Monday, July 23, 2012

Author Interview & ARC Giveaway: Stephanie Guerra on Torn

Reading the debut novel of an author is always an adventure. I feel like I'm braving an untamed wilderness because I could stumble upon something wonderful or really frightening, and not in the good way. Lucky for all of us, Stephanie Guerra's debut novel Torn is of the wonderful variety. Ms. Guerra has a wonderful ear for dialogue as well as a strong sense of the tensions that exist even in close friendships.

If you haven't had a chance to read this book yet, be sure to enter to win a free ARC! The entry form is posted at the bottom of the interview.

Read on for more straight from Stephanie Guerra on Torn and the writing life:

What about Torn are you especially proud of? Is there a character or scene that really stood out in your mind?

I’m happy about the way I painted Stella’s family life. Families can be a source of so much joy and pain, and a missing member can have a profound impact. In a way, a person’s absence can be like a presence, and I tried to capture that regarding Stella’s father. I didn’t want this to be an “issue” book about a missing dad, and yet I wanted to pay tribute to the hole a father can leave behind. I also wanted to capture that sticky blend of love and competition and protectiveness that can exist between siblings. I love Jackie, Stella’s sister, and the way she continually challenges and enriches Stella’s life.

Which young adult authors, or books have influenced your writing the most?

Jennifer Bradbury (Shift, Wrapped) has just joined my writing group, and I am stunned by her talent as a writer and reader. She’s got a marvelous ear for dialogue and she always points out when my characters sound stiff. Her writing inspires me to explore unusual settings and dare unusual subjects.
On a more removed level, Sara Zarr has influenced my writing. I love her gritty realism and the way that she is very open about how faith influences her work. Her scope is broad, and she doesn’t swerve from looking at the issues teens are facing. She also writes with great tenderness and insight into human psychology. And no sappiness, no violins! I love that about her work.

In making the transition from writer to published author, a lot of professional writers often lament the fact that while it’s great to get paid to do what you love, it’s hard to live with the pressures of marketing and meeting deadlines. Do you miss the days pre-publication, or do you think that stuff about pressure is just out there to make us unpublished writers feel better?

Oh no, the pressure is real. For an introvert like me, it’s hard to live up to marketing and publicity expectations. Thus far I’ve resisted both Facebook and Twitter, because there simply isn’t enough time to mother my children, be a wife to  my husband, teach my students, write my books, AND engage in a fragmented (and fragmenting) online life. I’ve just had to let it go. I do, however, do guest blogs and attend literary events and maintain my website. So I’ve found a compromise. But there is always the crushing feeling that I should be doing more or my “license to write” will be revoked, because I’ve failed as a salesperson (which I never was). 

For you and your writing career, what would you say has made the biggest difference for you in terms of perfecting your craft?

Hoo-boy! I am nowhere NEAR perfecting my craft, and I hope I get to live a very long life so that I can keep trying for that elusive goal. At this point I’d say the two practices that help me continually improve are dedicated writing time (a must) and a close reading of great literature. I’m not by any means saying I think of myself as a “Writer” capital W, or anybody important, but I do love the craft of writing and I believe in studying the very best models I can find. The great writers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries didn’t necessarily write young adult fiction, but they are where I seek inspiration. (Shoot for the stars and you might hit the treetops?) Just reading Dostoevsky’s books and biography, as I am right now, is teaching me so much about the writing life and the ways that fiction works. The writer and teacher John Gardner said that we must carefully choose what we read, because it will greatly influence what we write.

Did you have a particular audience in mind when you started writing Torn beyond teen girls in general? Stella experiences some racial tension in one of her romantic relationships, and her Mexican roots keep coming up as a source of pride, shame, and confusion throughout the novel. Did you have girls like Stella in mind as an audience?

I picture my audience as girls who are making all kinds of choices about sex, substances, and the future, and who rely heavily on their friends for advice about these things. When I was that age, my parents couldn’t tell me a thing, but I’d listen to my friends. I think many girls fit that description. I also picture Latina and biracial girls as an audience, likewise Catholic girls, and more globally, all girls who seriously invest in their friendships, and see them as some of the most important relationships in their lives.