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Monday, April 21, 2008

YA Author Interview: Joan Bauer

In her nine novels, Joan Bauer explores difficult issues with humor and hope. Her books have won numerous awards, among them the Newbery Honor Medal, the LA Times Book Prize, the Christopher Award, and the Golden Kite Award of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Joan lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband, computer scientist Evan Bauer, and (when she's home from graduate school) their no-longer-teenage daughter.

Tell us about your upcoming novel, Peeled.

I’m really excited about the new novel because it combines so many things that interest me – truth in the media, how to fight against fearmongering and propaganda, the importance of small town farmers, the rights of free speech. It centers on a teenage reporter, Hildy Biddle, who dares to question the headlines of her local paper and begins an investigation to seek the truth.

What are the highlights of your journey to publication?

I began over twenty years ago writing for small magazines, moved to screenwriting where I got a hot-shot agent, but didn’t sell anything. My film career was greatly impacted by a car accident I had. During my recovery, I got a crazy idea to write a novel about a teenager who wanted to grow a giant pumpkin. That book, Squashed, won the Delacorte Prize for a First YA Novel and I’ve had nine YA novels published to date. I had to wait nine months to hear about the Delacorte Prize. When I finally got the call I was simply in heaven. What a rush!

Why do you write for young people?

I like them, I respect them, I’m intrigued by how they think and process the world around them.

What is the first thing you do when you begin a new book?

Pray for illumination!

Plot, seat-of-the-pants or combination?

I’m not sure I understand this question, but I am a character-driven writer all the way. The character always influences the plot and the direction it will take in my novels.

You taught at the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing this month. When leading workshops, what is the primary idea you want writers to walk away with?

Courage that they have more inside than they think they do. Release of old thought processes that might be impeding their creative process. Joy in being part of this remarkable community of storytellers.

What’s the best or worst advice (or both) you’ve heard on writing for young adults?

The best: Write when you feel like it and when you don’t.

What aspect of a story is most challenging for you: strong setting, vivid characters, engaging voices, delicious prose? How do you develop your weak areas?

The first draft drives me crazy!! I’m always afraid I’ll die in the process and people will read it and say, Gee she wasn’t very good, was she? I can spend way too much time in the beginning of a story and I’m learning to push through in the early drafts because that beginning is going to change as I get a true sense of the story. But there’s a great deal of groaning coming from my office.

What fiction most influenced your childhood, and what effect did those stories have on your writing?

To Kill a Mockingbird just knocked me out when I was 13 – the Atticus Finch character was everything I was looking for in a father. I try to create adult characters who can be role models.

What prepared you to write for young people?

My grandmother was a storyteller, so I grew up in a house where stories swirled around us. They explained the world to me. Also, I had a very, very tough time as a kid, and I look back on that now with my new perspective of hope.

Your novel, “Hope Was Here” won a Newbery Honor from the American Library Association. How did that award change the way you write, market and live?

Well, first—I was shocked when the Newbery folks called. And the response of the industry was so lovely. I got emails from all over the country from people I’d never met; Hope made the NY Times Bestseller list for several weeks running. I’d certainly won other awards over the years, but this one was the biggest. When the Newbery stickers came I felt like slapping one on my forehead! Doors opened for more speaking, I made more money, etc. I think for a while I became more nervous about my writing – that each book had to be better somehow. But I’ve gotten over that. You’ve got to write the book that’s burning inside you.

What are a few of your all-time favorite books?

To Kill a Mockingbird
A Prayer for Owen Meany
The Great Gatsby

What is your favorite and least favorite part of being a writer?

I enjoy the empowerment after I’ve done two drafts and I’ve really got the flow of the story and the cadence of the characters. I love when the characters have become so real that they begin to tell me where the story needs to go. But, honestly, what I like least is when the book is done and the marketing and PR begins. Those folks work awfully hard and I’m grateful for all they do, but I don’t like talking about a book I’ve just finished. I like a little time to digest it. Also, I’m already writing the next one, but not ready to talk about it yet. It’s a weird place in space. And, you know, I used to be in marketing. Go figure.

Can you give us a view into a typical day of your writing life?

The days aren’t typical anymore. Depending on what draft I’m on, it will be different. At the beginning of a book, I can’t work more than 3-4 hours. At the end of a book, I’ll be pushing 12 hours sometimes.

If you could choose to have one strength of another writer, what would it be and from whom?

I love Garrison Keillor’s gently humorous perceptions on faith. I would love to be able to do that.

How much publicity do you do? Any advice in this area?

I don’t do anything. I let the publisher handle it. I tried a few years ago to do a few extras and, man, it was so much work. I don’t know how people do it!

Do you have a dream, something you’d love to achieve with your writing?

I just want to go deeper – into humor, into understanding the human condition, into writing stories that speak to the headlines of our day and, hopefully, have staying power.

Parting words?

I used to think that when I finished a book, that was it – it was done. But now I see it’s just beginning because that book goes out to readers and they put their stories on what I’ve written and that makes the book so much more than I ever envisioned it could be.


  1. i lov e joan bauer

  2. I love you Joan! I am a huge fan of all of your books. I have one question for you, if you could make one of your books a movie, which one would it be.

  3. I love all your books! My favorite is ''Almost Home''.
    I have one question; what inspired you to write your books? I would really appreciate if you answered my question. Thank you have a nice day!


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