Laurie Halse Anderson chats with readergirlz

Storyteller extraordinaire Laurie Halse Anderson joined us with characteristic energy and joy during her featured month at readergirlz. We discussed her wonderful novel PROM, reminisced about our own proms, and Laurie even posted her junior prom picture on her blog — in which she looked EXACTLY like she does today. Spooky.

Such youthful glam is probably why Laurie's also a movie star (apparently she made a cameo as a lunch lady spooning out mashed potatoes in the film version of SPEAK.) She just finished the draft of WINTERGIRLS, a novel coming out in 2009, and to celebrate and replenish, she did some jam'n, as they say in teenspeak (or used to say, can't keep up to speed.) By jam'n, I mean literally (see video posted below.)

Check out a few of the questions asked by teens, authors, divas, and other fans, along with Laurie's answers at the forum.

Q. What is the easiest thing about writing for teens? The hardest?

Easiest: getting into the mindset of teen humor. This is easy because I am an incredibly immature middle-aged woman. Hardest: some scenes really throw me for a loop (suicide contemplation in TWISTED, the rape in SPEAK, the death in CATALYST) and really hurt me. My next YA comes out in MAY 2009. It has been the most painful book I have written, so far.

Q. Do you like writing under contract or does it add pressure?

It sucks either way. Without a contract, you have the luxury of time. With a contract, you have the luxury of an advance. We have four kids (just finished putting 2 of them through college), so I’ve been choosing contracts, because the bill collectors don’t like it when I say "But I’m blocked! Give me another month!"

Q. What was your defining moment in becoming a writer?

It happens every morning, about 5:30 am. I put my cereal bowl in the dishwasher, I pour a second mug of tea, and I sit down to write. The conscious, mindful decision to write every day makes me a writer.

Q. If you could meet anybody in the world, who would it be?

Mr. Barack Obama.

Q. What was your inspiration for CATALYST?

I was frustrated by the ungodly pressure put on gifted kids to succeed academically, often at the expense of their souls.

Q. In TWISTED, what made you decide to write about a guy? Was it harder than writing a female point of view?

I wanted to write from a male POV because I like a good challenge. It was harder, obviously, but I had a lot of fun with it. I came away with more respect for men and boys.

Q. What inspired you to write SPEAK?

SPEAK is 10% my life in high school, 90% fiction. I have a lot of experience with depression — that definitely went in the book ... Inspiration had a lot of threads — part was my own adolescent pain, part was my frustration with the world of high school, which seems uniquely tailored to damage children.

Q. What was it like having a movie be made of SPEAK? What kind of say (if any) in the process did you have? Were you happy with the end result?

They asked me to write the screenplay of SPEAK and I said no because I was busy with another book. I love the movie. I think the director did a great job and stayed very true to the story. Except the end of the movie which is it’s own story.

Q. Has anybody optioned PROM for a movie?

No — I wish!!! Feel free to pass it one to anyone you know in Hollywood!

Q. Are you writing any more picture books? I loved, loved, loved THANK YOU, SARAH!

I just published a new one with the same illustrator as THANK YOU, SARAH. The new one is called INDEPENDENT DAMES and features almost 90 kick-butt girls and women who participated in the American Revolution. And there will be more in the future!

Q. What about novels?

CHAINS is my next novel. It is historical fiction, set in 1776 in New York City. I have been working on it for a long time (pre-Octavian Nothing, I’d like to point out) and I can’t wait until the world gets to read it.


Which I guess is just about 4 months away.


Q. Does CHAINS feature a male or female protagonist?

CHAINS has a female protagonist named Isabel. S&S liked the book so much, they’ve asked me to do two more with the same characters. The next one will have a male protagonist, Isabel’s friend from CHAINS. His name is Curzon.

Q. Curzon ... ooooh!!! Which sounds like corazon ... which makes me wonder, is this a love interest?

All will be revealed in the fullness of time.

Q. Wow! That's fantastic. Then it will be a historical fiction trilogy. Did you have to do a lot more research for the subsequent books?

Oh, yeah! TONS! Our house is sinking into the ground under the weight of all these books, plus I have a bunch of research trips this summer. I am loving every minute of it!

Q. Are you enjoying the creation of far-reaching story arcs, both in time and over the course of multiple books?

Yes, actually, I am loving it. I have a little experience in this because I wrote the series for younger readers called VET VOLUNTEERS (originally published as WILD AT HEART). I loved figuring out the various arcs and making sure the story threads wove together properly.

Q. In CHAINS, I’m assuming you’re writing about African and African American characters. I am a strong believer in no apartheid in storytelling, but I know some people will wonder how a suburbanish white woman had the nerve to cross the racial divide in storytelling. How would you answer them?

Yep. Isabel in CHAINS is a slave from Rhode Island and the book looks at the plight of African Americans during the Revolution. (The PATRIOT movie is NOT good history.)

I have felt called to explore the sin of American racism and its roots in our slave-holding past, for decades. Particularly because I am a white woman who had benefited enormously from the color of her skin.

I finally decided that I could tell this story, not because I am white, but because I am American. This is an American story — our story. I believe that as an artist, I have the obligation and skills to empathize with people of all backgrounds, of all conditions, of all times.

The easiest characters for me to inhabit are those who are like me. And I owe it to my country and my readers to be obsessive and relentless about research. My editor is African American, and we had a number of historian of several ethnicities review the manuscript.

Think of it this way — if an artist/writer cannot figure out how to tell stories outside of her race, what hope is there for America? How will we ever learn to love, honor, and respect all of our peoples?

I have no doubt the issue will be raised often with me. I am looking forward to the discussions that can grow out of this. Not everyone will agree with my point of view, but that is one of the glories of this country; room at the table for all.

Thank you, Laurie, for your generous spirit and your unflinching courage in confronting suffering for the sake of your readers. Next month we're hosting author Jay Asher over at readergirlz, and featuring his New York Times bestseller THIRTEEN REASONS WHY. And don't forget — we're throwing a party on June 27th, at 6 PM PST / 9 PM EST at the forum. It's the rgz Summer Sizzle with E. Lockhart, Sarah Mlynowski, and Lauren Myracle. Mark your calendars, rgz!