Long and Short Reviews welcomes Lisa Burstein, whose debut novel Pretty Amy will be released in May from Entangled Publishing.
Lisa started writing in second grade and has been hooked ever since. She
"It was the one thing I loved and was actually good at. When I say love, I mean when I write I actually can feel myself smiling. I feel a buzz from it," she told me.
Before she wanted to be a writer, however, she wanted to be a bird.
"When I was three, I actually thought I could be a bird," she admitted. "I think it's why I included one as a character in Pretty Amy.
AJ, the parrot, wasn't in the first version, though. In fact, the book has been rewritten three times—adding different plot lines and different characters.
Even though she loved writing, she only considered herself a "writer" when she was accepted to an MFA in Fiction program ten years ago.
"It's been hard reminding myself of that all this time on my journey to publication," she confessed, "but I feel anyone who writes to entertain others whether published or not, should consider themselves a writer."
When Lisa was in high school, she hung out with the rebels; however that wasn't the group she really wanted to hang with.
"I wanted to hang out with the popular group, um like badly. I think it's why I write YA, mostly because I am still so angsty about it. I was one of those girls on the fringes, watching the popular girls and wanting their life."
The characters come first for Lisa—if she can't see and know who the book is about, she can't know what the book is about.
"I feel that plot should come from character, otherwise it doesn't feel authentic," she told me. "I think authenticity is the most important thing in writing contemporary YA. Readers can tell."
It's also important to be able to transport and entertain the reader—either with description, realistic dialogue, or a character they can't stop reading about.
"I want the author to make me forget I am reading," she said.
One book that has really inspired her and influenced her own writing is Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg.
"This book is a must for anyone trying to write," she stressed. "It reminds you that writing is not about pleasing other people, but pleasing yourself."
Lisa told me that she didn't know an author that doesn't suffer from writer's block sometimes. Her remedy: take walks, read, force herself to write even when she has no ideas, and use writing spark books.
The hardest part of writing for Lisa is actually finding the time to write, because she works full time and is married. She writes at night and on the weekends, and sometimes she admits that she would rather just be relaxing.
"Also figuring out what my characters want to do next," she added. "Plot is very inherent to who a character is; you can't make them do anything; it has to seem like they would choose it themselves."
Lisa admitted to me that she can't write sitting at a desk.
"It feels too formal," she said. "I like lying down and lounging. My office has navy blue walls and a daybed that I lie on while I write on my laptop. It has bookshelves and a poster of my favorite movie, Better Off Dead, on the wall. It's also my cat's favorite room in the house."
Titles are hard for Lisa and usually ends up being a phrase from the book. She wants them to resonate, so she doesn't try to come up with a title normally until the book is complete. Pretty Amy has many meanings: it's what she taught her pet parrot to say to her; it's how she wishes she could see herself; it's what she learns she is by the end of the book.
When Lisa's not writing, she enjoys cooking, watching movies, and reading.
"I read a lot, I wish I could read more," she told me, "but when you are deep in an edit sometimes it is hard to look at words on a page even if they aren't yours."
Lisa admits to coming up with her best ideas as she's writing, but she's trying hard to learn to be a plotter for her editor's sake.
"I think plotting is way harder," she shared. "It's so hard for me to see what happens without my character talking to me in a scene, or during a free-write."
If she had to do her journey to getting published all over again, she told me she would be more patient.
"It's easy to say that now, but I was so impatient to get my first agent, get my first book deal, etc. the minute I got out of grad school and what I realize now is, I wasn't ready. I should have been more open to learning my craft and it probably would have happened even sooner. Wanting to be published and your work being ready for it are two different things."
Lisa likes to write about serious subjects in a humorous way—she thinks this keeps her writing different from other YA authors.
"Who would think that a girl getting arrested on prom night could be funny?" she asked. "Well, me I guess."
"What's the weirdest thing you've ever done in the name of research?" I wondered.
"I sat in a courtroom all day- like literally all day. I know people dread jury duty and I actually created my own."
Finally, I asked, "What advice would you give a new writer just starting out?"
"Write, write, write. It seems like the obvious thing to do, but I mean write as much as you can. In journals, for publication, in spiral notebooks. The more practice you have the better you will get. Really, just like playing an instrument- writing is a skill that you can improve. Also, details make all the difference. Tell me what kind of tree, what color shirt, what perfume she is wearing."
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Navigating unlikely alliances with her new coworker, two very different boys, and possibly even her parents, Amy struggles to decide if it’s worth being a best friend when it makes you a public enemy. Bringing readers along on an often hilarious and heartwarming journey, Amy finds that maybe getting a life only happens once you think your life is over.