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Posts Tagged ‘YA fiction’

JAN: Today I am sharing an interview with Alison Lohans. Besides being an accomplished author of more than 26 books, Alison is a lovely person I’ve had the privilege to meet a number of times. Alison, how long have you been writing and how did you come to it?

ALISON: I’ve been making up stories since early childhood. The first time, I recall, was at age 5, telling myself stories to entertain myself while lying in bed. I remember my first case of writer’s block at age 6 when I didn’t know how to spell “squirrel” for a story I was writing at school, and was too shy to ask the teacher.

My mother definitely was a strong encouraging person as she had hopes of writing for children herself, and found ways to open my way throughout, including a trip to the library when I was 10 to check out a copy of Writer’s Market, suggesting that I try submitting my short stories to children’s magazines. She also encouraged me to attend a community college creative writing class with her (I was 14 at the time, and had already published two short stories).

JAN: Wow, what an amazing mom to encourage you in such practical ways. What’s your preferred genre?

ALISON: For decades I’ve written for young people—a variety of works ranging from picture books, early reader chapter books, middle-grade novels, and books for younger and older teens. The age/genre within the spectrum of work for young people hinges upon the nature of the question that triggers a story—and since we are all complex beings, with multi-layered interests, thoughts and concerns, my work gravitates toward a specific age niche accordingly.

One genre I’ve always found a lot of fun to write is the chapter book for early readers, with its concrete, often humorous, stance—but the market is very limited these days. The picture book is the most challenging to write, as a complete story, with all its ingredients, needs to be fit into a package of under a thousand words, executed in tight, beautiful language. The YA novel provides an ideal avenue for digging into deep, complex issues. Since the 1980s I’ve also been interested in writing romance novels and, at last, have a novel in that genre approaching completion.

Picturing Alyssa by Alison Lohans

JAN: How and where do you write? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

ALISON: The “how” is kind of tricky to answer as I’ve slowed down considerably during the past few years, in part due to confusing changes in the marketplace. One publisher (of seven of my books) closed up shop; my agent was laid off because the agency was closed; and another publisher changed hands and orphaned all of their YA fantasy titles (that included two of my books, which had literally taken 30 years to develop, from riveting idea to published book). In many ways it’s like having to start all over again, with fewer open doors and very different submissions practices.

All of this said, I migrate between two laptops in different rooms (partly for postural reasons). These days I “get into it” most quickly during pre-arranged joint writing times—i.e., sitting down at the same table with other writer friends, our common objective being to work. I also enjoy writing retreats very much. While there’s a cost involved, I love the collegiality of being immersed in silent writing times, with others, away from home…and find these retreats enormously productive.

I’m a dyed-in-the-wool pantser. I “live” my books through my protagonists, both in the pre-writing stages and during the writing. I get stuck when I don’t know my characters well enough.

JAN: You’ve experienced a number of setbacks due mostly to marketplace changes, and I thank you for sharing them with us. It helps to know these things happen to others too. What do you like most / least about writing?

ALISON: Most: To “live” and puzzle out interesting life questions through my protagonist, and in the process, to hone my craft to create evocative, precise, efficient and beautiful language that invites the reader in with vivid, living images.

Least: It took a few decades to reach this point, but there’s that aspect of slamming oneself against the wall repeatedly, with works I utterly believe in that might receive one glowing rejection after another—OR—which fall in a black hole after they’re published. And the monetary aspect? It simply doesn’t do to think about that in terms of the massive amount of work and soul that go into a book—sometimes decades for various stages of the completion process. We need to have a really thick skin, and sometimes that gets incredibly disheartening.

JAN: Very true. What are your favorite / most effective social media?

ALISON: Facebook has always worked better for me than any other social medium. It’s great for getting word out about new releases, and sometimes has garnered a few sales in places where readers would have almost no access to my work. I use both my regular profile page, and my author page, to highlight my work. I have a website, but really am not sure how effective it is, other than for occasional queries from readers far away (primarily New Zealand) who are studying my New Zealand-published books for class assignments.   https://alisonlohans.wordpress.com/

JAN: How do you balance professional time with personal time?

ALISON: I used to write all the time, and gems from my personal time slipped into my creative time. These days my life is primarily personal time, with my writing always there on the side, to dip into. Having less intrinsic motivation than I once did, I find that social time with other writers always gives me a welcome “kick” back into my writing.

JAN: What are you currently reading? Do you prefer digital or print?

ALISON: I’m reading Little Sister by Barbara Gowdy, which I happened upon thanks to a review in the paper. Its quirky premise and unpredictable humour quickly drew me in.

In terms of preferred reading mode, print always wins. I don’t read digital unless I have to.

JAN: What are some of your favorite things?

ALISON: My favourite non-writing activities include my love of music, which has always been a twin passion throughout my life. At the moment I play cello, cornet and recorder in quite a few local amateur groups, and also sing in choirs. These music activities plunge me into the midst of creating something beautiful with other great people who share the same love of music. That rewarding social realm nurtures me in ways that solitary writing cannot. On occasion, I’m able to work music into my fiction and I love the synergy when that happens.

Another favourite activity is international travel, which is an incredible privilege that’s opened up during the past 15+ years. I really love seeing other parts of the world, catching glimpses of how people live there, with their different mind-sets. More and more, travel has been nurturing my fiction. Some books and short stories couldn’t have even been conceived, if not for the travel. My nearly-completed novel, an experiment in the romance genre, is set on a tour of Egypt much like the one I took five years ago. And my first visit to Scotland yielded a riveting idea that still needs to find its right shape and approach.

JAN: Ooh, sounds intriguing. How is your faith reflected in your writing?

ALISON: Aspects of my faith sometimes work themselves into my YA novels, through characters’ inherent beliefs. Additionally, in my two orphaned YA novels being re-released this coming December as a single novel, Timefall, the spirituality of the primitive society a thousand years in our future reflects some of my deeply-held beliefs.

JAN: Do you have some advice for beginning writers?

ALISON: I used to have lots of handy advice for beginners, but with so many changes in the commercial marketplace, advice is harder to come by. However, five things still jump out:

(1) READ exhaustivelyin the genres that pique your interest! Read not only for enjoyment, but also to study how these writers have handled their craft.

(2) Give yourself permission to write that sloppy copy, rather than trying to get it right the first time around. By staying loose we are more open to additional nuances that might not have immediately occurred to us. Likewise, by expecting perfection the first time, we also cramp ourselves into a space where the story may not be able to breathe.

(3) REVISE! It’s through coming back again and again that we find the rhythms and images that work best together. Try reading your work aloud—the way words fall off the tongue can be a better editor than simply using our eyes.

(4) Write about things you truly feel passionate about. That energy will creep into your work and make it come alive in ways that can’t happen if you give yourself an assignment to write about something that you think would fit well in the marketplace.

(5) Keep the flame alive by finding  joy in what you’re doing—that sense of discovery that can happen not only when characters confront a dilemma, but also the self-discovery that can happen when you’re writing. It’s all about growth, and sometimes when working through characters’ challenges in this craft, we end up slightly changed as people, through having written a book.

JAN: Excellent thoughts, Alison. Thanks again for sharing with us today; you’ve informed and inspired me. I wish you joy as you travel, make and share music, and write.

For more information about Alison, check out her website, her Facebook page and the Amazon book list page. You can also connect with her on LinkedIn and Goodreads. Alison is also a member of CANSCAIP: The Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers.

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