Anna Shinoda

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Behind the Book: Learning Not to Drown

Behind the Book: Learning Not to Drown

Originally published on Pulseit.com March 31, 2014

Where I grew up, there was both a swamp and a lake. I remember the lake as being icy cold but everyone spent the summers swimming there anyway.

The swamp was across town: a low area that every spring would become a small pond of thick mud and sharp reeds that smelt like rot. When it was wet, I was afraid of going near it. I was sure I’d get sucked in, and I’d slowly die as I inhaled breath after breath of silty water.

But by the end of summer the swamp became the perfect place to explore.

One year, I was playing “war” with a group of boys I babysat and their neighbors. We were running through the dry swamp with our squirt guns. It was hot and humid, and the lowest areas of the ground were still thick with algae and mosquito-filled mud, but we raced through the growth and the muck and didn’t care that our clothes got dirty and our shoes turned brown and swishy. It was war, and we needed to shoot the enemy with as many rounds of water as possible.

I crawled out of the undergrowth looking for the boys, getting shot squarely in the face by the enemy as I did so. Before I could shoot him back, I heard the scream of one of my boys.

Tearing through the thicket, I found the younger brother in a thick cave of branches, still screaming, pointing at a long, dirty bone.

I nudged it with my toe until it flipped over. The youngest boy suggested it was a human bone. It was long enough. The shape was right. One of them plucked the bandana off his head and we used that to pick it up and pass it around, the buzz of mosquitos filling the silence. There were scrape marks and we debated, then decided it was a bear that had been chewing on it. The bone was tossed down and we ran to the kids’ house.

We didn’t play much in the swamp after that. We blamed the bugs, or the possibility of bears. But we all knew it was because of the bone. It was human enough for us to believe it was, but not enough human for any of us to tell an adult. I may very well have told one of my brothers. I have a vague recollection of the two of us crouching in the small cave of bushes, gazing at the bone and him dismissing it as a dog treat and me as an idiot.

I’m not 100% sure if it all happened, and if I were to ask my brother, he may or may not remember. That’s the tricky thing about memories: they don’t come as a complete story, they implant in each person’s head differently, and can flee at any given moment. I know for sure there was a swamp and I know for sure there was a lake. And I know they both had a profound affect on my childhood.

When I was writing Learning Not to Drown I knew the lake was not just a setting – it was a character. It was complex, not just the lake that I spent lazy summer days swimming in, but also the swamp that I became so terrified of.

In the same way I combined the lake and swamp into one, I took my own memories of having an incarcerated brother and mixed them up with my imagination and with stories I had heard from many different sources – friends with incarcerated family members, people with loved ones who had addiction problems, and strangers who wrote their stories on message boards. I ground it all up until it no longer represented any one person, but a multitude that came together to create Clare, Luke, and Peter.

 

 

 

 

From DearTeenMe.com

I wrote this in February of 2014 for DearTeenMe.com.  It appears that website is no longer in service, so I have transferred it here so it may live on.

Dear Teen Me,

You are standing in the door your grandmother’s kitchen watching a bat do circles around the room. It’s sticking close to the ceiling, so your mom has run to grab a broom. Your brother hears the commotion, walks into the room, and with one smooth movement grabs the iron skillet from the stovetop, and whacks the bat out of the air.

There is a moment of complete relief. The bat, which followed you up from the basement when you grabbed a jar of grandma’s canned peaches, has essentially been taken care of. There is also a moment of sorrow: you didn’t want the bat dead; you only wanted it to leave.

Your brother puts on a glove and gently picks the limp rodent up. Tomorrow will be trash day, so you follow him outside to the curb. He starts to open the can, but instead decides to place it on top of the lid. In case it wakes up. In case it was only in shock.

To your mom and grandma, he’s the hero of the night.

He will keep going outside to look at the trash.

There will be more bats, later that month, but he won’t use the frying pan again. He’ll use the broom, eventually pushing them out the kitchen door.

You’ll spend a lot of time thinking about that summer. Later, your brother will commit another crime, go to prison yet again, and be released for a short while. At this point, you’ll be in your 20s, with a degree in Communications that has gotten you nowhere even close to figuring out what you want to do with you life. On the weekends and holidays, you will try your hardest to bring your brother closer to the family, thinking that maybe you can be the one to change him. You’ll pick him up from his shack, even though you are a little terrified every time you go there because the single room he shares with his friend is in the middle of the woods, and you don’t like the way his roommate’s eyes follow you. But you’ll keep going there to pick him up because you want to do anything you can to keep him out of prison, and you think maybe including him in family functions will somehow fix that.

But it won’t. It can’t.

The next time he goes to prison, he’ll be found guilty of sexual battery.

It is going to take you a long time to process that as Truth. You’ll want to believe he is more the guy that put the bat on top of the trash than the one that killed the bat in the first place. You’ll make excuses for him. You’ll spend years in therapy trying to figure it all out. And you’ll eventually take every emotion you’ve gone through and give it to a fictional girl named Clare. And in helping her accept the truth about her family, you’re going to accept the truth about yours.

One day you’ll have to make the decision of whether or not to have your brother in your life. You’ll need to consider things like your own emotional well-being and whether you trust him around your children. It will be one of the most difficult and painful decisions you will ever make. But it will also be one of the best.

But right now, the two of you are sitting on grandma’s porch, rocking in rocking chairs and watching a delightful lightning storm while you wait to see if the bat is okay. You’re talking about hobbies – his are cars and girls and parties, yours are running and knitting and reading – you don’t have much in common, but you enjoy each other’s company. That’s fine for now.

Mike Shinoda’s LEARNING NOT TO DROWN Playlist

Ready for something fun?

In a movie, everything is completed for you and handed to you – music, details of the setting, what the characters look like, how their voices sound.  But books let the reader finish the story, fill in the details based on their own experiences and tastes.   So, when my friends over at Atheneum/Simon & Schuster asked me if I’d like to put together a soundtrack for Learning Not to Drown, I politely declined.  I don’t want to tell anyone what kind of music Clare and her friends might be listening to because part of the magic is that the readers can fill their soundtrack.

However, when I told my husband Mike about the idea, he got excited.  “I want to do that.  It’d be fun to put together a playlist of what I think Clare would listen to.”

So….if you are wondering what songs were bouncing around in Mike Shinoda’s head when he read Learning Not To Drown, here is his playlist:

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Some Q&As… A’d

Hi all – I’ve been getting some questions about Learning Not to Drown on my twitter feed so I’d like to take a minute to answer some of them here.

1. When is your book coming out?

Learning Not to Drown will be in stores April 1, 2014.

2. Will it be published in (fill in your language/country here)?

I hope so!  But it depends on a lot of factors.  The foreign rights department over at Atheneum is working on it.  I’ll let you know when I have word from them.  It will be published in English first.

3. What is your book about?

Learning Not to Drown is about a 17-year-old girl named Clare whose older brother has been in and out of prison for most of her life.  When his actions jeopardize her future, Clare has to decide if sticking up for herself means selfishly turning her back on family… or if it’s the only way to keep herself from drowning along with them.

4.  Will you do a book tour?

I plan to do something, but I don’t have concrete plans on what that means…for updates, make sure to follow me on Twitter.

5. Can we have a book club meeting for your book?

Sure!  How about sometime in May next year?

6. Can I still be in your Book Club?

Yes!  Everyone is welcome.  The next book club will be August 15th at 1pm PST.  We’ll be discussing Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta.

7. What kinds of books do you read in your book club?

We read young adult novels (14 years old and up).  I take suggestions during book club meetings and we vote via a poll here on my website.

8. Where else can I find you online?

Twitter: @AnnaShinoda

Instagram @AnnaShinoda

Goodreads:http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5316039.Anna_Shinoda

Fainting From Excitement: Learning Not To Drown Bound Galleys

I’m not one to use the word SQUEEEEEE! lightly.  Or ever, for that matter.  But good mother of all that is holy, I am holding in my hand a bound galley of Learning Not To Drown.  

Learning not to drown galleys

Unfortunately, the book won’t be out until April 1, 2014, the on-sale date that is “subject to change without notice.”

The Surprising Truth About Jury Duty

Jury duty.  It’s not that bad.  Yep.  I just said it.  Jury duty is not that bad.

I’ve been getting jury duty summons since I’ve turned eighteen.  Before I even open the envelope, I get heart palpitations and start thinking of all the reasons they should excuse me.  For days leading up to the call in date, I nervously glance at the envelope, hoping that I won’t actually need to report.

When I got the summons this time it was no different, but instead of freaking out about it, I reminded myself that new experiences are like little pieces of gold to add to my writer’s treasure chest of stuff to pull from when creating a story.

Then the Friday before I had to report in, my next round of work on Learning Not to Drown arrived.  This time, it was my first pass galleys which was super exciting for two reasons: 1. I got to see what the page layouts will actually look like on the inside of the book and 2. this was possibly my FINAL CHANCE to make any changes!

So naturally when I was selected to be juror number 7 on a civil trial that was projected to last 3-4 weeks, my first response (silently in my head, of course, as I was taking the oath) was “you’re f&@*ing kidding me.”

Everyone else’s first response when I told them was, “Didn’t you try to get out of it?”

Read more…

All Authors Lie on the Floor and Cry During Edits, Don’t They?

In the mail today I received a little gift from my editor: her latest round of editorial suggestions for Learning Not to Drown.  But this round is different.

For the last two drafts, my editor had sent me a big long editorial letter.  It’s usually around 9 or 10 single space pages.  Out of those pages one half page is dedicated to telling me how awesome my writing is.  The rest tells me the areas that need major work.  Attached via rubber band to that editorial letter is my manuscript with her thoughts also written in the margins.  When I get a fat envelope in the mail from Atheneum, I first have a feeling of complete exhilaration and I immediately rip it open as fast as I can because there is no way I can wait a second longer.  Really, I’m wanting to read that half page and just stop, because who doesn’t love to be told that something they have created is amazing?  Then I read the rest of the letter.  Reality sets in, but I’m still thrilled, and my outlook is very positive.  So I start.  Inevitably I get overwhelmed.  SO much needs to be fixed.   And my manuscript is so long.  And it will take forever.  And what makes me think that I am a good enough writer/this is a good enough story that anyone will want to read my book anyway?  All of this usually ends with me crying on the floor and questioning why I write in the first place.  Which is very dramatic and a pretty immature thing to do, but I’d like to think that every author lies on the floor and weeps at least once during edits.  After I get that out of my system, I get myself up off the floor and work.  Despite all the doubt I had in myself and in my ability to improve my writing, somehow it all gets done.  The book has improved.  It’s much better than the last draft.

Today, when the stuffed envelope came in the mail, there was no editorial letter.

No major issues with the plot.  Or character development, or timelines or settings.  Or character philosophy.  Or metaphors.  The major issues have, apparently, all been handled.

Just line edits.  Details.  Changing words and sentences.  Cutting out the stuff the story really doesn’t need.  I kind of can’t believe that I’ve finally made it to this point.

Oh, and this time I have an actual deadline.  So I’d better start working.  Now.

My Writing Process: Visions, Revisions and Hoarding Bad Writing

I’m not the kind of girl who outlines when I write novels. When I was in college, I studied both interpersonal communications and speech communications and the speech side was all about the outline. Later when I worked in PR, I learned the best way to write a good press release was to slap down words in a formulaic fashion then watch as journalists regurgitated my words in their own reviews, previews and interviews. So I know how to use an outline, I know how to use a formula, and I know the benefits that can come from both. But when I sit down to write a novel, the best way for me to get from one page to another is to write the story as the thoughts come. Sometime this is in chronological order. Most of the time it is not.

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