Three fabulous debut YA authors (Lauren Oliver (Before I Fall), Anna Jarzab (All Unquiet Things), and Leila Sales (Mostly Good Girls)) + one bookstore (WORD, in Brooklyn) = signing of awesome!
On Friday, Frankie and I headed to NYC for the Lauren/Anna/Leila signing at WORD. We've been to a LOT of signings, but this was hands-down one of the most entertaining and informative ones! (They all work in the industry, so it was an awesome dual perspective.)
And we totally took epic notes for you guys, so you can see for yourself what we mean! (And pssst -- we have books to give away at the end!)
Q: Why YA?
LEILA SALES - I work in YA, and I mostly read YA because it's what interests me.
LAUREN OLIVER - I find it more liberating than adult novels, which are often about a "slowly deteriorating relationship."
ANNA JARZAB - (Laughs.) Or "the dark underbelly of suburban life."
LS - Or mortgages.
AJ - My master's thesis was All Unquiet Things. I didn't realize it was YA, and once I found out, I learned everything I could about YA and consumed it.
LO - I find YA to be a really dynamic part of the literary world.
LS - I always read and wrote YA.
LO and AJ - Both tried to write adult books.
LO - (Laughs.) My first book I wrote when I was 19, and it was about a man whose wife was dying of cancer, and he has an affair with a "lady of the night."
|Anna, Leila, and Lauren|
Q: Present company excluded, what book is the epitome of YA for you?
LO - I primarily read non-fiction, but I read both adult and YA fiction. YA has a tremendously enthralling narrative. Adult fiction is less compelling because there's not as much storytelling. For books, Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy and the Hunger Games trilogy stand out.
AJ - Harry Potter has everything you want in novels -- storytelling, depth of characters, whimsy. But discussing YA as a genre is too general; it's like talking about adult fiction as a genre. But now we're starting to put out enough YA that bookstores are separating the categories.
LS - Additional examples are the Princess Diaries series -- it's a great "what if?" idea. And Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You is a great coming-of-age.
Q: YA started growing about 10 years ago. The first readers are "grown up" now, and a new generation has started. How does it affect your writing that your audience is 14 and 24 years old?
LO - I don't think about audience when I write, really. If you write deeply in the character and the world, your book will be fine. And 24 and 14 aren't so different anymore! Also, moms of teens are reading YA.
AJ - Sometimes I think all YA is secretly about people in their 20s. They have the same emotions!
LS - At the heart of YA is the search for identity, and that's relevant all through people's lives today. It's a modern lifelong preoccupation, and it hadn't been before.
Q: (For Lauren) Were you like Sam in Before I Fall?
LO - I was similar in some ways, and different in other ways. I was an amalgamation of all four friends. Sam was lost without knowing she was lost, unhappy without knowing she was unhappy, and her journey was to connect back to her life.
|Lauren and Frankie!|
LS - It helped me understand the road to publication better. As an assistant editor, I read slush, which helps me understand flaws and teaches me about my writing.
LO - The huge quantity of reading helps. Working in the industry can also facilitate getting an agent.
AJ - I worked at Penguin after my book deal. I work in marketing, which gives me perspective on what publishers value, will put money behind, and will promote. You learn how to behave as an author.
LO - How to behave as an author is critical. Learn how not to be an a-hole.
LS - Getting published and being an author is a profession, a career. You have to constantly learn and improve.
AJ - Working in publishing, you realize how little you know. It gives you a broader perspective.
Q: How many books of yours are at least half-written and will never see the light of day?
LS - Five.
AJ - Eight.
LO - Twelve. I worked three years rewriting an 800-page book that was so problematic and I could never fix. But then I wrote Before I Fall. Also, with unpublished or unfinished books, characters and scenes can reappear in later work.
LS - You have to glean something and enjoy the process for every book, because there are no guarantees.
Q: When you create an emotional connection to readers, do they come to expect a certain type of novel from you, or a certain brand?
AJ - It's still early in all of our careers to have really created a set expectation. You just need to write what's good.
LO - People can generate expectations, but hopefully they're that your work has quality and passion. And hopefully they're forgiving, because ever career author fails at some point.
AJ - However, you don't want to jeopardize or derail your career with something from left field, so you must give some consideration to those expectations.
LS - Voice is really what carries through everything and pulls together an author's body of work.
Q: (For Lauren) Is it difficult to switch between audiences in your work?
LO - The switch from writing MG to YA to MG? For me, it's like switching from contemporary to dystopian --- the labels are applied afterward. Characters speak to me, so I start writing. It sounds hippie-ish, but characters lead you to a story. If you're correctly inserted into a character, there's nothing to worry about. Tell your character's story.
Q: (For Leila and Anna) Leila, your book is single point-of-view and Anna, yours is dual POV. Have you tried writing the opposite?
LS - I tried multiple POV before -- it didn't go well. (Laughs.) They sounded the same. I want to learn to do it, though.
AJ - Dual POV is hard. I'm writing a single POV novel right now, and it's much easier.
Q: What are the worst author behaviors you can think of from working in publishing? Or advice from bad behaviors?
LS - Don't give in a final draft of historical fiction with zero research.
LO - Don't have a sense of entitlement. The people who work in publishing are not your servants.
AJ - Only bother people if you have something to say. Be respectful of their time.
Q: How, as a writer, do you get past the slush pile?
LS - There's no magic formula -- but generally, you always need a unique voice that rings true, and a story only you can tell.
LO - It has to ring true! You can tell if there's authenticity within three sentences.
AJ - It sounds funny, but I hate when fiction FEELS made up.
LS - You don't want it to be too expository. And this is all easier said than done.
LO - Get feedback from readers and learn when to take and when to ignore criticism.
AJ - Read a ton, make note of what you dislike and why.
LS - And also make note of what you do like and love. For me, I read everything Dave Barry ever wrote.
AJ - I started writing when I was eleven, because I read all the Babysitters Club books, and Mallory was writing a novel and SHE was eleven, so I was like, I can do this!
LS - Who didn't love Mallory?! She had seven brothers and sisters, and she rode horses!
LO - No, I wanted to be Stacy.
AJ - I was like Mallory, but I wanted to be Mary Anne -- she had a boyfriend!
Q: You've all mentioned reading reviews, good and bad. How do they shape your next book?
AJ - If you don't read reviews of your books, you're either superhuman or a liar.
LS - Reading reviews isn't like alcoholism or Russian roulette ... it's like checking emails from your ex-boyfriend.
AJ - And you can't change anything reviewers disliked -- too late!
LO - I used to read reviews more, but I don't really any more. Only occasionally. Same with any other criticism, you learn when to take it, and when not to. You should only pay attention to the ones that thoughtfully engage your work. But either way, don't glut on reviews, awesome or mean -- it can disable your ability to do your work.
AJ - Don't write back to reviewers! I'm argumentative by nature, so it's tempting, but never write back.
Q: What's your next project?
AJ - It's a contemporary novel currently called The Opposite of Hallelujah, about a 16-year-old with a sister who's 11 years older. Her sister's lived as a cloistered nun for 8 years, and she comes home under suspicious circumstances. It's about their relationship, primarily. [FNC comment: You had me at "cloistered nun." We love sister books!]
LS - My next book comes out in October. It's called Past Perfect, and it's about a girl who is a Colonial reenactor who falls in love with a Civil War reenactor, so they obviously can't be together because "they come from different times" --- except that they're from the same time. It's also about the girl getting over her ex and the stories we tell about the past. [FNC comment: This sounds so, so hilarious.]
LO - Delirium comes out February 1st! It's based on the idea that love is a disease. The second book in the trilogy is Pandemonium, and the third is Requiem. [FNC comment: Read more about Delirium HERE! Ahhhh we must devour it!!!)
Ok, wasn't that AWESOME? (For real guys, if you just skipped to the end to get to the giveaway, go back and read the recap!! * wags finger * You know who you are.) And the best part is, all three authors were all super sweet, gracious, and funny when we talked to them afterward.
And now.... giveaway time! So we're giving away one copy each of Before I Fall, Mostly Good Girls, and All Unquiet Things. And they were supposed to be signed, but the snowpocalypse in Philly prevented our book delivery from arriving in time (grrrr), so the authors very kindly signed bookmarks for you! So up for grabs is a shiny new book + signed bookmark -- times three!