Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Reading with Gae Polisner

“Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” - Emilie Buchwald

One of my greatest joys in life is reading to my kids. There is nothing like sharing words with them, and watching their eyes as they scan the pages. My daughter doesn’t let me read to her much. She insists on reading to me, which is its own thrill for me. But my oldest son has always been my reading companion. We are currently tackling the Harry Potter series together; our promise that he will let me read the final word, whether he is 10, 13, or 21.

While I was writing my first YA book, it meant the world to me to run each chapter by Grant as I read. The look on his face or the questions he asked let me know if I had done well, or if I’d missed the mark. I find there’s a fascinating link between the author as parent and children as editors.

Last year, I was honored to read an early draft of Gae Polisner’s first book, The Pull of Gravity. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) (May 10, 2011)). Gae was kind enough to spend a few minutes with me talking about that connection between her as a parent author, and her children as early readers/editors.

Jeff: You started off as an attorney, then you became a mother. Why did you want to throw "writer" onto your list of jobs?

Gae: I didn't set out to be an attorney. Quite to the contrary. I was a totally creative kid, always writing and acting and making artsy-crafty things. I wrote my first novel at 11 in fifth grade, and my sister illustrated it. It was a very Judy Blume book (apologies to Judy Blume for any attempt to compare myself) about a girl and her brother whose parents were going through a divorce and they hated their dad's new girlfriend. I don't know what happened to it, but I often wish I could find it. I'm sure it is not as good as it is in my memory, but I was pretty convinced it was brilliant. I took creative writing in college and my undergrad degree is in Marketing/Mass Communications. In college, I ran special events at Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston. I also managed an A cappella group from Brown University called the Jabberwocks. I mostly went to law school to get the "credentials" having a lot to do with this latter experience. When I got out, I wanted to be in entertainment management. But a funny thing happened in law school. The economy crashed (much like it has now, but not as long-lasting) and I had to take the job I could get as a divorce lawyer at a major Long Island firm. In the meantime, law school had basically sucked the creativity right out of me and it took me about ten years to find it again and start my first manuscript.

Jeff: You said it took you 10 years to get your creativity back and write your first novel. During that time, did you forget about writing, or was it always there? Were you brewing stories in your mind?

Gae: No, the opposite. I was trying to be a lawyer (which I wasn't exactly enjoying, although it had its moments). And then I had kids. And I was trying to be a good mommy, which was exhilarating, but exhausting. And I truly believed the creativity was sucked out of me and I had no stories to tell . . . but it was always there underneath. It was always the dream. The Jetty was the first novel I wrote. It took me about five years start to finish. I started it while I was pregnant with my second, and would write into the wee hours of the night after the boys went to bed.

Jeff: You have two boys, Sam (15) and Holden (12) to whom you read a lot. When you used to read to them, did you think, "I can do that?"

Gae: Yes. And in fact, the boys would get frustrated that we couldn't find enough good contemporary [Young Adult] fiction that featured male protagonists. My boys were never "Harry Potter" kids (it scared them!) or fantasy or sci-fi. They wanted character-driven stories that weren't so girly, even though we loved some of the more girly-feeling ones very much. So more and more I started thinking, I'm going to do this. I can do this. My first stab was actually a middle-grade journal style book called Henry's Absolutely Required Fourth Grade Journal which both my boys loved (and preceded Diary of a Wimpy Kid, FYI!), but I never revised enough to really send it out anywhere (although Michael Bourret read and understandably rejected a first draft!).

Jeff: Did you write The Pull of Gravity for them? Did you read it to them along the way (as you wrote) or was it a "finished" product the first time they got to read it?

Gae: I wrote it for them, but did not read it aloud as I went. My older son read the first draft by himself and quietly liked it. My younger son, I read that first draft aloud to, and he loved it. We then read the revised version aloud together, and he has since read the ARC to himself as his required book for school last month. He's a big fan of the story. Probably my biggest.

Jeff: What was it like reading YOUR book to Holden, or letting Sam read it? Were you afraid of their reactions? Did you watch them for their responses?

Gae: One day I was reading a chapter aloud [to Holden], and my older son---who is fond of torturing me about my books (not his type anymore)---laughed out loud DESPITE himself. That was a great moment. My younger son is my biggest fan. There is nothing better than reading my books aloud with him. He is a GREAT editor and will tell me when stuff isn't working. And will get all the nuances. The best part is when he tells me that he forgets I am the author because it "feels like a real book."

Jeff: Do you feel The Pull of Gravity is a legacy of yourself you've left for your kids, and your grand kids?

Gae: I hope so. I believe so. I still aspire to write a "bigger better" book. But I love [The Pull of Gravity] and I think it is worthy. I hope one day my boys will read it to their kids. But don't ever make me type that sentence again because it seriously makes me weep.

Jeff: What's more special: A glowing book review from a famous critic, or a laugh at the exact right spot from your kids?

Gae: TOTALLY leading question. Honestly, the latter. The respect, appreciation, pride of my kids. Look, I'm praying for good critical reviews but things that already mean more to me: my family's reaction; the unbelievably humbling praise I've already received from the people I idolize MOST in the field (I mean, seriously, Chris Crutcher, Lynne Rae Perkins, KL Going, Francisco X. Stork and Mary E. Pearson . . . have you READ THEIR books?) and even moreso, a letter I received from the father of a teen--- I won’t name names--- telling me how much my virtual friendship and encouragement has meant to her. That's why I write. That's why I always want to write. Thanks for reminding me.

Jeff: Thank you, Gae. I’m really looking forward to reading The Pull of Gravity to Grant in May.


You can learn more about Gae Polisner by visiting her Web site at

Pre-order The Pull of Gravity, here.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

And the winner is . . .

Split Ends. By a mile.


International Intrigue – Martha

Yes, her name was Martha. No, she was not 90.

Starbucks in Canada are identical to Starbucks in America. They even order in ounces despite being on the metric system, and they gladly took my money in a very American way.

“I can’t give you the exchange rate,” the disinterested barista said. Even in Canada, baristas believe they are way too cool for their idiot clientele.

I sat at a table in the corner, pulled out my laptop and started Word. It opened just as slowly in Canada. Staring at the blank page, I prayed words would magically appear.

I’d come to Canada to get inspired. Inspiration had yet to strike. I was certain the more I stared at the screen, prose the likes the world had never seen would begin to flow from my fingers. While I waiting, I tapped The William Tell Overture across the ASDF keys. The first sip of coffee scorched my teeth, forcing me to do Fahrenheit to Celsius conversions in my head.

“You’re an American,” a woman’s voice said, snapping me from my reverie.

Coffee spilled from my lip burning me again and I coughed as I raised my head, staring into deep green eyes and a coy smile that would have stunned me even if I had been prepared for her. She was average height, fit without being thin, and wore her strawberry blond hair with style. I could have stared at her for longer, but I think it would have made us both uncomfortable, though I’m sure she was used to catching glances.

“Excuse me?” I croaked, wiping my chin with the palm of my hand. Mr. Smooth.

“You. You’re an American,” she said again.

“Is it that obvious?”

“You paid with American money.”

“Right. Yeah. That.” Boy, I sure knew how to form complex sentences.

“You know she ripped you off.” She said it in such a way that it was clear it wasn’t a question.

“Yeah, Starbucks is overpriced wherever you go.”

“That too. But she ripped you off on your change.”

“I haven’t had a chance to get to an exchange kiosk this morning. How much did she take me for?”

“Not much. Probably a dollar. An American one, so a bit more Canadian.”

I nodded, not sure what else to say.

“How long have you been here?” she asked.

“Got in last night,” I said.

More silence.

“So are you going to ask me to join you?”

I believe I’ve mentioned that I’m Mr. Smooth.

“Sorry, yes, please. Will you sit with me?”

She sat across from me, legs crossed, swaying her leg to some unheard rhythm. She told me her name was Martha. I introduced myself. We shared small talk. She asked what I was doing in Canada. I explained it as best I could without sounding pretentious. I left out the part about my being under investigation for murder, as this seems to be a roadblock when meeting women. She said she too wanted to be a writer. I keep getting mixed up with writers, who are just about as fucked in the head as I am, yet that doesn’t seem to stop me from falling in love within the first twenty minutes of meeting them. Martha did not seem fucked in the head, but it was early yet, and there was still time for her to break into song in the middle of coffee.

“I recently graduated from university,” she said, her accent distinctly Canadian English.

“Interesting,” I said.

“What? That I graduated from university? Doesn’t seem all that interesting.”

“Well, interesting enough that you’d mention it to me. But I meant the way you say it.”

“How’s that?”

“That you ‘graduated from university.’ In the States, we say ‘graduated from college.’ It’s interesting that we’re neighbors, we share the same language, but we use it differently.”

“Well, we’re still a bit British in our diction.”

“I admit, I don’t know a lot about Canada, other than Jim Carrey and that the Queen of Canada lives in England.”


“How’s that?”

“Well most Canadians don’t even know we have a queen. They did a poll where only five percent of Canadians could answer that she was the head of state. Everyone thinks Prime Minister Harper and the Governor General are in charge.”

“Sounds like drama.”

“No, not at all. In fact, no one really cares. Every few years, some Parliamentary showoff will try to raise the Republic flag, but after a few beers, they typically forget about it and move on.”

It had been nearly twenty minutes, and I was beginning to fall in love with this woman.

“So how long are you in town?”

“I haven’t decided yet. I was hoping two weeks, but I don’t know if my money will last that long.”

“Where are you staying?”

“At a hostel on King Street.”

“The Village?”

“Yeah, how’d you know?”

“I’ve lived here my whole life. Things don’t change quickly in Canada. It snows from early October until May. Not much to do in the meantime but drink and watch television. No one builds, so once you learn the sites, you know they’ll pretty much always be the same.”

I swirled my coffee and glanced over at my blank screen.

“I’ve kept you,” she said.

“It’s okay. I wasn’t writing anyway. That’s the same word count I had before I left.”

“Well, let’s go site seeing,” she said, suddenly standing. “Let’s see if we can find something to inspire you.”

We left, opening the door and attacking Toronto together.