Laura Schaefer is the author of Notes to Self, which she wrote under her nom de plume, Avery Sawyer. She was kind enough to answer a few questions for me today.
1. What was your inspiration for Notes to Self?
I began Notes to Self after the “25 Things About Me” Facebook meme went viral. Over 5 million people wrote these lists and I thought they formed the perfect framework for a YA novel. Some of the things people included in their lists were so evocative or poignant that I thought the whole concept would work well in a longer format. In fact, the first title for Notes to Self was 25 Things About Me. But as time went on and the meme faded from people’s memories, I decided to abandon that title and the strict number of “things.” Notes to Self ended up being weightier in tone than I had originally anticipated, so I’m glad the title is a bit more solemn.
2. How is Notes to Self different from other books you have written?
It’s extremely different. My other books, The Teashop Girls and The Secret Ingredient, are for a younger audience and could be described as wholesome and cozy. Both have emotional depth, but they aren’t as angsty or as gritty as Notes to Self. I felt I was really stretching myself as a writer by taking on this project. Notes to Self reflects a darker sensibility and asks questions about what to do when life is anything but cozy and reassuring.
I believe both kinds of books have value. Sometimes you want to curl up with a sweet story and drink tea, and sometimes you want to dive into something darker.
3. Are you working on any new projects right now?
Yes. I’m devoting a lot of time to my non-fiction series called Planet Explorers, which are e-book travel guides for tweens.
I’m also doing research on my next novel, which will be another dark YA story called The Conjurer. I’m really excited about it—I want to tell everyone everything about it, but I think I should probably write it first before I get too ahead of myself.
4. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I didn’t know until I graduated from college. I had dabbled in writing book reviews for many years by that point, but didn’t get serious about writing until I had to make a living. I began as a curriculum writer and magazine article writer and gradually got more and more ambitious as the years went on. I started writing The Teashop Girls in 2005 and that was the moment when I knew that books were what I really wanted to be doing. Articles and standardized test questions paid the bills, but novels are so satisfying to create.
5. Which authors have influenced you the most?
I read a lot, and I’m constantly inspired by other authors. I love Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, Lois Lowry, E.L. Konigsburg, Madeleine L’Engle, Betty Smith, Dodie Smith, Neil Gaiman, and Meg Cabot. I read more middle grade and YA novels than anything else, but that’s because I think of it as part of my job (in a good way…I love reading and calling it work).
6. What is your favorite part about being a writer?
Getting to sleep in and pursuing my interests. I can spend days, weeks, or even years digging into a subject I have a natural curiosity about. It’s wonderful. I also really enjoy getting good book reviews. J
7. What is your least favorite part?
Worrying about money, not having health insurance, waiting for people to read my stuff, uncertainty about the future. Being a writer isn’t always easy, but on balance I’ve been very fortunate and I can’t really imagine being anything else.
8. What advice would you give to budding authors?
Read all the time, and when you’re not reading, write. Embrace the fact that your first draft won’t be awesome and plan to revise a lot. Engage with other writers either in your town or online so you don’t feel alone.
If you want to make a living as a writer, you’ll either have to get incredibly lucky early on, or you’ll have to write a great volume of material. Embrace that. Being prolific is a great way to get better.
Pay attention to trends in the market, but don’t let them rule you. Some trends might fit with your writing sensibility and some won’t.