I hope you enjoy the insight she shares. I particularly identify with her thoughts on the birth process of her stories. No project really ever starts the same way as the others.
If you live in the local area of South Jersey and Philadelphia, Elisa will be appearing at the William G. Rohrer Memorial Library in Haddon Township on April 12, 2014. Follow the links below for more information on the special event hosted by the South Jersey Writers' Group.
How early in life did you realize that you were a writer? At what point did you decide to pursue publication? What brought you to that decision?
I probably knew I wanted to be a writer from about the time I was seven. I have a journal from fourth grade that talks about how I would be a writer “if nothing else works out.” Um yeah… don’t ask me why I thought it was a practical fallback option! During college and graduate school, I always planned to try to get published and make a career out of it, but after getting a Masters in creative writing from Temple, I got a fulltime job, my first real job, writing for the Philadelphia Weekly, and I was overwhelmed by real life responsibilities like bills so I took a couple years off. But then I got serious again and applied for some writers’ residencies out of state. I did two of those in 2004, and they got me back on track. However, I was writing short stories at the time, and didn’t really have a course of action for how I should get published—it was all very vague and hazy to me. Then I took a summer course with the author Julia Glass who suggested, after reading one of my stories about a teenager, that I should write for the YA audience. That set everything into motion. Within less than two years I had an agent and soon after that I had a book deal.
You focused on writing in college and in your post-graduate studies. How essential was this route to your writing career? Do you think that you would have achieved the same results if you had taken another route?
While I loved studying English and writing, I don’t think this was an essential step to getting published. I got a lot of practice, and most importantly, I read widely, but neither of my degrees focused on the practical elements of getting an agent, or even how to write something people want to read! I think I could have studied other subjects and even worked other jobs and still pursued a career as an author. When I talk to others who are debating whether to get a creative writing degree, I tell them that it’s a wonderful way to create space in your life to just write, but it’s not a stepping stone. This isn’t a stepping stone type of career, so there’s no right or wrong way to go about it. (Of course that’s what can be so crazymaking about it, but I think it can also be liberating!)
You write for the Young Adult market now. Have you ever written in other markets? What is it about this market that calls you?
I write for a general audience as a contributor to the Inquirer’s food section and for many other publications and websites as a copywriter. As I mentioned, I started out writing fiction for adults, too. It just hadn’t occurred to me to write for teens. Once it was suggested to me, though, I went back and read the then-current YA books, and it was just this amazing moment of recognition. I remembered just what it was like to read books at a time in my life when everything was new. Books mattered so much to me then, because reading wasn’t just entertainment—it was a way of experiencing the world when my world was so limited. I knew then that this was an audience I wanted to connect with. Also, the more I dug deep into my own memories, I realized I was still very much a 15 year old inside. I love being able to create fictional worlds that (hopefully) can give teens a place to explore their values, thoughts, fears, dreams. Meeting teens is now hands down my favorite part of being an author.
Is there a specific topic, whether within your genre or outside of it, that you feel you cannot write about? Would you explain to us why?
Interesting question! To my frustration, I find that I can’t write directly about my own experiences lots of times, if only because they lack the drama to sustain a story. So I try to infuse the feelings of my own experiences into “bigger” stories.
Could you describe for us the birth process of your stories? Are all your stories born or developed the same way?
Actually, that process is quite different from book to book. Every project feels like starting all over, replete with the panic and insecurity that I might not be able to do it again! The idea could come from anywhere. Usually, once I have it, I scribble some paragraphs and develop an outline. But I never exactly know if it’s going to work until about two drafts in.
Where do you typically find inspiration for your stories and the characters you create? Is there a particular source that you return to regularly?
My inspiration is kind of all over the show: news stories, films, other books, personal experiences. The PRETTY CROOKED series was inspired by the real life events of Colton Harris-Moore, the Barefoot Bandit, a teen outlaw who was captured in the Bahamas a few years back. A book I just finished was inspired by someone I knew in high school. Another book I am starting to write is kind of a mash-up of a news story and THE LORD OF THE FLIES, with a little bit of THE RIVER’S EDGE thrown in.
Can you describe for us a typical writing day? Do you write every day? Do you dedicate regular hours to writing? What would be the optimum conditions for a “perfect” writing session?
I write almost every day, if for no other reason than my day job is also (freelance) writing! But when I‘m working on a book, I try to work on it every day for at least an hour or two. Ideally, this time is in the morning, before I start the rest of my day, and there is a very large coffee nearby. On weekends I usually go to a café, because I’ve been working from home all week and need a change of scenery. In a perfect world, I would get about five hours under my belt during a writing session. I now have a baby, though, so I sometimes don’t get to the computer as early or for as long as I’d like. I am trying to be gentle with myself!
How does real life affect your writing life? Is it a hindrance? A refuge? A refueling point?
Real life can definitely be a hindrance but only because of time, which is always so precious. Now that I have a child, though, I am more mindful of work-life balance. I work harder and more efficiently after I’ve had a day of family fun or a nap or an evening out with friends. And I’m not the type of writer who gets more done if I sit at the keyboard all night long. I do best in small concentrated chunks. So in that sense, having a fulltime job and a busy social life is useful. As much as I want to be a successful writer, and as much of a time commitment as that is, my life has lots of dimensions and this is only one of them.
Have you ever found the inkwell dry? How do you refill it?
Yes, yes, yes. It’s painful! Usually I watch movies, look at art, go for a walk, listen to music—basically just try to stimulate my brain. Luckily, my husband is a film curator, so he always has something interesting to show me. And of course, reading does wonders.
What part of the writing process do you enjoy the most? Like the least? Why?
I love revising! LOVE it. When I already have the framework of a story down in a draft, my brain starts making all of these connections and doing the most creative work. There’s nothing better than that giddy feeling of improving something. For me the hardest part by far is drafting the story. I simply dread writing what I know will be those iffy, subpar pages. My latest solution is to try to draft really quickly, get in and out, so I can get to the fun and more satisfying part.
This is a question that was posed on the blog of one of my favorite authors, and answering it helped me identify my priorities in terms of what I want to focus on as a writer. So, I’ll ask you: “If you had just one story left in you, and it was guaranteed to be published, what would that story be?”
Oh wow. Another great question. I don’t know if I’ve written the ”book of my heart” yet, to be honest. I am really proud of a book I am about to go on sub with—I’d say it’s the most personal book I’ve ever written and it means so much to me—but I think I am just getting started, really. There’s so much more to explore. Can I get back to you when I find it? :)
ELISA LUDWIG studied writing at Vassar College and Temple University, but she wanted to be a writer long before all of that. Technically, since she started writing, editing and publishing The Elisa Bulletin which she printed out on a dot matrix printer and sold for ten cents a pop. She has been pick-pocketed twice, and once caught someone mid-pocket. Other than occasional jaywalking, she’s a law-abiding citizen. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and son. Her first novel, PRETTY CROOKED, was followed by PRETTY SLY in 2014, with a third installment due out in 2015. You can visit her online at www.elisaludwig.com.
Elisa will be appearing as part of a free author panel on writing for children and young adults on April 12, 2014 at the William G. Rohrer Memorial Library in Haddon Township, NJ. Follow on to the South Jersey Writers' Group blog for more details on this special event.