Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Speaking with Marni Bates, Author of Teen Memoir "Marni"

Marni Bates is the author of Marni in the "Louder Than Words" series, which was selected for the New York Public Library's Stuff for the Teen Age List (2010).

Marni, who suffers from trichotillomania (an obsessive need to pull out her hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes), alternates her time between her home in Ashland, Oregon, and Lewis & Clark College. When not studying or writing, she can be found rollerblading, bargaining at garage sales, and watching copious amounts of TV — strictly for artistic inspiration, of course.

The Louder than Words series, edited by Deborah Reber,, is the first-ever series of teen-authored memoirs, written by teens for teens.

What led you to start writing?
My fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Badger, had everyone write a short story in her class. Mine was about fairytale characters that complained and commiserated with each other while children slept. After that, I was hooked. Mrs. Badger also took me aside and said she wanted me to remember her when my books were published someday. She knew I was a writer long before I did. I’m incredibly lucky to have received such encouragement and support.

How did you decide which parts of your experience to include in your memoir?
The first thing I did was pan my memory for pivotal moments and people. I searched for anecdotes, or better yet, flashes of awareness. For example, I wanted to capture the moment I realized my dad didn’t really know me and couldn’t truly love me. And I wanted to write about the pivotal moments that led up to that epiphany. My goal was for the readers to feel like they knew me. Which meant that I had to show the people, places, and things that shaped me into the person that I am. I also think this approach helps people understand that my trichotillomania (obsessive need to pull out my hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes) is just a part of my life. It’s important to me that people don’t just define me as “the girl who pulls.” Because there’s so much more to me than that. Just like there is more to someone who suffers from anorexia than an unhealthy relationship with food.

Were there any sections/details you eliminated that you wish you kept?
Nope. I don’t think I eliminated much of anything. Actually, there are lots of things I wish I could add! My book was being printed when I remembered several experiences that would have fit in perfectly. Sadly, it was not to be. If I were to make one change to the book now, though, I’d alter all of the names. A few people were not very happy about the lack of effort I made to conceal their identities. In hindsight, I should have done more to ensure their comfort.

What was your favorite part of writing the book? The greatest challenge?
There is no particular part that strikes me as my favorite. Editing was the most grueling, but it was also fascinating and rewarding for me to watch my work tighten. At times it was difficult to channel painful events from my past, but my book was a way to battle the snarky voice in my head that says I’ll never be good enough. And expressing myself, saying both in public and on paper that I have trichotillomania, was every bit as good for me as therapy. I’m a stronger, happier person because of my autobiography. So I look back on the process with a fondness that I didn’t always feel when I had a French test and an essay due the same week as a chapter on my pulling.

Each author page has a "play list" for her book. Why did you choose those songs for your soundtrack?
I had such a great time making my playlist! I have a horrible tendency to glob onto a handful of songs and play them non-stop until even I am sick of them. The songs I chose have somehow managed to survive my endless loop intact. I listened to all of them at some point during my writing process and owe them for preserving a large chunk of my sanity. The hardest part for me was limiting the number of songs I put on the list! I tried to get a blend of fast-pace upbeat songs with slower more contemplative songs. The one song I had to include was "Come As You Were" by The Bird and the Bee, because it reminded me to stay honest with myself. Hopefully, I’ll be able to update the list at some point to include some of my more recent favorites.

Who are some of your favorite authors?
I highly recommend Meg Cabot, Gordon Korman, and Julie Andrews. All three of them write wonderful books for teenagers that make you wish that you could see ghosts, or you knew someone from Pefkakia, or you could go to Whangdoodleland, or that you could be best friends with the main characters. That’s how I’ve always felt anyway. Which might explain why I think of them as YA royalty that I’d do anything to meet. Because that doesn’t make me sound stalker-y or anything ...

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started writing?
I wish I had realized the value in a limited amount of advice. The first novel I wrote my mom e-mailed to a number of her friends, and everyone came back with a boatload of comments for me, the majority of which were nit-picky or straight up awful! Because how do you respond when someone tells you they hope your character finds God and inner peace? I’d have saved myself a very painful headache by just trusting my instincts and listening to two other people, three tops.

Advice for young writers?
Write for yourself and write what you want to read. If you find something funny there’s a very good chance that other peoples will too. And if, absolute worst-case scenario, no one else enjoys it, well, you did. Which means, no matter what it is, it can’t possibly be a failure or a waste of your time. And don’t forget that you are the writing expert when it comes to your story. Trust that.

What's next?
Books and more books! I’ve got one in the works and an old manuscript that needs a bit more polishing before I’ll be satisfied. My goal is to write at least one book every year for the rest of my life. I’ve managed it for the past two years, so hopefully my writing streak will continue. I’m a full-time college student, and am toying with the idea of being an au pair for a year after I’ve graduated. Then maybe I’ll look for an internship somewhere. For now, I’m just concentrating on writing what makes me happy.

1 comment:

  1. I edited Marni's book, but it's so interesting to hear her insights on the process and the aftermath of having it published. She is truly an incredible, and talented, young woman...can't wait to see what she writes next!