Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Unread - Interview with Stephanie Theban

Another great as yet unpublished writer has agreed to let me interview her for The Unread. She's also one of my wonderful critique partners! Stephanie Theban is one hard working lady. When she's not busy with her high powered job or taking her kids to their numerous sporting events, she's writing for children and studying her craft. She's on her way to the SCBWI LA conference soon. Wish I was going with her. I know she's going to learn all sorts of great stuff and meet lots of awesome people who love kidlit as much as she does. Here's a chance for you to meet Stephanie:

So Stephanie, why do you write?

What a good question! Writing is hard work, so anyone who writes has to have a passion for it. My passion for writing comes out of my love of stories. When I read a story that takes me out of my everyday life, I feel like the author has given me such a gift – the ability to be someone else, somewhere else, doing something else. It’s not that my life is bad - I have a very good life – but how wonderful it is that I’m not limited to my own life. The more I enjoyed the writings of others, the more I wanted to create my own stories. I want to share with others the joy that books bring to me. Besides, it’s fun to make stuff up!

(That's beautiful-to think of a great story as a gift. I love that!)

How many manuscripts have you written?

One middle grade novel, one young adult novel, eight picture books, one chapter book, so a total of eleven.

(Go Stephanie!)

What have you done with them?

My marketing efforts have been sporadic, at best. I’ve spent more time trying to learn craft than I have spent marketing. Some of the rejections have been encouraging, with remarks like “made me laugh out loud,” “well-constructed plot”, “adorable character”, and “better than most of the submissions I receive.” It’s really scary to send your work out into the world for people to criticize and reject. However, as one of my friends keeps telling me, no one ever knocks on the door to ask if they could buy a manuscript, so I’m going to get braver and get my stuff out there.

(It sounds like you're doing pretty well with what you do get out there! Too bad there aren't door to door manuscript buyers. That would be awesome.)

What are you working on now? Tell us about your work-in-progress.

It’s a middle grade novel about a boy who moves from an urban academy for gifted students to a tiny, rural, school that lacks a science lab and a sixth grade teacher.

I’m also doing research on another project. It’s historical fiction, and will be a bit tricky, as I want to tell the story from both sides of the historical event and have the two main characters cross paths.

(I can't wait to see how you tell your historical story from both sides. Interesting.)

How long have you been writing and what keeps you going?

When I was in sixth grade, I wrote a story about a girl who became a witch. (See below for more about my sixth grade obsession with witchcraft). I’m sure that I wrote fiction before that, but that’s the first I remember clearly. My essay that made my middle class home sound like a shack in the woods got posted for parents’ night. It amused me to tell the truth in a way that gave a false impression. My mother was not nearly as amused.

My serious writing efforts started five or six years ago. After my first SCBWI conference, I hid out for over six months. I was afraid to attend any events, convinced that everyone else knew everything about writing and I knew nothing. Then a postcard arrived in the mail. The Regional Advisor for Oklahoma’s chapter of SCBWI, Anna Myers, was signing books in a local bookstore. When she signed a book for me, she asked me to a Christmas party for writers. Well, she didn’t just invite me. She ordered me to show up. She has been encouraging me ever since. She was the first of many wonderful people I’ve met in the writing world. When the journey seems discouraging, I connect with other writers, and get my mojo back.

(Writers are awesome.)

How do you make the time?

I do have a stressful full-time job, and a family, but I have a great support system. My retired husband is fabulous and has taken on many of the daily household tasks. I can’t write every day, but on weekends or occasional days off, I ignore the clutter, close the door, and write.

How does your family feel about your writing?

My husband drove me to my first SCBWI conference. I had recently had surgery, and couldn’t drive the hundred miles. I had decided that I would have to miss it. He said, “No, this is important. I’ll take you.” My brother is a writer. We don’t live near one another, but we exchange manuscripts, helpful hints and encouragement via email. My mother has been heard to say, “How did I end up with two children with writing ambitions?” It’s okay, Mom, your third child is sane and doing well. My kids like it because I’m much less likely to fuss about clutter and unmade beds when I’m in my own little imaginary world. Actually, my kids are both avid readers and want me to get a book published. They think it’s cool that I have met some of the people that write the books they love, too.

What are your writing goals and what have you done to further your writing goals?

So, okay, a lot of people say that they write for the love of the writing. And that is true, but I want to see my books in bookstores and libraries. And I want those books to be excellent. After all, it wouldn’t be any fun to have stuff out that embarrasses me. That’s why I’ve sought out workshops, professional critiques, and classes. Over the last years, I have participated in Anastasia Suen’s Intensive Picture Book Workshop, Bootcamp for Children’s Authors, Darcy Pattison’s Novel Revision Workshop, Darcy Pattison’s Picture Book Workshop, several regional SCBWI conferences and one Los Angeles SCBWI conference. The only way that I will succeed is to keep working and keep learning.

(When I write the ending to a book I always think of the great advice Stephanie gave me: the end of the story needs to shake hands with the beginning.)

How far would you go to get your book published?

Well, let me see. I’d go to Timbuktu. I’d eat snails. I’d keep writing and submitting until the right editors and agents find me. It’d be okay if that was sooner rather than later. I’m just sayin’.

(Mmm. Snails.)

And the question I always want to know the answer to, if you could live in any book which one would it be and why?

Boy, this is a harder question than I thought it would be when I first read it. There are a lot of characters that live such interesting lives, but I really just want to visit. I think it’s like what they say about being a grandparent – you can enjoy the grandkids when you want to, but you always have the option of sending them home when it gets to be too much. For instance, I love the Harry Potter books and I would, of course, be Hermione, but the danger factor is a bit much for me.

The second reason that this is a really hard question is that I tend to love whatever book has most recently captured me. From my childhood, I would have to pick Jennifer from Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth, by E. L. Konigsburg. When I moved and had to go to a new school, town and state in sixth grade, I found making friends difficult, and actually told a girl named Susan that I was a witch, and told her all the things she had to do to become a witch with me. It’s true -- I channeled Jennifer completely. I wonder how many nights that girl pulled her bed out from the wall and walked around it three times counterclockwise before going to bed in order to avoid the curse that would result from disobedience. I had a mean streak.

From the most recent book I have known and loved, I would choose Lacie from Paper Towns by John Green. She’s so normal, and yes that means that as a senior in high school, she is worried about being pretty and having the perfect prom, but it also means that when she gets to know some kids that she has never considered part of her circle, she can see the good in them, help them and become loyal to them. Besides, being able to take off on an adventure because it seems important THAT MOMENT would be so much fun. In real life, I’m very much someone who sets goals, and then studies and plans to reach the goal. Spontaneity would be fun – for a while.

Thanks, Stephanie, for letting me interview you. Good luck at SCBWI LA!


  1. What an enjoyable interview, thanks Stephanie and Heather!

    Good luck with reaching all your goals and as for the con in LA...enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!

  2. Great interview! I totally relate since I'm not published yet either. Maybe we'll meet up in L.A., Stephanie. Good luck!

  3. I wish I could come to LA and meet you, Stephanie. That was a great interview. And your historical fiction sounds intriguing! Can't wait to read it. :)

  4. Great interview, Heather and Stephanie! Heather, your little asides crack me up!

  5. Gee, guys, thanks. I feel like a celebrity. I don't think I have ever been interviewed before. I hope that some day in the not too distant future, someone will want to interview me for "The READ"

  6. Another lovely interview, thanks. And now I want to read both that middle grade and that historical! :-D

  7. Definitely looking forward to your being interviewed for "The Read", Stephanie. :-)

    Thanks everyone for stopping by. Happy to hear you enjoyed the interview!