Sunday, November 23, 2008

One Writer's Process: Brenda Ferber

When Brenda Ferber was ten years old, she received a red-checked diary as a Hanukkah gift from her Aunt Julie.

"For me, writing equals thinking," Ferber says, reflecting on why the gift came to mean so much to her. "I don't really understand something until I've written about it."

Writing in that diary not only helped Ferber begin to better deal with the "ups and downs" of adolescence, it enabled her to discover her writer's voice.

"You know that inner voice you have? Well, mine is a story-telling voice," she says. "I thought everyone's inner voice worked like this until one day when I mentioned it to my husband, and he informed me otherwise."

Ferber began writing stories for children in earnest when her own three children were young.

"I hired a sitter so I could have three measly hours to myself once a week, and that became my writing time," she says.

As her children got older and spent more time at school, she increased her writing time. But it was still hard to balance it all.

"Even when they're at school," Ferber says, "I still have so much to do for them. But I make writing a priority right after them!"

She worked on her first novel, Julia's Kitchen, for a year and a half while her children were in school, not knowing if anyone would want it. After a number of drafts, she submitted it for the AJL Sydney Taylor Manuscript Award, and her manuscript won the 2004 contest.

Three years later, after working with her editor at FSG, where it had been accepted for publication and went through yet more revisions, the novel received the AJL Sydney Taylor 2007 Award for best book for older readers.

Ferber, whose next book, Jemma Hartman, Camper Extraordinaire, will be published by FSG in Spring, 2009, was kind enough to take time away from her work-in-progress to share her thoughts on writing with Wordswimmer.

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

Ferber: Let's see... first I have to put on my sunscreen, pack my bag, watch all the other swimmers, enjoy the sun, think about getting in, notice that time is running out, and finally jump right in. That's exactly how I do it at the beach, and that, for better or worse, is how I approach writing. I am constantly thinking about my stories and my characters, but I do take a while to warm up to the task of writing. I find it's very easy to take care of other, simpler things. But once I'm on a roll, I find it very hard to stop. And one good writing day usually leads to another.

Wordswimmer: What keeps you afloat...for short work? For longer work?

Ferber: My critique group is my savior. They keep pushing me to be the best I can be. And my faith in myself is strong, too. I have a very optimistic attitude. I break things down into baby steps, and I know that I will get to the finish line eventually. But even more important, I emphasize the joy of the journey rather than that finish line. By journey, I don't only mean writing, but rather life as a whole.

Wordswimmer: How do you keep swimming through dry spells?

Ferber: I just accept the dry spells for what they are. I am so busy that dry spells mean I have time to do other things while the story is percolating in the back of my mind. I take a break and enjoy it, and I find when the time comes (be it a day or even a month), that I'm ready to write again.

Wordswimmer: What's the hardest part of swimming?

Ferber: The hardest part came before I ever got published. It was tremendously challenging to be patient and persistent enough to break through the getting-published barrier. Now, the hardest part is trying to continually write something that I truly, deeply love and can feel proud of.

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

Ferber: I never swim alone! You need a buddy. In my case, I have the world's best critique group. I also have amazing editors. Last, but certainly not least, I have a family who loves and supports me every step of the way.

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

Ferber: There's so much I love! Fan letters. Starred reviews. School visits. After many drafts, being able to finally tell the story that I had in mind. And how about kids I don't even know connecting with a story I created? Wow! It's like walking down the beach with my family, watching the sunset over the ocean. Pretty amazing!

For more information about Brenda Ferber, visit her website:

and check out her blog, too:

For another interview with Brenda, take a look at:

Note to Wordswimmer readers: Happy Thanksgiving! See you after the holiday.

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