The 5-Question [Children’s Author] Interview: Valerie Hobbs

by Meredith Resnick

The author talks about what she likes best about fiction writing, being a planner and how she gains perspective on rejection—the inner and the outer kind.

VALERIE HOBBS is the author of several books including Defiance, which was a Kirkus Reviews Editor’s Choice and a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year. Back in 1991, she was Publisher’s Weekly “Flying Start” author after the publication of her first novel for young adults, How Far Would You Have Gotten If I Hadn’t Called You Back. Since then her books have consistently been honored with numerous awards (California Young Reader Medal, School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, Junior Library Guild Choice, to name a few). Valerie’s newest, the coming-of-age novel The Last Best Days of Summer, was published in 2010 by Farrar Straus Giroux.

 

Meredith: How do you balance the left-brain activity of promotion with the right-brain activity of creation? Or do you experience them as unified?

VALERIE: I don’t balance them very well, I’m afraid. My sluggish left brain doesn’t do promotion very well. It would rather work on plot structure, although that’s hard work. My right brain is always alive and happy and ready to play.

Meredith: Is voice, to you, a constant? Has yours as a writer evolved over the years? Or have you just gotten more confident in using what was always there?

VALERIE: Yes, pretty much a constant. Confidence about voice (though not necessarily other things) was there from the beginning. I can sense when the voice is wrong for a character and I know I won’t get it “right” if I just push forward. Characters seem to bring their voices with them, but of course it’s all my voice. It’s what I like best about fiction writing.

Meredith: Are you a planner-outer by nature or more of a someone who takes life moment by moment? Now answer this: Do you plot your books or do they take you on a meandering path? Tell us the good, the bad and the everything.

VALERIE: I am a planner in real life and in my fiction writing. I’m not confident enough to follow an unplanned story and I worry about “wasting time”. Honestly, I’d like to be more of a meanderer (I was a true meanderer as a child) and often promise myself that the next book will be done in a more spontaneous way, but I have to know the ending of a story and that leads to all the other stops along the way and the plot is more or less done. I envy those who meander and find surprises along the way.

Meredith: What purpose does rejection serve—or how do you view it in such a way so it best serves (rather than dis-serves) you? (Oh, by the way, I’m talking about rejection from an outer source [editor, publisher] and also from yourself.)

VALERIE: I’ve gotten much better about dealing with rejection over the years—outer rejection, that is. My editor, Frances Foster, is such a perceptive and wise (and kind) editor that I learn a lot from whatever she rejects. When I first started writing novel, though, I was despondent over rejections and cried for days. Now my own rejection of my own stuff—that’s the worst of all and I still do it. Not a lot, and less as time goes by so there’s hope!

Meredith: Some people refer to their creations as their children. I see our creations more as an extension of our own biology. In other words, our words are who we are, expressed in an alternate form (kind of like how water freezes to ice and then melts and flows again). How do you view your creations?

VALERIE: [Love-this alert:] They’re all me or hitherto unexplored parts of me, even the boys. I don’t believe we really ever know anybody else; the only person we understand (as best we can) is our own selves.

Valerie lives in Santa Barbara, California, with her husband, Jack, a high school teacher, and is an Emeritus Lecturer in the Writing Program at the University of California Santa Barbara. When I asked Val to tell me something quirky about herself she said, “I don’t know how quirky this is but I was once a drag racer, Also jumped (once) out of a plane. And brushed my teeth (once) by mistake with Preparation H.”

[Thanks, Val!]

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Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell

It always fascinates me what other writers say about rejection. I agree, that rejection should be viewed as a learning process.

Barbara Bietz

Val Hobbs is fantastic. She creates unforgettable characters that settle in your heart and never leave. Thanks so much for sharing this fantastic interview – it is like a mini master class from you and Val!

Kim

Great one, as always. It’s interesting what she said about being a planner in real life and in fiction. I’m an uber-planner in real life, but not much in fiction. Maybe I do more subconscious planning in fiction, but I tend to just start with a single line and let it go from there on its own. I’ve always said I wished I lived my life more as I wrote. I would probably be more relaxed. Then again, my high-strung-ness is probably what enables me to complete projects.

I love this line: “Characters seem to bring their voices with them, but of course it’s all my voice. It’s what I like best about fiction writing.” I think that’s so true — that you just know when the voice fits. It is weird that the characters seem to just arrive with their personalities in tact, when really they originate within us. Part of what’s “crazy” about being a writer, I guess 😉

MarthaandMe

Rejection is always on our minds as writers, that is for certain! I agree that writing and promotion take two parts of the brain and sometimes one works better than the other!

valerie hobbs

Just got a rejection today, as a matter-of-fact. One of my writing groups has a rule that we’re allowed to wank and kvetch as much as we want to for three days, and three days ONLY. After that, it’s shut up about it! 🙂

Sherrie Petersen

I like that every book is exploring another part of herself. I think every writer has to do that to a certain extent.

Sarah Henry

The outer rejection stuff, I get. The inner rejection the author describes: I want to know more.

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