Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak has become rite of passage reading for young women and I think her newest book, The Impossible Knife of Memory, is destined for the same. This time Anderson tackles the difficult subject of mental illness--in this case PTSD--in a modern family, and also the lighter (though sometimes difficult) experience of falling in love. Though she is busy touring for The Impossible Knife of Memory, Anderson took time out for some "how I wrote it" questions and I hope you enjoy reading about her life and work as much as I have. I'm also insanely jealous of her book cottage.
Who I wrote this book for: The early drafts of this book were written for me. They helped me worked through old feelings of confusion and sadness left over from when I was a teenager and my father was struggling with PTSD. When I started revising, I turned the focus away from me and started thinking about my readers, especially those whom love someone whom is struggling with mental illness.
How this book is different from my previous books: While it takes on a dark topic like my other books, this one is balanced by a love story and by friendship. I really enjoyed writing a story that had so much hope and laughter in it.
Space: I’ve written everywhere from a closet to the front seat of the car. Then I married a carpenter. He built me a writing cottage in the woods near our house. It has a ten-foot tall magic window that he found in a salvage yard and a wood stove that keeps me warm in the winter. I only do creative things in the cottage: writing, reading, drawing, etc. All business work, like email or paying bills, is done in the house. While I’m traveling this spring, rumor has it that he’s building me a wall of bookcases, too!
Here’s a video about the building of the cottage:
Tools: I love a thin-line gel pen (black ink) and heavy paper when I’m pondering a new book idea but, I’ll use anything when an idea hits, including an eyebrow pencil and grocery store receipts. Once I can hear the voice of my main character, I move to my laptop because I can type much faster than I can write. I try to spend a couple of hours a day working on the laptop while walking slowly on a treadmill. I recently started using dictation software because of carpal tunnel and tendinitis. I’m not sure if I like it yet, but it sure is easier on my arms.
Soundtrack: I like a huge range of music, from classic rock to country to alternative, some rap, and classical. Each book winds up with an eclectic playlist. Songs with lyrics can sometimes interfere with the flow of words in my head. When that happens, I put on ambient sounds, like recordings of waves or the music of Sigur Rós. Sometimes I play the music quietly, sometimes I crank it until the windows shake to bring up my energy level. It’s amazing how creative you can be after you dance until the sweat runs down your face.
Temptation: When I’m writing I avoid the Internet until the day’s work is done. If I’m feeling anxious about my Work In Progress, I avoid reading any and all reviews of my already-published books, even if they’re sent to me by kindly bloggers who liked them. I have an uncanny ability to distort positive reviews and make them into scathing denouncements of my writing and then I become a self-loathing wretch. It’s hard to write when I hate myself, so avoiding reviews is a healthy thing.
Surprises: I didn’t expect to enjoy writing the love story aspect of the book so much. Once Hayley and Finn started sparring, I had a blast figuring out how to move their relationship forward (and backward!). I was surprised at how much sympathy I had for Hayley’s father, too. That’s why I put in the short chapters told from his point-of-view. Once you know what he survived, it’s impossible to hate him. ---Laurie Halse Anderson