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Friday, September 3, 2010

YA Author Interview: David A. Bedford

David A. Bedford

David A. Bedford has lived an anomalous, colorful, and demanding life, involving birth in the US, childhood in Argentina, college in Texas and professional language teaching work in Georgia, Illinois, and Brazil. This has given him tolerance for difference, change, and challenge. It may also explain his unflagging search for healthy normality wherever he can find it. As if that were not enough, after Brazil he spent a couple of years living off translation and then was fortunate to receive his current position as Instructor of Spanish at TCU in Fort Worth, Texas, where he has been for 14 years and will stay put if he can help it. At some point in July 1997 the urge to write fiction could no longer be denied and the result was Liliana y el espejo (a book of 13 fantastic short stories in Spanish) and Angela 1: Starting Over, the first of three short YA novels, uncompromisingly realist (just to be different), in English.



David's agents are WB Agency. They are part of the AEG-Strategic Publishing Group. His publisher is AEG’s Eloquent Books imprint.

CS: Tell us about Angela 1: Starting Over. How was your story birthed? What was your motivation?

David A. Bedford: In April 2005 I attended an all-day workshop on getting published, sponsored by my university’s extended education program. I was wanting to get ideas for finding an agent and publisher for a bilingual version of my book of Spanish short stories (Liliana y el espejo, 2002), but I came out of it with something much better, something I never expected. The instructor spent the morning of the workshop talking about how to develop a project that agents will at least look at before throwing it onto the rejection pile. When we went to lunch, the whole Angela project just came to me (oh yeah, in English!): main character, locale, overarching theme for three books, and a plot idea for each one. I opened my composition book and sketched out a draft outline for each book, making a bunch of notes on characters. As soon as I had time just to stop and think, I made a fuller outline for Angela 1, and started writing. The rest, as they say, is history and since “they” say it, it must be true. Right?

My motivation for writing is having a story in me that’s bursting to be told. In the case of Angela, I wanted to do something very different from anything else out there. That’s why I put at the center of the story an unusually mature, coherent and loving teenager who sets off all kinds of potentially dangerous reactions, never meaning to.

CS: What messages/life lessons did you wish to teach your readers in Angela?

David A. Bedford: I always write to engage the readers with a story. Too much message bores them, me included. For me, writing is mostly intuitive and then later I see what I have been up to. The major theme of each of the three books in the Angela series is responsible citizenship and what it may cost us. At the time I sketched out the books, I only knew I was excited because I had a story I wanted to tell.

For many years, the US movie, TV, and radio industry was governed by a self-imposed code that prohibited “bad” words and references to sex, among other matters. Screenwriters retaliated by making any good, rule-respecting character hypocritical or hopelessly clueless, in the case of adults, and scared, social climbing, or a snitch, in the case of children. We were all conditioned to love the antisocial characters and view good people with scorn or disbelief. As a result, to this day readers and viewers react to good characters as basically unreal, uninteresting, or both and to expect the dysfunctional, greedy and self-indulging characters as the norm in literature and in life. I decided to take the challenge and write a good character who people can’t ignore and show that it takes a great deal of courage not to conform to what most people consider normal or to how they act. Another important point is that, when the story opens, Angela’s parents have just divorced. Of course it’s a major blow to Angela, her brother and her little sister, but doesn’t make them crazy or uncontrollable.

If you want to be a responsible citizen, you have to have courage. It means going against what everyone else does pretty much all through life. It can also involve confronting powers that could really hurt you. That’s what Angela is forced to learn.

CS: Looking back on the writing of Angela, is there anything you would have done differently?

David A. Bedford: The funny thing is that I discovered what I just told you about the book only by looking back on what I had done. I suppose many writers share that experience: we know in part what we’re doing but there’s a lot more going into the book than we are aware of as we write.

Now, as to what I would do differently, I probably would have developed the back story more. Given my experience writing the next installment in the series, I would have had the confidence to write a somewhat longer book. But I figure I’ll take all this experience into my next project. Always learning and growing: that’s what keeps me happy.

CS: What part of writing is easiest for you? And the hardest?

David A. Bedford: The hard part is coming up with a plan after the initial idea has come to me. I need characters, the plot in broad strokes, a locale, and an underlying philosophical or aesthetic concept as a subtext before I start writing. Finding the time to write can also be a challenge. I’m a college professor with a full load of work. But once I have all my elements and some free time, I’m off and running. The writing, that’s the easy part.

Of course, getting up the nerve to show the first draft to someone for feedback can be tough.

CS: What advice would you give aspiring authors about getting into the game? What do you know now that you wish you knew back when you started in the business?

David A. Bedford: First, have another job and don’t plan to live off royalties. Very few people have been able to do that. Even some of the very best classical authors had another source of income.

Plan what you want to do with each writing project. Plot: how will the story end and how do we get there? Characters: what makes them tick, what are their motivations and inborn personality traits? Know their back story. Subtext: what are the values and/or symbolism and/or philosophy and/or any other matters that are important to you?–don’t address it directly, just let it bubble up. Locale: have it vivid in your mind but just allude to it as if your readers already knew the place.

Allow for the serendipities: you never know just what may happen.

Allow yourself to be intuitive.

Let the characters be who they are. They may hijack your plans. So, see where it leads to. The idea of plot that you start with should be something that occurs because your characters act and think the way they do. Sometimes you start a scene with characters interacting and when you’re done you say: “I didn’t know it was going to turn out like that.” I call it being in the zone. When you’re in the zone, good things happen.

Have several people read your drafts. Think about what they tell you.

Finally, finish your book and start submitting it to agents. Know what the agents accept and don’t accept before you send it and make sure it is in the format they ask for. Expect many rejections and never give up.

I wish I’d known to keep submitting the book more purposefully and frequently.

CS: What was the wisest thing about writing ever said to you?

David A. Bedford: Literature should have room for everything.

CS: Tell us about your next book. Is it young adult fiction as well?

David A. Bedford: My next book will be Angela 2: The Guardian of the Bay. It’s already written. I want Angela 1 to get some good traction before I submit the next one for publication. Before that I need to go over Guardian and edit it very carefully. The third and last installment (Angela 3: Silver Path of the Moon) is planned out. I suspect it may need a more detailed outline. I plan to start on it when the second book is published.

Thank you so much for interviewing me!

“Writing is the most fun you can have by yourself.” – Terry Pratchett

No David, Thank you for sharing this interview with us.


DLCurran said...

Sounds like an interesting character - to be mature beyond one's years is unusual especially for a teen. Thanks for the insights for writers to keep in mind while they bring their stories to life - certainly notes to keep in mind, I thought.

Sabrina said...

great! I love this book.

Cinette said...

My copy is on back order at Chapters (sniff!)

Sabrina said...

It's really refreshing I think, to hear about a teenager as unique as Angela. It's actually someone I could have related to in high school, or looked up to in middle school. I think your message about patriotism will come across too... People tend to be really narrowminded, but at least when I read this book I found myself putting my own biased thoughts aside and thinking back to the basics and foundations of our country.

Thanks for the awesome interview!