Today, I have another of my author friends, who I met at my first ever SCBWI conference, clear back in 2008. Blythe Woolston had just heard the news her first book had been accepted for publication. It was super exciting to see it could really happen to real people, and she has been one source of my inspiration to get myself out there and continue to write, to query, and to do it again even after rejection. She was one of the fortunate ones, though, and did not have to endure rejection after rejection, because she found her match on her first go. Without further ado, lets get to know Blythe, and how she thinks of herself as an accidental writer.
Stephanie: I believe all things happen for a reason and that you are not as accidental of a writer as you think. With three books to your awesome name (which I love by the way - perfect author name) do you still feel like an accidental writer?
Blythe: I am still an accidental writer. When I describe myself as an accidental writer, it is to distinguish my experience from that of intentional writers. I define intentional writers to be both those who aspire to become writers and pursue that goal with determination—those who approach writing with a plan. I never had a “life-long dream” to be writer.
I am inclined to synthetic thinking—otherwise know as creative cognition, but writing wasn't my first choice of instrument. As far as publication goes, stuff happened to me and I responded. That is pretty much the description of my life in toto: Stuff happened to me; I responded. One reason I want to share that aspect of my experience is to provide evidence of the chaotic.
As far as my perfect name: I’m named Blythe after a town in the southern California desert. My father was stationed there during WWII. It was the first place he’d been outside of Montana. When he took me there at age twelve, I saw lettuce fields and heat. Woolston is a name acquired through marriage. Its derivation is “Wolf’s Town.” I find it hilarious that I am a wolf in sheep’s clothing (by marriage). If ever there were a name that might have been created by a random name generator, Blythe Woolston is it.
Stephanie: Well, a certain amount of chaos is good, I suppose. Especially in regards to your contributions to literature. Your books are chaotically beautiful. And your name, random generator worthy or not, is suits you well. :-) So, where does your inspiration derive from?
Blythe: The world. It hasn't let me down yet.
Stephanie: That's very simply put. What about the world inspires you? What does Blythe enjoy, what do you do, what turns your wheel?
Blythe: What do I enjoy? Yesterday it was Bison latifrons, ginger cookies made with almond flour, "Bent" by Kiasmos https://soundcloud.com/olafur-arnalds . Today will be different.
Stephanie: Lol, take each day as it comes. From your Facebook page, I gather you enjoy a lot of things to do with Bison and those Bison latifrons from prehistoric times. How does it feel to have two of your three books win awards? Has that affected how you write your other books?
Blythe: When one of my books is recognized as being worthy of an award or makes a list like BFYA or gets a starred review in one of the professional journals, it means wider readership and attention. It’s a vote of confidence and always a surprise. Our family might celebrate with something special for dinner. After that, it’s back to work.
Does an award given one book influence the writing of another? I like, most of the writers I know, consider stepping away from writing. When a book is recognized, it does provide general encouragement to continue. But, as far as how I write, it isn't an influence. It doesn't change the sort of stories I choose to tell or how I can tell them. I work on projects that interest me.
Stephanie: You are very pragmatic. It is good to celebrate, but you're smart not to get too caught up in it. Which of your books was the easiest to write? The hardest?
Blythe: When I’m in the cold flow state of creation, all books are easy. When I am perfecting the mechanisms of fiction, each book presents its own problem.
I don't want to write the same book twice. So far I’ve tried a Bildungsroman, a road novel, a thriller, a satire, an historical, and spec fiction—each presents me with a different puzzle. For that reason, they are all difficult and interesting to me as I work.
Most complex problems require time to solve, which is something that Liz Bicknell, my editor at Candlewick, is teaching me. I have a very “get’r done” attitude, which is entirely appropriate for some kinds of work, but can lead me to sign off on a book before I ought to do.
Stephanie: That makes sense. I love puzzles, and love figuring out how some of those pieces in a story will fit, but sometimes its nice to just get'r done. But I have to know, what exactly is a Bildungsroman?
Blythe: Bildungsroman are novels about a character's growth as they learn what it means to be an individual in a social system. A prescriptive definition requires a final stage: the acceptance of societal norms. That sort of conclusion doesn't interest me.
Stephanie: Are any of your MC's based on bits of you? Which MC and which bits?
Blythe: I don’t write memoirs. None of my characters are my avatars. When I write, I use the protagonist as a lens for experience. The most direct example of this can be found in Catch & Release. It’s a road trip novel, and I made that trip. The radio programs, the landscape, the roadside attractions: I witnessed those. But Polly is not me. I just let her borrow my eyes to see.
Stephanie: I love your outlook; your character 'borrowing' your eyes, your experiences. What do you read in your spare time?
Blythe: Whatever I please. Whatever is available.
Stephanie: Can you be more specific?
Stephanie: What are you working on now?
Blythe: I’m finishing the copy edits on MARTians, which is scheduled for publication next year. It chronicles the experiences of 15-year-old Zoë who is abruptly graduated and thrust into a dead-end job in a dead-end world. The entire game is rigged to rob her of her identity and alienate her —from her labor and from nature—to make her into a perfect MARTian. It’s satire and an homage to Ray Bradbury, with philosophical grounding in the work of Karl Marx and Hannah Arendt. (That description doesn’t sound very tempting. I’m lucky I have help with that sort of thing from my editor and publisher.)
And I’ve just submitted my chapter for Violent Ends, a novel with 20 authors. It will be published in 2015.
In addition, I have other amorphous projects perking along: A weird thing about Margaret Fuller and a pseudo-academic treatment of a non-existent folklore.
Stephanie: Indexing to me, at first, would be interesting, but then I think it would get a bit mundane. Tell us what it is like in the life of an indexer? What does your day entail?
Blythe: Every book is different. Every book requires complete attention. My next indexing project, which begins the day after I send off my copyedits, is How to Clone a Mammoth. Work as an indexer means learning and making it easier for others to learn. It is about access to information. The workflow is irregular, so there is nothing like a typical day. I wrote about indexing herehttp://blythewoolston.blogspot.com/2012/06/indexer.html
As for mundane: I am mundane. I am of this world.
Stephanie: You still index now after some great success in writing. You must like indexing to still be doing it. If given a choice, what would you prefer to while away the hours doing? Indexing or writing?
Blythe: Given opportunity, I might do neither of those things. I like to give babies baths. I like to climb windmills. I like to be part of elaborate running jokes that last for years.
I don’t have to choose between writing and indexing, so I don’t. The things I do enhance one another.
One of my agency mates recently posted that monetizing writing was hampering her process. She found a job completely unrelated to YA fiction as a complement to writing. She isn’t alone. Most of the successful YA authors I know are still actively participating in some other vocation: librarianship, teaching, editing, parenthood, graphic arts, IT specialist... I think most of us are used to dovetailing different parts of life together. I know I’ve rarely held just one job—I mean, I’ve been a parent for 36+ years!
Life is too brief to dedicate it to any one adventure, or job, or experience. Thank you so much for allowing me the chance, and readers, to get to know Blythe. I look forward to seeing all of your current works-in-progress published and can't wait to see what else you have in store for the world.
To learn more about Bison latifrons, Bildungsroman, Blythe and get a great recipe for ginger almond cookies (substitute regular flour with almond flour), click below.
Stephanie N. Pitman, Author
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