Natalie Standiford is the author of a phenomenal new book, How To Say Goodbye In Robot. She’s also the bass player in a band called, Ruffian and in an all-YA-author-band called Tiger Beat. Natalie also has quite the editorial eye and was assistant editor for the children’s Book department of Random House for three years. Recently, How To Say Goodbye In Robot has been getting nothing but rave reviews and is soaring into the hands of young adult readers everywhere.
Since this blog is about offering inspiration to writers and artist, my first question for you is, do you have a favorite quote? If so, why is it your favorite?
At first I thought “I don’t know any inspirational writing quotes,” and then I thought of three. But I’ll choose just one:
My purpose as a writer is to loot my life to the very walls. –Thomas Wolfe
I don’t consider my work to be particularly autobiographical, but when I’m writing I’m constantly scrambling for details to make my fiction come alive, and those details usually come from something I’ve lived, felt or observed. I like to say that a story is a monster that eats details, and you have to keep feeding it to make it grow and keep it moving forward. And sometimes I feel as if I am looting my life to feed the story. But I kind of like that, because it means that everything in my life is useful to me somehow, even the most boring and mundane parts.
What inspired you to write, How To Say Goodbye In Robot?
I went to a high school reunion and heard a strange story about someone who’d been in my class, and I realized that in spite of having gone to school with that person for eight years or so, I hardly knew him. It made me think about misunderstood people and the secrets they keep, and that was the genesis of Jonah. I created Beatrice as an outsider who comes in and observes a tightly-knit, closed world, which was what school sometimes felt like to me. Because she’s an outsider, she can see things in Jonah that no one else notices.
You create such vivid and real characters. How do you do it?
Thank you! It surprises me when people say that, but I’m glad you think so. When I’m writing I have no way of knowing how readers will respond to the characters, and I just hope they don’t seem completely unreal. I try to make everything about them as specific as possible. I try to see and feel the world of the story through their eyes. Also, to invoke another of my favorite quotations about writing (from Friedrich Hebbel, a 19th century German playwright): “In a good play, everyone is right.”
In real life there’s no narrator telling us who is right and who is wrong; everyone thinks he or she is right. People speak and behave with the conviction that their point of view is the truth. I try to keep that in mind as I create my characters, especially secondary characters. Every character has his or her side of the story, and I try to suggest that, even if I’m writing from only one character’s point of view. A character may hurt people, but no one is an all-out villain and everyone’s motives are sympathetic or at least understandable.
I find it captivating that you are in an all-YA-author-band. How do you encourage one another? Do you all critique each other’s manuscripts as well?
We don’t critique each other’s manuscripts (at least not so far), but we do love to read each other’s books when they come out. Libba, Dan, and Barney are all very generous good souls, so just being around them is encouraging. And we do talk a little shop during breaks in rehearsal. But one of the best things about being in a band is that we’re not writing—we’re working together, dancing and singing and playing and getting away from our desks and out of our own heads for a while.
When you’re creating music or literature, have you ever had moments of self doubt and wanted to give up? If so, what kept your thoughts positive?
I have constant self doubt. I think everyone does, at least sometimes. I’m not as hard on myself about music—it’s not my profession, I’m just doing it for fun—but with writing it’s impossible to transfer the vision in your head to the page without losing something. Often you gain unexpected things too, but my books never turn out quite the way I first imagined them, and that can be disappointing. And of course frustrating things happen to everyone in publishing—bad reviews, rejections, canceled contracts, and so on.
I sometimes wonder what has kept me from giving up. I think it’s some unconscious drive. I just really want to write, even though it’s hard. I don’t know how to do anything else. I get discouraged a lot, but then I forget about it and forge on. And when I feel low, I comfort myself with the knowledge that everything I experience, good and bad, is useful. When something bad happens to me, I tell myself, “Someday you’ll use this in a story and that’s how you’ll triumph over it.”
What did you want to be growing up? Now that you’re an author/musician did this come as a surprise?
I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was little. Not a musician so much—I dutifully took violin lessons as a child, but it was pretty clear that no amount of practice would lead me to Carnegie Hall. (I would have loved to be some kind of singer/go-go dancer, though.) In high school I considered being a journalist, a lawyer (my mother’s idea, because, as she liked to point out, I loved to argue), or a translator, but only if writing fiction didn’t work out. I’m glad I’m not a lawyer. Legalese makes my eyes glaze over.
What motivates you the most in life?
I like to set goals for myself—small, medium, and large—and go after them. I love having deadlines and meeting them. I’m somewhat motivated by fear—if I don’t finish this in time, my life will be ruined! I work myself into a state of anxiety a lot. Not that it’s healthy, but it helps me get things done.
But in the larger sense, what motivates me most is that I love my work. I love that my job requires so much reading and writing, the things I enjoy most. And writing can sometimes feel like a form of problem-solving. When you find an answer, it’s very satisfying.
If you could pick one word to describe yourself, what would it be?