“Interview with Gretchen Griffith, Versatile and Talented Author of Books for Children and Adults” by Joan Y. Edwards
Thank you for being a guest on my blog. Your idea of writing me a letter for the interview is a good one. Let’s begin.
Hi. Thank you so much for inviting me over to your blog today. I’m excited about sharing my writing experience with you and your readers. (You’re welcome.)
I am amused at the question on how I did in English as a kid. I’ve read through the responses other writers gave you and laughed with them. Perfection on grammar was not always what we were looking for back then! I grew into an appreciation of language structure when I took a class on linguistics and syntax at Appalachian State University. I’m not always the Grammar Ninja I’m accused of being, but I am conscious of when something just doesn’t work. That class helped me develop the ear.
As for the literature aspect of my high school years, I’m the one who sat in geometry with a good novel hidden under the textbook. That’s all I need to say about that. I can’t put my finger on a single favorite book because whichever book I had my nose stuck into at the moment was my favorite. If I didn’t like it, I set it aside. I am partial to long narratives like those by Michener that trace a story through generations.
In fact, the manuscript I’m working on now is structured like that, a story told through generations, and I’m talking nonfiction here. The outline has been easy to develop, falling into eras. I’ve already published two nonfiction books that follow the same pattern.
The first is a collective memoir of a school in Burke County, North Carolina, Lessons Learned: The Story of Pilot Mountain School. I interviewed over eighty people on this project and spent hours and hours with what became my best friend, the microfiche. Most of the research for that was to follow up what I learned during an interview. It didn’t take me long to realize many of the “facts” they told me turned out to be based on opinion. Lessons learned on that!
Your question, “Did you cry while writing one of your books?” brings back many poignant moments during my interviews. Often I sat in silence waiting for the person at the other end of the recorder to compose himself and go on with the story. Some memories are vivid after fifty years, and believe me, permanently etched into the mind. When I later worked those sections into the overall narrative, I couldn’t help but remember the expression of anguish on the faces of those who spoke. I felt an obligation to be accurate, to have the reader understand the depth of emotion. Yes, I cried more than once.
The good thing about having nonfiction characters is that they are real and can appear at the most unexpected times, even those who have died. Some readers knew the characters personally and have shared more stories with me that I could have included. Just last week after my presentation at a luncheon a lady came up and started talking about one of the principals at the school. I could write a sequel.
My second book, Called to the Mountains: The Story of Jean L. Frese, is not as complex. It is the memoir of my mother’s cousin. Our interview sessions involved my pressing the record button and then listening as the story flowed. I did have to do a bit of follow-up research to clarify things for the reader, but the entire book comes from her first person account.
On the other hand my experience with my picture book characters is a little peculiar. I created Eduardo, my main character (MC) in When Christmas Feels Like Home, completely from scratch. I worked with him and his personality for six years. Yes, you read that right, six years. I thought I knew him. When I finally saw the illustrations for the book I was blown away; thrilled. My goodness what beautiful art! Strangely, though, it was like meeting Eduardo for the first time. I had to get to know him all over. Here is a picture of my granddaughter, Reagan with me at the book launch for it.
I sold a fiction article to Highlights for Children that I’m hoping will be out soon. It’s a story from my husband’s family that I upped the action a bit, but the characters are real. I didn’t even change the names. I can’t wait to meet them in illustrations to see how they compare with the real person. That’s going to be an experience.
But then again, all writing is an experience. It doesn’t end when the final revision goes to the editor or when a set of pictures comes through an email attachment or when you rip open the first shipment and out comes this unforgettable new book smell that only the author can appreciate. Those make up the first half of the life of a book. The other half is the fun. Meeting readers. Sharing experiences with fellow authors. Learning new techniques to apply to the current work in progress.
I’m fortunate enough to have found a critique group that is supportive and brutally honest. We don’t just read each other’s manuscripts and give opinions, we seek out ways to improve our writing. Right now we are working on a series of lectures by Brooks Landon, Building Great Sentences: Exploring the Writer’s Craft. It’s very technical and goes into such detail that I wonder if I’ll ever write a decent sentence again. I prepared an assignment yesterday for lesson 15, “Degrees of Suspensiveness” and even though I’ll probably never write a two hundred word sentence again, I at least know the technique of saving the suspense for the last word.
Another professional development book we’ve worked our way through is Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin. With the subtitle, “Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew,” how could we be steered wrong? One exercise I remember doing was to write a description of an object without using adjectives or adverbs. Verbs allowed. Nouns in clauses used as adverbs permitted. Try it by describing the room where you are. You’ll see the paragraph come alive when verbs replace adjectives. To this day, I am super conscious of how I write descriptions because of that one exercise.
Another exercise that I so vividly remember, although I don’t think it came from this book, is writing a paragraph in second person. It’s not an easy assignment. I probably will never use it again, but my radar now is more sensitive to point of view. Try it. Think of writing again about the room where you are using only second person (you) this time. Here’s a good example of how changing point of view is not just about changing from “I” to “it” to “you.” There’s more involved than switching out functional words.
At lot of my self-instruction comes from what I pick up on the internet, reading blog posts that I stumble upon as I’m scrolling through Twitter. I click on hashtags that sound promising (#askeditor, #amwriting #kidlitchat) and find all sorts of topics I never would have investigated. I have a regular routine of blogs I follow to keep up with writers I cross paths with. Many were featured here in the last months, Joan.
There’s so much more to writing than I ever imagined, I must admit. I was an elementary teacher for many years, taught writing to fourth graders. I’d love to pull all of them back in and add what I’ve learned. I’m glad I’ve taken it one step at a time, though, and I’m also glad I’m still on the journey. It is so worth it.
Please visit me at my blog, Catch of the Day at www.gretchengriffith.blogspot.com and my webpage www.gretchengriffith.com. I look forward to hearing from you.
Thank you, Gretchen for your delightful letter interview. It’s amazing how you write for children and adults. Plus you write fiction and non-fiction. You are very talented and versatile!
Gretchen Griffith on the internet:
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/gretchengriffithauthor?ref=hl
Twitter: https://twitter.com/GretchenGriffth Note the spelling of her last name. She had to drop the second “i” because someone already had the regular spelling.
Celebrate you every day.
You are a gift to our world
Never Give Up
Joan Y. Edwards
Copyright © 2014 Joan Y. Edwards
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