Donna Jo Napoli, author of 19 YA books, including Zel, Bound, and The Smile, was interviewed by me on April 3rd, 2009. Here is what she said:
When did you first know you'd be a writer?
I didn't start writing till I was 28 -- and from the moment I started writing, I was a writer. Not a published one -- that took 14 more years -- but nevertheless a writer. Writing is an activity and a state of mind, and whether or not you get published, if you write, you are a writer.
What influenced your writing and how has that changed over time?
Everything influences my writing. Everything I see and hear and smell and feel and taste. All the things I learn to do. All the things I find in people's conversations. All the stories I've ever been told.
Changes over time? Well, the more I live, the more I experience, so the more there is to influence me.
Describe your experiences of getting published.
I'd send out a MS. I'd wait. And wait. I'd get back a letter: "Thank you for your story; we don't want it."
That lasted 14 years.
Then I sold something.
And once I sold one thing, I just kept selling.
When you're writing a new book, who do you let read your earliest drafts, if anyone?
How much research do you do per book?
That depends on how little I know about the topic. Sometimes I have to read for months and months (once, a whole year) before I get up the courage to try to write. But sometimes I write about things closer to home -- and the research takes less time.
How do you choose names for your characters and places?
I choose names appropriate to the time/place/culture.
I choose the place by what will make my story better. A story about a man turning into a lion (like Beast) is best in a country where people don't eat bloody meant (like any Muslim country) -- so that the country helps to make the horror of the situation worse. That's what I look for in a setting -- ways to tighten the screws -- to make frightening things horrifying, sad things tragic, funny things hilarious, whatever.
Your books take place all over the world in all kinds of places. Do you travel much for your writing?
Yes, I travel a very lot for my writing. Tomorrow I'm going to India -- and , of course, I'm working on a book set in India in the 1500s.
Which do you prefer writing: historical fiction, retellings of myths, fantasy, or children's fiction?
I don't have a preference. When I'm writing a book, it is totally engrossing me -- and I love that feeling of getting lost in the book.
Have you met any other authors since becoming one yourself?
Tons. There's an organization called the SCBWI -- and they have meetings and invite writers. So I meet lots of writers at these meetings. And at State Library Association Meetings. And at State Teachers of English meetings. And so on.
What is one of your best writing stories that you would like to share?
Oh, my. I guess maybe it's that when I went to try to sell a picture book, after having published many novels, I found that no one wanted to buy it. It was rejected by nearly 30 publishers before someone finally took a chance on me. And then it did well. (It's called Albert.) Here's the rule: one person hates what another person loves. So never take a rejection lying down. Always stand up and send out your story again.
Do have any questions or authors you would like to suggest for future interviews? Please comment on this post.