Friday, November 22, 2013

An Interview with Jon Ripslinger

We'd like to thank Jon Ripslinger, author of seven YA (new adult) novels, for joining us today. His first novel, Triangle, was published by Harcourt in 1994, and his second, How I Fell in Love and Learned to Shoot Free Throws, was published by Roaring Brook Press in 2001. His third and fourth novels, Derailed and Last Kiss, were published by Flux, the young adult imprint at Llewellyn Books. Martin Brown Publishers has had the pleasure of publishing his most recent novels, The Hustle, Missing Pieces, and Who is Lori Darling?, all of which have met with praise from teachers, parents, librarians, and, most importantly, teen readers, for his realistic depictions of the complex challenges teens face and for his compelling story lines.

In addition to writing for teens, Jon has also written several magazine pieces for adults. Enjoy a sample of Jon’s writing by visiting his blog, One-Minute Romance, or feel free to follow him on Twitter at YAwriterRip.
Literary Trivia Bit:

How I Fell in Love and Learned to Shoot Free Throws was actually our literary agency’s very first sale many years ago. Its original title was Secret Slayers, but it was changed during the production process. We favored Full Court Pressure, but the editor had the final word.

MBP: From where do you get your inspiration?
My inspiration comes from incidents I've been involved with personally and situations that have aroused my curiosity. For example, while I was teaching high school English, I encountered many talented students who were squandering their academic and athletic talents, the inspiration for Derailed. I knew personally a young man whose father killed his mom, dismembered her body, and tossed the pieces into the Mississippi River, the inspiration for Missing Pieces. I've read YA novels that have dealt in depth with every conceivable teen problem: parental divorce, pregnancy, drugs, homophobia, self-mutilation, bullying, and suicide to name a few. But no novel I'd read dealt in depth with incest. Why not? Curiosity got the best of me. I researched the subject for over a year and the result is Who is Lori Darling?

MBP: How often do you write?
I write every day, though I must admit I spend less and less time on manuscript writing because keeping up with email, blog posts, and tweeting takes up more and more time. My best hours at the computer are from 7:00 a.m. to 12:00 a.m. If I do any work in the afternoon, it's generally clerical.

MBP: How do you find your characters? Are they formulated from people you know or do you “people watch”? Do you use character sketches and, if so, do you find them useful?
I don't formulate my characters from people I know, though I do "people watch" and often give my characters gestures and mannerism I've observed in others. I begin with a character who has a problem he must solve or his life will be totally destroyed. In Missing Pieces, Kyle Donovan must discover the truth: Did his dad kill his mom? In Who is Lori Darling? Carl Mueller must rescue Lori—the girl he loves—from the abuse she is suffering at the hands of her father. I do write a character sketch for the story's main characters, which I find helpful to get the novel started. But I discover even more about the characters and get to know them much better as the story progresses and I watch them battle adversity at every turn.

MBP: How many novels, short stories, etc., do you now have in print?
I've published seven young adult novels—with more to come, I hope. During the 1960s-1980s, I published over fifty short stories in men's magazines that were popular during the era such as Mr., Man to Man, and Sir. Recently, I've published 18 short stories with Woman's World, a leading, weekly woman's magazine. My blog, One-Minute Romance, features over sixty 800-1,000-word romantic short stories, the only blog of its kind on the Internet, I believe. I might add that three of my seven published YA novels are with Martin Brown Pubs, a publisher I'm delighted to be associated with.

MBP: Are you a plotter or a pantser?

: I'm a pantser. That is, I don't outline the entire novel before I start. I write it from the seat of my pants. I have the main characters in mind. I have in mind two or three disasters for the middle of the story, and I know how I want the story to end, though I don't know exactly what will happen in the climax, only that the ending will be happy or, at least, bittersweet. I start with the first chapter that introduces the main characters, gives the lead an immediate goal, creates tension, hints at the main story problem, and ends unpleasantly for the lead, forcing him to act. At the end of Act I, Act II, and Act III, I create a disaster for the lead that he must overcome. By this time I know what will happen in the climax and write it to the best of my ability. Writing from the seat of my pants requires a lot of rewriting, but that's the only way I can write a novel.

MBP: About how long does it take you to finish a novel?
: Funny you should ask. I keep a record for each book that I write. This is the timeline for Who is Lori Darling? I began researching material for the book in 2009. In 2010, it took me five months to write the rough draft. During that time, I sat down at the computer exactly 70 times to work on the story. Each session lasted two or three hours. The next question is how long does it take to publish a book? I revised the book five times before presenting it to three different readers, personal friends of mine. I revised it after each one of their readings. Then I had the book professionally critiqued by Kimberly Ivy, a well-known romance author. I let it sit for several months, revised it once again, and then presented it to Martin Brown Publishers, LLC, where it underwent further revisions and was published in 2013. The entire process from researching to publishing took four years. A writer needs to be patient and persistent.

MBP: Do you have a favorite setting?
: I'm a small town, rural person. I've spent a lot of time hunting and fishing Iowa's cornfields and lakes and also boating and fishing on the Mississippi River. My wife and I, when our six kids were young, spent summers camping in Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. The rural, wilderness scene is what I know best, and it's what I stick to while writing YA fiction. The Mississippi River, especially, presents a lot of opportunity for mystery and intrigue.

MBP: What point of view do you use? Who narrates your stories?
I write from a first person male point of view, generally past tense. But Who is Lori Darling? is a story told in the present tense, which I liked because while writing the book I felt as if I were actually the lead character, Carl Mueller, battling to save his girlfriend.

MBP: What’s your favorite part of writing?
I totally love rewriting the rough draft. That's when I have a chance to mold the story into the vision I had in my mind when I started. It's energizing to see the story improve with each rewrite and to see the characters and theme emerge in ways I hadn't dreamed when I started.

MBP: What’s the most difficult part of writing for you?
The most difficult part is getting the rough draft written. On a good day I'll get maybe five or six pages. Sometimes only two. Maybe one. I've learned to write whatever comes to mind—everything—and to go back and edit later, rather than to try editing as I go along. A lot of stuff I throw out. But there's always something worth keeping, if I keep polishing.

MBP: What’s your favorite element of fiction to work with—character, setting, plot/conflict, theme, or point-of-view?
I don't have a favorite. I think they all blend together. I'm not thinking of one or the other while I'm writing. But if I had to pick a strong point, I'd say character and conflict are my best elements.

MBP: What are your favorite books?
: I don't have any favorites, but I can tell you which one launched me into a YA writing career—Judy Blume's Forever. I read it sometime during the 1980s. It's the story of a girl who thinks it's okay to have sex with her boyfriend because she thinks their love is so strong it will last forever and they'll marry one day. But they break up before summer's end. She's devastated and struggles to move on. After reading the story, I thought I can do that. My wife and I have six kids. I'm a high school teacher surrounded by kids every day. I can do that! And so I did. But not without tons of failures and rejections. I didn't sell my first YA novel, titled Triangle, until 1994. Patience and persistence.

MBP: Of your books, which one is your favorite or the one you are most proud of?
: My favorite is Who is Lori Darling? The book tackles the serious but seldom-talked-about issue of incest in a realistic but sensitive way, exploring the mindset of the perpetrator, the victim, and the young man who loves her. The story's message is clear and important: Victims of abuse can survive but only if they tell someone. I would simply die of pride if an abuse victim wrote me and said she had read my book, decided to tell someone, and her decision helped her a great deal or maybe even saved her life. How rewarding would that be!

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