Natalie Standiford is the author of How to Say Goodbye in Robot, which is published by Scholastic Press. She dropped by the virtual offices of Manga Maniac Cafe, where we chatted up her book. In English. No Robot was spoken, which is too bad, because I studied up before she stopped in.
Your latest novel is How to Say Goodbye in Robot. Can you share a brief description of the book?
HOW TO SAY GOODBYE IN ROBOT is the story of Beatrice, a 17-year-old girl who has moved around so much she feels like a permanent outsider. She’s formed a brittle shell to protect herself from being hurt, so her mother accuses her of being cold and calls her a robot. In her senior year she moves to Baltimore and befriends the outcast at her new school, Jonah or "Ghost Boy." They bond over a late-night radio show and other Baltimore weirdness and as their friendship intensifies, it changes them both forever.
How did you come up with the concept for the characters and the story?
The idea for the story came from something I heard at a high school reunion which made me start thinking about my high school years and my classmates in a new way. I grew up in Baltimore and went to a small private school like the one in the book, and I loved the intimacy of it. But looking back after many years, I wondered what would it feel like to find yourself in such a closed world when you’re not used to it–to be new in a school where everyone has known each other forever, in a city that can feel like a small town. I wondered how the world I grew up in would look to an outsider. So I made Beatrice that outsider and set her on her way.
You can find out more about some of the places, movies, and songs mentioned in the book on my web site: www.nataliestandiford.com. Click on the "Mystery Page."
Did you learn anything about yourself through your characters?
I learned from Beatrice that, like her, I probably do protect myself by keeping to the sidelines and observing people. For a lot of writers that’s part of their temperament, but it’s also a way of protecting your sensitive self and avoiding making mistakes. The thing is, making mistakes is how you learn, so I’m trying to dive into life more without being so careful.
What are you working on right now? Can you share some plot details?
My next book is called CONFESSIONS OF THE SULLIVAN SISTERS and Scholastic is publishing it this fall. It’s about three sisters from a large, rich Baltimore family completely dependent on their grandmother’s money. One of them has gravely offended their grandmother–known as "Almighty Lou"–and she threatens to cut the entire family out of her will unless the culprit confesses in writing. Each of the three sisters has done something to upset Almighty, so each girl writes a confession. The question is: Who has offended Almighty so deeply, and why? Will these confessions be enough to restore the family fortune?
You were an editor of children’s books. How did that help you become a better writer?
Being an editor was a huge help, especially in the beginning of my career. I learned how publishing works, how an editor thinks, how to shape a story and what goes into the writing of children’s books. There’s so much more to it than people realize. Working in publishing also helped desensitize me to criticism of my work–I saw how much even the best writers have to revise and learned not to take editorial comments personally.
What are some books that inspired you to want to create your own?
There are so many! All of my childhood favorites, like Beverly Cleary, E.B. White, Edward Eager (to name just a few) and books I read when I was older, like DUBLINERS by James Joyce (his story "The Dead" just kills me, it’s so beautiful), THE GREAT GATSBY and everything else by F. Scott Fitzgerald, BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S by Truman Capote, EMMA by Jane Austen, ANNA KARENINA by Tolstoy, SLAVES OF NEW YORK by Tama Janowitz . . . I could go on forever. One thing I love about books like DUBLINERS, SLAVES OF NEW YORK, and BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S is the way the settings come alive–Dublin and New York are like characters in those books, and I found that inspiring.
What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
As everyone says, read a lot and write a lot. But I would also add that it’s important to finish something. You can’t do anything with a manuscript until it’s finished. So write a first draft without worrying if it’s stupid or doesn’t make sense. Shut off your inner editor. Write it all the way to the end, then let it rest for a week or so. When you’re ready, turn your inner editor on and go back and see what you’ve written. It will probably be better than you thought, but it will need work. Revise and revise until it’s the best you can make it. For me, finishing a first draft is the hardest part. Once it’s written, revising feels easier, even if I have to do it over and over again. It’s like being a sculptor: Writing the first draft is making the clay. Once you have the clay, you can shape it and refine it into whatever form you like.
Thanks for interviewing me! You can find out more about me on my web site, www.nataliestandiford.com.
Natalie, thank you so much for dropping in! I can hardly wait for Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters! It looks intriguing.
How to Say Goodbye in Robot is available now, and make sure you check out Natalie Standiford’s website here. Keep an eye out for her next novel, Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters, which will be in stores this fall.