Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Let's Answer These Puppies

You guys asked some truly excellent questions. HERE WE GO.

At the moment, would you prefer to write for adults or YAs?

YAs. I just finished my first adult novel, and I'd LOVE to have a career in both adult and YA books, but YA is my passion and probably always will be.

Are you sick of writing for YA?

Nope. But there are things about YA books as a whole that frustrate me. Namely, the hype of fantasy novels to the detriment of contemporary, Twi-hype--I haven't read Twilight, so I have no judgments to make on the quality of the books, but you guys already know I object to the notion that it's the be-all-end-all of modern YA--people's attitudes towards YA and YA writers as a whole...I don't have any complaints you guys haven't heard elsewhere from tons of other people. But, by and large, I love YA and I can't imagine ever getting sick of writing it. I worry that people are going to get sick of me, because a lot of times--big secret here--I do worry that I'm writing different versions of the same novel over and over again. I just hope people disagree.

And I always say I could write about 15 year old boys forever. God, they're so beautiful and angsty. Love them.

What do your parents think of the "content" (gahhh, what a horrible, prissy word) of "Break", i.e. swearing and stuff?

Oh, they're totally cool with it. I learned everything I know from then, y'know? ;)

Plus, my three best friends--all teenage boys--basically live at our house, so they have firsthand experience that some boys really do talk that way.

Do you worry about sharing your writing? I'm not sure what the hard and fast rules are on sharing your manuscript, but I've got a friend who molts whenever I suggest putting an excerpt out on the internet. She is sure people will snatch it up and whore it out and I will be left penniless AND bereft of manuscript rights or something. So, can you spill on the proper pimping protocol of an unpublished, unagented, completely naked of rights novel?

First off, nothing you write is EVER completely naked of rights. Your words are copyrighted (I typed that as "copywritten" the first time. What.) the second you put the down on paper. And, worst comes to worst, there are ways to prove that--your word processor will tell you when you started a document, or if you emailed it to yourself, that's proof, whatevs.

But honestly, I think the chances of someone stealing your novel are really, really slim. And maybe that's naive of me.

i wouldn't suggest putting a whole manuscript online (unless you're doing a serial on your blog or something, and that's a whole different sack of potatoes) but a snippet? Sure.

Yes, there is a chance that someone might steal your idea. But who's left out there who doesn't know that the idea is the easy part? God, I can think of seven ideas for a book a day, but that doesn't mean I have to discipline--or the time--to sit down and write the books for them. And even if I did, it would be a completely different book from someone's based off the exact same idea, just because things always evolve differently, and there is so much variability out there.

And ideas are recycled and reused all the time. And books are similar to other books all the time. And that's entirely okay.

I'll give you an example. A few months before INVINCIBLE SUMMER sold, when the manuscript was already edited, polished, and going out to agents for round of querying numero dos, I started stalking publishers. Because that's how I roll. On Knopf's website, I saw an ad for their new book just out by Brent Runyon, one of my FAVORITE authors. The book? SURFACE TENSION, a coming-of-age about a boy over four summers.

So I basically shot myself and slit my wrists and overdosed on painkillers and told myself my book was never going to sell. And guess what? It sold. We even submitted to Knopf. And they didn't even mention SURFACE TENSION in the rejection!

I didn't steal the idea from Brent Runyon--I swear!--but the two books do have a sort of eerie similarity. They're not by any means identical; INVINCIBLE SUMMER, like most of my stuff, is very very family focused, while SURFACE TENSION is more romantically-based. But if you read descriptions of the two, they definitely sound alike. And they both sold. And, fingers crossed, we'll both be fine.

(Also, you should buy SURFACE TENSION, because I did as soon as I recovered from my wrist-slitting, and it's really good. And also you should buy INVINCIBLE SUMMER, but not for another year, which is annoying.)

Why do you hate Brown? DETAILS PLZ. :)

Bwahahaha. I'm so hard on Brown. To be honest, it's not Brown's fault. Brown is a perfectly lovely school IF you are willing to work your ass off. Which I am not. I want to lie around and write books.

Also, just personal stuff. I don't like being far away from home, and I don't like living in a building full of teenagers. I need my space sometimes. I'm a SENSITIVE ARTIST or some shit.

What's your favorite color? (boring question, I know)

Indigo, due in no small part to my obsession with Hilary McKay's INDIGO'S STAR, which you should also buy. It's MG. I think MGs are some of the best books out there.

How do you feel about YA books today compared to YA books in the past?

I'm crazy about YAs from the 80s and 90s--Joyce Sweeney, in particular. There's this certain kind of angry sitcom feel to them. Everything is super angsty and dramatic and affectionate're not really the same after you read one of them. Stuff now is more realistic, I think, which is cool, but it some ways less fun. I lurve the drama.

Do you think there needs to be more edgy, true-to teenage life, f-bomb dropping books or do you think writers should continue to sugarcoat things?

Ha, I'm sure anyone could predict how I'm going to answer this one--fuck sugarcoating.

What's you favorite song at the moment?

"When My Boy Walks Down the Street" by The Magnetic Fields.

Have you always been a fast writer?

Nope. BREAK was my first fast-draft, and INVINCIBLE SUMMER and the book I just finished (working title THE ANIMALS WERE GONE--more about that in a minute) are the only ones I've written very quickly. Of those, INVINCIBLE SUMMER took the longest--8 days, and was also the shortest, with a first draft of about 23K words--and THE ANIMALS WERE GONE was the fastest and the longest--5 days and 40K words.

I love the ones I write quickly. They feel the most passionate to me, and they're my favorites, and maybe it's not a coincidence that they keep being the ones to sell. But some of my slower drafts turn into good books, too, I think. The first drafts of those generally take me about two to three months.

If you could have one writer, dead or alive, read and critique your work, who would it be and why?

He's not a YA writer, sorry, but...John freaking Irving. I love him so much. And he knows how to pack a punch like no one's business.

I read THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE when I was staying in a hostel in Florence on a school trip. I was alone in my room, devouring a box of Special K, when I got to the big scary twist. I had to crawl out into the hallway and wait for my best friend to come hold me. I want to do that to someone someday. I want to totally fuck up their lives with words in the middle of a box of Special K.

ooh and how about if they made a movie about your journey/success, who would you want to play you? :)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, if he doesn't mind the gender-bending.

So I know that your novel-that-hasn't-sold-yet, THESE HUMANS ALL SUCK, is kind of quirky speculative fiction. What's the difference, for you, between writing this kind of YA and contemporary? And which do you like better? And why?

Ohhh, THESE HUMANS ALL SUCK. sniff. I hope someday to bring that shit out of the closet. We'll seeeeeeeeee.

I'm trying to figure out if it feels any different. I think it's scarier for me, trying to write spec; it's like I'm dipping my feet into very unfamiliar territory. I never go very deep into the spec elements, because I'm sure I'm going to screw something up, and intense worldbuilding absolutely scares me. (Pop Quiz: Where is BREAK set? Yeaaaaaaah I don't know either.)

So I probably prefer writing straight contemporary just because it's less scary for me. Btu when the ideas come to me with spec in them, sometimes it's hard to excise out. But I try. Sometimes.

I do love magical realism, so as long as I can tell myself that's what I'm writing, it gets a little easier.

Could you give us a kind of outline of your favourite books that-you-haven't-sold-yet, like THESE HUMANS ALL SUCK and a couple of others? Whenever I read about you mentioning them, I'm always curious :P.

Absolutely. Are you ready? HERE WE GO. Big explanation of ALL MY BOOKS OF ALL TIME.

Warning: This shit is long.

Crash, Burn, Etc. (2005)--a story about a kid named Jason whose mom hangs herself in the basement. His sister tries to keep the family together. Lots of angst. So bad it hurts, but, guys, this was my FIRST NOVEL EVER so it was really exciting. I finished it at the end of 8th grade. I queries FSG with it. I'm so silly.

Color us Blissful (2005)--a boy named Jamie discovers a government plot to eradicate unruly teenagers when his best friend becomes a target. Pretty dumb. I loved it.

Craving Private Ryan (2005)--This was about two half-brothers who met for the first time and fell in love. I was obviously a precocious little thing. No plot, lots of angst. My main character was 19, which was weird, since I was 14. I subbed this one to small presses and got a few partial requests. That was pretty sweet for me. I didn't really know about agents at the time, because I was too busy writing about gay incest to do any research, I guess.

The Sublime (2006)--Jack gets stuck on a mysterious island with some mysterious people, mysterious things ensue. This came out on ebook with a small press. It's out of print now. My agent and I might do something with it, but probably not. We'll see. I like it, but it's very quiet.

Birthday Cake (2006)--The first draft of this one took me 6 months. That's my longest ever. It's been through like a zillion different drafts, and it was the first book I used to query agents. Unsuccessful! Probably won't ever see the light of day. It's cute but quite flawed. It switches viewpoints between 4 best friends the week of their eighteenth birthdays, when they've promised to give up their bad habits.

These Humans All Suck (2007)--So this is the first book I wrote that I think has any hope of being really good. Ian follows his adopted brother to D.C. where he meets his brother's pregnant virgin cousin and wonders if Noel might have been conceived in the same way. I...really, really love this book. I queried my ass off with it, and it's actually the book that got me my first agent, though we subbed BREAK instead and, well, you know what happened after that. We subbed this one after and it didn't sell. I'm not really sad about it anymore. It happens. (Published authors out there--hate to say it, but one book deal, or two book deals, or twelve book deals does not guarantee another.)

Singleton (2007)--This book is randomly pretty awful, which is kind of a shame. It's about identical twins, but it's also about, like, every single thing you could possibly imagine. It tried to do way too much and it didn't work. I stole lots of bits from this and used it in later books, though, so there's that. I queried this one, too (basically I was querying four different books at once) and I got all of two full requests for it.

Break(2007)--yaaaaaay. Originally called If It Ain't Broke. Jonah wants to break all his bones. My first novel, Simon Pulse, 2009, you all know the story. Tons of requests through querying, no offers for months, then suddenly three offers in a week. Wrote the first draft in six days. It was less than 30K--basically a detailed outline. The 2nd draft was much different, added major characters and subplots and things.

Pumpkin Patch Kids (2007-2008) Co-wrote with a really good friend of mine, Andrew Carmichael. I'm really, really hoping things will happen with this one. It's about two teenagers at a boarding school who have a fake romance and a very real pregnancy. I wrote a girl's POV for this one!

A La Mode (2008)--a sequel to Birthday Cake, mainly written just for fun.

Invincible Summer (2008)--Written in eight days of not-sleeping. Like I said, it's a coming of age about a boy and his big family that takes place over four summers. I love it. Break sold a few weeks after I finished this one. It comes out in Spring 2011. It's my second novel--do you see now how ridiculous the terms "first novel" and "second novel" are?

The Beekeeper (2008)--my first NaNo! I like this book okay, but my betas basically trashed it. As did everyone in the publishing world who read it. Haha, okay, I get it, it's not going anywhere. It's a cute romance between two boys at boarding school. Super innocent. 3rd present, switches viewpoints. I stole all the good parts for it and harvested them into The Animals Were Gone.

The Support Group (2009) -- really weird and teeny and...weird. And pretty bad, to be honest.

All Together With Feeling (2009)--drama centered around a high school chorus, told from the points of view of a soprano, an alto, a tenor, and a bass. I have hope for this one. I like it a lot.

A.P.D. (2009)--my first adult book. It's about a leper colony of sorts for people with a blood-borne illness that makes them turn into machines. It's pretty sick. And it has PICTURES. Stay tuned (hopefully).

The Animals Were Gone (2009)--finished this last week. It's about two teenage boys falling in love and staying in love over the course of the D.C. Beltway sniper shootings in 2002. I'm...sort of crazy in love with this one.

So there you have it.

It takes a lot of books to get a book deal.

It takes a lot of really shitty books to get a book deal.

It takes a lot of good books to get a book deal.

And most of all, it just takes tiiiiiime.

When you are hammering out a story at the speed of lightening, I'd like to know what's going through your mind. Are you just putting down whatever comes to mind and riding the wave or are you writing carefully from a well-thought outline in your head (or on paper)?

I don't outline. Generally, I won't start writing until I know the beginning, the end, and a few things that happen along the way. I keep the next big plot point in mind while I'm writing, but I give myself a lot of leeway when I'm trying to get there, and I basically just fool around.

What is your energy is like? Urgent or mellow?

Ha, definitely urgent.

How much do you edit your rough draft and when do you abandon? Do you feel that you edit your work to it's satisfying optimum or do you get scrambled at some point and feel like you aren't sure anymore if it is better or worse for the pen lashes? Do you struggle with tuning in on some of your characters? If a character is giving you a hard time, how do you get them clearer?

I actually only like to edit my first draft once or twice before I had it over to my agent, because I like to get feedback early on in the process. I don't want to burn out before I've done the work that it needs. And...this isn't going to win me any fans, but here we go. I'm not an editor. I'll edit to the best of my ability, but I'll be completely honest and say I do NOT have the ability to see or fix what's wrong with my story as well as, like, an editor. So while I'll clean up the manuscript the best it can, I don't edit the thing to within an inch of its life before I actually get editorial feedback.

Are there any themes or subjects in particular you feel you cannot tackle or feel very uncomfortable in doing so?

I have a hard time with race-related issues; I tried to incorporate some into All Together With Feeling and I'm not sure I was entirely successful.

As your next question says, I do a lot with gay teens, and I feel, to be honest, a little weird about that too. I absolutely love writing gay teens and I don't think I'm going to stop anytime soon, and honestly I'd be fine with that being my brand, of sorts. But there are so many GREAT gay men out there writing GREAT YA fiction about gay boys--David Levithan (I LOVE YOU) and Alex Sanchez come immediately to mind--and I don't want to be, well, the fag hag of YA lit. I'm not going to stop what I'm doing, but it does make me wonder if I'm doing the genre a disservice by stepping all over it with my straight girly feet. I just hope I do a good enough job that nobody minds that, no matter what, I will always be an outsider to the issue.

I do a lot with Jewish or partly-Jewish teenagers feeling ever-so-slightly at odds with their surroundings, and that's really the only minority-related issue I feel like I do well.

You've written about gay males more than once. Any plans for a lesbian or bisexual female protagonist/major character?

No concrete plans, but I do definitely want to have one at some point. The only reason I haven't is that I have so much trouble writing girls. A girl who falls in love with a girl means I have to write TWO GIRLS.


Jordyn said...

Okay, about the "sugarcoating" (coming from someone who never cusses in her writing)... it's not always sugarcoating. Teenagers, just like every other type of human being on the planet, are very very different. Some of us cuss. Some of us don't. Some of us have harsh, "edgy" problems and some of us worry about how our hair looks in the morning.
So I don't consider it sugarcoating to not have those types of "edgy" things in books UNLESS the story or characters seem like they demand it and the author avoided it for some reason.

okay, rant over. back to reading the questions.

hannah said...

I agree completely, Jordyn--honesty is honestly. Cursing is not honesty. It's one type, sure, but it's not exactly the be-all end-all (do I use that phrase enough or what? Jesus.)

Jordyn said...


I now feel like doing a post of all the books I've written. Even though I'm in league: unagented and you're in league: super-awesome-published.

Kristin said...

I totally agree that there needs to be more contemporary YA, but I want GOOD contemp, you know? I'm so sick of stuff like Gossip Girl and all this prep-school drama. That's why I read fantasy and dystopian; because there's more of it, and because of the ratio there's a bigger chance I'll stumble onto something good. But some of my ALL-TIME favorite books are contemporary (Jellicoe Road, To Kill a Mockingbird). Why can't there be more books like that? I want more of Marcelo in the Real World and Paper Towns and Jellicoe Road and Break. I want more contemp that makes me excited to be alive; stuff that's not just escapist or cheesy teen bubble-gum books.

Okay. Sorry 'bout that. /end rant.

Thanks for answering these questions! :D

hannah said...

Those are definitely not leagues. They're stages. Trust me. I'm still totally capable of writing books that are not good enough to be publishable. I do it all the time.

hannah said...

Kristin, I totally agree with you. One of my the reasons I really love contemporary is because I'm not really into escapist fiction, so contemporary that's not SFF but still feels unbelievable really doesn't work for me.

Some examples of GREAT contemporary YA: Laurie Halse Anderson, David Levithan, John Green, Ned Vizzini.

MBee said...

Thanks so much for answering these questions! I have to say, I'm amazed at your speed. I wish I could get something out that quickly...maybe if I really just locked myself into a room and did nothing else..maybe someday when I have a SO who will pay the bills and feed me during the process :P
Thanks again :)

Emilia Joyce Plater said...

I wish I could have your speed as well! haha. And I agree with you and Kristin on Contemp. "that makes me excited to be alive" - exactly how I feel.
Here's my little non-rant on cursing - feel free to react if you like:
I wrote the first draft of my WIP with a nice sprinkling of f-bombs. My MC is awfully jaded, so it pretty much fit. But when I started rewriting, I started taking all the f-bombs out. I don't know why... but I got 15k in and they were all gone. And actually, looking back, I don't think the story really needed them. NOW I have one f-bomb in the entire book that takes place in the climax. I like the effect of that, but I'm wondering if I might as well just take that one out and save myself the trouble with librarians who wouldn't stock it... or something. Confused.

Gary Couzens said...

Thanks for answering those questions, Hannah.

Your work rate reminds me of the joke about the writer Edgar Wallace (early half of 20th century) who used to knock out novels in a matter of days. Someone phoned him up once and his secretary said, "I'm sorry, Mr Wallace is writing a novel." To which the reply was "Okay, I'll hold on, then."

Unless you're writing MG or younger, swearing is a non-issue for me. I remember when you couldn't hear "fuck" in any scripted TV drama (in the UK) and they were always edited out of films shown on TV here. Nowadays you hear swearing on TV so many times it's probably overused. But I can't get exercised about it too much - overuse of profanity is no better or worse than redundant verbiage, telling-not-showing, flat characterisation or any other kind of weak writing.

I've been reading more YA (and some MG) over the last couple of years than previously, and while I have the greatest respect for those who write younger YA or MG or children's picturebooks for that matter, the stuff I'm drawn to write myself is YA of the edgy, dark, contemporary and 14+ variety.

As for the last question, you're too modest. You've already written two girls, in All Together With Feeling, and (with the proviso that I'm neither female nor American and no longer teenage) they seemed convincing enough to me. Maybe it's easier to write characters that aren't you, as you have some distance from them, then it is to write ones that could possibly be you? I feel that way too.

hannah said...

Gary--that's very insightful, and one of my biggest problems with writing girls. Boys, I feel like I can make from scratch, while with girls I always inevitably fall into the trap of thinking that each aspect of them either has to be exactly like me or exactly not like me. It's very hard to separate them from myself, probably because...I don't have much experience with girls outside of myself. I have toooons of experience with boys. Platonically speaking.

K.M. said...

"Namely, the hype of fantasy novels to the detriment of contemporary,"

THANKYOUTHANKYOUTHANKYOU. I thought I was going crazy reading crap UF/paranormal romance queries on AW and then seeing the author got 5 requests for a full and 10 partials or whatever. I'm not trashing the whole fantasy genre, but I think agents request SO much more in that genre regardless of the writing.

I <3 contemporary. And I think The Animals Were Gone seems amazing.

hannah said...

Thank you! I'm, like, ridiculously hopeful about TAWG.

Raven said...

Contemporary is awesome! And I agree that there should be way more out there.

I am in love with The Animals Were Gone and All Together With Feeling. I would definitely want to read those if they were published.

And you mentioned David Levithan in here. I haven't actually read any of his books yet, but I am looking forward to Will Grayson, Will Grayson. Mainly because it's co-written by John Green (I love him!) and because it just sounds so awesome.

Thanks for answering the questions :)

Jac Loves Love said...

I'm too lazy to read this whole thing... But mann! I just finished "Break" today and it was epic! I'm absolutly in love with the characters and everything... I can so relate to Jonah. Except I never broke my bones, just my skin. But man. I am so going to read more of your books, Hannah.

I don't mind the cussing at all, but there deffinately is a lot of it, haha!

hannah said...

Jac--thanks for stopping by!

Raven--I just finished reading an ARC of Will Grayson, Will Grayson and it was BRIIIILLLLIANT. Maybe my favorite book ever.

I'm hoping either The Animals Were Gone or All Together With Feeling is going to be my third book.

Beth G. said...

OHHH Hannah thank you so much! This was such an interesting and informative read.

Thank you even more for the description of your books. All of them sound epic. I mean that. But, in my humble opinion (being the big shot agent/publisher that I am - HAHA), "The Animals Were Gone" has to be your third book. I've never been so in love with such a description before.

09smithjame said...

The title of the post is completely different form the actual things asked within it....really very confused.
puppies for sale

Gary Couzens said...

Regarding writing about gay males, I think you should be okay. There will be politicised types who insist that only people IN minority groups can writer ABOUT minority groups, but most people will appreciate the effort as long as you don't write anything derogatory or stereotypical.

Poppy Z. Brite is a good example. She writes overwhelmingly about gay men, to the extent that of the three novels I've read of hers there's only one fenale character of any significance, and even she (called Eddy) is notably androgynous. (PZB considers herself a gay man born in a female body.) And I've met gay men who are huge fans of her work.

So it's really down to how well you do it, rather than that you do it at all.

Shooting Stars Mag said...

Wow, so I'm awful at following your blog but yay, I can follow now!! I don't think that was always there....

anyway, I really want to read The Animals Were Gone. Sounds amazing. Definitely something I'd pick up. I tend to write about boys a lot too...and gay boys. Maybe it's because I read a lot of that and I'm definitely more guy-minded than girl-minded. I do find girls easier to write though.

I have a gay boy in my manuscript right now...trying to polish that one up. Gosh, I wish I could write a good query letter. I tend to fail at those. hahaha

OOOOH I got Break last night though. I fail. I'm sorry it took so long, but I'm stoked to check it out.


Livia said...

"Too busy writing about gay incest". ROFL!! So one of my crit partners thinks there's a romantic vibe between my male protagonist and one of his military underlings. So he was supposed to fall in love with my female protagonist, but maybe I should just stop fighting fate and follow in your footsteps...

hannah said...

You totally should.