Monday, March 29, 2010

Not Your Mother's Lisa Schroeder

 OK Portlanders: let's get one thing clear, here, as there seems to be some confusion. There are two fantastic artists, both named Lisa Schroeder, who call Portland home. One Lisa Schroeder nurtures bellies with her delectable restaurant fare at Mother's Bistro & Bar and Mama Mia Trattoria. Her medium is "Mother Food". 

Then there's "not your 'Mother's'" Lisa Schroeder. Her medium is the written word. Author of six kid lit/YA titles, this Lisa Schroeder broke out on the YA scene with the publication of her popular 2008 novel-in-verse I Heart You, You Haunt Me (Simon Pulse, 2008).  Then she followed up with Far From You (Simon Pulse, 2009) and her new release Chasing Brooklyn (Simon Pulse 2010) In these, Lisa nurtures readers with spare, tightly woven verse exploring teen love, loss, ghosts, and healing.

Oh. And now for cupcakes. (Did I mention cupcakes?) Lisa's most recent novel is her foray into middle-grade fiction and her first NOT-in-verse novel. In it, she explores cupcake baking, travel, and mother-daughter relationships.

AB: Congratulations on the publication of your first middle grade fiction book It’s Raining Cupcakes (Simon Aladdin, 2010). Could you tell us about it? What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

LS: Thank you! It's Raining Cupcakes is about twelve-year-old Isabel who dreams of traveling and seeing the world. When she hears of a baking contest hosted by a magazine where the finalists go to New York City to compete, Isabel decides to enter. Only problem is that her best friend, Sophie, is entering too, and things always seem to go her way. And with Isabel's mom getting ready to open a cupcake shop, she has certain ideas as to what kind of recipe Isabel should enter. It's a book about family, friendship and making dreams come true.

I wrote this book when I was in between YA projects, and the world seemed pretty gloomy at that time, with the recession in full force. I wanted to write about something happy. So I thought - what's something that makes people smile when they just hear the word? And cupcakes came to mind. Cupcake shops have become really popular in the past few years, and I thought, how fun to set a story in or around a cupcake shop. And that's how it started.

AB: You write YA novels-in-verse that deal with themes of love and loss. Could you tell us what in particular inspired you to write Chasing Brooklyn?

LS: Chasing Brooklyn came about because I had many readers who loved I Heart You, You Haunt Me and were asking me for another book "just like that." As you know, you can't really write another book "just like that" but I tried to give them the same elements (love, loss, healing and hope) and put it inside a very different book. It's told from two points of view - Nico and Brooklyn - which is something I've never done before. It was challenging, but I'm really proud of how it turned out, and reader feedback so far has been very positive, so that makes me happy.

AB: I’m also excited to see that your picture book Little Chimp’s Big Day (Sterling, 2010) is coming out this fall. You write in many different genres. What do you like about the picture book format? Where did the idea for this story come from?

LS: Yes, looks like it will be released September 7th! I sold this book quite a long time ago, when my focus was the picture book genre, but it took time to find the illustrator, and then it took her time to do the illustrations. But I think it's been worth the wait. Lisa McCue is an amazing illustrator, and this book is SO adorable. I can't wait for people to see it. Seeing your words paired with illustrations really is one of the best parts of writing a picture book. It's challenging trying to tell a story in 500 words or less, and it's not something that's easy to do. I've kind of moved on at this point, taking that task of telling a story in as few words as possible and transferring it to my verse novels. 

This book came about when I was brainstorming in my idea notebook and this line popped into my head:

In a jungle, in a tree, sits a little chimpanzee

And that is how the book begins! 

AB: What inspired you to make writing for young readers your career focus? What do you love about writing for young readers? What are its challenges?

LS: Adults are just so boring! Sorry, adults who are reading this interview. In a way, writing for young readers lets me experience those youthful years all over again. It's just so much fun (most of the time). The biggest challenge for me is mostly coming up with new and fresh ideas that might be commercial enough to get noticed these days in what has become a very competitive market.

AB: Could you describe your work space and your writing process?
LS: I have a small office in our home with an ancient desktop that doesn't allow a lot of web surfing unless I want to wait 15 minutes for a page to load (which I don't). So when it's time to write, I go in there, shut the door and open up the document. I have written most of my books on that computer, even though I bought a laptop a few years back. Going into my office says "work" to me, and I think there is something to be said for having a special spot where you write and can avoid distractions (for the most part).

As far as my writing process, I usually have a few seeds of ideas that I've jotted down in my special little notebook that is just for ideas. Usually I begin writing when I'm so excited about the idea, I can't wait any longer. So I'll write some pages and see how it goes. Generally, I know fairly quickly if there is enough there for a whole book. I've recently begun using the 9 box plotting method once I've started in and have decided this IS the book I want to write. You can read about that method here at fellow kidlit/ YA author C.J. Omololu's blog.

AB: What kind of young reader were you?

LS: I was an avid reader growing up, especially during the middle grade years. I loved books so much then, and the books have stuck with me all this time. That's just so amazing to me. And it's why I want to continue to write MG novels, if I can. YA is where it's hot right now, and I've found a readership there that I'm extremely thankful for. And verse novels seem to be a nice fit for me. But I love the more innocent stories around family and friendship that you often find in middle grade novels. And knowing that a book you write could be the start of a path down a love of reading for a child? Wow.

AB: What advice do you have for writers?
LS: Play, experiment, figure out what YOU are good at and do that. It's so easy to get caught up in what's selling and what might be the next big thing, but I really think you have to find your strengths and go with that. I started out writing picture books and despite a couple of sales there, I know now it's probably not where I really belong as an author. I'm thankful for the experience and for the beautiful books that came about as a result, but over the years, I've learned where my strengths lie and I want to focus on those.

AB: How have you seen the business change since I Heart You, You Haunt Me? If so, what do you think of those changes?

LS: Mostly, it has exploded. I mean, when I Heart You came out in January 2008, the book stores were just in the process of moving the teen books out of the kid's section and giving them their own dedicated section. In just two years, I can't believe how many more YA books there are on the shelves. It is really incredible. As a reader, I love it. They say we are in the golden age of YA literature, and isn't it just so cool to think about being a part of that and getting to read SO MANY awesome books? As a writer, it scares me because more and more, I feel like publishing is becoming like the Hunger Games, where only the strongest will survive, and what if I'm not strong enough?

AB: Do you find the time to keep reading? Do you have any favorites of the year?

LS: I'm always reading at least one book, and usually a couple at the same time. Right now I'm about six chapters into The Year the Swallows Came Early by Katherine Fitzmaurice and it's so wonderful. My kind of book! Another MG novel I keep raving about is Barbara O'Conner's The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis.  Some favorite YA reads include Breathing by Cheryl Renée Herbsman and How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford.

AB: Lisa, thanks so much for your time. One last questions: what can your fans look forward to next?

LS: At this point, I'm not really sure. I have a couple of things on submission right now, so I'm in that wait-and-see mode. I will make any announcements of sales in the coming days and weeks on my blog

Thanks so much for having me here, Amy!


lkmadigan said...

Great interview, guys!

cynjay said...

Love the interview and glad you like the 9 steps!

Amy Baskin said...

Cynthia J. Omololu left this message but due to blogger malfunctions I need to re-post it: "Love the interview and glad you like the 9 steps!"

Thank you, Lisa and Cynthia!

Christine Fletcher said...

Love your advice to experiment and figure out what we're good at. Wise words! (And that little chimpanzee certainly is worth waiting for...he's too, too cute!)

Rachel Writes 4 Kids said...

Thanks for sharing. Love your About Me blurb, Amy. I totally relate. I can tell kids now, but still have a hard time telling grown-ups! :)