It is a truth universally acknowledged that you can’t go round a street corner in New Hampshire without bumping into an author. Of course, in a modern, wireless, internet-community world, bumping into might be more virtual than physical, but it is true that New Hampshire is positively bursting at the seams with wonderful authors. One of these is Benjamin Ludwig who has recently published his widely admired debut YA, Ginny Moon.
I was first drawn to the novel when I heard it discussed on NHPR (the US equivalent of the BBC Radio 4 and so my airwave companion on this side of the Atlantic). I then spotted Ginny Moon on the table of my publishers, HarperCollins, at YALC (the Young Adult Literature Conference), this summer in London. I saw it as a sign that we were meant to get in touch so, as soon as I got back to the US, that’s exactly what I did. And, of course, Benjamin was gracious and generous in his response. We exchanged our novels by post – I sent him Wishbones and he sent me Ginny Moon, and he kindly answers my questions below. We hope to meet ‘for real’ sometime soon, maybe in Live Juice or at Gibson’s in Concord.
For now, I hope you enjoy getting to know a little more about the life and writing of this talented writer.
Which three words would you use to describe yourself?
What do you love most about writing?
I love that I get the opportunity to say a thing, and then fix it ten (or twenty!) times before anyone sees it.
Writing is thinking, a way to externalize your thoughts – and when they’re out there, right in front of you, you’re able to tinker with them. Writing lets me think through things in a way that I couldn’t if I was just spinning the gears in my head.
What do you find hardest about writing?
I wish I could do it for longer periods of time without stopping.When I’m immersed in a project, I’m deep, deep inside it, and can’t see the edges. I have to step back and give myself some distance in order to know what needs to be done and why. It’s sort of like the old adage: Can’t see the forest for the trees. I take a lot of breaks when I write. Fortunately, there’s always laundry to do, or dogs to take out, or walks to take.
Where do you write?
In the early morning I write on the couch in the living room. But after the kids are off to school, I take over the dining room table. I spread everything out: computer, folders full of notes, pencils, coffee cup, etc.
Do you have any particular writing habits or rituals?
I like to write all my new material early, early, early in the morning, before I’m fully awake. Then I read through it all later on, and look for what’s useful.
A lot of the time, there’s not very much! But by giving myself permission to be half-awake when I’m working, I find that I can be a lot more creative. Most of my best material comes to me in those early morning sessions.
What inspired you to write Ginny Moon?
It was Ginny’s voice, no doubt about it. It came to me in a very mysterious, exciting way. Once I heard it, I had no choice but to write from its perspective.
That, and I’m a foster parent, and had a lot of foster kids in my classes when I taught public school. Those two things together come together in the book.
Many reviewers have commented on Ginny Moon’s smart, fresh and original voice. Did you work at this or did Ginny’s voice just come naturally?
Ginny’s voice came to me in a very mysterious, exciting way. I came home one night in 2013 from my daughter’s Special Olympics basketball practice with a voice ringing in my ears. It wasn’t my daughter’s voice, and it wasn’t the voice of any of the other kids I’d just been talking with at practice.
It was a desperate, quirky, driving voice – one that demanded to be written.
So I sat and I wrote, and immediately saw that I had something beyond exciting. After that I wrote out an outline – but Ginny refused to do what the outline said. And thank goodness! Her direction proved to be much better.
I believe your personal experience of adopting a child inspired this novel – could you tell us a bit more about this?
My wife and I adopted our daughter in 2009, and our journey was an easy one. Our daughter is nothing like Ginny at all. I suppose I could have written a memoir, but I’m a storyteller at heart, inspired by adventure and drama, tragedy and comedy. Such things simply didn’t exist in my real life.
What kind of child were you?
The kind that read everything he could get his hands on.
Stories were the most important thing in the world to me, growing up. Whether it was acting them out, reading them, or just telling stories with friends, that’s what I loved to do.
Which fictional character would you most like to meet?
I’d love to sit down and chat with the clown/fool from Twelfth Night. He’s one of my favorite characters.
Which book do you wish you’d written?
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Do you have any writing tics that you’re forever editing out?
I don’t think so. I mean, every book I write demands a completely different style, so if there’s ever a tic then it’s exclusive to the project I’m working on at the moment. A larger process-oriented / story-telling tendency that I’d like to avoid is that often catches me up is that the most important plot element in the book usually doesn’t reveal itself to me until after the first draft is written. I’m more a re-writer than a writer, because of it, but that seems to be the nature of the work. For me anyway.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
Mostly I’m with my children, getting them off to school, or bringing them home from school, playing and reading with them. When I’m not with the fam, I like to chop wood for the stove, and to go for walks.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’m in the second book of Ovid’s The Metamorphoses.
What’s the most important lesson life has taught you?
That I need to wait a minute. No matter how good or bad something might seem, my perspective is limited. If I wait a while, I’ll be able to see what’s going on from a better vantage point. Snap judgments and decisions are something I always avoid.
Which writer do you most admire?
Jim Heynen, author of The One Room Schoolhouse. Best book I’ve ever read. I re-read it once every year.
I gather you used to be a teacher. How did this experience influence or inspire your YA writing?
I started teaching as a middle-school language arts teacher, then became a mentor for new teachers. My experience in schools inspired me to set a lot of my work in schools.
What song or piece of music would you choose as the theme tune to your life?
I’d pick Carmina Burana for the theme of my life. The burning swan, the Wheel of Fortune, the tavern — I love those pieces. I sang for a few years with a chorus that performed Renaissance polyphony, so we sang a lot of Byrd, Tallis, Mozart, and a good deal of chant, too. But Carmina was by far the most exciting, I think because it ranged through such diverse emotions and themes.
What’s your favourite quotation about writing?
I’m not a very good writer, but I’m excellent rewriter.
What are your top tips for writing a great Young Adult novel?
Hmm. Probably to include coming-of-age themes. Otherwise, there’s not a lot of difference between YA and fiction for adults. More and more, people are understanding that young adults are adults who are young – but that doesn’t make them children. If Shakespeare wrote for adults, but we teach his work in high school, why make much of a distinction between adult and YA literature?
Benjamin Ludwig lives in Barrington, NH. His debut YA novel, Ginny Moon, is published by Parker Row Books | HarperCollins. He is currently working on a second literary novel. You can follow him on twitter, Facebook and find out more about him on his website: benjaminludwig.com