Ask Me Anything Saturday #1

I got so many enthusiastic responses for this, I thought I would make it a regular thing on the blog! It probably will happen one Saturday every month. Thanks for all the fantastic questions, everyone. 

How do you feel about your cover?

Oh my goodness, I LOVE it. Yes, the all-caps were completely necessary. I can't wait to show you guys, and I think the secrecy is hurting me more than it's hurting you. It was so not what I was expecting when I first laid eyes on it, but  it was a case of instant love. What's so amazing is that it's gorgeous and relevant to the story. Anyway. Ahem. Does that answer your question?

Are you doing NaNoWriMo?

I am! Come find me, if you want. I'm not around the site itself much during November, but I do think it's really important to make friends that you can trust and lean on during this crazy time, doing this crazy thing.

Can I pre-order SOME QUIET PLACE?

I'm still having a hard time believing it, but you actually can. It's on a few sites, but here is the Amazon link if you're interested in getting SOME QUIET PLACE the instant it's out! Which will be in eight months or so... sigh.

How many novels have you written?

It might be less embarrassing if you ask me how many good novels I've written. Which is considerably fewer. But then again, I think that every book we've written is a step closer to our goals. Also, it can only improve our skills and abilities as writers. So the answer to your question is... seven. Yes, seven. I had to think about it for a moment. And out of those, only one is going to be in print. It might seem discouraging, but I don't let myself forget that with these stories, I'm learning and growing. Hopefully.

What's the best cure for writer's block?

Honestly, I think a huge part of writer's block is not having the right story. This might not be the case with everyone - most call this succumbing to the shiny new idea - but when I'm just utterly stuck on something or have lost the desire to write, I go to something else. I start something new. I search and strive for the characters and the story that will seize me and not let go until I've typed the final word. Ultimately I end up with a lot of beginnings and half-formed ideas. If this sounds really hard, that's because it is. It's worth it, though, when you do find the right one.

You got your agent a long time ago, it seems. Was SOME QUIET PLACE the first book you put on submission? Was it the book you queried with?

Great question! I actually just wrote a blog post on this that is scheduled to go up next week, so stay tuned. I will answer here, though; just not with as much detail. Yes, SOME QUIET PLACE was the first book we ever submitted to editors. It was, however, not the book I queried with. At least not technically. Here's the story of how I signed with Beth.

In summary, I sent her another manuscript, which she turned down. I shelved it and sent her SOME QUIET PLACE, which got me a fabulous contract with both Beth and Brian (my editor). It took over a year for all of it to happen. I've gotten a couple comments along the lines of, "This has all happened so fast for you!" In regards to the deal with Flux, yes, it has. But everything leading up to it was a lot of hard work and keeping those discouragements we all know at bay.

I'm wondering whether you had a tiered strategy for your querying process. Did you query your dream agents first and work your way down the list? Or did you query a secondary or mixed batch, revise and keep going? As many details as you care to share are much appreciated!

My experience might be a little different from other writers. But the first thing I want to say is that I am a slush-pile survivor. So for those of you who feel like writers aren't being signed from the oblivion of the cold-querying, don't. It still happens... a lot. Anyway, I'd written a manuscript that I really had no business querying - it was pretty rough and, um, bad - but I did make a list of agents that I thought would have interest in it and I liked the sound of. Robin Rue was on that list. In addition to taking on clients of her own, Beth is an assistant to Robin.

Oh, one thing I think is so important when you're querying: follow the guidelines. They're there for a reason, and first impressions are really hard to change in this situation. Apparently I made a good one, because Beth e-mailed me pretty quick after I sent the query. I'll skip over the rest, since it's all here. In the end, I ended up working with her a little on a revision. She eventually turned the manuscript down, but she made a good impression on me, too, since I only queried her with the next manuscript. There were no lists or batches. That might seem unwise to some writers - we like our options, after all - but I was following my gut.

On average, how many words do you write a day?

It's a rule of mine to always, always write at least 1,000 words a day. It doesn't have to be for a W.I.P. or a contracted book. Just 1,000 words for something. Anything. Writing is like a muscle, and exercising this on a daily basis really does help. You get so accustomed to it, even addicted. So some days I just reach that goal, and others I get to 5,000. It really varies on how much time or energy I have!

Do you have many writing friends, either online or IRL?

Sadly, not in real life. I don't know if it's just because I live in a small town or I haven't looked hard enough. My online friends make this bearable. It might sound like I'm bragging - because, uh, I totally am - but I have so many great people in my life around the Y.A. community. Ironically, it's really hard for me to approach or "talk" to people I don't know that well, so each of these friends are hard-won and kind of a tiny miracle.

In an epic battle for world domination between unicorns and zombies, would would win and why?

LOVE this. Thank you for making my morning. For about six seconds I actually tried to come up for a story idea with this. Haha. And my answer is, zombies! Because everyone knows the only way to really kill a zombie once and for all is to, like, chop off their head. Unicorns would probably just keep stabbing them through the chest with their horn. By the time they went for the head there would be a swarm of zombies. Numbers almost always win.

Even though you've finished your novel, are the characters still 'present' in your head like they were before?

During revisions, yes, definitely. But now that we're getting closer to being done once and for all with SOME QUIET PLACE, those characters have begun to fade. I've moved on to new ones, new stories. They're the ones that are living in my head now. Although I think it will always be easy to jump back into that world, just because I know it so well and I love it so much.

Your novel is finished and published and almost on bookshelves, but do you ever wish you could go back and edit or rewrite bits of it?

I still have the chance, if I so wish! We're not quite done with tweaking it at this point. But I've heard that authors actually avoid reading their novels once it's in print, because of this very thing. They'll see a sentence or a detail and wish they could change it. I'm not sure how I'll feel, but I'd like to imagine I would only be so excited and happy about it happening that I could skip over this feeling.

What usually inspires your stories?

It's different for each one, really, but I always begin with a half-formed concept. With SOME QUIET PLACE, it was emotions as physical beings. I'd typed something totally cliche, like, "Fear rooted me in place." I sat back, frowning, and wondered how I could make this utterly unique from other moments consumed by fear. Somehow, that fear became a tall, blonde, snarky creature that roams the earth and instills terror into every human being simply by touch. It became Fear, who is now one of my favorite characters.

So once I had this idea I asked myself questions that lead this concept to becoming a story. Who is the main character? What makes her different from all these people the emotions see every day? What is the main conflict? How do the emotions play into it?

The rest, as they say, is history.

I notice that you tend to finish a draft really quickly, so I'm wondering how much you edit/rewrite afterwards? How  many drafts do you usually  go through?

Oh my goodness, my stories always need so much revision. I have a not-so-secret dream of writing something so perfect that it won't even need line edits! Yeah, right. I didn't keep track of how many drafts SOME QUIET PLACE went through, exactly, but I know Beth and I went back and forth at least thirteen times with the attachment. And then there was the extensive revise and resubmit from one of the editors we sent it to. By the time it got to Brian, one of his first comments was, "This is in really great condition!" So it was worth it.

Do you plot in advance?

To an extent. When people claim to be either a plotter or a pantser, I stay quiet, because I don't fit into those categories. I'm somewhere between the two. A plottser? A pantter? The point is, I go into the story knowing some of the key plot points. And I always, always know how it's going to end. If I have everything little thing planned out, I know I'll get bored with the whole thing and abandon it for a shiny new idea.

How old are you?

I'm twenty years old. I signed with Beth when I was eighteen, and by the time SOME QUIET PLACE hits shelves, I'll be almost twenty-one. Days away, actually, which is kind of cool. Safe to say it's been a long process!

How do you balance writing and school? Do you ever find one suffers because of the other?

This is such a good question; I was just whining about this very thing the other day. Truthfully, I can't balance the two. One or the other always takes precedence. If I'm focusing on my classes more - midterms, anyone? - I'm not writing. At all. If I can't peel myself away from a story, I'm not reading the chapters I'm supposed to or taking as much time as I should on the assignments. My grades have suffered because of it. Usually, though, I'm writing something I'm really excited about and just managing to get by in school, as bad as that is.

I envy anyone who can do it all.