First Time's a Charm with Justin Cronin, Joshua Ferris & Jennifer Haigh
My first session of the day I was really excited for because...well....Joshua Ferris is a cutie pie--and a great author. I love his books. (He was discovered before I read YA.) Anyway, the session started with a "brief" introduction of all the authors and then a great panel discussion. I wrote it all down. Enjoy!
I didn't catch the first question specifically---but it was about writing and their journey--and how winning a big award affected that.
Justin: I spent eight years on my first novel. When I was in Iowa (at writing workshops) someone said to me, "Try not to worry. It'll take you at least ten years. It has. You learn a lot with book one but I can die happy just because I wrote it. The biggest moment in the process is holding the final hardcover copy in your hand. You need success, it's the trail of breadcrumbs of encouragements to keep going.
Jen: Writing your first novel is like running you first marathon--you're not trying to win; you're just trying not to die while doing it. Mrs. Kimble was the third novel I wrote. Winning the Hemingway was transformative as a writer. It made me take my own writing more seriously.
Josh: I started in advertising (which is what his first book is about.) I was too close to the subject and it was difficult to write. When I moved to do my MFA, I got away from the world and wrote the book more successfully until it's completion two years later. Rejection is the job as a writer. It's so frequent that rejection becomes the nature of the game. I had low expectations so everything that happened was a confusing, unexpected gift. Even later, after your published or have an agent, rejection is still the job--if not by others than by self and scenes and characters and whole projects.
What is it like to abandon projects?
Jen: Relief! I'm glad to stop working on them.
Justin: It's like this joke I heard once. "Why is divorce so expensive? Because it's worth it!" When you scrap something that doesn't work a weight is lifted. Don't write the book that doesn't seem to want to be written--write the book that does.
(He also talked about a project he was working on before he wrote The Passage. He had to stop and write The Passage and now, he says he realizes that it's a story that will take him years to be able to write because he's not ready for it yet.)
Josh: The failure is yours and not the book's. You have to learn and grow with each one. Sometimes you over-reach with a project. You need to be able to bring warmth to the story and give it time. If something doesn't work, shelve it.
|The panel. Really bad picture...sorry.|
Jen: I adore it. It's become my favorite; it's easier than writing. For me, it suggest a lot of the story. One small detail that I find may speak the whole plot to me. The whole premise for my second book was discovered through research.
Justin: It's my personal goal to write about things that I know nothing about...There are some things that you have to do for yourself. Those opportunities are important research. (He told the story of how he learned to shoot a gun for research.)
What about narrative voice?
Justin: Josh is a masterpiece of this technique.
Josh: MFA's get a lot of grief but they shouldn't because they teach you the craft of fiction and cover an enormous range of fiction basics. (With Then We Came To The End) I knew this was in first person plural because of the business world. (Everything is "us" and "we".) For me, I studied writing, what worked and what didn't. But I just wrote a book that threw them all together and had no rules. It was a mayhem of that POV that allowed me to use all I learned of the craft. I broke the rules.
Justin: Writing is all about finding a voice--yours as a person in the world as well --and how to approach the story idea. You have to ask "What's the voice?" The Passage was that for me. It started as a challenge from my 9-year-old daughter to write a book about a girl who saves the world. A story is nothing until you find a way for the book to speak. If it doesn't speak, it dies. If you find a voice you will write it. Voice always equals story--and sometimes even length. I knew once I found the voice in The Passage I knew it would be a trilogy.
Jen: I've never written in first person until the last one. I'm fascinated with third and what lies between how different characters see the same event. Things are easier to write in third--the last one took me a year just to re-do in first. Listen to the story; sometimes it's not how we'd like it to be.
|Joshua Ferris & Jennifer Haigh signing books.|
What does success look like?
Josh: Success is an anomaly. It's all about doing the writing. It's easy to get swept up in a dream-like happiness but that goes away because it's not real. It's not every book or every writer. It all comes back to the thing that gets you there: the love of writing. If that's not there then you will struggle with the writing. The love has to be there to succeed.
Jen: It's like falling in love with someone new and your old boyfriend starts calling. The timing of the success is what kills us.
Justin: Success doesn't last. If a book does well then that's great but it always happens to someone else after you. In this industry, you're only as good as your last book.
Josh: The secret is a lot of words. Just work. Every hour you give is a dividend. You write for six hours a week, you earn six hours a week. What you put in, you will receive back in some way. It may not always be in the current project or the next, but maybe with the next. Like the story Justin stopped led him to The Passage. There is always something that comes out of writing. Writing is not a task but a reward.
|Josh and Jennifer. (Justin was already gone.)|
Jeff Kinney (Diary of a Wimpy Kid) gave a fun keynote speech about his journey, cartooning and all things Wimpy Kid. He started out telling the crowd (full of adults and kids) that he was writing for a newspaper comic called Igdoof when he realized he wasn't a very good illustrator and he wouldn't have any success unless he drew as a 7th grader. So, there came Diary of a Wimpy Kid.
His speech was full of his history as an illustrator--in which he spent a year drawing characters in a notebook before he wrote anything. Once he finished, he'd planned to write the story in one really big book for adults. He talked about his journey to from the book on the internet to Comic Con NY, where he took his newly finished novel to try to find interest. He did but the book went from one adult book to the series that children love.
|Jeff's notebook with ideas for the characters.|
That's a long recap, yes--but so full of goodness! Part two is up tomorrow and it features the FABULOUS YA panel.