Friday, June 1, 2012

Each One Teach One Interview: YA/MG Historical Fiction Author Joyce Moyer Hostetter

This week’s Award-Winning Author in our Interview Series is YA Historical Fiction Author Joyce Moyer Hostetter.  Joyce is an active and well-loved member of the SCBWI.  I once heard her speak at a conference, about writing historical fiction, and I was so inspired that I immediately wanted to go off to try to write some myself!  Joyce reminds us that each of us have fodder for historical fiction tales in our own lives from our growing up years, in our parent’s scrapbooks and our grandparent’s diaries.  There’s fodder everywhere in our homes, communities and states for great teen stories of historical fiction. But historical fiction is not like fantasy, my friends.  It takes a lot more real-life research.  You have to truly understand what happened during the historical time you’re writing about, and how that would have affected your character’s lives.  
Joyce is an excellent example about how to bring together an enormous amount of research, literature reviews,  and interviews with people who lived during a situation or era. She makes her fiction truly ring true to the way life would have been in the times and places she writes about.  Joyce has published four teen historical fiction books, and has another one currently on the way.  Check out her great book trailers for her award-winning books HEALING WATER (talk about a great hook!), BLUE and COMFORT.

So Joyce, when you were new to the world of writing what other author helped you move forward in the right direction, and what did he or she teach you?

Becky Levine, author of THE WRITING AND CRITIQUE GROUP SURVIVAL GUIDE contacted me after reading my book, HEALING WATER.  She liked it so well that she wanted to swap critiques with me.  Wow!  That puffed me up just a little. So I sent her my work-in-progress and boy, is she ever gifted at analyzing characters!  If I had to think of one quick gem she gave me it would be summed up in two words she never actually used. ATTITUDE CHECK!   Her comments continually brought me back to the question of what my characters were thinking, feeling, and how those “attitudes” influenced their behavior. 
Becky may have missed her calling. It’s quite possible she’d make a really good therapist!

ATTITUDE CHECK!  Great point Joyce and Becky!  How many times have we heard from editors and readers that cardboard characters who have no emotional depth are boring and no one wants to buy books about them.  It does seem so important to ask ourselves `how does what’s happening to our characters make them feel and think, and how does how they feel and think affect their behavior?’  

I’m going to go write “attitude check” on the post it board in my writing space right now! 

Here's a photo of Becky Levine!
Also, I love the topic of Becky Levine’s book on critique groups!  (Lucky for all of you readers out there, Joyce and I are giving away a copy of Becky’s great book The WRITING AND CRITIQUE GROUP SURVIVAL GUIDE (a book I think every writer can use – it teaches you how to analyze characters, scenes and dialogue.) We'll give the book to one person picked from a hat from the list of names of all those who make a “comment” on this blog post and including "help, I need the survival guide!" before Wednesday night June 6th  You can enter twice by also making a comment on the most recent post on Joyce’s blog too!  The winner will be announced on both blogs next Thursday June 7th, 2012, and Joyce will contact the winner to get the book to you. J (So everybody out there in my critique group, hee hee, I sure hope you’ll enter this contest so we can try to win that book, lol! We want it, my friends! But this is a wide open contest. So, good luck to all who make comments on either or both blogs!)

So getting back to the interview, Joyce, can you give an example related to one of your published or agented works where you used Becky’s wisdom of focusing on your character’s “Attitudes,” thoughts and feelings to improve your book?

Yes! Just to be clear, I don’t have a contract for this book yet; although I’m sitting on my phone as we speak!  But anyway, my current book has two story lines – one is contemporary (Kelsey’s story) and the other historical (Grampy’s).  It began in my head as a historical novel so I tried much too hard not to let Kelsey’s story line take over. The result was that Kelsey was one-dimensional and not so likeable.  Becky kept giving me her gentle version of “ATTITUDE CHECK!”  Always asking what Kelsey was feeling and what her actions were based on.  

She also pointed out that Kelsey, who was seventeen, wasn’t acting her age! Sometimes we do need a therapist to help figure out why our characters are floundering. Becky was one of several critics who helped me to see that Kelsey is actually fourteen and that she needed a compelling story line of her own!

That’s a great example, Joyce!  So tell us, what is it that you love the most about being a writer?

I love when readers feel that my stories validate their real life experiences.  BLUE  and COMFORT are about polio and so many readers tell me that the books opened up communication with family members about their otherwise undisclosed polio stories. 

That definitely is amazing when people say “you know that’s so much like how I feel sometimes” about the emotional responses of one of our charaters.  Wow – what a huge compliment that is to any writer, that you’ve created a character that is so true to life that she or he becomes a mirror  through which our readers can see themselves.  That opens up opportunities for them to talk about their own lives. It doesn’t get much better than that!
And now that you’re an experienced author, how are you reaching out to new authors to help them along on this journey?

Like many writers, I’ve critiqued a lot of works-in-progress.   I remember how little I knew in the beginning so I try to save new writers from the pitfalls of submitting prematurely and making amateurish mistakes. I recommend them to SCBWI and encourage them to seek feedback from honest readers and critique partners. I’ve occasionally recommended a writer to an editor.
And of course, I promote books by other authors on my blog and link them on social media sites.  All these things are important because the publishing world is so tough to break into.  We’re a community and we have to be each other’s neighborhood watch.  Virtual block parties are essential too!  Everyone benefits when we share unselfishly and wish each other well.

I love that idea of a “neighborhood” of writers, being the neighborhood watch and having block parties together, Joyce. That’s definitely how I see the author/illustrator community too – we really are a community, looking out for each other; helping each other progress; cheering each other on…

So, of course in that community we’d never want to encourage jealousy, but just for fun let me ask, what is one book you wish you had written but someone else beat you to it? And why do you love it?

Hmmm – maybe THEN by Morris Gleitzman.  I’m so impressed with his ability to use humor to make a dreadful story more bearable.  Which is not to say he doesn’t take your heart and break it.  Because he surely does.

Wow! Humor and heartbreak together.  Sounds like something I’m going to have to go read!
Ok, one more helpful question.  What special piece of advice would you like to give to new writers – or maybe even those of us who are a little further along on the path?

I think my favorite writing tip is to write what you feel today.  If you’re mad, write an angry character.  If it’s Christmas, write a holiday scene.  If you’re sweating make your character sweat.  You can’t do this all the time because eventually you have to piece all these scenes together.  And, of course, you might actually be the sort of person who will split wide open if you don’t write in chronological order.  But I find this is a useful tool for days when real life emotions threaten to suck the writing energy out of me.

I love that advice, Joyce!  My one character is headed toward her Christmas break from school right now, but it sure would be easier for me to write a scene about a hot June day with the fan blowing on me and being totally grossed out by a wayward cockroach skittering across my front porch, lol.  Ah, you’re right. If we can grab our own emotions and experiences when possible and throw them into our stories those scenes can be some of the strongest ones we write!
So, now off we all go to write scenes in which our character's emotions come through clearly, and our own emotions and experiences strengthen the text!
Also, everybody, remember to comment here and at Joyce's blog for 2 chances to win Becky's wonderful critiquing book!
Next week our fabulous (and slightly goofy in a brilliant MG way) author interviewee will be MG/YA author Alan Gratz. Come prepared to learn more about plot - among other thngs! See you then!


Shannon Hitchcock said...

Great interview! I keep meaning to read Healing Water, but haven't gotten around to it yet, I have read Joyce's other books though and love them.

Carol Baldwin said...

Janelle- Thanks so much for hosting Joyce. As one who has been mentored by her and continues to be blessed by her friendship--I know how she takes seriously her responsibility as a more experienced writer helping those who are not-quite-there yet. (BOy, was that a run-on sentence!) ANyway, this was an insightful interview and I learned new things that I have to think about for my WIP. Joyce's point of "writing what you are experiencing" has informed my story in wonderful ways. Thanks ladies! You don't have to enter me in the contest, I already have Becky's book!

Jenny said...

Super interview, Janelle, and Joyce! I know I'm always grateful when my critique partners in my group push me to get to the bottom of my characters' motivations and feelings. Oh and, "Help, I need the survival guide!"

Janelle said...

Thanks for hopping on here and sharing your thoughts, Shannon, Carol and Jenny!

Great example of how to enter the contest, there, Jenny! "Help, I need the survival guide!" (Don't forget to put that in your post, ya'll if you want to be in the drawing for the book!)

Becky Levine said...

Janelle. Thanks so much for posting this. Joyce is a huge part of my writing neighborhood. Shannon, you HAVE to read HEALING WATER!

Janelle said...

Hi Becky! Thanks for letting us give away a copy of your great book!

Jean said...

Oh! I want a copy of the book, please.

And I LOVE Joyce's teaching and writing. She's smart and talented, and a pretty nice person to boot!


Rosi said...

"HELP! I NEED THE SURVIVAL GUIDE!" Loved the interview with Joyce, too. Her book Healing Waters is terrific!!

Joyce Moyer Hostetter said...

Thanks so much ladies for chiming in! You really ought to enter even if you have one. Because it would make a fabulous gift to a writer friend. Or a great door prize! And forgot to mention, it has Becky's signature! Those of you who requested it, I am taking names!

Thank-you Janelle! I loved being on your blog!

Augusta Scattergood said...

Topnotch interview. I don't need the book because I own a copy and have shared with many (though I always make them give it back!) I, too, like the thought of a writing neighborhood. Good blog, Janelle.

Janelle said...

Hi Jean, Rosi, and Augusta for your comments, and your entries into the book give-away contest!

For those who haven't entered, you only have until Wednesday. Joyce is "taking names" as she noted! : )

- Janelle

Liz Hollar said...

Wonderful interview and it really made me want to read Blue. My uncle got polio right after returning from WWII, and its something hard for my generation to fully understand.

Linda A. said...

"Help! I need the Survival Guide!" I am so glad there are writers who help other writers out there. Thanks Janelle, Joyce, and Becky.

Joyce Moyer Hostetter said...

Liz, thanks for dropping by. I hope you are able to read Blue. Is your uncle still living. Wow! A double whammy WWII and polio! I've entered you in the contest.

You too, Linda. Thanks for stopping by my blog. I've entered you 2X!

Peggy Reiff Miller said...

Help! I need the Survivor Guide!

Wonderful interview with Joyce, Janelle. This supportive writing community is what keeps me going.

Joyce Moyer Hostetter said...

Peggy, you've been entered 2X! Thanks for your very supportive comments!

Glad YOU are in MY writing community!