Angie Azur is a YA Sci-fi Writer.
Writer for PALEO Magazine.
Former Intern at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.
SCBWI & COWG Member.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Interview with Shevi Arnold: Why My Love Life Sucks: The Legend of Gilbert the Fixer

 I met Shevi via Facebook. I checked out her blog, and reached out for an interview. She's had an interesting life. She pulls from that when she writes. And, she's funny! I liked her right away, and you will too.

Below are the questions I asked her:

   1.     How did having an orthodox rabbi father influence your writing?
It did influence my writing in so many ways, but my dad isn’t exactly what you’d expect, so the influence probably isn’t at all what you’d think it is. My dad loves comedy, for example. He once took his congregation to the movies to see M.A.S.H., and he laughed harder than anyone. Being a middle child of six kids makes you kind of invisible, so I liked standing out by collecting funny things I heard on T.V., which I would later share at the dinner table on Shabbat. I loved making my dad laugh.

   2.     What words of advice did your Mother give you about writing that made a huge difference to you?
Earn a teacher’s certificate so you’ll have something to fall back on. I tried teaching for three months, and the stress just about killed me. It taught me that falling back is not an option. If you want to write—write!

   3.     Why write?
Because it’s the most fun thing you can possibly do. You can’t control everything in the real world, but you can in a story. Not every story has a happy ending in the real world, but you can give it one in your head. When I was little, I used to make up stories with tiny figurines, blocks, Legos and Tinker Toys. I did it because it was fun, and now I still do it, because it’s still fun.   

   4.     How many books have you written, and which one is your favorite?
I’ve written seven novels and 40 picture books, but so far I’ve only published three of the novels, with a fourth coming out soon. I have two favorites: Toren the Teller’s Tale and Why My Love Life Sucks, book one in The Legend of Gilbert the Fixer. Toren is about the magic of storytelling, and I consider it my magnum opus. I’ve been writing it in my head since I was 16 or 17. Why My Love Life Sucks, on the other hand, introduces my funniest character. I love Gilbert Garfinkle— literally to death. I just love spending time with him, taking me with him in my mind everywhere I go. He makes me laugh.

   5.     Describe your writing in 5 words:

   Funny, science-fantasy, geek fiction

   6.     What time do you get up and what do you eat for breakfast?
   My internal clock is messed up, so when I get up varies. My favorite breakfast is homemade gluten-free, non-dairy, no-sugar-added blueberry pancakes with sugar-free chocolate almond milk. (I have stomach problems that limit what I can eat.)

   7.     Who/What are you reading right now?
Your questions…and my answers. Just kidding. What am I reading right now . . . ? (goes to check) Oh, yeah, I recently bought a couple of calendars. One has Dave Barry classics, and the other has dialogue fromThe Office. The second one is really funny. And I’m going through this huge stack of comic-strip collections I bought myself as a Hanukkah present.

   8.     What do you like best: Writing or Drawing?
I prefer writing to drawing. I feel I get closer to my vision in writing than I do when I draw. If you’re a writer-illustrator, you’re probably nodding your head right now. I think most visual artists are tough on themselves. We all want to be Van Gogh or Rembrandt, but of course we’re not. I also don’t have the patience to work on one piece of art for more than a day, but I can spend an entire year editing a novel without getting bored of it. Still, I love projects that involve both. Toren the Teller’s Tale, for example, has illustrated chapter headings.

   9.     Explain to others how you write humor. What makes you laugh? 
  Writing humor is easy. It’s all about surprise. Just set up an expectation and then go against it.

Have you ever seen When Harry Met Sally? There’s a scene at the end when Sally tells Harry she really, really hates him, and you can tell by the way she’s saying it that she means she really, really loves him. Now that is hysterically funny! We all know the expectation. It’s a love story, and we know she loves him. But she doesn’t say, “I love you.” She says the opposite of that, and when she does, the smile on his face tells you he knows what that really means. That is brilliant comedy.
Lots of things make me laugh. The Princess Bride is my favorite movie, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is my favorite book, and The Big Bang Theory is my favorite TV show currently on the air.  I love standup comedy and comic strips. I will laugh at almost anything funny provided it has the element of surprise, although I don’t like humor based on cruelty, embarrassment, or…certain bodily functions. (They make me sick to my already weak stomach.)

 10. What's the deepest thought you ever had about art? Why do we need art in our lives?

   Toren the Teller’s Tale is about the magic of stories, which means my deepest thought about art is over 500 pages long. In short, though, it’s that—if the Many Worlds theory of physics is true— we don’t make up stories, because our stories already exist somewhere out in space. Many scientist today actually believe that. All we do as storytellers is act as a spyglass into those worlds, letting our audiences see other parts of the universe as they really are. Kind of cool, isn’t it?
As to why we need art in our lives, art shows us possibilities. It opens up our worlds and gives us options we might have never realized existed otherwise. For example, a teenage girl who reads Toren the Teller’s Tale might discover that she too has a story worth telling. Or someone who reads The Legend of Gilbert the Fixer might discover that he has it within himself to fix the world.

  11. Who is your biggest cheerleader?
It depends on the book. A member of my former critique group is Toren’s biggest fan; my husband is a strong supporter of the anti-bullying message of Dan Quixote: Boy of Nuevo Jersey; and my daughter isGilbert the Fixer’s biggest fan. She knows some of the stories of the books that will come later in the series, because she demanded to know.

  12. You list 8 previous jobs on your website, which one was your favorite and why?
I loved being an editorial cartoonist, because I got to express myself in words and drawings while making people laugh; but I also loved being an arts-and-entertainment writer, because I got to see shows I enjoyed and write about them for a living; and I loved being a consumer columnist, because I knew I was helping people make smarter shopping choices. I think every paying job I’ve had in newspapers and magazines has been a pleasure. I couldn’t pick one favorite.   

  13. Who else influenced you with your writing?
Pretty much every storyteller whose work I’ve absorbed has influenced who I am as a writer, no matter the medium and regardless of whether I did or didn’t like their work. Sometimes, I feel I learn more from stories I don’t like than from ones I do. When I don’t like something, I feel a need to fix it. Some of the best stories can come from that. Ride of Your Life, for example, was inspired by a real life tragedy: the Great Adventure Haunted Castle fire that killed eight teenagers in 1984. I wanted to give it a happy ending, and Ride of Your Life—the story of teenage ghosts who meet and fall in love in an amusement park—was the result.

  14. Do you belong to any writer's associations? If yes, which ones and why?
I belong to the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI). The first agent I ever talked to in an effort to sell my novels suggested it. It’s a great organization. I found my critique group through the SCBWI, and I’ve attended several SCBWI workshops and conferences where I’ve had my work critiqued by agents and editors. SCBWI members are some of the nicest, most supportive people on earth. If you write for children or teens, I highly recommend it.

   15. What do you think about critique groups?
I used to moderate a critique group, so I guess I’m biased. I think they can be great, provided you’re in the right group for you. My group, FantasyWeavers, was—and is—wonderful. I moderated the group for about eight years, but eventually it got to the point where if one member said I needed to make a scene funnier, someone else said I needed to make it less funny. At that point, I realized the group wasn’t giving me anything I couldn’t give myself, so I stepped down and gave another writer a chance to be the moderator. She’s doing a great job, and I now have more time to devote to my own writing and editing.    

  16. Give 3 quick pieces of advice for newbie writers/illustrators:
1. Take apart every story—whether it’s in a book, a TV show, an article, an illustration, or even a song—and try to work out how each part makes you feel and why. Do you feel the story has too much or too little exposition? How do you feel about the main character? As a reader, did you feel rewarded or cheated by the way the story ended? Apply what you’ve learned to your own work.

2. Don’t aim to get it perfect; aim to get it done. You can edit a badly written page, but you can’t edit any empty one.

3. Humor makes everything better, and the secret to humor is surprise. If you find the next thing in your story is obvious, don’t write it. Instead write the opposite of that, and then work out a way it makes sense.

  17. Where do you go to get a great cup of Joe or an amazing cup of Tea in your town?
Dunkin Donuts. We have several nice coffee houses, but Dunkin Donuts still has the best. I don’t know about tea.

  18. You listen to music when you write. Why? How does it help you?
Three reasons:
First, the right music sets a mood. Between writing sessions, I love listening to songs that fit my characters or certain scenes. It helps bring the story to life in my mind.
Second, it’s white noise, so it helps prevent other noises from distracting me.
Third, it can help keep my internal editor in check when I’m writing a first draft. My internal editor is great, but if I let it, it would scream, “Hey, you missed something back there,” every other sentence. Listening to music drowns it out. I usually prefer soundtracks while I’m writing or editing, because music with words can be distracting.

   19. Why do you enter writer's contests? How have they helped your goals?
The way I see it, why not enter a writing competition? Winning third-place in SmartWriter’s W.I.N. (Write It Now) contest in the YA category—which was judged by Alex Flinn, the author of Beastly andCloaked—won a lot of positive attention for my entry, Ride of Your Life. Seven out of the ten agents I sent it to asked for the full manuscript. I think if I hadn’t decided to go indie, I could have sold it to a traditional publisher. Getting to the quarter-finals of the ABNA (Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award) gave readers a chance to check out the first chapters of Why My Love Life Sucks, which brought me a few new fans. If you have something to submit and you can go in without expectations, do it. You won’t know how well you’ll do until you try.

  20. What one word best describes you?

  21. Any big news?
I am as excited as a tech geek with a new gadget to announce that I have just finished the final edits of Why My Love Life Sucks and will be indie publishing it soon. Expect to see it in Amazon, BN and other online retailers in February.

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