Interview with Author Laura Nelson Selinsky

Laura Selinsky, Author and Teacher

As I continue this series of interviews with my Running Wild Anthology colleagues, I’m particularly pleased to welcome Laura Selinsky; she and I have been members of the same critique group for many years. Her story, “Sea Wall,” touched me with its bittersweet poignancy.

Welcome, Laura!

Our Anthology’s cover has gotten comments that it evokes a sense of many varied stories inside.

 

Does any part of the cover remind you of your story?
I’m not sure the cover reminds me of my specific story, but it does remind me of a library. There is no place where I feel more at home than a library…except maybe the library of my childhood. My hometown library was over the fire station and when the alarms went off- Phew!

Would you add anything to the cover to hint at your story?
I’d add a sifting of sand across the cover. Nothing hints at slow passing time like the imperceptible movement of a sand dune; that’s why the protagonist crosses a sand dune in my story.

What do you like best to write?
I love writing YA high fantasy, so much flexibility in writing magic, alternate species, new cultures, etc. Conversely, all that world-building requires many self-generated rules, and a passion for consistent application of the rules from page to page.

What’s the biggest stretch for you to write?
The hardest thing for me to write is a contemporary teenager; I am excruciatingly careful not to pirate my high school students’ lives. I used to teach adjudicated teens, and I have a novel that considers the juvenile justice system. When I work on that particular novel, I have to be cautious to limit what I know to generalizations, not specific experiences.

Where do your stories fall on the plot-driven vs. character-driven spectrum?
Character-driven! I love tossing two characters in a room and seeing what happens. In the anthology, the story is actually “Image-driven.” I started from the image of a seawall and wondered how it affected or reflected the people who pass it each day.

What authors did you love most as a kid? Now? What authors have influenced your writing most?
When I was read-aloud aged, I loved Kipling because my mom read me the original JUNGLE BOOKS. Later I loved the mythology that I found in my school library, and I still teach elective mythology to high school students. My adult fantasy writing is influenced by the usual suspects, Tolkien, Kay, Mallory… In a practical sense, my writing is influenced by my critique group, which calls me to account for my nonsense and encourages me through my discouragement.

Is there a place that you’ve lived or visited that most influences your writing?
We used to camp in Maine when I was a girl, so I have to watch myself or I’ll write endless cool misty mornings.

What’s the first piece you wrote that you’re still proud of/happy with?
Of my adult writing, I’m proudest of a magazine article about working with high-functioning autistic students. Advise magazine,  where the article appeared, has a run of 50,000. I loved the idea of seeing my students fairly portrayed and offered every option for fulfillment in their school lives in a magazine that landed on the desks of 50,000 teachers.

What have you been up to since the Anthology came out? Any other news?
Since the Anthology came out, I signed my first contract for a novel with Anaiah Press. Very exciting!

What do you plan to work on next?
I’m editing the contracted novel under the supervision of my publisher. I am always editing some portion of my fantasy trilogy. I’m also goddess of grammar on my son’s doctoral dissertation…the only part of that I understand is whether the commas are in the right place.

How can readers connect with you?
Twitter- Laura Nelson Selinsky, @huzzahlns
Facebook- Laura Nelson Selinsky

Anything else you’d like to add?
At my first writing conference, I was advised to find a good critique group and stick with it. Best. Advice. Ever. Nothing has contributed more toward making me a thoughtful writer than the critique group I’ve attended for the last eight years. Gemma Brook, the owner of this website, is also the leader of that critique group under the auspices of Pennwriters. Kudos for your leadership, Gemma!

Thank you for the kind words, Laura! Our critique group is really a co-operative effort, and I’ll vouche for you as being not only a goddess of grammar, but a most beneficent one!

Congratulations on your upcoming novel! And thank you for taking part in my blog (and for all your excellent critiquing).

 

 

Pennwriters Conference 2018

Every May, writers, editors, and agents gather in Pennsylvania for three days to share their knowledge, wisdom, and passion about the art and business of writing. I know I’ll always come home from the conference inspired and brimming with ideas; it’s reason enough alone to belong to Pennwriters, and there are many others.

One of the great delights is connecting with people who share this passion. This year, I had the pleasure of meeting my Running Wild Anthology colleague Suzanne Mattaboni, a gifted writer who is also a local Pennwriter representative.

She put together a beautiful raffle basket full of goodies and books by Pennwriters – among them the RW Anthology which features a trio of us Pennwriters, including Susan Helene Gottfried, another talented writer and an editor (I’ve really enjoyed emailing with her and wish she could’ve come so I could meet her).

I contributed a few items to the basket, clues to some of the RW Anthology stories. You can just spot them in the photo: seed packets for “Bee Heaven” and “Holy Basil” (for my story, “Last Memory”); a bag of pirate gold (for Cindy Cavett’s fun “Rehoboth Beach Break”); and a tiny Excalibur (for Amelia Kibbie’s touching “The Idylls of the King”). And the “Seaglass” candle (furnished by Suzanne) fits well with Laura Selinsky’s poignant “Seawall.” Curious how these mysterious things fit in with the stories? Look into the Anthology and find out!

Three of my critique group friends were there this year, and hanging out and comparing notes with them was excellent fun. It was thrilling to see E. Williams win second place in the Pennwriters Annual Contest for short fiction with her story “Cici Accepts the Facts” (find out more on her website). And my friends Katrina and Rowan got requests for their manuscripts from more than one agent. Congratulations, my friends!

I was so pleased that Suzanne won third place for her short, “A Trailer Full of Cadillacs,” in the “In Other Words” contest (and that her daughter won first place in the poetry division! A lot of talent in that family).

Though “In Other Words” is a small and informal contest, it’s judged by attendees, and it’s an honor to be voted for by your peers. I was delighted that my short story tied for third place (not with Suzanne, as it happens).

As always, the conference had so many great workshops, I had to make tough choices. Once I got home, it took me weeks to edit all my notes and distill the wisdom that I can use here, now, and soon. Here is a tiny sampling from just a handful of the excellent presenters.

Don Helin, award-winning writer of thrillers, presented a lively, good-humored workshop on “Writing a Marketing Plan.”

A few tidbits for my present use:

• Develop a press kit; if you were going to write an article on yourself, what would you need?
• Develop a non-fiction hook: some fact that ties into your stories, to catch the attention of people who might promote your work. It can even work with fantasy. (I’m still working on what to tie into my fantasy in progress; it might have to do with the legend of Deirdre of the Sorrows.)
• Keep your website up to date…good advice I’m working on right now!
• Keep writing! Publishers want the next book. And for me, none of this matters if I don’t get to keep putting my stories into words.

 

Kathryn Craft, award-winning author and freelance developmental editor, talked about how to “Play Jenga with your Prose.”

Intriguing title, isn’t it? First, she and an audience member defined just what jenga is for those of us ignorant: a game where you start with a short, solid tower of wooden blocks and take out one at a time to stack them on top, ending (before it falls) with a taller, airier tower.

Her key point: overwriting builds a wall between the author and the reader. So…make holes in the wall and beckon to the reader through them. She gave eloquent examples from excellent authors.
Things I found particularly useful have to do with setting:
• Save description until it counts and something interesting happens.
• Make details meaningful.
• Consider ways to make setting interactive.
• Give details that anchor the reader in your world.
• Use the setting to support the plot.

 

Hallie Ephron, NYT bestselling author, talked about “Parallel Tracks: From Back Story to Front Story.”

One of her many helpful ideas is to chart your characters in relationship to your protagonist:
• Draw arrows toward the protagonist if they’re helping and away from if they’re hindering.
• You need a mix of push and pull.
• Some characters may do both.
• If there aren’t many arrows pointing away from protagonist, there’s probably not enough conflict in your story.
• You may need more characters, or hidden goals in existing characters.
• The protagonist can be hindering themselves.

And she highlighted the concept of Parallax: where you’re standing determines what you see.
• Different people will believe different things.
• What lies do characters believe, what truths do they doubt?
• What really happened, vs. what people think happened?

 

In “World Building 101,” multi-talented fantasy writer Jack Hillman presented a treasure trove of things to consider.

Some essential points:
• Make sure you know the backstory for your world.
• Your world will determine, at least in part, your people.
• Build your society around your world, and your conflict around all these factors.
• BUT don’t tell the reader everything about the world backstory. Let them figure some out themselves.

 

With a great deal of humor and hard-won wisdom, Western writer R.G. Yoho shared “What NOT to do as an Author.”

Some key things that stuck with me:
• Remember: the manuscript you don’t finish can’t be improved.
• Don’t let others define success for you.
• Enjoy the successes along the way, and enjoy the ride.
• It’s amazing how many ‘yeses’ you’ll hear if you’re not afraid to hear ‘no.”

 

Finally, with great verve and energy, Donna Galanti shared much helpful, practical information about “School Visits 101.”

Having been to some of her workshops and read her excellently fun Joshua and the Lightning Road I only wish I were a kid lucky enough to have her visit MY school!

These are just hints and samplings of what these presenters, and many more, had to offer. I’m still digesting this feast of information. Now it’s time to put it into use, and get back to writing!

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