Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Writers' Wednesday: An Interview with Adrienne Kress

Welcome to Writers' Wednesday! A quick promo mention before we dive into today's interview: I have an article up at The Long and the Short of It today, titled "How to Jump Start Your Writing." Give it a read, if you'd like.


And now...I'm thrilled to introduce today's featured author, Adrienne Kress. Her book Alex and the Ironic Gentleman, was released just this year, to rave reviews. Settle're in for a terrific interview!

Welcome, Adrienne! Can you tell us a little about your background?

Sure! I was born and raised in Toronto, Canada. My parents were both high school English teachers, so I had a very literary upbringing. My dad read to me every night (he was awesome at doing voices), everything from Dickens to Tolkein to Douglas Adams. He was also a creative writing teacher, so I learned very early on all about the various forms of writing out there. As for my mom, well, she’s a very strong, smart woman, and really taught me to be the kind of girl who thought for herself, who was never ashamed to have opinions. Must be why I don’t have a problem now sharing my thoughts with the world (whether the world wants it or not)!

I went to an arts school as a drama major from the age of 11 through high school, and specialized in the subject at the University of Toronto graduating with an honours BA. Then I moved to London, England for three years where I studied at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts, and worked as an actress.

Throughout my education I always wrote, earning an award for my work in high school. I got really into writing plays and studied with the award winning playwright Djanet Sears in my last year at U of T. I have since produced and directed the show I wrote, A Weekend in the Country, as a result of that class, three times – twice in Toronto (this past summer at the Summerworks Festival), and once for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Now I am back in Toronto, writing and acting, and really having a great time!

Tell us about your latest writing project or published title.

My latest book, okay let’s be honest, my only book, is called Alex and the Ironic Gentleman (Alex and the Wigpowder Treasure in the UK). On the surface it is a very straightforward adventure story about a 10 and a half year old girl Alex, who finds herself on a rescue mission to save her grade six teacher from pirates (and to hopefully find some buried treasure on the way). It’s all very swashbuckling, and slightly absurd, and hopefully a lot of fun. But I really look at the book as a bit of a satire for kids, in much the same way as Lewis Carroll mocked the politics etc of his time in Alice in Wonderland (and in fact the second act of my book is most definitely an homage to that fabulous work).

I tried to write a bit of a commentary on the adult world. For example, I temped a lot to make ends meet as an actress. And at these jobs it sometimes felt like my boss expected me to read his/her mind. So I translated this in the book into Mental Dictation, where Alex’s boss actually does expect her to read his mind. Of course for the kids reading it, I just hope they have a really good time, and that they laugh a lot. But I do like to throw something in there for the adults as well.

As for current projects, I am working on the sequel to the book. But it isn’t exactly the kind of sequel you normally expect. In this case the book is a whole new adventure starring a new kid, Timothy. Basically Timothy’s adventure is happening parallel to Alex’s, and then two thirds of the way through Timothy’s story, he meets up with the end (where we left off) of Alex’s. So then together they finish off the rest of Timothy’s. If that makes sense. It makes sense to me. Sort of. Well anyway, there’s a dragon involved, yet more awesome pirates, and the story ends up in China. Pretty cool I think.

That does sound cool! What advice would you give to new writers just starting out?

I would say to do two things. Read a lot. And write a lot.

You’ll find there are tons of “how to write” books out there, and while I firmly believe that the rules of grammar should be learnt most definitely, the best way to learn about writing is to do it. And also to read it. By reading some of the great authors out there, you’ll get a real sense of how to write, better I think than in any “how to” book. Read the classics, learn how language, and the use of language, has evolved over time. Read many different genres. And then when you think you have a favourite genre, get to know that genre inside and out. And understand that while the rules of writing are meant to be broken, you can’t break them until you know them in the first place.

But always write. Just keep doing it. Even if you think what you’ve written sucks, just keep going.

As they say in Galaxy Quest: “Never give up! Never surrender!”

What do you find most difficult about writing? What do you find most exciting or rewarding?

The act of starting to write is very tough for me. That sitting down in front of your computer and going, “Right, let’s write!” And it can feel torturous at times, the first few sentences typed out a word a minute. It’s the big secret about being a professional writer: Writing is hard! It isn’t about being inspired. In fact it is very rare that I sit down to write and I just have inspiration and the words just flow out of me. Most often it is a slog. And starting the slog, to me that’s the hardest bit. The discipline. Once you get going though, things start to come together.

Most rewarding? Well when people like the book, that’s pretty swell! But I really really love making someone laugh. And when someone says that the book is funny, or when I show someone a piece of writing and they just start laughing, I swear there is really nothing quite like that feeling.

How do you balance writing with the rest of your life?

It actually has worked out really well for me. I am also a professional actress, and I used to temp to supplement my income. Now, thanks to the book, I don’t need to temp anymore, so I work from home doing my writing. What this means is that I am available to audition last minute (as almost all auditions wind up coming up last minute), and my schedule is incredibly flexible. Acting and writing work really well together actually.

As for my social life, most of my friends are busy working during the day, so I wind up writing during the day as well, and get together with them in the evening. Fortunately I have one friend with whom I jog in the morning three times a week, so that gets me up at a reasonable hour. Creating your own schedule is definitely one of the best and one of the worst things of being a writer.

Describe your writing space...

I love my writing space! It’s a corner desk in my apartment that I stained a dark rosewood colour. I have framed versions of my cover from different countries on my wall, as well as a white board. And I have a doorknob that I bought in the doorknob shop that inspired Alex’s uncle’s shop in the book. I’ve screwed it into the wall, and hung a frame around it. It looks very cool. On the shelves next to me, I have little inspirational tidbits. A few stuffed animals, I like stuffed animals, and a small wooden junk (a Chinese ship). I also have the treasure chest that Scholastic sent my agent with the offer for my book in it. They had filled the chest with costume jewelry and chocolate money, as well as tiny scrolls on which the offer was printed. It’s just so neat. On my desk I have a little black and white TV, because I think television makes the best white noise. And of course a desk lamp, and my wonderful laptop, Horatio.

Anyway, here’s a picture of it!

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book(s)?

I think one of the most surprising things in this whole process is how the imperfect the final product is. As an author you can always find something to change in your writing each time you read it over. If it were up to authors, the thing would never get finished.And I guess I find it surprising because when you are a student, working with a book, you take each word as if it is carved in stone. Quoting a work needs to be utterly accurate, “It’s isn’t ‘in the house”, it’s ‘by the house’.” When you look at a book as a reader you assume that this product is ‘perfect’, that the every word the author chose was a very conscious decision. But as an author you realize that the word choice, sometimes, it’s just the best that everyone could agree to at the moment.

Of course we strive to make the book as perfect as we can, but it is just impossible to make it flawless. Books exist for hundreds of years after they are published. And it’s really funny to think that quite possibly if someone, like Dickens say, looked at their work today, they’d shake their head and comment, “Oh that phrase, yeah that was because I was working on deadline. Man I can’t believe that’s in there!”

Adrienne, thanks so much for a great interview!

Would you like to know more about this author? Visit her website and her blog, and, as always, leave a comment and make sure to let her know you were here today!


Sarita Leone said...

This book sounds wonderful. Loved the interview! :)

Michael said...

Great interview! I can completely relate to always finding something to change, too. There's always something I think I could have done better, and sometimes it's an effort to either pull myself away from it or make myself do it!

Marianne Arkins said...

The book sounds really interesting! Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

I love the story of how your publisher made the offer! Great interview!

Alice Teh said...

I like the picture of the writing space. :)