Friday, September 28, 2012


This week's blog topic was "Have you ever wanted to give up on writing?"... and I have to say that my answer surprised me: "No."

Now, don't get me wrong. I've hit rough patches... patches so rough I was sure I'd never make it any further. Like Jenn, who posted yesterday, I've frequently slowed down so far it seemed I had stopped. And I've had to grow through multiple completed manuscripts before I found the story that was "it." But through all of this, I've always wanted to keep writing. I just didn't know if I could keep writing.

So, when faced with this week's blog topic, my immediate thought was: "Why on earth haven't you ever given up on writing?"And that, I think, is the real question.

For me, the answer was very personal: I found a story that was so powerful it wouldn't let me give up on it.

When I first came across the small article in a non-profit journal that told about the kidnapping, mutilation, and murder of people with albinism in Africa for use as good luck talismans, I was horrified. I raced away to learn more. Except... there wasn't any more. There were no books on the subject and very little press coverage. Disturbed, I tried to walk away from the story. But it haunted me.

The grown-up in me, the one that had worked with village micro-finace and refugee resettlement programs, felt the need to publicize this human rights tragedy. The kid in me, the one who had to hide from the tropical sun and could never blend into a crowd (I grew up overseas, the daughter of international aid workers) wanted to tell the story of what it must feel like to be a kid who has those problems in the extreme. After months of trying to not write, I sat down and started GOLDEN BOY. It hasn't been an easy journey, but the need to share this story kept pulling me back until it was finished.

And that, I think is what makes us writers. The fact that a story, an idea, a feeling, a concept, a character, catches us up and grabs us and doesn't let go. And we let it. Let's be honest here. As writers, wanting to quit or not doesn't really matter. Our stories won't let us.

Tara Sullivan is a high school Spanish teacher by day and a middle grade fiction writer by night. Dawn and dusk usually find her drinking tea and reading or hiking with her big furry mutt.
Her debut novel, GOLDEN BOY (G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers / Penguin) tells the story of Habo, an albino boy growing up in modern-day Tanzania who finds out that being seen as priceless is much more dangerous than being seen as worthless.
She'd love you puddle around her website or follow her on Twitter!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Leaning Into It - Staying the Course to Publication

I had to smile when I saw this week's blog topic, which is on overcoming the urge to quit while on the road to publication. For me, quitting wasn't so much the issue as slowing down...

Slowing WAY down.

I never fully abandoned the path, in truth, but there were times that I stood so still, for so long, that I'd become almost a Writing Zen Ninja. That was doing wonders for my ability to go undetected in the darkness, but it wasn't helping me become a published author.

Why would I hit the brakes? Unlike many authors, my reasons weren't family or health-related, but primarily based on my career choices. In a word, I've been BUSY. I've gone from a high-demand corporate life to a high-demand freelance writing business life. I consult. I teach. I work. It all seems very dull to discuss, but it does take time!

I wish I could say that there was one thing that enabled me to flip the switch from aspiring to contracted, now prolific author -- but this is me, here. So there's actually a list. I've done everything on this list (some more thoroughly than others) and I have to say, it's all helped. And hopefully, if you're looking to flip that same switch, you'll find a mix that works for you!


On the path to publication, you'll find some people have roller skates and some seem to have cement shoes. But everyone can move forward, even you, if you just channel your Winter Warlock and put one foot in front of the other.

2. Keep reading (good books, and outside of your genre as well).

Most writers read compulsively, but sometimes what you read can make the difference. The parenthetical qualifier above was actually hard for me, because I read for enjoyment as much as learning. But finally, kicking and screaming, I listened to an award-winning author's teeth-gritted advice to read outside of my genre, especially books that made literary types swoon. And, to my amazement, some of those books didn't suck. (NOTE: Some did. I don't care how many English majors swear otherwise). Still, I learned a LOT from the ones that were both well-crafted and well-paced.

3. Watch well-written movies. 

If pacing is your problem, or layering, or emotion, or action, or... you get the idea. Watching stories unfold instead of reading them can help jump-start your process.

4. Find a process that works for you... and stick to it.

Some people are pantsers. Some are plotters. Some are puzzlers (a new term I ran across, which is sort of a cross between the first two). Some use a defined method to draft or revise, some have a more scattershot approach. But rather than thinking that the next writing book will be THE magical unicorn for you that will enable you to produce a book in a snap... look back at what's worked for you. And simply do it again.

Standardize and keep improving your process, but spend less time on FINDING a process, and more time writing. (I'm one of the people convinced that the magical process unicorn does exist, I'll admit. And I'm pretty sure it breathes fire. But in the meantime, I'll keep using my current process).

5. Aim for Professional, not Perfect.

For years, I was determined not to submit a manuscript until I'd polished it to within an inch of its life. Time after time, I succeeded--in polishing the life completely out of my manuscripts. Now that I've moved a little further down the path to publication, I've learned that your agent (in some cases), editor, and your copy editor (eegads... your copy editor) will give you more edits than you ever thought possible or even REASONABLE. So stop fussing over your manuscript. If it's professional... that's perfect. Send it out.

6. Tailor your work to your audience (and then submit it).

If you're writing for a particular type of publisher or audience, take the time to learn about them. Your audience could solely be readers... or it could be readers + New York agents/editors. Or it could be readers + a niche publisher who does extremely well in your preferred genre. Take the time to tailor your pitch/manuscript/Brand to whomever your audiences are. You are creating an artistic product, no question... but you are also SELLING that product. So know the folks who are going to buy from you. And then submit, submit, submit.

7. Write first, promote second.

In the world of social media, it is easy to become caught up in blogging, tweeting, pinning, facebooking, expanding your circles or groups, or creating a billion and one promotional items (don't make me give you a button). But you can never lose sight of the fact that you're a WRITER first. If you don't write, you don't have anything to promote. If you don't KEEP writing, your readers won't get your next book... ever.

Whew! That was a longer blog than I intended! But hopefully, it's of some help.

In fact, in looking over this list, it could be modified as a "How To" for reaching just about any dream--a combination of learning, doing, and announcing your dream to the world. So to all of the dreamers out there, I welcome any other tips on how YOU accomplished your goals!

Jennifer McGowan has been writing fiction since well before she knew any better. A past Romance Writers of America Golden Heart winner and 2011 Golden Heart finalist, Jenn is represented by agent extraordinaire Alexandra Machinist, of Janklow & Nesbit.

Jenn's debut novel, MAID OF SECRETS, will be published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers on May 7, 2013, assuming she gets her revisions done ;). You can find Jenn online and on twitter.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

On Quitting and the Key to Publication

Writing a novel for publication is hard work.

Facing rejection after rejection.

Dedicating hours and hours of time, usually in the early morning or late hours of the night to finish something that ultimately gets shelved.

Getting so close, but never quite there.

 In truth, almost everything about the road to publication is tough. And sometimes in the face of all that difficulty it’s really tempting to consider giving up. I know I have. Lots. And sometimes, when my current WIP is kicking my butt on a minute by minute basis for weeks and I’m not sure I’ll ever get it to where it needs to be, I still consider it.  


Because giving up is just easier, isn’t it? Especially when publication is just a wish and not a reality. It takes further rejection right out of the mix. It puts the power of deciding our fates firmly in our own hands. We decide when enough is enough and just like that our writing careers can be over...before they even really begin. And there are a thousand reasonable justifications for quitting.

Focusing on the day job, you know, the one that’s actually paying the bills.

Focusing on the family--who could always use more time.

Focusing on keeping a clean house.

Focusing on friends and getting out and--ya know--living a bit outside of a café or huddled behind a desk in the corner of a bedroom. Maybe see the sun more regularly than the computer.

Focusing on physical health--because let’s face it--all those hours pounding away on a keyboard don’t really produce much of a sweat, do they? I know my butt is agreeing loudly with this one.

Focusing on getting a good night sleep because it’s been so long, you’re not quite sure that those even exist anymore.

I could go on and on and every reason I can come up with to quit, I promise you is reasonable.  Understandable.  Sensible, even.

But here’s the thing. Writing for publication is a dream. And dreams by definition (in my opinion) aren’t supposed to be reasonable or sensible. They are the purest expression of what’s locked deep inside of us. And personal ones like getting published are our best stab at figuring out what makes life meaningful and significant for us when we’re not considering other people or responsibilities into the equation.  They are the our essence. And that’s not something you can quit, not really. How do you quit what makes you you?
Now I’m not saying that every writer’s dream is to publish or even to show their work to anyone. Ever. But I am saying that it was and is mine, so much so that I’ve spent a lot of nights sitting up with this goal of publication burning its way through me like a fire, making me half-crazy with want for it. And now that I can see that bit coming into focus and happening, it’s being replaced with my next dream which is staying published…and I’m still up at night with the same exact fire.  

Some of you reading right now know exactly what I mean. You want it so bad. SO BAD. And it kills you every time you receive that rejection in your inbox. It drives you to distraction that no matter how many things you do right, you still keep getting hit with road blocks. Quitting can seem so tempting. Especially when other people give you that dubious look and ask: “So are you still doing that writing thing?”

But here’s the thing. If you are meant to be a published writer, if it is WHO YOU ARE, you won’t be able to quit. You’ll be miserable until you take up that pen and get busy again, until you pick up those other authors’ books and study their techniques, until you do everything and anything under the sun to realize your destiny. In short you will persevere because you have no other choice. And perseverance in this business, my friend, is the key.
Amy Christine Parker's book, THE SILO, realeases with Random House Children's Fall of 2013 and follows a teenage girl named Lyla who has been living in a religious cult after the disappearance of her sister. While her parents are hopelessly under the sway of the group’s leader, Pioneer, Lyla is drawn into a dangerous situation when she begins to question Pioneer’s prophecy about the impending apocalypse. You can find her on her website, on her blog, and/or follow her on Twitter. She would absolutely love it if you added THE SILO on your to read list on Goodreads here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

It's How You Play The Game

When I was little, I wanted to be a writer.  I also wanted to be a teacher, a ballet dancer, and an actor.  In fact, that last one went on for so long that I ended up applying to (and getting into) college as a theatre major.  I was going to graduate and then land a part on Broadway!  I was going to get paid for singing songs and having scripted fights with other people on stage!  I was going to win awards and be famous!

Then I moved from the high school theatre scene to the college theatre scene, and I slowly began to discover something very important: as much as I liked being on stage, I didn’t like doing most of the work that went along with it.  Practicing dialects was an annoyance.  Picking out the perfect sixteen bars of an audition song was a chore.  Staying in shape was, not gonna lie, the bane of my existence.  To the point where I basically didn’t bother doing it.

But in order to be a professional actor, you have to do those things.   Even if you don’t like doing them, you have to be willing to do them.  (Just like nobody likes writing query letters, but if we want badly enough to get published, we damn well write them anyway.)

And I wasn’t willing.  I didn’t want to play the game of becoming an actor; I wanted to skip to the part where I won.  I wanted to be on Broadway and win Tony Awards, not do all the work that comes beforehand.  Luckily for me, I realized this before college was over.  Having completed the three years of studio training necessary to get my BFA in acting, I left the theatre world behind, did the quickest English Lit double-major that anyone’s ever seen, and decided to go into book publishing.

Why book publishing, you ask?

Well, while I was having the slow realization that acting just wasn’t for me, at least not in the professional sense, I was keeping myself sane by writing.  I wasn’t trying to write with an eye toward publication.  Exactly the opposite, in fact; I wrote fanfiction, which you can’t publish for money, unless you want to get sued.  (Exceptions to this rule include 50 Shades of Grey, all those fantasy franchises like Star Wars and D&D, and Gregory Maguire.)

Writing fanfic led to posting said fanfic online; posting it online led to my becoming involved in a fanfic community or two; becoming involved in the communities led to making friends with other fanfic writers.  And as we all know, befriending writers leads to – say it together now – having critique partners!  Before I knew it, I had friends who would read my work, point out flaws, and suggest fixes.  Friends who would stay up all night talking with me about character arcs and plot structure.  Friends who were willing to let me dig my fingers into their own work in the same way.  And none of it felt like work.  It was fun.

The fact that it was fun was probably why it took me so long to realize that these skills I was cultivating actually translated to the real world.  That there were people who made a living doing these things.  I started looking for work in book publishing, and eventually landed my current agency job.  The job that allows me to work in a very hands-on editorial capacity with well-established authors, bestselling authors, brand-new authors, and everyone in between.

When it comes down to it, the fanfic community and the publishing industry aren’t all that different.  One has more deadlines and “gatekeepers” and, well, money, but at their hearts, they’re both about people working together to tell stories – and that’s probably why I ended up coming back to writing, this time with an eye toward professional publication.  Being in a creative environment, even when there’s business attached, fosters more creativity.

But then, the same thing is probably true of the theatre industry.  In fact, one might argue that any artistic profession is about telling stories, collective creativity, etc.

So if that’s true, then what was the difference?  Why am I a writer now, instead of an actor?

The answer is simple: It’s because writing is a game I like to play.  I don’t write because I want to see my name on shelves, or because I want to be asked for my autograph, or because I want a starred PW review (although, hey, those things would be cool too!).  I write because I like playing the game.  I like revising until I get my characters just right, until I find that one exact word I was going for all along, and until the ending feels satisfying.  I like receiving and using criticism.  I even like those stupid deadlines.

And you know what?  It turns out, staying in shape is a lot more fun when I’m not doing it for a good grade in dance class.

Lindsay Ribar is a literary agent by day, a writer by night, and a concert junkie 24/7.  Her first novel, The Art of Wishing (Dial Books, March 2013) is about making wishes, making music, and making out.  She thinks you should read it.

Monday, September 24, 2012

MEANWHILE...MIDDLE GRADE: The Importance of Middle Grade

I well remember my middle school years. It took me a long while to be able to remember them with any fondness. I was the shy girl. I was the good girl. I was the girl who didn’t fit in with the popular crowd. Looking back, I am glad to have been all of those things. It is precisely those traits that form what I am today: a rather shy dreamer full of tough questions about people and life--questions that I attempt to answer through writing.

Rest assured I was not always so content to be me. Back in middle school I’d have given my right arm to have rid myself of what I considered personality flaws. The "flaws" caused me much trouble. I was teased. I was the butt of many jokes. I had one best friend, equally an outsider, instead of a large group of friends-of-the-minute. My BFF and I heard the whispers behind our back—whispers that were usually a little too loud to be termed a whisper. Still, we endured. We stayed true to ourselves. We survived.

No one is going to deny that middle school is a rough time for most kids. Middle schoolers are searching out and discovering social boundaries, making and losing friends at a high rate of speed, grasping to uncover who they are inside and what that means—both to themselves and to those around them. It is an unpleasant experience in the best of circumstances; it is downright unbearable in the worst. There were many times—too many times to count—I felt like throwing in the proverbial towel, crawling into a dark hidey-hole, and staying there until h*** froze over. What kept me from doing just that? (Other than my parents.)

Books. My salvation came through losing myself in rich stories inhabited by living characters, characters experiencing the same trials and tribulations as me. If they could make it, so could I. If they could put on a brave face each and every day, so could I. And if they could muster up enough courage to stand up for themselves...well, I could dream, couldn’t I?

Perhaps even more important than giving me characters I could relate to, books presented me with viewpoint characters eerily similar to the kids that snubbed and sneered at me on a near daily basis. They gave me a glimpse into what very well could have been the backstory of those kids’ lives. They gave me the “whys” for the way my peers acted when no one else could. Books built me a pathway to feel empathy for kids that had none for me. I think that is an exquisitely beautiful gift, and one for which I am deeply grateful.

Bookseller Cordelia Jensen said the following in her critical thesis and grad lecture at VCFA, and I think it perfectly sums up the significance of middle grade books:

Stories help us escape. Stories soothe us. They scare us. They keep us awake. But, as Middle Schoolers, they do something even deeper: they let us try on a new identity. In this time of Identity Versus Role Confusion, stories can help students play out behavior they might not dare to do themselves. Or maybe might help them feel validated by showing characters make similar choices to the ones they have made already.”

That is what middle grade books did for me. Reading them gave me a sense of empowerment, normalcy, and escapism that I couldn't get anywhere else. Books offered laughs when I felt blue, hope when I had none, and far-off places when I needed to get away. They offered answers to hard questions, and served as my guideposts as I stumbled through those tough years.

Just how important to me were the guideposts otherwise known as middle grade books? How much stock did I put into their stories, their characters, and their themes? Again, Cordelia says it best:

I remember reading Go Ask Alice in sixth grade and being absolutely terrified of the main character’s drug addiction. The scene where she pulled her eyelashes out haunted me and I slept with socks on my hands at night for weeks, thinking that way I wouldn’t pull my own eyelashes out. I was not on LSD but I was so immersed with the character, I was scared of becoming her in the night. So scared I remembered her story years later when friends offered me acid. Go Ask Alice is not written for middle schoolers, it is really a young adult book. And it was written as drug propaganda (which apparently worked on me), but this memory is really important. It shows how profoundly middle schoolers can take on the emotional worlds of their characters. How easy it is, really, to pretend to be someone else while you are reading and, through that, locate some truth about yourself. I knew, after reading that story at age 12 that I never, ever wanted to do LSD. And I didn’t. And now I am 36. And doubt I will change my mind. Stories matter. Stories help us define our lives. Stories give us dreams to cling to and nightmares to drive away. This is the case at 5, 11, 27 or 75, but the lessons we choose to take from the book often directly reflect the psychosocial crises we are struggling with at the time we read it.”

There is a quote in Spiderman (yes, for all the middle schoolers, and middle schoolers at heart, I am going to include a quote from Spiderman) that I feel is relevant to this post:

With great power comes great responsibility.”—Uncle Ben to Peter (A slight variation of this quote is originally attributed to Stan Lee.)

Books written for children don’t always receive the recognition or credit they deserve. Vicky Smith, Children’s & Teen Editor at Kirkus Reviews, wrote a blog post in which she revealed that her acupuncturist referred to reading an adult book as reading a “real book.” Oh, my. Regardless of the opinion of the general public, we writers of children’s books know we hold great power each time we put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. We have the power to move, inspire, and grant hope to kids in ways we never dare to think. The books we write contain unimaginable influence over the developing thoughts, convictions, and even actions of children everywhere—children who are the future of our world. Our books will be our legacies—legacies capable of changing the world through young readers. Writing for children is indeed a great honor and a great responsibility. And that, I believe, is deserving of great respect.

Laura Golden is the author of EVERY DAY AFTER, a middle grade novel about letting go and finding your own way. It is set to release from Delacorte Press/RHCB in the spring of 2013. You can find out more about Laura and EVERY DAY AFTER by visiting her website or following her on Twitter.

Friday, September 21, 2012

When and Why I Decided To Write YA

It’s a clichĂ©, but I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write. As a child, I spent most of my spare time reading books or writing my own stories. My first serious attempt at writing a novel was when I was about 19 or 20 and at university. Naturally the book was a ‘campus novel’. I remember parts of it. It wasn’t very good. It was set in London. The main character was a lot like me. The other characters were a lot like people I knew or people I wished I knew. Fortunately the only surviving copy of that manuscript is saved on an outmoded form of technology. Phew!

Novel number 2 was written a couple of years later while living in California. It was a drug-smuggling thriller inspired by a backpacking trip to a remote part of west Texas called Terlingua. It had drugs, sex, intrigue and far too many words. I still have a hard copy of that book, but bonfire night is just a few weeks away and I think it might be time to throw that epic effort onto the flames.

I always imagined I would spend a few years doing other things, building up life experience, before devoting myself to writing full time. Then Life happened. I got married. Had a kid. Then another one. Built a house. Got a ‘proper’ job. I still scribbled ideas into my notebook, outlined plots and wrote the first few chapters. But it was hard to find the time or energy to see any of these projects through to completion. 

My day job was as an English teacher. I loved it. Reading and discussing books with a new generation of (sometimes) enthusiastic readers is a great way to earn a living. I kept telling myself that one day I would have the time to write my next book. 
I clearly remember my ‘light bulb’ moment. I was teaching a bottom set year 9 class (that’s 14 year olds for those of you across the pond). They were a lovely, but disaffected group. They were dyslexic, dyspraxic, ADHD, bored or all of the above. Not a single one of them had ever read a book for pleasure. I was teaching Romeo and Juliet. Surely to god, I remember thinking, you can relate to this. First love, rebelling against your parents, passion, parties. One girl, however, was busy staring at her lap. I had a pretty good idea what she was doing: texting. I gave her ‘the look’ and demanded that she give me her phone. 

But she wasn’t texting. For the first time in her life she was reading a book because she wanted to. Imagine the dilemma: tell girl who is reading for pleasure for the first time ever to put the book away and listen to me teach Shakespeare. Or not. “Please just let me finish this chapter,” she begged. 

The book in question was Twilight. I hadn’t heard of it. When she told me it was a vampire novel, I told her that wasn’t my thing. Two more years passed before I finally gave in to peer pressure and forced myself to read Twilight. I immediately understood why a fourteen year old girl would find it so compelling. Not only did it make me feel like a teenager again, reading it reminded me of the ambitions I’d held when I was that age. I’d wanted to be a writer. And here I was, busy busy busy, telling myself that ‘one day’ I’d have the time to finish a novel.

I gave myself a goal. One year. Wake at 5:00 am and write for an hour and a half every day before work. If I didn’t finish a novel, get an agent and a book deal, well so be it. At least I’d tried. I decided to try to write the sort of novel I would have secretly read under my desk when I was fourteen. The result was After Eden. I don’t know if some disaffected year nine girl will ever sneakily turn its pages under her desk when she should be listening to her English teacher, but if I had one wish for my book – that would be it.

Author Photo
Helen Douglas is the author of AFTER EDEN, a time-travel love story coming in 2013 from Bloomsbury. You can find out more about her novel on Goodreads, and join her on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Where It All Began

I'm not really a love at first sight type of girl. To be totally truthful, I'm more of a watch, slowly began to crush on, watch more, and most importantly (this is the tricky part what with all the watching) never EVER make eye contact type of girl.

But there was one time in my life when I fell in love at first sight and I fell hard and I didn't care who was watching.

I was in first grade at the time and a friend's mom was taking a bunch of kids from my neighborhood to this arts and crafts thing. The craft was cutting a picture from a magazine and gluing it onto a piece of wood. Not to brag or anything, but mine turned out AMAZING. I kept that thing for decades afterwards. In fact, I'm pretty sure I still have it packed away in a box somewhere. But that's not what I fell in love with. That's just me being a pack-rat.

No, the love came when we left the arts and crafts room and entered the main part of the building. The rest of that building was a place called...

THE LIBRARY (insert choir of angels sound effect).

This library place wasn't flashy and pink like the Barbie doll aisle at Toys R Us. It didn't have to be. And that's because it wasn't trying to sell me dolls that would give me unrealistic ideas of a women's proper proportions. Actually, they weren't trying to sell me anything. They just had tons and tons of books and if I could print my own name onto a library card, then I could have access to all of them. It was the most wonderful place I'd ever been. You know, come to think of it, it's STILL one the most wonderful places I've ever been... and I've been around a bit in the time between first grade and now.

You can probably picture it, but just to set the scene, my library kind of looked like this.

Cue the music. The Turtles "So Happy Together" would be appropriate.

And then the 1980s-esque montage begins. Me. The library. The books. Together we wildly spin in circles. And then there is laughing and holding hands and sharing a plate of spaghetti---

---Well no. Actually, not any of that. It's a library and they have that whole quiet thing going on. I also don't think we were allowed to bring food in. So mostly it's just me, skulking through the shelves, a pile of books stacked precariously up to my chin, and yet I still can't stop myself from reaching for just one more.

Oh sure, it wasn't all good times. There were the lost library cards. The disapproving parents (they never truly understood what we saw in each other) who didn't want to drive me there every week. The lost books. The books that smelled like someone had exhaled a carton of cigarettes into their pages. The late fees.

But it was all worth it when I discovered the stash of Anne McCaffrey books they'd been hiding in the Science Fiction section. Or when I thought I was too old for young adult and then found the "Tomorrow When the War Began" series. Or when there was something bright and shiny in the new arrivals section.

If it wasn't for the library I never would've been able to read books the way that I did - treating the entire varied literary world from Peanuts cartoons to Flowers In The Attic to Anne of Green Gables like it was simply one big all you can eat buffet. I sampled everything and although there were times when I would keep going back to one favorite item - I always knew that when I got hungry for a different kind of taste - there would always be something new to try.

So this post was supposed to be about how I became a writer, but I haven't talked about writing at all. The thing is, if it wasn't for the library, I never would've wanted so badly to tell my own stories and to one day see my own book on a library shelf.

For me, reading and writing, isn't a chicken and egg type conundrum. I can see very clearly not only the connection, but which one came first. I am not a writer, who reads. Even now, so many years later from when I first discovered the joys to be found inside the library - I am a reader, who writes.

Kate Karyus Quinn is the author of ANOTHER LITTLE PIECE, coming in 2013 from HarperTeen. You can find out more about her book on Goodreads, and read more about Kate on her blog or her website.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Apocalypse Now: An Interview with Erin Jade Lange, Author of BUTTER

I have to admit that I was ecstatic when I was able to get my hands on an ARC of BUTTER and interview Erin Jade Lange.  I had hard so many good things about the book, and the book did not disappoint.

From Goodreads:
A lonely obese boy everyone calls "Butter" is about to make history. He is going to eat himself to death-live on the Internet-and everyone is invited to watch. When he first makes the announcement online to his classmates, Butter expects pity, insults, and possibly sheer indifference. What he gets are morbid cheerleaders rallying around his deadly plan. Yet as their dark encouragement grows, it begins to feel a lot like popularity. And that feels good. But what happens when Butter reaches his suicide deadline? Can he live with the fallout if he doesn't go through with his plans?

First, a pretty standard question....what gave you the idea to write this book? 

My stories tend to start with characters and grow from there. The character of Butter just popped into my head, fully formed, one day. I can’t pinpoint exactly where he came from, but as a TV news producer, I am constantly covering stories of childhood obesity, internet bullying and teen suicide. I think those stories just piled up in the back of my mind until I had to release them, and out came this character.

What is your writing process like?  Do you outline?  Do you just sit down and let the story tell itself?

I am a plotter, for the most part. I need a general outline, or else I’ll wander several thousand words off course. That said, my outlines tend to look like this:
Chapter 3 – Jack goes to bookstore/library (decide later), sees Jill, hides behind shelf and peeks at her through gaps in the stacks. Jill says something? School project? – Jack: “sorry, didn’t mean to stare.” Jill: hmph. (insert dialog from voice recorder here) - Somehow get them outside library to witness the car accident. (move all this to chap.5?)
It’s messy, but it works for me.

What is your "must haves" while writing?  Is there a certain food?  Drink?  Music?
Time! By that I mean I need long stretches of time to write. I can’t write in short bursts whenever there’s a free moment. I need to schedule it and write for hours to get into the groove.

What traits (if any) of Butter's do you see in yourself?
We both have a pretty self-deprecating sense of humor. Also, I went through a period in my life when I wanted to be friends with the “cool kids” at any cost – even when they were cruel. Like Butter, I felt the best way to keep from being the victim was to make them like me. And like Butter, I didn’t really stop to ask myself if I liked them. So we have that in common.

Music is important to this book.  Can you think of any songs that would make up the soundtrack to this book or inspired you while you wrote?
I definitely listened to a lot of Jazz while writing this, since it plays such a big role in the book – particularly Bop, which is chaotic and unpredictable, much like Butter’s situation. But I also listened to some alternative/punk music.  I would say, from those genres, the two songs that always make me think of BUTTER are “A Night in Tunisia” by Dizzy Gillespie and “Should I Stay or Should I Go” by The Clash.

Butter's friends encourage him to start a bucket list.  What top three items would be on your own bucket list?
Mine would all involve traveling! 1) Go on safari in Africa, 2) See the pyramids, 3) Visit New Zealand
-- though, oddly enough, I picked none of those places for my honeymoon next year. :p

Butter plans to eat himself to death and thinks a lot about what items would be a part of his last meal.  What would your last meal involve?
Hot & sour soup, my mom’s spaghetti, a whole mess of appetizers, a Whitey’s malt and my grandma’s black forest cake.

What are some of your favorite YA authors/books?
I love dystopian novels, and Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games tops that list for me. In contemp YA, I love anything by Courtney Summers. I’m also becoming a huge fan of Patrick Ness. This list could get really long. ;)

How do you plan to celebrate your release day?
I’ll take the day off work to cruise around town looking for BUTTER on shelves then hopefully have a launch party that night or the following weekend at my favorite local indie, Changing Hands.

And since you're being interviewed by The Lucky 13s, I have to ask...what's your favorite superstition? 
I’m not very superstitious, but it does give me the creeps when black cats cross my path – which happens to me ALL THE TIME, by the way. Also, I have my own personal superstition that it’s bad luck when a street light goes out just as you pass under it – something else that happens to me all the time.

Where can we find you on the Internet?  

Where can we buy your book?

*This interview was conducted by Lucky 13 member Rachele Alpine, as part of an ongoing series of interviews with the Apocalypsies—YA, MG, and children’s book authors with 2012 debuts.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Apocalype Now: An Interview with Kat Zhang, Author of WHAT'S LEFT OF ME.

Congratulations to Kat Zhang, whose haunting debut WHAT'S LEFT OF ME is out today from Harper Teen! NYT Bestselling author Lauren DeStefano calls the book "a shockingly unique story that redefines what it means to be human."

Kat was kind enough to sit down with Lucky 13er Amie Kaufman for a chat about —among other topics—her debut, first drafts and writing a dual point of view.

First, a bit about WHAT'S LEFT OF ME:

Eva and Addie started out the same way as everyone else--two souls woven together in one body, taking turns controlling their movements as they learned how to walk, how to sing, how to dance. But as they grew, so did the worried whispers. Why aren't they settling? Why isn't one of them fading? The doctors ran tests, the neighbors shied away, and their parents begged for more time. Finally Addie was pronounced healthy and Eva was declared gone. Except, she wasn't... 

For the past three years, Eva has clung to the remnants of her life. Only Addie knows she's still there, trapped inside their body. Then one day, they discover there may be a way for Eva to move again. The risks are unimaginable-hybrids are considered a threat to society, so if they are caught, Addie and Eva will be locked away with the others. And yet...for a chance to smile, to twirl, to speak, Eva will do anything.
1. What's Left of Me is a book about two souls living in one body--what were the challenges you encountered when writing to write from this unique, dual point of view?

I think the two biggest challenges were 1) figuring out how this concept would work in a "real world"--what would be the personal and social ramifications? and 2) dealing with the technical level of writing about two people in one body! (Is it "I"? or "We"? or "She"?)

It's not often that one has to struggle with correct pronoun use and such for a body inhabited by two people! These considerations meant that even some of the most mundane scenes took a lot of thinking through.

2. Crazy overachiever that you are, you've been busy combining college with writing and revising your trilogy in your copious (haha!) spare time. Do you feel being at college while you've worked on the books has changed or informed your experience?

Haha ;) I actually wrote a post about this! In short, though, I think it's done both. Working on books has certainly changed my college experience, anyway ;) But yes, from the end of high school to the end of college, you take al these classes--you're introduced to all these new ideas an concepts. And you're also, of course, growing up, really being on your own for the first time. All these things definitely affect what you write.

3. What's Left of Me has been compared to His Dark Materials and Never Let Me Go -- that's some weighty company! In particular, your prose and the deep thinking in the book really left a mark on me. Do your drafts start out messy and gain depth and detail through your revisions, or do you have most of it in the page early on? And, as an extension of that question, how formed are your ideas when you begin?

Thank you! I've always been so flattered by those comparisons :)

Oh yes, my drafts are so messy. I always compare drafting to...I don't know, making fabric. You're just making all this fabric, and it doesn't really have much shape, and most of the time it looks nothing like what you want your finished product to be. Revision is when you take that fabric (first draft) and cut it up and sew pieces of it together, and discard other pieces of it, and sometimes you have to tear it all apart and re-sew it, or even add more fabric...

My ideas tend to be very nebulous when I first start writing, but I always hit a point during the first draft (usually say 20 pages in?) when I stop free-writing and really sit down and think, "Okay where is this going?"

4. Before you go, any advice you can offer to aspiring writers?

1. Finish that first draft! Don't underestimate how difficult this might be, or how big of a difference it makes in how you look at writing.

2. Research the industry, but don't *obsess* over the industry.

3. Keep writing! No matter what! :)

4. Make writer friends! SO important. They will keep you sane.

Thanks for having me, Amie! 

Kat Zhang is an avid traveler, and after a childhood spent living in one book after another, she now builds stories for other people to visit. An English major at Vanderbilt University, she spends her free time performing Spoken Word poetry, raiding local bookstores, and plotting where to travel next. She is represented by Emmanuelle Morgen of Stonesong. You can read about her travels, literary and otherwise, on her website or check her out on Twitter.

This interview was conducted by Lucky13s member Amie Kaufman, whose YA sci-fi novel THESE BROKEN STARS will be released Fall 2013 from Disney*Hyperion. The interview is part of an ongoing series of interviews with The Apocalypsies -- YA, MG, and children's book authors debuting in 2012.