Laura Zimmermann, author of My Eyes Are Up Here
Young Adult Literature category, sponsored by United Educators Credit Union
Each week leading up to the 33rd annual Minnesota Book Awards announcement, we are featuring exclusive interviews with our 36 finalists. You can also watch the authors in conversation with their fellow category finalists here.
In a year defined by a pandemic and its fallout, virtually everything about our lives has changed in some way. How has COVID-19 impacted your writing habits and preferences? Has the unique zeitgeist of the past year influenced your writing output in any ways that you can pinpoint?
One obvious challenge is infrastructure: I used to have the house to myself during the day, and now I don’t. Kids are schooling and my spouse is working in what I had secretly considered (but wisely never said out loud) MY house. Pre-pandemic, if I was overrun by distractors/family, I might have gone to the library to work, but that’s not an option, so we’re stuck making room for each other.
But I found that I kind of like it. I have coworkers now! There’s a girl who likes to chat for a bit in the middle of the day, and I do too. One guy types really loudly, but sometimes makes everybody grilled cheese. We used to have a young man here who played upright bass all the time, but he left for college. (We are not hiring a replacement.) I’m not sure if these changes make me more or less productive, but I have come to appreciate the noise and the energy and the sandwiches. (To be clear, though, when it’s over this goes back to being MY house.)
Would you tell us one or two things about your finalist book that you are particularly proud of, and why? (Sure, it may feel a bit un-Minnesotan to say so, but it’s not boasting if we ask!)
My favorite thing is when readers reach out to tell me that they think I wrote the book for them. The story is about a girl who is incredibly self-conscious about her body. In her case, her breasts are larger than people think they should be, and as a result I hear from a lot of readers who have the same experience (why is the world so weird about boobs?!) and haven’t seen their story told. That’s really gratifying, but I also love that people connect to the story for other reasons entirely. A reader in Germany wrote to me about her ocular prosthesis, and I will cherish that message forever. It was humbling and gorgeous and meant the world.
So when a stranger says they feel like I wrote the book for them? They are right. I did.
What advice would you give to an aspiring writer with an interest in your category?
If you want to write YA books, read YA books. Not just the popular ones that get turned into Netflix movies; read the ones teen librarians recommend. Read a lot of them. If you find that you don’t like reading YA books, please don’t write a YA book. It won’t turn out well. Write something else.
Tell us something about yourself that is not widely known! (It doesn’t have to be about your writing.)
I have a secret life as a story slammer. Microphone, audience, no notes, time limit, that whole thing. The challenge is to try to be sharp, concise, and engaging, and the reward is that the response is all in real time. You know immediately what works and what doesn’t. It’s visceral. If instead of a hundred years of drafts and revisions and design and publication before anyone even reads one page, I could share chapters as I go, on stage in front of real live humans, I would do it. Or perhaps that’s the pandemic talking. But let’s all get vaccinated and we will see.
Laura Zimmermann is a multiple-time champion of the Twin Cities Moth and Word Sprout story slams, and she was chosen to participate in the 2018 Listen To Your Mother storytelling show. This is her first novel.