Lucky us! Class of 2k9er Lauren Bjorkman is hanging out at Shelf Elf today, celebrating her awesome debut, My Invented Life. Every minute of her book is a romp. Every minute of her book made me happy. Welcome Lauren!
If you had to sell My Invented Life to a potential teen reader in two sentences or less, what would you say?
Ack! I hate selling anything—trauma from trying to unload newspaper subscriptions in middle school. That said, here’s my attempt:
If you have a sister that drives you crazy, if you’ve ever dreamed of being on stage, if you enjoy cursing in Shakespearean, if you’ve ever kept a secret, read this book.
Tell us about your journey to publication and the moment you learned your book would become a book.
The first step was all about overcoming fear. What if I had nothing worthwhile to say? But after I finally dared to write and finish a novel, I was hooked. Still, it took a few years of tapping away on my computer, getting critique, and going to workshops to learn the craft. During that time, I submitted my first (yet unpublished) novel to editors.
Later, after writing a second novel, I moved onto querying agents. In the midst of preparing my submission, a happy event shortened the process. I took a novel writing course taught by an author and MFA instructor. He referred me to his agent based on the piece I brought to his workshop. And his agent wanted to represent me.
A few months later, Henry Holt offered on my book. I think I hyperventilated because the whole memory has a dream-like quality. After I hung up with my agent, I paced around my house, calling family and friends who’d supported me over the years (the ones who kept their questions as to why I kept writing after so many rejections themselves). Thankfully, we live in the era of cordless phones, or I would’ve tied myself up.
Best writing advice for aspiring authors: To thine ownself be true.
Best cure for writer’s block: Sit down and write anything, even if it’s tripe and entrails. Eventually something good will come out of you.
Best snack while writing: Things that go crunch—popcorn, nuts, tortilla chips, even carrots. And large doses of chocolate for when you’re feeling blue. I feel very sorry for writers who don’t like chocolate.
Tell us about your writing process. Do you outline? Are you a post-it person? Do you have any secret writing tricks that are “uniquely Lauren”?
Usually one idea keeps coming back to me—sort of like a haunting—and I go with it. After that, I begin to imagine my main character. I love to people watch, so the spark for my protagonist often starts with an incident I observe. In the case of Roz, the incident happened at a craft fair. A (very tall) young woman crossed the street to join a group. She danced, flung her arms around, talked animatedly, and then bounced away like an overgrown Labrador. After she left, some of her friends shook their heads and whispered, as if to say. “What was that?” Thus Roz—the one girl tornado—was born.
I’ve never successfully used an outline. This translates into beaucoup revising. Not that I haven’t tried outlining, but it sucks all the joy out of writing for me. As I get ideas for character and plot, I scribble them down on bits of paper I happen to have handy. Later, I transcribe my “notes” at the end of the manuscript. Recently, when I sent the second draft of my work-in-progress to my agent, I forgot to delete these notes. She wrote back, very puzzled about my “ending.” Oops.
One of many things about your book that I loved was the wonderfully rich cast of characters. There are so many cool and complicated people on these pages. Come on… who’s your favourite? (Or if you can’t bear to pick, who do you find the most interesting or who could you imagine taking centre stage in another novel?)
I worship Eyeliner Andie for many reasons. She’s quiet, but unapologetic about who she is. She sews fishnet stockings under the holes in her jeans. Her mysterious nature and prickly temperament are a bit scary, which I like. She forces Roz to really think. In the end, she’s a good friend.
Roz is perfectly cast as Rosalind in As You Like It. If you could cast in her other plays, Shakespearean or otherwise, what roles do you imagine would be perfect for her?
Roz would choose Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing for her witty banter and the intrigue. I think she’d avoid any goodie-two-shoes type roles. Adelaide, the gambler’s girlfriend in Guys and Dolls, maybe. Or Conrad in Bye Bye Birdie, as long as she could look attractive. And she would want to direct the Laramie Project, of course.
I noticed in your acknowledgments that you thanked Taos High drama students for letting you sit in on their rehearsals. How much if any of this made it into your novel? How did getting a sneak peek into a real high school drama group at work help you out?
In high school, I was a part-time theater geek by association. I didn’t dare try out for anything, but sometimes sat in on rehearsals to watch my friends. When I started writing My Invented Life, I thought the drama crowd might be different now. Going to the Taos High rehearsals proved that things hadn’t changed much. Still, it helped to see it all with fresh eyes. It reminded me how hard everyone works to make a play happen. And how nervous the actors are under all the bravado. One girl on the sidelines kept saying another girl’s lines for her. I used this in my story. And I borrowed an incident involving contraband gum.
I’d love to eavesdrop on a group of teen readers talking about My Invented Life. If you could do that, what are some of the discussion topics / themes you’d hope to overhear?
It would be great if they were talking about what made them laugh and the parts they loved.
But I also hope they would discuss our (human) tendency to label everyone. When it comes to sexual orientation, many women I know don’t fit the obvious categories. What do you call a woman who’s married to a man, but had a “lesbian phase” in college? Or someone who is essentially straight, but has occasional crushes on someone of the same sex?
And I hope they’d talk about the kinds of secrets we keep from each other, and when it’s helpful or harmful to do this.
What’s up next for Lauren Bjorkman, author extraordinaire?
I’m revising my next teen novel, Miss Fortune Cookie. It’s the story of friendship and an advice blog gone awry, with fake IDs, Mini Coopers, teen pregnancy, and fortune cookies.
I cannot resist… what is the best Shakespearean insult you know?
There are so many to choose from! I especially appreciate the weird ones:
You embossed carbuncle!
You mad mustachioed purple hued maltworm!
But then again, it can be pleasing to insult people so they understand what you’re saying:
You foul indigested lump of stale mouse-eaten cheese!
Note: When applying insults to bad drivers, it’s best to mutter under your breath to avoid unnecessary physical violence.
For more cursing fun try:
Thank you Lauren! Now readers, get out there and get your hands on a copy of Lauren’s book. You won’t be disappointed.