Thursday, November 19, 2020

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Shirley Reva Vernick

Shirley Reva Vernick is the author of five novels for young readers. The American Library Association named her debut novel, The Blood Lie, to its list of Best Fiction Books for Young Readers. The Blood Lie also won the Simon Wiesenthal Once Upon A World Book Award and earned a director’s mention in the Langum Prize for American Historical Fiction. The Blood Lie was named an Honor Book in the Los Angeles Unified School District Awards, the Skipping Stones Award, and the Sydney Taylor Book Awards.

Shirley’s novel Remember Dippy won the Dolly Gray Literature Award from the Council for Exceptional Children. Her third novel, The Black Butterfly, is a Junior Library Guild selection.

Falling Stars will be released in 2021, followed by Ripped Away in 2022.

Shirley graduated from Cornell University, where she won the university's Fleischman Scholarship for Writing Achievement. Her work has appeared in Salon, Cosmopolitan, Highlights, Good Housekeeping, and numerous city newspapers. Her first professional publishing experience, at age 17, was a quip in Reader’s Digest: “Is a belly dancer a waist of energy?”

Shirley helps run, a free storytelling web service that is used as a literacy tool on five continents. NASA used it as a storytelling model for its Imagine Mars program, which combined storytelling and science for K-12 students.

1 - How did your first book change your life?
It proved to me that dreams really can come true.

How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My common thread is that I write for young audiences about things that are important to them: feeling different, being stigmatized, struggling to fit in while also maintaining individuality, friendship, family, love.

I hope my more recent work feels more assured, more evolved.

2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?
Actually, I did short-form nonfiction first, as far as professional writing goes. But fiction has always been first in my heart because that’s where I feel my most creative.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
Hmm. I consider a project started as soon as I put fingers to keyboard, which happens as soon as I get an idea. I almost never take notes or make outlines. Sometimes the writing pours right out; other times it’s downright painful. Either way, I always go through many drafts.

4 - Where does a work of prose usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
In my head, it’s always a book from the beginning. I like to spread out creatively and emotionally.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I love meeting and talking with readers, but reading from my work isn’t a favorite activity. That feels more like acting, which is definitely not my forte.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
I don’t think I answer as much as explore questions. And I think those questions are pretty timeless. For instance: How do you fit in without losing yourself or sacrificing your values? How do you find your true voice? What does it mean to be a good friend, sibling, son or daughter? How do you tell the difference between “being a good friend” and “doing what your friend wants”?

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
I think the role of the writer varies, depending on the writer, the individual piece of writing, the times, and the culture. Sometimes the writer’s role is simply to entertain or provide escape. Other times it’s both to entertain and teach. Sometimes it's to entertain, teach, and inspire action or change. And sometimes it’s more personal than that—it’s a way for the writer to process, heal, and understand him/herself.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I work with writing buddies and with the editors at my publisher. Both of these arrangements are essential and mutually supportive, in my experience.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

Make room in your life for the things you love to do.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (fiction to essays)? What do you see as the appeal?
Both genres are very personal and heartfelt for me, so they aren’t all that different when it comes down to it. It doesn’t really feel like a transition.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
No routine. The day starts with exercise. Then it’s a mash-up of writing, editing, meetings, and daydreaming.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Chicken soup, definitely.

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
Absolutely. History, the news, landscapes, friends, and family, to name a few.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I’m a big fan of magical realism and what I call “soft” sci-fi. These genres expand my imagination, which is helpful in all parts of my life.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Visit my alma mater. There’s a story waiting for me there; I just feel it.

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
I think I might have been a pretty good psychotherapist.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Truly, the impulse was there as far back as I can remember. I couldn’t not do it — that’s how it has always felt.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I recently re-read Slaughterhouse Five and saw Breakfast at Tiffany’s for the first time..

20 - What are you currently working on?
Two middle-grade historical novels. I’m utterly engrossed in two very different slices of world history right now!

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

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