Monday, February 6, 2012

A Weekly Adventure Interview with Gae Polisner

Introducing: Gae Polisner

Gae Polisner is a wife, mother and family law attorney/mediator by trade, but a writer by calling and someone I consider a friend. A Twitter buddy that I met through my husband (@ChrisYoungless), Gae Polisner wrote one of my favorite books of 2011, The Pull of Gravity. The story of a young boy dealing with life, love and loss, with the help of a friend named Jaycee and the wisdom of both Steinbeck and Yoda. [The Pull of Gravity book trailer]

Without further adieu, here is my interview with the lovely Gae Polisner. 

Weekly Adventure: What is your genre of choice, and why?

Gae Polisner: I write what I love, namely realistic fiction. I like to relate first-hand to the stories I write and read. Which is not to say that, once in a while, I don’t like to be swept away to some place new and different that is beyond my immediate comprehension, but for me the first thing that keeps me turning pages is the sense that I’m reading about people I might meet or know in an almost voyeuristic way.  That the story has an actual bearing on my real life and might give me new insights or change the way I previously viewed things.  I love to wonder what is true in a story – ripped from real life -- and what is made of whole cloth, rather than knowing it’s all made-up. And I love when people are guessing that about my stories.

WA: When you put it like that I have to ask, were there any parts of TPoG that were pulled from your life? 

GP: Little things here and there, but that's what I love so much about writing my YA books. They're really made up from whole cloth right down to the characters. There's a little bit of each of my boys in Nick, but he's really not either of them. Jaycee is a little "me" from high school, but more who I wish I could have been then who I was brave enough to be. And a few little facts -- like Nick's high fevers with hallucinations. I got those when I was a kid as did my younger son. Little things like that. But that story is wholly fiction. 

WA: How many books have you published? (self or otherwise)

GP: I wrote 2+ other manuscripts (they were women’s fiction that my agent loved) before TPoG, but they never got a taker. TPoG was my third manuscript and my first sale. And, so far, my only sale. As I write this, my next YA book is out on submission. And, no, it’s no less nerve wracking the second time around. Wish I could tell you otherwise.

WA: Would you like to share anything about your second YA book, or is it a surprise?

GP: It seems the biggest surprise is whether it will ever get published. *sigh* It's called Frankie Sky. Here's the write-up from my agent's Newsletter:
"Ever since Francesca Schnell’s brother Simon drowned four years ago, she has played second fiddle – to her best friend Lisette, a blossoming blond bombshell; and worse, to her dead brother’s memory. After Francesca sees her father in the arms of the sultry woman who lives across the street while her mother is busy burying herself at the Drowning Foundation, Francesca tails the woman to the local, exclusive country club, where she meets Frankie Sky, a fearless 3-year-old boy with a hole in his heart. Hired by Frankie’s frazzled mother to keep her little boy in check, Francesca gets caught up in a whirlwind that, for the first time since her brother’s death, lifts her literally and metaphorically from the dark she’s known for too long into the sunlit world of summer. But is Frankie just an ordinary boy, or as she’s beginning to suspect, could he be the reincarnation of her dead brother? And if he’s only the former, who will protect Francesca when stepping out of the shadows carries with it the risk of losing everything that matters to her most? Frankie Sky is Gae Polisner‘s stunning follow-up to her debut The Pull of Gravity, a consideration of the darkest moments of tragedy and how sometimes, if we’re lucky, we can learn to recover and rediscover life’s beautiful potential. Jim McCarthy is the agent on this project."
GP: I think it's a beautiful book. I hope it gets picked up. Like in The Pull of Gravity, in Frankie Sky, the characters are not based on me or anyone I really know. Having said that, as a teen and into college, I always worked as a mother's helper and always for boys, and I loved those boys as if they were my own. The kids I took care of made a big impact on me and I was good at it. It was a rewarding part of my life.

WA: Tell me about The Pull of Gravity and what inspired you to write it?

GP: At the end of 2008, I was in my tenth or so year of writing women’s fiction but had always wanted to write a middle grade or young adult novel. My boys were about 10 and 12 then, and I still read aloud to them every night. We read voraciously, and they really only liked realistic fiction – no sci-fy, no magic, which ruled out typical “boy-friendly” books like Harry Potter. We loved books like, Because of Winn Dixie (or anything by Kate DiCamillo) and Walk Two Moons (Sharon Creech), but the older they got, the more they wanted stories to feature male main characters and those got harder to find outside of genre stories. Of course, we found some gems, like K.L. Going’s The Liberation of Gabriel King, but, more often than not, the MC was a girl. So I decided to write one for them. I wanted it to be character driven, and for them to relate to the main character – for him to be an every boy that any adolescent male could relate to. That’s what set me on the path.

As for what it’s about, the quick elevator pitch for TPoG is “armed with the wisdom of Yoda and a rare, first-edition copy of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, two teens set off on a whirlwind, secret road trip to keep a promise to their dying friend.” But, ultimately, the story is about Nick Gardner, whose life is a mess – if an “ordinary” mess: older brother’s a jerk, parents fighting, school boring. Problems, but relatable ones. Then I added in an extraordinary one – that his best friend was dying of a freak disease. That was what the story would need to Nick out of his comfort zone. To be the impetus for Nick to want to change. That – and the story – ironically came alive with The Scoot. And, of course, what’s reality without a little longing and first-love, so I brought Jaycee Amato into the mix, a quirky, bold and even somewhat mysterious girl who eggs Nick on to be bigger and braver than he normally is. And, voila, The Pull of Gravity. J

WA: Do you have a blog?

GP: I do. I actually have two, because one isn’t tough enough to keep up. *rolls eyes*
The first, my YA-friendly blog, is called That Wee Bit Heap (10 pts if anyone knows the reference – no Googling!) where I post lots of writing and book related stuff, and the second is my women’s fiction blog, Trying to Stay Afloat in a Sea of Words, where I post more musings about my grown up life – whether it be writing, marriage and parenting, or my other love, swimming and anything related to water.

WA: What are you reading right now?

GP: As always, I’m reading three books at once, maybe more. I’m reading my friend Jeff’s short story collection called Voices in the Field (creepy and disturbing but good!), a friend’s manuscript, which is taking me way too long and she probably hates me by now) and I just started an amazing YA called Something Like Hope, by Shawn Goodman.

WA: What keeps you going on those days when writing gets hard? (a favorite quote or a personal motto)

GP: The two things that keep me going the most are (1) the personal connection with readers – especially the teens who are truly affected by my book, e.g. the few who have told me that they never read or at least never liked to read before they picked up TPoG. That inspires me to try to do it again. And, (2)  my boys. I want to leave them stories they can share with their kids and I also want to teach them that you have to fight through the rejection, the lethargy and all the other hard parts.

WA: What advice to you have for other writers out there?

GP: That it takes three things to succeed in this crazy biz and they are all intertwined: skill, perseverance and luck. You have to keep honing your skills and desiring to be better, you have to keep putting your work out there (at the risk of repeated rejection) and you have to get lucky and connect with the reader (agent, editor, reader) who relates to your voice and your story. Sometimes, it takes a lot of tries to get there. And even when you’re published, you will connect with some and move some, and you will not with others. Art is subjective.

WA: Do you work on more than one project at a time?

GP: Not always. Sometimes, I start on new ideas that are swimming in my brain because until I do, they’ll keep tugging at my focus. But once I get grounded in a manuscript, I will eschew the other ones I’m dabbling in for that one.

WA: Do you have a process? (outlining, character creation, location inspiration)

GP: No. How nice would that be, though? ;)

WA: If you could do it all over, is there anything you would change about finding an agent and finally publishing?

GP: Oh, gosh, yes. A thousand things (though NOT my editor. She is one of the best things that ever happened to me). I’m actually on my third agent. Long, boring stories not for here (suffice it to say, agents are like shoes or therapists – sometimes it takes a few tries to find the right fit). I’m really thrilled and honored to be represented by the one I have now.  I have a feeling third time is the charm. J

I also would just handle my publication, and some of the disappointments that came with it, more gracefully and with less angst, I suppose. But isn’t all of life like that? We learn as we go, and we keep trying to do better? I know I am.

WA: What has been your toughest criticism? What has been your greatest compliment?

GP: As for the toughest criticism, you mean besides my older son who told me, ‘how bout I write something interesting like a political thriller or murder mystery like Devil in the White City? (He’s 16 now, and apparently has changed his reading taste).  ;)

I really haven’t had tough criticism, per se.  Of course, there are a few 1-star and 2-star reviews (like the reader who said my book put her to sleep, but, hey, maybe she was exhausted and I did a good deed?), but I’ve mostly had really positive reviews both from readers and from the editorial reviewers.

And, as I’ve told the writers who ask me how I deal with those harsher reviews, it’s almost the case that I like them. Without them, I’d think everyone was just blowing smoke up my a**. But with them, I believe that stranger readers DO feel the ability to be honest, and so it allows me to believe the glowing ones too.

My greatest compliments are probably my Nerdy Award (given by educators), the teachers who have brought the book into their classrooms across the country, and teen male readers who tell me they *had* to read TPoG for school and didn’t want to, then couldn’t put it down. And that still interact with me on twitter or my facebook author page. That is totally rewarding.

WA: Who is your greatest influence(s)

GP: Writing-wise, the one person who probably made me want to write the most is William Goldman. I’d die to be able to weave a story together like he can, pulling character after seemingly-random character in, then tying them all together in startling and surprising ways. The way he draws you into a story. His early fiction was amazing – Boys and Girls Together, The Color of Light. . . but that was early on, and I’ll never achieve what he can do. It’s okay. J Now, I’m inspired by my friends and colleagues who write gorgeous books with strong, unique voices, that I strive to even come close to, from Geoff Herbach (Stupid Fast) and Arlaina Tibensky (And Then Things Fall Apart) to Francisco X. Stork (Marcelo in the Real World). Women’s fiction wise, oh to be able to write like Nicole Krauss (The History of Love).

WA: Do you have any other passions besides writing?

GP: Yes, swimming. In a blog post I recently wrote this about swimming, “my family fills me, my writing sustains me, but my swimming saves me.” If you want to read more about my swimming, check out my Staying Afloat blog.

WA: Do you have a day job?

GP: Not really a day job because it’s part time and often in the evenings or weekends at this point, and I keep my own hours, but, yes, I have a job that pays the bills better than writing does. I’m a divorce attorney, but limited my practice to mediation more than a decade ago. I love the challenge and intimacy of mediation, and the fact that I am able to actually help people get through a bad transition better than they otherwise would if they went the traditional route of litigation.

WA: Final question, why do you write?

GP: I know a lot of people say they write because they have to and I should say that too, but I’m not sure if it’s true.

I write because I love to, because I’ve always wanted to, because it excites me to put words together in a way that moves someone, because I think I’m good at it, and because I want to create something lasting for my kids and to leave the world.

Plus, I guess, now that I think about it, sometimes I have to. ;)


In Gae's Words:

"I have written since the time I was little -- poems and short stories mostly, through college. Then, I went to law school and, for over a decade, replaced all that creative writing with legal briefs and agreements. But after my sons were born, I decided to return to my first love. I like to think my novels are accessible, lyrical (somewhat literary) fiction – and my young adult stories, an homage to the character-driven fiction I loved as a child and teen (anything by E.L. Konigsburg, Paul Zindel, Judy Blume. . .)The Pull of Gravity has a special “secret” nod to the first novel I couldn’t put down –Don't Take Teddy, by Babbis Friis-Baastad. To this day, I remember the feeling of frantically turning pages to find out if the brothers would be okay. If any of you ever read that book, please send me an email!

As for my personal stuff, I live on Long Island with my two amazing boys, my handsome, smart husband who sings, and two very enthusiastic cockatiels. When I’m not writing, I’m still a practicing family law attorney/mediator, and when I’m not doing that, I’m swimming, either in a pool or, on a nice day May - December, out in the Long Island Sound."


Besides Gae Polisner's Blogs: 
That Wee Bit Heap & Trying to Stay Afloat in a Sea of Words, you can find her both on Facebook & Twitter.

The Pull of Gravity is available both in Hardcover & for the Kindle (paperback coming soon!)


  1. What a great interview! Thanks for sharing Gae's story with us. She's not only a great writer but a wonderful person too. I look forward to reading her next book. -- Michael John Sullivan

  2. Thank you for reading Michael! I'm very much looking forward to her next book too. :)

  3. Love the interview, ladies!!! I will definitely add The Pull of Gravity to my TBR pile :)

  4. A belated thank you, Aryn, for having me! Have been steeped (as you know) in an unexpected revision. Buried, mostly head down, for the past days. Thanks for giving me space and attention on your lovely blog. I'm shouting out to you today. :)

  5. Thanks for granting me the interview! I wish you much luck with the next book and all of those to follow. Can't wait to read them all.