People & Inspiration

In Focus: Celebrated Author Andrea Portes on YA Lit, Writer's Block, and Finding Inspiration

In Focus: Celebrated Author Andrea Portes on YA Lit, Writer's Block, and Finding Inspiration

Interview by Karlene Sison


A one-on-one with the woman behind, "Hick," "Bury This," and the "The Fall of the Butterflies."


On her journey as a writer: “I’ve been writing basically since I was a little kid… I was writing really bad poems when I was about nine, I think I really just felt the need to express myself and to sort of try to make sense of the world around us.”

On the easiest and hardest thing about being a writer: “Well the easiest thing is that you can do it in your pajamas and you just be at home, in bed, working. That’s the best part of that. The worst part of that is that sometimes it can be a little bit isolating, like if I have to really work out something, sometimes I have to be alone for like a week if I have to, if I’m really behind. And that gets a little lonely. I miss my husband and my son.”

On the effect of growing up in different places: “Absolutely [it has an impact on my process]. Well because it meant that I was always the 'other,' I was always the new kid so I was always looking in on a world that was already there so in a way that’s why I (pause) that’s sense of being outside of things, that’s what makes a writer write.”

On the amount of time she spends writing a book: “Well, it’s changing. I mean the first book I wrote, “Hick,” it took me 10 years. The second, “Bury This,” it took me about a year. “Anatomy” took me about three months, and “The Fall of Butterflies” the same. So I’m getting a little bit faster. (Laughs)”

On her inspiration: “Usually it hits me. Well some of it, the stuff that has happened to my life that I’m like ‘I’ve always wanted to write about that, I should write about that.’ And sometimes inspiration hits me when I’m in the bathtub or when I’m driving. The worst is when I’m in the bathtub because then I have to be like… ‘Ughh I was enjoying my bath and now I have to get out of the bath and start writing!’ But I have to do it, of course, because those moments are magic; or I pull over the car and start writing. When I wake up, usually there’s a lot of ideas there and sometimes I’ll have entire dreams that are incredibly inspiring and I’ll wake up and ‘Okay, I have to write that whole dream down,’ and then I’ll just start writing.”

On experiencing writer’s block: “Even if it kills me and it’s the middle of the night, I have the pen and the paper next to it and if it kills me, I have to scramble it and write it down because those moments are really precious. I feel like you just kind of have to write through and just feel like writer’s block is, a lot of it is overthinking what the outside world is thinking. You’re thinking about external things and if you just kind of get quiet and get focused on the characters in your work; that leads you out. Working hard leads you out of that and sitting around and thinking like ‘what if someone didn’t like that?’, that’s death to any kind of creativity.”

On getting feedback on a book she’s in the process of writing: “No, I don’t. I mean my husband sometimes, he really wants me to but I’m like ‘no’. I feel like I need to sort of shepherd things to myself and feel really excited about them, wonderful about them, and get to them to a certain level when I get them to my editor. I feel like the few times that I’ve shared something with my husband, he’s been really excited about it, whether it’s a short story or a beginning chapter. I just feel like him seeing it even before, even if it’s good everything he says, I’m just like it takes the energy out of it. So I like to keep it secret.”

On The Fall of Butterflies: “Well, it’s different in that it’s YA and my first two then were fiction. It’s different than Anatomy of a Misfit and that it’s a little less about my high school world. It’s more of an imagined world, but even so it’s not hooked on real magic. I was inspired by my first year of college and my friends that I met, my first year. I went to Bryn Mawr College and when I went there, I was from the middle of nowhere and I went there and encountered people who were really from this old money in New York and have Warhol’s in their library. So it’s inspired by that time and those real people."

On other literary genres: “My first two books, Hick and Bury This, were literary fictions and they were really well-received. And the story of Anatomy of a Misfit is basically about my high school, it’s something that really happened so it seemed like because it happened in high school, it was perfectly for YA. And so then because I wrote that in YA, then I thought I’d write this in YA too because this is also basically the same type.” 

On her upcoming projects: "I have a young adult series coming up called Liberty of the Spy who’s kind of like me, and that’s also at Fox Studios so that’s coming up. And I have the ‘middle reader’ books; that’s for the middle grade like same with Harry Potter called Henry and Eva and the Castle on the Cliff, and then I have another book of short stories literary fiction coming up. I like to do all three genres. I feel like the content sort of decides the form, and it’s fine. I don’t really think in genres. Hopefully it appeals to everyone.”

On her personal favorite among all the books she’s written: “I think my favorite book that I’ve written is actually my second book, Bury This, but it’s also the darkest one. It’s The New York Times’ favorite, too, like the review of it is crazy but to me, it’s so dark but the real deal.”

Her message to all aspiring writers: “I would say just ‘a writer write’. The more time that you spend writing, the better, the more time you have finding your voice, and also turn out to screens. The best ideas come to you when you’re doing nothing, like when you’re in the shower or in the bath, or driving, or whatever, or walking, or jogging. When you’re just kind of not really doing anything, that’s when the really good ideas come. And if you’re always doing something, like you’re always on your phone, you’re not creating space for the good ideas to come.” “If you’re not feeling inspired, then the best thing to do is just go out and do something weird. Like go to a neighborhood you wouldn’t normally go, or a museum or a movie by yourself or whatever, like get just out of yourself. If you’re just writing, you’re like taking all your good ideas out, so you do need to go back out again and refill your imagination.”


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