This month, Lindsay has challenged us to use our imaginations and emotions:
An Interview with Lindsay Lackey
What inspired you to create a character like Ruby (Red) Byrd?
Ruby is one of those characters who just showed up in my head one day. At the time, I didn’t know she was in foster care, and I didn’t know how her emotions effected the wind, but I did know that she was a girl with a big interior life. In a lot of ways, Ruby is like me as a child, I think. She can seem quiet, but her imagination is always working, and her emotions are really, really big. So big they can be overwhelming. I felt that way a lot as a kid, so it was easy for me to understand Ruby as I was writing her.
Red’s emotions are associated with wind. Is there a significant meaning behind this? Why did you choose wind out of all the other elements?
I sort of stumbled on wind as a metaphor for Red’s emotions in an early draft. The very first chapter of the book is the first scene I ever wrote for it, and as I was writing this difficult situation for Red, there was a storm building outside in the story, and suddenly I realized that the storm was reflecting her emotions.
However, once I realized that her emotions influenced the weather, it became obvious to me that her feelings specifically influenced the wind. Wind is kind of a big deal in Colorado, which is where I grew up and where the book is set. Wind blows a lot out there because of the mountains on one side of the state and the flat prairie land on the other. Colorado wind can be scary and damaging—it can be so powerful it destroys buildings or crops; it is so cold in the winter that, even if there isn’t any snow, school might be canceled because of wind chill. But the wind is also lovely, like when it blows in a rainstorm to cool off a sweltering summer afternoon. Wind is almost like its own character in both Colorado and Red’s story.
Do you have particular favorites among the other characters in the novel? Were any especially fun or challenging to create?
The animals were lots of fun to create, of course! I enjoyed researching all sorts of wacky animals, and really fell in love with tortoises as I was writing Tuck. I am trying to talk my husband into getting a tortoise, but so far, no luck. I also really enjoyed writing Marvin, who is just so full of life. His character, too, came pretty easily, and I always loved the scenes he was in.
The most difficult character for me to craft was Red’s mom, Wanda. I knew that Wanda had to be unreliable and hurtful in the way addicts often are, but I didn’t want her to be a monster. I wanted to show her humanity. She is so much more than an addict, even though that deeply influences her personality. She’s a mom, a daughter, a friend. She’s complicated, and I had to work really hard to give her the nuance and complexity she deserves.
What was the most challenging part of writing this novel?
I think the most challenging part of writing any novel for me is the actual work of writing, especially during the drafting phase. I am a perfectionist, and it is very hard for me to sit down and let the messy work of drafting happen. I hate ugly sentences or scenes that don’t feel right. I just want to fix them—but if they don’t exist in the first place, there’s nothing for me to fix. So I have to struggle through a first draft. I have to make myself write messy, nonsensical scenes and flat characters, and I have to make myself leave them that way long enough to get through an entire draft.
What was your favorite part of writing All the Impossible Things?
I think my favorite part of writing All the Impossible Things was watching it all start to come together in revisions. For a long time, the book felt like a bunch of scenes randomly shoved together, but as I was revising, the characters really came to life. Once I’m in that phase of writing, scenes will just come to me suddenly, and I can barely keep up with the words coming out of my head to get them down on paper. That is fun writing. I remember one night in particular when I was writing a scene where Red is apologizing to her foster parents. I hadn’t planned on this scene at all, but when the idea came, I had to drop everything and write it immediately. As I was writing, I started crying along with Red. The emotions felt so real to me. Those are the moments that are the most exciting and joyful experiences for me as a writer.
When your readers finish reading your novel, what do you hope they will take away?
I hope readers will take away what they need to take away from the story. By that I mean, if a reader really needs to hear a message of love and acceptance, I hope they’ll find it in Red’s story. If a reader needs to escape reality with some magic for a while, I hope they are swept away. If they need to see a family that looks like their own in all of its messiness and heartache and hope, then may they see themselves in those pages. Once a book is published, it no longer belongs to the author: it belongs to the reader. I hope I’ve done my job well enough that readers will find whatever they need in this story.
Did you learn anything (or deepen your understanding of anything) about the craft of writing while you drafted and revised All the Impossible Things?
All the Impossible Things was the first book I’ve drafted, rewritten, rewritten, revised, edited, and revised some more. I’ve written drafts of five or six other novels, but I’ve never seen another one through the process of rewriting and revising multiple times before. And here I specifically mean all of the revising and rewriting and polishing I did before I sent it out to agents and editors! Writing a book is a lot of work, and All the Impossible Things taught me that I am capable of doing that hard work and succeeding. I’m grateful for that lesson…because now I have to do that hard work all over again for my next book!
Many of our youth writers are drafting and revising stories of their own. Do you have any specific strategies to share with them? How do you approach your writing in the day-to-day?
My first piece of advice is: keep reading. When I am reading a story that really sweeps me away, it makes me want to be a better writer. It makes me pay attention to what the author has done that has worked such magic for me. I feel like reading is a vital part of my craft.
As for process, I have to say: I think I have a terrible one. Ha. I tend to write a lot of words in a draft, and then throw them all away and start over. I do this multiple times before I even finish a single draft. Boy, oh boy, this is a tedious way to work. But I somehow manage. So, I guess my advice is: do what you need to do. Your process won’t look like someone else’s. Certainly learn from other writers. Try the tips and tricks they offer and see if those things work for you. But if they don’t—if you just aren’t a person who writes every single day, or you really can’t work from an outline, or you hate trying to meet a word goal—whatever it is, if it doesn’t work for you, that is okay. Don’t give up. Find what does work…even if it seems tedious (like my process seems to me). The important thing is to do the work.
Do you have any other tips or insight you’d like to share with our community of writers? If you could give your younger self writing advice, what would you tell her?
I wish I could tell my younger self to learn to take better notes. That is, ask my elders more questions about their lives (because their lives are so much more interesting than I ever imagined!); talk to more people who are different than me; try to be a better friend. Basically, get to know people and their stories because those are the things that will really matter to both your life and your writing as you get older. So many of my story ideas now come from things that happened to me or someone I knew when I was younger. I wish I had been less focused on myself as a young person, less afraid of what others thought. It’s okay and natural to focus on yourself to some degree, but don’t get so caught up in your own world that you miss the stories others can tell you. Asking for and listening to the stories of others will teach you to be a better storyteller—and a better person!
A special thanks to Lindsay Lackey for sharing with us! You can find Lindsay’s debut middle grade novel, ALL THE IMPOSSIBLE THINGS, is now available wherever books are sold.
Lindsay Lackey has trained as an opera singer, worked in children’s and teen services at the public library, and for a major publishing house in publicity and marketing. Now, she writes magical novels for middle grade readers and unabashedly believes in impossible things. Born and raised in Colorado, she lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and their spoiled dog.