Saturday, March 14, 2015

Author Spotlight: Greg Neri

I had the good fortune of meeting Greg Neri this week in my Middle Grade Novel class. He is the author of Ghetto Cowboy, Yummy, Chess Rumble and many other middle grade faves! We read Ghetto Cowboy in my class and I must say it has been one of my favorites so far. I've been recommending it left and right!

He spoke to us about his writing process, and you know how much I love learning about other writers' process! He told us he stumbled into writing from a career in animation mainly because the story he was trying to tell through film wanted to be told in another form: a graphic novel. Since then, his work has spanned many genres from free-verse poetry to urban prose.

My favorite thing about Neri's process is that he lets it flow organically. Every idea begins from an article he read or something he learned about that intrigued him. He calls these nuggets of gold. But when he starts digging, he realizes that these nuggets are actually massive boulders and he wonders - why doesn't anyone know about this? That's where he comes in.

After immersing himself in the research, he begins to write, letting characters and scenes flow from his pen. He keeps his first drafts as basic as possible in order to simply get the material on the page. He learned this in animation - you must keep the momentum going! Once you have it, then you can start working it. This reminds me of the analogy I always make when I talk about writing. Unlike a sculptor who starts with his wood or marble, writers have to create our own building material. Once we have it, then we can cut away and carve and mold it until it becomes something meaningful.

Sometimes, his characters take him to places he never imagined going and he ends up chasing after them. He told us that the most important part about telling a story is to let it have a life of its own. You've got to follow the detours and keep up the momentum. Forcing a story to be what you believe it should be will kill the story. He said that each story has it's own destiny, and it's up to us writers to find out what that is and make it the best story it can be.

My take-away message from Neri's talk was that writers have to be open and receptive to the world around them, but also to the world they are creating on the page. We must let go when we write so that we may access that unconscious wisdom that lives within. Trusting my intuition is a skill that I hope to develop as a writer and as a human being.