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A Chat with Tara Gilboy, Author of Rewritten

1. Tell us about Rewritten.

Rewritten is the sequel to Unwritten, which follows Gracie, a twelve-year-old girl who is actually a character in an unpublished fairy tale. Her parents took her out of the story, and into the real world, as a baby in order to save her life. In the first book, Gracie goes in search of her author, Gertrude Winters, to find out what happened in her story. Rewrittenpicks up where Unwritten left off. This time, Gracie ends up in another of her author’s tales, but this one is a gothic horror novel, full of all kinds of spooky story tropes: a crumbling mansion, an ancient cemetery, a beast that roams the night….

2. How did you come up with the idea?

The idea for Rewritten came easier than other books I’d written in the past. I knew when I finished Unwritten that if I wrote a sequel, I’d want to have Gracie travel into other Gertrude Winters stories, so I had a general sense of what the book would be about. The hardest part of figuring out what shape the plot would take was getting a firm handle on what Gracie’s internal arc would be. She had resolved a lot of her issues in book one, and so figuring out what her character still needed took some time. Interestingly, in order to figure out what would happen in Rewritten, I had to think really hard about what the villain, Cassandra, wanted. Often when I’m plotting, I’m focusing on my protagonist’s goals, but I knew in this case, I needed to figure out what Cassandra wanted and what her next move would be because this would play a significant role in what happened to Gracie.

3. Do you base your characters on people you know? If yes, spill the beans!

I don’t base characters on real people intentionally, but I think I grab bits and pieces from people I know. I might get an idea for a certain character trait; for example, I might notice the way someone who is shy moves and interacts with the world and then use those mannerisms when I’m crafting a shy character. I think using these kinds of real-life observations can help create characters who feel authentic and lifelike, but I’m also careful not to base a character too much on a real person, both because I don’t want to offend my friends and family and also because I want the characters I create to serve the story, and I think being too married to the “real person” who serves as inspiration can sometimes inadvertently limit the story’s development.

4. How much of your real-life experiences play a role in the stories you tell?

Well, thankfully not a lot, considering how spooky Rewritten is! I wouldn’t want to have to go through

what Gracie did!

I’m joking, because since I write fantasy, a lot of what takes place in my stories couldn’t happen in real life, but I do actually draw on my real-life experiences quite a bit in other ways. Usually those are related to the emotional experienceof an event, rather than the event itself. For example, if one of my characters is experiencing fear, I’ll think back to a time when I was afraid and really try to be in the moment and remember how it felt, both in my mind and body. Thoughts whirling, senses alert, muscles tensed, ready to flee… This helps me to create authentic reactions in my characters. And of course, since I write for children, I do think back to my own childhood quite a bit and remember the emotional experience of it, the things that were important to me, the way I felt about the world and about other people… Though, on a side note, I think I sometimes do use my real experiences without realizing it. I remember once after reading one of my stories, my mom called me and said “I remember when that happened to you as a kid,” and I was like “That happened to me?” I had completely forgotten the incident, but somehow it made its way into my story.

5. What books did you like to read when you were a kid? Do those books influence your writing?

I liked to read anything and everything as a kid, but my favorite books were historical fiction. I was kind of obsessed with the Little House on the Prairie series, the American Girl books, and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess. But I also had a long stretch where I was reading nothing but The Babysitter’s Club books and then as I got a little older, the R.L. Stine Fear Street series. Interestingly, I didn’t read a lot of fantasy as a kid, and that’s what I mostly write now. I think the biggest way that the books I read as a kid influenced my work was that I was always very drawn to middle grade. Even now, I read mostly middle grade novels. There is something so compelling to me about the way these stories are told and how their characters view the world.

6. What are you working on now?

Lately, I’ve been bouncing back and forth between a few different projects. I’ve been struggling to find time to write lately because of all the teaching I’m doing. I just took a sketch comedy writing class that was a lot of fun because it pushed me to try a new kind of writing. But the main thing I am working on is a spooky historical middle grade with mermaids.

7. What is your writing process? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I write best in the morning, and I always start my writing session by reading: nothing puts me in the “writing zone” better than reading great stories by other authors. I’m really big on writing crappy rough drafts, and so I don’t edit a lot along the way, though I do workshop quite a bit with my writing group. I often get feedback from them and use their suggestions as I continue forward, but I don’t do a lot revising until I’ve reached the end of the first draft. I know a lot of writers who do revise along the way, but that’s just not a process that works for me because I’m definitely someone who can get lost in revising and then never get to the end of a manuscript. Plus, because I don’t do much outlining, I often don’t know what the heart of the story is until I get to the end of the draft. So if I revised too much along the way, I might end up with some beautifully-written scenes that end up getting cut because they don’t earn their place in the plot. I have shifted a bit and started plotting a bit more recently than I used to. I usually will make an outline now, but I rarely stick to it. I find when I hold myself too rigidly to an outline, I end up forcing my characters to do and say things that don’t feel natural simply because it’s what I had put in my outline. My characters surprise me too much for an outline to be completely effective for me, though I usually do have a general sense of where a story is headed.

8. What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

One of my creative writing teachers once said something to me that’s always stuck with me. She said (and I’m paraphrasing): “I’ve taught a lot of amazing writers over the years, but in the end, it wasn’t the most talented ones that made it. It was the ones who worked the hardest, revised the most, and didn’t give up.”

I return to her words again and again. There’s not much I can control about the publishing industry, but I can control how hard I work and how much I revise. So my advice is: don’t give up if you don’t succeed right away. Writing is hard! Keep writing, keep taking classes and joining writer’s groups, and most of all… revise! My books go through over 20 drafts before I send them out (and that’s a low estimate – I actually lost count at 20). Don’t put pressure on yourself to write great early drafts. I’ve seen a lot of writers give up because of that.

To learn more about Tara Gilboy please visit her website.

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