The Roecker sisters began writing their first YA novel in July of 2008, just over a year ago. They finished their first novel right about when they began blogging about the process, a mere two months later. That first novel, sadly, is (as they put it) on a very, very high shelf collecting dust. They started their second book, The Haunting of Pemberly Brown, in January 2009, scored an agent in March, and are currently on submission to editors. Never fear—until the day they’re published, we have their blog, Lisa and Laura Write, to tide us over. And seriously, it's entertaining.
They describe themselves as “The Hilton Sisters - spray tans + brains - 4 inches + 20 (ok, fine...30) pounds ÷ Cleveland, OH = Lisa and Laura Roecker”
Are they prolific? Insanely. Funny? You betcha. Destined for publishing greatness? The FNC surely hopes so!
It’s about time someone asked these sisters some questions.
In your first blog post (on 9/8/08, to be exact – woo blogiversary!), you ladies wrote: “And now, a month-and a half later, we're putting the finishing chapters on our first draft and getting ready to send it out to friends and family for some serious editing. So, we're either literary geniuses who write amazing, best-selling books in under two-months, or we completely suck and don't yet realize it. Keep reading and find out...” One year later, what are your thoughts on that statement?
Um…yeah, we completely sucked and had no idea. Well, I guess that’s not entirely true. We just sort of sucked. We had a lot of agents interested in our first book, THE NORTH SHORE, but after lots of requests and back and forth with various agents, there was no one who loved it enough to take it on. Fortunately, quite a few agents saw promise in our writing, so when we completed THE HAUNTING OF PEMBERLY BROWN we had a number of agents who had already requested to read the full manuscript.
What was your creation process for Pemberly Brown? Meaning, what was the original nugget that inspired the books – the characters, the setting, a certain scene or line of dialogue, the plot? How did it develop/evolve from there?
Lisa (AKA the idea whore) had an idea about a book where the main character received creepy e-mails from someone who’s supposed to be dead, so the idea sort of evolved from there. Initially we thought maybe she received the e-mails from a boyfriend who would sort of help her come to terms with his death, but gradually we decided a best friend made more sense. Eventually, we realized the e-mails could serve as clues to how the best friend really died, and that’s when Kate Lowry, girl detective, was born.
You’ve said that you live and die by your outline, which is necessary because you alternate writing chapters. How often do you change your outline over the course of writing a novel?
Our outlines end up changing pretty drastically over the course of the book. You would probably laugh if you read our first outline for PEMBERLY BROWN, because the book is so different now. Usually our outlines serve as a very loose guide for where the story should go. But we’re doing things a little differently with our current WIP, UNCLAIMED BAGGAGE. No outline! It’s a little scary, but it’s also a little fun because you never know where the story is going to take you. We have a very basic idea of where the story is going, but mostly we’re flying by the seats of our pants.
How do you come up with character names? Which have changed since you began writing the book?
We sort of randomly pick names that we like. We’ll go back and forth on names until we find one that really fits a character, but sometimes we do end up changing names in the middle of the book. Grace, in THE HAUNTING OF PEMBERLY BROWN started off as Ava. We had given her this very conservative religious family, so by the end of the book Grace ended up being a better name for her. In THE NORTH SHORE we had a character named Lydia who was sort of slutty and crazy, but then Laura named her daughter Lydia, so that one definitely had to change!
Initially when you pitched Pemberly Brown to agents, you called it Finding Grace. How and when did the title change?
We suck at titles. The first title for PEMERLY BROWN was actually GMAIL, but our beta readers hated the title and there’s this company called Google, (maybe you’ve heard of them?) who sort of owns that name, so we switched it to FINDING GRACE before we started querying agents. When we first spoke to our agent, Catherine Drayton, she said the title had to go. She called it “wet” and while we had no idea what that meant we were pretty sure it wasn’t good. We pitched loads of different titles to her before we went out on sub, and she hated 99% of them. Finally, we all agreed on THE HAUNTING OF PEMBERLY BROWN.
What from your novel have you shamelessly stolen from real life?
We’ve stolen a lot from our experiences as a teen and from random or embarrassing things that our parents used to do to us when we were younger. In PEMBERLY BROWN Kate is humiliated at the thought of riding her bike in public, and we were the same way when we were teenagers. We’re big believers in the “you can’t make this sh*t up” philosophy. There are some things in life that are so funny, so entertaining and so random that you’d never be able to make them up.
Throughout this process, what have you learned about the industry, blogging, and writing YA in general?
We’ve learned way too much to fit into one blog post. A year ago we didn’t know that literary agents existed, we had no idea what a query letter was and we thought it was easy to get a book published. Scary, huh? The biggest thing we’ve probably learned is that it takes a lot of people to write a book. Beta readers, agents, editors, publishers, assistants, PR, marketing – all of these people have had a hand in creating whatever book you’re currently reading.
Which authors and bloggers have inspired you the most?
We never would have been able to navigate the crazy world of publishing without bloggers like Nathan Bransford and Janet Reid. Their advice is priceless. We’ll also be eternally grateful to Miss Snark’s First Victim’s blog and her Secret Agent contest. Every aspiring writer should participate in one of those contests. The thoughtful feedback you get on the first 250 words of your work are priceless.
As for authors, we are so inspired by Meg Cabot. I love the interviews where she talks about her bags of rejections and discusses how many agents and editors rejected her and The Princess Diaries before she finally found the right fit. And look at her now! It’s just amazing. She had a vision and she stuck with it. We can respect that.
Name one embarrassing writer/blogger moment.
Just one? We have so many. Our deepest, darkest secret is that Catherine was our original dream agent. She requested the first 50 pages of THE NORTH SHORE and we almost peed our pants we were so excited. You can imagine our disappointment when we got a rejection that said “not for me” a couple weeks later.
When we sent out our first batch of queries for PEMBERLY BROWN Laura had to talk me into submitting to her, I was too scared! Needless to say, I’m really glad she did. We still aren’t sure if Catherine remembers rejecting us the first time around and we’re not in any rush to remind her!
The two of you come as a package deal, a la Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield (minus the whole identical twin thing). What’s the most distinctive difference between the two of you, either in your writing life or in your personalities?
Lisa is the loud, outgoing, semi-obnoxious sister and that definitely comes through in her writing. She usually drives the plot of the novels and loves writing dialogue and general snarkiness. Laura is more shy and a good observer. When she writes she really takes the time to envision the scene and puts a lot of thought into how the characters look and move.
We always joke that if Lisa wrote a book by herself it would be heavy on plot and one-liners but lacking in setting and substance.
And lastly… Buffy the movie or Buffy the TV show?
Will you hate us if we admit we never watched Buffy the TV show? I’m not sure how it happened but we somehow managed to miss Buffy and Veronica Mars. So, we’ll sadly have to go with the movie, Luke Perry’s receding hairline and all.
For more of this fabulous duo, follow their blog and check out their website!