author interview, Contest, Shannon Wiersbitzky, Summer of Hammers and Angels, writing for children

Book Giveaway and Author Interview with Debut Author Shannon Wiersbitzky

If you are reading this in your email, don’t forget to click on the headline to go to my blog. If you haven’t subscribed yet, please do. Oh, and I love comments. Spurring me on this week is the following quote:
“Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you’re doomed.” ~ Ray Bradbury
For my writer friends, here are a couple of great links to check out:
http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/10things/10-wording-blunders-that-make-you-look-stupid/194?tag=nl.e064   You might get a chuckle out of these or a groan, and they might just remind you of your Uncle Waldo or neighbor Jimmy Bob.
Now for the real reason for this post. Recently, I reviewed a wonderful book for middle-grade readers called The Summer of Hammers and Angels by Shannon Wiersbitzky. (I’m having trouble linking to Amazon, so clicking on the cover won’t do you any good, but if you click on the title, you will be linked to the Amazon page where you can order the book.) If you missed the review, click HERE and give it a read. It’s a sweet book and you will enjoy it. After I posted the review, I contacted Shannon and asked if she would do an interview with me, and I am ecstatic to say, she agreed. As a writer, I always learn much from these interviews. I hope you will enjoy reading this as much as I did.
Having your first novel published must be an incredible thrill. Can you tell us about the journey to this “overnight” success for you?
(Sound of laughter …) Well, like any journey, it wasn’t “overnight”. I’ve been a writer all my life, but didn’t begin writing for children until 2000. Most of my early manuscripts are awful….let’s just say the words I wrote didn’t always improve the value of the paper. But hey, that’s part of the journey. As I wrote I learned…and I’m still learning. When all is said and done, with the pit stops and wrong turns, Hammers took me somewhere between two and three years to “get right”.
What was your inspiration for the book?
There wasn’t one single event or situation that drove me to write The Summer of Hammers and Angels. The heart of the story is a community coming together. When that happens, when you’re a part of that, it feels like anything is possible in the world…I wanted to try and capture that spirit. We need more of that today.
Shannon Wiersbitzky
How did you discover your fictional characters? Are they based on real people?
None of the characters are exact replicas of actual people. Bits of characters were certainly gleaned from real people though. I used to know an old man who sat on his front porch and greeted everyone passing by. I took my mental picture of that man, made him grumpier and misunderstood, and turned him into Old Red.
I met a woman in New York once too. I was on a church youth trip, repairing a building, and she cooked us dinner. The food was amazing, the kind of southern home cooking that feels more like a hug than a meal. When I thanked her she said, “Honey, all I know how to do is cook fried chicken.” That one comment stuck with me and is the core of Miss Martha.
The voice of Delia is as clear and real as any I’ve ever read. I noticed you’ve lived a lot of different places, including the place I consider my real home, Minnesota. How were you able to make the language so consistently southern for Delia and the other characters?
Thanks so much! I’ve lived many places and travel as much as I can. There really wasn’t any trick to channeling that southern voice. As a child, my summer camp was my grandma’s house in West Virginia. I was her shadow. I can slip into southern mode in a snap. When Delia started telling me her story, I listened, and had sense enough to start writing it down.
Your writing has such a great, natural flow to it. Do you spend a lot of time planning your writing – outlining and such – or is it a much more organic process for you? Maybe you could talk a little about your writing process.
That is a wonderful compliment. It doesn’t always feel flowing and natural when I’m writing. Sometimes it feels like the words are coming out kicking and screaming. One of the best things about writing though is that it doesn’t have to be right the first time…that is why God invented editing! I have never learned or studied the art of writing. I write by instinct. Sometimes I go to conferences or writing workshops and other writers talk all kinds of fancy technique. It can be intimidating! For any writer out there who feels the same, don’t be discouraged! I don’t create detailed outlines. I do keep a simple list of ideas for the story and characters, but it is an evolving list, it certainly isn’t fully baked when I start to write. One bit of actual real-writer-technique I learned this year that I do find useful is storyboarding. When I’m struggling with a chapter, I’ve found that storyboarding can really help. Carolyn Coman describes storyboarding really well in her book, Writing Stories. 
Writing can be a lonely business. Do you work with critique groups or critique partners? If so, in what ways do you find it helpful?
I have a wonderful critique group that I’ve been working with for ten years now. I’ve also been to several of the Highlights workshops. I’m a working mom….writing is what I do in my spare time…so the focused days at Highlights are a gift. There is magic in those cabins! (Or maybe the magic is Marsha’s cooking?!) The writers I’ve met there have been wonderful. Having a week with people who truly value writing and the creative process fills up my battery and keeps me motivated long after I’ve gone. In writing it is easy to doubt that what you’re writing has value…you need to find folks to cheer you on.
You worked with über editor Stephen Roxburgh, just a dream for many of us. How was that experience for you?
First, I think Stephen would love being described as an über editor! He truly is brilliant. He knows what works in a story. Period. He’s worked with so many amazing writers…I’m humbled to be on the list. I’d send Stephen any story. I trust him implicitly. It does get a bit annoying that he is right all the time though…
But I know you want more about the day-to-day experience, so here you go. Stephen isn’t the coddling type. He is tough and to the point and he pushed me to be better….which meant I really had to work. His favorite notation is a big question mark. That’s it….just a question mark. It really meant, “OMG…seriously, this is the best you can do here?” At least that is what I heard him say in each of those damn question marks.
What has been most thrilling for you since your novel debuted?
A young reader posted a review on Amazon that brought tears to my eyes. She wrote: 
For those who give, it is a motivator to do more.
For those in need, it is a message of hope, faith, and courage.
When I read that I knew she had really connected to the heart of the book. If this book inspires any young person to go and help others…what a joy that would be.
What advice would you pass along to those of us who haven’t gotten that first book published?  
I certainly don’t have all the answers but here are a few thoughts…..
Work on a story that inspires you. Persevere. Write regularly. Find people who will give you honest feedback, folks that will write those stupid question marks all over your manuscript. Be open to learning. Be open to criticism. Be open to scrapping words and starting over. Be patient. But whatever you do…keep writing!
Thank you for so generously sharing your time and thoughts.
I have a copy of The Summer of Hammers and Angels to offer to one of you reading this. If you leave a comment sometime before my next post (probably next Tuesday) and you live somewhere in the U.S., I will put your name in a hat from which my completely unbiased six-year-old granddaughter will choose one name, and the winner will receive a copy of this wonderful book. I know some of my blogging friends, more technically adept than I, have magical computer randomizers to draw names, but you will just have to trust my granddaughter and me to do this right.

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