Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Interview With A.B. Westrick

Boy, do I have a treat for everybody today!  I know, I know, I've missed a few days of blogging recently, but that's only because I was saving up for something really, really cool.

Today: an interview!  And not just any interview, either.  It's an interview with A.B. Westrick--Anne, to everybody in the James River Writers.  Way back in October of 2011, a fledgling-author TOSK attended my first writing conference, the JRW Conference at the Library of Virginia in Richmond.  A terrible newbie, I wasn't sure which sessions to attend, but it turned out that the ones I selected were just about perfect for where I was in my writing life at the time.

One session I attended was "One Novel's Journey," a panel discussion featuring a moderator, an author, and the author's faculty advisor for her MFA program.  Anne was the author, and I found her story both fascinating and compelling.  You can read my session notes here:

Next week, the novel the session was about will finally hit the shelves, and I'm incredibly excited to be able to talk to Anne about it just prior to the novel's release, now at the other end of the publishing journey from the October morning.

Without further discussion, here goes:


Today I’m interviewing A.B. Westrick. Her debut novel, Brotherhood, is historical fiction and will be released on Sept. 12, 2013, by Viking (Penguin Books for Young Readers).

Please tell us a little bit about your book.
Brotherhood is the story of a fourteen year-old boy, Shadrach, who joins the Ku Klux Klan when it forms as a brotherhood just after the Civil War. By day, he apprentices with a tailor and sneaks off for reading lessons with Rachel, a freed slave, at her school for African-American children. By night he runs with the Klan. When his two worlds collide, he finds himself trapped between his pledge to the Klan and what he knows is right.

What is the book’s genre?
Historical fiction for young readers (middle school and up).

Is this the only genre in which you write?
I only write for young readers, but I don’t write historical fiction exclusively. The period of Reconstruction is the setting for Brotherhood, and in the book I’m now drafting, the time period is contemporary.

What is it about this genre that interests you?
I love writing for young readers! I like to remember what it felt like to be thirteen or fourteen or fifteen—a time when you’re making sense of the world and finding your place in it. I choose issues that interest me as an adult, and write about them from the point of view of a teenager. I love the passion teens bring to the world, and their sometimes irreverent view of the status quo. I especially love the way they question authority. Writing for young readers makes me a better adult.

How did you come up with this latest plot?
The plot in Brotherhood grew organically from my characters. I started writing scenes from the point of view of a boy who was stuck in some pretty tough circumstances (an impoverished family, the defeated South, widowed mother, bully of an older brother). Once I had a complete first draft, I restructured the novel so that a late-occurring scene (the arrest of his brother) would appear first, providing a motivation for Shad to head out into the world (he sets off on a mission to get his brother released from jail). Once I had this clear desire-line in place, I wove in the backstory, revealing Shad’s complicity in his brother’s arrest, and the many ways that this boy who had been such a good boy got caught up in some very bad things.

I need to give a shout-out to author Kathi Appelt,, for the suggestion that I restructure the novel in the way that I did. Kathi was my faculty advisor in the MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. When I eventually got a contract on Brotherhood, my editor at Viking also offered suggestions, which I used to make further improvements. But I don’t think my editor would have acquired the manuscript in the first place, had she seen the less-compelling pre-Kathi version in which the story was laid out chronologically.

What is your writing routine like? 
I write fiction six days a week, from about 6 AM until early afternoon, eating breakfast and lunch at my desk. Late afternoons, evenings and Sundays, I write everything other than fiction: blog posts, email, etc. On some days, circumstances force me to change this routine, but I stick with it, as best I can.

What is the most rewarding thing about having finished this latest book? 
I’m thrilled that I finally have a novel coming into the world! I’ve been writing fiction for so long that friends and neighbors have stopped asking when I’d have a book coming out. It took years to hone the craft and get my writing ready for publication. The learning curve is steep, the rejection letters plentiful, and when you finally get a book contract (in my case, from a traditional publisher, which was my goal), the feeling is very, very sweet.

What’s next in the writing queue?
I’m working on another novel—this one with a fifteen year-old violinist at a summer music camp. So far I’ve written about twenty-five chapters, but only two or three of these will make it into the finished novel. I write scenes to get to know my characters, but until a character does something to set another character off, I don’t have a plot. Right now I have the beginning of a new plot, and I’ll keep writing scenes to see what these characters do. The story arc that emerges with the fastest pace, I’ll keep, and the rest I’ll throw out.

Newbery Award-winning author Richard Peck describes Brotherhood this way: “A boy struggling to come of age in a ruined world reaches in all the wrong directions for being and belonging in this story that uncovers a trove of hidden history.”

A. B. (Anne Bryan) Westrick grew up in Pennsylvania and later moved with her husband to Virginia where she spent hours walking Richmond’s brick streets, wondering how her Southern ancestors had fared during and after the Civil War. Her first novel, Brotherhood (Viking 2013), a Junior Library Guild selection, grew from those wonderings. She has been a teacher, paralegal, literacy volunteer, administrator, and coach for teams from Odyssey of the Mind to the Reading Olympics. A graduate of Stanford University and Yale Divinity School, she received an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2011. She and her family live near Richmond, VA.

Book Trailer!
View the wonderfully-done book trailer (53 seconds long) here:

How can we buy your book?
Before Sept. 12, it’s available for pre-order, and you can choose from many booksellers listed on my website here: From September 12 forward, it’s available wherever books are sold.

And now, some fun questions: 
1) Favorite author? So many! When I was younger, I’d have said John Fowles or Ken Follett; nowadays I’d have to say John Green.
2) Favorite character in a book you’ve read? Ahhh… again, there are so many! I just finished a book with a character I loved: the protagonist (Ari) in Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
3) Favorite vacation? Asheville, North Carolina
4) Coffee or tea? Coffee (with a splash of half & half, and a sprinkle of cinnamon)
5) Favorite color?  Green
6) Favorite dessert?  Cheesecake

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