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 So, can you spill on the proper pimping protocol of an unpublished, unagented, completely naked of rights novel?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 and...you'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.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
You guys asked some truly excellent questions. HERE WE GO.