Interview with Tara Gilboy

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About the Author: Tara Gilboy holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia, where she specialized in writing for children and young adults. Her middle grade novel, Unwritten, was published by Jolly Fish Press in October 2018. She teaches creative writing in San Diego Community College’s Continuing Education Program and for the PEN Writers in Prisons Program. Tara has also worked as a writing mentor through the program Booming Ground and served on the editorial board of PRISM International. She does freelance editing for the company Narrative Ink, and she is the former fiction editor of Straylight Literary Magazine. Tara’s work has appeared in Word Riot, the Beloit Fiction Journal, Cricket, and other publications. She lives in San Diego.

Visit Tara Gilboy at www.taragilboy.com

Cheyenne Lopex: What was the inspiration behind Unwritten?

Tara Gilboy: You know, it’s really interesting because I’ve had a lot of people ask me that. People kind of assume that it started with this idea of a book and being able to go into a story, and it didn’t even really start off that way. The early drafts had Gracie and Walter kind of waking up in this forest and they originally didn’t know each other. I was kind of figuring out this idea of Gracie and what she was fleeing from, and if somebody was after her, and I was kind of playing around with that for like a good few months. I had been spending a lot of time up north in my dad’s cottage in Wisconsin and so I was doing a lot of jogging through the woods there; I kept seeing these woods and it looked like something out of a fairy tale, and that’s how I started with this idea of books. For like a year, she went inside of fairy tales like Sleeping Beauty and I had like 70 pages of that, and my writing group kept telling me to get rid of it but I wouldn’t listen; and then I finally listened and the book got better. So it really was a long round-about process.

CL: In previous interviews, you’ve said that the plot twist surprised even yourself. Can you explain more about that?

TG: Yeah, there were a lot of things that surprised me! When I try to plan things out or outline things, it feels like I’m trying to force characters to do stuff and I usually get feedback from my writing group that it doesn’t feel natural. So usually when I feel that I’m being surprised, then I know that I’m going in the right direction. Unfortunately, that means I do a lot of rewriting.

CL: Which character do you relate to the most in Unwritten and why? Which character do you relate to the most in any book you’ve read?

TG: You know it’s interesting because it changes depending on how I’m feeling at the time. I relate to Gracie a lot because she’s my main character and a lot of the different choices that I had her make are what I think I would have done in the same situation. But you know, it really does depend. There are a lot of things with Gertrude Winters and especially now that I’m working on the sequel, I just see a lot myself in not only her but also Cassandra—at times. Cassandra is kind of fun to play around with. There’s definitely a little bit of myself in every character, but it’s probably Gracie most of all.

In other stories? That’s a good question. I have always been a huge Jane Austin fan, so I really love a lot of her characters. Like Emma and Lizbeth Bennett; and when I was a kid, as far as children’s books, I was really obsessed with Laura in Little House on the Prairie, and Sarah from A Little Princess—I identified with those two more than any other characters as a child.

CL: In Unwritten, Gertrude Winters is the author of Gracie’s life. In the first half of the book, it is Gracie’s goal to meet and question Gertrude Winters about her story. If there were an author behind your life, would you want to meet them the same way Gracie wants to meet Gertrude Winters? Would you read your own story and live by it in the same way Cassandra does, or would you become the author of your own life the way Gracie does?

TG: That is a really good question! I haven’t really thought about that. I guess I would be really curious because I would want to know what the plans were for me or what had been written about me. I think just like Gracie, I would want to know what the author’s intentions were behind creating the character. I suppose in a sense it would say something about who I was even if that’s not really the case—like Gracie learns. I would be really curious, but there’s always that part of you that would be really scared to find out. I know I would want to read my story, but I guess it would depend on what it said. If I liked what it said, I might want to use it as a manual but there’s definitely a part of me that would try to do things in spite of what the story says because I think I can be a little stubborn like that.

CL: Gertrude Winters is most interested in villains as characters. What type of characters are your favorite?

TG: I think I’m a bit like Gertrude in that I find myself very interested in villains too. I just think that it can be a lot of fun to play around with and investigate how they become the people they are and to answer what are some of their motivations are. Even with the good characters, the heroes, I tend to like them a bit more flawed because I feel like that makes them more dynamic. I like characters who have a mixture; too evil and they’re kind of flat, and the same is true when they’re too good. I really like flawed characters.

CL: If your own characters came to meet you at one of your book signings wanting to know more about you and about themselves, what would you do?

TG: Well, I hope it would be a character who wasn’t too mad at me. I feel like I would want to take them out to lunch, especially depending on who it was. Gertrude and I could definitely go to lunch and talk about writing, but Cassandra might be a little more difficult to do things with. But that’s definitely something I think about when I make something bad happen to a character, like oh no, I’m as bad as Gertrude!

CL: Which authors have inspired you over the years?

TG: So many! I used to read a lot more of adult fiction; a lot of classics like Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen. Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of children’s books, and so I don’t read a lot of adult books anymore. I love MC Anderson, but oh gosh, now I’m losing everyone’s names here on the spot; E. Lockhart, Jerry Spinelli, Gail Carson Levine, Katherine Applegate, there’s just so many.

CL: What do you think is so attractive about children’s and middle grade novels for you?

TG: For me, I think it’s the focus on story. When I used to write more for adults it felt like how many big words can I use? And you try to always make these beautiful descriptions and I feel like kids don’t really have the patience for that. You know, like, let’s just get to it! I try to give kids a good story and keep it exciting. I also like that you’re not limited; in children’s literature, you can make these really magical stories about like talking animals and chocolate factories and basically anything that you want. You’re not limited as long as you can pull it off. As an adult writer you’re working within the space of romance, or literary, or Sci-Fi—anything. But as a children’s writer, you’re writing any of those things and it’s always going to be children’s literature and it feels like there’s a lot of freedom within that genre.

CL: What book are you reading right now?

TG: I am reading Amy Tan’s book, Where the Past Begins: A Writer’s Memoir; I just started it so I’m not very far. I’m also reading—I always read a couple of things at once—Christopher Paul Curtis’s book, The Journey of Little Charlie which came out recently, within the last couple of months or so.

CL: What can readers look forward to in the future?

TG: I’m working on a sequel to Unwritten, but I had a few other books that I had started before working on the sequel. They weren’t really going to many places; I’m still just kind of playing around in between projects. There will be more middle grade—I know that I will definitely be writing more middle grade—but lately, I’ve been playing around with some ideas for nonfiction. So who knows?

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