As writers, many of us dream of that mentor who will teach us and support us, enabling our writing to enter the next level of professionalism and skill. If you’ve ever had that thought, today’s interview with YA author and biographer Léna Roy might make you jealous. Why? Because Léna Roy’s mentor was her grandmother, Madeleine L’Engle, Author of A Wrinkle in Time.
Now, as a gifted writer and teacher herself, Léna continues this mentoring work with students. I’m overjoyed that she joined me for this interview.
Léna Roy published her first novel, Edges (FSG) in late 2010. She is the Regional Manager for Writopia Lab in Westchester and Connecticut, and her writing was featured in the essay collection for middle school kids and their teachers: Breakfast on Mars and 37 Other Essays to Devour: Your Favorite Authors Take on the Dreaded Essay Assignment. She has written, along with her sister Charlotte Jones Voiklis, a middle grade biography of their grandmother, Madeleine L’Engle to be published by FSG in 2018.
Since 2014, Léna has been recognized by the Scholastic Awards “as an outstanding educator whose dedication, commitment, and guidance are represented by student work selected for national honors.” Mentoring has long been the connective tissue in Léna’s life, whether through her work with at-risk adolescents in Utah, California, and New York—or through her own writing discipline, as fostered by her late grandmother. It was her grandmother who taught Léna to transform the solitary nature of writing into a sacred sense of community, where her art and the art of others can flourish.
Q & A with YA Author and Writing Mentor Léna Roy
Kris: What is the most common misconception about editing that you see in your writing students?
Léna: Oh my goodness. Where do I start? Editing is not just about grammar and mechanics! (That’s its own thing.) First of all, I like to think of editing as revision, so much more fun, don’t you think? I work with kids and teens, so they are used to having to rewrite things, but my goal is to get them to fall in love with revision. You start with a vision, and then once you start writing, maybe the vision changes. Maybe your character does something that seems . . . out of character. But you love it! Then you need to go back to the beginning and add more texture. I want my writers to become grammar nerds too, to see the power it has to help you communicate your thoughts effectively.
Kris: Tell me about your editing process. Do you edit as you write, or does it all happen at the end?
Léna: A bit of both. I definitely err on the “pantser” side, otherwise I wouldn’t get anything done. For the few folks who don’t know what I mean, I’ll explain. In writing, we are all on a spectrum between “plotters” on one end and “pantsers” on the other. The plotters have an outline and know what they are going to write. The pantsers write by the seat of their pants, wanting to discover what’s happening as they write. We all need both. I need to give myself permission to blaze through and write that shitty first draft. Then I can play, I can “re-vision,” I can “plot” and see what makes sense. I can add more dimensions and nuanced motions to characters and their responses to what is happening around them.
Kris: Do you have a favorite part of the revision process?
Léna: I love the whole thing! And I love being edited. I love the conversations that can happen.
Kris: What would you argue is the most valuable part of your editing process?
Léna: Seeing the arc of the narrative and being open to killing things (no matter how darling they are) that just don’t work anymore.
Kris: Absolutely. And it can be so hard sometimes, but looking at the whole gives a better picture of what needs to be there and what doesn’t. How does knowing your audience affect how you revise your work?
Léna: I tell anyone in my workshops that they need to write from the heart and not worry about the audience. But when you are writing for school, you have an audience of one—your teacher! So you have to find out what they want to hear and what they like. Editing your work for another teacher, or for the blogosphere, or for children, or adults is very different.
Kris: Do you have a word pair or grammar rule that you wish more people understood?
Léna: This pet peeve has been passed down to me from my grandmother and mother. The word “nauseous” is so misused it’s become (almost) correct. If you are feeling nauseous, that means you are making other people feel sick. If you do indeed have tummy troubles, then you are feeling “nauseated.”
Kris: Oh man, that was one of my favorite tips to add into Get a Grip on Your Grammar. So many people don’t seem to realize it! And I’m kind of giddy that Madeleine L’Engle and I have a shared pet peeve! Speaking of your grandmother, I know you’re working with your sister on her biography. How does it change your revision process when you have a partner in crime?
Léna: I loved working on this book with my sister, Charlotte Jones Voiklis! We very much thought of the audience (10 and up) while we were revising. It really helped us kill our darlings!
Kris: The wisdom learned from your grandmother about the writing process was probably invaluable. Did you have any take-aways from her on editing specifically?
Léna: She always had my grandfather read her work and give her feedback, which was invaluable. She taught me the beauty of layering dimensions in revising—giving time for the characters become more real.
Kris: That’s a wonderful answer. It’s such an important piece of the process. And last question: where’s your favorite place to pick up a book that doesn’t need any editing?
Léna: I actually love going to my local library!
I like that answer. Local bookstores and local libraries are great places to find mentors on the other side of things—the reading side. And reading mentors can teach us so much, suggesting the perfect books to put in our hands and cultivating our imaginations.
There were so many good thoughts here. Personally, I have a craving to dive back into some editing work now. Anyone else?
Thank you so much, Léna Roy, and happy writing, everyone!
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