Q&A with Author Maria Padian
Today we welcome author Maria Padian to Random Acts of Reading. We loved her first two novels Brett McCarthy: Work in Progress and Jersey Tomatoes are the Best, as well as Maria’s latest book Out of Nowhere which will be in your favorite bookstore or library tomorrow, February 12th. Read on to learn about the real life inspiration for Out of Nowhere, writing, snacks and what’s coming up next.
What inspired you to write Out of Nowhere?
There just isn’t a short answer to that question, I’m afraid! Stories begin for me in many places. I gather the various threads together until there’s a sort of rope to hold, find a narrator to pull us along and … we’re off! Out of Nowhere began when I became aware of the growing population of Somali refugees who had located in Lewiston, Maine, about 20 miles from where I live. This was not some silent migration: thousands of Somali people – Muslim, destitute, non-English speakers – were moving to Lewiston, which is a former mill town, home to the largest French-Catholic population in the nation, in possibly the whitest state in the nation. This was not a natural “fit,” if you know what I mean. There were many challenges. My kids were playing a lot of sports back then, and I would see Somali kids on the soccer field, basketball courts, running cross country, and I kept wondering, how are they fitting in?
Before you wrote Out of Nowhere, were you involved in any way with the immigrant community in Maine?
No, I was not. In order to write this book, I had a lot to learn.
And are you involved in that community now?
Frankly: no. I should be. I keep thinking that as a writer I should spend time volunteering with young writers in Lewiston, sort of the way Portland writers have created a wonderful space with The Telling Room. There, I said it. Hopefully someone in Lewiston will see this post and shame me into pulling myself away from the computer and volunteering. I need to do that, to give back. Because the kids who shared their stories with me were so, so generous.
Out of Nowhere has been nominated as a Year-Long Community Read for 2013 in Portland Maine, how does it feel to get this recognition for your novel?
Humbling. Exciting. Scary. This is the first time I’ve written a book which has any connection to actual events, and I’m terrified that I got something “wrong.” I’m not worried about facts. I checked my facts. I’m worried about the spirit of the book. Many very extraordinary young people and adults shared their stories with me, which informed this novel, and I just want to do them justice. I hope I did. The father of one of the soccer players I interviewed read the book and he really liked it. He’s a man raising a family in Lewiston, and his positive reaction to the book was better than any review I’ve gotten to date, and I’ve been very pleased with Kirkus and Publishers Weekly!
So, putting this book “out there” for discussion in Maine, where the story is set, is somewhat nerve wracking.
What book made the strongest impression on you as a child?
Oh, gosh, I have to name ONE?? Impossible. I was a total bookworm. But if you insist: Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes. I was completely sucked into the drama, the time period, the “meaning,” if you will. I’ll also just say, for the record, that Charlotte’s Web is a completely perfect children’s book. I still cry when Charlotte dies, and yes, I know she’s a spider and I know how it ends …
What is one thing about you that would surprise your readers?
I hate to write.
That’s not a joke; writing is very, very hard. But I can’t help myself, it’s a compulsion. I’m miserable if I’m not working on something, I’m awful to be around if I’ve had an unproductive writing day, and I’m ecstatic when the writing goes well. But I hate it, and wish I could be satisfied dusting the big plastic dinosaurs in the natural history museum, something like that. It’s a real job. I’ve seen the guy who does it.
Photo by Loyal Sewell
Do you use social media? If yes, how do you feel about the role social media plays in your writing life?
I have a personal Facebook page, an author Facebook page, a website with a blog, and a Twitter account. I refuse to Tumbl. No. No more. Enough.
I enjoy social media to a certain extent, and appreciate that writers need to communicate directly with their readers and “get the word out,” but it’s a real black hole if you’re not careful. As a writer, it’s really important to sit down each and every day and DO THE WORK. And sometimes, a blog post or Twitter post, or status update on Facebook feels like “work.” But it’s not. It’s a distraction. We need to turn it off after a while, and get the book/poem/story written.
What has your favorite event experience been so far?
Any time I’ve read aloud to young readers. I love reading to a live audience.
What was your favorite genre to read as a teenager?
Historical fiction. And that extended into my adult life as well. I was a big James Michener fan.
What’s your favorite snack food when you’re writing?
Chocolate and Smart Food popcorn. Not at the same time.
Do you have a favorite place to write?
I do most of my writing in a downstairs, cozy corner of our family room, close to a very delightful woodstove. On a snowy Maine morning, with good coffee, there isn’t a better place on earth to be. I also take breaks from home and bring my notebook or laptop to a local coffee shop. We have three fabulous coffee shops in my town, and all of them tolerate creative sorts like me who take up residence in some quiet corner and scribble/type away for hours.
Do you have favorite music to listen to when you write?
I never listen to music when I write.
Do you plan to continue writing for children, or do you think you might write for adults at some point?
I’m currently working on a new young adult novel, so for the immediate future I’m sticking with this genre. But I have an idea for a memoir about growing up Catholic in Vatican II-New Jersey, and an idea for an adult novel organized around the premise of those dastardly holiday letters we receive from friends at Christmas. So I suspect when I run out of teen narrators, I’ve got other “adult” projects ahead.
What is one piece of advice you would like to give to aspiring authors?
Honor your apprenticeship. Don’t be in such a hurry to “publish.” Work on your writing, practice, revise, revise it again, get feedback … and accept that even after you publish, you are still, and always will be, an apprentice.
Do you ever experience writer’s block?
Writer’s block IS my process. I spend hours trying to break through walls and get the words written. On rare, blessed occasions, the language flows. But usually, it’s a Herculean effort.
What was your favorite chapter, or part, to write and why?
In Out of Nowhere I had the most fun writing the Tommy-Myla banter. I also loved writing Donnie Plourde’s dialogue.
Which character speaks the loudest, to you?
I’m not sure I understand this question. Do you mean which character do I relate to, personally? Probably Myla, not because I am like her but because she’s the type of female character I keep creating (strong, wise-cracking, funny) which I wish I were more like when I was … young. Or which character tugs at my heartstrings the most? Donnie. He breaks my heart. Which voice is clearest in my head? Well, Tommy, the narrator.
Do any of them demand to be heard over the others?
That’s a question I’d like a reader to answer.
Now we’re back to “beginnings.” I’ve heard writers discuss how their stories begin in a certain location, or with a certain theme. For me, I might be playing around with some ideas, some things I want to write about, but I can’t begin until I find a narrator. This not-Maria voice/character who intrigues me. Plot follows character, so once I have that character … the story begins to write itself. And at that point I don’t choose it: it has chosen me. I’m just the typist at that point.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on another young adult novel and the subject matter is a well-kept secret. But my daughter describes it as a cross between Glee and Girl, Interrupted, which I think is pretty accurate..
Is there anything that you would like to say to your readers and fans?
Thank you! I love that you spent time with Mr. Beady and Brett and Henry and Eva and the whole universe of characters in my books. I hope you like/enjoy/care about Tommy and Myla and Saeed and Donnie just as much.
Many Thanks to Maria Padian for joining us today at RAOReading!
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