WHAT IS BEHIND THE DESK?
Behind the Desk is a new series in which I interview amazing published authors, librarians, teachers, book designers, etc. so that we can learn more about the intricacies, struggles, and excitement that goes on in the world of books and literature. Feel free to contact me with suggestions for future interviewees!
Behind the Desk: patricia mccormick
Patricia McCormick writes about some of the darkest subject matters known to humankind, yet she remains one of the sweetest people I've ever met. Her literary efforts have been rewarded with two National Book Award nominations and countless other awards. But, more importantly, her moving and true-to-life books impact readers, teachers, students, and artists around the world. This month sees the release of SOLD, based on her novel of the same name, starring Gillian Anderson, David Arquette, and the utterly brilliant Niyar Saikia.
Why are you a writer?
Writing is like breathing. I have to do it to stay alive. Spiritually and emotionally, I mean.
Did you purposefully set out to write serious YA novels before you became a published author, or do you just keep googling the word "sad", as your son has suggested?
I always felt that if I was going to devote two years of my life to an artistic project it should really be ABOUT something. Something meaningful. Something that sheds light and creates change.
Researching and writing these books must be emotionally tolling at times. How do you allow the process to affect you without allowing it to damage you?
I watch a lot of Jim Carey movies. And I surround myself with upbeat and funny people (like my son). I am basically a sunny person, even though I delve into such deep topics, but I take care to protect that sense of optimism with good friends, good books, lots of yoga, and bad music (think disco, think "It's Raining Men").
From what you've seen, what sort of impact has your work had on your readers (be they students, teachers, publishing folks...)?
Often, school communities will take up a collection after reading one of my books and donate the proceeds to a charity, one that helps fight trafficking or helps preserve the music of Cambodia, for instance. I've been to very wealthy schools and very poor schools; each have been generous. I've also been to juvenile prisons where the kids say they can relate to the books—even though the circumstances of their lives are so different—because of the universal theme about finding one's voice. And virtually every time I read, someone, usually a teenage girl, tells me that my books reflect her story. Especially touching are the girls who say they used to cut themselves but have stopped.
When you're not reading about child trafficking or child soldiers, what are you reading? What makes you pick up a book initially?
I google 'sad.' No, seriously, I like to read the same kinds of books I like to write. I'm drawn to serious topics and read mostly adult literature. The best thing I've read recently: A Little Life. It's about a young man who survives terrific abuse as a child and keeps it secret as he grows into adult life. Some people said it was terribly depressing. I found it very true—and very uplifting because he crafted a new and better life for himself.
How has teaching writing changed your writing?
Critiquing student work keeps me on my toes, and forces me to be tougher on my own work. Student work also inspires me with the creative and personal risks they take and with the optimism they have. It's wonderful to be a beginner. You are full of wonder and excitement. I'm old and jaded at this point; it's great to get in touch with the enthusiasm and openness of the beginner. .
What would you tell a writer to bear in mind about the editor-author relationship? What main qualities do you personally look for in an editor?
I have worked almost exclusively with one editor: Alessandra Balzer. She is the Tiffany's of editors. Classy, funny, tough, encouraging, exacting of herself and me. She works as hard—maybe harder—than I do to make take my books from Ugly Duckling drafts to Swans. She is a consummate pro, who works as well with the artistic side of the process as she does with the business side of her operations. I like that she is so utterly and consistently sane. That lets me be a little crazy. In a good way.
How would you like to see the publishing industry be an even greater force for change when it comes to literacy and access to books?
Publishers are very generous in donating books to low income communities. They are also working hard to create more diverse books that reflect the experiences of ALL kinds of readers.
As an established and successful author, what do you make of the recent Authors Guild letter regarding publishing contracts negatively affecting authors' incomes and professional lives?
I agree 100%. E-books are wonderful. They allow access to a whole new group of readers. And they allow publishers to cut costs. But it still 'costs' the writer the same amount to create the book. We shouldn't take a pay cut because the publishers are saving money. If anything, the savings could be used to compensate authors better.
If you could give one of your books to one politician or group, which book and which person/group would it be and why?
I would give SOLD to the men who go to brothels and the people who run trafficking rings and publish the BackPage and other sites where people can find underage girls available for sex.