Alpha Interview: Rachel Grinti

I’ve briefly mentioned the Alpha SF/F/H Workshop for Young Writers on this blog before. It’s a workshop that changed my life as a writer. I got the chance to work with amazing writers like Tamora Pierce, Holly Black, Timothy Zahn, and Sheila Williams, the editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction.

Tamora Pierce is at the workshop every year, and the 2013 Alphans will also get to work with Theodora Goss and Scott Westerfeld. Needless to say, I am jealous. The admissions deadline for Alpha is coming up on March 3rd, and in the meantime, Alpha alums are working on promoting the workshop and fundraising.

My part in this is that I’m one of two blogs that will be posting interviews with Alpha alumni both old and new over the next couple weeks. Go check out the blog of the brilliant Sarah Brand for the others. If you’re an eligible 14-19 year old writer, we hope to convince you to apply. If you’re not, we hope to convince you that Alpha is worth donating to and supporting.

rachelgrintiFor the first interview, I talked to Rachel Grinti. She attended Alpha in 2002 when she was 17. She later obtained her Masters in Library Information Sciences, and now runs a weekly writing group for 4th-6th graders at her library. She’s a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and has attended their regional writing conferences. Her debut novel, Claws, written with fellow Alpha alum Mike Grinti, came out in 2012 from Chicken House/Scholastic.

Why did you decide to apply to Alpha?

I’ve been making up stories my whole life, but when I was in high school, I started thinking about trying to get something published. I joined an online writing forum to meet other writers. I met Diane Turnshek, and found out she lived in Pittsburgh, too. A year or so later, she told me she was starting a writing workshop for teen writers. I’d get to meet other writers my age who were serious about writing genre fiction and learn from published authors. Sounded great to me!

What are your top three favorite Alpha memories?

The “ask me anything” Q&A with Tammy Pierce.

Staying up way too late writing and talking.

Finding out I really like critiquing.

How does Alpha compare to other writing instruction you’ve had?

Before Alpha, I hadn’t had any writing instruction. A few years later, I took a couple creative writing courses in college. Nothing in those college classes stuck with me. Every college writing course is different of course, but the ones I attended were not useful to me. At Alpha, we gave critiques and learned how to respond to constructive criticism. In my college writing classes, I risked Glares of Doom from the class at large if I criticized a story when it was time for feedback. Students at Alpha aren’t writing for a grade, they’re writing because it’s their passion. It was a big difference.

If you could give any advice to young writers going into Alpha, what would it be?

Hello future Alphan. You are a cool person, you will meet other cool people, you will have fun and learn things and it will be awesome. Don’t stress. Okay? Cool.

Be open to trying different things with your writing. The authors/editors/instructors at the workshop will all have, at least to some extent, different methods, different advice, some of which may be contradictory. And that’s okay. It’s good, in fact. Try everything, and figure out what works best for you.

Also, remember that you can learn as much or more about writing from giving critiques as you can from getting them.

How has Alpha continued to impact your life since attending?

Oh, in tons of ways. I volunteer to critique student’s application stories each year. I’d love to return as staff someday — I’d love to be a resource for young writers and a friend and source of support, just as people I met at Alpha were (and still are!) for me. I’m part of the workshop alumni Google group where former students I’ve met and many more I haven’t keep in contact, share news, and critique stories. I still keep in contact with people I met through the workshop. And I suppose I should mention I’m now married and co-authoring books with Mike, who eleven years ago was some kid I met at Alpha. (No, I’m not saying go because you’ll find True Love. But you’ll definitely find some true friends!)

The Trials and Tribulations of Owning a Kindle

You might have noticed that part of Tuesday Reads is telling you whether I read the book in a physical copy or on a Kindle (there are other options, but those are the two I use). That might seem silly and needless, but I do have a reason for it.

I own a second-generation Kindle. I’ve had it for years. It’s been replaced twice, covered in stickers, and it’s not quite as shiny white as it once was. It currently contains 216 books. Its name is Hermione Danger. It often spends most of the school year in a drawer while I’m consumed by novels for school (I almost always buy those in a physical copy, because it’s easier for me to stay on track with my teacher and classmates), but months will go by where it barely leaves my side.

But there are days when I hate taking it out in public. Almost every time I read it before class or in the student center or outside, someone asks me, “Is that a Kindle?” I’m always hopeful at first, and I get excited. I love my Kindle. I love to talk about my Kindle. So I say yes, and I show them how easy it is to use, how many books it has, how I can send Word documents and PDFs to it (great for critiquing stories), and I talk about how great Kindle support has been over the years. Every once in a blue moon, the conversation will end with something like, “Maybe I should look into getting one.”

More often than not, it ends in, “Oh, that’s cool, but I could never get one. I love books too much.”

Excuse me?

Is it wrong of me to take away from that the implication that I don’t love books? That somehow the fact that I own a Kindle means that books don’t matter to me? I know that the other person in that conversation hasn’t seen my bookcases, where books are stacked on books in an attempt to squeeze them all in. They don’t know that I can’t go into a bookstore without spending all of my money on new books, or that donating 500 books in high school barely dented my library.

But why should that matter? They haven’t seen my personal library, but why should they have had to? Why does Kindle owner equal book hater in so many minds?

There are stories where the medium matters. I couldn’t read graphic novels on my black and white second-gen Kindle. If the picture quality was comparable to that of a printed graphic novel and the interface easy to navigate, I’d have no problem reading them digitally. There are stories where interaction with the book itself is an important part of experiencing the story – for example, Theodora GossThe Thorn and the Blossom is uniquely bound accordion style. Open the book from one side, and you read the story of Evelyn. Flip it over and open it on the other side, and you read Brendan’s story. In the case of that book, I suggest you read it in the physical copy.

Most of the novels we read, though, ultimately don’t need to be read in a physical form. Yes, I agree that the feel of a book in your hands and being able to flip through the pages and doggy-ear and make notes and bend back the spine (which plenty of people would scream at me for, but I love) is a beautiful thing.

But shouldn’t the story matter more? If the story is the same from paperback to Kindle, doesn’t it matter more that we’re reading the story than if we’re reading it on paper or a screen?

I know that contradicts my idea of telling whether I’m reading a book in physical or digital form. That’s related to another peeve of mine in this whole ridiculous debate. People seem to think that if I have a Kindle, I don’t read physical books, or if you read physical books, then you wouldn’t ever have an e-reader. It’s true that there are people who only use e-readers and people who only read physical books, and that’s entirely their choice. I’m not here to insult them. What bothers me is that there are an awful lot of people who can’t seem to grasp the idea that someone might like both. That’s why I’m going to tell you what medium I’m reading a story on. It’s entirely possible to use and love multiple reading mediums, and I’d like to prove it.

What about you? Are you a Kindle owner who faces snide remarks from your fellow book lovers? Are you a book lover who just can’t abide by e-readers? Or, like me, do you stand somewhere in-between?

On Age and Writing

 

This sloth has experience.

This sloth has experience.

The Writers’ Center of Indiana recently held The 2012 Gathering of Writers – unofficial hashtag #GatheringofWriters2012 if you want to check it out – a one-day conference for writers both new and established. Cathy Day invited Ball State students to go with her, and I was among them. The keynote speech was given by Allison Joseph, and you can check out that hashtag for some great quotes. There were three sessions with three classes per session that you could choose between – one on fiction, one on poetry, and the last on non-fiction. Fiction is my concentration, so I chose to attend those classes. Melissa Fraterrigo presented on writing effective beginnings. Ben Winters talked about plot and structure. Sarah Layden discussed setting. Finally, the conference finished with Laura Baich talking about how writers should use social media.

When I started writing this post, I was going to give you a giant summary of the day. I was going to go session by session and tell you what was said. If there’s interesting in posts based on the notes I took in the classes I attended, I can certainly do that. But I don’t want to spend this post summarizing. I’d like to talk about something else. I want to talk about age and writing, and I want to call myself out on my own bullshit.

Ball State was not the only school represented at the conference. There were other students. Most of those attending, however, were much older. There were well-established writers who know more about writing than I might ever know. Others were just starting out. The majority of them had very little presence in the world of social media, but others were considerably better at it than I am.

I’m going to admit that I have a habit of comparing myself to writers older than me. I often decide that I’m probably behind in writing, but surely I’m ahead in social media. I was born in the internet age, after all. Shouldn’t that give me an edge? They have the advantage of being older than me and having had more time to write and build connections, but I have an almost instinctual understanding of the internet. Shouldn’t that mean something? Shouldn’t that make me better in some way?

At the conference yesterday, I had moments in the classes where I thought, “I already learned this. We discussed this in class. I figured that out through practice and reading.” Meanwhile, writers twice my age diligently took notes. I sat there feeling like I was better than them because they were so much older than me but just now learnings things I’d already figured out. Put me in a situation with writers younger than me, and I can’t help feeling a little snide towards them because I have more experience and they’re “just kids”.

Problem is, that’s bullshit.

It’s not about age. It’s about dedication. It’s also about talent, but Theodora Goss has a better post about that than I could write.

I’m 22. I think I’m a pretty good writer, and I’m okay at social media. A 40-year-old writer could have been writing since before I was born, but be baffled by the idea of running a blog. A 50-year-old writer could have been writing for two months but have thousands more Twitter followers than I could ever hope to gain. Plus, there’s always going to be amazingly talented writers who couldn’t care less about expanding their social media network. There are teenage writers that write 2000 words a day and are busy building a following.

None of this makes one writer better or more worthy than another. We’re all learning. We’re all trying, and we’re all doing it at our own pace. So what if I learned about writing beginnings before someone else did? Give them some time to practice and they might kick my ass at beginnings. I have no right to sit around feeling superior because I learned something first. Starting now, I have to change my attitude.

What about you? Do you find yourself discriminating against writers younger or older than you? Did I miss something, or is there more bullshit to be called out? Head to the comments and chime in.