Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Robin Wasserman Interview

1. What inspired you to become an author?
I was one of those kids who read ALL. THE. TIME. In school, on the walk to school, in the bathtub, under the covers when I was supposed to be sleeping, etc. There was rarely a moment when I wasn’t in the middle of three or four books at the same time. So when people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I told them: A writer. Because as far as I could tell, books were the only thing that mattered in the world, so writing books seemed the only logical way to spend one’s time.

2. Approximately how long does it take you to write a thin book? A novel?
The fastest I’ve ever written a book was 12 days, but suffice it to say that a) it was a pretty short book and b) it’s not an experience I’d ever want to repeat.  Usually I spend somewhere from two to five months on the first draft of a novel, and then there’s another five or six months of revising, once my editor tells me everything I’ve done wrong.

3. At What age did you start writing books?
I wrote my first book when I was eleven. It was named Kenny and was a total ET ripoff. (You can read an excerpt here: After that, I wrote only short stories for the next ten years.) I wrote my first real novel, book one in the Seven Deadly Sins series, when I was 25.

4. What do you do in your free time?
I still read a lot, though this time I try to stick with only one or two books at a time. I’m also a big fan of good tv (Lost, Veronica Mars, Friday Night Lights, etc) and the occasional guilty pleasure show (Degrassi: TNG). I got a bike last summer, and if I’m forced to leave my books and tv behind, there’s nowhere I’d rather be than coasting through Brooklyn, wind in my hair, hands wrapped around the handlebars in a death grip (because klutz plus traffic never seems like a great combo, but it’s worth it for the ride).

5. What inspires your story lines?
Some of the books I write are drawn from my own experiences (eg Hacking Harvard) while others (eg Skinned) have been inspired by all the science fiction I read as a kid and the things I studied (eg robots) while in grad school. These days I have an idea file where I keep every single idea that pops into my head—some come from things that happen to me, some from newspaper articles and books, some from random things I see in the subway or random stuff I think in the shower.  Honestly, I don’t really believe in inspiration. I believe in storytelling—my stories come from me asking myself, over and over again, like an obnoxious five-year old, “what happens next?”

6. Who is YOUR favorite author?
I’m terrible at this question.  When I was a teenager, my favorite authors were probably Madeleine L’Engle, Robert Heinlein, and Stephen King.  Then it was John Irving for a while.  Now I mostly just stick to favorite books: The World According to Garp, Ender’s Game, Consider the Lobster, and anything by Kurt Vonnegut. (So maybe he’s my favorite?)

7. Are there any books or movies you dislike?
I’m a pretty cranky lady, so I dislike a LOT.  But there is a specific genre of movies that drives me UP A WALL. Like if I’m forced to watch them, I start ranting and raving and destroy the viewing experience for everyone around me.  These movies include (these are all from a while ago, b/c I’ve stopped watching this kind of movie, for my sake and the sake of all those around me): A Family Man, Stepmother, and The Family Stone. Generally this kind of movie that I hate features ambitious, competitive, “hard” single career-women basically go through a bunch of horrible and humiliating experience which are supposed to teach them to be “soft,” ie stop wearing so much black and have some babies. Movies like this make me want to throw up.

8. Are you a fan of the Twilight series?
The only one I’ve read all the way through is the last one. But I will say I saw the first movie at midnight on opening night, and then again one week later. So that should tell you something!

9. What made you decide to write "skinned" and "chasing yesterday"?
Like I said, Skinned came out of my grad school studies, which focused on robots and the ways mechanical life have been used to explore our definitions of humanity. I got obsessed with this question of what it would mean for a machine to feel, especially if it felt like a human.  Chasing Yesterday came from the stories I used to tell myself when I was a kid. I was an only child, so to entertain myself, I would make up adventures and pretend people were chasing me and I had to do some incredible thing—usually just ride my bike really fast—to save the day.

10. How do you come up with these amazing characters? Personalities?
I’m a pretty big believer that we are the decisions we make.  So a lot of times, my characters create themselves through the things they choose over the course of the story. But they’re also informed a lot by my own experiences. I put a lot of myself into all the characters I write.

11. Would you give any Young writers, or kids who think your their role model any advice?
I might suggest they pick a better role model! But if anyone still wanted to take my advice after that, I would tell them that the single most important thing to do, if they really want to be writers, is: Keep going. I took a lot of writing classes when I was a teenager, and while I was always pretty good, I was never the best in the class.  But those people who were the best? They’re all doctors and lawyers and bankers now. I’m a published writer, and it’s partly because I wrote well, it’s partly because I worked hard, but it’s also partly because I never gave up.  If you want to write a book and get it published, you will. You just have to stay focused, keep writing, keep getting better, and never stop.

12. what would be your favorite book/series? who is your favorite Authors?
This seems sort of like the same question as #6, but I’m going to pretend this one says who is your favorite YA author/what are your favorite YA books, and my current answers are:
Libba Bray, Going Bovine
Holly Black, White Cat
Kathleen Duey, Skin Hunger
Marcus Zusack, The Book Thief
MT Anderson, Octavian Nothing
Scott Westerfeld, Uglies and Midnighters

And about a million others. (Well, maybe seven others.)

13. How has your life changed after becoming an author?
Well, for one thing, I never have to change out of my pajamas unless I really want to. That’s been a strange shift.  Also strange is being able to go to the bookstore, stand in front of the YA shelf, and realize that half the books are written by people I know.  I’ve had some incredible opportunities thanks to my writing – going to the set of the Seven Deadly Sins movie, spending a month writing in Paris, meeting the Star Wars team at the Lucas Film headquarters – but probably the biggest and most fulfilling way my life has changed is that I’ve suddenly part of a whole community of readers and writers, spread out all over the world. I’m not the most social person (one might even call me a misanthrope), but I’ve got to admit that I love that I get to meet and talk about books to people all over the world, online and off. That’s changed everything.

14. Who would you love to meet? (ANYONE)
Kurt Vonnegut and David Foster Wallace, but they’re dead, so that’s likely not going to happen. Robert Downey Jr, which is unlikely to happen for entirely different reasons, but a girl can dream.

15. Are you planning on writing another novel, like skinned or chasing yesterday?
Right now I’m midway through writing The Book of Blood and Shadow, a YA thriller whose official description is:

THE BOOK OF BLOOD AND SHADOW, about a girl who, upon discovering her best friend murdered and her boyfriend the apparent killer, is caught up in a dangerous world of competing secret societies, all searching for the Luminus Dei, an ancient device that will supposedly allow direct communication with God.

16. Are you "close" with any other writers?
I’m incredibly lucky to live in NYC, which in many ways is the geographic center of the YA community, so I have a lot of friends who are writers and editors. Libba Bray, Scott Westerfeld, Justine Larbalestier, Maureen Johnson, Erin Downing . . . all of these writers turn out to be just as awesome in person as they are in print. Who would’ve guessed?

17.  Would you consider experiencing any other fields of writing?
I’d love to write some nonfiction someday. And I also dream of someday writing for film or television.  Even more so now that I’ve seen the Seven Deadly Sins on screen – there’s something unspeakably incredible about seeing characters you’ve created walking and talking like real people, for all the world to see.

18. Do you like sports?
Not at all. Not playing them, not watching them, not talking about them. Especially not listening to other people talk about them.

I love air hockey, though. Does that count?

19. If you werent a author what career choice would you have gone into (other than writing)?
If I could sing, dance, and act, I’d be a Broadway diva.  That would be a dream come true. If I were a better public speaker, and if real life were like television, I’d be a trial lawyer, making brilliant closing arguments to easily swayed juries once a week, and spending the rest of my time dating the various handsome fellows in my law firm.

Barring that: astronaut or artificial intelligence engineer. 

20. Have you ever considered giving up on a book?
I consider giving up on every single book I write. I think every writer feels this way, though it happens at different points.  For me, about three chapters in, I stop thinking “this is the greatest thing anyone has ever written!” and start thinking “what have I done? This is clearly the dumbest book in the history of written language.”  One of the most important things I’ve learned in the last few years is that you have to ignore that feeling if you’re ever going to finish anything. And finishing is pretty important.

21. What book was you "break through" to the writing world"?
The Seven Deadly Sins was my first “real” series of novels, so I guess you’d call that my breakthrough. Before that, I’d written a lot of paperback books about embarrassing moments, sleepover activities, celebrity trivia, etc.  I also wrote a bunch of movie novelizations, including a novelization of the Hilary Duff movie “Cinderella Story” – that one was actually a New York Times bestseller, so I suppose technically it was my break through. But I owe it all to Hilary Duff.

22. Do you wish you could go back and do/undo something you did/didnt experience?
I try not to fixate too much on the “what if’s” in the past, because if I let myself, I’d probably spend all my time regretting this or that decision. I’m neurotic like that. But one thing I have always regretting is getting more involved with my college newspaper, and not trying out for my college humor magazine. I spent a lot of time in college feeling like I wasn’t good enough/smart enough/funny enough/talented enough to try out for X, and eventually I realized that was a huge mistake. Failure is better than not trying.  It’s easier said than done, though: Failure is scary.

Oh, my other number one regret is something that I didn’t do in high school.  There was a time, senior year, when I should have stood up for myself against this teacher who was completely out of line. But I was worried if I did so, it would mess up my college applications, so I kept my mouth shut. That’s one I would do differently, if I could go back, and I’d like to think that if a similar thing happened today, I’d have the nerve to speak out. 

23.  are you a fan of jersey shore or any other reality series?
I used to be a HUGE Apprentice fan, but I stopped watching that once it got crappy.  My all time favorite reality tv show is this short-lived show on MTV called “The Paper” that followed around the staff of a high school newspaper. This was like the anti-Hills. Real, awkward, petty, insecure teenagers jostling for power over their little journalistic fiefdom. It was AMAZING. I could watch it all day long. Seriously, you should all go watch it now, it’s available on the MTV site, and it’s unbelievable.

24. who is your favorite singer?
Right now, Liz Phair is on constant replay in my apartment. I’ve also got a playlist for my current book, which basically involves listening to “Breathe Me” by Sia over and over and over again.

24. Who is your favorite actor?
Robert Downey, Jr, especially the later years. Though (and you’ll know this if you’ve ever peeked at my twitter account) I am also unabashedly obsessed with Neil Patrick Harris.

25. Favorite Movie?
They don’t come any more perfect than The Princess Bride.

26. Are you a fan of Harry Potter?
Absolutely! I actually edited (ie picked out all of the art for) the first set of movie coloring books and sticker books. It was my first job out of college and meant reading through Harry Potter #1 about a hundred times.  And I totally cried when That Thing We Won’t Talk About Happened to Dumbledore.

27. What  inspired you to write most of your books?
This is basically the same as #5, but I’ll add that, in general, I’m inspired by the possibility that someday I’ll write a book that changes someone’s life, the same way so many of my favorite books changed mine. 

28. while writing a book, what would be your daily routine?
I wake up around 8 am, putter around my apartment reading the internet for a ridiculous amount of time (or, when I’m being good, go out for a morning bike ride), then go to a coffee shop and stay there until I’ve met my daily word count. Then, when I’m being diligent, I spend the rest of the afternoon doing business-y stuff like answering emails, doing interviews, cleaning my apartment, etc.  When I’m being lazy, I watch TV.

29. While writing a book, do you find yourself under great stress?
Oddly, I find the actual writing process to be the least stressful thing about being a writer. Which isn’t to say that it’s not often HARD, GRUELING, ONEROUS, TORTUROUS and all those other words that can so easily be applied to sitting in front of the computer and trying to string one word after another. But it’s not stressful, because while I’m in the middle of writing, especially on a first draft, I never let myself think about all the truly stressful things, like whether it will be good, whether it will sell, whether my career will soon be over, etc etc etc. It’s only once a book is done that I start driving myself crazy with questions like that. So apparently the secret is: Always be writing.

30. Do you think, ever, if a fan gave you a great idea, would you write about it? Do you keep a "diary/journal" keeping track of your thoughts?
No, I would never take an idea from a fan—partly for legal reasons, but partly because the best ideas really have to come from inside your own brain, from those deep, impenetrable recesses where the weird stuff percolates and bubbles up into your consciousness.  If it’s really going to be my book, it’s got to be my idea. (Also, I would tell those fans that if they have a great idea, they should keep it for themselves and write their own book!)

I don’t keep a journal, though I’ve certainly tried many, many times over the years, and if you can force yourself to do it, I highly recommend it.  I do try to carry a little notebook around with me to scrawl things down when I think of them, and I have a file on my computer where I keep all random thoughts and clippings that might be useful for future books.

But like I say, if YOU have enough discipline to keep a journal, definitely do. Not only would I be a better writer now if I had years of written experiences to draw from, but I would love nothing more than to be able to dip into my past and see exactly what I was thinking. So think of your journal as a present to your future self.

31. What kind of genre do you enjoy reading?
When I was a teenager, I read exclusively science fiction and horror, and I still love that, especially at the YA level. I think there’s some amazing YA sci fi out there right now – though I would love to see more horror! (I’m not talking about vampires and werewolves, I’m talking about good old fashioned psycho killers.) I’ve also read some incredible adult realistic fiction lately, especially The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz. I’m pretty picky, so trust me when I say this book was amazing.

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