Did I look ok? Hair? How was my backdrop? Books, yes, good idea! My first Skype author interview about my book, Valeria & The Enemy of Time. And the questions were coming from one of the most challenging groups—a class of 5th graders.
One of my best friends from grammar and high school had taken a career as a teacher, back home where we both grew up in Tulare county. To my great delight, she enjoyed my book and presented it to her students. They also enjoyed it, and my friend used a great tool, Skype, to get them a real interview with a real author. They posted their reviews of the book on Padlet, so I had an inkling of what questions might come up.
After a bit of technical wrangling, the interview was on! I looked out over a classroom of bouncy happy kids, some cutting up in front of the camera, some waving their arms in the air. (Pick me! Pick me!) They had printouts of questions they had come up with earlier, so they wouldn’t go blank. Ready, set, go!
I was surprised at many of the questions. Yes, some were about the book. But they wanted to know things about me. Here is a sampling, and a version of my answer.
When did you start writing?
I remember the first time I had the thrill of writing a story. It was in the 3rd grade, and I filled one and a half sides with cursive and decorated it with a crayoned picture at the top. However, no one told me that when you wrote a story, it needed to come out of your own head. I had basically plagiarized one of the stories in our reading book. I think I remember it so well because it was not too long afterwards that I did have that realization and was mortified. But I still saved it because of the joy I had in writing it.
Did what happened to Valeria happen to you? Is she you when you were younger?
Because I wrote the book in the first person, I can see why it might seem that way to a 5th grader, especially because I did take so many snippets of my life and transform them into book elements. But no, she is a made-up person.
How long did it take you to write the book?
The whole process was about a year and a half. I wrote the edited first draft in a couple months, and then set it aside for almost a year before I revisited it with fresh eyes. Then I began revising it, which took another few months. Final editing and compiling the draft for self-publishing was another intense step that took a month or two.
How old are you?
I’m the same age as your teacher. (Kids look at teacher. Teacher says, “I’ve told them before, I’m as old as dirt.”)
What advice do you give on becoming a writer?
Write a lot. Read a lot. Take classes on writing when you can. Don’t be afraid of learning grammar. Write some more.
Where did you get the name “Valeria?”
I met a little girl with long black hair who was my daughter’s age while we were living in student family housing in Davis, CA. That was her name, and I’d never come across it before. It struck me, and I kept it filed away in my mind.
What was your favorite part?
I really like the section where Valeria is on the bridge, trying to keep the thug from stealing their horse. She is driven by desperation, a fierce loyalty to the little girl she is trying to protect, and an uncompromising resolve to complete the task she has been given. She is a worthy opponent to the unsavory character trying to best her. (Hint: there are knives involved.)
And then the question I knew would come up:
Why didn’t you have Theo tell Valeria what happened to him when he disappeared?
Because if I didn’t write the words of him telling her, then the reader doesn’t know either, right? Honestly, I had planned on doing that. But when the time came, I had the sense that it would slow down the momentum. In a book, most of the writing needs to exist for a purpose. To advance the plot, to reveal more of the character’s personality, to help the reader visualize where and when the action is taking place, to fill in pieces of the puzzle that are important for the reader. By the time Valeria and Theo got back together again, the reason why he disappeared really wasn’t important anymore. To have stuck it in would have been like, “Okay, hold on, let’s just pause here for a moment and explain something that, really, if you had to guess what happened, 90% would get it right.” I’m sure Valeria asked him what had happened, and he told her. But of course I could never waste the words to write down all their conversations!
The most rewarding thing to find out is that now my friend’s students want to write their own books!