Amy Kathleen Ryan is the author of the young adult novels Vibes and Shadow Falls. Her latest novel Zen and Xander, Undone is coming to a bookstore near you on May 3. She lives with her husband and dog in Colorado. To find out more about her and her books, visit her website or follow her on Twitter. An extended version of this interview originally appeared in the Spring 2009 issue of Kite Tales for the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the SCBWI, available for download on their website.
Describe your workspace.
An elegantly appointed room with oak paneling and floor to ceiling bookshelves replete with leather bound volumes and the bouquet of Earl Grey tea . . . Actually, the grim reality is a disheveled, disorganized mess with one tiny bookcase completely unequal to its task, a closet containing Christmas wrap and dusty office supplies, a ratty blanket for my dog to lie on, and stacks of boxes containing copies of my books that I haven’t figured out what to do with.
I wake up at around 7:30 with a dog nose in my ear. After walking His Fluffiness for about forty minutes, I return to a pot of freshly brewed coffee, which I pour into my favorite mug. I wander into my office and sit down to piddle around with email, Internet shopping, and vanity-surfing. (Googling myself.) My final act is to obsessively check the Amazon sales rank for Vibes one final time before my internet shuts off automatically, thanks to my techno-geek husband, and I have no way to entertain myself other than writing. I do this for about three to four hours, which results in about five to seven pages of tolerable stuff, and then I spend the rest of the day on various projects, some of them for money, some of them for fun. Finally I curl up with a good book to read for a few hours before I have to do housework and make dinner.
A ceramic mask hanging around my lampshade that was bought for me by my childhood best friend, who remains my best friend to this day. Binoculars that my husband bought for me so that I can watch squirrels mating in the trees outside my window. A carved wooden box that I bought for myself as an exchange student in Spain, which contains every photo ID I’ve ever had, including gym passes and work badges, along with business cards of various contacts that really deserve to be in a rolodex which I will probably never buy. Miles my dog is usually here too, but as to why he’s here, you’d have to ask him.
Do you have any rituals? If so, describe them.
Ritual is a rather glamorous word for this: As I’m writing, I get up and walk around approximately every fifteen minutes, doing various useless things such as making myself a gratuitous cup of tea or checking to see what my dog is barking at. I am also ostensibly thinking about what to write next. When I return to my chair, I’ve got more ideas and can type for another fifteen minutes, usually. If I sit there for a few minutes and nothing comes out of me, I go make the bed, or clean the bathroom mirror until some adequate words enter my cerebral cortex.
What do you listen to while you work?
The sound of my own heartbeat. That’s it. I need absolute silence.
I really do enjoy Earl Grey tea with milk and sugar. I also love frosted shredded wheat. I make myself eat apples, though in truth I’d rather have popcorn with too much butter on it. Cottage cheese is good. So are those little Laughing Cow cheeses that are wrapped in red wax, you know the ones? I enjoy squishing the wax, and making crescent shapes in it with my thumbnail.
What keeps you focused while you’re working?
What was the question? Is this where I urge people to go buy Vibes? Again, that’s Vibes, a hilarious young adult novel now available in paperback in a bookstore near you.
Whoever would be easiest to get rid of. That would probably be my dog Miles, since I outweigh him, though he’d be sure to check back every five minutes to see if he can come back in. My husband is a close second runner up, but I would inevitably be distracted by his amusing verbal wit and warm brown eyes.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve heard or received?
Jeffery Renard Allen, great writer, said something to me that I often repeat to people shortly before they roll their eyes because I’ve already said it to them a million times. He said: “Almost all writers have the talent they need. What most of them lack is the will.” This really made me think. I believe what he meant was that you must never, ever give up if you want to be a published writer. Even if you don’t want to be a published writer, it’s pretty good advice.
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