Talking about writing: A.M. Bostwick

Today I present A.M. Bostwick. What can be said about her? She loves chocolate and hates writing bios about herself! But seriously, Abigail writes Middle Grade and Young Adult novels in her Northwoods of Wisconsin home. An early draft of her young adult novel, Break the Spell, was a finalist in the 2013 Wisconsin Romance Writers of America Fab 5 contest. Her first novel, The Great Cat Nap, was published in 2013 and recently earned the Tofte/Wright Children’s Literature Award. It also was a first-round finalist in the Chicken House Open Coop contest. She has been a guest author for National Library Week at her local library this year, and is a new volunteer with the Council for Wisconsin Writers. While now dedicated to her life as a neurotic, reclusive writer, Abigail spent most of her career in journalism. She has degrees in art and geography/geology. She loves her husband, Chihuahua, thrill-seeking cat as well as reading and running.

Thank you, Abigail, for accepting my offer of interrogation!

You have a book! A real book, one that even has an award! Perhaps more importantly, you have a children’s book that is both noir AND involves cats. How exactly did that come about?

Thanks for having me! Ah, a loaded question – my favorite! The simple answer is: I wanted to write to amuse myself, and my readers. I wanted it to be fun. As a child, I loved reading about animals (while surrounded by my cats, dogs, hamsters, rabbits and various wildlife rescues…). I also was known for sneaking peaks at my dad’s extensive Raymond Chandler novel collection. Some of my first grade school stories were, ironically (or maybe not), about cats who went on wild adventures. In The Great Cat Nap, I had envisioned a feline detective solving animal and human crimes alike. Yet, there wasn’t quite enough conflict. I decided to put my main character, Ace, in the hands of a newspaper editor. He’s then pulled into the detective world, quite a bit against his better judgment, but draws on his knowledge of playing reporter at the newspaper. I spent about 10 years reporting, so I had fun incorporating that aspect. There’s so much of reporting that’s like detective work – investigating, interviewing, putting all the pieces together, knocking on doors of people who yell at you…. Ace as this noir detective in a dark downtown full of seedy characters was the final product – and I found it fitting that a cat played this role. A cat can be so secretive, so sleek and smooth. Yet they rarely hesitate to take a risk or get their whiskers where they shouldn’t be.

It’s always so hard for me to stay focused when doing these interviews. So many cool ideas, so much interesting personal history.

What drew you to writing for children? I have children, and I wish I would write for them, but my mind insists on going elsewhere. It sounds as though you feel a clear connection with who you were as a child and where you go as a writer now. is that true?

I feel like childhood was/is such a pivotal time. I don’t know who I’d be today if I wasn’t such an avid reader and writer as a child. My parents really fostered my love of reading – they were both big readers, too. And when I handed them story after story after story, they always encouraged me to keep writing (even when I unearthed an ancient typewriter and banged away at the kitchen table so my stories would look more “professional”). I love the notion that my writing may do for a child – even one child – what books did for me at that age. Inspire me. They gave me another world. Childhood is such a time of open doors. There are so many that children can take, and reading is just one of them. I hope that my writing can foster a love of reading among children, because it’s truly a passion that stays with you for a lifetime.

What doors does writing open for you now? Once upon a time, back when I wasn’t writing, I assumed it was all about what happened once someone’s work was in the hands of readers. It wasn’t until I finished my first novel that I realized how much writing changed things for me and how I functioned in the world. It was like having lived in a ancient castle for my whole life, and never having explored anywhere but a few rooms. Writing made me start to look in all of them.

So, given the fact that we don’t start out with any promise of publication, I’m interested in what makes other writers write.

For me, writing and publication are two different things. I think as writers aspiring to be authors, we all start out the same: With nothing but a blank page, and a dream. For many years, I was writing but nothing book-length. I was a bit afraid to even try. I never thought I could do it, more less find my way to publication. At one point, I remember walking into my favorite indie bookstore, and I thought, if they made it, maybe I can, too. I sat down and wrote my first novel. And it was terrible. Poor Ace, his adventure was dreadful. I tried again. And again. I wrote middle grade. I wrote young adult. I knew my books may never get published. I felt, and still do, that if I spend every day of my life writing, and never again see publication, that’s not a bad way to live. Of course, I want to be published again, but that’s not wholly why I write. Like you so eloquently said, writing changes how you function in the world. It’s an entirely different world than what it was before. A writer notices things that were not there before. They eavesdrop. They make poor conversation. They take notes at inappropriate times during family functions. They daydream. They read books differently. I like who I am when I’m writing. I have never been so wholly myself as when I began devoting myself to writing – and there’s still a whole lot for me to discover.

Ah, yes, the poor conversations of writers. My best example of that involves asking my husband at an inopportune moment how long it would take for a body to decay in the woods. It was logically sound to me, but may have left him fearing for his life.

You clearly had the fiction bug from a very early age. How did working in journalism…hmm…relate? Did it satisfy that writing itch in some way, or was it too different? Do you draw from technique learned there in your current work? Tell the truth, are you better at deadlines than the rest of us?

Haha! Yes, I’ve been there. As well as my poor husband. He often just shakes his head at me and comments that I am clearly disturbed or a writer. I can hardly disagree.

It’s funny, when I went into journalism, I thought I’d love it for the writing. But reporting is so much beyond the writing. I was naïve. For a girl as shy as me, it was a real shock. But I liked the challenge of pushing myself. I had to talk to people I didn’t know, I had to show up at places I wouldn’t normally be in, and I had to get used to people not liking me or what I wrote about. (I covered a lot of crime and politics). I think I drove home crying a lot of my first year. It’s a tough thing to get over. Yet, I did. I think I’m better for it. It never really did satisfy that writing itch you mention – I had the chance to be creative, but at the same time, it wasn’t MY story. I was always writing someone else’s story. While fulfilling, it wasn’t what I was seeking, either. When I turned to writing books, it was difficult to break out of the mold of “…only (so many) words in (so many) inches!” In the newspaper world, it’s all about saying as much as you can, in as little space as you can. So broaching a fiction-length novel was intimidating and I found it hard not to edit everything down to a few pages. I will admit, I’m good at deadlines. I’m a bit of a control junkie, and if there’s something hanging over my head, I chase it!

I would think a solid background of covering crime and politics would be ideal training for readings and awards ceremonies. No matter what you do, people are bound to be nicer to you and it will all be a relief. As a fellow shy person, I have to tip my hat to you for being able to stick with it.

So, are there more cats in your future? What are you working on now? What would you work on, if you could work on absolutely anything? (Okay, that’s three things, not one, but they’re kind of related.)

I appreciate that. I had great co-workers, and I worked for great publishers. That helped.

I would like to write more about Ace, a sequel perhaps, and a prequel. Some of my young readers have asked me for a sequel, and I’m encouraged and humbled by that. Currently, I’m revising a young adult/new adult manuscript I wrote last summer. I’ve revised it many times, and I’m finally liking how it’s shaping up. I think. Don’t ask me tomorrow, I’m liable to hate it again by then. I’m not sure what I would write if I could write anything! I cross the line between middle grade to young adult and new adult and it feels like I never really have a say in it. But that’s okay. I tend to write what inspires me the most at the moment, though when I start a project, I always finish it before moving to the next. I know I love writing for children and young people – I hope to always write for these impressionable age sets!

Interested in learning more about The Great Cat Nap? Visit Abigail’s website for an excerpt and info on where to purchase.

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