Thursday, November 3, 2011
With A Little Help From My Friends: Interview with Cindy C. Bennett
The theme of my blog is creativity, and one aspect I haven't yet explored is the importance of having support from others. It occurs to me no one more desperately needs supports than teens. So often, they face the choices of denying their individuality, which is the source of creativity, in order to be accepted or of trying to be true to themselves and risking ostracism.
Do these themes come up in your YA novels? If so, how do you express and resolve them?
It’s funny that you talk about teen’s creativity. I just had a conversation with my friend who has a daughter who is extremely unique and creative. Her daughter (who is 14) recently had two separate friends tell her she needs to stop being so unique if she wants people to like her. I find that depressing. One actually told her she needs to be more like everyone else.
To answer your questions, yes, I hope to make my characters unique, where they stand out from the crowd for one reason or another. I want them to remain true to themselves even if it means being made fun of or being looked at oddly. I try not to make any of my main characters “stereotypical”, such as dumb jock, air-headed cheerleader, etc. Those characters might exist on the fringe, but not as a main part of the story. In Geek Girl, which comes out in December, my hero acts like a jerk at one point just because he thought people were thinking him a fool, and hurts the one he loves because of it. But I gave him a brain, which he uses to figure out that it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks, and he gets over it.
What your friend's daughter is experiencing is depressing. That brings me to the question of your own children. Obviously, you give them the best possible role model by expressing your own creative uniqueness? How else do you support them in their creative expression? What advice would you give to those parents who want to encourage/support their children?
I truly believe that kids’ creativity should be allowed to flow. I’ve always tried to support and encourage my own kids in this area. For example, if they have a report due, I would work with them and try to help them to make it the best they could, so that it would stand out above others. My sons always tease me that I don’t believe any piece of school work is done until it has a border around it. But you know what? Over the years, teachers have kept many of my kids projects to use for examples for other classes. So borders help. :o)
I have been in homes where they look a bit like a mausoleum, and I’ve been in homes pasted with drawings and writing done by their kids. I like those homes better. I still have walls and shelves decorated with things my kids have created over the years. You always have time down the road to have a museum quality house, at least until you have grandkids! They say necessity is the mother of invention, I say creativity is the mother of invention. Encourage every ounce of creativity your kids have, because you never know where it might take them.
What a great answer. Now I'd like to move onto a related area. I know that you're part of a very successful critique group. I know from my own experience that a good group can truly support one's creative work with constructive feeback.
I have several questions. The first two are of a practical nature.
1. How did you all find each other, and how long have you been together?
2. How does the critiquing process work (meaning in practical terms)?
We met through an online class for writing a winning query letter. Once the class was over, Camilia Miron Skiba asked if we all wanted to stay in contact. Only Jeffery Moore and I said yes, and she’s the one who came up with the idea of exchanging chapters for critique and editing. We’ve been together almost 2 years now, and have added a fourth member, Sherry Gammon, recently.
What we do is send out a chapter when we’ve finished writing it. One person takes it and goes through it, pointing out editing issues (punctuation, spelling, grammar, etc.) and adding any suggestions or critiques. We use the review feature on Word so that is shows in a different color. That person then emails it to everyone one, and someone else takes second shot, and then finally the third person. We used to all send separate critiques, but then it’s harder for the person receiving them because they have to match three to their original, rather than having all three on one. It also makes sense to do it this way so that we aren’t all correcting the same mistakes, though the second or third person sometimes catches things the first misses. We don’t have any kind of organized order in which we take them, it’s just whoever has time when they first see it on an email. We all takes turns, and have had no issues with anyone feeling like they are doing more than anyone else. We all have different strengths, write different genres, and it works very, very well for us.
The next are of a more subjective nature. I have observed that when people share their creative works with others, they—especially if they are new to this process—feel unsure about handling critiques. Sometimes they experience them as criticism. Other times, they may feel that the critiques are off the mark, but their own confidence in their work may be weakened by differing opinions.
These issues go to the heart of the creative process, in my view. We need to trust our own insights and intuitions and also be able to receive critiques in an objective way.
3. How do you handle critiques that you feel are off the mark?
4. What do you do when you're unsure?
5. How has being in a critique group affected your creative process.
Please add anything else you'd like to say about your group.
You are absolutely right in what you say. And I will say that when we first began, we were all much more hesitant to give honest critiques. We now are very honest, but we also keep it kind and respectful—no mean spirited comments allowed. We also understand that critiques are opinions, and we can choose to use the suggestions or reject them. It depends on how strongly we feel about what we’ve written—after all, our writing is our baby. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of the writer assuming knowledge on the part of the reader, and when someone says what? then we can realize we didn’t give a good enough explanation or back story. Sometimes we defend our choices to one another, which might sway the critiquer, or sometimes we just ignore the suggestion as I said. It can be hard to take critiques of my baby, but honestly, my writing is much stronger when I listen with an open mind. Sometimes one person will offer a suggestion or critique, and the others will disagree.
Being part of this group has expanded my creativity to no end. It’s nice to have others to give you feedback, especially when you’re unsure of a particular passage, or to ask questions about plot points, or have something pointed out that you’ve used incorrectly. It helps me to know when I’m writing really well, and when I’ve veered off course and am writing something that has nothing to do with the story I’m trying to tell. I can’t imagine any professional editor worth more than our group, and all they cost me is a little of my time returning the favor. It’s the best thing I’ve done for my writing yet!
That is so well said, and I hope those writers reading this who haven't considered or are wondering about the benefits of a critique group will benefit from what you've said.
If there's anything else you'd like to say about your writing process, creativity, or your books (or all of the above), this is your opportunity.
I hope that when people read my books they find themselves entertained. That’s my goal. If you finish one of my books and are glad to have stepped into that particular world for a few hours, then I’ve done my job. You won’t find me on the literary lists next to Shakespeare, for example, but hopefully I’m just as enjoyable to read (and easier to understand).
I would like to thank you for having me on your blog. If I could give any advice to writers or inspiring writers out there, I would just say to use whatever process works best for you. Everyone has a different way of writing, a different way of tapping into your creativity. It’s great to discover how others do things, but that doesn’t mean it will necessarily work for you. My creativity comes from just letting it flow when it will, not trying to force it. Some people are more regimented, and schedule it. I envy them! I can’t do that. Find your creativity in whatever area it is, and make sure to nurture it.
You can connect with Cindy C. Bennett at www.cindycbennett.com
Blurb for Geek Girl
"Think I could turn that boy bad?"
My two best friends--my only two friends, really--follow my gaze and laugh.
"Trevor Hoffman?" Beth scoffs. "No way, Jen."
"I bet I could," I say, shrugging.
"Why him?" Beth asks. "Why not any of the other nerds sitting there with him?"
"Because," I say slowly, "he isn't your typical run-of-the-mill geek. Trevor Hoffman is different. He would be a little more difficult to take down--more of a challenge, you know?"
Jen's teenage life of rebelling and sneaking out is growing stale. In an effort to combat her boredom, Jen makes a bet to turn Trevor, a nice geek, into a "bad boy." Unexpectedly, she is pulled into Trevor's world of sci-fi movies, charity work, and even--ugh!--bowling. Jen discovers that hanging out with Trevor isn't so bad after all.
But when Trevor finds out about the wager, all bets are off.