Apr 16, 2011

Emily Lockhart comes to CHS

Northwest author Emily Lockhart came to Capital Friday afternoon, sharing her experiences with six English classes. In a presentation that was relatable, self-deprecating, and honest, Lockhart spoke about her life as a student and as a writer--and explained how the two were intertwined. She grew up in Seattle, and first attended a "granola" and "bohemian" prep school; as she put it, "We all had to promise to never buy a car."

A loner, the sort of person others avoid in the cafeteria, Lockhart decided to transfer to Lakeside School, where she was able to reinvent herself in a surprising fashion:
I didn't change anything about myself--how I looked, how I acted. I just showed up to see what happened. What happened was, I made friends.... I had a totally different life. I saw high school life from somewhere near the top, and somewhere near the bottom.... that's why I keep writing about it.
As Lockhart explained, unlike many places in the adult world, high school throws together people of every conceivable disposition and circumstance, with no real option for escape. The conflict that results is what interests her, and her young adult books are full of italicized, capital-D Drama.

Like a lot of fiction writers, Lockhart took time to get noticed. Her first attempt at publish non-fiction was rejected 70 times; her first success, a children's book, was rejected 30 times--and then, when published, "it was a lovely experience, but nobody read it." She wrote five unnoticed novels before The Boyfriend List finally caught readers' attention. Now, she's published a book a year for the last eight years. In her words, "It's not an easy way to get rich, but you can make a living."

You could sense Lockhart's palpable enthusiasm for her craft when she talked about the way she develops narrative.
You become a little bit fond of the character. I gave Ruby traits that I like--some of them are mine. I liked Ruby. Once you create a character that you like, as a fiction writer, what you have to do is torture them. If you have a story about a happy person with a good life, and they continue to be a happy person with a good life, you don't have a story, you have a description. Your job as a writer is to ask, "What's the worst thing that could happen?"
Some of Lockhart's best advice concerns her writerly motivation.
I don't feel like writing a lot of the time. I make myself do it. I write junk... I set a goal. I'm going to write 500 words, and then I can have a chocolate chip cookie.... Some day it's really fun and the best job ever. My writing teacher [in her university program] thought I sucked. But I'm the only one from the class who became a published writer. Why? Because my books are finished.
Lockhart's down-to-earth persona and frank advice seemed to resonate with the students in her audience. Even though YA Teen Drama isn't really my thing, I'm going to check out a couple of her books, and recommend her work to my students.

And one last thing: Lockhart pointed out, "I'm on Twitter, you can come follow me." (She's @elockhart.)

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