This month, we talk to author Kristin Mahoney about her debut novel, Annie’s Life in Lists. She shares with us some of the unexpected things about becoming a professional author and sent us a list-inspired writing challenge.
Want to catch up? Check out last month’s Ink Splat here.
This month’s challenge comes straight from Kristin herself!
Take apart an awkward moment. Think about a time you felt embarrassed, and ask yourself why you felt that way. For example, the other day I saw an acquaintance in town. Let’s call him Bernard. I was sitting down, and Bernard leaned forward to ask me something. I completely misread the situation and jumped up and gave him a hug. Bernard gave me an awkward little pat on the back, then just said whatever ordinary thing he’d meant to ask me (about good spots to park his car, or something like that). Insert blushy face.
In that moment, I felt so embarrassed. But afterward, I realized it was really pretty funny. Bernard just thought he was asking a question about parking, and he wound up getting a big surprise hug! If Annie were writing about this in her book of lists, she might write:
Five Reasons it Was Totally Awkward that I Hugged Bernard
1. Bernard did not want to hug me.
2. He just wanted to ask me where he should park.
3. I don’t really even know Bernard that well.
4. I also kind of bumped his nose as I stood up to hug him.
5. Bernard looked mildly scared as he pulled away from the hug.
But of course it doesn’t have to be written as a list; you could just describe the awkward moment, and explain why it was embarrassing for you. Lots of things that are difficult or unpleasant when they’re happening—awkward moments, injuries, even big arguments—actually make really interesting things to write about later!
We’d love to hear about your awkward moments! Submit your responses by emailing email@example.com and you might be published on our website.
An Interview with Kristin Mahoney
Annie’s Life in Lists is your debut novel. What didn’t you expect about being an author?
Honestly, it’s a bit surreal to me that real people are reading these words that I wrote and responding to them. It’s thrilling, but also a little weird! And since the nature of book publishing is such that I actually wrote my first draft a few years ago (and I have worked on other books since then that are fresher in my mind), people will ask me questions about the book and I can’t always remember what they’re referring to. Like someone will ask me something about Annie liking peanut butter and I’ll think, “Oh yeah, that’s right; she does really like peanut butter! I forgot!” So in a way, it’s like Annie belongs to readers more than she belongs to me now. And that’s kind of a cool thing.
Annie’s Life in Lists written in, well, lists. What inspired you to choose lists as a format for a novel? What challenges and benefits did that choice create?
A few years ago I noticed that my young daughters (who are now 12 and almost 10) would make lots of lists. Some were obvious, like “Four Things I Want for My Birthday,” but some were more interesting, and really told me a lot about them, like “Five Reasons I Was Mad at My Sister Last Night.” At first, I thought it would be an interesting way to tell a short story about a character in a picture book or a chapter book. But the more I wrote, the more I realized there was a lot more to Annie’s story, and that I could actually make it work as a whole novel.
I think the most challenging part of writing in this style was creating smooth transitions. It was sometimes tricky to move on to a new plot point or a new observation when everything was written in lists; sometimes you just need a longer sentence, or even a paragraph, to explain why you’re shifting gears. And so I did “cheat” a little bit; there are places in the book where Annie gives slightly longer explanations that aren’t in list format.
But on the flip side, you can also give a lot of information in a list that would be harder to include—or might get boring—if you were writing it as a series of sentences. Take my above example about Bernard. I was able to give a lot of information on the incident, and on my feelings about it, in relatively few words.
In what ways do you see yourself in Annie? In what ways are you different?
I’m SO much like Annie, honestly. It’s a goal in my writing life to learn how to write from the point of view of a character who’s completely different than I am, but so far I haven’t ventured very far away from myself! Like Annie, I have a crazy-good memory for little details about people and things that happened in the past. I have also lived in a small rural town, and in Brooklyn (although I didn’t live in Brooklyn until I was an adult; I wasn’t there as a kid like Annie was). Also like Annie, I have spent too much time worrying about what other people think of me (although I’ve learned that gets better as you get older!). Oh, and we both love peanut butter.
I would say one way we’re different is the quietness. Annie is a quiet kid, and while I had my moments of that (and still do sometimes), it never lasts very long. My chatty side usually wins out!
If you could tell your younger writing-self something, what would it be?
What a great question! I think I would tell her to write down more thoughts and observations in journals, and not to throw them away! I have very little of my own early writing, and I wish it were still around to help me remember some of the small details of life at that age and to give me new ideas.
Society of Young Inklings News
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A special thanks to Kristin Mahoney for sharing with us! You can learn more about Kristin at her website. Order a copy of Annie’s Life in Lists from Kristin’s favorite bookstore, Words, in Maplewood, NJ.
Nine things to know about Kristin…
- I grew up in Sanford, North Carolina.
- Two other hometowns that are close to my heart: New York City and South Orange, NJ
- Charlotte’s Web is one of my very favorite books of all time.
- When I was a kid I used to spend a LOT of time making up stories while I bounced a basketball in my driveway.
- I don’t like coffee, but I love coffee ice cream.
- I have two daughters who make me laugh, ask me brilliant questions, and give me ideas for stories.
- I try to write almost every day, but some days I feel like all I do is open and close the back door for the dog.
- I am terrible at the game Clue.
- I will keep changing this list as I think of different things to tell you!