New Release: THE ART OF BREAKING THINGS by Laura Sibson ’12
Welcome and thank you for taking the time to talk to Wild Things about THE ART OF BREAKING THINGS!
Tell us about your book.
Seventeen-year-old Skye isn’t concerned about her reputation. Weekends are for partying with friends while trying to survive the mindnumbingness that is high school. The countdown to graduation is on, and Skye has her sights set on escaping to art school and not looking back.
But her party-first-ask-questions-later lifestyle starts to crumble when her mom rekindles her romance with the man who betrayed Skye’s trust and boundaries when he was supposed to be protecting her. She was too young to understand what was happening at the time, but now she doesn’t know whether to run as far away from him as possible or give up her dreams to save her little sister. The only problem is that no one knows what he did to her. How can she reveal the secret she’s guarded for so long?
With the help of her best friend and the only boy she’s ever trusted, Skye might just find the courage she needs to let her art speak for her when she’s out of words. After years of hiding her past, she must become her own best ally.
Where did the inspiration for writing this book come from?
I started writing this book to make sense of something that happened to me when I was young, but as I wrote, Skye quickly turned into her own character. I became interested in exploring the ways that a teen girl might respond to her abuser resurfacing in her life. I’d read books in which the party girl or the girl who hooked up with guys was the sideline character. I wanted to place her in the spotlight. I wanted the reader to see this girl make bad choices, but root for her anyway. And I wanted to show a girl who – despite questionable choices and poor coping mechanisms – would find her way toward healing. I also knew that it would be a sister story in which Skye, the older sister, would be trying – and in many ways failing – to protect her little sister.
Were there any unexpected hiccups along the way?
First, when I started writing the book, it was intended only for me, so the decision to put it out in the world was a big one. I gave a lot of thought to whether I would be open about the fact that the book was inspired by truth from my own past. In the end, it felt important to me that fellow survivors know that this book came from reality. Second, it took a while to land an agent. In fact, I stopped querying for many months. A fellow VCFA classmate, Laurie Morrison, encouraged me to return to querying and Brianne Johnson of Writers House saw promise in the story. She offered me representation and sold the book at auction within months.
Are there any events coming up where readers could come see you?
My book launch will take place on Thursday, June 20 at 7 pm at a lovely independent bookstore called Children’s Book World, where I’ve been buying books since my two sons were in pre-school. The bookstore is located in the suburbs of Philadelphia and I would love to see friendly faces there! I will also be on a panel of debut young adult authors at ALA in Washington D.C. in June. And I’ve just accepted an invitation to be at the Salem Lit Fest in September! I have other events in the works and they will be on my website as soon as they are finalized.
Tell us a little bit about your background before VCFA, and how you came to decide to enter our program.
My undergraduate degree was in business because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after college, and business seemed a practical path. Finding myself unfulfilled in the work, I returned to graduate school for a degree in counseling which led to a very rewarding career working in career services at colleges and universities around Philadelphia. Eventually, I followed my own advice to pursue one’s dreams and I began to write, but after completing my first manuscript I realized that I had a lot to learn about writing well. I applied to VCFA because I’d read a book by Cynthia Leitich Smith, which I’d loved. It was a vampire novel with a bibliography! In the acknowledgments, she mentioned VCFA and I figured that an MFA program that had advisors who wrote bibliographies for vampire novels was the place for me. I started on a very hot July in 2010.
What year did you graduate from WCYA and what was your class name?
I graduated in July 2012. We were the Secret Gardeners. At that time, we were the largest class the program had ever carried. As a result, we are a huge fan base for one another.
Was there one lecture in particular that you can recall an a-ha moment that reinforced that you belonged in the program?
When I arrived at VCFA, all I wanted was to learn how to write well and eventually publish a novel. But as each day of that first residency passed, I realized that VCFA offered so much more. The advisors’ lectures were fascinating, but the graduating students’ lectures were mind-blowing too! And my fellow students were smart and funny and would geek out about kid lit in a way that I was missing in my daily life. VCFA offered me the thing I needed most that I didn’t know I needed: a writing community. And that community has supported me through the ups and the downs of my writing life.
Some of the lectures that stand out are ones that I wasn’t even present for! When I was a VCFA student, I was also training for marathons and I would listen to past lectures to get me through the long runs. I’m certain that every lecture I attended planted seeds that perhaps grew later, but some gems that have remained at the front of my mind include Tim Wynne-Jones on Inner Genius, Amanda Jenkins on Character, Franny Billingsley on Voice, Susan Fletcher on Grinding Exposition Fine, Coe Booth “Zen and the Art of Getting Through the First Draft”, Martine Leavitt “The Novel in Verse” on her experience of writing and revising Angel. And those are just some of them.
Could you talk about your experience in lectures or during your semester work with advisors and how it may have shaped the writing life you are living now?
Amanda Jenkins fundamentally changed the way that I look at revision. I’d understood intellectually that revision was necessary, but somehow on an emotional level, I still believed that the need to revise represented a failure on my part. Amanda shared with me three versions of a scene from her work-in-progress. Through reading those scenes, I could see how revision allowed Amanda to keep the what was needed but to drill deeper on everything else until the prose was as powerful as it could be. Ever since then, I embrace revision for the opportunity it presents to help me know my characters, develop my plot and deepen the emotional aspects of my story.
Susan Fletcher prepared me well for the experience of receiving editorial letters. During our time together, she observed in me an ability to accept suggestions and then figure out how to make my own changes in the manuscript. This was something that my agent remarked on when we did our first revision together. I credit Susan with strengthening that aspect of my approach to revision.
What about VCFA affected your career and where you are now?
The MFA from VCFA definitely opens doors to teaching writing, editing manuscripts, freelancing and many other writing-related career options. I’ve seen fellow grads achieve success pursuing those paths. I continued to work in career counseling after graduation because I enjoyed the balance of writing on my own but interacting with students in my work life. After I accepted the book deal, I made the decision to step back from the career counseling. Now I write full time and I teach creative writing one day a week in an under-resourced middle school in Philadelphia. I was also recruited by VCFA alumna Sarah Aronson to serve as a teaching assistant for one of her annual workshops and I’ve done that for three years. I’d love to serve as faculty on more workshops in the future. Encouraging budding writers – whether they be middle school students or retired grandmothers – feels important to me. Every person has a story inside them and we will always need more stories.
Do you have any VCFA connections that affect your writing life today?
Absolutely! I meet weekly with two women who were in my VCFA class and I email regularly with a third. Two others live nearby, and we get together when we are able. All of these people have become not only trusted readers, but valuable friends. I’ve also maintained a FB group for my class and I’m in contact with many other VCFA writers on all of my social media platforms.
What would you say to potential students or current students who are hoping to further their writing career?
You realize that you are asking a former career counselor this question, right? ☺ If potential students wanted advice about pursuing the MFA, I would say to them what Lauren Myracle said to me when I asked her about attending VCFA: The MFA will not guarantee that you will get an agent and a book deal, but it is the most efficient way to improve your writing. And you’ll build a writing community along the way.
If current students wondered about furthering their writing careers, I would first want to know what goals they have for their writing. If they are interested in writing and publishing fiction, I’d advise them to write on as regular a basis as their life allows. The muse shows up because you show up. The more you write, the easier it is to keep the font open. Also, read widely and a lot. Build a writing community that includes beta readers who will be kind, but honest. If students are interested in teaching or freelancing, I would tell them to get connected on social media, stay connected to VCFA and check out sites for working writers such as MediaBistro.com.
What’s coming in the future for you and your writing life?
I was fortunate that Viking offered me a two-book deal. My editor and I are excited to work together again, but I can’t share what that project will be just yet.
After a career in undergraduate counseling, Laura Sibson pursued an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. When she’s not writing in a local coffee shop, you can find her running the neighborhood streets or hiking with her dog. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and two sons. The Art of Breaking Things is her first novel and will be available where books are sold on June 18, 2019.