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Ask an Author: Rhonda Telfer

Rhonda lives in Escondido, California. She published her first novel The Surface of Things in 2016 and has been published in Spider, Ladybug, and Click magazines. She writes narrative essays, children’s stories and is working on a second novel. She also substitute teaches in area high schools and teaches piano. Her husband is a professor of biblical languages, and together they've collected a lot of books.

You can read her blog here:

1. What is your process for finding and choosing a good story to tell?

I would say I draw from observation more than imagination. I guess that means, at some level, my writing is autobiographical: not necessarily accounts of life events, but coming from what I’ve known, overheard, etc, and associated with deep feeling—those are the things that stick, that make me want to write.

2. Do you use any outside help to find good ideas?

I love asking people their stories. Even a simple question like, “Have you always lived here?” can unfold something intriguing. And I love the voices of kids—their sound, the seeming randomness of the connections they make, their unique observations. Kids see things no one else sees. Their “eye-level” is a great place for a writer to be.

3. How do you determine the age of your audience?

The idea determines the age. For my YA novel, The Surface of Things, I wanted to explore the theme of self-image and our natural yearning for beauty. So I wrote for a teen audience. But I really admire work that, although aimed to a particular age, is universal. Like the great children’s stories that adults never stop loving.

4. What is your revision process like? How do you know when a story is “done”?

Have you heard the story of the man polishing a brass door day after day after day? Finally someone asks, “When will you be finished polishing?” His answer: “When someone comes and takes it away.”

Is a story ever done? I obsessively tweak at the micro-level—maybe it’s my ego, but I like to read my stuff over and over and see if I can make it better. And I believe it is very, very important to put a work aside, even for months, because invariably I catch things that stink—and am hugely relieved that I didn't expose it to the world! That’s the danger with blogging, and that’s why I force my writer-daughter (Tori Telfer) to approve every piece before I post it.

5. What is your favorite medium in the kid lit world, and why do you think kids love it?

Picture books! Kids read them snuggled on someone’s lap, or belly-flopped onto a rug, flipping those grand, colorful pages. A picture book isn’t a story: it’s an experience. It’s also a wonderful portfolio of an artist/illustrator. And like a poem, every word matters. You savor them. The best writers waste no ink.

6. If you could travel back in time, what advice would you give to yourself as a brand new writer?

Read continually and write more. Block out time and organize a place. Don't just wistfully say, "Gosh, I love to write." DO IT. And be humble—write what you truly know, and be willing to admit it isn't all that great—but don’t let that stop you!

7. What books would you recommend to a new writer?

Someone said, "Life is too short to read the good books. Read the great ones." I think we have so much to learn from the classics (the canon is debatable, I know, but I mean works that have stuck around for more than one generation). Willa Cather is my personal favorite—intelligent, strong stories and wow, she can describe a landscape and leave you breathless. And C.S. Lewis’ autobiography, Surprised by Joy, is a gem: he shows how his childhood reading influenced his worldview as an adult—joy revisited and more fully understood.

8. You’re a shapeshifter now! If you could turn into any animal, what would it be and why?

A giraffe, of course: a creature with an elevated viewpoint, slow and cautious movements, and the ability to look elegant even when munching.

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