Friday, August 8, 2008

Meet the award winning author - Meg Rosoff

Last but certainly not least during our week of Printz authors is Meg Rosoff, author of HOW I LIVE NOW, the Printz award winner for 2004.

About the book:

“Every war has turning points and every person too.”

Fifteen-year-old Daisy is sent from Manhattan to England to visit her aunt and cousins she’s never met: three boys near her age, and their little sister. Her aunt goes away on business soon after Daisy arrives. The next day bombs go off as London is attacked and occupied by an unnamed enemy.

As power fails, and systems fail, the farm becomes more isolated. Despite the war, it’s a kind of Eden, with no adults in charge and no rules, a place where Daisy’s uncanny bond with her cousins grows into something rare and extraordinary. But the war is everywhere, and Daisy and her cousins must lead each other into a world that is unknown in the scariest, most elemental way.

A riveting and astonishing story.

About the author:

Meg Rosoff was born in Boston and had three or four careers in publishing and advertising before she moved to London in 1989, where she lives now with her husband and daughter. Meg has earned numerous prizes including the highest American and British honors for YA fiction: the Michael L. Printz Award and the Carnegie Medal.

The interview:

2k8: Can you tell us about "the call," when the Printz committee called you, and what transpired afterward on that special day?

Meg: I'd had a pretty peculiar year already. My first novel was published in August, and I heard it had won the Guardian Children's Fiction prize (in London) even before it was published. Because I was 47, with no real experience in trying to get published, I was incredibly pleased, but didn't quite realize the extent of the honour (maybe everyone wins the Guardian prize?).

Then the week the book came out, I found out I had breast cancer, so I was in the hospital on publication day, and you can imagine how surreal that was. By the time the call came from the Printz committee, it was early January, and I was right at the end of six months of really gruelling chemotherapy, bald, sick, feeling pretty lousy -- and ALSO trying to work on my second novel, which had been rejected in a first draft by both my American and London editors!

So it came as an amazing confirmation, to hear the voice of Betty Carter at the other end of the phone and all those amazing cheering librarians. I had no idea what powerful, liberal advocates for books and reading librarians were until I started writing books for teenagers. And then they came out of the woodwork, these astonishing women (they're mostly women) -- opinionated, well-read, radical, funny. To be honest it never even occurred to me that I might win the Printz, because How I Live Now was such a controversial book, (it contains underage sex between first cousins). I figured (especially in America in 2004/5) it might be burned, not given a medal. In other words, when the phone call came, I thought they must have the wrong number. But then each member of the committee got on the phone, introduced her/himself, and congratulated me -- from Mississippi, Hawaii, Texas, Arizona, Colorado...there was such a strong sense of consensus and warmth. I don't cry easily, but I cried then.

2k8: Has winning a prestigious award affected your writing in any way? Is it harder now, or easier?

Meg: Having a first novel that wins an important award is fantastic, but it also puts a lot of pressure on what comes next. In a funny way, having cancer helped because it kept me grounded, made me realize that what was important was being alive and well, and while medals are lovely, it's the fact that I'm alive and (after all these years of working at other careers) can make a living writing novels that's the ongoing miracle.

I think the acclaim helped me stick to my guns on the second book, when both editors were saying they wouldn't publish it. It was fair enough, they didn't know what I could do -- but I didn't really know what I could do either! The first novel had emerged in a single draft, more or less intact, while the second one really needed lots of hard graft, as they say in England. But I stuck with it, and it went on to win the Carnegie medal in London. I think with each novel you write, it gets a little easier, because in each one you come up against all the fear and the worry that it's no good, and you work through it, and stick with it, and (hopefully) produce something good at the end. So next time, you recognize the anxiety, and are slightly less thrown by it. Also, one good book is likely to be a fluke. But if you've written three or four that people like, you figure you might manage five or six! I'm kind of a believer, however, that the anxiety and self-doubt are part of the process. I (superstitiously) think that if I relaxed and became totally confident about it, I'd lose something important to the process of writing. Terror, perhaps?

2k8: If your current writer self could travel back in time to talk to your debut novelist self, what advice would you give him/her?

Meg: I was incredibly lucky. I submitted a practice novel to the woman who became my agent, and she suggested I write another -- she didn't say "a better one" but I got her drift -- and I was desperate to know what all the rules were for writing for teenagers, what I could say or couldn't say, what subjects I could tackle...and she said, "don't worry about rules. Write the best book you can write, and I'll find an audience for it." That's possibly the best advice I've ever had. I would modify it slightly to my former self, and say simply, "write fiercely." So many people try to think about what might sell, what people might like, what would make a good subject. I think real passion shines out in writing, and connects with a passionate reader.

2k8: And to end on a light note - what fun things do you have planned for this summer?

Meg: The English summer is only six weeks long (school goes until late July), plus it tends to rain all summer -- but I love the rain, and we have a tiny house on a wild stretch of sea in Suffolk (where I set my latest novel, What I Was), and my idea of heaven is just to be there with my daughter, my husband, the dogs, a pile of good books, and the boats sailing past the windows. It's often windy and rainy there, which might not be "fun" exactly, but it makes me very very happy.

Meg, you deserve all the happiness you can find. Best wishes to you and thank you for sharing so freely with us!


Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for your time, Meg. You are an inspiration to us all!

~Lisa S.

Barrie said...

Thank you for sharing.