Authors & Inspirations: Sandi Van

Today on the blog I’m thrilled to have my friend and fellow Buffalonian, Sandi Van! Her debut YA verse novel, Second in Command, was released last month from West 44 Books. A brief synopsis of the book is below. Welcome, Sandi!

Sixteen-year-old Leo dreams of becoming an Eagle Scout and, someday, a police officer. He makes sure to always do the right thing and be responsible. With his mom deployed and his dad constantly working, Leo is often left in charge of his two younger siblings. Then Leo’s brother, Jack, gets caught up in a dangerous plot that rocks the community. Can Leo keep his promise to stand by his brother no matter what, or will he stand on the side of justice?

 

Do you listen to music while you write? Why or why not?

Yes, I usually listen to music while I write, especially if I’m someplace noisy like a coffee shop or indoor soccer center. It helps me focus. It can also be great if I’m trying to create a certain mood, like if I have to write a heartbreaking scene I’ll loop a really sad song on repeat.

If you do listen to music while writing, share a few songs on your current writing playlist:

Normally I’ll chose a particular artist or genre to stream depending on my mood or the mood of the story. If there’s no wifi available, I’m stuck playing whatever is saved on my laptop, which is mostly techno and electronica songs. I love the beat and energy. Two of my favorites are My Way by Calvin Harris and The Greatest by Sia. I did create a playlist for Second in Command: https://open.spotify.com/user/jcix7v3qr7zd8dhc856jummqb/playlist/2b92iRMAar9paHXFwBAlxx?si=ax1FNX6MR0WYMf7g1gHNSw

What band is on your bucket list to see live?

James. I regret not seeing them live when they were big in the US. They only tour in the UK now it seems, although I did see a date in Greece this summer. That would be a fun trip. I watch their concerts on YouTube sometimes, and Tim Booth is an amazing performer. Unfortunately, my husband hates live music, so we don’t go to many shows. I’m going to Mumford and Sons with some friends in March though, and I’m really excited about that.

What TV shows are you loving lately?

I’m a sucker for This is Us. The writing is beautiful and I have yet to make it through an episode without crying. I also loved Sex Education on Netflix. So smart and funny.

What are your all-time favorite movies?

Real Genius. The Goonies. The Princess Bride. Better off Dead. Everything by John Hughes. Basically, I love 80’s movies.

You can go on a two-week, all-expenses paid writing retreat to the location of your choice. Where would you go, and why?

I used to live on the west coast and we took a road trip down to Oregon and hiked some of the waterfalls off the Columbia River. It was incredibly beautiful and inspiring. I’d love to rent a cabin out there somewhere with a view of a waterfall out my window. Get up in the morning, go for a hike, then come back and write.

What’s your favorite book you’ve read recently?

My son and I read Pax by Sara Pennypacker. It tore me apart; it was so beautiful and sad. I love books like that. My son adored it as well – he’s listened to the audiobook more times than I can count.

What are your very favorite kinds of scenes to write?

Oh, the heart wrenchingly sad ones. They are not easy to write, but I tend to lose myself in them completely and really feel connected to my characters after we’ve gone through a difficult moment together. They are emotionally draining but also very therapeutic.

When you need to recharge your batteries/refill the well as a writer, what forms of media do you most often turn to?

Books. The language of a well written story will often kick start my creative flow. If I’m stuck in a rut, getting into nature or performing menial tasks (like painting a room or cleaning windows) will often help as well.

If you could have a drink/cup of coffee/beverage of choice with any three people alive in the world right now, who would you pick?

First I want to say that if it was someone no longer alive it would be Shirley Jackson. Because she wrote some crazy stuff and I’d love to have been able to pick her brain. Margaret Atwood for sure, and Emma Watson. They are both amazing, smart, trail blazing women and I am totally in love with listening to them talk.

Let us know what’s coming up next for you: new books, new projects; what are you working on?

I’ve been going back and forth between two stories lately. One is an adult novel about a young woman who gets stuck in a snow storm and her experience on the road helps her deal with the guilt of her brother’s death. The other is a major revision to a previously finished novel; that one is YA and it’s about a girl whose father gets deployed during Desert Storm and she’s on a quest to find her mother. I recently had an idea for some changes and am excited to try and weave those into the manuscript.

 

Sandi Van is a writer, counselor, and former special education teacher from Buffalo, NY. Her nonfiction piece, “Labor and Delivery” was featured in Adoptive Families Magazine and her poetry won recognition in the Elmira Star-Gazette and the PennWriters’ In Other Words contest. Sandi is also a proud Navy wife. Her debut verse novel, Second in Command, was inspired by and dedicated to military families facing deployment.

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Authors & Inspirations: Caitie McKay

My second Authors & Inspirations interview is with young adult author Caitie McKay. Caitie and I go waaaaayy back – we first met in college, in our first creative writing class (which was taught by the awesome young adult author Janet McNally). We liked each other’s work immediately as we read it for workshop, and quickly became friends. We’ve stayed friends and have continued beta reading each other’s work since!

Caitie’s debut novel, a young adult novel in verse entitled Every Little Bad Idea, came out this summer. It’s a beautiful, gorgeously written story about the pains of growing up, falling in love, and deciding what you want your life to be. I’m thrilled to have Caitie on the blog today. Welcome!

 

Do you listen to music while you write? Why or why not?

Not usually! I can’t concentrate on anything if a song has lyrics. Sometimes I listen to something instrumental, though.

Are there any musicians who have had a big impact on your work?

Take all the angst and real-ness of early 2000s Avril Lavigne and make it into a book…that’s all I aspire to do. One of my books was based around the AMERICAN IDIOT album from Green Day and another was heavily influenced by the Beatles.

What was the last live concert you attended?

Judah and the Lion!

What’s the farthest you’ve ever traveled for a concert?

I drove to Pittsburgh to see the Mountain Goats. WORTH IT.

Share some of your favorite song lyrics:

And oh my God, what a world you have made here

What a terrible world, what a beautiful world

What a world you have made here

– “12/17/12” by The Decemberists

Your favorite band is going to write a song based on one of your books. What band is it, and what should the song be about?

I have so many favorite bands, but I’d want the Alabama Shakes to write a song about my book EVERY LITTLE BAD IDEA. The song would be about leaving behind the people who put you down, and finding your inner badass.

What band is on your bucket list to see live?

Oh man, don’t judge me…the Spice Girls.

You are magically going to be granted the ability to be a virtuoso on one instrument. Which do you pick?

Piano! I love watching people own the piano. I took lessons, but that left hand never truly learned to keep up…

What are your all-time favorite TV shows?

Gilmore Girls, Parks and Recreation, The Office, Call the Midwife

What TV shows are you loving lately?

I’m obsessed with the Masterpiece Theater show Poldark. I also just watched all of Great News. I think that show was written about my mother and me.

Is there a TV show that’s had an impact on you as a writer?

I aspire to write the wit, quirk, and heart of Gilmore Girls.

If you got the opportunity to write an episode for one show (past or present) what would it be?

Anything Tina Fey has been involved in—30 Rock, Great News, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt—because the scripts are just perfectly hilarious and ridiculous.

If Netflix were to option one of your books for a TV series, which book would you choose, and who would play your main characters?

Well, I only have one book out, so I’d have to go with…EVERY LITTLE BAD IDEA! I’d want the main character, Skyler, to be played by teenage Gina Rodriguez (love her) and Cole to be played by a young Jonathan Rhys Myers.

What are your all-time favorite movies?

I watch the movie ABOUT TIME multiple times a year. Same with AWAY WE GO. And I’m a sucker for anything Nora Ephron.

Who are your favorite actors/actresses?

Meryl Streep forever. I also LOVE Kate McKinnon in everything she does.

Is there a movie that’s had a big impact on you as a writer?

ABOUT TIME has had a huge impact on me as a person. It’s taught me to live each day mindfully and find the extraordinary in the ordinary. WHEN HARRY MET SALLY has impacted me as a writer because I’m just in awe of the script, and will try my whole life to create something so wonderfully complex and terribly relatable.

Are you a theatregoer? If so, what was the last play/musical you saw?

I love live theater but haven’t been in a very long time. However…I’m going to HAMILTON in December!!!

What are your top five favorite musicals?

Hamilton

Fiddler on the Roof

Sound of Music

Cabaret

Sweeney Todd

What authors have most inspired you in your own work?

I’d have to say Sarah Dessen, Deb Caletti, and Ellen Hopkins. Sarah Dessen and Deb Caletti write such beautiful, honest books about what it is to fall in love for the first time. And Ellen Hopkins puts the teenage experience to sharp, edgy verse poetry.

Are there any visual artists you’re a big fan of?

I love Banksy. I love the idea of art making a statement. I love the idea of art being anonymous. I love the idea of art existing not only in a museum, but on the street.

Do you ever draw on visual art in your work?

In one of my books (which was sadly never published), the main character is a street chalk artist. For that book, I went to a chalk art festival and was completely blown away by the skill of the artists. And the idea that you can make something beautiful, and let go of it when the rain comes.

Has a place you’ve traveled ever inspired you in your writing?

I always set my books in a city like Buffalo (where I live). But many places have inspired parts of my books—Chicago, Northern California, Ireland—if not in setting, then in energy or anecdotes of adventures I had there.

You can go on a two-week, all-expenses paid writing retreat to the location of your choice. Where would you go, and why?

Always Ireland. I’ve been there three times and I never get tired of it. The ground itself just holds so much creative energy—you can’t help but feel inspired.

Are you a podcast listener? If so, what are some of your favorite podcasts?

I’m more of an audio book person! However, I do love GETTING CURIOUS WITH JONATHAN VAN NESS. He can narrate my life, thanks.

What was the last book you read?

The last book I read was ZEN AND GONE by Emily France. The last book I listened to was ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE. Woah, that book just blew me away.

What’s your favorite book you’ve read recently?

I loved the book EBB AND FLOW by Heather Smith and MISSING MIKE by Shari Green. They are both gorgeous middle grade novels in verse, and so perfectly written.

What’s a book you’ve loved that you feel more people should be talking about?

There are just so many good verse novels out there that need attention. LONG WAY DOWN by Jason Reynolds, THE POET X by Elizabeth Acevedo, THE CROSSOVER by Kwame Alexander.

What are your very favorite kinds of scenes to write?

I love scenes where characters first meet. There’s so much to talk about—first impressions, awkward dialogue, body language. There’s so much possibility there.

When you need to recharge your batteries/refill the well as a writer, what forms of media do you most often turn to?

I watch a lot of Masterpiece Theater! Nothing like a British period drama to take me out of my world for a little while.

What artistic/creative talents do you have outside of writing?

I have very limited painting talent, but I still love to do it. I also play guitar and sing (but just for fun!).

What artistic/creative talent do you wish you had?

When I was in high school and college, I wrote a ton of songs. I wish I’d kept writing songs, and gotten better at them. I’ve just never gotten over my stage fright!

If you could have a drink with any three people alive in the world right now, who would you pick?

Lin-Manuel Miranda, Tina Fey, and Sarah Dessen.

Let us know what’s coming up next for you: new books, new projects; what are you working on?

Right now, I’m actually working on multiple projects—a young adult verse novel, a young adult prose novel, and a middle grade verse novel. I’m really feeling middle grade lately!

 

Find out more about Caitie and her work at her website!