Author Chat with Joan Bauer
Transcript of Live Chat
August 31st, 2005
NYPL Today we are happy to welcome Joan Bauer to our second Summer Reading Chat of 2005. Joan lives in Brooklyn. She has won many, many awards for her writing including the Newbery Honor Medal, the Christopher Award and the Golden Kite Award. Her books include Squashed, Hope Was Here, Stand Tall, Sticks and Rules of the Road which was named one of the top young adult books of the past 25 years by the American Library Association. She also has her own website: www.joanbauer.com. Welcome, Joan. What is the best thing about being a writer?
Joan B: It's working with words and ideas, I think. Trying to explain parts of the world that I find funny or frustrating.
Dreamspell: Have you ever had a good or bad dream that's given you ideas for your books?
JoanB: That's quite a question! Not really, but I have had dreams sometimes that I think are leading me in certain directions, or are leading me away from things. I am a big believer in dreams. I try to write them down and really think about what they mean.
Interested_Reader Do you have any books that have characters that live in New York City. If not, will you write one for me?
JoanB: Yes, Hope was here has a girl who lives in brooklyn and has to move all the way to wisconsin. she is devastated by this. i'm having trouble getting my initial caps to work here--it's not that i don't care. but on hope, it was interesting, becasue i wrote that book when i lived in connecticut and a couple of years later i moved to brooklyn. how's that for living through your characters' lives?
africa12: what made you want to be a writer?
JoanB: I always loved words and my grandmother was a professional story teller--so words and stories just flowed around my house. I always thought that stories help us learn about the world--so I wanted to write because telling stories was just the most natural way to think and talk about real life.
Beryl: Where did you come up with the idea of making a pumpkin such a central character in Squashed?
JoanB: I had seen a photo of a thirteen year old boy out on the West Coast who had grown a giant pumpkin and he was standing next to it so proudly--and I kept thinking, how do you do that? Why do you do that? A big part of how I write and create is to keep asking myself why. I just always thought of SQUASHED as a weird turn on a story about a boy and a dog, a girl and a horse--I wrote about a girl and her vegetable.
Interested_Reader Do you have any kids or pets?
JoanB: I have one daughter--23--who is in grad school. And right now we are pet free. My dog died a few years ago and we've not gotten another one. I really don't like not having a dog--I just love them so much.
Christina: Hi, what are some of the things you like to on your spare time?
JoanB: I like to swim and ice skate--although on skates I'm not too good at stopping--I kind of flail until I find the wall and then grab on. I love to cook and take hikes in the woods. I love to curl up in front of a fire with hot chocolate and read, read, read.
Dreamspell: Do you write for the movies and TV?
JoanB: I was a screenwriter many, many years ago--I was just getting started, too, and I had a terrible car accident. I wasn't able to write for a while and when I started up again I went into writing YA novels. But I learned so much in the training. Screenwriting is very different than writing books, but I love writing dialogue and thinking about pacing--that's a huge part of TV and film writing.
joanne: how do you like living in NYC?
JoanB: I love NYC. My husband and I have wanted to live here for so long and finally we're here. I'm a real city person and love my neighborhood--all the energy and the excitement. We couldn't have made a better decision than to live here.
joanne: Whose do you read for fun?
JoanB: I like John Irving and Annie Proulx. Right now I'm reading a lot of history to keep up with my daughter who is getting her doctorate in American History. I also am fascinated by current events.
joanne: Who is the author you loved when you were a teenager?
JoanB: Harper Lee who wrote TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.
joanne: Did you write stories when you were young?
JoanB: All the time! I used to take my summer vacations, particularly, and write like crazy. Sometimes I would take a story I liked and think up different endings. Sometimes I would try to copy the style of a writer that I liked. I really was writing all the time.
Dreamspell: If you had to write a book with another author who would that author be?
JoanB: That's a hard questions--let me see...I've never wanted to partner with anyone else. So I'm not sure I could really answer that. Sorry.
africa12: is it easy being a writer?
JoanB: No--it's hard, but it's worth it. I used to think it would be easy because I love writing so much, but trying to get stories right, and writing lots of drafts, going through the editing process--all of that is really hard. But I do tend to fall in love with my characters, so I just keep on going to see them through.
joanne: Do you ever work on more than one book at a time?
JoanB: I've tried to to that and it usually doesn't work too well. I can write a book and work on a short story at the same time, but I've found that with any piece of writing, I have to focus in so much, give it my all, and when that gets divided between different stories, my poor brain gets confused.
Jerry: What's your favorite word?
JoanB: What's my favoite word? I've never been asked that. Hope is certainly a favorite word. I like hope even more than I like dessert!
eva: Has your family inspired your books?
JoanB: Yes, absolutely. My daughter was a real inspiration to me when I wrote both THWONK and BACKWATER. As a matter of fact, Jean is very much like Ivy Breedlove in BACKWATER. And when I told her I couldn't get the cupid right in THWONK, she followed me around the house telling me, oh yes I could. Also, my mom and grnamother have been a huge inspiration to me and I hope people can see that in the characters that I write.
Megan: Do you read any other Young Adult authors?
JoanB: Not too many. One of my favorite YA books of recent years was MAKE LEMONADE. I try to read outside of YA because I'm always afraid I might start sounding like some other YA writers--I want to keep my own voice as unique as I can.
Interested_Reader What's the best advice anyone has eveer given to you?
JoanB: The best advice--well, I guess that depends. As a writer, the best advice was write when you feel like it and when you don't. Best advice I've gotten as a human being was--don't ever expect everyone to like what you've done. When you appeal to absolutely everyone, you've probably watered down what you want to stay. And as a mother, the bst advice I ever got was to trust my instincts.
eva: Are you naturally funny? Can someone learn to be funny by taking a class?
JoanB: I think I am, yes. I learned it from going through some pretty hard, unfunny times. I always wanted to be positive and I think that humor puts a nice spin on hard times. You can learn about humor from taking a class, but I do think there's something that has to be insdie you, too. As I write this I feel I should be saying something hysterically funny, but I can't think of a joke right now. Oh well.....
Jerry: Have you ever written a book of horror, science fiction, or fantasy?
JoanB: No horror--I do have a cool idea I'd like to develop for a science fiction short story, but as far as fantasy--yes I have. THWONK is a fantasy about a romantically challenged teenager who has her life turned around by a rather crabby cupid.
africa12: what is your latest book about?
JoanB: BEST FOOT FORWARD is the companion book to RULES OF THE ROAD. It's about a teenager who comes from an alcoholic family and who has a great job working for a big shoe company, She (Jenna, that is) comes up again corporate scandals and needs to learn how to overcome her dad's drinking problems. It's really about finding truth and trying to do the best job you know how when all kinds of people around you aren't being honest or doing their best.
joanne: What's your favorite of all your books?
JoanB: I always have a fondness for the last book I've written--but in terms of characters who I wish were in the world, I'd have to say HOPE WAS HERE and STAND TALL. I'd love to sit down at the counter of the Welcome Stairways Diner and talk to Hope, GT, Addie, and have the whole cast of STAND TALL come in for lunch--that would be awesome.
eva: Is forgiveness all it's cracked up to be in books?
JoanB: Well, I think forgiveness is one of the hardest things we human being undertake in this world. It's so hard to put aside a hurt, particularly a deep one, but I think that if we don't, there's a hardness that eventually overcomes us--I think unforgiveness is always harder on the one who won't forgive. But the process isn't easy (sometimes it is for a little thing), but I don't think that books hould make the process seem cheap, easy, or magical.
africa11: hello my name is iesha
JoanB: Hi--that's a very pretty name.
Vikki_BPL: Do you think it's easier for a female writer to write strong female characters than male?
JoanB: A good writer should be able to embrace both male and female personalities, I think. But I do think it's easier for me to write females than males, but once I get those male voices down, I really enjoy it! I'm particularly proud of Tanner Cobb in BEST FOOT FORWARD--he's a tough street kid and oh, boy, did he give me a time of it when I was creating his character.
africa11: did you ever go to africa before?
JoanB: I've not, but I would love to go. My sister went with her husband a few years ago and saw the animals in the wild--elephants, etc. She said it's the most magnificent thing. I would love to go there.
eva: Did any of your teachers ever give you good advice?
JoanB: I was fortunate to have lots of good teachers! Mr. Baker, my Latin teacher, taught me how to have fun while learning--he just refused to get too serious about things, and he helped us learn by his wonderful sense of humor. My writing teacher in high school, Miss Brown, told me to find my own voice when I was writing--I was able to find that through her. She always told me not to try to be like someone else, but figure out who I was and what I wanted to say.
Dreamspell: What interesting things would the letters in your name stand for - J-O-A-N?
JoanB: I love thinking about this. Let's see--J could stand for Jewels--once I had a dream about finidng laughing jewels in an old abandoned cave--they were in this dusty trunk. O could stand for older because now that I'm older, I like to think I'm wiser. A could stand for Actress because I loved acting when I was younger and I do think as an actress when I write. N could stand for Narnia because I love C.S. Lewis and Aslan.
Interested_Reader How do you show the power of love in your books?
JoanB: Honestly, I think so hard about my characters and who has loved them in their lives--who has really been there for them, and then I remember who was there for me and how being loved and cared for really felt. I put those things together and I try to show love that way. Love streams from kindness and humility, I think. Proud people love themselves, but not too many others. I also think about what I'd like to see in the world as far as how people should treat each other.
joanne: Do you ever get writer's block?
JoanB: Groan..........yes and it's so terrible. I get so crabby. I used to get crabby and scared, which is a pretty grim combination. Now when I get it, I try to think why? What's hapened? Did I take a wrong turn in my story? I've written nine books and I've gotten blocked in one way or another ine ach of them. I've always found my way out--so I try to trust that I will again. Sometimes having chocolate really helps, too.
Jerry: Have your books ever been banned? If they have were you upset?
JoanB: Not banned in the normal sense. Once, I was going to speak at this school when SQUASHED came out and the librarian said she didn't want the kids to real the book because she was afraid any overweight kids would be upset since the girl in SQUASHED was a big overwieght. I thought that was so silly--Ellie in that book has gret self esteem. But you never know. That was only one librarian at one school. I think if it ever happened really, I'd be upset.
nerwen: What's your favorite part about being an author?
JoanB: I love thinking through my characters lives and as I do it helps me to think through my own life. It's funny how all my stories will tell you a great deal about the things I struggle with and how I feel about the world. When I've brought a character through a difficult time, I cheer. When the say parts come, I do cry. I'm just there with the characters in the story and that's the part that keeps me coming back day after day after day. I really believe that there is remarkable truth in fiction. I am one blessed woman to be able to work at that for a living.
NYPL: Thanks for joining us, Joan. We hope you can come back and chat with us again some time.