this project?
Robin Talley: The idea for Lies We Tell Ourselves started with my parents. They were both teenagers when their schools were integrated in the 1960s. They used to tell me stories about that time when I was growing up, but I never really understood what a big deal it was until I was older and knew a little more about the Civil Rights Movement.
It struck me as a good potential setting for a novel, but I was still conscious of the fact that I didn’t know much about what school desegregation had actually been like for the black students who were on the front lines of that battle. I wanted to explore their experiences. I immersed myself in research, and not long after that, a 17-year-old closeted lesbian named Sarah Dunbar entered my mind as my protagonist for a fictional story about the integration experience.
VL: Starting with your parents’ history, what a great idea. And I love how Sarah emerged from all of the elements coming together.
I’ve always been fascinated with the Civil Rights Era and thought I understood it, but reading about school integration from a teen’s POV was so enlightening, so terrifying. I’d never really thought about their day-to-day lives. Your book did a fantastic job showing the opposing views of the times and how turbulent, yet delicate this step in the struggle really was, and how the children bore the weight of it.
Tell us about your experience writing this story from the two different perspectives, from Sarah and Linda’s POV.
RT: Both Sarah and Linda’s POVs were incredibly difficult to write. I’ve never experienced anything like what these characters go through, so I had to do a lot of deep POV exercises to try to imagine what the world looked like from their perspectives. There are also a lot of discarded drafts of Lies We Tell Ourselves from when I was learning to work with these characters and get into their heads.
Linda was much harder to write than Sarah. Sarah is very different from me, but at least her view of the world was based on rational facts. Linda has a warped view based on a dangerous, elaborate fantasy created by generations of people who spent a lifetime brainwashing her, basically. So to try to contort my brain into being able to talk in Linda’s voice ― well, let’s just say I didn’t realize exactly how big a task I was taking on when I first had the idea to make her a POV character.
VL: Writing a character like Linda had to be quite daunting, and yet, you nailed her voice. She wasn’t a caricature. Those POV exercises really worked! I, for one, am glad you took on that big task.
You did a massive amount of research for this book – reading memoirs, newspaper articles, watching recordings of oral histories, 50s film clips, etc. What surprised you the most about what you discovered?
RT: I can’t believe I didn’t know this before I started researching this book ― I can’t believe it isn’t taught in every school everywhere ― but there’s a public school system in Prince Edward County, Virginia, that shut down completely for five years to prevent integration. So if you were, say, ten when the schools closed, you missed out on getting a public education from age ten to age fifteen.
Kids in that time had to either go to private school somehow ― of course, this was relatively easy for the white students, since the county opened up an all-white private school paid for with taxpayer money, so it was cheap or free to attend ― or move to another school district (at their own expense), or just try to do the best they could by reading books at home or gathering together with friends to study. This period is a horrific stain on the history of my state and my entire country, and I think everyone needs to know about it.
VL: That is so crazy! The lengths the segregationists went to – wow! I thought the school being shut down for a semester in the book was insane.
I absolutely love the complexity added to your story with Sarah and Linda’s relationship. It brought the struggle of the past – so raw and angry – right up to the present and reminded us that we are still fighting this fight of discrimination, today.
Did you have that lofty goal in mind when you started out or did this evolve throughout your writing process?
RT: I didn’t really have any lofty goals during the writing itself. I just thought it would be an interesting story to explore. From the initial kernel of the idea, I wondered what it would be like to be on the front lines of a very public social justice battle like school integration, while also dealing with a much more private struggle ― because in 1959, sexual orientation was not discussed out in the open. So I wanted to take on that conflict and explore what it would’ve been like for a teenager dealing with a very normal teenage issue ― sexuality ― while also dealing with something that’s much bigger than any one person, the Civil Rights Movement.
VL: You wrote such a phenomenal debut book, do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
RT: Read everything you can get your hands on, both fiction and nonfiction. Read books that are in the genre you want to write in, for sure, but also read newspapers and magazines, read memoirs and essay collections, read Wikipedia articles about people you know nothing about and places you’ve never imagined living. You’ve got two goals here ― to learn how other people write, and to step outside your comfort zone and learn about lives that aren’t like yours. Both are essential to writing!
VL: Totally agree! I get on my soapbox about reading all the time. I like that additional part – “learn about lives that aren’t like yours”. I haven’t heard that before. Great advice.
What was the worst job you ever had while going to school?
RT: I worked at Kmart one summer in college, in the sporting goods section. I sold guns and hunting licenses. No one ever believes me when I tell them this.
VL: Ha! That sounds dreadful. I’d have died of boredom.
What are you currently working on?
RT: I’m editing my next book, Unbreakable (though the title may change). It’s coming out in fall 2015 from Harlequin Teen and it’s a contemporary realistic story about two college freshmen ― a so-committed-they’re-practically-married high school couple who are determined to make their relationship work despite the distance. Gretchen is starting at NYU, and she identifies as a lesbian; Toni, who’s starting at Harvard, identifies as genderqueer.
VL: Oh, wonderful! A new book!
What has been your favorite book to read/book you’ve been most excited about over the past year?
RT: Oh, there are so many! Can I cheat and talk about a book that’s coming out next year? The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore is a truly astonishing magical realism romance. It’s a Romeo and Juliet story about the son and daughter of two rival families of traveling performers, and the writing and the complex characters will take your breath away. It’s so rich with description and depth ― it’s basically an oil painting in the form of a YA novel. Look for it in 2015!
VL: “…it’s basically an oil painting in the form of a YA novel.” I love that description. Sold. And now, my anticipated TBR can grow some more. Will definitely keep an eye out for that one.
What would be your dream assignment/what would you most like to write about?
RT: I’d love to write about two teenage girls who are highly competitive athletes (think Olympic level) and are trying to balance their careers with a romance. I don’t think I could do it, though ― I’m not athletic at all so the physical stuff would just be too hard to describe accurately. I hope someone else writes that story, though!
VL: Sounds intriguing. Maybe someone out there will be inspired to write it for us.
Robin, thank you so much for joining us! Your book is amazing and I look forward to the next one, UNBREAKABLE, coming out next year.
You can order your own copy of Robin Talley’s book LIES WE TELL OURSELVES here:
You can enter for a chance to win a hardback copy of LIES WE TELL OURSELVES by either visiting The Great Noveling Adventure blog post where I reviewed Robin’s book or by clicking directly on the Rafflecopter link below. Entry to the contest is open to until November 30th. Good luck!
We all have to face fears in our lives at one time or another.
My daughter drops whatever she’s doing and runs inside at the sight of any flying insect with a stinger (mostly bees, but on occasion she has run from butterflies by mistake). My husband has to put on his iPod and listen to Pink Floyd whenever he goes to the dentist. What can I say? He had a bad experience with a dentist overseas once who didn’t use anesthetic. I don’t really blame him for that one.
I recently faced one of my fears around Halloween. This one had to do with my son, Trevor.
I had been dreading Halloween for weeks. I remembered the year before how Trevor had been so much bigger than most of the kids going around the neighborhood and even though he went out with a family friend who was in grade school – something of a holiday tradition – we still got some puzzled looks. No one said anything mean, but I felt uncomfortable all evening. And I knew this year, with Trevor being even bigger and older, things would only feel more tense. I couldn’t get Trevor to understand that he was too big for Halloween and I’d tried the year before to have him stay home and help me pass out candy, but that didn’t work out.
My fear was that he would be turned away. Shunned. That he would receive hurtful stares or ugly comments – not that he was likely to notice (unless he didn’t get any candy), but I would. And it would hurt. No one wants to see their child be rejected.
So, I thought of a different strategy. I’ve been doing some part-time work for our local autism group and that inspired me to do some outreach of my own. I’d open up and let our neighbors in. THIS WAS WAY OUTSIDE OF MY COMFORT ZONE. I am not good at asking for help or reaching out to people, so this step was huge. But then, it wasn’t for me. It was so my neighbors would understand who my son was and welcome him.
Here’s the message I posted on our Neighborhood Association Facebook page:
There was such a huge positive response to this post that I was overwhelmed. And even one other family in the neighborhood told about their young child with autism, too. They hoped to have their child be able to leave the comfort of his stroller and go door-to-door this year. (Stretching the boundaries of social difficulties that accompany autism.) How nice was that? Finding another family who shares our same issues?
When we went out trick or treating, Trevor was recognized several times by neighbors who went out of their way to introduce themselves. Later people posted how nice it was to meet Trevor and how sweet and polite he was. Now, when we take our dogs for a walk, more of our neighbors say “hello” than before, and more greet Trevor by name. We even met an actual firefighter who invited us to bring Trevor down to his station for a tour. That made Trevor’s night.
One fear conquered.
Fear & Art
When it comes to dealing with fear in our writing or any medium of art, it can have a crippling effect. Even keep us from making art altogether.
Being a writer can be so thrilling when everything is coming out just right. The words are flowing, the characters are bending to my will, I am the master of my imaginary universe!
YES! YES! YES!
And then that tiny little voice of doubt creeps in. This isn’t working. I suck, my writing sucks, my characters suck, nobody will ever want to read this drivel. EVER!
During our SCBWI OK Fall Retreat in September, Romney Nesbitt did a workshop on Conquering Procrastination & Self-Sabotage. One of the first things she had us do was name off all the different ways we procrastinate.
Some of the examples tossed out were fairly typical:
The Serial Projects excuse (“Just as soon as…then…”)
The “I don’t have time excuse” (too many responsibilities)
Perfectionism (waiting for the right conditions/right moment)
Social Media (worse than television)
So I voiced my own reason. The one thing that holds me back from moving forward on projects more than anything?
Fear of Failure.
Romney responded that this is actually a “problem with expectancy”.
That answer surprised me.
Expectancy meant it was coming from me. It made me realize I was in control of that fear. And that meant I could change it.
I also knew I wasn’t the only one who grappled with creating art and fear. Not just of failure. But of what others would think of what we created. Even of success.
I wanted to explore this further.
So, this month, I’m doing just that. I’m forcing myself to do some things to push past this fear.
One thing I’m doing is taking the NaNoWriMo plunge and vowing to actually complete the 50,000 words in one month challenge. I’ve participated for a few years now, but I’ve never made it to the finish line.
I’ve also started reading ART & FEAR OBSERVATIONS ON THE PERILS (AND REWARDS) OF ARTMAKING by David Bayles & Ted Orland. I’ll be sharing some of my insights from that book later in the month. So far it’s quite enlightening.
How about you? What are you afraid of as far as your art is concerned? What do you do to combat that fear?
It’s Things I’ve Read Thursday over at The Great Noveling Adventure and I’ve been dying to share this book, LIES WE TELL OURSELVES by Robin Talley, ever since I blazed through it. My dear writer friend Gwendolyn Hooks passed this book along to me after receiving it from the writer’s publicist. She asked me if I’d liked to review it. I’d already heard about this book from a variety of websites and I was looking forward to reading it. I had no problem agreeing.
Here’s a preview:
Having always been fascinated by the Civil Rights Movement, I thought I understood the struggle, that is until I read this book. I truly did not have a clue. Robin Talley forces us out of the spectator role and puts us directly into the view of the kids who had to endure the reality of integration. Robin Talley’s characters invite us to question our own beliefs as they explore the lies they tell themselves at the beginning of each chapter while they struggle with what’s happening and with who they are becoming. I was gripped by this story from the first pages.
This was such a beautifully written book. Definitely one of my favorite reads of the year.
Robin Talley will be visiting this blog for an author interview in the near future. We’ll discuss her fabulous book, what she learned from her extensive research, and much more, so stay tuned! I’m also giving away the copy of her book that I received. You can enter on the TGNA blog or on this blog once the interview posts – or both!