Meet the Neighbors: Q&A with Meera Trehan

Meera Trehan was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in nearby Virginia. After attending the University of Virginia and Stanford Law School, she practiced public interest law for over a decade before turning to creative writing. Her work for children has been published in various magazines. Her first novel is The Science of Seeing. Trehan lives in Maryland with her family.

Q: When you were working as a lawyer, were you also writing on the side?

No. A lot of my work as a lawyer involved writing, but even though I was an avid reader and loved the idea of writing creatively, it didn’t occur to me that it was something I could actually do.

Q: What gave you the confidence to focus on creative writing?

After thinking about it for much too long, I took a class at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda and then another and then another (and then one at Politics and Prose). I also worked through the exercises in Steering the Craft by Ursula LeGuin, as well as other books on craft. Eventually, I joined SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) where I had my work critiqued by authors, agents, and editors. All of these things were crucial to my development as a writer.

But I don’t want to imply that I always feel confident! Confidence is elusive. One day you have it, the next day you don’t. Part of writing, in my experience, is pushing through on those harder days, knowing you can revise, and if there’s an aspect of craft that’s holding you back, working on that.

 Q: How did you end up writing for children and young adults?

I had an idea for a YA book with a teenage protagonist during the first class I took at The Writer’s Center and when I gave the one-minute summary to Susan Land, my teacher at the time, she told me that was the book I should be writing. I didn’t believe her at first, but after a few years of the characters rattling around my head, I got there. Joining SCBWI was also instrumental to teaching me about the children’s market and connecting with other writers.

Q: Does writing for younger audiences require any sort of special approach?

Yes and no. I think about the audience when I first get the idea for the story and particularly when I’m developing the protagonist(s)—who for a middle grade or young adult book will be about the age of the targeted readers or a little older. Getting that perspective and that voice right is critical. And when I have a close-to-final draft, I edit with my audience in mind, in case I’ve accidentally slipped into my lawyer-voice. But when I’m in the middle of drafting, I just focus on trying to tell a story that moves, with characters who are real, and that ultimately feels true.

I think it’s important not to underestimate young audiences or write down to them. The basics of craft are equally important for any readership.

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