Updated: Jan 4, 2019
I am so pleased to announce that the first Author Spotlight on the new site is . . . the amazing Alan Gratz! *cue the fanfare*
Alan Gratz is the author of the ever popular books Grenade, Projekt 1065, Prisoner B-3087, Refugee, and more! Projekt 1065 has won eight state awards and has an average 5 star review on Amazon. Alan was also the Thurber House Children's Writer in Residence in 2011 and wrote a few episodes of A&E's City Confidential. Read on to hear him answer questions about advice, research, and everything an aspiring novelist needs to know!
Zoe: How do you research for your books? Important things you look for, sites you use, etc.
Alan: You can start online, but you have to end with books checked out from the library. I use online searches to tell me what I need to know more about, and then go to the library and check out a big stack of books to use for research. My research usually takes me at least a month, and that's sitting down every day in my office to read books and take notes.
Zoe: How do you feel after you write? Energized or exhausted?
Alan: Energized to begin with and exhausted at the end!
Zoe: What are some of the WORST things aspiring authors can do?
Alan: Don't worry about getting published too soon. It took me until I was 30 years old to be good enough and professional enough to get published. You might be able to beat that and get published sooner, but this is not a race. Take time to get better at writing and to find your voice before you worry about getting published. Write, and write a lot, but share your stories with your friends and family rather than worrying about sending them out and making any money off them yet.
Zoe: Which authors or books do you think have helped you become a better author?
Alan: There's a particular book on writing plot that I love called SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder. I highly recommend it.
Zoe: Name your top 3 books.
Alan: I cannot do that! I love too many books and don't like to rank them. I will tell you I really enjoy the mysteries of Rex Stout and Alan Bradley, and the sea adventures of Patrick O'Brian.
Zoe: Would you try a book that is wildly popular or not-so-famous?
Alan: I think you try to write the book you would like to read. That's more important. Sometimes books people expect to be big and famous flop, and sometimes books that are small and unheralded to begin with become huge. It's more important to write something that is like what other people have written enough to be read widely, but personal enough to you to be unique.
Zoe: Do you ever base characters off people you know in real life?
Alan: I've occasionally used characteristics of people I know, but I've never deliberately written anyone I know directly into a book.
Zoe: What does your typical writing schedule look life?
Alan: I do different things at different times. Some months, I'm doing all research. Some months, I'm doing all outline. Other months, I'm doing all writing. Ultimately though, I like to spend about 6 hours in my office doing whatever stage it is I'm working on.
Zoe: How do you select names for your characters? Also, what are some names you think are great for characters?
Alan: I try to choose names for characters based on names that were popular in that time and that place, so I do some research into people who lived during that time, and mix and match names I like from those lists. I don't keep a list of interesting names--I find them on a case by case basis.
Zoe: Finally, tell us your best advice for aspiring writers.
Alan: Write a story, finish it, and start another. Don't become so precious about one story that you just keep rewriting it, and writing sequels to it, and never leave that world. Write a story, finish it, then start a whole new story. Repeat. It takes a long time to get great at writing, just like it takes a long time--and lots of practice--to get great at playing an instrument or playing a sport or creating art. PRACTICE!
And don't quit.
Thanks for reading! Comment below your favorite piece of writing advice and who else you'd like to see to a spotlight. Thank you Alan Gratz for this great Q&A!