Author Interview with Renee Garrison
Today I had the pleasure of talking to Renee Garrison. She is the author of THE ANCHOR CLANKERS, which won a Gold Medal in the Florida Authors and Publishers Association President’s Book Awards in the Young Adult/Coming of Age category last year! Meet this wonderful person who is a great Inspiration to thriving authors. Today she talks about her book, her unique writing process and much more! Scroll along to read about her Award Winning book at the end of the page.
Renee Garrison was born in Washington DC. Her father was a naval aviator, whose job required the family to move every three years. Though she hated changing schools, Renee discovered a freedom to reinvent herself in each new city where she lived. She discovered her love of journalism while writing for her high school newspaper and graduated from the University of South Florida with a degree in Mass Communications. She spent 18 years as a staff writer for The Tampa Tribune.
Tell us about yourself and how many books you have written.
This is my first book, though I spent 15 years writing for a large daily newspaper. Sadly, all of my stories that appeared in newsprint were recycled into pulp. (They tend to yellow with age, anyway.) I really wanted to see my work appear in something permanent – like a book binding! I discovered my love of weaving facts into narrative form when I wrote for my high school newspaper. Full disclosure: I was never terribly good at math. I majored in Journalism in college and got hired by The Tampa Tribune as a clerk in the Features Department during my senior year. (That means I typed in Ann Landers advice column and Sydney Omar’s horoscopes.) I wrote a few short stories and restaurant reviews for them until a reporting position opened up. They liked my work and I was hired.
Where were you raised? Where do you live now? Do you have any pets?
I was born in Washington D.C. and my father was a Navy pilot. His career required our family to move every three years. Though I hated changing schools and having to make new friends, I discovered a freedom to reinvent myself in each new city where we lived. I currently live in Deland, Florida – a short drive from Walt Disney World! My sweet little peekapoo passed away, so now I dog sit for friends when they go on vacation.
What is the name of your latest book and what inspired it?
My debut novel, THE ANCHOR CLANKERS, won a Gold Medal in the Florida Authors and Publishers Association President’s Book Awards in the Young Adult/Coming of Age category last year.
Here’s the plot: What if you were the only girl living in a boys’ boarding school? THE ANCHOR CLANKERS revolves around a ninth-grade girl who never had a brother – at least not a biological one. But she acquires hundreds of them when she moves (with her parents) into a boys’ military academy in Florida where her father is the new Commandant.
The story includes several themes including prejudice, peer pressure, and coping with change. The main character moves from Boston to Florida in 1971. Not wanting to move is normal. Leaving behind everything that’s familiar is frightening. I want my readers to remember that they’re not alone. According to the National Military Family Association, military children will say good-bye to more significant people by age 18 than the average person will in their lifetime. It is a fictionalized account of my own high school experience – yes, I grew up in a boys’ boarding school! When I moved back to Florida after a decade spent living in Michigan, memories came flooding back and a book was born. My father often came home at night, rolled his eyes at my mother and said, “I ought to write a book.” Sadly, they both died before they could attempt it and are buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C. I felt honored to write a book for my parents and dedicated it to them. I worked on THE ANCHOR CLANKERS for eight years. I reached out to alumni of the naval academy and met them for coffee, for lunch, did phone interviews and kept legal pads full of their stories. I was editing several magazines in Central Florida at the time, so I wrote on my lunch hour and in the evenings.
What genres do you write on? Is there a particular genre you want to try writing in the future?
This is my first book and it happens to be Young Adult. I’m currently writing the sequel but when it’s completed, I might try adult fiction. (I’m just no good at fantasy!)
What do you think will be the initial thoughts of your readers while reading your book?
Since it’s set in 1971 – 1972, they may be surprised that there is no internet or cell phones.
One reader told me it reminded her of Harry Potter – without the wizards and wands, of course.
The book does take place in a boarding school and the midshipmen who live there play a lot of pranks. The main character is just a normal girl who has to live in an unusual place.
Tell us about your writing process. Do you follow a unique way for writing Fiction?
Most days, I’m sitting at my desktop computer by 7 a.m. with a pot of coffee. (I seem to be more creative in the morning.) But I always carry a notebook and pen with me so I can scribble thoughts in the car, on beach chairs – I’ve even done some pretty good work on the back of vomit bags during long airline flights.
Chocolate seems to help my creative process a lot.
Henry Miller wrote at a large oak desk while Rudyard Kipling sat in his library full of books. Here’s a secret – you can train yourself to write anywhere. JK Rowling wrote most of the first Harry Potter book in cafes around Edinburgh. All you really need is something to write on. I make myself comfortable and my environment, cheerful. (I don’t understand how the author Edith Sitwell found writing in an open coffin inspiring.) Of course, you could write on a horse like Sir Walter Scott, too.
Who are your favorite authors to read? What is your favorite genre to read?
I can get totally lost in mysteries and I’ve recently been reading M.C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin series. I loved the BBC series and someday, I want to visit the Cotswolds’.
Do you have any advice for new authors?
Stop texting! Life deserves more than an abbreviation.
Any kind of writing – journals, term papers, letters to your grandmother – will hone your ability with words. The more time you spend writing; the fewer words you’ll need to use. Write every day, even if you aren’t inspired and you think your work is really bad. I interviewed the author Andrew Gross for The Tampa Tribune. He told me his best work (and probably mine) comes on the second or third draft of a story. But you can’t edit a blank page… I’ve learned that you need readers who are not related to you. Friends and family try to spare your feelings and never give you very helpful criticism. Reading is also incredibly important. Books, magazines, newspapers – it’s all good. You’ll see how other writers do it and notice some are better than others. You may not be aware of it, but every time you get lost in a story, or intrigued by a magazine article, you’re also picking up pointers on structure, plot, and style.
Another crucial key to writing is finishing what you start.
Lots of kids, and older people, too, tell me that they have so many stories started. Started is good. Beginnings are good. But you have to finish. Finishing is what makes the difference between ideas and books. Lastly, listen to your own thoughts and feelings very carefully, be aware of your observations, and learn to value them. When you’re a teenager – and even when you’re older – lots of people will try to tell you what to think and feel. Try to stand still inside all of that and hear your own voice. It’s yours and only yours, it’s unique and worthy of your attention, and if you cultivate it properly, it might just make you a writer.
About the book:
Genre: YA/Coming of Age
Blurb: What if you were the only girl living in a private boys’ boarding school?
Fourteen-year-old Suzette LeBlanc moves into the Sanford Naval Academy in Florida when her dad becomes its Commandant. Walking through the school lobby, she feels like something on a specimen slide in biology class. It doesn’t help that she’s nearsighted and refuses to wear her ugly glasses.
Suzette struggles to fit in with the older, more sophisticated midshipmen as well as the girls in the Catholic high school she attends across town. In between the pranks—from a riotous cast of characters—and the prom, she’s invited to join the cheer-leading squad and finds a friend in the squad captain, Debbie. Life looks good until a local girl becomes pregnant and a midshipman is believed to be responsible. That’s when Suzette must turn to her parents to save the school from retribution. Will she be in time?
Happy reading! Xo