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Interview with Kerri Majors, founder of YARN and author of THIS IS NOT A WRITING MANUAL: NOTES FOR YOUNG WRITERS IN THE REAL WORLD

Today on the Highway we are so pleased to welcome Kerri Majors. Kerri is one of the editors and founders of the award-winning online literary magazine YARN (Young Adult Review Network) and her first book, THIS IS NOT A WRITING MANUAL: NOTES FOR THE YOUNG WRITER IN THE REAL WORLD, will be published July 9th by Writers Digest. It is available for pre-order here.

 Come learn more about Kerri!

1. Your writing memoir, "This is Not a Writing Manual: Notes for the Young Writer in the Real World," will be published on July 9 by Writers Digest. How did you come to write this book and what was your approach for the information you wanted to share?

I never-ever-EVER thought I would write a book like this.  In fact, I used to resist even reading books like this one—until I finally broke down and read Anne Lamott’s amazing Bird by Bird, which made me laugh and cry with recognition.  Reading her book, then assigning it to my students for many years, began to break down my barrier to “writing books.”

Then I started running YARN, and getting more and more immersed in the teen and YA writing community, and I began to see a real need for a book like TINAWM—a kind of mentor-book like Bird by Bird had been for me as an adult writer, but a book that would be specifically for young writers (14-24-year-olds), to let them know that they were not alone on the long road of the writing life

I tried to think back to the questions and dreams I had as a high school and college age writer, and then I tried to address those concerns (I also canvassed some writer friends so that I wouldn’t just gaze at my navel the whole time).  I wanted to offer a balance of very practical advice (like how to find a job that will pay your rent and feed your soul, and how to schedule writing into a busy life), and also of emotional support (like how to deal with the jealousies inherent in writer-writer friendships, and how to put an astounding amount of rejection into perspective).

2. What makes a "young writer?"

Technically, the “young writers” I hope will find my book are 14-24 years old, in high school and college, and just beyond.  They are trying to figure out what it means to be a writer, and how to make their living with words—which, by the way, can mean a number of things: it could mean making a living as a writer, like a journalist does, but it can also mean making a living writing advertising copy, or teaching great works of literature to middle schoolers.

But!  There are also many writers outside of the 14-24 age bracket, who are new to writing, who are also “young writers” of a sort, writers who are at the beginning of their writing journey.  They need the same kind of advice as the technically young.

I’ve also been told that many an “older writer” could benefit from some of what’s in the book!

3. Do you have a theory of writing or storytelling?

This question kind of has me stumped.  I guess I don’t, in the sense that Milan Kundera or other writer-philosophers do.  I do strongly believe that writers should write the stories that are in them, no matter what the critics say, and no matter what the trends might be; as a corollary, I’d also say, never to be embarrassed of your tastes (there is a chapter in my book called “Watch Your Soap Operas” about the many essential writing lessons that watching a supposedly lo-brow soap opera in the 80’s and 90’s taught me).  My only real mantra about writing is to sit your butt in the chair and do it.

4. For yourself as a young writer, who or what were your greatest influences?

I had a real reading epiphany the summer between my junior and senior years of high school when I read Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth, and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon.  It was the first time I’d seen genuine page-turning entertainment married to thoughtful, thought-provoking, and well-researched history that also taught me something about the world.

The book I’ve read most often—and I rarely re-read books, because I am such a slow reader—is The Great Gatsby.  Fitzgerald’s classic is justly loved for many thematic reasons, but sometimes those reasons eclipse the other reasons why he’s such an awesome writer: like, he writes amazing dialogue.  Lo these almost 90 years later, the dialogue still sparks off the page, not unlike—dare I say it?—the dialogue of Shakespeare.

Fun facts:

5. What was the last book you read?

I’m going to break the rules and mention the last 2 books, because they were both so holy-smokes fantastic: Aaron Hartzler’s YA memoir Rapture Practice, a funny and moving account of growing up in, and growing out of, a super-Christian home.  And also Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, another beautifully written memoir that I think people of any age could read and learn from, about Cheryl’s poorly planned but life changing trek up the Pacific Coast Trail; she was a hot mess of emotional upheaval before she bloodied her feet on the PCT, and new woman when she emerged.

6. If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?


7. Coffee or tea?
Oh!  A favorite topic! It depends on the time of year.  Now in spring/summer, I’m all about the iced coffee.  In the fall and winter, I’m all about the Taylor’s of Harrogate Yorkshire Red, steeped in a pot, and poured over a little 1% milk in my cup--I love the creamy, golden hue it turns.  On a rainy writing afternoon, that cuppa with some graham crackers spread with Nutella is my favorite snack break.  It’s fun to share the chocolatey crackers with my daughter, too.

Kerri's bio

While I’m a California girl at heart, the fact is I’ve lived most of my life on the wrong coast.  My parents whisked me away to Massachusetts right after I was born, so I spent the first 8 years of my life there, before the family moved back to California.  After graduating from UC Berkeley, I moved to Brooklyn, NY, where I spent 6 years doing various jobs to support my writing habit (working as a nanny, bookstore clerk, personal assistant, manager of an olive oil shop…). I ultimately received my MFA from Columbia University. While in grad school, I met my now-hubby Mike.  In the summer of 2010, we moved to Weston, MA and had a baby girl named Elena.  When I’m not hanging with Elena, writing, or YARNing, I’m probably reading, cooking, or with friends. I might also be gardening, wasting time on Facebook, or watching something from the ol’ Netlflix queue.

Follow Kerri on twitter or on her website.

Thank you so much, Kerri!
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Item Reviewed: Interview with Kerri Majors, founder of YARN and author of THIS IS NOT A WRITING MANUAL: NOTES FOR YOUNG WRITERS IN THE REAL WORLD Rating: 5 Reviewed By: YA Highway