I wish I could say that SHORT HISTORY came from some big idea, but it didn’t. It really just started with a character.
I teach 8th grade ELA, which I run as a Writing Workshop, and every year we do a pretty in-depth unit on fiction writing. We always start the process by developing a believable main character using a simple questionnaire—about twenty questions answered in the voice of that character, almost like you’re sitting down across the table from your character and recording whatever he or she says to you. (I still start all my stories this way, with about 20-30 pages of character responses before I ever try writing the first chapter.)
About seven or eight years ago, I’d finished my first short story with my students—a 30-page story about a dweeby 8th-grade orchestra member sitting in in-school suspension—and I loved how it turned out. So when I sat down and started a new character with my students the next year, I ended up loving this kid even more: he was funny, and self-deprecating, and stuck inside his own head all the time, and he lived and breathed basketball. He was Matt.
So before I ever knew where I was going with the story—before I knew I’d even attempt to turn it into a novel—I had this character, this voice, that I loved. (I’m still not sure I ever figured out plot.)
How long did you work on A SHORT HISTORY OF THE GIRL NEXT DOOR?
About four years, from the time I started Matt with my MC Questionnaire in front of my students, to the day I finished the actual novel. Besides the parts of the process I worked on in front of my students as a model, most of the book was written over the summers.
That first summer, when I first thought, I wonder if I can actually write a novel, I was a complete disaster. I’d read Stephen King’s On Writing multiple times, and was convinced that if I was really going to be a writer, I needed my little desk under the eave, and I needed to close the door. Which was probably really freaking annoying for my wife and my daughters, and not terribly productive for me. I would hole myself up in our bedroom at a desk I stole from my daughter’s room, and then be annoyed by any distraction in the house, mostly because I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. Thank goodness at least Matt was funny.
I relaxed a bit after that, though I was no more convinced I’d ever finish or that anything would ever come of it. After the third summer, I was maybe two-thirds of the way through the book, and stalling, and I decided to take some grad courses in writing to force myself to keep going through the school year. I took a couple of wonderful classes through McDaniel College’s Writing for Children and Young Adults Program online, which, beyond exposing me to some brilliant writers and providing a tremendous boost to my own confidence, did force me to plan out the rest of the book. So about a month into Summer #4, I actually finished. Which was both surreal and wonderful.
And then I got to start querying. Yay!
What's your writing ritual like? Do you listen to music? Work at home or at a coffee shop or the library, etc?
Besides the pieces I work on at school alongside my students, most of my writing is done at home, much of it over the summer, at a small desk in our den. I drink an alarming amount of black coffee while I write, and I almost always have music playing. For SHORT HISTORY, I pretty much played Bon Iver on a loop.
I actually prefer to write longhand, in cheap composition books with cheap ballpoint pens. I need to be able to make a mess of the page, with arrows and asterisks and bulleted lists and notes to myself—I’ve got post-it notes all over the place. Then, after I’ve written a few scenes or chapters, I go back and type, revising as I go. Then back into the composition books again. It’s messy, and it’s slow, but that’s just how my brain works. And by the time I type to the very end, it’s a pretty clean finished product, at least.
I wish I were cool enough to say I had a specific, preferred model of pen that I write with exclusively. But I’m not that cool. Mostly, I like blue.
What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers?
It’s okay to fake it. Seriously. I just finished writing my second novel, and I still feel like I’m faking it—like I still shouldn’t really call myself a writer. But even if you feel that way—and I bet most of us feel that way—go ahead and pretend like you’re a real-live writer anyway: join an organization like SCBWI, take a class or a workshop, find a writing friend or two, do your research, keep reading and writing, and pretend that you’re already so successful that you can write about whatever the hell makes you truly happy. (I wrote about Nerds, basketball, corked wiffle ball bats, and almost inappropriately good gravy.)
ABOUT THE BOOKA Short History of the Girl Next Door
by Jared Reck
Knopf Books for Young Readers
The unrequited love of the girl next door is the centerpiece of this fiercely funny, yet heart-breaking debut novel.
Fifteen-year-old Matt Wainwright is in turmoil. He can’t tell his lifelong best friend, Tabby, how he really feels about her; his promising basketball skills are being overshadowed by his attitude on the court, and the only place he feels normal is in English class, where he can express his inner thoughts in quirky poems and essays. Matt is desperately hoping that Tabby will reciprocate his feelings; but then Tabby starts dating Liam Branson, senior basketball star and all-around great guy. Losing Tabby to Branson is bad enough; but, as Matt soon discovers, he’s close to losing everything that matters most to him.
Humorous and heart-wrenching, A Short History of the Girl Next Door is perfect for readers who fell in love with All the Bright Places' Finch or Stargirl’s Leo.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jared Reck lives in Hanover, Pennsylvania, with his wife and two daughters. He teaches 8th grade Language Arts, where he has been reading awesome books and writing alongside his students for the past twelve years. A Short History of the Girl Next Door is his first novel.
Learn more about Jared at jaredreckbooks.com and follow him on Twitter @reckj.
Have you had a chance to read A SHORT HISTORY OF THE GIRL NEXT DOOR yet? I loved Jared's idea of interviewing his protagonist - who else likes to start with a character interview? And what's the quirkiest question on your list? Share your thoughts about the interview in the comments!
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