The Author Chronicles gives a warm welcome to author Marie Lamba! (See also our review of Marie’s book.)
Thanks so much for having me at the Author Chronicles. I’m so happy that you are a part of the Drawn Blog Ghost Tour!
Most of us writing YA are well past our teens. How do you manage to stay current with the contemporary teen sensibility?
Well past my teens? Hem hem… Well, okay, I’ll give you that. But I don’t feel that different than I did when I was a teen (back in the dark ages?). I think most of us have an age we sort of freeze at. A point where we feel: this is me. For me, I’d have to say it was around 16. I can’t say why, but it’s true. And in many ways I’m still that 16 year old girl, able to look through those eyes with the same degree of trust and distrust, if that makes sense.
It also helps that I have daughters who are around the teen age years, plus I’m a scout leader of an 11th grade troop. These girls all keep me on my toes when it comes to what’s current, and what teens do and do NOT say and do. One example: Jean jackets on guys are NO LONGER HOT, not since the ‘80s. Switch that to a leather jacket. Another example: Adults say things like, “Hey, hook up with you later.” But this now means much more than, “See you at the coffeeshop.” Needless to say, my daughters always proofread my manuscripts before they go out into the world…
What hobbies do you use to balance out the often solitary life of creation?
For me, writing has become an extremely extroverted experience in so many ways. I belong to The Liars Club, a group of writers who basically lie for a living, and together we share our trials and triumphs, and we connect with the writing community at large. This means participating online at The Writer’s CoffeeHouse yahoo group, and meeting once a month with a huge group of writers who show up at our Coffee Houses (open to all…last Sunday of each month from noon-3 at the Willow Grove PA Barnes and Noble). I’ve also been teaching novel writing, and attending lots of signings and been featured as a speaker at conferences and workshops. And now that I’m also an Associate Agent for the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency, these appearances have been on the rise. Solitary writing life? Not exactly.
I also, as I mentioned, work as a Girl Scout troop leader, mentoring an amazing group of high school students through their Gold Award projects. I’ve been their leader since they were in 2nd grade, and it’s never a dull experience. Zowie, I’m even the cookie mom.
Other than that, life keeps me busy… just keeping up with my amazing family and friends.
Do you do your research before or after your first major draft of the book?
A little bit of both, actually. When it comes to Drawn, I had a lot of ground to cover. It’s set in England, so I had to be sure to be a bit current on the slang, etc., there. I made good use of people from England (especially my sister-in-law) who were generous enough to give me some pointers and add in some good stuff like “Oy oy! Nice pair of stems!”… and if you don’t know what that means, you’ll just have to read the novel to find out.
The book also involves time travel, so that means I had to get sharp about the 1400s. Not just the history, but also how real people thought and felt back then. For this I turned to the ballads and stories of that time as well as to the Paston Letters, which are a series of letters between family members, and are a wonderful glimpse at some of the everyday life that went on back in medieval times.
And lastly, the novel explores issues of mental illness. Michelle’s brother is schizophrenic, and when she starts seeing things herself, she’s sure she is too. I wanted to be especially sensitive on this subject, and to understand not only the medical underpinnings of this illness, but also its effect on the sufferer and the family. Fortunately for me I came upon a remarkable memoir called The Center Cannot Hold by Elyn R. Saks. The author eloquently writes of her experiences as a brilliant academic suffering from schizophrenia. Very personal and illuminating.
But where do you stop researching and start writing? Once I had the beginnings of what I needed to start the tale, I stopped the research machine cold, knowing that I had identified all of my resources and outlined the basic facts. As I began writing, whenever I needed a detail, I’d just mark it with a sticky and keep writing, knowing that I could get it later. Occasionally the facts were too important, and I had to stop the writing cold until I researched more. But the story’s need dictated this, rather than my idle curiosity.
Are you an outliner or do you like to wing it?
I can’t seem to outline, though I’ve tried. What works best for me is writing up a one page synopsis of what my book is about. I imagine it as the back copy for my book jacket. I then pin this to my bulletin board and set off writing, trying to create the book that will go with it. I also always have my end scene in mind, so that I can write to reach that moment. Sometimes the ending changes, but it’s usually pretty close to what I envision. The other thing I MUST have before I set out is the main character’s voice firmly in my head.
With all of these things in place, I’m usually ready to roll.
Many authors draw on their own life experience for their books. Did DRAWN grow out of any life experiences for you?
When I was a senior in college, I lived for half a year in England. I was studying writing and illustrating, so you know I kept a journal that I filled with observations and with sketches. As someone who read so much gothic literature…The Woman in White, Wuthering Heights, etc. etc., of course I was prone to lurking around old graveyards and exploring dank castle dungeons. So one day, I was sitting on the cold dirt floor in a dungeon. The only light coming in was through a high small window, crisscrossed with bars and laced with cobwebs. Still, squinting, I could see enough to draw the eerie space in my journal: the chains hanging from the walls, the coarse stones that once must surely have been slaked with blood and suffering. And that’s when I saw him. Well, “saw” isn’t really accurate, because he wasn’t there at all. Not REALLY. But he was very much there in my drawing. A young man, chained to the wall, his haunting eyes looking straight at me. My own eyes darted to that wall, and for one moment, he was there…
Okay, you’re not buying this are you? Hey, I’m a fiction writer and a member of The Liars Club, for goodness sake!
Truth? Yes, I did study in England, I was well-read in gothic lit, I was trained in fine art (like Michelle in the novel), and did keep an elaborate journal of my time there, which includes sketches. And I did “haunt” plenty of castles and graveyards. But that’s pretty much where the truth ends, alas!
There are so many other connections that I have with the story and the characters, though. Like Michelle’s feelings of being an outsider, then her confusion at suddenly being accepted in this new location. I was teased mercilessly in elementary school, yet by the end of middle school, it was like I was completely reinvented in people’s eyes. It was mystifying.
Like Michelle, as a kid my family struggled with money. And I, too, had Thanksgiving dinner delivered to our house by the Lion’s Club. Plus, yeah, I’m a Jersey girl too!
And at one point Michelle talks about a little artist Smurf figure. I actually have this Smurf on my writing desk.
Like many authors, you give back to the writing community by lecturing and teaching. What is the greatest reward you get from teaching?
It’s two-fold. First and foremost, I get to meet some really interesting people who are passionate about writing. They are fascinating, have original voices, and are full of that fresh excitement we all get when we discover something we are truly passionate about. Because of this, I really look forward to teaching, and to seeing where people in my classes are taking their work. I love those ah-ha moments, and they give me plenty of these, too.
The other part is what I get out of it by being forced to describe the writing process. Even though I took countless writing courses when I was a student at the University of Pennsylvania, I never really learned traditional craft. It was all the “write something down and we’ll all tell you where you screwed up and maybe praise a thing or two” school of thought. This had its own merit, instilling a sort of Pavlovian response…Write this and get kicked, but write that and get a pat on the head.
But now teaching traditional craft, I’m forced to look deeper into why certain things get that pat on the head. I definitely think it’s made me a better writer.
Can’t wait to read DRAWN? Buy it now!
Marie Lamba is author of acclaimed young adult novels including What I Meant… (Random House), Over My Head, and Drawn. When she isn’t writing or lying through her teeth, she’s working as an Associate Literary Agent for The Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency in NYC. Marie lives in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
Teen artist Michelle De Freccio moves to England in search of a normal life…instead she finds a hot medieval ghost with a sketchy past.
It all begins when a strange guy appears in Michelle’s drawings. When she actually meets him at the town’s castle, she’s unmistakably drawn to him. But something is definitely not right. For starters, he wears medieval garb, talks of ancient murders and tends to disappear each time they kiss.
Could he possibly be a ghost? Could Michelle be losing her mind? Or has she simply uncovered a love so timeless it’s spanned the centuries…
Praise for Drawn:
“A lushly romantic ghost story…captivating and haunting. I didn’t want it to end.” –Cyn Balog, author of paranormal YA novels Fairy Tale, Sleepless, and Starstruck
“…a wonderfully spooky tale of romance and discovery. It’s a magical exploration of the unconquerable power of love. Highly recommended!” —Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestselling author of Rot & Ruin and Dust & Decay
“In DRAWN, Marie Lamba deftly entwines romance and mystery, past and present, into a page-turning adventure. Buy it today and I promise you’ll be finished reading far too quickly!” —Joy Nash USA Today bestselling paranormal romance author of The Immortals series, The Grail King and The Unforgiven