Saturday, February 8, 2020

Interview with Author Lois Ruby

Some authors consider themselves Plotters, some Pantsers, and others say they are something in between. Plotters spend a lot of time setting up a story before they ever start writing. Pantsers tend to jump into a story and fly by the seat of their pants. Over the next few months, I will be interviewing several authors about their writing process. These authors all have books featured in my upcoming educational resource, Story Frames: Using Narratives to Improve Reading, Writing, and Executive  Function Skills in Struggling Readers (Coming November 2020, Brookes Publishing).

Today I'm talking with author, Lois Ruby, who has a new book that was released just this week - Red Menace for ages 11 and up. Set in 1953, the story is told from the perspective of thirteen-year-old Marty Rafner whose parents are investigated by the FBI for suspicion of being communist sympathizers. As the date approaches for the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Marty sees just how serious the stakes really are and that it may be up to him save his family (Carolrhoda Books, February 2020). And now for the interview with Lois Ruby...

1. Thanks for joining us today, Lois. You tend to write books that require a lot of research and follow the unfolding of historical events. I know you are meticulous in your research. When it comes to plotting, how structured are you? Do you consider yourself a Plotter, a Pantser, or Something Else?

Lois: I fall into the "something else" category. Occasionally I'm required to pound out an outline before a book is accepted and written, and that's like chewing nails, so I make up something that sounds plausible. Then I feel little obligation to follow that outline when I start the writing. The plotting part? Meh. Secondary at best. Character always comes first, and that determines the time and place for the story and gives me a vague idea of where the story is going, which plunges me into interminable research until I'm exhausted and admit it's time to start writing. Then it goes quickly, zooming toward the ending. I prefer to be surprised by the ending when I get there, so I guess that's the "pantser" part.

2. What has been your most interesting research experience so far?

Lois: My most interesting research experience was interviewing three Skinhead teens at a Taco Bell in Kansas -- two guys in full skinhead regalia and a girl with the back of her head shaved, and her long hair starting mid-scalp and hanging over her eyes. I looked around the crowded Taco Bell, and all I could think was, I hope people don't think these are my children. I told those sad kids that I'd buy all the burritos and tacos and Cokes they wanted, and all they had to do was talk to me about their lives. Oh, man, what an eye-opener! Out of that enlightening and horrifying interview emerged my book, SKIN DEEP.

3. What is your favorite children's book?

Lois: My favorite children's book is the incredible forever-classic novel, THE GIVER, by Lois Lowry. Of course, I like the fact that the author shares my first name, which has led to some memorable experiences, including my twice accepting her awards in her absence. I'm told she's asked, "Who is this Lois Ruby person who always seems to be in the right place when I can't be?" Impostor? No, it's only coincidence. THE GIVER is, in my estimation, the most significant and thought-provoking children's book of our generation, worthy of reading numerous times, by kids and adults, in search of new nuggets of truth.

4) Do you have any advice for young writers?

Lois: I have lots of advice for young writers since I'm quite bossy when I encounter them during school visits and in my email.  Three words: read, read, read

Read everything from toothpaste tubes and cereal boxes to kiddie books and adult novels, to scientific treatises, non-fiction works, and commercial ads. Read to younger brothers and sisters and to grandparents, in order to savor the texture and flavor of words, their
underlying meanings, and how they meld together. 

Then write, write, write. Write quickly to get the words down without censoring them, and then revise until you feel excited and proud about what's on the page or screen. Finally, find a trusted person (not your mother, who has to love everything you do!) but a kindly, objective reader to offer suggestions on what does and doesn't work in your writing. Revise again. Above all, enjoy!

What is most interesting to me about Lois and her writing process is that when it came time for me to choose books to analyze for strong plot structure while writing Story Frames, I instantly thought of Lois's book Steal Away Home which will be featured in Story Frames. It's about a girl who finds a skeleton in a hidden closet of a home her family is renovating only to discover that the bones belonged to a woman from the Underground Railroad. Read about it on Amazon. As I have said before, I believe that many authors have such a strong sense of plot that they don't have to think of it overtly the way many of us do.

To receive information about publications and events and to catch all of the author interviews, sign up for my newsletter HERE or simply follow this blog. To read more about the plotting structure outlined in Story Frames, visit my page for The Secret Language of Stories. To read the interview with author Caroline Starr Rose, go HERE.

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