Tags: dystopian, interview, Life as We Knew it, Susan Beth Pfeffer, The Dead and the Gone, This World We Live In, YA science fiction
YA science fiction – especially speculative &/or dystopian stuff, seems to be a rising market at the moment. And today, we have an interview with a pretty cool YA author who’s been writing some sci fi lately. You may have heard of her – she’s the author of Life As We Knew It, The Dead and the Gone, and coming soon, This World We Live In. So without further ado, presenting: Susan Beth Pfeffer!
Let’s start off with something fun. Your latest book, This World We Live In, is coming out soon. Summarize the book in twenty words – while tossing in as many alliterations as possible.
Lonely life. Laughter lingers. Longing looks. Loathing loses. Lust. Lying. Love lasts.
Very impressive – every single word! The Moon books seem to contain an element of speculative science fiction. Why this particular hypothetical future? How did these concepts come about?
I’ve always been intrigued by the fact that the moon controls the tides. And I wanted a worldwide disaster that wasn’t the fault of human beings (as so many things are) or something humans could change (since my main character was a teenage girl, and unlikely to save humanity). I also favored what I called a rolling disaster, one bad thing leading to another and another.
So I nudged the moon a bit closer to earth and tried to figure out just how bad that could make things. I have a basic sense of gravity, and I figured the moon’s gravitational pull could cause all kinds of miseries.
Which, thanks to me, it did.
Definitely original! Life as We Knew It, The Dead and the Gone, This World We Live In – all rather eloquently phrased titles. How did they come about?
My editor, or someone at the publishing house, named Life As We Knew It. My working title had been In The Sunroom.
Once I came up with the concept for The Dead and The Gone, I knew that would be its title. I zipped on over to Amazon to see if there were any other books with that title, and while there were a number of Dead And Gone(s), there weren’t any The Dead And The Gone, so I figured I was safe.
When I was trying to come up with the title for the third book, someone commented on my blog that the first two were five single syllable word titles. So I played around with various combinations until I came up with This World We Live In. Amazon didn’t show any serious conflicts, so that became my choice.
That’s smart, checking titles on Amazon first. Now, you’ve accumulated quite an impressive list of publications over the years. Is there one particular book you enjoyed writing more than the others?
I had a wonderful time writing all three moon books. I love the set up and the characters. When I wrote LAWKI it didn’t have chapters, and I think when I wrote d&g, I was reminded to put chapters in. Even with TW, the chapters were an organizing ex post facto addition.
I love writing books without chapters. There’s something liberating about not having to deal with that structure.
I wrote a book a long time ago called Courage, Dana, for younger readers. I remember really enjoying writing it. A tiny section of it is used on standardized reading tests, so I still make a little bit of money from it.
That’s really cool that it’s used for testing! If you could meet any character from any of your books, who would you chill with for a day? What would you guys do?
I introduce a new character named Charlie in This World We Live In. He’s your basic all purpose nice guy, and I think I’d enjoy spending time with him.
Since I mostly write for kids, I mostly write about kids. In real life, I tend to hang out with grownups. So I think Charlie would be the one I’d have the best time with.
I have no idea what we’d do though, since I only know him after the world has come to an end. That cuts down considerably on possible activities.
Haha, that probably would. If the apocalypse were coming tomorrow and you could only choose three books (in the entire world) to keep safe and bring into the “New World”, which ones would you pick?
Agee On Film by James Agee.
Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations
Church, State, and Freedom by Leo Pfeffer (my father)
Words of wisdom – what do you do when the muse has gone on vacation?
I go on vacation also.
I do a lot of pre-writing, so I always have some comfort level about what I’m going to be writing from one day to the next.
If I wake up in the morning with a big I Don’t Wanna, I simply give myself the day off.
It doesn’t happen often, but I respect it when it does.
I try to clean my home before I begin a book, have things all nice and tidy at least at the getgo.
And generally, I don’t read fiction when I’m writing.
Beyond that, I pretty much keep to my regular routines.
Outline first or writing on the fly?
Outline, outline, outline.
For the most part, I don’t outline on paper. But before I begin writing a book, I do an enormous amount of thinking about it. And when I’m writing, I focus on what’s going to happen.
There’s no right way or wrong way, and in the end it probably takes the same amount of time as it would if I sat down and improvised.
But my favorite part of writing is working the story out, and I always wait until I’m comfortable with the beginning, have a very strong sense of where the story is going to end, and am reasonably confident I know the middle, before beginning the actual writing.
More great advice! Really on a roll here. (And from peachiemkey of TWFT): What’s one hard truth you’ve had to learn about writing?
That just because I think something is wonderful doesn’t mean anyone else will.
I am my own biggest fan. I write the stories I would most enjoy reading. My primary goal in writing is to entertain myself.
Alas, not everyone else on earth has my exact taste.
Anything else to add?
Just that I’m very glad the world isn’t anything like the one I created in my moon books and that I don’t have to hang out with imaginary characters!
TWFT recently got a chance to interview Jay Asher, author of Thirteen Reasons Why. What a treat!
TWFT Summarize Thirteen Reasons Why in ten words or less.
Hannah committed suicide. Clay listens to her recorded reasons why.
TWFT Who is your favorite character from Thirteen Reasons Why?
Tony. When I wrote the scene where Clay “borrows” Tony’s Walkman, I didn’t have any plans for bringing Tony back later in the book. But there was something about the guy which I immediately liked, and people who read that scene early on also liked him. He turned out to be a very important character later in the book and I loved writing every scene he appears in. I could probably write a whole book about him!
TWFT When did you first start writing?
I’ve enjoyed writing ever since I learned how to spell. Regarding writing as a career, I wanted to write and illustrate my own comic strip for years. If I could draw better, that would still be my fantasy job. It wasn’t until my first year in college that I began writing children’s book in the hopes of one day getting published. For about the next nine years, I only wrote funny books for younger children. Thirteen Reasons Why was the first serious novel I attempted, and also the first book I wrote for teens.
TWFT Thirteen Reasons Why is quite a sad (but totally amazing) novel. Are any of the events that take place based on real life situations that you have experienced?
The scene in the Peer Communications class with the paperbags happened in my high school Peer Communications class almost exactly as it appears in the book. We never found out who wrote that note, but obviously the class reaction left a big impact on me. And when Clay first meets Hannah at the party, when he tries to tie his shoelace but his fingers are too cold, that happened to me at a party when I was introduced to the first girl I ever went on a date with.
TWFT Tell us about your querying process and road to publication.
From the time I first began submitting manuscripts to publishers back in 1994 to when Thirteen Reasons Why sold, twelve years had passed. So this can definitely be a game of perseverance, as well as being willing to try different styles until you find your natural voice. When my agent sent out this manuscript, it got rejected many times before it sold.
TWFT Thirteen Reasons Why is a very serious novel. Is there a message in the novel that you want readers to grasp?
As Hannah says, you never know what’s going on in anyone’s life but your own. Someone who looks like they have it all together may actually be going through quite a lot. And everyone handles life’s pressures differently. While Hannah herself is not without fault, it still all comes down to the Golden Rule. So that’s the main thing I was trying to say. Always treat people with respect because you never know what else they’re dealing with. As well, I want people who are hurting to realize how important it is for them to honestly reach out for help.
TWFT What was your inspiration for Thirteen Reasons Why?
I had a close relative attempt suicide when she was the same age as Hannah. Through talking with her over the years, I began to understand how someone could get to that place where they completely lose hope of things getting better. Around that same time, I took an audiotour and immediately thought that dual-narrative structure could be very powerful if paired with the right story. It wasn’t until nine years later that the issue of suicide matched up with the structure.
TWFT Can you describe yourself as a teen in high school?
I was normally shy. But when I got comfortable around certain groups of people, then I could be very outgoing. I worked on the newspaper staff, but I was horrible and got out as soon as I could. I played in a bunch of garage bands, playing guitar and singing, and I thought I was much better than I actually was. I only really dated one girl in high school, and that relationship lasted two years. I didn’t hate my teen years in any way, but I still wouldn’t want to redo them. Those years were rather…blah.
TWFT If you could have dinner with one author, alive or dead, who would it be?
Stephen King. Without a doubt. And since he’s alive, there’s always a chance!
TWFT Do you have any tips for aspiring young writers?
Join a critique group where everyone gives each other honest suggestions for improvements as well as points out everyone’s strengths. If you can find a group of writers like that, your writing will improve tremendously.
TWFT Are you currently working on another novel?
TWFT Lastly, a TWFT tradition, what is your favorite flavor of jellybean?
Buttered popcorn. It’s not that I can eat a ton of them…but they’re so fun to share!
Thanks for your time Jay! The last one made me crack up…
It was a beautiful day in Twifty land, as some of us (uh, Race) experienced a light snowfall, Christmas music, baking, gift wrapping… and an awesome interview with an awesome author. The writer in us could not ask for more for Christmas. That is, unless the “more” was a guest post from the same awesome author.
That is right. The incredible Steph Bowe has granted TWFT a fantastic interview today. And soon she’ll be penning a guest post on what Race believes should be a fabulous probe into the publishing industry as applies to teen writers!
Visit her at www.heyteenager.blogspot.com and enjoy the interview!
TWFT: Describe your novel in a single sentence?
SB: When Jewel saves Sacha’s life, they are both forced to confront pasts they’ve so carefully concealed – a lost brother, an empty space where a mother should be, a debilitating illness, fractured families and buried secrets.
TWFT: Do you usually try to follow an outline? Any process you normally go through?
SB: I don’t follow an outline, I just write the novel without a plan, start to finish. It works pretty well for me, though there are a lot of things that have to be cleaned up in editing (stuff like character-arcs and getting rid of pointless scenes, which are things I might have avoided had I outlined).
TWFT: Do you consider yourself a writer or a story teller?
SB: I don’t really consider myself either (I just love to write). I do tell stories, but I think that’s what a writer does, anyway.
TWFT: Do you write what you know?
SB: I do, and I don’t. I think it’s the same for a lot of writers. I write the emotions that I know well, but I don’t write my own experiences. Writing allows me to explore things I haven’t experienced first hand, but also be introspective at the same time.
TWFT: How do you discover your characters? Or do they discover you?
SB: A bit of both. Sometimes I start with a name, sometimes with a trait (garden gnome thief, science genius), sometimes the whole character appears fully-formed in my head, with a story they deman be written. It really does vary from character to character, though they always come easily.
TWFT: Did you have a soundtrack for your novel, or any particular type of music you listened to while writing?
SB: Yes! I have a soundtrack for all my major writing projects. My soundtrack for the last novel was made up of songs by The Killers, Kings Of Leon, Regina Spektor, the Kinks and Aussie band Augie March (look up One Crowded Hour on YouTube – brilliant song).
TWFT: What first inspired you to become a writer? Career-wise, did you always want to be an author?
SB: Ever since I was very small I have loved writing, and since I was about seven, I’ve aspired to sell a book so that I could buy my family a house. This has not yet happened, but it will! Someday!
TWFT: Favorite novel or writer? Why?
SB: Can’t pick one! My favorite writers are John Green, Sarah Dessen and Melina Marchetta, and my favorite book right now is a tie between Everything Beautiful by Simmone Howell and Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson.
TWFT: Now, I know you have a the guest post coming up (We’re so excited!), and you will be discussing the industry and teens. But, in general, if you had a few words on your experiences with querying for the first time? Any advice for our readers?
SB: My experience of querying was very quick, but still incredibly stressful. My advice to writers querying for the first time is that they should try and keep a good sense of humor through the entire process, and not automatically accept if one agent offers (it’s a big decision, there’s no rush, and if one agent offers and there are others still reading fulls, you might get another offer).
TWFT: What annoys you about the perception of teen writers?
SB: That we can’t actually write and only get published because of the novelty of our age. The reality is that age is irrelevant: it’s all about your book. Don’t let the meanies get you down.
And TWFT’s official interview question – What is your favorite flavor of jelly bean?
SB: Buttered popcorn!
Now, you have to admit to the awesome.
Recently I got the opportunity to interview Lisa Mantchev, whose AMAZING YA fantasy, EYES LIKE STARS, came out a few months ago. I thought I’d share our short conversation with you guys. :)
KB: Describe your novel in twenty words or less.
LM: Beatrice Shakespeare Smith lives in a magical theater with all the characters from every play ever written.
KB: Where did you get the idea for EYES LIKE STARS?
LM: ELS started life as a short story entitled “All Her World’s A Stage” and THAT started with Bertie’s full name… it just popped into my head one day as I was writing something else entirely.
KB: It’s a GREAT name. :) Do you usually try to follow an outline or are you a “pantser”?
LM: A little of both… I outline, and then wander all over the place as I work through a first draft. Some of my favorite scenes were never part of “the plan”… like the Tango Scene. That was inspired by a season past of So You Think You Can Dance, something I was watching in the evenings to decompress after a day of putting down new words.
KB: Haha, awesome! (That was one of my favorite scenes, actually.) There are so many fun, quirky characters in ESL – I particularly love Ophelia and her obsession with drowning. :) Did you set out to create this cast or did they kind of tackle you and demand to be in your book? (Maybe that’s just me…)
LM: The Players just showed up… the fairies, Ophelia, and Ariel all arrived as-is, with their personality quirks and in full costume, ready to go. Nate turned up in a revision, when the Sea Goddess/scrimshaw plotline was added in.
KB: I am SO glad Nate found his way into the cast. *hugs Nate* Can you tell us the story of that first call from both your agent and editor?
LM: Would it be bad to admit it’s been so long that I can only remember bits and pieces of those calls? I remember my pulse thudding in my ears, and taking lots of notes, and trying to not sound like a raving idiot (which I might have managed… I’ve blocked that part of it out!) I remember asking Jean Feiwel what her favorite scene was, and she liked the Tango Scene the best (hooray!) The thing that clinched it for my agent was the musical number “What Will Become Of Us,” which was originally a little bit longer with even more bad poetry. *L*
KB: Do you listen to music while you write?
LM: Depends on the day… some days I need absolute quite to get words down, other days I’m listening to everything from techno dance music to the soundtracks to Cirque du Soleil’s Corteo. I have friends that will verify that I have Really Awful taste in pop music. ;)
KB: Oh, so do I. *wince* Can you give us a teensy weensy summary of PERCHANCE TO DREAM, or is it very tightly under wraps right now? (The fangirl in me hopes for a small peek…)
LM: Anything I could say about Perchance To Dream is a spoiler for Eyes Like Stars, so I’m waiting for the Official Book Jacket Copy to share anything about book 2. Sorry!!
KB: Dang it. *pouts* Oh well. I guess I can wait for next year. :D Last but not least – what is your favorite flavor of jelly bean?
LM: Tangerine Jelly Bellies. My mom always put those in my Easter basket (mixed with Lemon and Lemon-Lime… that combination always makes me think of springtime.)
Thanks again for the interview, Lisa, and for your awesome book!!!
Learn more about Lisa and the players of the Theatre Illuminata at www.theatre-illuminata.com
Aw, yes. You thought you outgrew the Golden Rule when you hit puberty, but alas, it shall continue to haunt you. I promise.
But let us not focus on what you “say” so much as what you “type.” Not in your manuscript. This is a little more professional. A little more “if you want to get published” driven. A little more frightening, if you want the truth.
Have you every REALLY thought about what you write on the internet?
No, no. I’m not here to give you the parental “child molester” speech, though that is certainly something to consider, I promise. Instead, I want you to think in a business-like way. Have you posted anything stupid, mean, compromising, or embarrassing online? Don’t lie. You have. We all have. It happens. But I’m here to tell you why it is best to watch carefully what you say.
Let’s look at this from the “you want to get published” perspective, shall we?
We’re teens. We’re vibrant and lively. Most every author on this blog writes in a thread on AW. Its casual. Its fun. But if you aren’t careful, it can get potentially dangerous. People can often forget they are in a public forum rather than a chatroom. People say things and talk about things that, in truth, aren’t a good idea to advertise to the rest of the world.
Let me just tel you, from experience, that agents and editors DO google you.
My agent found me on AW. My agent follows my blog. My agent is probably reading this post RIGHT NOW! And I’m fine with that. Lucky for me, I haven’t said anything TOO ridiculous online, but I’ll admit that even I’ve forgotten that my posts were insanely public.
Here’s a few things NOT to do on a public forum:
1. Complain about query rejections from specific agents. Other agents might see this and look down on your insulting of a fellow agent. And it just isn’t tactful.
2. Post negative book reviews on your blog. If you hate the book, don’t talk about it. You might wind up with the same agent/editor/publishing house as that author, and wouldn’t that be upsetting? Or worse, you might MEET the author you trashed. Karma is a bitch, remember?
3. Just don’t be unprofessional. Post casual things, sure, but don’t talk about getting drunk or doing crazy things that potential colleges/agents/employers might frown on. This applies for things other than writing, obviously.
I’m not saying write intensely perfect and/or grammatically correct posts on forums like AW. I’m all for freedom of speech! But be mindful. Anytime you post, think of an agent you are querying or may query soon. Would they frown on you if they read that post? Is it mean? Would it hurt the feelings of someone you may become connected with?
All just a bit of advice. Like I said, agents are googling their authors. A lot of them. What will they find out about you?
For some strange reason, blogging about getting an agent is much harder than just talking about it. I think I have this idea that when I blog I must sound professional – whereas when I’m gushing in real life I can say something along the lines of, “OHMYGOSH she is so cool and I’m signing the contract right now and it’s freaking got my name on it and HOLY COW she’s got some really cool ideas for revisions and I just finished them and we’re doing one more round of edits and then I think we’re going to be submitting to editors EEK!!!”
I fail at professionalism.
*takes a deep breath*
I got my first offer of representation on July 16, while I was vacationing with my family in North Carolina. A week and a half later, I had three offers from three fabulous agents – which was quite possibly the most surreal experience on the planet. However, I really felt an instant connection with Michelle, who was funny and friendly and had a vision for the book that blew my mind. So, on July 27, I officially signed with Michelle Andelman at Lynn Franklin Associates.
And that, my friends, is the short version of that story.
To get the long version, you’d have to sift through two years’ worth of journal entries; many a six a.m. writing session; and several hysterical conversations with friends in which I repeated over and over, “I SUCK! I SUCK!” You would have to flip through two writing notebooks full of character charts and plot notes, many half-finished novels, and more than one terrifying moment when I thought, “Maybe it’s true – maybe I can’t do it.”
You want the truth? You want the whole story? I didn’t know if I could do it. I didn’t know if I could finish a book, or write something I was proud of, or get an agent. And even now that I have an agent who’s taking a chance on my work, there are still a lot of things I don’t know.
There is nothing wrong with not knowing. Nothing wrong with saying, “I’m not sure I like this. Maybe I don’t want to be a professional writer. I still haven’t decided yet. I don’t know if this is the genre for me…”
But there is something terribly, devastatingly wrong with telling yourself “There’s no way in hell.”
Your first book may not be published. Or even your second book. Or your third. Or your fourth. But I’m one of those annoyingly optimistic people who believes that there’s a way. There is always a way.
Feel free to question. Feel free to change your mind. But don’t ever, ever give up.
And good luck. :)
Query letter for CITY OF SHADOWS:
In a society that breeds perfect people, seventeen-year-old Dax is defective. In other words, he’s illegal, and his life depends on his ability to be invisible. But Dax has heard rumors of a place where “defects” aren’t killed for their freckles, mismatched eyes, or mental disabilities.
They call it the Promised Land.
Serenity Faire’s family calls it dangerous – a threat to national security. That’s why they allow Dax to live when he is caught stealing, forcing him instead to help them find this city that has eluded the government for centuries. Their search leads them through the tunnels of Washington D.C.’s abandoned subways, into the heart of an America that was lost years ago. But in this forgotten world, Dax and Serenity uncover their own secret – a romance even more illegal than Dax’s freckles. Their relationship has consequences that echo through the White House, drawing the attention of the oppressive ruling family and threatening both their friends and family in the city and the Promised Land. Because the only thing worse than a defect who is allowed to live is a defect who is allowed to love.
CITY OF SHADOWS is a dystopian YA with the gritty urban feel of Neal Shusterman’s UNWIND and the forbidden romance of a futuristic ROMEO & JULIET. It is complete at 82,000 words.
(Bio/ contact info)
Imagine four years.
Four years, two suicides, one death, one rape, two pregnancies (one abortion), three overdoses, countless drunken antics, pantsings, spilled food, theft, fights, broken limbs, turf wars–every day, a turf war–six months until graduation and no one gets a medal when they get out. But everything you do here counts.
So begins the recently released YA novel, Cracked Up to Be. It’s a truly wild ride written by one truly wild, not to mention awesome, author. That author is Courtney Summers, and TWFT has snagged an interview with her, so sit back and enjoy…
Hey Courtney! Cracked Up to Be, your debut novel, has gotten some rave reviews and lots of positive attention since its release in December. Eight months after the fact, what insights have you gained on “The Published Life”?
The more I do this, the more I learn (over and over again) that it takes a village to get a book published. It constantly amazes me how many (fantastic, passionate!) people are involved in the process and how hard they work to make the final product absolutely perfect. Every decision is made toward that goal and it defines the way you listen and the way you ask your own questions. Also, publishing works on its own time. Patience is a virtue, both before and after the sale of a book. (Has it been eight months already?! Aaah!)
Okay, it’s more like seven months – I rounded up, so relax… for now! After all that exposure to the publishing world, do you still remember your querying days? What happened on your road to agentdom?
PHEW! Seven months I can deal with! But eight–that’s just crazy. ;) I do remember my querying days. I haven’t deleted a single query I’ve sent from my inbox, actually. My road to agentdom was fairly standard. I wrote the books, I polished the books, I wrote queries for those books and targeted my submissions to agents VERY carefully. Research is essential for querying. The amazing Amy Tipton of FinePrint Literary Management read the query, requested the full and shortly thereafter offered representation and we’ve been happily working together ever since!
Sounds like a happy ending! The book features Parker Fadley, a high school senior who’s gone through some seriously traumatic stuff… and whose happy ending is not so assured. How did you go about developing such a complicated character?
Once I knew what Parker’s problem was, I had her voice. She was very clear to me. And because so much of her attitude is defined by her responses to other characters and the situations around her, my approach was to write her out and see what happened, let her develop with the story. I got some pleasant surprises by doing this–I didn’t pre-plan the finger-snapping, for example. It just happened!
Are there any similarities between yourself and Parker? Finger-snapping, or maybe compulsive hair-combing?
I think Parker and I have the same need for perfection. We are hard on ourselves and sometimes it gets the better of us. But luckily (!), it hasn’t gotten the better of me in quite the same way it got the better of her…!
Good to hear, good to hear. Your second novel, Some Girls Are, is due out in January of next year. Are you more or less excited than you were for the release of your first book? More or less nervous?
I am as excited about the impending release of Some Girls Are, but much more nervous than I was for the release of Cracked Up to Be, which is something I never would have thought possible. Second books are scary; you’ve shaped reader expectations with your first novel and you hope that what you put out next lives up to those expectations. At the same time, you also hope the book is allowed to stand on its own. It’s nervewracking!
Cracked Up to Be utilizes a writing style I haven’t seen before in the YA genre – I’d almost call it “punk minimalism.” (Okay, skip the punk thing, it’s just really cool.) How much of that is Parker’s voice, and how much is simply your personal style? Can readers expect something similar in Some Girls Are?
Thank you so much! That’s definitely my style. I’ve always really, really loved being economical with words. Some Girls Are is similarly spare/minimalist in style, but I feel the voices in each novel are distinctly their own. Where Parker had a biting running commentary going on and avoided her pain by being a total bitch to everyone, Regina (the main character in Some Girls Are) is much angrier and more questioning–she’s a different kind of wounded.
Right now you’re working on your third book, the plot details for which you have kept pretty secret. (I’m all right with that, really. Really.) What has been your hardest challenge in writing this particular novel?
I think the challenge of writing this particular book is that it doesn’t want to be written! And so I am trying to honour its wishes for me to LEAVE IT ALONE and am putting it away for a while and moving onto another idea. I’m simultaneously resentful and excited about this. Resentful because all that time put in, all those pages… it’s hard to let go! Sigh. But excited because I can’t wait to see what challenges the New Book 3 holds. And hopefully the Old Book 3 will become Book 4, because it is a story I’d really like to tell.
Oh wow! I can’t imagine putting all that work aside, but I’m totally sure it will turn out for the better. Did you receive any pressure from your agent or others to finish through with Old Book 3? I’m curious about what stress, if any, new authors are put through to establish their “name” by releasing books quickly.
The only pressure that is put on me is the pressure I put on myself. My agent is incredibly supportive of what I do, and the ideas I pursue. Because book three is not contracted I have the freedom and time to play around with ideas until one sticks and that’s very fun. When you write a book, you make a big commitment to it. It’s not just a one-off. You have to be prepared to spend a lot of time and a lot of work on it. It’s an investment. It is basically a relationship. And no one would ever encourage me to stay in a relationship that didn’t make me happy. :)
(Note: As of Courtney’s recent blog post, Book 3 has been given another chance. You write that thing, girl!)
Has novel writing in general gotten easier as you go along?
I wish! Oh, HOW I wish. Every novel has easy moments, but writing novels is consistently hard. And never hard the same way twice. Or maybe that’s just me… I hope it’s not just me.
What’s your number-one piece of advice to give to aspiring writers?
To just do it and to not let ANYONE talk you out of it. Writing is hard and painful but also wonderful and rewarding. It’s also one of those pursuits that has absolutely no guarantee. When you plan to do something that requires a lot of work and zero guarantees, the first thing other people will do is attempt to talk you out of it. These people generally mean well, but… don’t listen to them. Because life is short and you should be happy. And if writing is what makes you happy, you have to try it. Go straight at it.
If you met up with your sixteen-year-old self right now, what would you say to her? What would she say to you? (Ignoring any possibility of rips in the space-time continuum.)
I have a hard time with these types of questions because–whether or not this is actually the case–I feel like they sort of speak to regret and I generally don’t like doing that. If I told you my answer would be, “Start planning for the zombie apocalypse now!” That probably wouldn’t seem serious enough (although it is very sage!), but if I tried for profound, I’d likely fail. I honestly think I’d just say hello to her, and maybe she would say it back. And then I would stand aside and let her make every single mistake that I know she’s going to make because those mistakes define who I am today, and those mistakes helped me learn and they helped me to grow as a person. And I know my sixteen-year-old self makes it out okay. Mostly all of us do. :)
Your blog has been recognized as one of the quirkiest in the YA blogosphere. Do you think YA authors have a duty to blog, considering their readers? How important is blogging, really?
Those are great questions. Blogging is not for everyone. It’s a committment and it’s time-consuming and it can be hard to think up new content regularly to engage your readers with. You have to invest in it and some people simply can’t. That’s okay. But I do firmly believe that YA authors NEED to have a website at the very least. Nothing drives me crazier as a reader than hearing about a great book and discovering no author website and I honestly can’t imagine why anyone WOULDN’T take advantage of the opportunity to connect with readers in this way. And because I think blogging is a personal choice, I can only tell you that blogging is VERY important to me. I love it. I enjoy entertaining people–or attempting to–with my blog entries and I enjoy engaging with my blog readers. I value their comments and appreciate them taking the time to read the stuff I put out there. It’s a fun way to connect.
An unlimited supply of Ray-Bans OR one completely safe trip into the center of a volcano?
Well, now that I have my ~Lady Gaga~ sunglasses, I would totally take the completely safe trip into the center of a volcano! That would be amazing. All the Ray-Bans in the world could not out-amazing that. They would try, but they would fail.
A day with Edward Cullen OR a day as the hero of a zombie flick?
I have a poster of Edward Cullen in my room. I have a feeling it’s as good as having an actual Edward Cullen around, to be honest. He is quiet, broods and sparkles and sleepstalks me, JUST as he would in real life. So I definitely choose to be the hero of a zombie flick. Although that would be kind of awful because the heroes of those movies are always left with TONS of emotional baggage and about 95% of the people around them die. And usually those people are the people the hero loves the most. Wow. It must suck being a hero in that context. But wait! If it’s a zombie MOVIE none of that emotional baggage is real and the loved ones that die just go off-set, right? In that case: HERO OF A ZOMBIE FLICK ALL THE WAY.
Name your top three favorite plot elements to write:
Secrets, haunted pasts and small towns.
Name the top three loves of your life:
My family, my friends and my pets.
And finally, the TWFT’s most important question: what’s your favorite flavor of jellybean?
GREEN. The best colour AND flavour of them all. I will hear no arguments against this.
Thanks so much for the interview, Courtney! TWFT mission: pick up Cracked Up to Be now and Some Girls Are on January 5th (it’s pitched as Mean Girls meets Heathers). You can read the first chapter of Cracked Up to Be HERE.
Networking. It is by far the scariest word in the publishing world. Query? Oh yeah – the word “query” makes amateur novelists break into a cold sweat. Speak the name of a writer’s dream agent and she gets inevitable goosebumps. But nothing compares to the dreaded N word.
I was terrified of this “networking” concept mostly because I had no clue what it meant. I had a vague idea that it involved stalking well-known writers, sending them candy and pink paper hearts, and begging them to be my friend. This idea appealed to my inner fangirl, but not my sense of dignity, so I eventually decided against it.
Instead, I started a blog.
At first it was a bit of a joke. “Right – because the world really wants to read about a college kid’s journey to publication.” And at first, no one really did. A comment here, a comment there – mostly from long-time friends or family members. I shrugged it off and decided that my original assessment was correct. Nobody cared.
And then an extraordinary thing happened. I stopped caring too. At least, I stopped caring about the popularity of my blog, and I started paying more attention to other things. Like the other amateur writers blogging their way through the publication process. Like the talented teens who were pounding out their first query letter for a fabulous fantasy novel. Like the debut authors hosting contests on their websites. I started talking with these amazing people. I started commenting on their websites, celebrating their victories with them, promoting their books.
And they returned the favor. My blog suddenly had readers. I had friends helping to edit my manuscript, giving me agent advice, asking about the status of my WIPs. In short – I was networking.
The internet has made the world a very small place. Nowadays you don’t necessarily have to go to conferences or live in New York City to make contacts in the publishing industry. Sometimes it’s as simple as reviewing a debut author’s book, or offering to critique a friend’s manuscript, or editing a new writer’s query letter. Sometimes it’s simply about looking beyond yourself and asking what you can offer the world. You might be surprised what you receive in return.
Tags: 2009 Deb, Author Interview, Cyn Balog, Delacorte, Fairy Tale, YA
Now, with a title like Fairy Tale, I just have to ask – what’s your favourite fairy tale, and why?
My favorite is Cinderella. That is because I had a very similar nickname growing up and everyone would call me that. I had the Disney movie growing up and I watched it a gazillion times. Though it kind of freaks me out that Cinderella, for some reason, has no toes. OBVIOUSLY she would be the only one who can fit in that glass slipper, if she has no toes. Ew.
Hmm, now that you bring it up, that is kind of disturbing. As you’ve mentioned on your blog, fairies are an age-old concept. But every author puts a unique spin on these magical creatures. What differentiates your fairies in particular?
I started FAIRY TALE as a spoof of the fairy genre… I really didn’t take it very seriously, especially since the whole fairy thing was really just an aside to the main story, which was losing one’s first, seemingly perfect love. I have to confess that sometimes I’ll read a fairy book and my head will spin because it’s too embroiled in the lore. My fairies are fairly simplistic, something that people who aren’t into the lore can understand and relate to.
Early reviews of Fairy Tale mention great things about the characterization – and they do all sound so intriguing! If you could meet any character from your book, who would you choose, and what would you guys do for a day?
I think I would like to meet Pip, because he’s sweet and gentle and would basically do whatever I wanted to, like even hold my purse for me while I shopped.
Aww, that would be sweet! Speaking of the realm of the fictional – do you have any fictional or literary crushes? (Who?)
Almanzo Wilder from Little House on the Prairie.
Oh, good one! If you could bring any fictional character (book, movie, tv, any form of media really) to life, who would it be, and why?
I’d bring Bella to life, but not Edward, because it would be really hilarious to watch her try to survive without him.
Haha, slightly sadistic, but that would be an interesting social experiment nonetheless. Are there any juicy tidbits you’re allowed to share about your upcoming YA paranormal Sleepless?
Um, sure. It features a really hot, sexy sandman named Eron. Sandmen are like, the new fairies. I am soooo sure of it. At least, in my dreams.
That does sound intriguing! You bet – sandmen are definitely going to be in very soon. ;) What do you do when the muse has gone on vacation (i.e. the inspiration is lacking)?
You have to write through it! That’s the only way to get over it. I once had writer’s block for 10 years, and I know that writing breeds more writing, and when you stop, it’s impossible to start up again. Now that most of my work is on deadline, I have to push myself through it. I work really well on deadlines; they make it impossible to have writer’s block. It’s either, have writer’s block and starve, or get over it and eat ;)
Words of wisdom – share a quote of personal significance?
Hmmm… something sticking in my head…. “Hit the road Jack, and dontcha come back no more, no more, no more, no more.” Okay, no, that isn’t really inspiring, but I went out to eat a few nights ago and that song was playing in the restroom and I now can’t get it out of my head.
Now, about the unexpected. What are the best and worst unforseen things that have come along with this whole process (e.g. the planning, outlining, writing, querying, submitting, publishing, etc.)?
The best thing, especially writing for young adults, is that you will have a bunch of teens coming up to you or emailing saying they love your book… and that just plain rocks. They are the best audience a writer can wish for. I don’t think adults are as willing to lavish praise on a person, so it’s just so nice since this world is getting increasingly cold and unfeeling. Like, I can come home from being cut off in traffic and stepped on in line while checking out at the supermarket, read my mail, and go, Ahhh!
Anything you’d like to add?
Um, hit the road, Jack, and don’t you come back no more, no more, no more, no more?
Thanks for the great interview, Cyn! More information about both Cyn and her recent release Fairy Tale can be found at Cyn’s home on the web.
About Fairy Tale
Morgan Sparks and Cam Browne are a match made in heaven. They’ve been best friends since birth, they tell each other everything, and oh yeah- they’re totally hot for each other. But a week before their joint Sweet Sixteen bash, everything changes. Cam’s awkward cousin Pip comes to stay, and Morgan is stunned when her formerly perfect boyfriend seems to be drifting away. When Morgan demands answers, she’s shocked to discover the source of Cam’s distance isn’t another girl- it’s another world. Pip claims that Cam is a fairy. No, seriously. A fairy. And now his people want Cam to return to their world and take his rightful place as Fairy King.
Determined to keep Cam with her, Morgan plots to fool the fairies. But as Cam continues to change, she has to decide once and for all if he really is her destiny, and if their “perfect” love can weather an uncertain future.
*Cross-posted from Lucid Conspiracy
Tags: Cassandra Clare, The Mortal Instruments
Recently TWFT got the opportunity to talk with Cassandra Clare, the bestselling author of The Mortal Instruments trilogy (City of Bones, City of Ashes, and City of Glass.) Since I’m a big fan (*ZOMGthesebooksaresofreakingawesomeSQUEE!*) I was way excited to do this interview. Thanks so much for your time, Cassandra!
KB: What are your five most loved novels of all time?
CC: I don’t have favorites! That’s a big rule with me. Five novels I love: Checkmate by Dorothy Dunnett, Brat Farrar by Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers, Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner, The Maltese Falcon by .,
KB: What are you working on right now?
CC: Right now I’m working on The Clockwork Angel, the first in the Infernal Devices series, which is a series of prequels to the www.theinfernaldevices.com (and I want to show off the pretty website.). It’s set in Victorian-Era London. There’s more here:
KB: How has the popularity of the Mortal Instruments series changed your life as a writer and/or regular person?
CC: It’s allowed me to be a full-time writer for the moment, which was always my dream.
KB: Have you ever had a moment of doubt in your writing career – a moment when you were afraid you would never be published or felt like giving up? If so, how did you overcome it?
CC: I have doubts all the time. I might be having one right now. I think everyone does. I think you have to think about your work in some ways separate from your goals for publication. You just have to focus on the book, or short story, or project, as an independent entity without thinking about where it might end up, so to speak.
KB: Can you tell us about the first story you ever wrote (that wasn’t for a school assignment)?
CC: When I was about 13, I wrote a 1,000 page romantic epic called The Beautiful Cassandra based on the story Jane Austen wrote about her sister when she was twelve. (You can read it here. The Jane Austen story I mean, not my novel. ) It was terrible, but boy did I have fun writing it (and my friends had fun reading it.)
KB: If you could choose one fictional character (other than your own) to have a five minute conversation with, who would it be and what would you say to them?
CC: I’d rather have a five minute conversation with an author. I’d ask Raymond Chandler what really happens in The Big Sleep. Although I suppose it’s possible he never actually knew.
KB: What tips do you have for dealing with the wait for queries?
CC: I am the last person to ask because I only ever queried one agent and I got a reply the next day. I know, that really makes me sound like a tool, but I was very lucky.
KB: What was your querying process like?
CC: I met my agent through one of his existing clients, who had read City of Bones and recommended it to him. He suggested I query him, so I did. I knew I was interested in having him represent me anyway because his client list was impressive and I liked that he only repped kids/YA.
KB: How do you deal with writers block?
CC: I think sheer terror. I’m afraid of what my publisher might do to me if I miss my deadline.
KB: What is your ideal writing atmosphere?
CC: Writing in a big room, lots of comfortable chairs, with other writers around, also working on their projects and filling the room with a feeling of creativity at work.
KB: And TWFT’s token ridiculous interview question – What is your favorite flavor of jelly bean?
- Teens Writing for Teens is a community of young adult authors writing YA fiction. We're here to offer insight, encouragement and amusement as we live the lives of young novelists and deal with that ever-popular question, "So...aren't you a little young to write a book?"
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