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!)

A Writer’s Thanksgiving

It's okay. The sloths still love you.

I’m thankful for Pilot G2 pens and notebooks of all kinds.

I’m thankful for the advent of the word processor that led to my MacBook and Scrivener. I’ve heard enough stories from my mother of what it was like to type papers up when she was in college. I can’t imagine doing a novel that way.

I’m thankful to live in a golden age of YA.

I’m thankful for Mrs. Litton and the 4th grade school assignment that made me realize I wanted to be a writer.

I’m thankful for the crappy old laptop my dad gave me when I was around 8-10 that couldn’t do much more than run Word, and that was the point of it.

I’m thankful for Mrs. Wetherald, the high school teacher that encouraged my writing from the time I had her in freshman English.

I’m thankful for all the teachers that believed in my writing.

I’m thankful for Alpha, which advanced my writing more in two weeks than all of high school managed to do.

I’m thankful for Alphans, because we always support each other even years later.

I’m thankful for Twitter, which lets me talk to some of my favorite writers.

I’m thankful for parents that read to me since birth and never censored me or my reading.

I’m thankful for parents who happily let me major in creative writing even though many would think it useless, because they know it’s what makes me happy.

I’m thankful for all of the amazing people in my life that believe in me.

And I’m thankful for you, readers.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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.