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Holly Thompson Visits Nashoba

Gabbi Small, Contributor

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Holly Thompson, author of young adult novels such as Orchards and The Language  Inside, paid Nashoba Regional High School a visit on Wednesday, November 4th. She was here to promote NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), and to provide some insight into the writing process.

Thompson began her seminar by telling the crowd  a little bit about being a published author, as well as some personal information about  herself. She told the captive audience about how she was required to write a second book, according to her contract, once her first book, Orchards, was published. She then said that her deadline for her second novel was one year, and on that day Orchards would hit the shelves. She grimaced and explained that that was one of her biggest mistakes. “A year is not long enough to write a book,” explained Thompson, and that statement was proven true in her retelling of how The Language Inside came to be.

Thompson also talked about life and what inspired her writing. She reminisced at the time she spent in NYU,  and her volunteer work at a local hospital. While there, she and her peers and  professor did poetry workshops for the residents.

One patient, in particular, affected Thompson’s life in a significant way. This patient was almost completely paralyzed and could not speak; its was Thompson’s job to use a letter board to help the patient communicate. While Thompson was on the job, the patient called her insulting names and used harsh words. After stress and much consideration, Thompson asked to be reassigned to someone else. She said that this patient haunted her, and she couldn’t understand why she was so mean to her. With this in mind, she created story that would become The Language Inside. This novel follows a girl moving from Japan to Lowell, Massachusetts, whose path crosses with a patient in an inpatient hospital.

After getting the initial story line and protagonist, Thompson began to add in secondary characters. Like with all of her novels, she wove in personal experiences into the text. She included her trip to Cambodia and the Cambodian dance troupes, who are based in Lowell, to better understand how these characters would think and act.

She said that she wrote a very large amount of drafts, and her deadline was fast approaching. Then, disaster struck. Japan was hit by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake in 2011. Thompson, having lived in Japan for a portion of her life, knew that she couldn’t just sit by and watch the chaos and destruction. While volunteering and helping to reconstruct her former home, she missed the deadline for her next book. In the time between the missed deadline and the start of the next one, Thompson created an anthology called “Tomo”, which was in in depth view of a few teenage girls living in northern Japan. The book was used to raise money for Japan, and right after she returned to writing The Language Inside.

Not long after, Thompson had finished her first draft and sent it to her editor for revisions. She said the comments she got back were devastating, but she didn’t let herself give up. When her editor told her that her protagonist “wasn’t likable” she sat down and began to rewrite virtually the entire novel. She created plot charts and graphic organizers to help her stay organized, and the second draft was a hit. “The Language Inside” was in the final stages of publication, and Thompson described the process to the audience. In the end, her book was published a year after the deadline with 517 pages in total.

Thompson concluded her story by asking the crowd a question: After one’s book is published, then what? She said the answer was to keep writing. She said to never stop, and if we get stuck then to just write some more. The seminar was wrapped up in the last few minutes of class by a brainstorm of ideas and a brief question and answer session.  “I thought the event was very fun,” Junior Erin McNemar said. Thompson was well received at Nashoba, and we hope to see her again.

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Holly Thompson Visits Nashoba