saraharonson (saraharonson) wrote in thru_the_booth,

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Up next....Sean Petrie!!!!

Here is the most recent photo I could get from Sean.  (Very cute!)  But it makes me curious....

and itchy for a contest.

If you are the first person to send a contemp shot of this up and coming writer, I'll send you a copy of my novel, Head Case!

By the way, Sean, for a long time, when people wanted my photo, this is what I sent them:

(It's all about the nose to body ratio.)

Anyway, WELCOME to the booth, Sean!  It is so great to meet you.  So first, tell us a little about yourself and your writing life. How long have you been writing?


Seven years ago, I was about as far from writing children’s fiction as possible – I was a patent attorney. Fortunately, a few things happened to change that. 


In 2001, I got into a comedy improv troupe here in Austin. We performed every week, using audience suggestions to create scenes – set up strong characters, give them a conflict, then resolve it. All in three minutes. I discovered I liked creating characters and scenes. A lot.

Around the same time, I decided I didn’t like practicing law. A lot. 


(I love improv and I know there will be a lot of writers who want to hear more about that.   At Dartmouth, we have a student group that does workshops. I attended one specifically for writers—it pretty much triggered the same character development I was doing at home…except with prompts!) 

In 2002, I took a children’s writing workshop (from Kathi Appelt and Cynthia Leitich Smith). 

Lucky you!  Kathi was my first semester advisor.  And Cyn is an amazing teacher!

Why children’s writing? Maybe I was rebelling from the law, picking something completely different. But more likely, I think it was because that’s simply what I’ve always liked to read. I loved the workshop, and Cynthia was gracious enough to take me under her wing as a fellow Austin writer. After that, I decided writing was what I wanted to do.


Since then, I’ve been writing fiction off and on. I quit practicing law and now teach (legal writing) at UT law school. This month, I’m applying to the Vermont College MFA program.


Good luck! It’s a great move! Can you let us in on some things you have done that have helped your writing? Any bumps along the way you care to relive?


The most helpful thing by far is having external deadlines. I am infinitely better at sitting down and actually writing when I have to account to someone else. So for me, taking workshops (where you have to write), submitting conference manuscripts, and having a writing group have been the most helpful.


Oh, I’ve had several bumps. At one point, I quit working altogether, to focus solely on writing. Bought lots of books on how to write. Bought a new computer. Even bought two printers, for the sea of pages about to stream forth. But without the external deadlines, I barely had a trickle. I did, however, have probably the cleanest apartment in Austin.



I’ve also had rejection bumps, especially the “almost-but-not-quite” kind. The very first manuscript I submitted, a picture book, made it all the way to the acquisitions committee at Henry Holt. But then they said no. And I had a couple major agents ask for re-writes of my novels, only to then say no. In some ways, those bumps are encouraging, in other ways they’re the most discouraging.   


I know those kinds of letters are tough, but I know we have said this before:  the difference between published and prepublished is TENACITY.  I don't know a single author who has not faced those letters.  Is there a book that has changed the way you look at writing?


Story by Robert McKee. 

When I first read it, I thought, “Wow, all of this is sooo true!” I started meticulously planning my novels according to his system. Then, a long time later, I realized there’s no magic formula. I still think Story is a great and extremely helpful book, but it’s also just one guy’s take.


Interesting, but makes sense.  I have a love/hate relationship with that book. Have you read Lew Hunter’s Screenwriting 434??? It contains many of McKee’s adages, but without the prescription.


The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin. 

This is still my all-time favorite book. It’s probably a big reason why I’ve focused so much on mid-grade fiction.


That is ALSO interesting! At the alum residency last summer, we discussed The Westing Game in depth. It seems to be the first book people bring up when they want to discuss plot. What advice can you offer to other aspiring writers?


Whenever you think about reading a book on writing, write instead.

Whenever you think about cleaning your writing area, write instead.

Don’t practice law.


That is so true and SO funny.   Tell us about your current project. Please feel free to include a first page.


I’m working on a few things: (1) a graphic novel (with an illustrator friend) about a purgatory-like place called Midland; (2) an adult short story about a doppelganger; and (3) a mid-grade novel about a kid dating for the first time. Here is the first page from


                                                                                       Number 1

     When did everyone get a girlfriend?     
     At the beginning of the summer, no one was hanging out with girls--we were all going to soccer camp or band camp or (if you were lucky like Kevin Spielman) Space camp.  Sure, a couple guys had girlfriends . . . the ones who'd been going with the same girl since preschool. But now, according to the last twenty four hours of IMs, texts, and MySpace messages, everyone's dating someone.
     Or almost everyone.
     It's the day before school and I, Chance Allen Peters, am the only eighth grade guy in the
world who's girlfriend-less.  
     I log out of my accounts and look at my still-open document:  Main To-Do List.  There are nine things on it, including "get new cleats," "figure out rest of CYOA" (Choose Your Own Adventure, this series of old books that rocks), and "start flossing."  I scroll to the top and type in a new #1:  "get a girlfriend."

This is GREAT, Sean!  I love it!  Thanks again for hanging out at the booth. Good luck with your application--I hope to see you in Montpelier this summer!

-sarah aronson


Tags: sean petrie

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