Ivy Hopper is a teen columnist who talks with authors and fans of books that are currently being read by today’s youth. This week she talks with Claire Dean, author of Girlwood.
Ivy: Where did the idea come from to write Girlwood?
Claire: I had been writing adult fiction for years and was getting kind of burned out. Then my daughter, who was 11 at the time, came to me and asked why I’d never written a book for her. And all of a sudden I had a whole new energy and purpose. I wanted to write something totally different for my daughter and other girls, a novel of hope and magic, and the power of girls.
Ivy: How long did it take you to write this?
Claire: This book was actually one of my quickest. I wrote the rough draft in a little over a month, and was done with all the rewrites in less than six months. Usually that’s not the case at all! Normally, a book takes me anywhere from one to two years, and requires about 30 revisions. I think Girlwood was different because it was such a joy to write.
Ivy: Who was your favorite character to write about?
Claire: I love Polly, the main character, but I feel closest to Baba, her grandmother. I love her! Every time she stepped onto the page, I lit up. She was such an inspiration to me, a woman who didn’t care one whit what anyone thought of her and lived her life exactly the way she wanted to. I love her natural wisdom, knowledge of herbs, crazy, long hair, and serenity with the world.
Ivy: How did you come up with the characters in the book?
Claire: I began with a plot outline, and worked backwards to come up with interesting characters who would fit the book. With every book, I write out a comprehensive character chart, defining every character’s physical and emotional characteristics. But it’s only after I start writing that I really learn about my characters and start to see them in my mind. Often times, they’ll change as they go along, and I’ll have to go back and “fix” them in earlier chapters. They really do have minds of their own.
Ivy: How much of this is your real life?
Claire: The book began as pure fiction, but as always happens to me, I started acting like some of my characters halfway through. It’s through GIRLWOOD that I learned about foraging for edible and medicinal plants, and now that’s a huge part of my life. I’ve always been enamored with nature and the woods, but since writing this book, those feelings have gotten even stronger. I’m always out in wilderness, hiking or foraging. I’m also lucky enough to have a rustic cabin in the forest, much like the cabin Polly’s father owns, and that’s my “Girlwood,” my refuge from the real world.
Ivy: What did it feel like the day you got the call from your agent saying a publisher wanted to publish your book?
Claire: It was a really, really great day. I was actually on vacation, and my agent had to hunt me down. I was happy for myself, and I was really happy for my daughter. We all went out to celebrate that evening. As a writer for the past 20 years, I can tell you that those celebratory days are so rare, it’s important to cherish every second.
Ivy: Did you sell on just chapters and outline?
Claire: When I wrote adult novels, I would sell on just chapters and an outline, but because this was my first young adult novel, I wanted to write the whole book and make sure I got it right.
Ivy: How is it working with your editor?
Claire: My editor is fantastic. She understood exactly what I was trying to do with this novel, and helped make the story much better. She pushed me, but that’s what I wanted. It’s very hard to see your own work clearly, and my editor was very adept at knowing exactly what was wrong, and giving suggestions on how to fix it.
Ivy: Is your editor nurturing?
Claire: Very nurturing.
Ivy: Is this your first book?
Claire: My first young adult novel. Prior to GIRLWOOD, I published eight adult novels under the name Christy Yorke. Claire Dean is a pseudonym taken from my children’s names, Claire and Dean.
Ivy: Is there a sequel?
Claire: Not at the moment!
Ivy: How did you feel when you saw your book in stores for the first time?
Claire: Scared, but excited. It’s always been weird to me to see something I wrote on the shelf. The great thing about GIRLWOOD is that it has such a beautiful cover. Aya Kato did the artwork, and I couldn’t have asked for anything better. She captured the magic of the novel beautifully.
Ivy: Does your family treat you differently now that you are an author?
Claire: Heck, no. They know I’m still the same pajama-wearing, nature-loving semi-hermit I’ve always been.
Ivy: What age were you hoping would read this book?
Claire: I honestly see this as a book for girls of all ages, though it might be most appropriate for girls ages 11 to 18. I’ve had mothers and daughters read GIRLWOOD together, which is nice since the story covers three generations of strong, wonderful women.
Ivy: What is your writing process?
Claire: I start with a detailed scene outline and character sketches, then sit down every day to write the scenes I’ve drawn out. I write every morning, and sometimes in the afternoons, if I’m on a roll. It’s important to keep a routine. Writing is less about inspiration than it is about perspiration. I never worry about what I’m writing on a first, second, or even third draft. I know that most of my books take 30 revisions to get write, so I know I’m going to change it anyway. It’s important just to get something down.
Ivy: How old were you when you started writing?
Claire: I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, starting with poetry in elementary school. I began my professional writing career as soon as I graduated from college, which unbelievably was 23 years ago!
Ivy: What do you want readers to leave GIRLWOOD with?
Claire: I hope that readers of GIRLWOOD will come away with an appreciation for nature, and perhaps even an increased faith in things they can’t see. It’s also my hope that girls will read about Polly and her friends, and realize that they each have their own strength and magic and, like the girls of GIRLWOOD, there is nothing they can’t do.
Ivy: What is your website address?
Ivy: Anything else that you want to comment on?
Claire: I live in Boise, Idaho with my husband, Robert, and two children. Robert and I are childhood sweethearts. We met on a blind date when I was 15 and he was 18, and we’ve been married for 23 years. We grew up in the Los Angeles area and moved to Boise in 1990. We built a house in the mountains and lived there for 8 years, only reluctantly coming back to civilization when our kids reached school age. My daughter (the Claire of Claire Dean) is 14, and my son (the Dean of Claire Dean) is 12. We love our bright green house and the jungle garden we’ve planted around it, but our favorite place is our VERY rustic cabin–a 1940ss electricity-less log house tucked beneath the pines and between two rivers.