Tag Archives: YA novels

An Interview with Myfanwy Collins

5 Dec
Myfanwy Collins work has been called "stark and stirring." Her forthcoming novel, The Book of Laney, will be released next year.

Myfanwy Collins work has been called “stark and stirring.” Her forthcoming novel, The Book of Laney, will be released next year.

Myfanwy Collins is the author of the novel Echolocation, the story collection I Am Holding Your Hand, and a very long list of stories, several of which have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize or Best of the Web awards. Next year, she will publish The Book of Laney, a Young Adult novel.

In this interview, Collins discusses the impetus behind first drafts, the difference between writing fiction for adults and for young adults, and palate cleansers for novelists.

(To read Collins’ story “Poinsettias” and an exercise on story endings, click here.)

Michael Noll

I’m curious about your process for writing this story. The story contains the term non sequitur, which seems to be the way the entire story operates. The jump from fresh breath to poinsettias isn’t logical. And while poinsettias and the rotting turkey are both Christmas-related, the introduction of the turkey still confounds our expectations (she goes to the store not to buy a turkey but to return a rotten one). The same thing happens with the jump from rotten turkey to dead mother. There’s clearly a connection, but it’s a sideways jump rather than a jump forward. I can’t imagine writing something like this with any sense of destination (of knowing how to get from peppermints to dead mother). How did this story take shape?

Myfanwy Collins

Great question. Your response to the story has really got me thinking. As with most short fiction I write, I wrote it as it came to me. The connections are as they came to me. The jumps, in my mind, have logic to them, but not everyone is in my mind and so I love that you have found this sense in them. I could not ask for more.

The impetus for the story were a couple of things on my mind the day I wrote the first draft.

The mundane things:

  • I have an altoids obsession and the tins are everywhere and I think this must really annoy my husband.
  • My husband insists on keeping poinsettias alive after the holiday. This drives me bananas.

The not so mundane things:

  • A few days before Christmas one year, there was a horrible smell in my fridge. We threw out everything we thought it might be. It still stank! Then I started googling the smell and realized it was the goddamned turkey that I was supposed to be cooking in a few days. I returned it to the store and they gave me a new one. They told me they would dispose of the old one for me. For some reason, this made me deeply sad. This bird had given its life for nothing.
  • The deep sadness I felt, made me think of my mother. Her last breath. The way we sent her off to the funeral home with her fuzzy blanket.

And now I’m crying.

Michael Noll

The ending reminded me of the ending to Alice Munro’s story “Friend of My Youth,” when she jumps, without any immediate logic, to a story about a Cameronian minister, who “in a mood of firm rejoicing at his own hanging, excommunicated all the other preachers in the world.” Even as I type those words, I get chills. There’s something thrilling about an ending that seems to come out of nowhere, as the ending to “Poinsettias” does. Was there a story that you had in mind as you wrote this? Or, if not, what’s your favorite non sequitur/out-of-nowhere ending?

Myfanwy Collins

Oh, this is so cool. I love it. Thank you.

No, there was no story I had in mind. I write from my own gut and experience. I write from the source of my pain or emotion. I write to release myself from something.

Michael Noll

Your forthcoming novel The Book of Laney is a young adult novel. On the surface, this is a bit startling given that your previous book, the story collection I Am Holding Your Hand, included a story that, according to the jacket description, is about “a woman has sex with her dead mother’s husband,” not exactly YA content. What made you want to write for a YA audience? What effect did this have on your approach to the novel?

Myfanwy Collins

Myfanwy Collins first YA novel, The Book of Laney, will be published by X in 2014.

Myfanwy Collins’ first YA novel, The Book of Laney, will be published by Lacewing Books in 2014.

The books of my youth (many of them written for young adults, but some were adult books) remain some of my favorite books. I think of authors like Judy Blume and Paul Zindel. They helped shape me. As did Salinger (I read the Catcher in the Rye when I was 12).

Then there are authors like Carson McCullers who write books that both young adults and adults are moved by. For example, The Member of the Wedding. In that book, McCullers was able to capture a sense of longing that is so pure and ferocious that one falls so easily into the longing with her.

When I was an undergraduate, I had a double major in Secondary Education/English and English Literature/Writing. For a very brief period of time before I started graduate school, I taught High School English. I did so because I enjoyed the age-group very much. Their insights, their emotions. I listened to them.

All this is to say, I have always felt a kinship to this age group. Often, I’ve written from the point-of-view of a young child or a young woman, so in terms of POV, it was not foreign to me.

As for my approach, I would say that the first drafts suffered the most from me trying to fit into some model I thought Young Adult books would be (even though I knew it wasn’t true). I was trying to reign myself in and not allow my character to be sexual or too adult or this or that. I thought I had to follow some rule about toning things down. Then after some time away, I realized that I was not being true to my writing self and the story was suffering as a result.

Then I had a wonderful editor (Andrew Scott at Lacewing Books) request to read the manuscript. I warned him that I wasn’t fully happy with it and that I wanted to make changes, but he bit the bullet and read it anyway.

Turns out he liked it and saw potential in it. He gave me some notes and I got back to work. But before I did, I ask him if there was anything I shouldn’t write in a YA book. He told me that pretty much everything was on the table except for bestiality and necrophilia.

I am extremely proud of the draft I turned in to him in October. I know there is still work to be done, but I feel the story is stronger for me unleashing myself a bit. I love my character Laney and I was honored to go on her journey with her. I hope the readers will feel the same way.

Michael Noll

Your list of publishing credits is astoundingly long, especially for someone who writes novels. Do you tend to work on multiple pieces at once? I’ve heard people say that novels are like black holes–they swallow up everything else that you’re working on. Everything gets incorporated into the novel. But that doesn’t seem to be the case with you. Do you take breaks from novel writing to work on shorter pieces?

Myfanwy Collins

In all things, there is nothing better than a good palate cleanser. So, yes, I do write lots of other stuff. I’ve even written some screenplays. They both suck but it was an incredibly good lesson in writing dialogue and action. I recommend it.

I love flash fiction and short stories, as a reader and a writer. I feel like short fiction takes up a different part of my brain than does a longer form, like a novel. With short fiction, I feel less attached to plot and more attached to an emotional response. Whereas with a novel, I absolutely insist that I give plot the respect it deserves.

I just (yesterday as a matter of fact) finished the first draft I’ve been working on for the past couple of years. I didn’t have time to focus on it until recently and it feels like such a relief to have the clay now that I can mold.

But now that I have that draft, I’m going to let it sit for a little while and write some shorter fiction. Most likely, I will go back to a project I’ve been posting on my web site. I call it vellum.

Basically, what I’ve been doing is writing these small pieces and posting them. If anyone reads them, great. If not, that’s okay, too. the reason I started doing it was to rediscover the joy of writing. Writing for no reason other than to hope a reader finds it and sees in it what I do.

December 2013

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Michael Noll is the editor of Read to Write Stories.

An Interview with Shannon A. Thompson

15 Aug
Shannon A. Thompson's novel Minutes Before Sunset was a Goodreads Book of the Month for July. You can read the first chapter here.

Shannon A. Thompson’s novel Minutes Before Sunset was a Goodreads Book of the Month for July. You can read the first chapter here.

Shannon A. Thompson is a 21-year-old with two novels under her belt. Her first, a YA sci-fi thriller November Snow, was published when she was 16. Her latest work, the YA paranormal novel Minutes Before Sunset, was voted a Goodreads Book of the Month for July. Currently, she is finishing her senior year at the University of Kansas with a bachelor’s degree in English (with a creative writing focus).

In this interview, Thompson discusses the idea of prophecy, what it takes for a college student to publish a book, and her strategy for using social media as a promotional tool.

(To read the first chapter of Minutes Before Sunset and an exercise based on how she sets the rules of the novel’s world, click here.)

Michael Noll

You very deliberately set up the rules of the novel’s world in the first chapter: The town is in denial of very plain truths, and yet the narrator would like to join the townspeople’s simple lives–but something prevents him. How did you approach this chapter? Did you set out to establish the mentality of the town and the main character, or did you write the novel and work those things into the first chapter through revision?

Shannon A. Thompson

The first chapter is actually one of the parts that remained remarkably the same during the editing process. I purposely set up the rules so quickly, because they end up being very different from what they seem. As many readers have found out, the “prophecy” idea is not a preordained fate but rather a twisted illusion of choice, identity, and questionable fate. Because of this ultimate change, the beginning was initially set up. In regards to the protagonist, Eric, he is probably more rigid in the ultimate version–a little harsher on the world than he originally was–but I enjoyed it, because his changing from the beginning to the end meant more with his extremities being stretched even further.

Michael Noll

We also learn the basic mechanics of the world’s supernatural elements: the characters can appear and vanish and move quickly across distances. Young members of this community are given guards, either to protect them or protect the world from them (it’s not yet clear in the first chapter). These are crucial details for readers to understand, and it’s important to establish them early, but it’s also important not to stop the story in order to explain these things. You avoid this problem by working the details into the narrative. How did you balance the need to get the story moving with the need to show the reader what the characters can do (which is likely a big part of the book’s appeal)?

Shannon A. Thompson

I balanced them more in the editing process than in the originally writing process. This happened because I had a better understanding after I’d spent so much time with the world and the characters living within it. A good example of this is reflecting on the word count: the first version was 136,000 words, but the published version is less than 80,000 words. This is important, because I was still discovering some of those rules while I wrote the first version. In the editing process, I was able to incorporate those elements sooner.

Michael Noll

Many high school and college students dream of being writers, but you’ve actually published two novels. How were you able to make the jump ambition to actually completing and publishing your work? How do you make time among all the things that typically distract young writers: social life, social media, school, family?

Shannon A. Thompson

Shannon Thompson's novel "Minutes Before Sunset" was a Goodreads Book of the Month in July.

Shannon Thompson’s novel Minutes Before Sunset

Honestly, I believe anyone can make the jump, as you put it, but it requires a lot of sacrifice. I don’t go out on the weekends or watch a lot of T.V. I write–but I also love writing, so this is a beautiful opportunity for me. In terms of making the decision to do this, I’d have to talk about my past. I started writing, because my mother was a writer, and she encouraged me to in order to cope with nightmares and night terrors. She suddenly died when I was 11, and I faced mortality at a young age. I realized that I had to spend my life chasing my dream, so I began immediately, and I had my first novel published in three years. November Snow is dedicated to her, but Minutes Before Sunset is dedicated to my late roommate, Kristine Andersen, who died in October of last year and our other roommate, Megan Paustian. In a way you could say that my passion pushes me forward, but deaths in my life have caused the first shove that turned into the momentum that began it all. However, if I had to give advice, I’d share my mantra: write with passion; succeed with self-discipline.

Michael Noll

I teach at a university, and I often hear faculty lamenting and/or praising our students’ use of social media. The lamenters believe that students are wasting their lives on tiny screens. The praisers believe that students may one day translate their online connections into beneficial ends. I’m curious about your use of social media. It seems like you’ve been successful in creating an online presence for yourself not just as a person but as a writer. Your blog has more than 8000 followers, and Minutes Before Sunset was a Goodreads Book of the Month in July. What’s your social media strategy?

Shannon A. Thompson

I like to believe my social media strategy is simple: be available and help others. My website provides a lot of writing, editing, and publishing tips, because I want to help other writers, but I also want to help other artists in general. My ultimate dream isn’t to be a famous author. My dream is to be able to open an affordable art school that connects students with innovative artists within their media. I believe I have connected with so many others over the Internet, because I try to help them, and I’m always reminding people they can email me at any time if they have any questions about the industry.

August 2013

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Michael Noll is the editor of Read to Write.

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