Sharon Draper amazes me. She’s got too much cred for her own good and quite possibly is hogging it all! She’s an award-winning educator and writer and all-round good egg. Plus she’s funny and hip. And must have the energy of a hummingbird. She probably makes Red Bull feel sluggish. Aside from her fabulous books, like FORGED BY FIRE, you know what made me like her the most?
This picture she sent of one of her, um, fans.
Too funny. Here’s some more of our conversation.
• How did you get started writing?
A smart-alec student who challenged me. “Why don’t YOU write something?” he growled at me. He gave me an application for a national writing contest. I entered. I actually won first place. I should find that kid and thank him.
• Which is harder for you … writing a first draft of a novel or cooking Thanksgiving dinner?
Cooking. Although I love to cook, I’m no gourmet. Writing is easy. Words flow.
• Which of your characters is most like you?
Most of my books have a strong teacher, or strong mother-figures who nurture various characters through their ordeals. I suppose those women represent me and how I feel about teenagers. I actually like them, and I want them to succeed.
• Have you based a character on someone who would be horrified to know it’s them?
No, but I did have a lady once tell me, with a very insulted tone, “I didn’t like how you portrayed me in your book! I told her I didn’t like her well enough to put her in a book. Well, I wanted to say that. I just assured her that any resemblance to herself was purely coincidental. And it was.
• What is the third best salad dressing?
I like them all except for Blue Cheese. Yuck! Double Yuck!
• So sorry, my dear, but this is not an appropriate answer. You were a teacher … didn’t you admonish your kids to answer the question they were asked?! Sheesh. Third. Best. Salad. Dressing.
Picky. Picky. Picky. Raspberry Vinaigrette
• Which is your favorite part of the writing process? Least favorite?
The best part is being “in the groove” when the words flow, and my fingers dance, and thoughts bounce around like lightning flashes. It’s like magic. The least favorite is line edits. Fixing tiny details. Who cares that her dress was blue on page 75 and green on page 76? Maybe she changed clothes! Copy editors are unique and skilled individuals. They miss nothing.
• Who is your favorite author?
I don’t have one. I read too many books. I read three hundred books a year—mostly on airplanes and waiting in airports. Mystery novels. Biographies. Historical fiction. Poetry. Each one shapes me in some way. I learn from all I read and I that I do. I like authors who understand the “groove.” Authors who make the magic with words. I won’t waste time on a poorly-written book. I’ll leave it on an airplane. Good books I treasure.
• What do you do for fun?
I write! Honest. It makes me happy. I also like hanging with my grandkids. They keep me young.
• What is your writing process like?
On writing days, that’s what I do all day long–I write. I sit at a computer and type until the words start sounding funny to me. That means my brain is turning to mush. Then I stop and rest until the next day. A typical writing day starts early in the morning–maybe around five or six. I must have absolute silence–no music, no telephone, not even a fan can be blowing. Then I find my “zone” and enter it. It’s a magic flow of thoughts and words. Sometimes the thoughts come faster than I can type them. It’s exciting, exhilarating, and wonderful. And it is truly a blessing. The characters come and they create themselves. They become like real people to me–living, breathing young people who share the same fears and frustrations that all teenagers experience.
I start with an idea, or a problem or a conflict, or even a situation that might be pertinent to the lives of young people, then the characters grow from that point. I try to make strong characters that change and develop and learn from their mistakes. I try to make characters so real that young people believe they are real people, and many do.
I can write about a chapter a day if I have no interruptions, but usually there are interruptions—the dog has to go out, I have to go the post office, etc. When I come back to it, I revise it or expand it and change it, each time making it better and stronger. When I finish the whole book, usually in two to three months, I go back and edit it. I fix, change, and rearrange. Then I do it again. Then one more time. That may take several more months. Then I send it in to my editor who fixes and changes it even more. It may go through three or four or even five edits with her. Then, it goes through a final edit with the copy editor. That may take another six to eight months. Writing is easy. Editing is very tedious and painful. When a book is finally done, it may have taken more than a year to get it just right, and even then, I’m never really satisfied with it. I still wish I had perfected it just a little more.
• Were you in marching band?
I used to love to watch the band at football games. They were more fun than the football players.
• What books are on your To Be Read pile right now?
A Mercy by Toni Morrison
Testimony by Anita Shreve
Someone Knows my Name by Lawrence Hill
• Chocolate or vanilla?
Vanilla, of course!
• What is your favorite line from a book?
“Women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth.” From Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston.
• What is the first book you remember reading?
I could read long before I started school. I was the little girl who checked out ten books every week from our local library. I was the child who read late at night with a flashlight. I can’t remember NOT reading, or being read to. It’s the rhythms and the cadences of the words that stay with me.
• Which five people — living or dead — would you like to go to dinner with and why?
1. Barack Obama. Because he is THE MAN.
2. Denzel Washington. Because I respect his work and I think he’d like my books and make a movie of one of them. [Becky’s note … He’d be crazy not to!]
3. Zora Neale Hurston. What a woman!
4. My grandmother Rose. So I could ask her all those things I never did.
5. My grandmother Estelle. So I could ask her all those things I never did.
• What is the most interesting thing about your childhood?
I used to live next door to a nunnery and I was afraid of the nuns. They wore the long black habits, and I thought they had no feet. They floated. Honest.
• What is the best question you’ve ever been asked?
Where do you find your joy? Asked by an eleven year old. Still working on the answer to that one.
• What is your Six Word Memoir?
Wife. Mom. Teacher. Writer. Grammy. Cool!
• Mountain or beach?
Beach, of course!
• Tell us about any new books or projects you have coming up.
–Sassy! Little Sister is Not my Name. A book for kids in grades 3-4-5. From Scholastic. March 2009.
–Just Another Hero. Book Three in the Jericho Trilogy. For grades 7-12. From Simon and Schuster. June 2009.
–Sassy 2—The Birthday Storm. Sequel to Sassy 1. From Scholastic. September 2009.
Sharon told me she envied people who have time to blog. I told her I’d trade my blog for her 20+ books any day. I envy writers who DON’T have time to blog! But she recently jumped on the bloggy bandwagon so go visit and say hi in case she’s feeling lonely and unloved in the blogosphere.
And you can find her at MySpace, well HerSpace, I guess …. myspace.com/sharondraper
How much do you love Sharon Draper now?!