Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Opposite of Invisible by Liz Gallagher

Liz Gallagher grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia and was an English major at Penn State. She worked on the editorial staff of Highlights for Children. She is a graduate of the University of Denver Publishing Institute and the Vermont College MFA program in writing for children and young adults. Her home in Seattle is within chomping distance of the Fremont Troll. This novel is her first, and her dream come true. Visit her online at www.lizgallagher.com

MaryP: Tell us about The Opposite of Invisible.

Liz: Sure! It's a story about a fifteen-year-old girl, Alice, who has been in a comfy cocoon (metaphorically speaking!) with her best friend, Jewel, a boy she grew up with. He's an outsider-artist type of guy, so she has that same reputation around school. But she's getting itchy to break out of their cocoon. She wants a date for the Halloween dance that's coming up at school,and that is totally not the type of event Jewel would attend, except as a joke. So when things start happening with a popular boy she has a crush on, she steps onto a new road. And Jewel starts spending time with uber-artist Vanessa, who has a bit of a rivalry with Alice. They live in Seattle, and one of the parts I like about the book is how the rainy setting works; it helps to heighten both cozy moods and uncomfortable ones.

MaryP: What was your inspiration for this story?

Liz: When I needed a piece for my first workshop in Vermont College's MFA program, I wanted to write about Halloween. I must've been walking to my old job at a school when I passed this junk shop in my neighborhood, and they had a Halloween display in the window. I don't think there was actually a witch dress in the window, but I loved the idea of buying the perfect costume at a junk shop like that. And then came the characters of Alice and Jewel, who shop at places like that and spend a lot of time walking around their neighborhood -- which is my neighborhood! I knew that Alice's dress would end up being an important catalyst for change. The first draft of this story opened with, "It all started because of this dress."

MaryP: It came out in Italy before it did here. Can you tell us about that?

Liz: Sure. One of the things that my agent, Rosemary Stimola, works toward is selling foreign publisher rights. With the help of her subsidiary rights agent, that happened for me with RCS Libri in Italy. I still can't believe that my words have been translated into Italian! The original publication schedule called for OPPOSITE to come out both in Italy and here in the states during September, 2007. When the American schedule changed (to January, 2008), RCS Libri decided to keep theirs the same. So the book, in Italian, did come out first over there!

MaryP: What is the hardest part of writing for you?

Liz: Without a doubt, it's sticking to a schedule and pushing the rest of my responsibilities out of my head!

MaryP: Oh boy, I think that's every writer's lament, including mine. How did you become a writer?

Liz: My kindergarten teacher encouraged me to write. I think that always stuck with me, and was reinforced by other teachers all the way through college. Still, knowing I wanted to work in the book world, I thought I'd be an editor. I didn't think I'd actually be a novelist until I decided to go to Vermont College's MFA program. In the program, with the help of the amazing faculty and of my classmates, I proved to myself that I can actually do it. I wrote THE OPPOSITE OF INVISIBLE during the program, and started a few other things. Right before graduation, I signed on with my agent, Rosemary Stimola. And she talked to Wendy Lamb, and here we are!

MaryP: Was there any part that you struggled with or avoided writing?

Liz: Yes. The biggest struggle was how to take the character of Simon -- who is basically a popular jock -- out of the stereotype of a popular jock. For a lot of drafts, he was kind of mean and interested only in that proverbial One Thing. He was pretty flat as a character. I had to work hard to take him beyond that, and it was difficult. He went through lots of incarnations. He didn't just show up intact, like some of my characters do. In the end, though, I do think he is close to how I want him to be -- a kind, funny, interesting guy who just also happens to be popular at school and good at sports.

MaryP: What's on your nightstand right now?

Liz: My nightstand is home to my alarm clock and a pile of hair tie things that I pull out in my sleep. But I do have a BIG stack of books waiting to be read. The four on the top of the pile are advance reader's copies of books by some of my Class of 2k8 classmates! We're all first-time middle-grade or young adult novelists. I can't wait to read those books, and for the world to get to know these writers. Also near the top of the pile is Libba Bray's new one: THE SWEET FAR THING. So excited to read it, but sad for the trilogy to end. It was a door into the genre of not-quite-realistic fiction. I read magic-power books and vampire books as a kid, but not at all since then, until Libba's fabulous characters came around. The series also brought me back to historical fiction.

Thank you for the insights, Liz. We wish you and THE OPPOSITE OF INVISIBLE much success!

~~~Cafe Note~~ As a regular part of our interviews, featured authors will pop back in for one week after their interview is posted to answer any other questions blog readers may leave for them. So if you have any questions or comments for Liz, post them in the comments. She'd love to hear from you!


Jenny Meyerhoff said...

Great interview! I was wondering, Liz, do you see yourself as only a YA novelist, or would you ever write a picture book, middle grade novel or book for adults?

LIz said...

Good question, Jenny!

At Vermont College, where I did my MFA, we're encouraged to try everything from picture books on up to YA. So I've worked at pb, mg, and YA, and let's just say I'm definitely most at home in YA! I think writing a great picture book is one of the hardest things to do.

I can see myself doing a book for adults -- something with characters similar to my YA characters, who are on the upper end of the genre age-wise anyway, just a few more years along in life.

Regina Scott said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Regina Scott said...

Sounds like a great MFA program, Liz! When you started writing The Opposite of Invisible, what came first to you, the characters or the plot?

LIz said...

Another good question, Regina -- thanks. Absolutely the characters came first. I'm SO not a plotter. Plot's actually the hardest thing for me. I start from the character and then force myself to put the character in a situation where they will have to react -- and that's how I build a plot.

I write toward an emotion, really. I know how I want a scene to feel -- what the character will be going through emotionally. So I just keep going until I get through the depths of that emotion.

Jody Feldman said...

So that begs the old question, Liz. When you build toward a plot, do you outline or just forge ahead and see where the words and emotions take you?

ljohns said...

Nice interview, and your nightstand seems to have traveled to my room. How important was setting to you? (And, YAY! I get to meet you Feb. 4 in Kent -- and one of my books is also set in the fabulous Fremont neighborhood!)

The Class of 2k8 said...

Jody:I just let the characters take me where they will! I'll keep a list of possible scenes as they come to me, but that's about all of the outlining I do.

I have that emotional arc in mind for the novel as a whole, and try to accomplish mini-arcs in each scene. If I'm doing that, I think I'm doing pretty well!

LIz said...

Oops! That Class of 2k8 comment was from me, Liz!

LIz said...

Linda: Thanks for checking this out! I'm excited to meet you in a few weeks, and your Fremont-set book is in my stack already!! (And the nine-year-old I babysit has a bunch of your books on her desk!)

Setting is very important to me. Seattle is just so rich; I love that the different neighborhoods have such individual feelings and I plan to use that city-within-the-city idea as I write my follow-up novel, which is set mainly in Ballard.

Part of why I think setting is so important is that it really effects what I think of as the atmosphere of a book. The rain is huge in OPPOSITE because it both creates a cozy environment (being cuddled up in your sweatshirt hood) and a bit of uneasiness (getting all drowned-rattish every time you go outside).

Anonymous said...

Hey Liz! Great interview, and I can't wait to read your book!

Okay, if you could put together a soundtrack for your books, what songs would you include?

All the best,
Laura Bowers . . .

. . . who forgot her password and has to be anonymous. ;)

LIz said...

Hi, Laura! OK -- I actually DID put together a playlist! It's on my web site at www.lizgallagher.com, under extras.

There are two songs that I COULDN'T leave off of the list:

"I Want You To Want Me" by Cheap Trick -- that song became kind of a theme as I was writing the relationship between Alice and Simon.

And "Walk to You" by my friend Rachel Harrington (www.rachelharrington.net). It just reflects a lot of what is going on between Alice and Jewel.

I also wanted to get something by Death Cab for Cutie on my list because they're mentioned in the book and they are just SO Seattle!

The rest of my ideas are mostly about rain -- Beta Band's "Dry the Rain" is an amazing song, as you know if you've seen the movie High Fidelity!

Anonymous said...

Hi Liz,
Congrats on your new release! I hope there's still time for me to ask questions.

I was wondering if you have any advice or tips to share with writers who are interested in enrolling in an MFA program - regarding... (drumroll) Finances.
I have a minimum wage job and I'm basically living from paycheck to paycheck. When I look at the tuition for MFA programs it freaks me out! I don't want to get a loan and put myself more in debt... OTOH, if I wait until I have enough cash saved up it could take me a long long time.

A couple of other (hopefully fun) questions: -do you have a future dream for your writing, something you'd love to accomplish? -care to share about some of your current or future writing projects?

Thanks, and best wishes to you. I'm looking forward to reading your book. :)

LIz said...

MFA programs + money = a problem! I know it to be true.

For me, it was the right time to commit to a serious program, so I took out loans (that I'll be paying off for the next twenty years!)

If you can't/aren't ready to do that yet, then unfortunately I don't know a lot of options. There are a few scholarships at Vermont College once you get going . . . Anita Silvey awarded me a scholarship based on a draft of the manuscript that became OPPOSITE, and a few publishers give out scholarships, too. But those things are more of a bonus; you can't count on them until they happen.

The biggest boon of the MFA for me was that it created deadlines that I had to follow, and it gave me a community. So those two things might be worth seeking out in other, more affordable ways. Have you joined the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI)? It's a great way to find community and mentorship if you want to write for kids. Otherwise, maybe you could start a writers' group and set specific goals and deadlines.

The most important thing about becoming a published writer is that you are writing!

On to the other questions . . .

A dream for my writing: Wow. I just hope that I can keep writing novels! I would also love to teach at the college level or higher, to mentor new writers. And I'd love to write a TV show a la Veronica Mars.

My current project is related to OPPOSITE, and that's all I'll say for now! :)

Thanks for your great questions!

KB said...

Liz, I absolutely loved your book. I do a YA book club with some of my teacher friends and we're reading your book next. I always read them first so that I can convince them that they have time to read the books too!

Anyway, where did you get your title? Also, do you really have that Picasso poster?

The first page of your book is so fantastic that I was afraid to read the rest, thinking there is no way the beauty and simplicity of Alice's words could be sustained...thanks for proving me wrong!!

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