Today, I’m pleased to be joined by my fellow 2017 Debut member, Corabel Shofner, whose, ALMOST PARADISE, is scheduled to come out JULY 25, 2017 from FSG Books for Young Readers
JR: Hi, Corabel and thanks for joining us today.
CS: Hi, Jonathan! I have interviewed other writers, but this is my first interview where I’m on the hot seat. I think? I did fill out a questionairre for Query Tracker after I got my agent, but I have no idea what I said. My policy is Never Look Back.
(If you can’t remember it, it doesn’t count and that means I’m first!)
JR: Before we begin, can you tell us a little bit about ALMOST PARADISE and the impetus behind writing it?
CS: This is a book that spent many years in the drawer after I wrote it. So it ws a long time ago, but I remember this: The character of Ruby Clyde healed me. I had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, which can be quite frightening and I was laid out with treatments when I picked up my laptop and wrote:
“My name is Ruby Clyde Henderson and I am not stupid. What’s more, I look like a boy. So when I want, I tell them my name is Clyde, and when I don’t want, it’s Ruby. Some don’t even believe I’m a girl, with my hair being so short. It’s funny, people tell you not to lie, but they hardly ever want to hear the truth. If you try to tell it, they call you a liar. Liar, liar, pants on fire. But if you lie, they believe you.”
I absolutely believe in traditional medicine, but I also believe that writing from your heart heals the body. I did not set out with this goal in mind, you really can’t manipulate it, but as I wrote about that brave and wise little girl, I grew brave and wise myself. My humor and health returned and you can make of that what you will.
JR: I read on your website, www.corabelshofner.com, that you were an attorney. How has the transition been from doing that, to writing books for younger readers?
CS: Attorney is only one of many hats in this unruly life of mine. At the risk of sounding batty, I was really stupid in high school, so I dropped out and hitchhiked away. Many many adventures later, I discovered that I had some intelligence and enrolled at Columbia University in Manhattan, met and married my husband, and raised our family in suburbia. Law was part of proving something to myself, but I’m a bit conflict averse which does not go over well in negotiations or in court, so my favorite part was research and writing. (I wrote a brief for SCOTUS. Yay.)
As to writing for young children, I wrote the best book I could, and actually thought it was adult literary until Farrar, Straus and Giroux told me it was for ten year olds. But, as usual, the thing I did not intend turned out to be the right place for me. I absolutely adore the kidlit community. As Gary Schmidt said, “Mean people don’t set out to write children’s literature.” (I know, I know. I didn’t set out to do this but I don’t think I’m mean. My husband might havee a different opinion on that.)
JR: Can you tell us a little bit about your writing journey getting to this point?
CS: Well, I can’t sing and I was an average actress. Drawing would not come out of my hands the way words did. That said, it took me forever to learn to write. I wrote the non-fiction masterpiece MONSTERS UNDER MY BED in the second grade. But after that, I couldn’t understand where writers got all those words for a book. I was mystified. I wrote an essay once in school about circles but it said absolutely nothing. I just didn’t get the idea of having something to say. Who knows why I kept on trying, but I did.
For me, it took many years with false starts and heartbreak. I meet people easily so I would brush up against authors who offered their agents, but that never worked out for me. They’d try and stop when it wasn’t an easy sale. I am a bit odd and not overly popular. When I got serious, I decided to go cold, get out of the slush pile with an agent who loved me and was willing to fight the long fight.
When Elizabeth Copps from MCA called me, I knew she was the one. Don’t ask me how, but she was what they call young and hungry, and her office was in Rockefeller Center (Like that matters, but the first question I asked her was what she saw from her window.)
She got a lot of interest on the first round of submissions, but no takers except FSG who was my first choice because they are quirky like me. Even so they didn’t even make an offer right off, we just talked on the phone — a couple of times, for hours. I could hardly believe it! I was talking to a top professional in the Flatiron building who had read my book. I thought they might ask me to revise and resubmit but they said they would take it to aquistions. I was running into walls with glee. When it failed, I got into bed and put a pillow over my head until my son wrote the most amazing email. http://corabelshofner.com/2015/04/rewriting-hell/. I dragged myself back to my desk, did a massive revision, then FSG bought my book. I thought I had died and gone to heaven, still think that.
There is no normal route, that is important to remember. For some writers it is quick and easy, for others it is long. I was about average. At one point I wanted to know every invisible link in the chain that led to my publication and I found out that a summer intern was the one who found me in the slush pile and gave Ruby Clyde to Elizabeth. I found the intern on social media and thanked her. This is what she wrote back:
I’m sorry it’s taken a few days for me to respond to this! I cried when I read it, and that might just be because I’m an overemotional train wreck, but you have no idea how wonderful it was to receive this. Ruby, you see, became a good friend of mine when I read your story. I’m so excited to hear that she’s going to be able to make some more amazing friends. However, I can’t take any credit for helping you along the way. That story was always going to make it because it needed to be hold and you have the kind of voice that makes telling a story meaningful. Congratulations and stay in touch!!
Talk about magic! I have read that thing a hundred times.
That’s a fantastic story!
JR:What’s your writing process like?
CS: Haphazard. If you ask me when I am in a disciplined upswing I will announced that I must write everyday; if you ask me when I’m in a fuzzy cloud, I’ll be like what book? Either way, it is a serious pursuit, whatever that means. Right now I am copy editing ALMOST PARADISE so I’m in a good place.
I usually start with a character and I don’t plot from the beginning, so that makes for a lot of work on the tail end. Boy, I had to rip ALMOST PARADISE apart and put it back together, but it is a better book now. I try to plot loosely when I understand where I’m going, but you really have to be what you are when you write. So, I’m a sloppy plotter.
JR: What’s your favorite movie?
CS: You should know that I adore movies, all of them: From slap stick GEORGE OF THE JUNGLE, to lyrical ENCHANTED APRIL, the roller coaster DEAD POOL, the blood and guts of Quintin Tarantino and the heartbreaking SOPHIE’S CHOICE. I fall head over heels into movies.
All good choices!
JR: Something people would be surprised to learn about you?
CS: I was on a soap opera once, also a victim on Candid Camera (I thought I was a spy.)
Okay, you MUST post your Candid Camera shoot!
JR: Do you do a lot of research when you write?
CS: Yes, but research is a way of life. You tell me something and I will go look it up. Gets tedious but I can’t help myself. I did learn early on not to cram all my research into the story.
JR: Here at the Tuesdays, a big part of our success and the purpose of this site, has been being involved in a critique group. Are you involved in one and if so, how has it helped you?
CS: YES. I have been in, out, and back in the Nashville Writers’ Alliance over the years. My friend, Rita Bourke, who is a gifted writer, led me there. We meet weekly and that keeps you writing. Everybody knows the drill and gives good feedback. Just reading your work and having people respond is priceless. You have to put your ego to sleep and develop and ear for good advice. I can’t do it by myself, and I loved working with my editor on bigger problems. Without readers, I have no idea what is on the page and what I left in my mind.
JR: What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve received and is there any advice you can give to writers looking to break in?
CS: Jill McCorkle showed me a new way to open the story of Ruby Clyde, right in the middle of action. Richard Bausch loves the art and if you can’t get in a classroom with him, follow him of facebook where he offers up musings, like prayers.
My advice to others? If you find writing valuable, then do it. Just do it. At the very least, you will get to know yourself better. If you feel yourself moving toward a career then treat it like a serious profession, learn everything you can about the business, get out there. As I used to say about theater everything works and nothing works, you won’t know until you do it. But never lose the essesnce of why you write.
Oh one more thing, someone told me to query 100 agents before giving up. I didn’t have to go that deep but the idea made the process less personal, more professional.
JR: What are you working on next?
CS: I was nearly finished with one novel when I remembered ALMOST PARADISE (it was called Ruby Clyde at the time.) So I have that, but it has some big problems. So I wrote another novel from start to finish, using everything I had learned from my masterful editors at Farrar Straus and Giroux. (Thank you guys, free graduate school.) And I have articles and essays and scattered papers everywhere with lists.
JR: Is there anything that else you want to share with our readers or perhaps tell them how they can follow you on social media?
CS: Social Media shatters my brain, but I am diligently trying to learn it. Links are on my webpage, CorabelShofner.com (which I must rework to include school visits and sadly, I’m bored of my blog there,) Twitter (which is madness, like the old disco clubs on the 1970s,) Instagram (which is pleasant but I forget to look at it,) Tumblr (I’m trying because Rachel Fershlieser works there, but I can’t learn anything new right now,) and Facebook (I am most comfortable on Facebook, it is like stopping in the coffee shop for a chat on the way to work.)
JR: Before we go, I always like to ask, who’s your favorite member of The Tuesdays?
CS: FARAN is far and away my favorite person
JR: Seriously? Faran again? I can’t stand it. Okay, whatever. Going to delete the whole question now.
JR: Anyway, thanks again for joining us today, Corabel and best of luck with Almost Paradise!