Young Adult Novelist
Michelle D. Kwasney
(Frequently Asked Questions)
What were you like as a kid?
Shy, creative, bookish, intense. Like Blue in Baby Blue, I loved to draw,
but was a “klutz” at anything athletic. And like Delores in Itch, I was a tomboy. The First Communion photo says it all - that kid's dying to get back in her dungarees!
Do you have any brothers or sisters?
I have two younger sisters, Pam and Kim. (Check out our funky seventies dresses in the photo at the left.) After our parents divorced and remarried, I gained a half-sister, half-brother, and step-brother.
Did you have any pets growing up? Do you have any now?
Yes to both. Growing up we had a dog named Sarge, who I told everything to. (As you can see in the picture below, we’re having a VERY serious talk.) Now it’s two unbelievably spoiled cats, Moxie and Jasper, who nap by day and play “chase-the-catnip-mouse” by night. Soon, we hope to get a golden retriever, my all-time favorite dog.
What made you decide to become a writer?
I didn’t find writing; writing found me. My background, training and education are in the visual arts, and I’ve taught art for over twenty years. Aside from keeping a journal and writing poetry, I never thought of myself a writer. But as I sat at my desk one warm June morning, the voice of 12-year-old Blue Hanson began to speak to me. That summer I completed the first draft of Baby Blue, which was published five years later, following several rewrites.
What was your favorite color when you were a kid ? Has it changed?
My favorite color is and always has been purple. When I was little I bugged my mom to paint my bedroom lavender—the same color Gwendolyn eventually chooses for her room in my new novel, Itch. Now, as you can see in the photo, purple is the color of my writing room.
Are you in a writing group?
Absolutely. If you're going to write, you need someone to tell you what works and what doesn't. My critique group has been meeting for several years and we've been through many ups and downs together. More recently I've also started meeting with a writer friend after school to swap chapters and provide feedback. And my partner, who is working on a YA novel, too, pre-reads everything before I send it off to my editor. The more people who see your work, the better -everyone has a unique perspective and will zero in on different things.
How many books have you written?
I’ve written many books—at least a half dozen, all in different stages of “done-ness.” Most are middle-grade and young adult novels. So far two have been published—Baby Blue (Henry Holt, April 2004) and Itch (Henry Holt, April 2008). My YA novel Blue Plate Special will release in fall 2009 from Chronicle Books.
What are some of the other books you’re working on?
Right now I'm working on Downtown, a middle-grade novel set in 1965 that focuses on a friendship between an eleven-year-old girl and a boy with polio. I'm also exploring a young adult novel based on girl-on-girl bullying.
Do you have any other jobs besides writing?
Yep. I also teach Art to Kindergarten through 3rd graders in western Massachusetts. The photo at the right was taken in my room the first day of school . . . BEFORE we starting making messes. Below is a shot of a few proud artists showing off the results of a clay fish project. And to the right is a portrait of me a 2nd grader painted during our Henri Matisse unit. I was so honored to be her subject!
What’s your favorite food?
I love seafood, especially shrimp and salmon. My favorite comfort food is mashed potatoes. And although I'm not big on dessert, it’s physically impossible for me to walk away from cheesecake with fresh strawberries.
Do you have any hobbies?
I love to play Scrabble, shoot pool (we have a billiards table in our rec room), take long walks, photograph people and nature, read, and visit antique car shows. Check out the photo of my “dream car,” a 1950s Chevy Bel Air convertible, which plays a very important part in my second novel, Itch.
I also collect models of classic cars and trucks. They line the shelves of my writing room. Below are a few of my favorites.
If I write you an email, will you answer it?
Are your stories true?
As I once heard an author say in an interview, my work is emotionally autobiographical. I've experienced whatever feelings my characters have, or I wouldn't be able to paint a realistic portrait of their inner worlds. However, I never depict actual autobiographical events in my writing. Where there is a similarity, I use a great deal of distortion.
Are any of your characters supposed to be you when you were a kid?
Again, I never write directly from real life. But, sure, there's bound to be some overlap with the shy, awkward kid in the picture. I think all of the characters we create are facets of ourselves in some way. For example, Blue in Baby Blue is an artist, like I am. And there is an artist in nearly every one of my novels - Bailey Parncutt in Itch, Charlie in Unsaid, Mrs. Spitzer in Downtown. Also, being an avid reader, I see that tendency rubs off on my characters, as well. Several have a favorite book that becomes an integral part of their growth.
Where can I buy your Baby Blue and Itch?
First, check your local bookseller. If they don’t have them, ask a salesperson to order them for you, or you can buy them online at www.amazon.com or www.barnesandnoble.com.
Where do you get your ideas?
Everywhere. Images in the media, news segments, snippets of conversation, life’s Big Questions. I keep an “idea box” filled with notes jotted on paper towels, the backs of shopping lists, whatever I have handy. I always have way more ideas than I do time to turn them into stories.
What kind of movies do you like to watch?
It depends on what I’m in the mood for. I like dramas, comedies, suspense films, anything with a solid story and convincing characters. A few of my favorites are Fried Green Tomatoes,Tootsie, Amadeus, Philadelphia, Mrs. Doubtfire, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and Little Miss Sunshine.
What kind of music do you listen to?
Jazz, classical, R&B, and seventies music, mostly, but my tastes are pretty eclectic. Some of my all-time favorites include Take Five by the Dave Brubeck Quartet, Albinoni's Adagio in G Minor, Chopin's nocturnes, Mozart's clarinet concertoes, Glenn Miller's Chesterfield Broadcasts,the soundtrack from Chicago, and anything by Melissa Etheridge or Elton John.
Do you ever get Writer’s Block?
I'm lucky in that I almost never get what people refer to as “writer’s block.” I feel inspired every time I sit in my chair at my writing desk, peering out the window at the bog behind our house. Granted, some tasks—like a really difficult revision—might be something I’m not especially looking forward to but, for the most part, I’m always in the mood to write.