An Interview with Lorie Ann Grover

I am pleased to welcome Lorie Ann Grover to my blog. Lorie Ann is the author of four books: Loose Threads, On Pointe, Hold Me Tight, and When Daddy Comes Home. For those of you who are familiar with readergirlz and frequent the group forums, you know this readergirlz diva encourages teens to empower themselves.

I’ve had the pleasure of reading On Pointe and Hold Me Tight. Both books are on my list of Strong Girl Role Models in Children’s Literature. This was my thought on Hold Me Tight: Inspired by a true story, Hold Me Tight is an emotional story written in prose. I wanted to protect 12 year old Essie and her family from everything that was happening to them. First, Essie’s dad leaves his pregnant wife and two children. Second, Essie’s classmate Chris is kidnapped. Third, Mr. Paul, Essie’s mom’s friend, tries to touch Essie in an inappropriate manner. You cheer for Essie’s mom, who believes her daughter rather than Mr. Paul. She throws his sorry butt out the door and gets the authorities involved. How’s that for a strong mama? You cheer for Essie, who is a sweet girl who watches out for her brother and mother, worries about classmate Chris, speaks up for herself, finds ways to punish her dad, and has the strength to hold on to what she has.

Here’s what I wrote about On Pointe: What do you get when you combine a free verse style novel with a hopeful teen who dreams and sacrifices for the love of ballet? Add a bit of competition, an ambitious family, and a grandfather who was right all along and you get a beautiful flowing novel, On Pointe…for more, read here.

And talk about awards. Loose Threads has been recognized as A Best Book for the Teen Age, New York Public Library; A Best Children’s Book of 2002, Bank Street College of Education; A Washington State Book Award Finalist, 2003; A Top 10 Youth First Novel, Booklist; A Best of the Best, Edmonton Public Libraries, Canada; A Rhode Island Teen Book Award Nominee; New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age; Bank Street College Best Children’s Book of the Year; Booklist Top Ten First Novel for Youth; Washington State Book Award Finalist; and Rhode Island Teen Book Award Finalist.

On Pointe has been awarded the Girls’ Life Magazine Top Ten Summer Read; Bank Street College Best Children’s Book of the Year; Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award Finalist; A Kansas State Reading Circle Middle School Title; and A Missouri State Reading Circle Senior Title.

Hold Me Tight won the distinction of A VOYA Poetry Pick; and A Kansas State Reading Circle Middle School Title.

Wait until you read all about Lorie Ann. I’m sure you’ll agree with me that she is one accomplished woman. Without further ado, I give you Lorie Ann Grover.
HWM: What made you realize you wanted to write children’s books? How did you get your “break” into children’s books?
Lorie Ann: After being in the Miami Ballet Company and growing too tall to continue to pursue my career, I refocused my energy on fine art. I attended the University of Miami and began a drawing major. However, I soon realized I felt thwarted with imagery only, and I really needed to write to fully communicate. I have a brother ten years younger than me, so my exposure and interest in picture books was still fairly fresh and current. Also, my job in college at South Dade Regional Library was to shelve about 800 children’s books a day. You could say, children’s lit has always been with me. It was a natural step to write and contribute to the field that I love.

HWM: You’ve written four books so far…do you have any current or future projects you can share with your fans?
Lorie Ann: I’m looking for an agent right now as I have 3 novels I’d like to place and a pile of board books. My work is getting ahead of me, and it would be great to have someone in my corner giving me a hand. Two novels are written in verse, and one is a fantasy in prose. One verse novel is about one of my best friend’s daughters being struck by a truck in a crosswalk. The other is about my experience in Korea living among prostitutes, and the fantasy is about a woman’s self worth and religious persecution.

HWM: How did you get started in writing in verse? What do you enjoy about writing in free verse? What advice do you have for those people who have difficulty working within the tight structure of this format?
Lorie Ann: I actually started by writing picture books. Loose Threads was first sold as a picture book. The project fell through when my editor left publishing. I resubmitted the work to Emma Dryden at Margaret K. McElderry Books. She was the one who suggested I expand the picture book into a verse novel. She suspected I had a lot more to say. She was right!

I love the tightness of verse. Emma says my entries are like photographs. I enjoy capturing intense emotion and surrounding it with white space. I have the kind of mind that sees the large picture and breaks it down to the minute.

If verse doesn’t come naturally, write prose first. If you want to experiment, take a paragraph of your prose and then divide it into verse. Look for natural breaks, rhythms, and points you’d like to emphasize. Think of it as shaping a sculpture. There’s no wrong. This is your own heartbeat creating shapes. Then, read the final verse structure aloud. Is anything gained? If so, try more. If not, it was an interesting exercise.

HWM: Are your novels all inspired by real life situations? When did you know you had the right ending for your books?
Lorie Ann: My novels are based heavily on my life. I am the main characters. Many of my family members carry their own names. When I see someone reading my work, my stomach lurches as if they are reading my journal.

I really don’t touch the keyboard until I know my ending. I need to have my landing in sight through the entire process. It feels safe to me.

HWM: Who was the toughest character
to write about?

Lorie Ann: I’d have to say the man who molested me in Hold Me Tight. I’d shake a bit whenever I had to even revise that scene.

HWM: Which book, if any, would you change if you had the chance, and why?
Lorie Ann: I wouldn’t change any of my novels. I think of them as a representation of who I was at that point. I do look at my illustrations and think I’d like to move a line or change a color. But again, I try to have peace that this was what I saw at the time. Any thoughts or new ideas go into new works.

HWM: Do you outline or free form?
Lorie Ann: I jot points at the start. More like rocks across a stream that I’ll leap to with the shore in sight Not a formal outline. I can’t just free form or I’d be lost in an ocean.

HWM: Where do you like to write?
Lorie Ann: I’m kind of like a cat. I choose my spots and then change them: the couch, my office, the rocking chair, my bed.

HWM: What is your writing process or ritual?
Lorie Ann:
My process is: when everyone’s quiet, I write! Really. I homeschool my daughter. (I’m down to teaching one now. Our oldest I finished and is in college.) I work with readergirlz, and maintain our household. When I get everything done, and the laundry’s not calling either, I announce to everyone, “I’m writing. Do not interrupt me unless you are bleeding or on fire.” That works.

HWM: I understand you also illustrate books. What medium do you work in?
Lorie Ann:
I do illustrate. It gives me a chance to exercise another part of my mind. I love the elephants in When Daddy Comes Home. And the cover. I feel I caught the joy of father and child. Or elephant and otter. :~) I work in oil pastel, gouache, and pencil.

HWM: How long does it take you to write the first draft?
Lorie Ann: That varies according to what is going on in my life. I had cancer this summer and was in complete isolation for a week. I knocked out about 80% of a first draft. Usually it takes several months.

HWM: What has been the biggest challenge of your writing career and how did you tackle it?
Lorie Ann: The biggest challenge was probably persevering through the six years of rejection. I think ballet training came to my aid. Every day you plie. Over and over. Every day you sit at the computer and write again.

HWM: What has been the biggest surprise of your writing career?
Lorie Ann: The biggest surprise has been becoming a readergirlz diva. I never imagined myself teaming up with Justina Chen Headley, Dia Calhoun, and Janet Lee Carey to really create change. It’s been a wonderful extension of my writing and given me awesome contact with readers. Empowering them to read, reflect, and reach out has been extremely fulfilling.

HWM: If you could share any unique writing tip to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Lorie Ann: I’d say read all genres and do writing exercises to mimic them. If I hadn’t tried verse, my voice might not have found a way out. I really think finding the specific format is the key.

HWM: What was the best writing advice anyone ever gave you?
Lorie Ann: Janet Wong gave me a little yellow cushy chair that says, “Butt in the Chair.” Awesome. I believe it was Katherine Paterson who said revisions are your chance to turn spilled milk into ice cream. It’s helped me treasure the revision process.

Hipwritermama’s Curiosities:

HWM: The readergirlz divas have been busy with the 31 Flavorite Authors. How did this evolve?
Lorie Ann: Since we saw our community thriving, we thought there might be a way to use what we had created to support YALSA’s Teen Read Week to encourage literacy. Justina brainstormed the idea to feature one author every night in October. 31 Flavorites was born.

HWM: What’s next for the readergirlz divas?
Lorie Ann: The divas are in the final stretch of 31 and brainstorming a project for the holidays and a fabulous one for spring. We are doing select appearances across the country as well. Justina is launching her second novel, Girl Overboard, and Dia is launching The Return of Light, a Christmas Tale. Janet is psyched about her novel Wenny Has Wings being made into a movie in Japan. She has to shop for a dress to wear to the premiere. And as I said, I’m hunting for an agent, and currently revising a verse novel with a house. While looking at a few more cancer treatments.

HWM: How long have you been homeschooling your children? What made you decide to homeschool? What are the challenges and joys of homeschooling?
Lorie Ann: I homeschooled my oldest daughter from 3-15. She started college at 16. I believe we are on the same track for my younger daughter. We decided to homeschool because both girls began to read so early. I just started teaching them, and pretty soon, we were off track with the school system in terms of age. I remember my oldest wasn’t going to be able to start kindergarten until age 6. There was no way that girl was going to wait!

The challenge is to teach self-motivation. The child has no one in sight to brush against, compete with, or follow the class example. All of that has to be raised up in the individual.

Social experiences are actually what most people are concerned about. My oldest participated in the band at school for 8 years and became the first homeschooled drum major in the public high school. My youngest participates in choir at the middle school and enjoys it very much.

The joy includes teaching your child to read. It’s hard work but the greatest moment. And then seeing them devour information they are interested in is a blast. There’s so much more time; my oldest studied from college Marine Biology books at 14, and my youngest has worked her way through co
llege Cultural Anthropology books. They have time to seek and discover their passions.

HWM: If you found a way to go back to your teen years as one of your characters, what would you do differently?
Lorie Ann: Since my characters are me, the question is what would I do differently. I’d make friends. I lost so much trust when my father left my family, I became very internal. It would have been so much easier if I had found friends like I have now. Everyone needs a circle of divas!

HWM: What makes you laugh?
Lorie Ann: Definitely my brothers. We all tend to fall on the floor when they are around. I do, also, laugh at myself–a lot.

HWM: If you were a superhero, what powers would you want and why?
Lorie Ann: You ask that of someone with the last name of Grover? Super Grover! Warm, blue, and fuzzy with a heart to help. Even if he has trouble with his landings. He can fly!

Thank you, Lorie Ann! Best of luck with everything…

Where to find more info on Lorie Ann Grover:
Lorie Ann’s website (for information on her books and her beautiful artwork)
excerpt from Loose Threads
excerpt from On Pointe
excerpt from Hold Me Tight
Edited to add: I just found out that Lorie Ann’s book, Hold Me Tight, Loose Threads and On Pointe are nearly sold out. They may be available in the future as a print by demand. That makes me so sad. These books are helping teens deal with issues they may not necessarily feel comfortable talking about. Look at the response from Lorie Ann’s Chat on readergirlz! Hopefully, these books will come out in paperback.

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Vivian Lee Mahoney

Consider yourself warned: I write books about rebels. I'm also a postergirlz for readergirlz, a literary advisory group for teens. Who knew going back to the teenage years would be so rewarding?

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