Thursday, June 14, 2012

Interview with author Ann Stampler

Today we introduce Ann Redisch Stampler, a picture-book author who has just recently made her foray into young adult fare. When browsing through books on Goodreads, the cover of WHERE IT BEGAN caught my eye immediately (you'll have to thank Ann's amazing cover designer, Jessica Handelman, for that!). Here's the back-cover copy for WHERE IT BEGAN:
"Gabby Gardiner wakes up in a hospital bed looking like a cautionary ad for drunk driving—and without a single memory of the accident that landed her there. But what she can recall, in frank and sardonic detail, is the year leading up to the crash.
As Gabby describes her transformation from Invisible Girl to Trendy Girl Who Dates Billy Nash (aka Most Desirable Boy Ever), she is left wondering: Why is Billy suddenly distancing himself from her? What do her classmates know that Gabby does not? Who exactly was in the car that night? And why has Gabby been left to take the fall?
As she peels back the layers of her life, Gabby begins to realize that her climb up the status ladder has been as intoxicating as it has been morally complex...and that nothing about her life is what she has imagined it to be." I'll bet that caught your attention. Read on for the process behind the product.

TWFT: Where were you when you found out WHERE IT BEGAN sold?

Ann: I was at home, waiting to hear from my agent, Brenda Bowen. I knew there was strong
interest in the manuscript, but I wasn’t sure of the final outcome. Then the phone rang,
followed by a great deal of squealing by me, my husband, and my dog.


Ann: I have to preface this by saying that I don’t understand fully what makes one book with
a teenage protagonist YA and another one not.

With Where It Began, I started out with the character of Gabby; her voice and her
emotions felt very real to me as I was writing. I wasn’t aiming the book at a particular
audience, I just wanted to tell the story, but I’m very happy to join the genre of YA, and
that teens are reading the book.

TWFT: Assuming that you are a writer of the social kind (critiquing other work, networking),
you’ve run across your fair share of people who’ve made it and people who are still
struggling to earn recognition. What sets apart these successes from the not-so-

Ann: What a difficult question.

I think there has to be some connection between quality and recognition. There are
books that are just so brilliant that, if there’s any justice in the universe, they’ll be
embraced. And others, not so much.

But especially with the advent of the internet and book-related social networking, it’s
increasing clear that not every book is for every reader, irrespective of what traditional
literary critics may think. There is a healthy contingent of people who aren’t all that
crazy about books I consider touchstones of English literature (On Goodreads, for
example, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet has 3.73 out of 5 stars.)

So the question becomes whether recognition is, in fact, related to quality or to
other factors. And who determines what constitutes quality, anyway? Or what we’d
consider recognition: wide readership, literary awards, respect among other writers,
timelessness, what?

As ways to publish and read books proliferate, along with book-related conversations
and blogs that can be accessed by the entire world of plugged-in readers, a question
that was hard enough to confront in the pre-internet era, becomes even thornier.
TWFT: A lot of writers, myself included, have various trunked novels buried deep without their closets. When do you know your work is ready?
I am a constant, ongoing, compulsive rewriter. So for me, the answer is never. I don’t
mean this in a flippant way; I would go back and rewrite all of my picture books if I
could. Not to mention what I’d do with 384 pages of Where It Began to toy with.

I push the “send” button on manuscripts with a certain amount of trepidation. I’m
never sure I’m there.

The “you’ll just know” answer feels a bit glib, but it’s as close as I can get for how I
decide to push the button.

TWFT: Sometimes it feels frustrating when you’ve been struggling for a while and your peers
are getting published—I like to use the metaphor of climbing up a mountain fighting
tooth and nail while seeing someone fly up to the peak via helicopter. How do you deal
with jealousy?

Ann: When I was writing picture books, I really didn’t have issues with jealousy. I spent
almost a decade waiting for my first PB to see the light of day, and I was pretty much
whistling a happy tune, raising kids, and reading a lot of folklore the whole time. I was
annoyed occasionally, but I was absolutely smug about how well I could handle waiting
and chipping away and rejection.

And then came the novels, and for some reason, it’s a lot more emotional. Not just
the process of writing the book, and experiencing the characters’ emotions, but the
aftermath of publishing the book. It feels both more personal and more public; I feel
much more exposed and more judged, more aware of what’s going on with other
writers and of how others see me and my work.

The way I’ve come to deal with it – and I’m writing this just a couple of months after
the release of my first novel, Where It Began – is to stay focused on the work. (This has
been greatly facilitated by the fact that my next novel was overdue until I finished it last
week, and it’s been commanding most of my waking hours and attention.)

In most other careers, issues of fame/fortune/recognition/public evaluation/prizes are
less salient; as the product of people’s work is less public. Satisfaction is derived from
the work itself.

With writing, especially with children’s books, the constant and very public evaluations,
reviews, comparisons to other books, sizes of advances, best lists, etc. can be
distracting. But the bottom line is, I like what I’m doing. I like the process of writing
books, and the process of revising them. I like working with my agent, my editor, and
the team at Simon Pulse. I’m happy that my books are published and that there are
readers who connect with them. That’s enough.

TWFT: How do you find the time to write—and to write well? (I can sit down at my desk,
scribble for a few hours, read the words the next morning, and find nothing I’m
particularly proud of.)

Ann: In terms of the writing well thing, I am a great believer in Anne Lamott’s theory of the
truly terrible first draft. So what if you hate it in the morning, or the next morning,
or the next morning (and by “you,” I mean me, too, as this is my m.o.)? That’s what
rewriting is for. That whole if-there’s-nothing-on-the-page-there’s-nothing-to-revise
thing: it works.

For me, at least, it’s important not to tie my global assessment of myself as a writer, or

the quality of a manuscript, to that morning-after perusal. If I couldn’t do that, I suspect
I’d be too humiliated by un-rewritten chaff to carry on.

In terms of time to write, I wrote picture books until the day my youngest child left
for college. I think because with a PB, I could hold the whole thing in my head and
do lots of work in my mind’s eye. I could do meaningful rewriting in an afternoon, as
opposed to making a change and then having to peruse the other 374 pages to make
sure everything still works with a novel.

With novels, although I wrote bits and pieces of them before I had the luxury of huge
blocks of time, I find that particularly when I’m revising, I need to reread the whole
thing, or at least a significant section of the whole thing, slowly and carefully, before I
dig in. So while a few hours here or there works for me at some stages of the novel, I
don’t know how I’d manage without whole days and nights at others.

TWFT: What’s one thing you learned now that you wish you should have learned before the
whole process?

Ann: Patience. It takes far longer than anticipated to get it right. And for it to be edited
properly. And to get it launched well. I started Where It Began in a serious way the day
my youngest entered college; it came out two months ago; and my son just graduated!

TWFT: What’s your favorite flavor of jellybean?

Ann: Oh dear, I don’t actually like jellybeans. I don’t see how people can even consider eating
jelly beans in a world full of chocolate: chocolate cupcakes, Droste semi-sweet pastilles,
Hershey’s kisses, flourless chocolate cake, chocolate soufflĂ©, chocolate cream pie, and
the entire Godiva Chocolate empire. I mean, seriously? (And don’t point to chocolate
jelly beans. Chocolate jelly bean. Godiva milk chocolate truffle. I rest my case.)

Although, I guess if I had to eat a jelly bean, it would be sourish lemon.

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