It’s wonderful to be in schools with my author hat on, after over twenty years being an English teacher. I get to do what I like, how I like, and talk about my own book instead of other people’s.
Since my book The Island was launched on World Book Day, I’ve been experimenting with different ideas for creative writing workshops, assemblies and author talks.
Ideas range from inkwasters about being a castaway, imagining how different random objects could be used in a survival situation, and how to write like a movie-maker: exploring structural editing devices such as cutaways and match cuts to transition between scenes.
At one school, I was asked to do an exam prep workshop to ninety year eleven students, who were preparing for their IGCSE and needed a booster class on descriptive and narrative writing. After pitching my castaway book, and explaining research and how I method wrote the castaway scenes, I played them the sound of the sea, and showed them a slide of a desert island shoreline. ‘You have been adrift on an inflatable liferaft for two days now,’ I informed them. ‘How do you feel? Are you sunblistered? Is your throat parched? This is the first time you seen land.’ I watch them busy scribbling as they try to build ‘voice’…
I also give talks in assemblies. Before I was published, I was terrified of the thought of public speaking, so deliberately followed the principle of ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ by volunteering to give assemblies at school for World Book Day and Write For Real, my writers’ group. The first one I did, I was so scared, I had to get the school librarian and a bunch of sixth formers to stand up there with me!
But gradually, speaking to a large group of people began to feel ‘normal’, and I realised that it’s actually no different from talking to a class of thirty, which I’ve been doing forever. Now I’m an old pro. The only hairy moment is two minutes before the students start streaming in, and you realise that the projector/Powerpoint/pendrive isn’t working properly and there’s the ICT bloke scratching his head and doing unfathomable things to the laptop…
I love doing author visits. As a teacher, this is all of the best bits: not a learning objective or an exam target grade in sight. Instead, you get to share your passion for creative writing and hopefully inspire writers of the future.
We’re pretty dang excited to publish Dana Reinhardt’s eighth novel, Tell Us Something True, which will be coming out in the UK in July. We certainly wanted to get to know Dana better, and thought our readers would like to as well. So without further ado, let’s meet Dana!
I think the learning came later, though the mistakes came early and often. Part of growing up and growing as a person is recognizing that no matter how all consuming romantic love is, it cannot be the only reason you get out of bed in the morning. That’s River’s primary mistake. He pins everything on Penny. I think we all do that when we’re younger and in the throes of first love, and as we get older, it’s not that we love any less, or with less ferocity, it’s that we know that love has to be about more than worship, and we cannot nor should not lose ourselves in our relationships.
I don’t think of River as hapless, in fact I think of him as someone who is extraordinarily lucky, he just doesn’t know it, and part of what happens to him over the course of the story is that he begins to recognize the ways in which the stars have aligned for him. I think of River as more clueless than hapless, and yes, he was really fun to write because most of my novels are narrated by hyper-verbal, hyper-aware girls who tend to be more clued in than the people around them. River was a nice change.
I was walking my dog around Stowe Lake in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, where I currently live. This was while I was in the thinking phase of the writing process, meaning that I didn’t bring my headphones to listen to podcasts (something I typically do while walking), instead I was using the time to let my mind wander and sort through some unformed story ideas I’d been working on. It was a gorgeous day. The light was perfect. A warm breeze blew through the trees. I saw a young couple out in a pedal boat in the middle of the lake and for a minute I thought: Oh, how nice. How romantic. And then I thought: What if she brought him out here today, to the middle of the lake, just to break up with him? I couldn’t walk home fast enough. I was dying to write what became the first scene in the book.
I wish I could say that writing books has gotten easier. That I’ve nailed a routine. That I’ve become a pro. But unfortunately, if anything, writing has gotten harder. I’m not entirely sure why. I think I know too much now, and I tend to hear editors’ voices, readers’ voices and critics’ voices in my head while I write. When I wrote my first book I figured nobody would ever read it so I wrote in utter silence. Now, I spend a great deal of effort trying to find that silence again. But on the positive side, I’ve learned to relax. If I’m stuck, or I should say when I’m stuck, I don’t panic. I know there’s a way out. That I’ll find the path. That, as River’s step father would say, “There’s always a way through the thicket.”
I think the one common thread that runs through every book I’ve written is that there is always a strong sibling bond for at least one of the characters. In my family, I was the little sister. So maybe with River, it was easy for me to imagine the way he might adore the precocious little Natalie! If I’ve learned anything about myself through my own writing it’s that my relationship with my brothers was more important and impactful than I’d realized. It must have been, since it always infiltrates my writing. And maybe in returning again and again to siblings who adore each other, I’m trying to write the relationship I hope my daughters will have.
It’s what I know. Even though I am adult now and I am part of my own nuclear family, when I imagine family from a young person’s perspective, I imagine it fractured because that’s how I grew up, in a fractured family. Though I was a child of divorce, I never doubted my parents’ love. They did an amazing job divorcing. Truly. They had the kind of divorce I’d want to emulate if I wanted to divorce, which luckily I don’t because I’m quite fond of my husband. But before I married him, I did spend time imagining what type of person he’d be if things went south for us. Would he be spiteful and petty? Would he be there for the kids? I knew the answers were no and yes. He thinks this is the most unromantic thing ever. For me, it was practical. And ultimately romantic.
It’s not really a break up story in that technically, I don’t think we ever broke up, but I will tell you the story of my first love. His name was Matthew. We went to preschool together. He had a huge head of crazy curls and crooked teeth. He was undeniably goofy looking, but I absolutely adored him. My best friend married us beneath a tree in the play yard. We used baggie ties for rings. Eventually we graduated from pre-school and went to different elementary schools and time marched on and he became nothing but a sweet, tender memory. My Matthew. My best friend and I talked about that day of the wedding often over the years that followed and she’d tease me about it a little, but mostly with the passage of time, as I began to navigate the tricky waters of adolescent dating, he became the symbol of the perfect boyfriend. The gold standard. The one against whom I measured everyone else. And then, many years later and 3,000 miles from home, I ran into Matthew. It was my freshman year of college. He was a sophomore—apparently in addition to his dashing looks he was some sort of a genius, smart enough at least to have skipped the first grade. When I heard his name and saw his face I knew it had to be my Matthew. So I approached him in the dining hall. My heart was like a swarm of bees in my chest. Matthew, I said. Do you remember…? He didn’t. He had absolutely no idea who I was. No memory at all of me. Of our love. Or our wedding beneath the tree in the play yard. He did not idealize me or think of me as the gold standard as he began to navigate the treacherous waters of adolescent dating. I was nobody to him. That stung a little. Okay, so maybe it stung a lot.
Well, I guess it’s enough of a thing that there was a huge pop song in the late 80’s about how nobody walks in LA. I know that’s at odds with the other reputation LA has as a place where people spend an extraordinary amount of time exercising. If you head down to the beach, you’ll see throngs of people walking and running in expensive and flattering work out gear, but as a means of getting from one place to another, yes, I think walking in LA is really that unheard of.