Ten writers for children. All with something to say.


A Writer on the Move

Eight years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting the author Anne Ylvisaker at the SCBWI summer conference in Los Angeles. Her first novel, DEAR PAPA was just published with Candlewick. We were both from the Midwest enjoying the sun and the ocean breezes. We got together again in Minneapolis that fall and started a wonderful writer’s group with three other writers, calling ourselves the INKSLINGERS, and meeting almost religiously every two weeks for three years. Our friendship grew deep and strong enough to withstand her move from Minnesota to Iowa. Her first novel’s deadline was completed in the midst of a move and a divorce, her second novel, LITTLE KLEIN was completed on deadline in the midst of a move and a new marriage, and now her third novel, THE LUCK OF THE BUTTONS is being written in the midst of a move from Iowa to Monterey, California. (Luckily with a great marriage still going strong!)

1. You are a Midwest girl about to be transplanted to the West Coast—not only a very different geography, but also a very different culture! Since your novels have come from the landscape of your childhood and your ancestral neighborhoods, how are you feeling about leaving the source of your writing for an indefinite period of time? How do you think your move to California is going to affect your writing?

The farther away you get from something the better you can see it—even the move to Iowa three years ago allowed me to appreciate my Minnesota heritage in a new way. I derive a lot of inspiration from old family photos—I like to imagine my own stories about the photographs, even more than the real stories I have been told. It is a nostalgic experience that has captured my imagination since my childhood—I never lived in Southern Minnesota but grew up hearing stories of my grandfather who grew up there and also from my mom and her siblings, and it continues to spark my imagination.
California smells different, the trees are different… and maybe these differences will be reflected in future stories, but for now it is the familial and physical memories that drive my creative impulse.

2. You are in the midst of writing your third middle grade novel, THE LUCK OF THE BUTTONS and you have to finish it before you move in less than two weeks- how is it working on a deadline like this?

I work better on a deadline. The closer the deadline, the more I get done. It forces me to let go of my perfectionist tendencies—in other words, I have to write fast without judging myself too harshly and thus, slow the process down. It’s kind of like living in a big house with lots of storage space as we do now versus in a smaller house with less storage as I did in St. Paul and as we will in California. It’s easy to fill excess cupboards with fluff but in a smaller space I have to make better decisions about what I actually need. Working under a tight deadline forces me to become efficient, keeping only what is essential.

3. Do you want to share anything about THE LUCK OF THE BUTTONS?

Like DEAR PAPA and LITTLE KLEIN this novel was launched as a result of a mistake and like my first two novels it draws inspiration from old family photographs. But unlike DEAR PAPA and LITTLE KLEIN, this story includes a mystery. It’s the story of twelve year old Tugs Button. The Button family has been unlucky for generations and is resigned to their fate but when Tugs has a streak of good fortune on the Forth of July, 1929, she decides to become the first lucky Button.

4. You have become an expert in writing a novel through upheaval, is this part of your process?

Upheaval has seemed to find me in the midst of each novel and I wish I’d become expert – maybe I’d be having an easier time of it right now! What it has done for me is forced me to become more focused, not one of my strong suits. Also, each move has given me a new perspective both on the natural world and on the nature of community, and exploring the senses of place and community is what drives me to write.

5. In the three and a half years you have lived in Iowa, you have pulled together a writer’s group, The Tall Grass Writers, you have received a prominent Iowa Author’s Award and The Midwest Booksellers Choice Award. In other words, you have established yourself well as an Iowa writer. What do you think you will do to create a writing community in California?

As soon as we found out we were moving I started reading the great literature of the area – CANNERY ROW and SWEET THURSDAY by Steinbeck for starters. It made me really excited to explore the landscape and people that feeds writers there. Since writing is a solitary profession and I don’t have daily contact with peers, it is very important for me to seek out community. Writer’s groups have grown organically for me in the places I have lived. It takes time, patience, and being open to opportunities. What I have learned from moving is that my community actually keeps growing. My Tall Grass Writer’s Group will continue to include me once a month in their meetings via Skype, and I will continue to meet with Lauren via iSight, so the use of the internet has become a way to connect and embrace a broader community.

6. Anne, you are a “Foodie”. How does it feel to be moving from Iowa, “The Bread Basket of the World” to Monterey, CA, “The Salad Bowl of the World”?

It’s an exciting part of the adventure for me. My Iowa Cooking Club is giving me a final good-by with a Midwest Living themed dinner. Pork and corn are favorite local ingredients here. The lettuce in my fridge right now in Iowa comes from just a few miles from where my new home is. So I will soon be eating different ingredients locally. I look forward to learning to cook with fish and using fresh fruits and vegetables year round. My dream is to make guacamole from avocados and lemons grown in my own yard. It could happen!

You can follow Anne Ylvisaker’s travels and her books on her blog at: www.AnneYlvisaker.com


Christy said...

Welcome to California! I have a librarian/writer friend for you to meet; she lives in nearby Carmel. Congrats on your new book.

Anne said...

Thanks, Christy. I am excited for the adventure and look forward to meeting your friend in Carmel - and you!

Diane Adams said...

Hi Anne,
I'm in Southern CA and I actually do have a lemon tree in my yard (as well as orange trees), and an avocado tree in my mom-in-law's yard a mile away. I've always taken them for granted, but I'll be more grateful for my homemade guacamole in the future thanks to you.
Monterrey and the surrounding areas are so beautiful. I know you'll find tons of inspiration and walking paths up there.

john said...

Lauren, what a fun interview. Excellent questions and Anne, we so enjoyed your answers. Lewis Buzbee has a middle-grade novel called Steinbeck's Ghost set in your new neighborhood.
Thanks, too, Diane, for the conversation in the comments about lemon, orange, and avocado trees. That's particularly welcome when we haven't been above freezing in a month.

a.mingo said...

Oh, you two did a beautiful job of hauling it all up and together; the moving, the deadlines, heritage and food. Did I miss something? Oh, yeah. Writers groups! Inkslingers lives forever in my heart.
Good luck in these hectic days, Anne!
I have no doubt a wonderful new community and inspiration awaits you in Monterey.

David LaRochelle said...

We're sorry to be losing you in the Midwest, Anne, but your move will be motivation to travel out west to visit.

The mere sound of your character's name, Tugs Button, makes me want to read your book! I'm confident it will be another hit!

Anne said...

Thanks for the comments, all!
Diane, I'll have to get your guacamole recipe.
John, I'll look up Steinbeck's Ghost. Sounds great.
Annie, how we miss you!
And David - always a midwest girl at heart - and now you have someone to visit in Monterey!