by Hadley, teen blogger

second chances panel

“Second Chances” featured Brandy Colbert, author of Pointe, Morgan Matson, author of Since You’ve Been Gone, Sarah Tomp, author of My Best Everything, and the panel moderator, Lauren Miller, author of Free to Fall among other well-known novels. The questions varied from asking about life before writing to what lies in the future for the authors.

It kicked off with the question, “What would you do if you had the second chance to write your book?

Colbert stated that she would not change anything at the moment, while Tomp wished to rewrite her ending. Matson talked about how her editors ended up removing a scene from the actual story, but added it as a bonus chapter. She said that she wished she had fought harder to get that into the actual novel. Miller admitted that the third chapter in Free to Fall dragged on with too much detail, which she stated was not necessary for proper understanding of the book. She jokingly told the audience that they were free to skip that part of the book when they came to it.

Next, they shared their own personal writing process.

Colbert is one to write the characters first and then the plot as it comes to her. For Tomp, inspiration tends to strike at random moments, whether it be at four in the morning or when she is walking her dog. She will write through a scene, take notes on what needs to be changed throughout the day, and rewrite it later. Matson claimed to never have an outline written for herself, saying how she was always in the same place as her characters in how she never knew what was coming next for them. Miller sets a schedule for herself to try to write five to seven in the morning before work. She also carries around a notebook so she can write down any ideas that come to her throughout the day before she forgets them.

Next, Miller asked about their current and past day jobs, saying, “I think sometimes there’s an illusion that if you have a published book or multiple published books, that it means that you’re paying all your bills.”

Miller works as a lawyer at a film company, working with contracts for movies and TV. That was her full-time job before she realized that that life was not what she really wanted, and writing was the direction she wished to go in.

Matson said while she does not have a day job, she misses the structure of it. She started in teen publishing as an editor, and now writes full-time.

Tomp spends a lot of time in schools, as she was once a teacher, and she still teaches creative writing from time to time. She currently helps school nurses, traveling from health office to health office, from preschool to high school. “Everything happens in the nurse’s office,” she jokes as to why she loves it, sharing a laugh with the audience.

"Second Chances" panel from left to right: Morgan Matson, Sarah Tomp, Brandy Colbert, and Lauren Miller (moderator). Photo by Katie Ferguson
“Second Chances” panel from left to right: Morgan Matson, Sarah Tomp, Brandy Colbert, and Lauren Miller (moderator). Photo by Katie Ferguson

When did they know they were going to actually write a book for publishing?

“For me, it was walking my dog. It was like my magic elixir. Weird little phrases were always coming in my head when I was walking the dog,” Tomp said. She was always reading picture books to her kids, and she started off writing one herself that was published about ten years ago. Then, she said to herself, “I want to see if I can really do something with this.” After that, she went and got her master’s in writing at Vermont College because she needed a jumpstart to write a full-length novel.

For Colbert, she wrote her first unofficial book at the age of seven, and had wanted to be an author ever since, but it was at the age of twenty-six when she said to herself, “I need to do this.” Her first novel started off with adult characters, but when she realized that that was not working, she made the switch to YA. Her first novel, after many drafts and rewrites, was finally published at the age of thirty-four.

Matson started off at the beginning, saying, “My mother made the mistake of telling me early: ‘You’re a writer.’ I was like, ‘No, I’m not. You don’t know me.’ So I hung on to that for way too long, and when I finally realized I wanted to write, I was like, ‘Oh, my mother was right. That’s so frustrating.’” She then proceeded to work at a bookstore in the children’s department, and when she started to read the YA novels, her love for YA literature sparked. She went to college to get a master’s degree in writing for children, went on to work in publishing, and finally proceeded to start seriously focusing on writing her own book. She says she was around twenty-one when she decided that she wanted to be an author for a living.

As for Miller, it took some time for her to realize that writing was the life for her. “I went to law school after college because I didn’t know how to make a career out of the only thing I was really good at: writing.” She ended up in the entertainment division of a film firm, two weeks after having been married. She started to think about all that had changed in her life, coming to the conclusion that, “This was not the life I was supposed to have.” To work out that issue, she wrote a TV pilot, having been working in an entertainment division and all. When that did not wind up turned into a full show, she worked around her pilot and it ended up becoming one of her novels.

A question from the audience: How did they feel about the side characters in their novels?

“They’re my favorite thing to write,” said Matson. “At any moment, if the focus switched to one of those people, I could tell their story. I could tell you way more about my secondary characters than ever made it onto the page. They’re just as equal as my protagonists.”

“I love each and every one of them,” said Tomp. “I really think of them as all main characters. My friends are so important to me that I can’t imagine writing a book without friends in it.”

Colbert told how she had the problem coming up with the little things about her characters  during rewrites, which were wanted by her editor, but looking back on that now, she appreciates how she was pushed into writing those edits. “Little tiny details will tell so much about secondary characters.”

The second question from the audience: How was writing a second novel?

Miller spoke from experience, having published many novels over the course of her being an author. She speaks in particular of her two-book deal with the series Parallel and all the deadlines that came with it. “Once you’re in the habit of writing, and you’ve seen the start to finish of it all, you realize that it’s possible and it doesn’t feel like this insurmountable thing… You of course want to improve on what you’ve done before, but you’re at the same time getting used to this new world and character that you’ve created.”

Then, there’s Matson. “It was so bad, so bad. The second book I ever wrote is in a drawer somewhere. No one will ever see it; it’s terrible.” She, like Miller, was in the middle of a two-book deal, and found herself telling her editor not to publish the book, even though it was already finished. All she salvaged from the scrapped novel was the last line, which she turned into the last line for Since You’ve Been Gone. “I found the second book was very difficult. I’m sorry, you guys are writing your second books right now, I’m not being helpful,” she finished off saying apologetically to the other authors on the panel.

Tomp responded to that with a laugh, saying, “Yeah, I’m in that difficult stage.” She had been almost finished with her second novel for almost six months, repeatedly thinking she was almost done before realizing there was still something yet to be said. She finished by saying she had no idea how she was going to complete the book.

The final question: How much knowledge was put into their novels?

Tomp jumped right off the bat to her own defense, saying, “I, for the record, have never made moonshine. I did taste it in high school. There’s not much to do in my small town.” She took to the internet for some her research, and hit various breweries and distilleries in San Diego, where she went on some personal tours. She spoke of meeting lots of people who were proud of their craft. “It really is a very artistic kind of thing. It’s actually been quite stunning and amazing to realize that there’s this whole world. It’s serious business.”

Although Colbert’s novel revolves around ballet and people who practice it, she grew up doing tap. “Ballet is very difficult, and I’m not good at it.” She researched for her novel by watching dance films and going online to the dictionary featured on the American Ballet Theatre website.

Miller spoke of the novel she is currently working on, in which the main character has a panic disorder. She started off by reading blogs of people who suffer from the disorder, which she clarified while still helpful was not doing it for her. “Once I let go of the research aspect and just recognized that while I may not suffer clinically from what she has, there’s a way into your character that’s accessible inside of you. Even when you’re writing from somebody that has a situation that’s not like yours, you tap into something that you experience, and so it’s not like playing pretend, it’s like accessing a part of yourself that you’ve maybe never paid attention to before.”

Matson stated that she is a method writer. She cannot write something without experiencing it beforehand. Her first novel was about a cross-country road trip, and so she flew down to California, renting the same exact car the characters drove in and driving across the country. “I felt like I couldn’t write a road trip story without having done it. I tend to emerge myself in these kind of things in order to write it. I also agree that you need to at some point let go of the research and start the story, because it’s not nonfiction in the end.”

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