Julie Anne Peters is the award-winning and critically acclaimed author of 16 published books including National Book Award Finalist Luna, Define “Normal”, Between Mom and Jo, Far From Xanadu, Keeping You a Secret, GRL2GRL: Short Fictions, and Rage: A Love Story. Her most recent title, By the Time You Read This I’ll Be Dead, was published earlier this year. An altered version of this interview originally appeared in the February 2008 issue of Kite Tales for the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the SCBWI, available for download on their website. (It’s worthwhile to read both, especially the typical workday section to see a comparison of what she was working on two years ago versus today.)
Describe your work space.
Physically, I work in the dining room. Or living room. Or back porch. Kitten room, bedroom, car. The real work takes place in my head, and you don’t want to open that door.
No day is the same, really. My favorite part about being self-employed is that I get to decide how every minute of my time is spent. I do have short- and long-term goals for my writing, and self-imposed deadlines to keep me disciplined. Here’s what today looks like.
I have three novels in progress. One is under contract and I hope the second will be soon. The third is a middle grade novel, and I haven’t written for 9- to 12-year-olds in a while, so it’s challenging to return to my roots. The YA novel under contract is at the second revision stage with my editor, which means I’m waiting for line edits. If I’m working on a new book, the first draft, then all my focus is on that manuscript, that story and the characters. But I’ve always been able to switch between manuscripts easily, the way I can read more than one book in a sitting.
Most of my writing time is spent in revision, either my own revisions, those suggested by my critique group, or the ones from my editor. A major revision (as opposed to line edits) requires at least two months, since I need to read through the entire story several times to pick up on everything. With my editor, I never feel I have enough time to revise as thoroughly as I’d like, and I always feel anxiety about the nuancing aspects of my main character’s journey. I try to channel my editor’s vision for the book, and it doesn’t always come with clarity.
I do all my book writing in the morning while my mind is sharp. So much of writing is just thinking and if I’m consumed by a book, I may be “writing” most of the night, which means scrawling notes in the dark on the tablet I keep at my bedside. While conscious, I can only maintain the deep concentration required for transporting into a story for about three hours. In that time I can write or revise up to fifty pages. If I’m struggling to stay in the story, though, maybe ten pages get churned out. Hate those days.
Around lunch I have to get up and exercise. I always exercise in the morning, too, before I sit down to write. Also, if I have foster kittens, which is most of the time, they need to be fed and cuddled for a while. (My foster kittens are on a very strict nap, eat, play schedule while I’m writing.)
In the afternoon I turn on my computer. Sigh. I’ll spend two to three hours answering fan mail. (I do the fun stuff first.) Since my books are being translated, I get mail from all over the world—Germany, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Taiwan, England, Japan, South America, Indonesia, France, Canada, Australia. Recently, readers from foreign countries have been writing to ask for autographed photos. Apparently collecting autographs is big in Europe. Young readers from 12- to 20-somethings write, but so do older readers and parents (eek), teachers, and librarians, booksellers and other professionals in the field. I answer everyone who writes, even if it’s to say, “I’ll get back to you soon on that.” I hope to always find time to engage with my readers.
I usually have business to attend to via e-mail. My agent or editors may write. Either individually or through my publicist, people send requests for interviews or book donations or personal appearances. My goal every day is to empty my e-mail inbox.
I’ve lost count of how many interviews I need to complete. It’s hard to say no to interviews when they’re free promotion for my work. I have one ongoing interview with Don Gallo, an anthologist and educator, that’s been going on for six months now. The questions cover my entire career and we’re finally up to my most current book. Don is kind, or savvy enough, to send only a few questions at a time so I don’t go completely bonkers.
Social networking is next. MySpace, Facebook and Twitter are time sinks, but again, connecting with readers is empowering. It’s pathetic, but I need all the confidence and ego massaging I can get.
I try to make time for reading every day. There’s usually a mountain of library books on the coffee table, and now editors and agents send me manuscripts or ARCs (Advance Reading Copies) to blurb. A book has to blow me away before I’ll recommend it.
By evening my eyes are dead and my brain is mush, so TV is a balm. Since I write contemporary realistic fiction, I attempt to stay in touch with pop culture. The sappy CW shows, not so much, but I’m a reality TV addict.
Then I’m off to bed, scratching notes on the story I’m living and breathing, or dreaming of my next work or the one after.
List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.
I’m not particularly attached to objects. I have five cats who sit on my manuscripts or claw my leg to be fed or paw the paper as it comes out of the printer. I’m quite fond of them. Do they count?
Do you have any writing rituals? If so, describe them.
Not really. I just sit down and do what needs to be done.
What do you listen to while you write?
Nothing. I can’t listen to music because I want to sing along. Music changes my moods, and my moods need to be manipulated by my story. While I’m writing, the world could explode around me and I wouldn’t choke on the dust.
What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?
I try to remember to fill a glass of water before I start to keep my brain lubricated. I can go all day without eating or drinking, and I hate having to come out of a story just to pee.
What keeps you focused while you’re working?
The necessity of production. If I don’t produce, I don’t publish. If I don’t publish, I don’t get paid. If I don’t get paid, I don’t eat, plus I feel crappy about myself and the lack of purpose in my life. It’s vicious, the cycle.
If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be and why?
Writing is a singular obsession and solitary endeavor. I don’t play well with others.
What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?
Vary the sentence length in every paragraph. It seems simplistic, but it speaks to the heart of pacing, rhythm, cadence, word choice and readability.
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