Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Author Interview: Randi Hacker on Life As I Knew It

Randi Hacker is the Education Outreach Coordinator at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas, a job that is a synthesis of many of the other career tracks she has followed in her life: educator, editor, author, student of Chinese. Randi earned her BA in English Literature from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and spent the better part of her thirties working as the editor of The Electric Company Magazine published by Children's Television Workshop.

Before completing an MA in Teaching English as a Second Language from St. Michael's College in Winooski, Vermont, she dropped out of quite a number of well-respected graduate schools including the University of Michigan, UCLA and Columbia University in New York City.

In addition to her duties as Outreach Coordinator, Randi is the mother of a 12-year-old daughter adopted from China. Her Vermont-based sitcom "Windy Acres" was broadcast on Vermont Public Television and won a Boston/New England Emmy for Outstanding Entertainment Program. Her young adult novel, Life as I Knew It (Simon & Schuster, 2006) was chosen as one of the New York Public Library's Books for the Teen Age 2007. She is currently at work on her second YA novel, "Home Page Temporarily Disabled."

Could you tell us about your path to publication? Any sprints or stumbles along the way?

Well, it depends on what you mean by "publication." If you mean magazine articles, then the path was winding and is paved with rejections though my work (and the work I did with a writing partner) has appeared in many publications including Spy, Punch and The New York Times Book Review.

If you mean novels, then the path was short: it took about two years to write the first draft after which I called on an old magazine colleague of mine from back in the 20th Century, himself a successful YA author (Dan Gutman) who very kindly gave me the name of his editor at S&S and I sent the first three chapters off to her. Three days later, she asked for the rest of the book and, a week later, she bought it. I negotiated my advance myself. However, this is not something I would like to repeat.

Congratulations on the release of Life As I Knew It (Simon Pulse, 2006)! Could you fill us in on the story?

Thank you. It was a great thrill for me to see this book published. It's the story of a 16-year-old girl whose father suffers a stroke and dies and the effect this catastrophic event has on all the relationships in her life, especially the one with her mother with whom she has always shared a low level of hostility. It takes place in a tiny town in Northern Vermont where everyone knows everyone else's business. It's a story of evolution, awakening maturity, tolerance and acceptance.

What was your initial inspiration for writing the book?

It is based on the true story of some dear friends of mine who lived up the hill from me in our small Vermont town: the father of the family suffered a stroke, was incapacitated and died, all within a year. I watched this family go through this and come out the other side better than they were when they went in. They pulled together. They took care of each other. They learned, I think, a deeper meaning of love.

Though the family members in my book are fictitious and the events surrounding the stroke are different, the story itself--one of love and responsibility and evolution--is true to the original. I wrote this book as a gift for them.

Oh yeah. I also named the tiny town I set the story in after my neighbors in Vermont--an older couple who had grown up in the town, left and lived abroad then come back to retire there.

I know I gave them many amusing moments when they watched me from their kitchen window as I made the dramatic transition from NYC apartment dweller to the ex-urban, wood-stacking, garden-growing, horse-owning, chicken-killing lifestyle.

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

I guess about five years went by between the actual event and the day I sat down to write my story of this event, then another two years of writing before I mailed off the ms and then another year of rewrite before it was released.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?

Just getting pages done day after day was difficult, though double espressos helped, and I did take a six-month break at one point. Worrying about the ending. Worrying about the quality of the writing itself. Judging myself for being too corny or not being funny enough. And, you know, my greatest fear was that the people whose story I based it on would not like it.

I was bitin' my nails when I handed the book over, but the mother liked it very much. Phew. The daughter--who was 10 at the time of the stroke--has not yet been able to finish it: she says it evokes too many memories still. I can respect that.

If you could go back and talk to yourself when you were beginning writer, what advice would you offer?

Just write it out: don't worry about style or humor or melodrama or fashioning the brilliant metaphor. You can go back and craft it once you've got the story down.

What do you do when you're not writing?

Read. Cook. Run. Do yoga. Watch old movies. Play Gin Rummy with my daughter--you know, I taught her the game and now she beats my brains out every time!

What can your fans look forward to next?

A YA sci-fi trilogy set in the post-computer age.

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