Interview: Robin Wasserman
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Current Song: Ferris Bueller's Day Off score music
Over the past two years, Robin Wasserman has seen several of her original works hit the shelves: Seven Deadly Sins</a>, a seven-book dramatic series for teens; a YA novel entitled Hacking Harvard; and the action-adventure super-powered Chasing Yesterday trilogy for younger readers. She has also contributed to short story anthologies. Her next stand-alone book, Callie for President, will appeal to elementary and middle school students, and her next trilogy will attract teens and adults who are sci-fi fans. In other words, she has written for almost all of the genres and age groups I myself intend to write for, so she gets plenty of kudos from me.
How and when did Robin first set foot on the pathway to publishing success? Well, there was an internship, and there was Scooby-Doo...
How did you become an editor?
I interned at Scholastic the summer after my junior year, and it was one of the best experiences of my life. Fortunately for me, they took me back after I graduated. I worked there for a few years, and got an incredible education in the business of publishing children's books. I doubt I'd be a YA writer now (and I certainly wouldn't be a published writer) if it weren't for the things I learned as an editor.
When and how did you land your first book deal?
The first book I ever got published was a 32 page Scooby-Doo picture-clue book that I was lucky enough to write as an intern (thanks again, boss!). My first "real" book deal -- for the first four Seven Deadly Sins books -- came when I was 25. I had just quit my job to go to grad school in the history of science, and I thought I'd left children's publishing behind forever . . . but I had this idea for a teen series, and even though I was sure nothing would ever come of it, I decided to put together a proposal and cross my fingers. The whole thing was pretty much a very unexpected dream come true.
I was actually on a break from an intensely boring class on Enlightenment philosophy when the official offer came in -- and, after some silent screaming and fist-pumping in the quad, I had to go back to class for another hour. Apparently I looked so shell-shocked that my professor thought someone had died.
Why do you write?
Well, the truly, madly, deeply honest answer here is probably: I don't know. But -- because I realize that's totally unsatisfying -- my best guess is that I write because when I was growing up, the books I loved really shaped me as a person. They offered an escape from boredom and unhappiness, and the best of them changed the way I understood myself and the world. I want to do that for someone else. That's what inspires me, when I sit down at the computer -- the thought of a younger version of myself out there, looking for a story to sweep her away, a story that means something, a story she'll never forget.
How difficult was it to keep the tension up through the 1500+ pages of the Seven Deadly Sins series?
I thought it was going to be difficult to write so many books with the same characters and a continuing plot, but it wasn't at all. Instead of getting tired of the characters, I got to know them better with each book, and soon found myself completely invested in their lives. And as far as dramatic tension goes, it helped that the series climaxes midway through with the death of a main character -- so for the first few books, I was always working toward that traumatic moment, and afterwards, events took on a life of their own.
Seven Deadly Sins has seven main characters (plus plenty of supporting characters) and is narrated in third person. Whose thoughts were the easiest to express? Whose outlook on life was the most like yours?
Miranda (the neurotic sidekick) is -- and this is laughably obvious to anyone who knows me -- my alter-ego. In the early books, I kept writing these elaborate subplots for her that my editor would make me cut because, and I quote, "No one cares about Miranda." Sigh.
But as the series went on, Harper actually became the easiest character for me to write -- maybe because I have a lot of Harper buried deep inside me, but I'm too well behaved to let her out in real life. By book 5 or 6, it even became kind of challenging for me to write sympathetically for Beth (Harper's nemesis), because I found myself identifying so thoroughly with Harper's pov.
Your first stand-alone novel for teens was Hacking Harvard, but you don't recommend that kids hack into there or anywhere. In fact, you attended Harvard, and you have college application tips at your site. What advice can you give to seniors who are currently freaking out about their options or lack thereof?
First, I have to tell the seniors -- and sophomores and juniors who are already obsessing: I feel your pain. The applications process is a total nightmare.
As for freaking out after the thick or thin envelope arrives, people will likely try to reassure you that it doesn't matter where you go to college, and you will likely think these people are idiots. I will agree. Your experiences in college -- the people you meet, the classes you choose, the mistakes you make -- will change you in fundamental ways. But here's the thing: you can't predict ahead of time what those experiences are going to be. So while it matters where you go, it matters in ways you can't possibly anticipate, and you shouldn't drive yourself crazy trying. Take your best guess, obviously -- choose a college where you think you'll be happy -- but try to remember that there's no way you can make a wrong decision. You're not the person you'll be four years from now, but odds are, wherever you decide to go, that person will be glad you did.
What inspired Chasing Yesterday, your first trilogy for young readers?
I was an only child, and instead of creating imaginary friends, I used to make up imaginary adventures for myself. I would ride my bike around the neighborhood pretending to be a junior secret agent on the run from forces of evil. Chasing Yesterday is the result of trying to get those stories down on paper -- and to capture the feeling of a lonely girl determined to figure out who she really is and who she can trust.
If you could have genetically-enhanced abilities - like J.D., or like the Bionic Woman - what would you want?
Teleportation, no question. There are (at least) two things I truly hate in this world: cold weather and being separated by annoyingly large distances from the people I care about. Teleportation would solve both those problems.
Callie for President focuses on a seventh-grade student council election. Did you ever run for a school office?
No way! I was incredibly shy and awkward at that (and pretty much every other) age. It would never have occurred to me to run for office. Even now, I shudder at the thought.
Did you write the story specifically for Scholastic's Candy Apple imprint, or was it completed prior to its acceptance?
I wrote it specifically for Candy Apple. The imprint is the brainchild of a couple people at Scholastic whom I deeply respect, so I was really excited to contribute to it.
How far in advance - especially with your series – do you plot the ending? Do you tend to stick to your original ending?
I try to plot the ending in detail from the beginning, but sometimes thing take an unexpected turn. Chasing Yesterday played out exactly as I had planned, but with the Seven Deadly Sins, I found myself going in a new direction after the fourth book. I think this is because that series was much more character-driven than Chasing Yesterday. As I got to know the characters better, they began to dictate the twists and turns of the storyline.
What can you tell us about your next trilogy?
This trilogy won't have a collective title, but the three books will be called SKINNED, CRASHED, and WIPED.
SKINNED comes out in September, and I'm already can't-catch-my-breath excited about it. It's a book I've wanted to write for a long, long time. I can't tell you exactly what it's about yet, but I figured that, as a hint, I would share some of the potential taglines my editor and I have been bouncing around:
If you can never die, can you ever truly live?
Some miracles come with a price.
Uglies meets The Bionic Woman.
She beat death -- but paid with her life.
And, the one we finally went with:
SKINNED - You never know what lies beneath.
Hopefully that gives you some tantalizing clues!
What are your ten all-time favorite books?
These days, my favorites come and go, but here are the ten books about which the teenage me would have said, "This book changed my life."
1. The World According to Garp, John Irving
2. It, Stephen King (special thanks to this book for getting me through the horror of eighth grade)
3. A Wrinkle In Time, Madeleine L'Engle
4. Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card
5. Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein
6. Jitterbug Perfume, Tom Robbins
7. Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand
8. The Sleepwalkers, Arthur Koestler
9. I, Robot, Isaac Asimov
10. Mother Night, Kurt Vonnegut
Honorable mention to The Book Thief, by Marcus Zusak and The Disreputable History of Frankie-Landau Banks, by E. Lockhart – two books that, as an adult, remind me of why I wanted to be a writer in the first place. They take my breath away.