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Doubt Makes You A Better Writer Says Dana Reinhardt

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A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life

by Dana Reinhardt

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An exclusive Authorlink interview with First-time Novelist Dana Reinhardt

Author of A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life (Wendy Lamb Books/Random House, 2006)

by Ellen Birkett Morris

June 2006

Dana Reinhardt began writing as a student, but never considered writing a viable career option until her debut novel was bid on by four publishing houses, earning her a healthy advance and a two-book contract.

The young adult novel, A BRIEF CHAPTER IN MY IMPOSSIBLE LIFE, was recently published by Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Random House Inc.

The story centers on Simone, a sixteen year old, who meets her adoptive mother, a Hasidic Jew, for the first time. Readers accompany Reinhardt’s compelling protagonist on her journey of self-exploration as she discovers and embraces her roots.

"The seed of the novel came from wanting to write a story about Jewish identity that was not centered on the Holocaust."

 

—Reinhardt

“The seed of the novel came from wanting to write a story about Jewish identity that was not centered on the Holocaust. I wondered how a normal 16 year old kid would confront these kinds of questions and the adoption story was one way to explore this,” said Reinhardt.

Her own journey to becoming a writer is equally interesting, if somewhat more circuitous. Reinhardt has a bachelor’s degree in American Culture from Vassar College and a law degree from New York University. Along the way she has worked as a social worker, slush pile reader, fact checker and documentary producer for television.

She went to law school with the intention of becoming a public defender, but decided half way through the program that her interest lay elsewhere. She landed a job with the news show Frontline and later worked for Peter Jennings at ABC news. “I figured this was another way to get at the issues in the world that I care about,” said Reinhardt.

"I think writing is one of those things you just have to do. It is a waste of time over thinking it. You can only do it by doing it."

 

—Reinhardt

When she left that work to have a child, a friend from a college writing class, Douglas Stewart, who had since become an agent with Sterling Lord Literistic Inc. in New York, urged her to take that time to write a young adult novel.

“I know this is really atypical, but I completed the book in two and a half month. I wrote three to five pages a day,” noted Reinhardt. She worked on the book five days a week, starting her day at 9:00 a.m. and writing until she had completed at least three pages.

“I think writing is one of those things you just have to do. It is a waste of time over thinking it. You can only do it by doing it. You can only do it better by doing it a lot,” she noted.

She quoted her friend Markus Zusak, author of THE BOOK THIEF, who says, “If you want to get better at running you don’t think about running or read about running, you run.” She works at a coffee shop around the corner from her home to avoid the lure of the Internet and household distractions.

While she makes notes about characters and plot points, Reinhardt doesn’t begin with a detailed outline of her story. She sees her process as “messy” but “organic.” “Before I start writing I’ve thought a lot about the book, narrator, general storyline, and where it will end up. I try to carry the story around with me all the time,” she said.

"Doubt is part of being a writer. It just comes with the territory."

 

—Reinhardt

 

Writing the first novel was a “liberating process” for Reinhardt, in part because she “didn’t know if anyone else would read it.”

While she makes it sound easy, Reinhardt noted that she is prone to the same kind of self-doubt that most writers experience. When she doubted her abilities or wrote herself into a corner, she would take a walk to clear her head and continue writing. “Doubt is part of being a writer. It just comes with the territory. The best you can hope for is that it makes your writing better,” observed Reinhardt.

She drew from her own experience when writing about being Jewish and drew from the experience of people she knew who were adopted to portray Simone’s experience with that.

What is harder to pin down is how she developed the authentic and appealing voice of Simone, the narrator who is in turns funny, wise and a regular teenager. “She is who I wish I was at that age. I think we all experience adolescence so acutely that it imprints itself on our brains. It is very easy for me to tap back into that and develop this character. As most writers will tell you, once the character is developed you let them speak for themselves,” said Reinhardt.

She relied on friends and family for feedback, including a group of teen readers who let her know important facts such as the correct lingo for instant messaging and the fact that Doc Martins had fallen out of style.

". . . write, write, write, and read, read, read."

 

—Reinhardt

Reinhardt enjoyed working with Editor Wendy Lamb who helped her “make the story flow.” She suggested that Reinhardt expand a few scenes, develop one character further, increase dialogue between two characters and cut back on the narrator’s parenthetical comments.

Her second book for Lamb’s imprint, HARMLESS, will be released in spring of 2007. It deals with the ramification of a lie told by three friends and is told by alternating narrators. Reinhardt is currently at work on her third book.

She urges new writers to “write, write, write, and read, read, read.” She also notes the importance of forging ahead with your writing and trying not to anticipate the comments or criticism of an editor, agent or reader.

The work is worth it. Regarding publication, she said, “There is nothing like it. There are so many exciting moments along the way, when you hold the galleys, getting the book in hardcover. It started in your head and existed only in your computer and here it is in your hands with your picture on it.”

  Dana Reinhardt lives in Los Angeles with her husband and children. This is her first book.
About Regular Contributor

 

Ellen Birkett Morris

Ellen Birkett Morris is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in national print and online publications including The New York Times. She also writes for a number of literary, regional, trade, and business publications, and she has contributed to six published nonfiction books in the trade press. Ellen is a regular contributor to Authorlink, assigned to interview various New York Times bestselling authors and first-time novelists.

 

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