Author speaks about art of storytelling to Bayside HS students

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That was the first piece of advice author Adriana Trigiani offered to prospective writers at Bayside High School. Trigiani is a playwright and the author of nine novels, and her television-writing credits include “The Cosby Show” and “A Different World.”

“Read everything,” she told a library full of 10th- and 11th-graders last Thursday morning. “No. 2, travel. And by travel I mean to Brooklyn, Hoboken, Philadelphia, D.C. Leave your neighborhood and go look at other neighborho­ods.”

The author is on a publicity tour for her new novel, “Big Stone Gap,” and had been invited by English teacher Vanessa Valente to speak about the craft of writing. A number of the students in the crowd had read her young-adult title, “Viola in Reel Life,” and they discussed the 14-year-old filmmaker protagonist.

“Get in the habit of writing every day,” was Trigiani’s third rule.

In general, the author’s advice was to write what you know.

“Look where you are right now,” she said, standing among the library’s stacks. “Look at the details around you. It’s all right here.”

Trigiani said she grew up in a poverty-stricken part of Indiana. Ave Maria Mulligan, the pharmacist protagonist of “Big Stone Gap,” is based on a girl she knew in college 20 years ago who was struggling to support her ailing mother while attending pharmacy school.

Characters and their stories, she said, develop over decades until she becomes inspired to write about them.

“These books gestate for a long time,” she said.

She advised students that their lives and interests would have a profound impact on their narratives. William, a 16-year-old junior´╗┐ who said he was a classic rock fan, would more than likely compose stories with nostalgic or historic characteristics, she said.

The students didn’t pass on the opportunity to ask a professional writer about the publishing process. Trigiani explained how an author writes a book, then gets an agent and is eventually assigned an editor. The editor “becomes commensurate to a coach who tears down your ability and builds you back up again,” she said.

The author, who said she was never an over-achieving student, explained that when she arrived in Hollywood she was surrounded by Harvard-educated writers.

“There are many smart people who didn’t go to Harvard,” she said.

When she reached the upper echelons of her industry, she made it a point to hire employees or take on interns who didn’t come from elite institutions.

“I try to champion writers that are good writers, but who don’t necessarily have an in,” she said.

John, a junior who wants to be a teacher, said Trigiani’s advice seemed very practical.

“She talked about how criticism is a positive — how it builds character,” he said.

Being a writer, she said, was the highest calling in the world.

“I never was the star of my family, but the writers never are,” she said. “The writers are the ones who are watching.”

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Updated 10:33 am, October 12, 2011
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