Welcome to my in-depth author series Fighting Prose. Where I talk to authors in the industry on what their process is like and what it takes for them to keep on creating, through all the odds. This week I’ve interviewed Beth Vrabel.
Since our last names start with V (hers) and Y (me), Beth and I ended up sitting next to each other at a book festival many years ago. Those of you that have been to book festivals know how small those tables are… Beth and I broke the ice within the first hour. It was an interesting festival (to say the least) with very little foot traffic. All we had for entertainment were people watching and seeing who could crack the most jokes. (However, I think Beth’s daughter might have won.)
For me, it was one of those moments - I knew that if Beth was my neighbor, we’d end up being best friends. She’s confident and has a great sense of humor and we’ve stayed in touch ever since.
Continue reading to find out just how hilarious she is!
How long have you been writing?
I wrote my first story when I was about 11 years old. My mom read this terrible little story and didn't focus on misspelled words, mucked-up plot points or missing grammar. She just said, "Someday, Beth, you're going to write a story, and it's going to be published." Sounded like a good enough life plan, one that would mesh well with my other goals at the time (becoming a professional roller skater and a Yellowstone Park ranger), so I went with it. Eventually, those other dreams died, but I stuck with the writing. My first career was in journalism. I transitioned into writing books when my kids were toddlers and I stayed home with them.
Of your many, many books, which is your favorite?
Right now, I'm most excited about THE HUMILIATIONS OF PIPI MCGEE (out Sept. 17). Every school year of Penelope's life has been marred with humiliation—everything from drawing herself as bacon in kindergarten to peeing her pants on the third grade field trip, to seventh grade, when the shame was so intense Penelope never, ever talks about it. She has one more year before high school, and she's determined to gain redemption for all of her humiliations. But she'll settle for revenge.
This was so much fun to write---and super cathartic, too. I not only delved into my own embarrassing moments (I'm looking at you, mullet of 1996), I also crowd sourced my friends and families for cringe-worthy memories they couldn't get over. Almost all made it into Pipi's story.
What's your favorite genre to read? Write?
I love reading middle grade, which is also what I write. But when I'm actively on deadline, I try to read outside that genre so I keep my own voice and storyline distinct in my mind. I've been on a big Stephen King kick lately, which is about as far from middle grade as you can get!
Tell me about your process: How do you get in the mood to write? How do your characters come together? How do you get your ideas?
I feel like my process is constantly evolving. It used to be sitting in the middle of a busy coffee shop, I think because the buzz of it was the closest thing to working in a newsroom. We recently moved back to New England, and I have a big office right next to the kitchen. So now my process kicks off with mellow music (I love me some Flora Cash), lighting a candle and sitting in a big cozy chair. My laptop is in front of me, my coffee beside me, and my pain-in-the-butt dog curled behind my head. My ideas come from everywhere—a song lyric, a conversation with my kids, a memory I keep reliving in the shower or as I fall asleep. Once I have a snippet of an idea, I use Scrivener, a writing platform, to create character profiles, including pictures, characteristics and backstory. I plot snapshots (3-5 sentences) of what I think should happen in each chapter, which Scrivener saves like index cards. When I'm actually writing, those index cards are a guide, but if I'm really cooking, the characters take over. When I'm close to deadline and in must-write-or-else mode, I'm most likely sitting at the kitchen counter with a bag of chips or a box of Cheez-its.
Who do you admire the most in the writing world?
Jason Reynolds is a definite favorite. His personal story—not reading a full novel until he was in high school—is inspiring. His work is astounding. I could barely breathe while reading LONG WAY DOWN, which entirely takes place during the span of one elevator ride. Every interview Reynolds gives or opportunity he seizes to speak focuses on children and how they can be empowered. If we're talking broadly, I think the group I admire most would be librarians. These dedicated, book-loving people are on the front lines of communities and schools, making sure that everyone who walks through the door has access to stories that honor, reflect or change them, and in doing so, can change the world.
If you're not busy writing, what are you busy doing?
I love going for runs.* *When I say run, I really mean a fast, stumbling walk.
Have you ever had writers block? If so, how did you get out of it?
Yes! I rearrange furniture. That doesn't really seem to help but at least I'm doing something. My daughter will come home from school, see everything swapped around and sparkling clean, and will give me a hug. "Poor Mom. Bad writing day?"
For a writer starting out what advice would you give them?
Get a dog, maybe even two. They make sure you take a walk once in a while, keep your lap warm while you write, force you to share your snacks, and are excellent fodder for Instagram posts.
Have you always been creative? Has it always been writing?
You know, I always thought writing was my only creative knack, but I've started taking on more and more home improvement things—such as refinishing and reupholstering furniture—and I guess that counts.
What is your dream writing location?
I always think a dock in the middle of a serene lake would be amazing, but I know I'd probably trip and dump my laptop into the water. Sometimes I also think about going on one of those writing retreats where I'd be in a little cottage in the woods with no wifi, just my laptop and unlimited snacks. But then I'd probably tear through my data plan and eat unlimited snacks. Maybe a castle in Scotland? I've never been there, but it seems pretty ideal.
In reference to your books, what question do you get asked the most?
People ask if I want them to be movies. Of course, I want them to be movies. *Shoots stink eye at Netflix.*
If you could bring one of your characters to life who would it be? Why?
Tooter, the fat, farting dog in A BLIND GUIDE TO STINKVILLE. Sure, I already have two fat, farting dogs, but with Tooter we could be a pack.
Beth Vrabel is author of the Cybils'-nominated Caleb and Kit, ILA award-winning A Blind Guide to Stinkville, JLG-selection A Blind Guide to Normal, The Reckless Club,and the Pack of Dorks series. She has received starred and positive trade reviews across the board for all of her novels and is active in school and library visits around the country. She and her family live in Connecticut.
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