This may sound silly, but thinking about today’s rising generation of youth makes me feel giddy. Sure, even though I feel 17 inside, I definitely do not get their jokes (I only just figured out how to use “yeet” in conversation….and even that is probably antiquated now) and am pretty much a grandma to them. BUT. The young people of today are doing amazing things.
In so many respects they are setting the example for the rest of us. They are leading the way in political advocacy, changing the dialogue of important conversations, and bringing attention to crucial issues. They are strong, smart, capable, and powerful, and I look up to them.
And on today’s Talking Shop, you get the pleasure of meeting an extraordinary one:
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a teen author/musician/artist from Austin, Texas. I started my first fantasy novel, The Shadow in Her Pocket, when I was nine years old, which will be published soon! I’m also a contributor to magazines, including Writer’s Digest, Austin Woman, and Latinitas. You can learn a bit more about me at LorenaKoppel.com!
How did your passion for writing begin?
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love writing. Reading was one of my favorite things from an early age, so it definitely stemmed from that. Writing is such a great outlet for self-expression and exploring what shapes a world or character. Especially with fantasy, there are so many “what-if”s to delve into.
How did the idea for “The Shadow in Her Pocket” come about?
I wrote dozens of short stories throughout elementary school and I was ready to take on a bigger task. I wasn’t satisfied with a lot of the Middle Grade books I read because the younger characters weren’t written realistically, the plot lines were too linear, and there weren’t enough female characters. I definitely wanted my book to be a departure from those.
My primary goal was to have fun with it and write what I liked, and that approach lent itself to fantasy really well. I knew I wanted the narration to alternate perspectives between three girls with different story arcs. My characters’ personalities drove the story forward. When I revised the story to make it more cohesive, I kept all the interesting parts and infused my more experienced writing style.
Why does your book fill a current gap in the MG market?
There’s a disconnect between Middle Grade writers and their readers, since most novelists are adults. I’ve got the benefit of an insider-perspective since I wrote my fantasy book while I was in the target MG age range. A female-centric story with a multi-faceted plot line, realistically-written MG characters, and plenty of magic and action, The Shadow in Her Pocket is exactly the book that I wanted to read but couldn’t find.
What do you enjoy most about the fantasy genre?
When I started writing, I knew I wanted my debut novel to be fantasy because I enjoyed the genre so much; all of my favorite books at the time were fantasy. I also love how much creative freedom the fantasy genre gives me as a writer. The ability to create anything I can imagine is hard to pass up. That’s the main reason why I’m still drawn so much to imaginative fiction: if you make the world, you make the rules.
What was your writing process like?
My writing process was a wild ride. My writing style changed dramatically during the time I was working on The Shadow in Her Pocket because I started drafting it before I’d even entered middle school. Since I began work on my book when I was nine, and I was learning how to write a novel as I went, it took me three years to write the first hundred pages.
When I was twelve, I took the same story and wrote 450 pages in my more refined writing style—that was my completed first draft. After that it was a matter of revising and editing for length and craft. I attended the Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City and learned a ton about what an author needs to do to make their work professional. Now my book is finished, and I’m learning to navigate the publishing/business side of writing while I work on my second novel.
Why was it important for your book to have strong female characters?
When I was younger, I was obsessed with adventure stories, but I was always frustrated by the lack of dynamic female characters. Even books with female protagonists are often otherwise male-dominated, and the idea of a “strong female character” is too narrowly defined. I recently wrote an article for Writer’s Digest about the right way to approach female protagonists (to be published in September’s print issue!).
Part of my motivation for writing my novel was to prove that you most definitely can write an exciting story with a majority of female characters. The media plays a big part in our current culture, which in turn has a bit impact on us as individuals. Girls need to see themselves portrayed positively, and continuing to write only a single archetype of female character only works to exclude them.
You’re also a musician. What kinds of music/instruments do you play?
I play the electric guitar and electric bass in a rock band! We play both covers and original music. My favorite song we’ve performed so far is Know Your Enemy by Rage Against the Machine. I’m in love with rock, punk, metal, jazz, and prog.
How do you balance your schoolwork with music and writing?
I prioritize, then focus and get to work. I try to get immediate, necessary deadlines out of the way first (like homework). This frees up time and mental space for me to pursue my self-motivated goals. Plus, I’m super passionate about the arts, so it’s rewarding—and having some rock music in the background always helps!
What advice would you give to other teens who want to write books?
First, just start. Write what you care about and believe in yourself. Everyone’s voice is valuable. Don’t get stuck on worrying about getting your book perfect on the first try, because revisions and editing will always come later. You learn the most about writing through doing it and finishing something.
How can we find your book?
I have a preorder page on my website, LorenaKoppel.com (the first button you can click!). If you enter your email, you’ll be notified once my novel is officially up for grabs and you’ll be able to get a signed copy. Thanks so much for supporting my writing!!
Tell us about your work with Bookspring. Why is child literacy such an important cause to you?
I work alongside Bookspring, a nonprofit organization that distributes free books to kids in Central Texas. Child literacy is crucial to academic success and to breaking the cycle of poverty, so we need to ensure that every child has books in their home. Growing up, I was obsessed with books, and I want every kid to have access to them. Plus, reading to kids and getting them excited about books is super fun.
The Fun Qs:
The book you always recommend to friends?
This depends on the friend, but the book I read recently and adore is The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin. It’s about a physicist from a planet of anarchists traveling to their neighboring planet of “archist” societies, and examining the impact of differing ideologies. I love how Le Guin uses imaginative fiction to pose questions about the cultures of our real world—it’s a story, but it’s also a thought experiment.
Your favorite food?
I love anything with peanut butter. Unless chocolate counts as food—then it would be chocolate. Reese’s should endorse me.
The song that’s currently stuck in your head?
The song that’s currently stuck in my head is “Joe #1” by Fugazi. I think it’s a killer song! Fugazi is my favorite post-hardcore band. Their music is awesome, and they’re a very ethical band with a message I respect.
The author you’d most like to meet?
Three-way tie: I’d love to meet J.K. Rowling or Rick Riordan because their books were so important to me when I was a kid, and that’s part of what inspired me to write my own. Plus, I really value how Riordan is including a more diverse cast of protagonists in his newest books. I also really want to meet Phillip Pullman! I didn’t discover his books until a few years after I started writing my novel, but he’s now my all-time favorite MG writer.
Visit Lorena on her site — LorenaKoppel.com — and follow her on IG @lorena_koppel.