Interview with Anna-Marie McLemore

It’s no secret that we at YARN love the magical worlds Anna-Marie McLemore creates on the pages of her stunning books. With two award-winning titles already under her belt, Anna-Marie is about to wow us again with her latest, “Wild Beauty,” set to be released October 3, 2017. We’re thrilled to share this interview with her–and thrilled to welcome any new readers into the Anna-Marie fandom!

Writing Process:

YARN: What does your writing process consist of, from the idea to publication? If you have shelved projects like many writers do, how do you push a project you love aside to work on something new? Any tips on finding the story that demands to be written?

AMM: The process for every book has been a little different. The thing I think I’ve learned, and that I would recommend to fellow writers, is to take what you’ve learned from past projects, but also be open to learning from new projects. As for finding the right stories, I always say follow the one you can’t stop thinking about. The idea that stays with you is the one you’ll stay with.

YARN: Have you ever felt “stuck” in your writing? What advice can you give teens who might be struggling with writing assignments and need to get unstuck before the due date?

AMM: Though every writer is different, staring at a blank page rarely helps me, so I always recommend giving your brain a chance to reset. Read something that inspires you, listen to music, go outside, talk to a friend—whatever gets your brain back to that creating place.

YARN: What are some of the pluses and minuses of writing under contract, or were your books already drafted when sold? Is writing subsequent books easier than the first?

AMM: Every book is its own learning process, whether under contract or not. I wouldn’t say writing subsequent books is necessarily easier than the first; they’re different kinds of exciting and scary. It’s so exciting to know that you’re working on a book that’ll be out in the world soon, but it’s also scary because, at least in my case, I felt like I should already know how to write a book. So sometimes I got really critical of myself when I struggled or when I had to scrap whole drafts (this still happens sometimes, tbh!). But I think everyone, whether you’re writing your first book or your twentieth, is still learning. That’s the thing I try to remember.

YARN: You have short stories coming out in three different collections in 2018. Congratulations! How is the short story process similar/different to that of a whole novel? Do you have any words of advice for writers aiming to place work in a short story collection?

AMM: My best advice for short stories is to keep your heart open to what an idea may want to be. Sometimes an idea wants to become a novel, sometimes a short story, sometimes a song, a poem, a painting. No two ideas are the same, and over and over I’ve had the experience that when an idea isn’t working, sometimes I haven’t yet found the form it wants to take.

Your Books:

YARN: Like most Anna-Marie fans, we at YARN loved “The Weight of Feathers” and “When the Moon Was Ours,” both of which have won awards, stars, and plenty of well-earned praise. Your writing is simply beautiful, and the way you immerse the reader in your absolutely magical, sometimes frightening, and always gorgeous worlds really makes your work stand out on the shelves. We can’t get enough of magical realism as you describe it here, especially how you incorporate these elements into your work: Cluck’s feathers and Lace’s family’s scales in “The Weight of Feathers” and Miel’s roses in “When the Moon Was Ours.” These are such excellent examples of magical realism: unquestioningly believable magic in an otherwise realistic world. Can you share how magic like that of your characters can only grow from oppression?

AMM: In a culture of oppression, seeing the magical in the midst of the tragic, the unjust, the heartbreaking is a way of survival, for people, for communities, for cultures. We must find our magic where it lives, or we will lose it. Our spirits depend on not overlooking that which might be dismissed or ignored. That’s really I think why I write it, it’s how I express what I know, that the world is more brutal than so many people believe, and more beautiful than they imagine.

YARN: In “When the Moon Was Ours,” Sam is a transgender boy and Miel is the girl who loves him, and their romance is magical and beautiful. We hope representation like this will go a long way in creating the acceptance and understanding teens today need. Would Sam or Miel have any advice for teens who see themselves in one of their characters?

AMM: Hold on to the family and friends who see who you are, who accept you, and who love you.

YARN: Your work has a mythic sensibility, one that seems birthed, at least partially, from fairy and folklore. Do you have favorite collections, websites, or stories that particularly inspire you? Do you have sources you return to, sources that help you dream up or create stories?

AMM: The fairy tales I know best are the ones from my own cultures, and the ones I saw most growing up. I love looking deeper into both, but I also love reading fairy tales across different traditions. It’s a reminder of the common themes that cross borders and languages.

YARN: We can’t wait for your forthcoming book, “Wild Beauty,” especially once that stunning cover was revealed. Can you share a little snippet from the book? Favorite line or paragraph? Or did you have a favorite snippet that wound up on the cutting room floor?

AMM:

Even in its first faint traces, love could alter a landscape. It wrote unimagined stories and made the most beautiful, forbidden places.

Love grew such strange things.

YARN: We couldn’t be more excited about the announcement for your next book after “Wild Beauty,” a magical realist “Snow-White and Rose Red” called “Blanca & Roja” coming in 2018. The title alone tells us it’s going to have your own lovely spin on the story. Can you share a little more about it?

AMM: Thank you so much! I’m not sharing too much about Blanca & Roja just yet, but I can tell you that it will be Latinx and queer, and that this is a book about sisters and swans, and about the stories we’re told and the stories we tell ourselves. There will also be glitter and family curses.

Other Books/YA stuff:

YARN: You’ve been a great role model in the push for more diverse books in the young adult market, including both latinx and queer voices, and we’ve loved watching your books succeed and inspire more young people. Do you have any specific advice for #ownvoices writers struggling to tell their stories?

AMM: Tell the story that’s in your heart. Tell the story that’s been in you waiting to be told. That will let your work be its most beautiful and its truest.

YARN: What are a few resources you’d suggest to writers who feel they want to grow, but they aren’t sure where they can get some help and support?

AMM: Check out Diversity in YA and their book lists. I know how important finding inclusive stories is to me, and Diversity in YA is such an incredible resource. I’m also a fan of DIY MFA. I’m not an MFA-trained author, so Gabriela’s site was especially meaningful for me, but it’s really a great place for anyone looking to develop their reading and writing life.

YARN: What writers or books would you say have influenced you most as a writer? What books helped you become a writer or helped you realize you wanted to be one?

AMM: C.S. Lewis: I love so much of his work, but his fiction especially–“Chronicles of Narnia,” “Screwtape Letters,” “The Great Divorce”–helped make me a writer. Nella Larsen: “Passing” is one of my favorite books ever. “Like Water for Chocolate” changed my life as a reader. And “The Little Prince.” Always, “The Little Prince.”

YARN: When it comes to gender and sexuality within YA literature, what do you think can be done better? What do you think has not been discussed yet? Is there a wrong way to discuss gender and sexuality, especially with teenagers?

AMM: So much of this is about respect – respect for the communities being portrayed in stories, making sure those communities are included in discussions. And part of that is respecting the diversity both between communities and within them. One of the biggest mistakes we can make is perpetuating the idea that any one story can tell the whole story of a community or an experience or an identity. That’s part of why listening to voices within our own communities and from other communities is so important.

I’d also love to see more intersectional stories! I’m always excited to hear about books with respectful representation of LGBTQ characters, but especially ones that have characters who are also of color, who are of faith, who also have disabilities, and so many more intersecting identities.

Thank you so much for having me!


Anna-Marie McLemore was born in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, raised in the same town as the world’s largest wisteria vine, and taught by her family to hear la llorona in the Santa Ana winds. She is the author of Morris Award Finalist, “The Weight of Feathers” and Stonewall Honor Book, “When the Moon Was Ours,” which won the James Tiptree Jr. Award and was longlisted for the National Book Award in Young People’s Literature. Her third novel, “Wild Beauty,” will be released on October 3, 2017, with “Blanca & Roja” following in 2018.

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