Sunday, August 07, 2011

One Writer’s Process: Tricia Springstubb

“Writing is like a window,” says Tricia Springstubb. “Every day I look out and discover something new.”

Springstubb, the author of What Happened on Fox Street, which received starred reviews from The Horn Book and Kirkus Reviews, and was selected as one of the best books of 2010 by The Washington Post and Bank Street School, likes to work in the morning, then take a break and go walking or swimming so she can think about what she’s written and what might come next.

Her mother, who loved to read, took her often to the library. When she was old enough to go on her own, Springstubb remembers riding her bicycle to the library and filling up her bike’s basket with as many books as it would hold.

She says she learned to write “by osmosis– absorbing one story after another,” reading all the books that she carried home in that basket and then returning to the library week after week for more.

When Springstubb began writing, she recalls, no editor wanted to publish her work. “I got buried in The Avalanche of Rejections,” she says.

But like anything else you practice, she tells her students (and reminds herself), writing gets better the more you do it.

“I've never written anything that didn't need to be re-written,” she says. “I love revising because it always gets me closer to the true heart of my story.”

Her newest book, Mo Wren, Lost and Found, is due to be released later this month, and she’s very excited to let readers know that she just signed a contract with Candlewick to write two new chapter books.

Springstubb lives with her husband and two cats in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, where she was kind enough to take a break from her work-in-progress to share thoughts on writing with wordswimmer.

Wordswimmer: If writing is like do you get into the water each day?

Springstubb: This swimmer needs to fool around a while before she dives in. She drinks coffee, e-mails her daughters, drinks more coffee--sometimes she resorts to doing a load of laundry. Even then, it's never exactly a dive. She always eases in by re-reading and editing yesterday's work.

Wordswimmer: What keeps you afloat...for short work? For longer work? How do you keep swimming through dry spells?

Springstubb: I'm highly deficient in lots of desirable qualities, like courage, but I have discipline to spare. I never have trouble with "butt in chair." An amazing thing I've discovered over the years is that, just when I feel all reamed out, I'm often rewarded with one last, good idea. Another thing that keeps me paddling along is the view from my window here. It looks out on my perennial garden as well as our street, so I get to watch both flowers and people.

Wordswimmer: What's the hardest part of swimming?

Springstubb: For me, there comes a moment in every piece of work, whether it's a novel or short story, when I lose my way. I start making people walk in and out of rooms for no reason, and I write long stretches of abstract, opaque dialogue, and writing becomes a big, sticky morass. Every time this happens I'm convinced it's never happened before, or at least not this bad. The hardest part is treading water for as long as it takes to see my way through the problems, and not panicking. Which I guess brings us to the next question...

Wordswimmer: How do you overcome obstacles, problems, when swimming alone?

Springstubb: My first fix for a writing problem is to go back a chapter or two or three, looking for clues I've left myself without really knowing it. As I re-read, a line will jump out, giving me the aha! Often I can fix things by moving an action from one section to another, or else I realize I've given something away too soon. There's also the age-old, never-fail question: what does my character want and what's standing in her way? Sometimes it's as easy as re-clarifying that for myself. I always take a long, ruminative walk after I finish writing for the day and make sure I tuck paper and pen in my pocket.

Wordswimmer: What's the part of swimming that you love the most?

Springstubb: I love when an image or line comes to me out of nowhere. I love when I make myself laugh. And I especially love talking to someone who's read my work and says something that gives me pause, makes me understand that the work exists apart from me, that it now holds a place in her life, too. That always feels miraculous!
For more information about Springstubb, visit her website:

And to read more interviews with her, visit:

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