Friday, July 26, 2019

9 Questions With...L.M. Poplin

This week's featured author is L.M. Poplin and her teen novel Fatechanger Book One: Penny Lost.

By L. M. Poplin

The 9 Questions

What message are you hoping people will receive when they read your book?

When writing Fatechanger, I tried to concentrate first and foremost on telling a good story about a compelling character, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to incorporating a few themes into Penn’s story. I believe deeply, for example, in the dignity of all people. We all have infinite worth, even if some of us (like Penn) don’t recognize it. I hope anyone reading my book will realize that they have inherent value. Another theme, which is related to the first one, has to do with equality. If we all have inherent worth, we should all have equal rights. Penn has to fight to be accepted despite her gender, her social class, and her disability. These fights are important and valid, but in a perfect world, she wouldn’t have to fight at all.

Why did you write this book? 

I wrote Fatechanger because I have never felt like I belonged. Wherever I go, I’m the one who doesn’t fit in. For years, thanks to Laura Ingalls Wilder and L. M. Montgomery, I used to dream about living in a different time period. Then my family hosted an exchange student from Germany and I was convinced that my displacement was geographical. Twenty-six residences, four countries, and five states later, I realized that the problem was with me and my inability to accept myself for who I am rather than who society tells me I should be. While it’s true that I still feel like I don’t belong, writing Fatechanger has helped me realize that I don’t need to.

What has been the hardest part of the publishing process?

Self-doubt. I made the mistake of querying my manuscript too early. Then I compounded my mistake by taking the rejections too seriously—as a judgment of my identity as a writer and my skill with words rather than the state of my manuscript. Fortunately, I have a patient, loving, and talented writer friends who repeatedly told me what I needed to hear until I was willing to hear it. And then they helped me through the revision process.

What has been the biggest (pleasant) surprise in your publishing journey?

Actually, my biggest pleasant surprise is related to my biggest unpleasant surprise. I was (and continue to be) shocked by how many people are unwilling to help a fellow writer. As someone who tries to live by the golden rule, I’m often disappointed when others don’t choose to reciprocate. That said, there are so many wonderful, generous, helpful, seriously talented people who choose to celebrate and support their peers—who feel an obligation to share their own good fortune. I’m forever grateful to all the brilliant writers who have helped me along my journey, and I hope to pass along their generosity and wisdom. Publishing is not a zero-sum game. Every good book is a win for us all.

Give some advice to someone who wants to get a book published.

Never give up. I used to think that a trite phrase. And a false one. But I really do believe that what separates the published authors from the not-published-yet authors is a good dose of humility and a larger dose of determination. My senior year in high school, I was in a remedial English class, where desk chairs were hung daily from the metal lattice framework that supported the office tile ceiling. I can’t remember reading a single book the entire year. Now, I’m an assistant professor teaching writing and literature at Berklee College of Music. So many of my students believe they’re bad writers because of something someone else told them (often their high school English teacher). Don’t listen to them! Writing is hard work, yes, but everyone has a story to tell, and their own voice to tell it in. The trick is not to give up until you find it.

What’s the worst advice you have ever received about publishing?

For the longest time, I believed there was only one path to publishing. Luckily, teaching at Berklee College of Music (where independent music is not only accepted but revered) has shown me the error of my thinking. Perhaps because publishing—especially print publishing—is a much older industry than either the film or music industry, it has taken longer for the publishing world to welcome the inclusion of independent and diverse voices. But technological advances and a growing awareness of our need to hear all voices have opened the publishing industry to many new and exciting opportunities for writers.

What author or book has influenced your writing?

So many!! Fatechanger was probably influenced most by Tamora Pierce’s writing, specifically The Song of the Lioness quartet. Although Fatechanger is a time-travel novel set in 1915 Boston (more historical than fantasy), I was devouring as many YA fantasy novels as possible while working on the manuscript. Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology and Sara J. Maas’s Throne of Glass series were also very inspiring.

What is your philosophy about rejection?

There are different types of rejection. The rejection from the agent who was feeling sick while reading your query on a crowded train next to the person with bad body odor is different than the rejection from the editor who considered deeply your character’s motivation and found it lacking. One type of rejection you can learn from. The other type of rejection is simply a result of chance, and things might have gone differently on another day. For way too long, I treated all rejections equally, and my ego was severely bruised without anything positive to show for it. Now I try to use my energies better, to filter out the rejections that can teach me about myself and my writing. 

You are stranded on an island with only 3 books. What are their titles?

The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Okay, so maybe this is a cheat, but “stranded” implies a long, long time.

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