Interview with Author and Editor Lorin Oberweger

LORIN OBERWEGER is a highly sought-after independent book editor and ghostwriter with almost twenty-five years experience in publishing. Her company, Free Expressions, offers writing seminars nationwide with literary agent Donald Maass and others, as well as the acclaimed Novel Crafting Retreats–intensive story development weekends for writers in all genres of fiction.
Lorin’s students and clients have millions of books in print and have been published by imprints of HarperCollins, Random House, Penguin, Scholastic, and other mainstream and independent presses. They have also gained representation with some of the industry’s leading literary agents.

An award-winning author, Lorin’s poetry, short fiction, and articles have appeared in well over one-hundred periodicals, including THE MONTSERRAT REVIEW, STORYQUARTERLY, and the bestselling regional anthology FRENCH QUARTER FICTION. Recently, an excerpt of her novel-in-progress, ITCH, was awarded “Best of Workshop” at Writers in Paradise, co-founded by author Dennis Lehane. She is represented by Tracey Adams at Adams Literary.

Since this blog is about offering inspiration to writers, my first question for you is, do you have a favorite quote?  If so, why is it your favorite?

I’m a quote hoarder, so picking one is almost physically painful, but I keep a quote from Neil Gaiman pinned above my desk, and it comes closest to describing my ongoing desires for my own life and for those I love (and like):
May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.”  Neil Gaiman

Everyone in the industry raves about your keen eye and editing skills! What piece of advice do you find yourself offering the most to writers?

Too often, I find that writers take an externalized, cinematic approach to their characters. They SEE them on the page, move them about like chess pieces as dictated by the mechanical constructs of the plot they’ve created. But they don’t truly live and breathe their characters; they don’t become their characters to the extent that they understand them on an instinctive, visceral level. This can result in episodic novels with oddly inert characters.

So, I urge folks to truly get inside their characters, to understand their motivations, their goals and desires. Understand, in as organic a way as possible, what DRIVES your protagonist forward in life. That desire should be something practical and observable (with a subset emotional desire, as well), and it should serve as the propulsive force of your novel. Without that driving force, that fire in a character’s belly, it’s really tough to create a dynamic, satisfying tale.

In your career as a writer and editor, who’s had the biggest influence on you?  What did they do to inspire you?

Putting aside all of the absolutely amazing authors who’ve taught me so, so, SO much and made me a fiend for the written word, AND putting aside my clients who impress and inspire me each and every day, I’d have to give a ton of credit to the late Gary Provost. (With props to the incomparable Don Maass who is a master instructor, as well.)

Gary was known as “the writer’s writer.” He wrote phenomenal books on craft (some of which are still available), and he was also a warm, inspiring, funny, and brilliant teacher. When in my twenties, I sought out a workshop and a mentor, he was the first I found, and he absolutely changed the course of my writing and professional life. And my personal life, too, as I’ve made some of the best friends of my life through workshops and editing!

Not only did he inspire me via a fantastic education in the nuts and bolts of fiction craft, but he and his wife Gail taught me so much about how to treat writers, how to help and inspire, not demean or bully. His accessibility, his breadth of knowledge, his warmth: all really inspired me, and still inspire me, to do what I can to support writers at all stages of their careers.

If you could send your younger self one tweet, what would you say?

Risk more, sooner.

If at all possible, could you pick one book that has deeply affected you? If so, what was it that moved you about it?

Ack! That is like the Sophie’s Choice of questions for a writer!  I already regret any answer I’ll give because I know I’ll want about forty-six “do-overs.”
BUT…I’m going to go way, way, back and pick the children’s book THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH, by Norton Juster. I love everything about the story—its wit and wordplay; its characters; its wonderful illustrations by Jules Feiffer; and most of all its themes, which have everything to do with imagination and limitless possibilities.

I’m mumble-mumble years old, and I STILL try to read it at least once a year.  (Also, if anyone wants to bribe me for any reason, I still don’t have the special 50thanniversary edition. Hint, hint.)

When you are having moments when nothing seems to fit, how do you find what you are looking for and make a story come to life?

I try to drill down to two questions: What made me love this story in the first place, and where is the awesome?

Where the first one is concerned, that means getting in touch with what inspired the novel: Was it the world? Was it the character? Some thematic element? The voice? Some inherent mystery I wanted to solve for myself?

Then I take a look at the scene I’m writing and compare it to that original inspiration. I ask how I’m serving that kernel element. Have I gone too far afield? Or, conversely, am I serving that original element too slavishly when what I need to do is thank it for the inspiration and then jet off in new directions? I try to find some way to fan that initial flame and see what catches fire in the current scene. 

The second idea is a complementary one, of course. It has to do with looking at a scene or a section of the book and challenging myself to really BRING THE AWESOME!

This means daring myself to go further, dramatically, to push a character beyond his or her limits, to push the plot beyond my original, safe ideas for it. It means having my protagonist kick butt in some way or sink to absolutely terrible (but awesome) depths. It means having an antagonist force be absolutely AWESOME at being absolutely terrible.

Again, awesome can be a broad term, and it can apply to any aspect of a scene: character, action, setting, voice, etc. Awesome can mean awful; it can mean deep or fearless or wretched; it can mean astonishing or sexy or bizarre. But it has to create an excitement in me, an internal giddiness that tells me that the character, the writing, or the story is risking SOMETHING.

If you could pick a word to describe yourself, what would it be?

(Also LUCKY!)

Wow, Lorin! Thank you for doing this interview and sharing some truly priceless advice with us–you’re amazing! 

If you would like to find out more about Lorin, please do visit her website! 
You can also find her on Twitter.


Interview with Editor Emma D. Dryden

Emma D. Dryden has edited nearly five-hundred books for children and young readers. As a publisher, she oversaw a staff that ranged between six and eleven editors and the annual publication of over one-hundred hardcover and paperback titles. During her tenure with Atheneum and McElderry Books, the books she edited consistently garnered starred reviews, were named to year-end “best of” lists, received regional and national publicity and acclaim, and have hit the bestseller lists in USA Today, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, and other national publications. Emma is a native New Yorker and when she’s not editing, she’s also doing some writing of her own. 
Since this blog is about offering inspiration to writers and artists, my first question for you is, do you have a favorite quote? If so, why is it your favorite?
One of my favorite quotations is the last three lines from the poem “Lilacs in September” by Katha Pollitt: 
“What will unleash / itself in you / when your storm comes?”
As we go about our living our lives—forging and managing relationships, raising kids, holding down jobs, running errands, going on vacation, getting the car fixed, writing books, and everything else in between—we can so often become complacent and comfortable with all that we have or do. It’s all good. But then, suddenly, something unexpected happens that shakes us to our core—illness strikes, we move into a new home, we experience a death of a loved one, we fight with a friend, we get laid off from a job—and this sets off a storm inside of us, a storm for which we weren’t prepared. And it’s what gets unleashed during this storm that I find so compelling, because through the grief, fear, and rage can come some of the most potent and exciting creativity, artistic expression, and determination to move forward. Just as a ferocious forest fire results in extraordinary new growth of seedlings, so too can our own storms result in important new growth within ourselves, forcing us to try things we never thought we would.
You have edited so many books that have gone on to win prestigious awards and that constantly become New York Times Bestsellers, WOW! I applaud you for having such a phenomenal eye! If you could be one character out of all the books you’ve edited, who would it be and why?
That’s a great question and a hard one to answer. In pondering this question, I realize that I do put myself into the shoes of each of the characters in the books I edit in order to try to experience the world through their own senses. I think some of the characters in the teen novels I have edited have it too tough and I don’t know how much I’d like to really be them; I already lived through my own teenage years and am not up to living through those years ago! On the other hand, I think I’d love to be Hare in Karma Wilson’s BEAR SNORES ON picture books—Hare’s the sort of steadfast, true, sensible friend I’d like to be to people. Or Fred, the young girl in Kirkpatrick Hill’s YEAR OF MISS AGNES, whose eyes are opened to the world and to herself by a very special teacher—it would be marvelous to be so open again, to be so innocent to the world and be amazed and excited by everything someone teaches you that you never even knew existed in the world.
Recently, you started your own editorial business and it has already been getting a ton of great attention in the publishing world! What encouraged you to begin your own company and take that leap of faith?
Being laid off from Simon & Schuster after having been there for 19 years was an extraordinary experience. One thing it taught me is that there is no guarantee for anyone’s security in the current economic environment. There being few to no jobs available for someone with my skill sets, background, and salary requirements, I launched drydenbks not because I wanted to, but because I had to—to make a living doing what I do best, which is editing children’s books. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen when I started the company, but I counted on the fact that I have a remarkably strong support system within the children’s book industry and the fact that I have retained close professional and personal relationships forged during my many years at Simon & Schuster to provide whatever ballast I might need to keep drydenbks afloat—and it’s working so far. I am busier than I ever expected I’d be.
You have come across many writers and artists in your career. What piece of advice have you given most to writers and artists?
Honestly, probably the two pieces of advice I’ve shared more often than anything else with most of the authors with whom I’ve worked or with whom I’ve consulted are:
(1) Read, read, read! Reading all sorts of books that are being published for young readers is a way to hone a writer and illustrator’s own skills, it can help them determine what they like and don’t like about a book and think about how they might do something differently, and it will give them some understanding of the marketplace. 
(2) Show, don’t tell! The challenge for most authors is to engage a reader by enabling them to feel what a character is feeling and sensing without actually telling us what the character is feeling and sensing. Through actions and dialogue, a character’s emotions and senses can be expressed in ways that will resonate with readers, but it’s often very hard to do and takes practice.
In light of the current marketplace and in light of all that’s going on in the digital space that’s having an effect on the publishing industry, I would advise authors and illustrators to listen, learn, stay engaged, and stay flexible.
You’re known for editing a lot of poetry over the course of your career. So many people are afraid to work with poetry; what about poetry appeals to you and why?
I have always loved listening to and reading poetry—the cadence and music of poetry when it’s read aloud can be soothing, entertaining, provocative and thoroughly engaging. The story of a poem is something I find remarkable—every poem (including certain picture book texts as well as poems that comprise novels in verse) is in itself a highly condensed, tightly crafted story that relies solely on showing, rather than telling. Next to nothing is told, but such vast amounts can be shown through image, word choice, rhythm, metaphor, and indeed through the white spaces—the pauses and space between words, lines, thoughts. I love writing poetry—for me, it’s the most challenging kind of writing to do because it’s about paying attention to form as much as expressing a lot with so little—and I love editing poetry for the same reason.
When you are having moments when nothing seems to fit, how do you find what you are looking for and make a story come to life?
I ask myself questions about the characters in the story—what would they say? What would they feel? What would they do? I look to the characters’ motivations and emotions to drive the story forward, to set up and resolve the drama. One author with whom I’m working conducts interviews with his characters and writes down the questions and answers—I think this is a terrific way to bring a story to life. Sometimes I turn narrative into dialogue, to give more of a personal voice and immediacy to a story. Sometimes I try a different perspective in which to tell the story—first person to third person or third to first.

If you could pick a word to describe yourself, what would it be?
Thank you Emma for this interview! You’re a beautiful writer and I love your philosophy on life and writing.  Your knowledge is priceless for so many and I am so happy to have pulled more of it from you in this interview!

If you would like to find out more about Emma D. Dryden, you can visit her magnificent website, follow her on Twitter, or become a frequent visitor to her blog.

Interview with Senior Editor Timothy Travaglini

Timothy Travaglini is Senior Editor for G. P. Putnam’s Sons, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group. Since 1994, he has worked in trade marketing for Scholastic, Inc.; been a bookseller for Books of Wonder, an all-children’s bookstore in New York City; and has edited for Henry Holt and Company, Walker & Company, and for Putnam since 2005. He is the editor of the New York Times #1 bestseller GOODNIGHT GOON, New York Times bestseller THE RUNAWAY MUMMY, and FURIOUS GEORGE GOES BANANAS by Michael Rex; The Youngest Templar trilogy by New York Times bestselling author Michael P. Spradlin; DREAMDARK: BLACKBRINGER and DREAMDARK: SILKSINGER by National Book Award finalist Laini Taylor; The Washington Post Best Children’s Book of the Year FLYGIRL by Sherri L. Smith; The Foundling’s Tale trilogy (formerly titled Monster Blood Tattoo) by D. M. Cornish; BENJAMIN FRANKLINSTEIN LIVES! by Matthew McElligott & Larry Tuxbury; many picture books by Patrick O’Brien such as YOU ARE THE FIRST KID ON MARS and CAPTAIN RAPTOR AND THE MOON MYSTERY; EARTH MOTHER by Ellen Jackson, illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon; ONE WITCH by Laura Leuck, illustrated by S. D. Schindler; many of the romantic comedies of Janette Rallison such as JUST ONE WISH, and ALL’S FAIR IN LOVE, WAR, AND HIGH SCHOOL; VIOLENCE 101 by Denis Wright; the reissue of Newbery-Honor winner ENCHANTRESS FROM THE STARS by Sylvia Louise Engdahl:

Since this blog is about offering inspiration to writers and artists, my first question for you is, do you have a favorite quote? If so, why is it your favorite?
I have many favorite quotes, I could never say there is one that surpasses all others. But an apropos one might be Maxim Gorky’s 

“You must write for children in the same way as you do for adults, only better.”

You have edited so many books that have gone on to win prestigious awards and that constantly become New York Times Bestsellers, WOW! I applaud you for having such a phenomenal editorial eye! If you could be one character out of all the books you’ve edited, who would it be and why?

Thank you—although no success has been as “constant” as I would like. I love the question—I’ve never thought about that. There are a few characters that anyone might say I am already. But if I could be one, it might be Backbeard, the hairiest pirate who ever lived. No, wait, I’ve changed my mind: It would either be the kid from You Are the First Kid on Mars or Stewart Hale from Shanghaied to the Moon; because going into outer space would be really, really cool.

If you could go back in time when you first started working as an editor, what piece of knowledge would you take back with you into the future?

I find that the knowledge I most value is the accumulation of knowledge I have gained over the years. And you simply can’t start out with that. But rather than duck the question…let’s see…one piece… OK, how about this: I might track down a certain aspiring writer in Scotland and become friends with her. I would never say that I should have ever published her books. All successes are the results of stars aligning in a certain way, and if you mess with the time-space continuum, it’ll bite you in the end. But it would be nice to be friends…

What did you want to be growing up? Now that you’re an editor did this come as a surprise?

That changed frequently, I can remember wanting to be a fireman, an astronaut, an architect, a psychiatrist. Becoming an editor was never a surprise. Books were my one consistent interest throughout life. Everything else was fleeting.

You have come across many writers and artists in your career. What piece of advice have you given most?

Marry money.

If you could be any super hero, who would it be and why?

Wolverine. Because he’s indestructible, and feral.

If you could pick one word to describe yourself, what would it be?

I don’t know that I can pick one word. Quixotic. Oh, look, I just did. But keep in mind what happens to Don Quixote in the end…

Thank you Timothy for such insight into your amazing world of editing and for sharing Maxim Gorky’s wonderful quote! You’re adored for all the tireless work you do and if I could pick one word to describe you, it would have to be, accomplished.