When Ann Brashares was a child, a family friend asked her what she wanted to be.
“I said doctor because it sounded the most impressive,” the author recalled during her April 28 appearance at Old Town Library to promote her new young adult novel The Here and Now.
Looking at skin diseases in a medical book, however, was “scary” and prompted her to change her mind.
“I was such a worrier by nature that by nightfall, I had half the diseases in the book.”
Although Brashares was an avid reader – and re-reader, which she calls “a special breed” – she never considered becoming a writer. She didn’t realize it was a career option. Having never met any writers, she assumed books “fall from Heaven completed.”
Born in Virginia and raised in the Washington, D.C. area, she was one of four children whose parents divorced. Reading helped her escape from a less-than-perfect home life. “Books became my refuge…I wanted to burrow in the books.”
Stories allowed her to experience a wide range of emotions. “I had the opportunity to get inside the characters’ heads.” Her dad’s favorite quote relates to this: “One of the great tragedies of our experience is comparing our insides to other people’s outsides.”
Brashares studied philosophy and history in college, then took a receptionist job at a company that produced books for kids. Her boss eventually gave her a chance to review a manuscript. She loved editing and working with writers so much that she became an editor and stayed in the position for 10 years.
“The notion that a book could be formed and improved…I was so excited to see the next draft,” she said. “The art of writing can be inspired, but you can’t learn it in the normal way. There’s so much craft. There are so many tools you can use as a writer.
When the opportunity came to finish an incomplete manuscript—the author was unavailable—she spent nine days writing pages six through 250. “It was a way of learning to write without any ego at all.”
She impressed her boss, who said, “You shouldn’t be an editor anymore. You’re ready to be a writer.”
At that time, Brashares was in her 30s. She and her artist husband had a third child on the way. She took a leave of absence and wrote Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, which became a best-seller that was made into a movie. She wrote three sequels.
Brashares fans often ask her for advice.
“Pick something – a novella, a poem, and epic novel – put yourself on a schedule and commit to it. That’s what turns you into a writer.”
Her latest novel, The Here and Now, is about people from a bleak future – the year 2086 – immigrating to the past. They must adhere to three laws to avoid changing anything that will make the future worse:
Follow the rules.
Remember what happened.
Never fall in love.
They also struggle with whether to make changes that might produce a better fate
“I love any stories that play with the progression of time,” said Brashares, whose favorite movie is Groundhog Day. “There’s a lot of dramatic potential in time travel.”
Writing about the future can be fun, but tricky.
“You can be preposterous, but you can’t be wrong,” she said, eliciting laughs from the audience.
Katherine Valdez wrote the flash fiction “The Monster In Her Bedroom” (Havok Magazine, Issue 1.1) and blogs about author events. Subscribe at www.KatValdezWriter.wordpress.com/blog, follow @KatValdezWriter and like http://www.facebook.com/AuthorKatherineValdez.