One of my favorite memories of childhood is riding my bike or walking to the public library on summer days and spending hours wandering through the aisles browsing book jackets and picking out what I wanted to read next. There was freedom and adventure in this four-block jaunt. I spent a lot of my time in the “juvenile” section, what would now be called young adult (YA), looking for just the right book to match my mood. I read it all from romance to horror and back again. To this day, I remember the names of many of those writers – Cynthia Voigt, Ann M. Martin, Francine Pascal, Judy Blume, Richard Peck, R.L. Stine, Christopher Pike – whose works I disappeared into during those long summer days and nights.
If I made that same trip to my hometown library today, I would certainly run across the name of Lexington writer Gwenda Bond, author of the young adult novels Lois Lane: Fallout and Girl on a Wire, among others. I first met Gwenda in 2006 when I went to work in the communications office at the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. She was my supervisor and became my friend. Gwenda has had tremendous success during the last few years, and I have no doubt that will only continue. So in celebration of Kentucky Writers’ Day, I thought it would be fun to ask her a few questions about her craft and her responses did not disappoint! Enjoy!
— Emily Moses, creative industry manager, Kentucky Arts Council
Emily Moses: I know from reading interviews you have conducted that you are very interested in the processes that writers employ in doing their work. I’d like to talk about process, but not necessarily as it pertains to the actual writing, rather in relation to planning your career as a writer. I recall, as I was fortunate enough to work with you during the time you were completing your MFA and then writing your first novel to be published (Blackwood), that you seemed to be following a plan. Since then, you’ve published several books and most recently you ended your career in state government to write full time. Obviously, there are steps you have taken to advance your professional writing career, to achieve the writer’s dream of turning craft into career. Can you talk about that a bit? Was that intentional, as I believe it was, and what went into developing your career plan? (And, of course, how awesome is it to be doing exactly what you want to do?!)
Gwenda Bond: I’m glad it all looks intentional! And definitely some of it is strategy, but luck also plays a role in any successful career in the arts. But I always say that you have a much better chance of being lucky if you’re working hard. Some of it is just being in the right place at the right time. In a lot of ways, I benefited from not being particularly focused on getting rid of my day job, at least not early on. While I was probably overworked (okay, definitely overworked) and very rarely got a weekend off, having a steady source of income with reliable(ish) hours that used a different part of my brain than writing enabled me to come home or get up in the morning and do my writing work. So it was only when I honestly began to struggle to do both well without burning out that I realized it was time to go full time. So far, so good!
I guess what I would say is that my plan was always to work on the next book/project. I knew I wanted a career, not a sale. Which is a good thing, because as you know it took several years after I got a literary agent to sell my first book. Since then, we’ve sold a lot more. That’s because I’d developed good habits while working toward that first sale. When book one didn’t sell, I wrote book two. Rinse, repeat, trying to get better at my craft and be open to new ideas and opportunities at the same time. A lot of success in the arts comes down to who sticks around, to sheer perseverance.
EM: To say you’re very active online is inadequate. Truly. You have a blog that you update regularly, you have Twitter conversations as if you’re talking to someone sitting next to you, you’re super active on Facebook, you host special online events, and so very much more. Can you talk about how your online activity has helped you develop your own community and how that community has benefited your work and/or career?
GB: I strongly feel that writers should only do the social media they enjoy. Otherwise, everyone will know and it won’t be fun for you or anyone else. For a lot of years, social media was my primary way to connect with the writer part of my life—my friends elsewhere, moaning about deadlines, etc.—on a daily basis. And so it’s become a big part of my process in and of itself. The writer’s water cooler. I really enjoy interacting with readers and other writers and making friends online. I have to be more cautious in some ways than I used to (we all do), but I hope I’m always able to be accessible online. Also, I routinely assess what I’m doing and whether I am still enjoying it or how I could enjoy it more. For instance, I recently moved from a more straight-up promotional-style newsletter to doing a weekly tinyletter that’s much more of a personal rumination on the week that was, with a little news dropped in at the end. I really miss the days of the tighter knit blogging community, where I felt like we shared those sorts of things in a deeper way than we seem to be able to on Twitter or Facebook. I can already tell this is a good substitute for that, so while it’s technically more work than a quarterly newsletter, I also think it will be more useful and enjoyable for me and for the people reading it.
EM: Are you a list maker? We’re going to end with a list, so I hope so. I’m always interested in the advice and assistance artists can offer to other artists. Will you share with our readers five online resources they should check out that could help them in their own writing careers?
GB: Of course!
- I love giving advice and so does my agent, Jennifer Laughran; she has both a website and a Tumblr where you can find lots of excellent guidance if you want to get into YA or children’s lit as a field. She cares a lot about making sure authors don’t get ripped off and are getting GOOD advice. You can find her old blog with lots of great stuff here: http://literaticat.blogspot.com and she has a Tumblr with an open ask box here: http://literaticat.tumblr.com.
- Author Chuck Wendig has a fantastic (somewhat profane, be warned) blog where he gives tons of good writing advice: http://www.terribleminds.com.
- Likewise, author John Scalzi’s blog is great for writers, but especially The Big Idea—which is a great place to find new books to read, sure, but also to hear how writers develop their novels: http://whatever.scalzi.com/category/big-idea/.
- For industry stuff, Publishers Marketplace and Publishers Weekly are the big trade resources—I highly recommend signing up for Publishers Marketplace’s free daily newsletter Publishers Lunch (http://www.publishersmarketplace.com) and Publishers Weekly’s twice weekly free Children’s Bookshelf newsletter (http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/index.html).
- The Carnegie Center! Seriously, my first good local writing group came from a meet-up they held for writers and every program I’ve participated in there has been great. This might not count as an online resource, but check out their offerings. They do good work: http://carnegiecenterlex.org.
EM: Thanks, Gwenda! I certainly appreciate you taking time out of your super busy schedule to share with our readers.
The Kentucky Arts Council celebrates Kentucky Writers’ Day on Monday, April 25, with public readings from current and former Kentucky poets laureate. Readings begin at 10 a.m. in the Capitol Rotunda in Frankfort with a public celebration to follow. For more information, visit the arts council’s website.