It's Sally Weigel Day at the CCLaP website! And as part of the promotional material concerning her new novella, Too Young to Fall Asleep, I decided to "sit down" with Sally virtually through Google Chat, for a long discussion regarding her beginnings as a writer, the germ of the idea that eventually became this book, and what kinds of good and bad things she learned about the writing process because of it. For those of you reading this on the website's front page, the majority of the interview is found "after the jump," or in other words by clicking through to the archived version. Oh, and for parts of this interview to make sense, you should know if you don't already that Sally is nineteen, a student at Chicago's DePaul University, and actually wrote the first draft of this novella way back in high school.
Jason Pettus: Hi, everyone, and welcome to a special text-only interview here at CCLaP. (For those who don't know, I'm in St. Louis right now recovering from a bicycle accident, which is why I can't be in Chicago to do the usual voice interview.) Joining us today is Sally Weigel, author of CCLaP's newest original book, Too Young to Fall Asleep, being released to the public on the same day this interview is being posted. Hi, Sally!
Sally Weigel: Hey Jason!
JP: So why don't we start with your beginnings? How long have you been writing now?
SW: I'd say I've been writing for about seven years. I think I started writing in seventh grade, right when my Grandma passed away. You know, just writing really bad poetry but I never stopped. It was never a concious decision to write, ever. I've just always been doing it.
JP: So a pretty young age for you, it sounds like. Did you have the idea of getting published from the beginning, or was it more like journal writing at first?
SW: Yeah, I think in the back of my mind, at least since high school, I wanted to become published. Writing was always a hobby but still, a serious hobby and when I was writing, it didn't feel complete just being kept in an old spiral notebook that no one ever looked at. I knew I wanted to be a writer but at the same time, as a high school student, I never wanted to announce that. I always thought that instead of me telling people I wanted to become a writer, I would just do it and people would find out that way. But I'm still working on that...
JP: So is that how your old blog of short stories came about? And are you still updating that?
SW: The blog actually came about when I read an interview with a writer (I forget who) who advised writers to publish before they were ready. I was seventeen at the time, I believe, and I knew I wasn't ready for publication but I thought I would just post stories online and try to get comments or eyes looking my way regardless. But no, I'm not updating that blog anymore, but I am working on a new site [sallyweigel.wordpress.com] that will post links for where my short stories are published.
JP: And how did you find that process? Did your actual writing change at all, knowing that they'd be eventually posted for random public consumption? Do you recommend other young writers doing something like this?
SW: Well, publishing on a blog is very different process than publishing through literary magazines or any tangible publications. Since I could easily just post a short story without knowing my viewers or even having to proofread my writing, I don't know if it improved my skills at all. No one was there to give me usable criticisms, and most of the time, I didn't actualize the idea that people were reading my work. At the same time because it connected me to you and then to publishing my first novella, I do recommend blogging. When publishing online, even if no one ends up reading your blog at all, you are still increasing the chances someone might.
JP: And then here's one of the things I find interesting about your early short work, that you barely ever tackled characters your age and in your situation (teens finishing high school and starting college). Was there a specific reason for this?
SW: I think there were a couple reasons for this. One being that when I was writing, I wanted to utilize my imagination. Writing in different voices with unfamiliar situations challenged me and just made the process more fun. Just as people read to escape, I did the same with writing. The other reason I did this, which I think is the more interesting reason, is that I didn't think my point of view as a seventeen-year-old girl growing up in the suburbs held any potential for an intriguing story. There was no conflict, or if there was, I thought it was petty and unworthy of being written about.
JP: And speaking of which, that leads us nicely into the novella you wrote for CCLaP, Too Young to Fall Asleep. And I guess that's the first thing for people to know about it, that the finished tale veers quite profoundly from the original story idea you brought to me at first, and that you were hesitant at first about setting it among suburban teens like it now is. Why don't you start by telling us the germ of the idea that you had at first?
SW: All right. Too Young to Fall Asleep was actually inspired by a short, short story I wrote in high school that dealt with whether or not the idea of a peaceful world was even fathomable. A man on his way to war was drinking coffee when he was interrupted by a protestor shouting about peace. This protestor's words stayed with him while he went overseas and very quickly got injured. While in recovery, he spent his days writing letters to the protestor and figuring out what he was fighting for. Then the story ended with a glimpse at this soldier when he was much, much older and had forgotten his inner battle regarding his role in the war. It was very undeveloped but I thought that a 20,000 word novella could maybe do it justice. I suggested setting the story in modern time with the Iraq War, and that's when you responded by suggesting I change the protaganist from a young male to a confused seventeen-year-old on her way to college.
JP: And in terms of describing the experience to a beginning writer, how did you find the process of bringing on an editor and sort of morphing the story into something that was quite different than how it started? Did you find the dominant emotion more of frustration or inspiration, or maybe something in between?
SW: Definitely an inspiration. I have only taken one creative writing class and it was in high school where most of the students were there to fill a requirement. Up until this novella, I had done all of my writing by myself with only my own eyes evaluating the piece. So I found the process of having an editor very similar to having a teacher. At this point, I am not against the idea of having to edit my writing because I still feel like I am learning exactly how to write a story. With an editor -- a valuable tool most young authors don't have -- I could learn the role of dialogue, character development and plot really efficiently.
JP: And what were some of the things that you feel like you did learn from the process? Or, to put it maybe a little more specifically, now that you have your first full-length book under your belt, what issues did you feel you had to tackle that you normally don't deal with in your short stories?
SW: I learned about how stories should have a definite conflict. I learned that writing just to write is great but when tackling a story, I need to sit down and map out what the conflict is and why this is a conflict to the characters. Also, I learned how important setting is to a story. The role of a writer is create a world in a reader's mind and before, I had just been writing without much regard for the specifics on the character's actual environment. I learned that every character the protaganist comes in contact with is important for different reasons. I used to just write but it's a little bit more mechanical now. Or at least structured.
JP: And are you eager now to tackle another big project, or would you rather get your hands back into a series of shorts again?
SW: I still want to do short stories. I don't think I've mastered them yet and it seems silly to go onto bigger projects before I even feel comfortable with writing a short story.
JP: And for others tackling their own first full-length books, what's some advice that you would give based on your own experience? What was one of the more surprising things you learned about the process?
SW: One of the most rewarding things for me was during the actual writing of the novella where I motivated myself to write every single day. That's an incredibly important skill for beginning writers to learn. Also, I would say I found it surprising how important planning and editing is to a long piece of work. They take up more time than actually writing the first draft.
JP: Is there a pleasure to that kind of planning as well, or is it just inherently more fun to jump feet-first into a short story, where you might not know at all where it will eventually end?
SW: Well for me, I like to plan out a story in terms of creating conflict but I always leave it unresolved. I figure out the resolution while writing, just to keep myself interested. Also, most of the time, this creates the best resolution because by the end of the story, I am in the characters' mindset and can act accordingly. And it may be more fun to just grab a pen and start writing, but reading that finished product is never as gratifying, for me at least. There are definitely times when I'm feeling extra inspired and just start writing with no plan. But those pieces usually are cut down, reworked and inserted into a short story I have planned out.
JP: So what's next for you? Are you finally going to get a chance to start taking actual writing classes at DePaul, for example? I was surprised to hear how much competition there is at your school just to get into creative-writing classes in the first place.
SW: Yeah, I actually went to my first college-level creative writing class today. In addition to school, my plan is to keep writing and keep publishing. I figure I should just repeat that cycle over and over. I live in the city so hopefully I can start interning at a literary magazine or publishing company in the city as well.
JP: And since the novella deals with this subject so much, I thought I would end things today by asking about your own opinion concerning war, and especially the Bush-era "War on Terrorism" that your book concerns itself with so much. Is there a specific character in your story who most reflects your own thoughts on the subject?
SW: I don't know about a character in the story that reflects my opinions, but I had a very influential high school teacher who spent her college years at Madison in the '60s protesting Vietnam, and she was definitely inspiration for the first scene with the protestors in the cafeteria. Because of her, I made countless trips to the city for anti-war marches and attended a few last year as well. So that being said, I am against the "War on Terrorism." Unfortunately, I feel out of the loop with current affairs at college, and that's kind of ironic and of course is no excuse, but when there is so much media and so much biased media, I have a hard time knowing what is happening. And in seeing so many of my peers who also have very little idea why we are over in Iraq and what we are doing there, I can understand Catherine's decision to [volunteer for] the war just to find out the facts.
JP: Well, all right, Sally, thanks again for sitting down and talking with all of us today. And needless to say, I wish you the best of luck with all your future projects.
SW: Thank you, Jason. This has been a really exciting and new experience for me. I can't wait to publish the novella.