Teen Writers Bloc

A Blog by the New School Writing for Children MFA Class of 2012

Archive for the ‘Author Interviews’ Category

Showing A Little Love to The Longstockings for Valentine’s Day

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On February - 11 - 2011

heart1 Showing A Little Love to The Longstockings for Valentines DayDuring the month of love, the members at Teen Writers Bloc wanted to show a little love to our fore-sisters, The Longstockings: Coe Booth, Caroline Hickey, Jenny Han, Siobhan Vivian, Lisa Graff, Daphne Grab, and Lisa Greenwald. Even though they no longer blog and have very successful careers to look after, we are still curious about their creative processes, their time spent at The New School, as well as how they do what they do.

So for the days leading up to Valentine’s day, we are going to profile a few of them and continue to show our appreciation for the road they paved for us with their fantastic blog and to highlight their wonderful books and personalities. They are true success stories of The New School Writing for Children Program and have become serious forces within the children’s and teen book world.

So stay tuned for the love!

XVI CVR Debut Author Interview: Julia Karr Talks About Her Girl Powered First Book XVIJulia Karr‘s debut novel, XVI, caught my eye while I was purusing the teen lit shelves on a bookstore date with my husband last month. The book, about a futuristic society in which 16 isn’t so sweet anymore – it’s a fast-paced dystopian thriller that takes on gender politics, sexuality and government agenda in a world that could become all too real. Karr’s journey into publishing was a long one, and we caught up with the Indiana-native to talk about birthing a book, whether she’s working a feminist vibe, and why dystopia is so hot right now.

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a writer?

I’m a Hoosier, born and raised – but I turned sixteen in Chicago, my favorite city! I’ve been writing all my life – letters, poetry, essays, even a musical! – but it’s only been the past ten years or so that I really started wanting to write a novel. I’ve always been a voracious reader – loving imagination – eventually those ideas kicking around in my brain had to have some kind of outlet. Writing was it! I do not write full-time (I wish!) I have a nine to five job in human resources.

Can you give us a quick synopsis of XVI? How did you come up with the concept for the book?

A synopsis of XVI, from my website: “In the year 2150, being a girl isn’t necessarily a good thing, especially when your sixteenth (read sex-teenth) birthday is fast approaching. That in itself would be enough to make anyone more than a little nuts, what with the tattoo and all – but Nina Oberon’s life has taken a definite turn for the worse. Her mother is brutally stabbed and left for dead. Before dying, she entrusts a secret book to Nina, telling her to deliver it to Nina’s father. But, first Nina has to find him; since for fifteen years he’s been officially dead. Complications arise when she rescues Sal, a mysterious, and ultra hot guy. He seems to like Nina, but also seems to know more about her father than he’s letting on. Then there’s that murderous ex-government agent who’s stalking her, and just happens to be her little sister’s dad.”

The concept unfolded organically from the original mental image of Nina walking down a city street. XVI was conceived in the backseat of NaNoWriMo in the year 2005. National Novel Writing Month is in November, for the uninitiated. Notice the year – 2005. XVI went through several rewrites (although the basic story stayed the same.) There was the initial rewrite I did myself, then one with my critique partners. Then an agent (who eventually became my agent) asked for some rewrites. Then an editor (who eventually became my editor) asked for some rewrites. After signing the contract, there was the highly anticipated rewrite based on my editorial letter (only 6 pages or so of “I like this, but… can you add to/take away from/ tweak/give me more emotion – inner thoughts – action…”) And, then copy edits. Finally: a book!

Can you  talk a bit about the feminist angle of the book, especially in dealing with sex? Did this raise controversy at all? Was this a deliberate theme for you, given that you have daughters?

I didn’t write XVI as a feminist book. Some reviewers think it is – and there are a couple who think it isn’t – feminist, that is. It wasn’t a deliberate theme, either. I wrote it first as a story that was in my head. I’m sure that the kernel of the story that ended up being the main thrust of the book – that came about because of the disturbing trend I see in society that places more value on the way a girl looks rather than what she thinks and feels. And, how popular media is all-too-successfully forming our children into their consumeristic ideal – dress this way, own these items, eat these foods, go to these movies. Me thinks a wake-up call is in order, particularly for the women who – perhaps unwittingly – are behind the promotion of the early sexualization of girls. One only has to look as far as the recent French Vogue issue to see how “accepted” it is to make our sisters, daughters and granddaughters into little adults – with all the trappings and the poses. Uh… Epic Fail!

What do you think is causing the dystopia trend? Is it escapism? The bleak future reality?

I’m sure there are many factors playing into the rise of YA dystopia. The huge success of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy can’t be diminished as a big boost to the trend. But we already had Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series, Mary E. Pearson’s The Adoration of Jenna Fox, and, of course, high school is where kids are introduced to 1984, Animal Farm, Fahrenheit 451 The Handmaid’s Tale. So, if they’re doing their assigned reading, the pump of love for dystopia is already being primed. Plus, youth wants to change the world in which they live. They are always looking for a different (hopefully) better way than their parents’ way of living. This means looking at cautionary tales and attempting to change the trajectory so those tales don’t come to pass. (Let’s not discuss 1984 and the fact that Chicago has one of the highest levels of population surveillance in the world.)

JKarr Debut Author Interview: Julia Karr Talks About Her Girl Powered First Book XVIWhat’s your process? What does a typical writing day look like?

I get up around 5 a.m. Quick feed the cats and dog while I make a cup of tea. Then I stand at the kitchen counter and write three long-hand pages in my journal (Morning Pages for those of you who are familiar with The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron). That done, I settle in for about an hour of novel-writing at my desk. Inspiration comes from writing. With limited writing time, I don’t have the luxury of waiting for a muse to appear – I just have to write and then the inspiration comes.

What has your path to publication been like? What’s been the most surprising part of the writing/publishing process for you?

Like most writers, I’d imagine, my path has been full of twists and turns and unexplained events that turned out to be just what was needed at the time. I think the most surprising part was just how much waiting goes on – mega-waiting, then monolithic waiting, waiting of gargantuan proportions!!! And then – BAM!!! – whatever you were waiting for needs to be turned around immediately! Yep, that’s it – rather much like most parts of life, except on a grander scale!

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you yourself give aspiring authors?

To keep on writing and reading. I think that’s what I’d tell apiring writers, too. Read everything – good, bad and indifferent. It’s how you know what to emulate and what to avoid. Oh… and, if you happen to be an aspiring author who is reviewing books on Goodreads, Amazon, your own blog or anywhere – remember that snark that seems oh-so-clever right now, but it will probably come back to bite you in the butt if you ever get published. I’m just sayin’…

What was your favorite book when you were a kid/teenager? What are you reading now?

As a kid I was completely blotts for The Black Stallion books and Nancy Drew. As a teen, I was reading classics and at-the-time contemporary novels. Right now, I’m re-reading Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching books and also Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.

What’s next for you writing-wise (and otherwise!)?

There’s the sequel to XVI… and many other books/ideas that need to be captured on paper.

Do you believe in being part of a “bloc” of writers? Are critique groups and writing communities helpful to you?

I have two close critique partners that I share my work with. That works well for me on the writing front. I am part of The Elevensies, The League of Extraordinary Writers and The Class of 2K11 writing communities. They are invaluable as peers, shoulders to cry on, people to vent with, and people to celebrate with! The children’s writers’ community is the absolute BEST!!! Thanks for having me on your blog! It’s been fun!

A Celebration of Books by Brown, Black, & Yellow Folks: Black History Month

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On February - 9 - 2011

black history month 270x300 A Celebration of Books by Brown, Black, & Yellow Folks: Black History MonthThere is snow on the ground, love in the air, and at least another 6 weeks of hibernating type of weather for February, so what better time than to celebrate Black History Month and curl up with a book by a black writer? Over the years I have had a love/hate relationship with Black History Month and I am 100 percent on board, but when I was younger I was not.

As a child, I was oftentimes the smudge of my class, and therefore cringed when Black History Month came around. I would dread the end of January, hating to return to school when February began. School was all about blending in. And Black History Month called me out! The teachers would change their bulletin boards to pink and prominently feature laminated posters of Martin Luther King Jr and take out books from the library on slavery, Rosa Parks and the bus boycott, Harriet Tubman, etc. for us to read. There would be a Black History Month assembly featuring the best that black culture had to offer: a display of kente cloth and drums, jazz and blues music, displays about black inventors, a discussion of the triumphant rise of black people from slavery, and of course, the music of Michael Jackson. In class, we’d review Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech, read poems by Langston Hughes, look at government issued stamps featuring great black cultural figures, read spirituals and folklore stories printed in Language Arts readers, watch excerpts of Roots, and start the one and only black book for the year: a novel by either Virginia Hamilton or Mildred Taylor or a selection of African folktales (in my younger years).

BlackHistoryStamps 300x300 A Celebration of Books by Brown, Black, & Yellow Folks: Black History MonthThe month of February was the only time I got to read a book with brown people in it. All my classmates would eagerly stare at me, the way they did my Jewish friends when we were knee-deep in the Holocaust Unit, and watch for my reactions in class discussions as we learned about slavery and discrimination and other so called “black” themes. I was beginning to believe this was all there was to children’s literature that featured black people. The books of Virginia Hamilton and Mildred Taylor were the only time I remember encountering brown folks on the page and it was both an awkward and exciting discovery for me as a young reader. I love both authors but yearned for more than just the stories they told. Remember, I coveted science fiction and fantasy, and could never find brown people in those books, leaving me wondering, do brown people go to outer space?

So during most of my elementary and middle school years I dreaded the end of February. It became a joke between the few black kids at school: “Here we go again another bulletin board and special assembly. Let’s try not to ALL sit together for this”. I lost the excitement of reading books with people in it that looked like me because I hated the trappings of what was called “Black History Month” and how it manifested in school curriculum of the 1980s.

But now, the brown kids growing up in today’s world have more access to their story on the page (don’t get me wrong, there are more stories to be told, but with publishing houses like Lee and Low and the Tu imprint, there is more diversity in children’s literature in 2011 than 1985). This was something I craved and one of the main reasons I am a writer. So after much stalking and emailing, I have collected several interviews from wonderful black authors to present to the TWB community. I am eager to give them a shout out during the month of February, but also am committed to presenting their work throughout the year.

Check back to see what authors I’ve interviewed, plus a special round-up Black History Month question I’ve solicited from many different black bloggers, readers and writers.

Also for more books by black authors check out The Brown Bookshelf’s 28-Day Black History Month Celebration.

delirium 397x600 ‘Delirium’ Author Lauren Oliver: Writing Can Be ‘Agonizingly Painful’

I was lucky enough to work for Lauren Oliver over the summer and through my first semester at the New School. Not only is she a crazy successful YA author and all around superstar, she also has the most eclectic, delicious sounding grocery lists I’ve ever seen. It’s quite the combo!

She also let me get sneak peeks at some of her upcoming work. I have read Delirium and its right up my alley — dark, edgy, dystopian, but also sweet and lyrical and suspenseful. Think Hunger Games page-turner intensity mixed with a Romeo And Juliet level of love story.

We asked Lauren to answer some questions for the blog about her new book, her journey in the publishing world and living the writing life. Enjoy!

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a writer?

I went to University of Chicago and studied Philosophy and Literature. I knew I wanted to write — I finished my first “real” novel my senior year, and went through the process of querying and getting an agent — but I didn’t think of it as a feasible career. After college I floated around for a bit, bartended in a club, and then decided to get my MFA at NYU. I simultaneously found a job, somewhat arbitrarily, in children’s publishing, and that’s when I began to write young adult fiction and work on Before I Fall, my first book. I don’t exactly write full-time now because I have a literary development company as well, but since I’m either writing or reading or editing, I don’t really think of myself as working all that much!

I’ve never wanted to be a writer, exactly. Writing was always just something I did and I needed to do, like I need to sleep. It’s all just a way of staving off the craziness (with, arguably, only limited success).

Can you give us a quick synopsis of Delirium? How did you come up with the concept? Was it a very different process than from your first book, Before I Fall?

Delirium takes place in an alternate United States, where love has been declared a contagious disease. Every citizen must submit to the cure at around the age of eighteen, and the book tracks a girl, Lena, during her last few months as an uncured. And of course there are surprises and twists and romantic complications. The idea for Delirium came from an essay I read by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, in which he wrote that all great books were about love or death. The next day I was thinking about that quote — particularly about how and in what form a modern love story could be told — while I was on the treadmill at the gym. I was simultaneously watching a news story about a flu outbreak that had everyone freaking out about the possibility of a pandemic, and I was kind of marvelling that people so easily go into panics about reports of these diseases, and at some point the two trains of thought — love, and disease — just sort of combined in my head. And in terms of whether it was harder or easier than Before I Fall…neither. The hardest part of writing, I find, is the doing it, the sitting down and getting into the words and that mental headspace. It’s the same difficulty for every project.

What’s your process? What does a typical writing day look like?

For the record, I kind of hate the word “process.” My process is simply that I force myself to write every day, even though I sometimes (er, often) find it agonizingly painful. Some days I write at my computer. Some days, if I’m really busy, I write on my blackberry while I’m commuting between appointments. I’ve also been known to write on napkins, in notebooks, and at the dinner table, which isn’t very polite, of course. It sounds cheesy to say it, but inspiration is all around me. Every time I read the paper or watch the news, I see cool stories and think about how they might be books. Every time I read anything, I like to think I’m absorbing and learning.

What has your path to publication been like? What’s been the most surprising part of the writing/publishing process for you?

I think the most surprising part of the writing/publishing process is that it simply doesn’t get any easier! I mean, I love writing and I need it, but it still feels every bit as agonizing and hard as it always has. I still feel consumed with anxieties about running out of ideas, or turning out schlock. I guess I thought that being published might somewhat assuage those fears, but it has probably just compounded them!

 ‘Delirium’ Author Lauren Oliver: Writing Can Be ‘Agonizingly Painful’What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you yourself give aspiring authors?

The best writing advice I’ve received — and can impart — is to write every day, period.

What was your favorite book when you were a kid/teenager? What are you reading now?

When I was a kid I loved Roald Dahl, and the fairy tales of Grimm, and anything weird and wonderful. I’m actually still into weird and wonderful, which is I believe why I gravitate to Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jeffrey Eugenides. I also love elegant prose, so I love F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James, and Ian McEwan. Right now I’m reading a nonfiction science book. I actually read a lot of nonfiction — the real world has plenty to offer in terms of inspiration. And weirdness. And wonder.

What’s next for you writing-wise (and otherwise!)?

My first middle-grade book for young readers, Liesl & Po, comes out in Fall 2011. I’m currently working on the final book in the Delirium trilogy and tooling around with a middle-grade fantasy that may or may not ever become readable. I’m also working on growing my literary development company, Paper Lantern Lit, and our ever-expanding stable of authors. What’s next in life? Well, I’ll probably take a nap. And in a less immediate sense, I am heading out on tour next week and my first tour event is with none other than…David Levithan!

Do you believe in being part of a “bloc” of writers? Are critique groups and writing communities helpful to you?

I believe they’re helpful up to a point, yes. I loved my workshops at NYU because they taught me two critical skills: when to take criticism, and when to ignore it. You really need to know how to do both as an author. It’s totally possible to depend too much on other people’s opinion as a writer — you need to learn to trust your own instincts, and sometimes I think that depending on a group of writers can disable that. Like everything else, it’s a balance.

Author Interview: Neesha Meminger Is Looking for Emotional Truth

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On January - 27 - 2011

 Author Interview: Neesha Meminger Is Looking for Emotional TruthWhen I read a book as a teenager with raging hormones and strict parents, I was looking to experience love alongside the character, because in my childhood household, dating was not an option. But while reading Neesha Meminger’s Jazz in Love, I was swept up in Jazz’s dilemma as her mother implemented the Guided Dating Plan to find her a suitable match, which often had me wondering, what kind of teenage boy would my mother have picked for me?

I caught up with Neesha Meminger to discuss matchmaking and how she achieves a deep layer of emotional truth in her novels.

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a writer.

I started out, like most writers, keeping a journal. And because English is my second language, I spent a lot of time constructing phrases, tinkering with word rhythms and, in general, figuring out how to wield the English language to the best of my ability. I grew up knowing the power of language because I saw my parents’ struggle outside of the house when they fumbled to say what they needed to authorities, school administration, bureaucrats, government officials, police officers, neighbors, etc. It was tough to see parents — two people I admired and knew were strong, intelligent, capable souls — being reduced to bumbling, nervous adults facing irritation and/or hostility from people in positions of relative over them. So, I worked very hard to gain a strong hold on the language I would need to protect and defend myself in the world outside my home.

And yes, I totally write full time. I am also a full time mother, I promote my books a huge chunk-of-time, try to run a home the other chunks-of-time, and desperately search for ways to find a balance between all that and my own personal need for quiet time, growth and rejuvenation. icon smile Author Interview: Neesha Meminger Is Looking for Emotional Truth

How did you come up with the concept for Jazz In Love?

Jazz is a wise-cracking, wayward 17-year-old who keeps getting into trouble with her parents as she, ironically, tries to keep them happy (and meet her own needs at the same time). She is caught hugging a childhood friend in public and, because the friend is male, Jazz’s mother freaks out. She pulls out the big guns and sets out to find Jazz a suitable date so that Jazz doesn’t go poking around in unsuitable waters. What ensues is hilarity, a zany and hare-brained scheme involving Jazz’s own match-making, a celebrity, and a television show. At the end of it all, Jazz has to figure out what she really wants, and what she’s willing to do to get it.

What’s your process? What does a typical writing day look like? Where/when do you write? Where does your inspiration come from?

My typical writing day depends on where I am in the cycle. I have writing, rest, reading, and networking cycles, and sometimes a cycle of just complete daydreaming. But the typical day always starts with waking up far too early for my liking, and then:

1) taking the kids to school,

2) coming home, and starting the tea and breakfast ritual

3) eating and sipping while I catch up on email and visit my regular internet haunts

4) plunging into the work of the day

5) stopping when it’s time to pick up the kids

6) being on mommy-duty for the rest of the day

7) putting the kids to bed and mucking around on the computer for fun (or doing interviews like this one *smile*)

173505 618535284 7850699 n Author Interview: Neesha Meminger Is Looking for Emotional TruthWhat has your path to publication been like? What’s been the most surprising part of the writing/publishing process for you?

Oh my gosh, there have been so many surprises. But mostly I’ve enjoyed the process with all its ups and downs and loop-de-loops. In a nutshell, I wrote an epic novel over ten years ago, featuring three generations of Indian, Punjabi, Sikh women. I sent that to every single agent and editor I could find and was summarily rejected by each and every one of them. I revised, tweaked, started something new. I sent that around, again, to every agent and editor I could find. That, too, was soundly rejected. I continued like this until, eventually, the rejections became more personal and kind, and very helpful. I incorporated whatever feedback I received from the rejections and revised. I sent the revisions around again, to some new agents and editors who’d come onto the scene.

And then one of those agents contacted me. She said that I really had a knack for the teen protagonist’s voice and would I consider revising my manuscript to focus on her? I said, “HELL YEAH” (in my head) and sent her a nice reply saying Yes, I’d consider that and would she be open to taking a look at the revision? She said Sure. So that’s how it began. I signed with an agent, we worked on polishing my manuscript together and then sent it out. It was rejected in the first round of submissions. I was discouraged, but my agent said, “Why don’t we try another round before giving up?” So we did. And then we had interested editors.

The surprising parts for me are how hard I still have to work, even after publication. I must have thought things would be easy after that magical moment when the agent calls and says, “We have an offer!” But it was more work after that. And more work, still. Different kinds of work, to be sure, but lots of work, nonetheless.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you yourself give aspiring authors?

Write the truth. Even in fiction, what people connect with is emotional truth, or something that rings true to them – and a writer can only provide that by writing the honest, brutal truth. That’s the best advice I’ve ever received and I wholeheartedly pass it along.

What was your favorite book when you were a kid/teenager? What are you reading now?

I absolutely adored Tuck, Everlasting and Judy Blume’s books and Paula Danziger and Lois Duncan and S.E. Hinton and . . . Oh, sorry — you said “book.” Without an “s.”

I just finished re-reading (because it’s so awesome!) Cindy Pon’s Silver Phoenix and will begin John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story next.

 Author Interview: Neesha Meminger Is Looking for Emotional TruthWhat’s next for you writing-wise (and otherwise!)?

Here’s another surprise — I had no idea my work load would DOUBLE with the release of another book! But it has, and I’ve been busy trying to play catch-up. So I really haven’t had a chance to think about what is next, but I am hoping to do a follow-up novel to Jazz In Love somewhere in there. Super-excited about that.

Due to the ethnic content of your fantastic books, did you have trouble placing them at publishing houses? Is the myth of the “one ethnic book” per season alive and well? Was it harder to place Jazz In Love even though it was second book?

The answer to this is a complex. The publishing industry doesn’t exist in a vacuum — it is part of a larger system of beliefs and attitudes that have taken centuries to form. The challenges in the publishing industry are no different from the challenges of marginalized or under-represented folks in film and video, music, dance, theater, business, politics, etc. There are dominant, prevailing beliefs and assumptions in all of these areas. So, do I think that these perceptions affected the sale of either of my novels? They had to; we are all products of our environment. There’s the belief that books by people of color don’t sell, that books with covers featuring people of color won’t be bought, that only the group written about will be interested in buying a book about that group, and so on. These are real challenges and barriers for authors of color. It’s much like what publishing was like for women in the early days of publishing. In a male-dominated industry, the belief was that women’s writing wouldn’t sell, that men wouldn’t want to read work by women. As a result, women started up their own independent presses, they self-published, they founded collectives . . . they went directly to their readers without waiting for the okay from the male-dominated presses of the time.

Do you believe in being part of a “bloc” of writers? Are critique groups and writing communities helpful to you?

Abso-frickin-lutely. I joined the Debs as soon as I realized there was a group of debuting authors, and that has been nothing short of a god-send. Truly. I would be much more insane if I didn’t have this community. I highly, HIGHLY recommend joining a writers’ group, or at least some sort of forum or community where you can voice your uncertainties, ask questions, toot your successes, and throw pity parties. It is an absolute necessity if you’re really serious, and if you’re in this for the long haul. I forget who said it, but this writing gig is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. And trust me, you’re going to want some friends along on the journey.

A Rooster in the Hen House: J.A. Yang Writes Chick Lit and Gets It Right

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On January - 17 - 2011

Exclusively Chloe 1 200x300 A Rooster in the Hen House: J.A. Yang Writes Chick Lit and Gets It RightWhen I was a teen (and even now) I thought, “Boys, just don’t get it. They don’t understand girls!” But, then came J.A. Yang and…he gets it! J.A. Yang is the rooster in the hen house and has somehow discovered teen girls’ habits, fears, neuroses, and their deepest, darkest secrets and the proof is in his book Exclusively Chloe.

I caught up with J.A. Yang to discuss teen chick lit and how he accomplishes understanding the teen girl pysche.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a writer?

I’m from San Diego by way of Taiwan and in elementary school I used to get in trouble for reading too much. I’d never written much of anything until right after college, when I started blogging up a storm.  Before that, I’d never taken any writing or literature classes aside from what was required and boy do I regret that now. I never actually wanted to be a writer specifically so it’s something that’s really found me. I didn’t realize until after my first book came out how random and lucky my path to publication was.

Before I officially became a writer, I was a video game tester. As soon as I found out my first book had sold — a non-fiction book about blogging — I quit my job and turned my attention to writing. Of course, a year or so later I had to re-enter the world of the nine-to-five and since then I’ve been hopping back and forth between the normal work life and the writing world. It’s only dawned on me recently that people can do both at the same time. To those who have a day job and write, I say this: Overachievers! I’m consistently awed by people who have families, significant others, pets, other jobs, and are able to carve out time to write.

Currently I don’t write full time and for a long time I was uncomfortable with calling myself a “writer” until I did. But now I’ve just decided to go with it.  If I don’t call myself a writer, who will right?

2. Can you give us a quick synopsis of Exclusively Chloe? How did you come up with the concept for the book?

Exclusively Chloe is about a girl adopted from China into the loving arms of celebrity parents. Her mom is an A-List actress and her dad is a rowdy musician. Since she’s the first celebrity adopted kid in Hollywood, Chloe-Grace grows up with the searing spotlight in her face and by the time she’s sixteen she’s so over it. Determined to figure out what a normal life is like, she undergoes a make-under and sets out to not only find her birth parents but also to escape the glare of the paparazzi.

One summer a few years ago, my friends and I participated in a fantasy celebrity league (like fantasy football but with celebs) and it turned out that the babies of stars were on the cover of US Weekly just as often as their parents – Sean Preston Federline and Maddox Jolie-Pitt accrued a ton of points that season. This got me thinking about what happens to these kids when they grow up, and since my agent was also playing in the fantasy league, we thought it would be a great idea for a book!

51X1eXhKqnL. SL500 AA300  A Rooster in the Hen House: J.A. Yang Writes Chick Lit and Gets It Right3. What’s your writing process?  Where does your inspiration come from?

For my blogging book and Exclusively Chloe, I wrote both manuscripts in huge uninterrupted blocks of time that involved shutting everything out except writing, sleeping, and eating. Sometimes not so much of the latter. I had never written anything longer than fifteen pages before and approached writing a book like it was a term paper for school. I crammed in ten hour writing days and emerged a few weeks later with tens of thousands of words. Then I’d recover and do it again for subsequent drafts and revisions.

Since meeting other writers, I’ve learned that it’s probably safer/better/more sane to set up a routine and write a few hundred or thousand words a day. As I’m a very schedule averse person, it’s been a struggle sticking to that kind of plan but I’m working on it. I still work best under duress and intense time pressure but that’s a habit I’m trying to kick.

Most of my inspiration comes from consuming lots of media. I’m always jotting down notes in my iPhone after seeing, hearing, or reading something. Most of those fragments lead nowhere but after enough time, I’ll re-read them and pick out some themes and items of interest.

4. What has your path to publication been like? What’s been the most surprising part of the writing/publishing process for you?

My path to publication was very lucky, as mentioned above. My now agent asked if I’d ever thought about writing a book — she liked my blog — and I said “Sure!” After giving her a huge long list of things I’d like to write about, we settled on blogging and that was my first book. The jump to YA happened in a similar fortuitous fashion (as I talked about in question two). At the time we explored doing Exclusively Chloe, I had no idea what the modern definition of “young adult book” was and was clueless about the genre. I went to the bookstore and picked up the #1 YA book on the shelves. “What is this Twilight business all about?!” That was late 2006 I think.

The most surprising part of the writing/publishing process is how much I didn’t know heading into it. Unless you have friends who are already authors — or in my case, fantastic agents to guide you — you really have no idea how things work. Every day is a learning process, from the writing to the editing to the marketing to the events to the community. It’s very exciting in that way.  Nowadays I think there’s more easily accessible resources and voices, especially online, and book blogs have really pulled back the curtain a little bit, which was not the case even three years ago. Since my interests are at the intersection of books and blogging, I’ve really enjoyed watching the scene grow.

 A Rooster in the Hen House: J.A. Yang Writes Chick Lit and Gets It Right5. What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you yourself give aspiring authors?

The best advice I’ve ever gotten, and now regurgitate to others, is this: finish stuff. Everyone has projects they are working on, a great idea waiting to be fleshed out, and things they hope to accomplish. If nothing is ever finished however, there’ll never be anything to show. We all know GI Joe said that knowledge is half the battle but the other half must surely be following through. This is some advice I’m trying to follow myself right now actually.

6. What was your favorite book when you were a kid/teenager? What are you reading now?

My favorite book as a kid was The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, which I thought was my own personal gem until I realized, embarassingly recently, that it was an ultimate classic. Growing up, nobody else I knew had ever heard of it but then I discovered that it had won the Newberry in 1979 and was made into a 1997 movie called Get a Clue! I’ll save you the trouble of watching it: the movie is terrible.

I just bought The Adventures of Fanboy and Gothgirl by Barry Lyga and the first School of Fear by Gitty Daneshvari, both at The Strand, which is the best and worst place at the same time. Best for its huge YA section and the worst for wallets.

7. What’s next for you writing-wise — and otherwise?

I just moved to New York to explore the writerly community and it’s been all kinds of awesome. The sheer amount of YA related events is staggering and I’ve already been to Books of Wonder like four times in just as many weeks. Writing-wise, I’m waiting for edits on the sequel/companion novel to EC, thinking about other projects I can tackle — something for boys?! — and trying to finish the proposal for my much-talked-about, not- very-much-anticipated, relationship book.

n684137966 669837 1148 A Rooster in the Hen House: J.A. Yang Writes Chick Lit and Gets It Right8. How does a man write chick lit so well? How are you so “attuned” to female sensibilities and thought processes?

We should probably hold off on the “so well” and “attuned” until my relationship book drops. Then we’ll know if what I think I know about women holds true, or if I’ve just been spouting total nonsense all these years. The reason (I think) I can write about shopping and celebs and boys is all due to my twin sister, George, who grew up being focused on all of these things and passed her deep knowledge base onto me. Without her I would have just been a typical guy who grunts a lot and wonders why socks and sandals are a no go. Also, newest auto-fail: white socks with black shoes. Fellas, don’t do it!

9. Do you believe in being part of a “bloc” of writers? Are critique groups and writing communities helpful to you?

The year EC came out, I joined a writing community, the 2009 Debutantes, and they’ve been amazing. It’s the only writing community I’ve ever been a part of and although I’m less participatory than I should be, I follow everyone and love to hear how/what they’re doing. And following the Teen Writers Bloc has been great too, as I like to think that all young adult writers are part of the same karass. (Which is a word that’s always stuck with me after hearing it on this My So-Called Life episode.)

I’ve never had a critique group, just critics, but I’m going to find one soon. Okay, I lied, I don’t even have critics. But with the start of the new year, I hope to get some of both because I think having people keeping my writing accountable and my focus laser tight is something I could definitely use. Just having people to talk writing and reading is a luxury I haven’t really had, so I’m hoping to build some of that in 2011.

Author Q&A: Wendy Raven McNair, of the Asleep Awake Trilogy

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On November - 29 - 2010

 Author Q&A: Wendy Raven McNair, of the Asleep Awake TrilogyAs a child I longed to see people like me in the fantasy books I treasured, doing fantastical things and going on magical adventures. So I was thrilled when, as I was working on a forthcoming three-part blog series titled, “Do Brown Kids Go to Outer Space? A Search for Multicultural Kids in Fantasy and Science-Fiction,” I came across author Wendy Raven McNair and her fantasy trilogy featuring African-American protagonists. I immediately went to her website and found out all I could about the author and her books, Awake and Asleep. I downloaded her book and poured over her world of African-American super-beings.

I caught up with Wendy to chat about self-publishing, ethnicity in books and what inspired her to write.

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a writer.

I grew up in the projects of Houston, and graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, an accomplishment I didn’t fully appreciate at the time. I never travelled outside of Texas until I was an adult, and since then I’ve lived in Missouri, Iowa, Ohio, Massachusetts, and now reside in Georgia. Before I became a writer, I held many different positions: assistant teacher, manufacturing plant line technician, quality lab rep, office assistant, restaurant hostess, and bank teller just to name a few. My newborn daughter inspired me to pursue being a writer because I wanted to teach her by example to go after her dreams. Now, I’ve discovered that my life experiences are great resource material for my stories.

Can you tell us a bit about ASLEEP and AWAKE? How did you come up with the concept for the series?

Asleep is book one of a fantasy trilogy. Adisa Summers doesn’t know her boyfriend, Micah Alexander, can fly. In this opening story Adisa is introduced to the secret world of super beings as she’s falling in love with Micah, so it’s pretty intense right up to the very end.

Awake is book two of the trilogy. Adisa and Micah race against time to find a cure for Micah. When Adisa reconnects with the birth parents who abandoned her in a cotton field when she was only three, the shocking results threaten Micah and Adisa’s relationship, sanity, and even their lives.

My teen daughter inspired this trilogy. She loves fantasy stories, but my challenge was finding an age appropriate fantasy story with a lead character that reflected her, a teen and an African American girl. So I started the story knowing who the lead character would be. My initial fantasy idea was a superhero defender of the environment (my teen was learning about environmental issues), however the story was going nowhere. I did like the “superhero” idea, which evolved into super beings in the final story.

What’s your writing process? Where does your inspiration come from?

I’m a daydreamer, I always have been, so my writing process is simple. I daydream about my characters and write down what happens. I actually spend more time marketing, networking, and planning for or participating in literary events which all take away from my writing time and make up my typical day. For example, I’m taking time for this interview instead of writing, which is a great opportunity taking up some of my writing time. My ongoing struggle is to find balance between writing and all the other duties I perform as a self-published author. Usually I have to clear my calendar and just dedicate the whole day to writing.

What’s been the most surprising part of the writing/publishing process for you?

One thing it hasn’t been is boring! One surprising part has been the generosity of readers who are supportive and encouraging. Queries for my first published novel, Giant Slayers, received nothing but rejections. So I was thrilled to receive some positive agent responses to Asleep. But I decided to self publish since there are so many great alternatives available and reader response has been tremendous. However, I don’t have the money or resources a traditional publisher would provide, so I have to be a jack of all trades. It can be exhausting, but I get to do something I love, tell stories, so that keeps me motivated along with the positive feedback from readers.

 Author Q&A: Wendy Raven McNair, of the Asleep Awake TrilogyWhat’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you yourself give aspiring authors?

Keep writing! That’s the best advice I’ve ever been given. My advice to aspiring authors is to not give up. Exciting things are happening in the literary world that are giving authors more avenues to getting their work out to the public. The traditional publishing route can be very discouraging to aspiring writers but now print on demand and e-books are allowing these writers alternate routes to realizing their dream of getting their stories out to the public.

What was your favorite book when you were a teenager? What are you reading now?

One of my favorites was Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. I’m currently reading Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Talents, the sequel to Parable of the Sower. Both authors are phenomenal writers and insightful storytellers.

What’s next for you writing-wise (and otherwise!)?

I’m currently working on a media project related to the trilogy that I hope to have up in 2011. Readers can keep updated through my website and blog. I’m also working on Ascend, the final book of the trilogy. After that, I may write a trilogy from Micah’s perspective. By telling this story through Adisa, much of Micah’s story is left untold, so exploring his side of things would be very revealing and a completely different story from Adisa’s version. So I believe it would hold many surprising revelations for readers. I’ll also be touring to promote the books.

Do you believe in being part of a “bloc” of writers? Are critique groups and writing communities helpful to you?

Ideally, yes, I believe a writing community could be very beneficial. Unfortunately, I haven’t found one that fits into how I work so I haven’t had the opportunity to experience it while writing my novels.

Thank you so much to Wendy Raven McNair for swinging by TeenWritersBloc.com to chat. Check out her website and books. They’d make great stocking stuffers!

pixel Author Q&A: Wendy Raven McNair, of the Asleep Awake Trilogy
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