This week I am thrilled to interview Nora Raleigh Baskin. Nora was one of the first people I met when I started running workshops for NESCBWI. The workshop was called, “Speaking from the Heart” and as you will see, Nora is a writer who always speaks from the heart. Nora is the author of the middle grade novels Ruby on the Outside (Simon & Schuster), What Every Girl (except me) Knows, Almost Home (Little, Brown and Company), Basketball (or Something Like It), In the Company of Crazies (HarperCollins), and The Truth About My Bat Mitzvah and Runt (Simon & Schuster), as well as the YA novels Subway Love, Surfacing, All We Know Of Love (Candlewick), Anything But Typical, and The Summer Before Boys (Simon & Schuster). She has also published short stories and personal essays in the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine and The Writer. She has taught at the Writers Center in Sleepy Hollow, NY. She holds a BA from SUNY Purchase.
When did you decide to become an author?
Well, I think there is a difference between being an author and being a writer, or wanting to be either. I wanted to be a writer when I was in 6th grade and my Language Arts teacher read my story out loud to the class. It was the first time I felt there was something I could do well enough to get attention for, positive attention. I was at a very, very low and lonely point in my family life, and up until then negative attention was the only kind I knew how to get (and I did it well!) Writing was a way I could express myself, figure out my world, and find my own voice. That’s when I knew I wanted to write. Because it felt good! Choosing to try and dreaming of becoming an author didn’t come until I was an adult, married with children.
Tell us about your journey. How did you get your first book published?
It’s a long story (I do a whole keynote presentation on the subject, in fact) but briefly- it was a nine year process, beginning with adult short stories ABOUT children that morphed into stories FOR children. I can honestly say things changed when I joined SCBWI and learned how to approach publishing professionally. I joined a critique group and I didn’t give up. But at the same time, I didn’t keep sending out the same thing… I kept writing new work and getting better by doing. And by reading. And then ultimately (and maybe ironically) writing the story I had always wanted to tell… since I was in 6th grade!!
Was there ever a point when you felt like giving up?
Well, no I never wanted to give up but I was at the point where I was going to have to get a full time job. I was teaching nursery school and Hebrew school but my kids were older and I needed more security. The summer I applied to SCSU for my teaching degree was the summer my first novel was bought. Needless to say, I didn’t go to grad school, however it would be another 10 years before I made any kind of helpful money. And I still teach as often as I can. I still teach Hebrew school.
Is there anything about being a published author that has surprised you?
That I still get rejected. And that it still feels really, really bad.
Any advice you would give to a writer just starting out?
Yes, as I said above…don’t write one thing and send it out over and over hoping for the right person. Write something else. And then something else. And then something else. And don’t look for trends. Be authentic. True to yourself.
Your latest novel, Ruby on the Outside, is about a girl whose mother is in prison. Why did you decide to write about this topic? Or to put it more broadly, where do you get your ideas?
All of my novels are in one way or another bases on my own story…the loss of my mother. Whether that shows up as a mom in the military (Summer Before Boys) or a mom that abandoned her daughter and lives in Florida (All We Know Of Love) or in prison (Ruby on the Outside) they are all parts of my exploration of my “self.” Sometimes it’s obvious and sometimes its more symbolic. The various contemporary backstories…(Autism, mandatory drug sentencing, women in war) I get from just living. Keeping my eyes and heart open to what moves me. Things I care about…
I have heard you say that each of your novels is about you in some way. How is the story of Ruby on the Outside connected to your real life?
There are so many hidden ways in that book that are bits of my life - more than anyone realizes (except my husband- he saw it all) Some are private…but it works for me. Everyone needs to find their own process.
Is there anything else you would like to share about you or your books?
I already share too much in my work! It’s all on the page…blood, sweat and tears. Oh, another tip…avoid cliches! :)
Thank you so much for doing this interview, Nora. To learn more about Nora and her books visit her online at NoraBaskin.com.