We are super excited here at TWB to be hosting Polly Holyoke whose middle grade science fiction debut, THE NEPTUNE PROJECT hit shelves yesterday! Polly has a lot to say about writing and reading and being a wonderful super-nerd so let’s “dive” right into her interview!
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be a writer? What did you do before you officially became a writer? What made you want to be a writer? Do you write full time now?
I was a social studies teacher for many years. As much as I loved my students, I REALLY didn’t want to teach summer school. I’d always been a huge reader and loved books that took me to different worlds. So when I had those wonderful summers free, I finally decided to see if I could write a book that transported my readers to other realities, and I hope that’s what THE NEPTUNE PROJECT does. I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to write full time now.
Can you give us a quick synopsis of THE NEPTUNE PROJECT? How did you come up with the concept for the book? Can you talk a bit about your process from conception to publication?
THE NEPTUNE PROJECT is set in a future where global warming is out of control. As people fight over scarce resources like food and water, a group of desperate scientists genetically alter their own children to live in the sea. TNP is the story of shy Nere Hanson who suddenly has to give up her life on land. The idea for this story grew in the back of my mind over several years. It seems so obvious to me that we are messing up both our land and our climate at a disastrous rate. If we wreck the planet, our species won’t have enough resources left to escape to other solar systems. That leaves us with the oceans as our last possible retreat. I wrote TNP in about six months, and it sold quickly after it was finished.
What is your writing process? What does a typical writing day look like? When/where do you write? Where does your inspiration come from?
I’m a big daydreamer (one of the best parts of my job). I try to imagine around 20 different scenes in my story, and then I write out a rough synopsis of where I think my story is headed. I love to write in my office in my comfy chair at my desk which is littered with knickknacks like seashells and small rocks I’ve picked up hiking. I’m disciplined when I’m working on a rough draft and write between 4-6 pages a day at least 5 days a week. That way the story stays vivid in my mind and I remain connected to my characters. I read tons of fiction and non-fiction. I know this is going to make me sound like a super-nerd, but I love NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC and the way its stories so vividly depict people around the world living in realities so different from our own (noticing a theme here yet)??? I get two or three story ideas from every issue I read!
What has your path to publication been like? What’s been the most surprising part of the writing/publishing process for you?
I’m a big believer in agents. Whenever I’ve had a good agent, my books have sold relatively quickly. I’m still a bit shocked by how much of my day is spent blogging, tweeting and using social media to reach out to potential readers. It’s fun, but it’s also a huge time-sucker. I LOVE to write, and I wish I could spend more of my day creating new stories.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you yourself give to aspiring writers?
The single best piece of writing advice I’ve ever heard came from Nora Roberts. She said in her pithy, direct way that the secret to being a productive writer is to, “Keep your butt in the chair.” She went on to explain that when she’s writing that first draft and she sits down at her computer, she ONLY reads over the last paragraph she wrote and drives the story forward from there. I can’t always make myself follow that advice, but when I do, it does help me to write more quickly.
My best advice to aspiring authors is to make sure you write the kind of book which YOU love to read. I enjoy stories in which smart, capable heroines get to save the day, and in THE NEPTUNE PROJECT, my shy heroine becomes a leader and guides her group through the dangerous sea to safety.
What was your favorite book when you were a kid/teenager? What are you reading now?
It’s tough to name a single favorite because I had so many, but I will say that I read THE BLUE SWORD by Robin McKinley so many times that my old copy is falling apart. In this wonderful story, a shy but brave heroine gets to learn how to ride and fight with a sword, and guess what? In the end, she gets to save the day! Right now I’m having great fun reading tons of ARC’s from my fellow 2013 debut children’s authors. I’m amazed and so impressed with the breadth and the originality of the stories my new friends have to tell.
What’s next for you writing-wise?
I’m hoping Hyperion and Puffin UK will both buy the third and final book in my Neptune series because I’m dying to write it! I’m also working on a YA tourist fantasy trilogy.
Do you believe in being part of a block of writers? Are critique groups and writing communities helpful for you?
Members of The Lucky 13’s and The Class of 2k13 both have been so supportive and generous about sharing information. I’ve also been in the same critique group for eight years now, and every time I take a chapter to them to be critiqued, they always find lots of ways to improve it.
THE NEPTUNE PROJECT is full of all sorts of creatures that we’re guessing you don’t come across very often in your daily life. How did you come up the descriptions for all the living obstacles Nere has to face? Was there one creature that was the most fun to write about?
We are a little short on oceans here in Dallas! I used to go scuba diving in the kelp forests in the Channel Islands, though, so those scenes in the first half of THE NEPTUNE PROJECT I could describe from memory. But I also spent lots of time on dive sites and NOAA’s fabulous website to find out what marine life lives in the waters up north around Vancouver Island. Dolphins are hands down THE coolest animals I researched. I could go on for hours about them, but I’ll just share a few of my favorite facts. They have the greatest brain-to-body ratio of any mammal except for us, so of course, they are highly intelligent. They are very family-oriented and love to play. While writing TNP I was surprised and delighted by how much Nere’s dolphins became important characters in this story.