An interview with debut novelist Anna Waggener
By Lauren on June 4th, 2012
Robert Redford, Joyce Carol Oates, Zac Posen, John Lithgow, Andy Warhol, Ken Burns, Truman Capote, and Sylvia Plath all have something very important in common… aside from being beloved cultural icons. They’re all previous winners of the Scholastic Arts & Writing Awards. Every year Scholastic invites students around the country to participate in the nation’s longest-running, most prestigious scholarship and recognition program for creative students, grades 7-12. It has an 89-year legacy of being the first to recognize the creative talent in teens. Now imagine finding out you’re among one of those names. That’s what happened to debut novelist Anna Waggener, who won the 2008 Scholastic Art and Writing Award in the novel writing category as a teenager. Her submission went on to become her first novel, Grim which will be in bookstores everywhere tomorrow. Publishers Weekly says, “It’s easy to see what the judges liked—brooding atmosphere, fresh descriptions, and an unusual and compelling rogue, Jeremiah.” Anna stopped by OOM with a very special interview. Check out what inspired her novel and how the Arts & Writing Award has changed her life.
You have just graduated from college (congratulations!) and GRIM is your debut novel, when did you begin writing what would become GRIM? And how long did it take you to complete the full novel? Where did the inspiration for GRIM come from?
I wrote the first line of Grim’s prologue—“I love my youngest child more than the other two, and God bless them but they all know it.”—about a year before I had any idea what story it might go to or who its speaker might be. It’s probably not surprising that this line eventually set the tone for a novel that would explore the messiness and unspoken understandings involved in sibling relationships.
Jeremiah came next. He arrived by motorcycle—or, rather, arrived chased by motorcycle—in what might be the cheesiest end to a dream I’ve ever had, as well as my cheesiest introduction to a new character. The moment I woke up, I jotted down details of the dream in a notebook like the good, responsible writer I find myself becoming once every few months. Within hours I’d fleshed out his character and some of the elements of the world he lived in, as well as other members of the cast that had begun to collect around this new prospect for a novel (Characters are like vultures; they circle).
The earliest draft of Grim was the last novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo before college took over my life. It’s fair to say that I’ve been working on it ever since, first editing it by myself prior to sending the first fifty pages as an entry in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, and most recently talking over last minute changes with one of my editors before handing in a polished draft. 2012 marks the first year since 2007 that I haven’t been able to open Word and change Grim with the click of a button—a development which is both welcome and petrifying.
GRIM centers around a mother and her three children—did any of the sibling dynamics come from your own family experiences?
When my brother was twelve or so, he was stung by a scorpion in the middle of the night in the middle of a mountain range in central Thailand. He woke up screaming and cried and cried in the back of the car while we drove for miles to get to a hospital. My mother was in tears, my father was quiet in this worried, calming way my father has, and I was begging the entire universe to let my baby brother live.
When we reached the emergency room, the doctors looked at the scorpion that my dad had caught in a glass jar and assured us that everything would be fine. They treated my brother and gave him some painkillers and sent us back home. My brother slept in the car.
The next day, he took the jar from the house and let the scorpion go. I see a lot of my brother in Megan, who carries a deep understanding of the world that many people around her don’t realize. Shawn and Rebecca, in their own ways, have bits and pieces of both of us and of other sibling relationships I’ve watched over time. Rebecca, certainly, gets her big sister guilt and drive to protect from yours truly.
GRIM was first recognized through The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. What did that acknowledgment mean to you? Was it the first time you knew a career as a writer was possible?
I’ve experienced very few moments in my life that have brought me to hand-over-mouth, throat-gone-dry silence. One occurred on a weekday evening after babysitting, when I learned that I’d won the novel division of the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. The other occurred on a weekday afternoon after Arabic class, when I received an offer from Scholastic for the publication of Grim. Both of these moments were hugely affirming for me as a writer, especially as one so young. Taking home the Scholastic Book Club packet and narrowing down the list of titles I could afford from the list of titles I wanted (Read: all of them) was a highlight of elementary school. I’ve always loved to write, and I’ve always hoped to be able to pursue a writing career, but to feel so much love from a publishing house I so respect has been overwhelming.
Truman Capote, Joyce Carol Oates, Sylvia Path are just some of the great writers that won a Scholastic Award before you. How did it feel to join that legacy? And what would you tell aspiring authors in high school today?
When people talk about the legacy of the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards I feel humbled and try to take deep breaths and not be terrified. I know that I will never be Truman Capote. I know that only in my very oddest dreams could I ever be Joyce Carol Oates. The amazing thing about the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards is that they inspire teens to master form and technique and then push things farther. Entrants are invited to not only tell their stories and the stories of those around them, but are encouraged to pursue new directions for painting, sculpting, and speaking the world. My advice to aspiring authors in high school would be to think of your favorite author, and then think of their favorite author. It’s important for everyone to have role models, and just as important not to worry about becoming them yourself. Keep reading, keep writing, and always try to learn from your mistakes.
What are some of your favorite books? Do you have any favorite authors or genres?
Top genres would be YA (of course!), literary fiction, “the classics,” and the great standby, Fantasy.
Anna Waggener was born in Thailand and has spent many summers eating ripe-to-bursting mangoes. At college in Minnesota she spends her winters buried under the snow, studying English and human rights, and writing. She was the 2008 winner of the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards novel writing category, and Grim is her first novel. Visit her online at http://www.annawaggener.com/.
Posted: June 4th, 2012 under Uncategorized. .
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