A. M. Leibowitz, author of Lower Education, joins us for an interview. Amy’s novel was featured on the site at the end of September. To learn more about Lower Education, including links to the novel, click here.
- What is your first memory of writing? I wrote a short story about a space-adventuring lemur. I’m not kidding. I was 9.
- When and why did you begin writing? I’ve been writing since I could hold a pencil. It started with writing my observations about kids in my class at school.
- When did you first consider yourself a writer? When my blog took off, maybe 2 or 2.5 years ago. I never stopped writing, but I was never serious about it as anything other than a hobby before I had kids.
- What inspired you to write your first book? I’d always wanted to try, so one year, I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).
- Do you have a specific writing style? My husband calls it “YA for adults.” Somewhere between humor and serious—a lot like life.
- How did you come up with the title? Honestly? I had to name the file, and I tried 3 things before “Lower Education” stuck. It was sort of a play on higher education/stooping to new lows.
- Are experiences based on someone you know or events in your own life? Sort of. They’re based largely on real life in the sense that this is how our education system functions, yes. But the characters and setting are entirely fictional.
- What books have most influenced you? That’s probably a longer list than there’s room for! I love to read, so nearly every book I’ve ever loved has had an impact. I have very few books on my “top favorites” list because I would choose all of them.
- If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor? K. Rowling for sure. I love how she blends humor and angst so perfectly. While my content is vastly different and my style is my own, I think that mix of humor and heartache is pretty much what real life is like. Other authors who do this exceptionally well are Stephen King (yes, really, in his work that’s less “commercial”) and Neil Gaiman. I can think of a good number of YA writers who do it too, like David Levithan and Sherman Alexie. I suppose that’s why my spouse calls my work “YA for adults.”
- What book are you reading now? The Rise and Fall of Radiation Canary by Geonn Cannon. It’s fantastic so far.
- Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing? Naming anything: people, places, chapters, the whole book. Ha! I really, truly hate coming up with names.
- What was the hardest part of writing your book? Having it beta-read and getting someone else’s opinion on it. That was terrifying.
- Do you have anything specific you want to say to your readers? A whole lot of what I wrote about the American educational system is terrifyingly real. Keep that in mind as you read.
- How long does it take you to write a book? About 3-4 months.
- Do you have any interesting writing quirks? I don’t know if this is terribly quirky, but I start my writing day with a cup of coffee, and I do my best work from 8am-noon. I dabble in fan fiction, and I sometimes “practice” scenes by using them in fan fic. I run every bit of dialog through in my head like a movie until I feel like I have something that will work before I write it out. I like it quiet when I write, but I like to listen to instrumental music (mostly classical or jazz) beforehand.
- What does your family think of your writing? They’re very supportive. I get my best ideas when talking to my spouse & kids at the breakfast table on Saturday mornings, and my spouse was my “consultant” on this book.
- How do you market your work? What avenues have you found work best? I’ve so far used my blog, other people’s blogs, and several web sites. Since this is my first time publishing, I’ll let you know how it goes!
- Can you tell us a little about yourself? I live in western New York State (about 8 hours from NY City). I’ve been married to my spouse for 17 years, and he and I have 2 kids. I play the violin in a community orchestra and I sing with my church choir. Neither of my college degrees is in writing or anything creative—I have an undergrad degree in nursing and my graduate degree is in health science. I homeschool my younger child. I love to read, and I’ll read almost any genre, especially if the author can offer a new perspective on an old theme.
- How did you choose the genre you write in? It was somewhat unintentional. I wrote a gay romance because it fit the characters and situation, not because I set out to write it that way. In fact, I had an entirely different love interest for the main character, but it simply didn’t flow as well. Now it’s what I write, but it was more like Alice down the rabbit hole than anything purposeful.
- Do you suffer from writers block? Not really. I have times when I’m stuck on a scene, but I move on or write something else. I dabble in fan fiction for this purpose—if I can’t get it going with my paid work, I mess around with other people’s characters. On days I’m not feeling it at all, I take a break and read instead.
- Do you use an outline or just write? A little of both.
- What was your favourite chapter to write? I have two: I loved writing the scene where Phin, my main character, is on the job his first day and gets roped into making copies. One of the teachers has left a large copy job and walked away, and the paper jams. Another teacher “helps” out. It was actually suggested by my spouse. My other favorite is the aftermath of a food fight in the school cafeteria.
- What are you working on right now? Tell us your latest news. I’m writing a much sadder story this time (though with a happy ending, since that’s kind of my thing). It’s mostly about reconciling faith and identity, but it was inspired by fairy tales with rejected/ostracized youngest sons.
- What has been the toughest criticism you’ve received, and the best compliment? Toughest criticism: The opening of the novel didn’t draw people in the way I’d hoped. Best compliment: Someone said she couldn’t put it down.
- What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given by another writer? To go for it and take risks, even if some people might not like it.
- Is there any advice you’d like to share? One of the best things I ever did was attend a seminar on screenwriting. I would encourage every novelist to do the same, or at least read the book Save the Cat. It’s much more clear, specific advice than simply outlining the 3-act model.
- Do you start with character or plot? It depends, but usually plot.
- In your words, what defines a good story? I can get lost in the story’s world. I don’t care if it’s good by some book list standard. I just want something that makes me experience life through those characters’ eyes.
- What kind of questions do you ask yourself when you get an idea for a project? Is this something I could expand into a whole novel, or is it better as a short? What can I do with this to create the struggle the character needs to overcome? What information do I need (research) to make it believable?
I hope you enjoyed the interview. You can visit Amy’s blog here, to find out more about her work.
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