Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Presents Jennifer Barnes

I'm having one of those days when I realize I need to start removing things from my to-do list before I go crazy. I leave in the morning for Atlanta and I have soooo much to do.

I got to "meet" my new editor yesterday. It turns out we met last year at the RWA conference (she remembered my red shoes). I think she'll be really fun to work with, and she seems pretty jazzed about my series, so yay!

Based on the results of my survey, I think I'll do some wrap-ups about anything interesting that happens at the RWA conference but without doing any kind of detailed day-by-day reporting. It will probably mostly be about interesting people I meet, cool books I discover and anything interesting and/or funny I do. If there's any really hot publishing news, I'll share it, but I tend not to pick up on that stuff. I have this bad habit of discussing hair-care products instead of business when I get in conversations with editors and agents (it's funny how many editors and agents have curly hair).

If anyone is in the Atlanta area, there's going to be a big, huge, mondo booksigning for charity Wednesday evening. Something like 450 authors will be lined up in a hotel ballroom for people to wander by (or throw peanuts to -- I feel like a zoo animal at times), chat with and get books from. The books are donated by the publishers, and the money from the book sales goes to support literacy efforts, which is a very good cause. You can also bring books of your own to get them signed by your favorite authors (though I think they have a cap of five books now, since in the past people literally brought in suitcases full of books to be signed, which monopolized the authors, and the idea is to SELL books to raise money). This event is free and open to the public (you do have to buy the books, but you get in the door for free). It will be from 5:30 to 8:30 Wednesday evening at the Marriott Marquis in downtown Atlanta (near Peachtree Center). For more info, here's a web site with the details and a list of participating authors.

And now I leave you with an entry from the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit. My guest this time is Jennifer Barnes, author of the new young adult novel Golden. Jennifer sounds pretty golden, herself. For one thing, she's a fellow native Oklahoman. For another, she just graduated from Yale and is now off to study at Cambridge. Her research on animal and child cognition has been featured on ABC's World News Tonight and Animal Planet. Whew!

About the book:
When Lissy James moves from California to Oklahoma, she finds herself in the middle of a teenage nightmare: a social scene to rival a Hollywood movie. And if understanding the hierarchy of the Goldens vs. the Nons isn’t hard enough, Lissy’s ever growing Aura Vision is getting harder and harder to hide, and if she’s not careful, she’s going to become a Non faster than you can say “freak.”

But it’s becoming clear that Emory High has a few secrets of its own. Around the halls, the term “special powers” goes way beyond one’s ability to attract the opposite sex, and there may be something more evil than the A-crowd lurking in the classrooms. Lissy can see a lot more than the average girl, but she’s about to learn the hard way that things aren’t always as they appear and you can’t always judge a girl by her lip gloss.

And now the interview:
What inspired you to write this book?
In general, I've always been fascinated with the supernatural, and most of my books definitely tend to incorporate paranormal concepts. When I sit down to write a book, I generally start with that concept and go from there. With Golden, I knew I wanted to write about a girl who could see auras, and to me, it made a lot of sense to throw my aura seer into a situation in which her power would be both an advantage and a major pain. Since I transferred schools right before my freshman year in high school, I'm no stranger to having to navigate a new teen social scene, and I decided to throw Lissy into a similar situation at a school where the social hierarchy was a million times more well defined. The rest of the book just came out of those two ideas.

Describe your creative process.
I don't do much plotting up front. Generally, I start with a very small number of things -- a character's name, any supernatural powers he/she might have, and the corresponding aspect of teen life that I think really goes with those powers in some important sense. For Golden, I knew that Lissy saw auras and that she was transferring to a new school. For my second book, Tattoo, I knew that it was about a group of friends who got super powers from a batch of mystical temporary tattoos, and that was it. Once I know the general concept of the book, I just start writing, and everything else- character, plot, etc just falls into place. I write each draft straight through, and in general, I try to write in large chunks (at least a chapter per sitting). Once I make it through the first draft, I set a manuscript aside for several months and move on to a new project before I start revising the old one. For me, it really helps to have some time and emotional distance between me and whatever I'm revising.

Do you have any writing habits or rituals?
I almost always write very late at night. In college, this was kind of a necessity. I didn't want to miss out on having a normal college life, so I generally wrote after everyone else had fallen asleep- usually between two and four in the morning. As for music, I usually pick one or two songs per book, and listen to them on repeat the entire time I'm writing. That way, when I go back to revise, all I have to do is turn on that book's song, and instantly, I'm back inside my main character's head.

How much, if anything, do you have in common with your heroine?
Lissy and I actually have quite a few things in common. I didn't realize it when I was writing, but she kind of resembles me physically- she's on the tall end of things, and we both have thick, somewhat unruly brown hair. Personality-wise, I think we both have a tendency to sound a lot more sarcastic inside our own heads than we do when we speak to other people- we both definitely have a constant inner monologue going on. At the same time, though, we're also very different- I think I'm a lot more chilled out!

How have your studies in cognitive science influenced your writing -- either in character development or in the special powers your characters have?
Actually, it's hard for me to think of a specific way that my background in cog sci has influenced my writing. Most of my undergraduate research concentrates on primate and child cognition; I spent a lot of time working with monkeys and lemurs in the wild, and a good chunk of time in preschools, working with three and four year old kids. It's a pretty far cry from writing for teenagers!

(I don't know ... my dad the retired high school teacher would say that "monkeys and lemurs in the wild" sounds a lot like teenagers.)

How did you manage to fit in the time to write a novel while you were studying such a challenging field at such a challenging university? (I guess I'm trolling for time-management tips because I write full-time and don't seem to have enough time.)
I actually wrote the first draft of Golden over a nineteen day period the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college. At the time, I was doing a summer workshop at the USC school of cinema, so I'd have classes in the morning, I'd work on my film all afternoon, hang out with friends for a while, and then come back at night and spend a couple of hours writing. Since Golden, I've written a variety of novels while actually at Yale, and generally, the same kind of system works for me. No matter how busy I am, most days I can manage to take a couple of hours at the end of the day to write. For me, it's relaxing. If I go too long without writing, I get kind of twitchy. And, as weird as it seems, I get a lot more writing work done when I'm at school, and following a really hectic schedule, than when I'm at home doing nothing. The busier I am, the more compelled I am to create, and that makes writing a whole lot easier.

Chocolate: dark or milk?
Actually, I'm one of those strange people who doesn't like chocolate at all. I absolutely abhorred it when I was little, and I'm still not a fan, but I dislike milk chocolate less than other kinds.

(I'm in shock here! This may be the first writer I've known who didn't have a minor chocolate addiction! But hey, that leaves more for me!)

What are you working on now?
I've got my hands in quite a few projects right now. I just finished up final edits on my second book, TATTOO, and turned in two sets of revisions- one on the Golden sequel (coming in September of 2007) and one on the first book of a new series about cheerleading secret agents (The Squad, January, 2008). I'm getting ready to submit my first middle grade novel- a character-driven mystery, and I'm probably going to start on the second Squad book next month. In the meantime, I've given myself July off from writing- which basically means that I still write, but I don't try to finish anything, so right now, I'm about a fifth of the way through a bunch of different novels!

For more info, check out her web site or her blog.

And now I'm off to tackle the to-do list. See you all next week!

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