INTERVIEW WITH DYAN SHELDON:
Author Dyan Sheldon joins LitPick for Six Minutes with an Author! Dyan is the author of dozens of books. Her books include Picture Books/Younger Readers, Not So Younger Readers and Teenage Fiction/Adult Fiction. Dyan’s books have been translated into Korean, German, Indonesian, Czech and Polish. Some of Dyan’s books are Bursting Bubbles, And Baby Makes Two, and Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen.
How did you get started writing?
The first story I remember writing was liberally borrowed from my favourite book when I was six years old. I can’t say it was all downhill after that, but I knew then that I wanted to be a writer. Probably I knew before then. And I always did write, from elementary school on – stories and, for many years, poems. I was completely undiscouraged by the fact that it seemed unlikely I would ever be published. For a while I entertained vague thoughts of being a journalist, since even I knew that a fiction writer has little chance of being able to make a living at it, but a journalist could. This, however, is a very distant memory, and except for a brief stint on my high school newspaper (though I don’t recall writing anything for the paper, I think I may have been the business manager, which means we must have been close to bankruptcy) I never took it seriously.
Who influenced you?
Not to be factitious, but, one from one perspective, I think the answer to that could be “everybody”. Life is something of an apprenticeship, and, especially when you’re young, you learn how to do things by watching and imitating. Which is also how you learn to write. I think you absorb everything you read sponge-like, whether you know it or not. So that, deep in my unconscious, are the memories of hundreds of books (some more forgotten than others) that got me to the point where I could tell good writing from bad, and made me pay attention to how the words were put on the page.
Once you start knowing not just what you like but why you like it, then you find the writers whose vision and style inspire you personally. Those who write in a way that makes you sit up and take notice. (I’ve been known to make notes when I read George Elliot). For me, they don’t all write novels. I clearly remember moments when I had the radio on but was only half listening -- and suddenly heard a sentence that was so incredible and amazing that it made me look at the radio as though it had started dancing across the room. So among the writers to whom I owe some sort of debt, I would have to count not only novelists like Charles Dickens, Gabriel García Márquez, Jane Austen and Raymond Chandler but song writers like Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie and Bruce Springsteen as well. (That is not the complete list.)
Do you have a favorite book/subject/character/setting?
I have a lot of favourite books—from CHARLOTTE’S WEB, THE CAT IN THE HAT and I CAPTURE THE CASTLE to CATCH-22, MOTHER NIGHT and THE WOMAN IN WHITE. And, of course, having so many favourite books, I also have a lot of favourite characters. But, without doubt, one of my all-time most-loved characters is Huck Finn. He’s the best boy ever; sharp, smart, spirited and sassy. Unlike many boys who have a difficult childhood, Huck possesses kindness and integrity in abundance. And Mr. Twain draws him so vividly that it’s difficult to believe he isn’t real.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to be an author?
The received wisdom is that if you want to be a writer you have to do two things: you have to read, and you have to write. Read everything you can get your hands on – books, magazines, comics, cereal boxes. And, when it comes to novels, try not to limit yourself to one type. Good writing, interesting ideas, and amazing characters can appear in any genre.
I would add a third thing: pay attention. Pay attention to everything. If you get dragged to something you don’t particularly want to go to – a meeting of accountants or a Trekkie convention, for instance – go safe in the knowledge that no matter what happens or how bored you become you are going to learn something. And everything you learn, everything you see and experience, can be used in your writing. Even the things and people you may not have liked at the time. Every single thing
Where is your favorite place to write?
I always have a notebook with me for bus and train rides. This doesn’t mean I ever look again at my notes, or that when I do I actually know what they mean, because I don’t. Sometimes years may pass, and then I’ll suddenly come across something scrawled on the back of an envelope, and think, gee, that wasn’t a bad idea. Other times I come across something scrawled on a scrap of paper and can’t read my own handwriting. But where I work every day is at my desk up in the garret. Too far away to be able to answer the door.
What else would you like to tell us?
I’m sure I’m not the only person to notice this, but books are very special. To me they’re special because, unlike TV and movies, books are not a spectator sport. The reader doesn’t just watch what’s happening, s/he is involved in and part of it. In some ways everybody reads a different book, because each of us contributes to the story on the page. You fill in the details. You paint the scenery. You enter another world, but it’s a world you help to shape.
Dyan, thank you for spending six minutes with LitPick!