Louise Palanker is the author of the semi-biographical young adult novel Journals: Middle School Love and War. In hopes of turning her novel into a springboard for open dialogue about teen issues, Palanker launched her book as an interactive book app on iTunes. To continue the conversation, Palanker recently launched the ‘Journals: Out Loud’ Podcast, which airs live on Tuesdays 8 – 9pm PDT.
Why did you write Journals?
After my father passed away, I went in search of a journal he had kept during World War II. As a child, he told me that I was too young to read it. He never did get around to sharing it with me before he died, so I hunted for it, found it, and was so struck by it that I became eager to share it. But my knowledge of WWII is weak and writers are urged to “write what you know,” so I decided to create a character, based on myself at 12 years old. While struggling through the battlefield that is Middle School, she finds and secretly reads her father’s journal.
What was your process for writing it? Getting it published?
I write very quickly and then I spend a lot of time and care re-writing. That was the easy part. Getting published is a challenge. I was able to find an agent and do some more re-writes, based on her recommendations, but still, no publisher. So I self-published with Create Space and I turned my book into an interactive iPhone, iTouch, and iPad app, through which kids can read the book, write in their own diary, listen to a weekly podcast and ask me questions about growing up. Over 40,000 kids and adults have downloaded the app.
Why did you decide to launch it as an app? How did you develop the different components?
I have a friend, Ian Broyles who is a talented developer. As soon as I bought my first iPhone and looked through the app store I asked Ian if we could launch my book as an app. It began as just the book and we were amazed by how many more kids were discovering the book through the app store than would ever have found in a book store or a library. We were selected twice as an iTunes Staff Pick.
I’ve always been hugely excited by the creative doors that are swung open through technology and with apps, you can just keep creating. Each app developer is able to build updates which improve and enhance your product. I quickly saw that Journals could become more than a book. I wanted it to be a springboard for dialogue about growing up. So we launched an “Ask The Author” feature within which kids can pose questions about the confusion of adolescence. We then added an “Ask Me Diary,” which provides prompting questions such as: Today I hope…. Today I helped… Today I learned… Kids can choose whatever applies to them on that day and it jump starts their journaling. Next we added a podcast where teens and I address the questions coming into the app. We are in the process of rolling the “Advice” feature into an interactive Journals Social Network.
What do you hope people learn from your experiences?
I hope that authors are inspired to turn their books into conversations. The publishing industry is shifting and authors now have the power to place books directly into the hands of readers. We also have the technology which allows us to turn our books into a conversation and interactive communities. That is really exciting to me.
In what ways does having a radio show help your mission?
I am really interested in helping kids grow up well and letting them know that they are not alone and that they are going to be OK. I want to give young people a voice and allow them to feel that they are heard and they are understood. We call the radio show Journals: Out Loud because we are giving voice to very private fears and doubts and concerns and heartbreaks and confusions. I host the show with a panel of teens and we tackle issues such as: boys, girls, dating, romance, parents, school, bullies, friends, cliques, puberty, and families, while also delving into really tough stuff like: depression, eating disorders, cutting, sexuality, and abuse. My mission is to create a safe space for kids to feel that what they are thinking and what they have to say really matters.
What advice do you have for authors who are considering launching a radio show?
Do it! If you are an author, then you have a gift with language, and podcasting lets you go beyond the written word and share your story and your message with a wider audience. It also gives you a chance to promote your book, turn your book into a conversation about its subject matter, and create a dialogue between you and your readers that continues long after they have finished reading your book.
Podcasting also gives you the opportunity to promote yourself as a personality and it provides you with a gym within which you can exercise your public speaking muscles.
Advice for people just getting started writing?
I’m a big fan of outlines. But first, I like to roll the idea around in my head for a month or two. I do this as I’m walking and as I’m falling asleep at night. When I feel ready, I start the outline, creating a blow by blow account of the story arc. With Journals, I started writing before I was finished with the outline and the ending really created itself as I wrote. Have a basic plan and then just start writing. The hardest step is starting. If the story is meant to come out of you, it will, but you have to force yourself to start.
Additional advice for those who want to write about their personal experience?
Basing a character on yourself allows you to pull from all of your experiences and use them to suit your story. In Journals, I write about seventh grade, but I use incidents that happened to me in many different grades and one that happened to me at summer camp. There is nothing more interesting than real life.
Open up a blank page on your screen and make a list of every eventful moment in your life. Every embarrassing, interesting, funny, insightful, poignant, humiliating, inspiring moment. Every night, you’ll come home and add to the list because you will have thought of more during that day. This will become a database from which you can pull for your stories. We each have hundred of stories inside of us, it’s just a matter of deciding which ones to tell and pulling them out in a way that will be meaningful to others.
What do you know now that you wish you knew at the beginning of your career?
I have really loved and embraced learning from every experience. We are not meant to know everything when we begin. We are meant to be spongy… look, listen, sense and soak it in. Who do we admire and wish to emulate? Who is teaching us through negative example not to be like this person? What works for us? What does not? What helps connect us to others? What adds meaning to our experiences? What systems do we need to put into place in order to be productive? Who inspires us? Who do we wish to inspire?
I hope to always remain as spongy as I was when I was young because it has served me well. I want to stay open and continuously learn from those who know more than me so that I can become a better teacher.
What is the next trend in digital publishing? What’s next for you?
I am not sure about trends, but the possibilities are limitless. As people read, they will be able to click on audio, video, and 3D inserts. They will be able to enter video conversations with fellow readers. Teachers will be holding Skype Author readings and Q and As in classrooms worldwide. The delivery methods are changing but people will never stop reading. The future is very exciting!
For me and Journals, our social network will grow and our goal is to inspire Cyber Kindness. I would love to encourage people to help each other grow into strong, happy, productive, helpful, supportive and kind adults.Tags: Ian Broyles Journals Journals: Out Loud Louise Palanker Podcast