Interview: Susan Beth Pfeffer

December 22, 2011 at 7:56 PM | Posted in Authors, Interviews, teen fiction, Writing, Writing Advice, YA | 2 Comments
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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.

Wise words. When writing, do you have any specific rituals?

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.

I’m a very fast worker. I always have been. But the pre-writing lets me cut down on the rewriting, since I’ve worked out most of the problems before I start putting words on paper (or on screen).

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!
 
Thanks for joining us!

Interview with Tina Wexler

July 21, 2009 at 12:50 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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I’m very excited to introduce Tina Wexler, literary agent at ICM, who I recently interviewed. Let’s give her a round of applause!

Would you mind giving us a quick bio of yourself and what you’re looking for as an agent?

I moved to NY to get my MFA in poetry after graduating from Wheaton College in Massachusetts.  After cutting my teeth on subright sales at the Ellen Levine Literary Agency/Trident Media and the Karpfinger Agency, I joined ICM and started signing my own clients.  I’ve been with ICM since 2003.  I live in Brooklyn with my husband and two cats.  (I’m a shameless cat person, though I should probably leave that off.)

These days, I continue to look for great middle grade and young adult fiction, though I’m also expanding the non-fiction side of my list (narrative non-fiction, memoir, pop culture, pop science, beauty/self-help, food narratives).  I tend to gravitate towards contemporary stories, though I wouldn’t shy away from a great paranormal historical.  Mysteries, thrillers, love stories, school stories, tall tales, spoofs…I’m open to it all so long as it has a unique hook and a strong voice.  The only thing I tend to avoid is high fantasy; I like my fantasy grounded in this world.  I am not looking to take on picture book authors at this time

What made you want to become an agent?

I wanted a job that would feed my creative side while also taking advantage of my business acumen.  Business acumen?  Err…That sounds horribly boring. But it’s true. I wanted to work with authors; I wanted to talk books; I wanted to help make careers happen.

What is one piece of advice you’d like to give aspiring writers?

Take your time.  Too often I read manuscripts that come to me too soon.  To drag out a tired cliche: you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

What would you like to tell the teen writers out there that are looking to be published?

You write because you love it, because you can’t NOT write, and that’s a beautiful thing, your passion for writing.  Don’t let the quest for publication ruin that for you EVER.

What catches your eye in a query?

An original premise, a great voice, both.

On the other side of the coin, what are three big turn-offs in a query letter?

Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of query letters that don’t tell me anything about the plot. I can’t figure it out. I’m being pitched a story, but the writer won’t tell me what the story is–though he assures me it’ll be a great read!  Baffling.  I also don’t understand why so many queries lead with a negative: “I don’t know why you’d want to read this…I’ve been rejected by 25 agents…I don’t really know how to write a query letter” (despite the hundreds of websites dedicated to explaining how best to write a query letter).  I’m also not fond of being addressed as Sir/Madam. Go figure.  “Dear Ms. Wexler” always works, or if you’ve heard me speak at a conference or know me from somewhere else, “Dear Tina” or some such variation is nice.

How many queries do you receive each day, approximately?

10-20

How do you feel about re-queries and resubmissions?

I don’t mind re-queries so long as the writer mentions that they’ve queried me before for a different project.  If it’s for the same project, I’ll want to know what they’ve changed about the manuscript/why they are trying my again.  Usually, if I’ve read a manuscript and passed on it but have specific thoughts on how it could be revised, I’ll share my specific ideas and invite the writer to resubmit should she opt to incorporate [at least some of] my suggestions.  So of course in those situations, I welcome a resubmission.

What are the top three things you look for in a manuscript?

A distinct narrative voice, a great story, and characters who will stay with me long after I’ve finished reading.

When you call a writer to offer representation, what do you usually like to discuss?

I often start by sharing why I was so taken by their manuscript, why I think I would be a great agent for them.  We’ll talk a bit about ICM, what ICM can offer, and what I specifically bring to the table.  I’ll explain my business style and try to get a sense of how we’ll work together best. If I think their manuscript needs tinkering, I’ll discuss my thoughts on revisions to see if we’re on the same page.  I also like to know what else they are interested in writing/what else they are working on, since I’m looking at that phone call as the start of a long career together.

And finally our traditional question, what is your favorite flavor of jelly bean?

Pink grapefruit.

Thanks so much to Ms. Wexler for taking time out of her agenting schedule to join us for this great interview!

Interview with Jaclyn Moriarty

April 9, 2009 at 8:52 PM | Posted in Authors, Interviews, Uncategorized, Writing, YA | 3 Comments
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I’m really excited to share this next interview, because Jaclyn Moriarty is an author whose work I exceptionally enjoy. The Year of Secret Assignments is definitely one of the more memorable books I read when I first started getting into YA. And I have gone back to it a few times as well, because the characters and storytelling style were just that awesome. Feeling Sorry for Celia and The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie were also highly enjoyable reads. She currently splits her time between Sydney, Australia, and Montreal, Canada. She has just completed her new book, very exciting. And without further ado…

Where do your ideas for writing come from?

Sometimes I lie on the floor, close my eyes and listen to music. Sometimes I ride around on the ferry on Sydney Harbour and look at the water. And sometimes I listen in to other people’s conversations in cafes.
Ooh, those all sound relaxing and inspiring! Do you find certain characters harder to write than others?

I’ve just finished writing a new book in the Ashbury-Brookfield series, and it has some characters from earlier books, including Lydia and Emily. For some reason, it always takes me a while to get into Lydia’s head. I think it might be because she is complicated and secretive. On the other hand, I find Emily easy to write – she always seems to have something to say. The difficult thing with Emily is getting her to shut up.

That’s very exciting! I kind of like Lydia’s secretiveness; she’s quite mysterious. What would you say is one event that changed your life utterly and irrevocably?

Having a baby.

If you couldn’t write, hypothetically, what would you do instead?

I suppose I would go back to being a lawyer, but that would make me cry. I used to want to be a teacher, or a psychologist, or an astronomer.

All very interesting aspirations! I’m glad you chose to be a writer though ;) What do you do when inspiration is lacking (i.e. the muse has gone on vacation)?

Run up and down the stairs, eat chocolate, listen to music, or just sigh and start googling the names of old boyfriends.
What advice would you give to other young aspiring writers?

Don’t worry if you find it difficult to finish your stories, or if you haven’t got anything published yet. It can be a good thing to shift between stories for a few years – it helps to develop your style and imagination. Every now and then make yourself finish a very, very, very short story, just to remind yourself that you can. And you’ve got your whole life to get published.

Well said! Name three things you couldn’t live without?

The ocean, blueberries, Charlie (my little boy).

Words of wisdom – give a quote you live by?

My mother’s philosophy is that you should take on any problem with relish, throwing everything you’ve got at it until it’s solved. My dad decides what he wants to achieve and then makes it happen, ignoring the problems completely. I think they both have a point, but I would like to add that you should give yourself lots of treats along the way.

Thanks for the great interview, Jaclyn!
-deltay

Interview with author Hannah Moskowitz

March 15, 2009 at 12:14 PM | Posted in Authors, Interviews | 1 Comment
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BREAK by Hannah Moskowitz
(posted with permission)

The first feeling is exhilaration.

My arms hit the ground. The sound is like a mallet against a crab.

Pure f—- exhilaration.

Beside me, my skateboard is a stranded turtle on its back. The wheels shriek with each spin.

And then–oh. Oh, the pain.

The second feeling is pain.

Naomi’s camera beeps and she makes a triumphant noise in her throat. “You totally got it that time,” she says. “Tell me you got it.”

I hold my breath for a moment until I can say, “We got it.”

“You fell like a bag of mashed potatoes.” Her sneakers make bubble gum smacks against the pavement on her way to me. “Just…splat.”

So vivid, that girl.

Naomi’s beside me, and her tiny hand is an ice cube on my smoldering back.

“Don’t get up,” she says.

I choke out a sweaty, clogged piece of laughter.

“Wasn’t going to, babe.”

“Whoa, you’re bleeding.”

“Yeah, I thought so.” Blood’s the unfortunate side effect of a hardcore fall. I pick my head up and shake my neck, just to be sure I can. “This was a definitely a good one.”

***


I’m spastically excited to post my interview with Hannah. ‘Cause not only is she an author with a really cool, creepy-sounding book coming out in August, she’s also a teenage author. Which means she is here to offer encouragement and inspiration to all of us under-20 writers, praying we can make it.

Thanks again, Hannah!


KB:
When did you start writing? (You know, like books, not the alphabet.)

HM: I started working on my first long manuscript when I was ten. Around that time, my fifth grade teacher read us that (fantastic) Andrew Clements book, The School Story, which is all about how this middle schooler writes a book and her friend pretends to be an agent and gets her published. So my best friend and I, of course, decided that we needed to do this, and she would be my agent. I think that was the first time I ever wrote something with the idea that it would someday be a real book.

The first long manuscript I finished was when I was eleven; it was a hundred pages or so. I wrote my first legitimate (though awful) novel when I was fourteen, and since then I’ve written nine total.

KB:
Describe your upcoming book in 20 words or less.

HM: BREAK: A boy is on a mission to break all his bones.

Nine words to spare!

KB:
What made you decide to write a novel and try to get it published?

HM: I think I sort of figured it was the natural consequence of writing so many novels. I’ve queried all but one of those nine novels I mentioned—some more extensively than others. This was just the one that got picked up.

I’ve yet to develop a deep answer for “why I write.” I think it’s because I’m a masochist fast typist with too much time on my hands…but that’s not usually what people want to hear.

KB: Describe the process of getting your agent and publishing
your book.

HM: At the time I was querying two novels — Break and another novel, These Humans All Suck. I’d been querying both for almost a year when out of the blue I got four offers in one week — three for Break, one for These Humans. I went with the agent who offered for These Humans — Jenoyne Adams at Bliss Literary (and she is such a rockstar). After she read Break, we both agreed that was a stronger first novel and subbed that one first. I got an offer from Simon Pulse after about three months.

We’re hoping These Humans will be my next novel released, since it’s my and my agent’s favorite.

KB: Did anyone ever tell you that you were too young to sell a novel?

HM: Oh yeah, people tell you that all the time. Mostly it’s those “how to write” books — there are always a few paragraphs addressing young writers, basically telling us to accept that our stuff is crappy and stop trying to get published.

I don’t think it has anything to do with age. It has to do with experience. And age doesn’t necessarily equal experience. I spent several years writing crap, just like most adult writers too. I just wrote crap from when I was 9-14 instead of when I was 30-35.

KB:
What inspired you to write “Break”?

HM: I had this vague idea in my head that I wanted to write about a seventeen-year-old on some kind of weird mission. I had no idea what I wanted this mission to be, but I knew I wanted it to be over-the-top, high concept, and interesting. Then, a few days before Halloween, I saw Into The Wild with my best friend. I tend to latch onto weird things when I see movies. For Into the Wild, I was fascinated by the image of Chris McCandless near the very end, when he couldn’t eat because of an accidental poisoning. I was totally entranced by this idea of starving surrounded by food you couldn’t eat.

That night, we met up with some other friends and participated in some general teenage mind-altering hijinx. And it just hit me–I want to write about a boy who wants to break all his bones.

And maybe he has a brother (I LOVE writing about brothers) with really bad food allergies who can barely eat and how would this affect my main character and let’s name him Jonah and it could start like this and end like…and it could be like Fight Club and Into the Wild all rolled into…

I went home and wrote the book in six days.

KB:
Are any characters based on friends or family?

HM: Based on? Nah. Inspired by? Yeah…

KB: Did you always want to be an author?

HM: No, when I was a kid I wanted to be a singer.

In fact, I kind of still want to be a singer.

But writer will do.

KB:
Name your top five favorite books.

HM: Sadly, a lot of these aren’t YA.

Hotel New Hamsphire — John Irving
Fight Club — Chuck Palahniuk
Looking for Alaska — John Green
The Stranger — Albert Camus
A Prayer for Owen Meany — John Irving

I love almost all YA books. But my very very very favorites tend to be non-YA. It’s weird.

KB: What is your favorite flavor of jelly bean? (
)

HM: Toasted marshmallow. Hell. Yes.

KB:
What advice would you give to young writers who want to be published?

HM: If you’re good, don’t stop sending out query letters until you get an agent. Ever.

If you’re bad, don’t ever stop improving. Ever.

The problem is that very few people really know which one of these they are. That’s why I recommend doing both. Never think you’re not good enough, and never think you can’t get better.

That’s what I’m still doing.

KB:
How cool is it to tell people they can buy your book at Barnes & Noble this August?

People don’t really believe me. Also, they don’t understand what’s taking so long. The book was accepted last summer!?!? Why isn’t it out now?

I’m not sure I really believe it, to be perfectly honest. I still think someone’s going to shake me and wake me up and remind me I can’t spell, and I don’t know comma rules, and I’m seventeen, for God’s sake!

So ask me that once again when it’s really happened?

***

Hannah Moskowitz is seventeen and lives in Washington D.C. She likes tattoos, dress-up, and creme brulee and has never broken a bone. Preorder her first novel, BREAK, available through Simon Pulse on August 25th, here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/141…pf_rd_i=507846

~Kristin

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