All posts in December 2011

The Answer Bag!

Wow, you guys are wonderful. Thanks so much for sending me questions! Answering them was fun, almost like being interviewed by a really smart, challenging, attractive committee. Hope you find my answers informative. For easy filing, I’ve broken your questions down by subject.

(No, I’m not procrastinating. Why do you ask?)

On the writing of STARGLASS . . .

How much of a draft did you hand in as part of the pitch? Outline with synoposis? finished chapters? Complete finished draft?

Like most debut authors, I had the book-that-would-become Starglass drafted in its entirety before I even queried agents. However, we also sold the sequel along with it, based on a synopsis and the first two chapters.

At one point, my book looked like this.

How long did it take to get STARGLASS published from the initial first draft to acquiring a publishing deal? How long did it take you to write the first draft of STARGLASS? How many revisions did you go through? Did you revise as you write?

I had to look back through my records for this one. I started the book at the end of August 2010. It sold mid-November 2011. So a year-and-a-bit. Around fifteen months. The first draft took six months, and depending on how you count a “revision,” I’d say that I revised it two or three times pre-agent, and then did several passes with my agent. Let’s say six. Six sounds good.

Contrary to popular writing advice, I realized that my original beginning sucked about halfway through, stopped, and rewrote it. Also, when drafting, I often begin the day by going over the previous day’s writing to tweak it. It helps me get into the right mindset and voice for my story, but I guess it counts as “revising.”

How many manuscripts did you write prior to STARGLASS?

Starglass was my fifth completed manuscript, and the third one I queried. You know that advice that says, “Write another book”? Well, I guess you could say that I’m a fan.

Is the title STARGLASS significant to the story? Is it your original title?

This image has nothing to do with my book and everything to do with my love of unicorns.

Long-time blog readers might remember Starglass as the book formerly known as Daughter of Earth. “DoE,” as I called it, was an okay title, but I was well-aware from the beginning that it was a bit dated, and by the time submission came around I was honestly sort of sick of it. Before submission, my lovely agent Michelle and I worked together to come up with something a bit jazzier. Top contenders included Through This Blue Vault and Under the Roof of Heaven, but then we realized that we were, perhaps, getting a little too poetic. Always a danger, since I used to write poetry.

We almost went on submission with another title, which eventually became the proposed title for the sequel. I like it lots, but it wasn’t quite right for this book. In Starglass, the citizens on the ship live below a dome of “honeycombed glass,” which separates them from the vast expanse of space. When Michelle & I were emailing about titles, a line near the end of the novel caught my eye: “This thought of freedom, of a life without contracts or the net of glass above—this is what has sustained me.” If my book has a thesis, that’s probably it. And so I shot Michelle one last suggestion: “What do you think of Starglass?” And she dug it! Yay!

A few friends have emailed me to tell me they’re bummed about the title change, and I appreciate that, but honestly I really dig Starglass. It’s modern and spacey and pretty all at once. It also appeals to the Lisa Frank fan in me. I like sparkly things, and Starglass sounds very sparkly.

Why can’t I find STARGLASS on amazon yet?! Publishing, why do you take so long?!!!1!

The book will be out sometime in the summer of 2013. This will give us lots of time for editing, more editing, copyediting, promotion, printing, marketing, and so on.  Really, the book will be better for it, promise.

If someone wanted to make a movie out of your book(s), how would you feel? Who would you want to direct, star in it?

Itchy!

No, I don’t know. My good friend Kirsten Hubbard says, and I agree, that publishing involves new emotions, ones you often weren’t even previously aware existed. So who knows? It would be scary to send my book out into the world to be adapted for a new medium (one I know nothing about and so couldn’t even do right on my own if I tried), but the exposure one gets from film adaptations can’t be discounted. And when it comes down to it, it would be pretty awesome to see my book up on the big screen.

As for the particulars, I’d leave that to people smarter than me. Mia Wasikowska was my inspiration for Terra, but she’d probably be too old for the part by then, anyway.

On inspiration and writing . . .

What authors have influenced you most?

Let it never be said that only big-name authors make a difference. You may never have heard of the two authors who had the greatest impact on me. The first is Megan Lindholm (who more famously wrote as Robin Hobb), whose social SF novel Alien Earth had an indelible impact on the way that I approach writing about space. The second is an author named Katie Waitman (who, to my knowledge, is no longer writing), whose book The Merro Tree was the most beautiful thing I’d ever read when I was fourteen. It was a soft sci-fi novel about art and the fated romance between two alien boys. I loved it.

(It also taught me that the enemies of art aren’t critics, but censors.)

Other than that, the usual suspects: Octavia Butler, Anne McCaffrey, Madeleine L’Engle, Mercedes Lackey.

Where do you get your ideas? (HAHAHAHAHA) (HAHA)

You’re evil, Rachel Hartman.

The truth is that I’ve developed a technological device that extracts YA sci-fi ideas from the minds of kittens. They don’t mind. They weren’t using them, anyway.

Is there a time of day your brain works most optimally?

11 p.m. to 2 a.m., which is why I have trouble working normal-people jobs.

What’s the one thing you really, really wish you had known before you began?

I wish I’d known that it’s not enough to just be “good enough.” Writing isn’t about getting affirmation on the things you already do well, but existing as a conduit for good work. And to do good work, you’re going to have to challenge yourself, to be hard on yourself, to not be satisfied with the things that come easy for you. I can write 80,000 words of pretty prose easily. I need to be hard on myself to write a damn good novel. I wish I’d known that–because I didn’t make any significant advances in my career or my writing until I learned that lesson.

What is the one craft advice you would give to an aspiring writer?

It might not sound like craft advice, but it is. You’re not your book, even if you’re the only one who can write your book. If someone gives you criticism that hurts, one of two things is happening: either they don’t understand the core of your work (you’re writing science fiction, and they want a novel about a barbershop quartet of singing vampires), or you’re not executing your idea as well as you could. It’s more often the latter than the former. Learn to know the difference, and to do your book justice. And always, always strive to improve (see the above bit about being “good enough.”)

On career stuff . . .

I decorated many of these pancakes.

If you hadn’t become a writer, what else might you have done?

I’ve had a lot of “jobs”–I’ve been a mohawked check-out girl and an English instructor and a library assistant; I’ve worked in a flower shop, a drug store, an office, and a writing center. The work I enjoyed most besides writing was probably waiting tables. Like writing, it’s results-oriented. You know you’ve had a good day because your tips are good and because your customers are happy.

Still, I like writing more. I’d rather make readers happy than IHOP customers. Tips aren’t as good, though.

Are you going to keep writing reviews?

I hope so. I truly love writing reviews, and my work with the Intergalactic Academy, particularly, has been a labor of love. I’ll probably be keeping my blog for more personal writing, but for the time being you can still find all my reviews over on goodreads.

I say “for the time being” not because I’m planning on quitting, but because I recognize that you never really know what life throws at you. It’s feasible that it might not make sense for me to review at some point in the future, but right now, I love it and it makes me happy.

Odds & ends . . .

Are you totally in surreal mode right now, or are you coming back to reality and realizing this is a really real thing that really happened?

If you’d asked me this question two weeks ago, I would have shouted “book!” at you and broke out into an insane grin. These days, the grin is a bit more subdued, and there’s less shouting. I’ve been getting used to the idea as I bury myself in work, but . . . who am I kidding? It’s still pretty freakin’ weird.

(Book!)

And what’s your favorite breakfast food?

Corned beef hash and eggs! Om nom nom.

How are YOU so awesome, and why?

Kurt Vonnegut, pretending to be awesome.

Kurt Vonnegut said, “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” I don’t often feel awesome, but I figure that it can’t hurt to fake it.

Post-book Deal Q&A

Awesome husband is awesome for giving me this blog-appropriate shirt.

Hey all! Thank you so much for the enormous outpouring of love and felicitations yesterday. You pretty much made it the best day ever. I was just a big sticky ball of happiness all freakin’ day. There were so many touching emails and notes–many from people who had been following my career for awhile. And if there’s one message I took from all of it, it was this:

you always believed in me.

Funny thing is, I wasn’t always so sure. I was often scared–scared of taking pride in myself, scared of taking ownership of my successes. You’ve all shown me how stupid I was for ever miring myself in doubt.

Thank you thank you thank you for that.

What now? Well, I’ll be updating the website in the coming weeks with information on Starglass, as well as some writing tips and publishing resources for aspiring authors (I never felt very confident posting that stuff before because, well, what did I know?!). But today I’d love to give the floor to you. Last week, blog-friend and agent-sis S. E. Sinkhorn put up a Q&A post; I realized I’ve never done anything like that before. So ask me questions–about me, about my book, about writing, about my journey. I’ll take some time in the next week or so to answer what I can, within reason, of course. Girl’s gotta have some secrets.

On Beginnings (tl;dr: the book deal post)

israel

When does a book start? That’s something I’ve been asking myself lately.

I suppose I could say that this one started when I was eight. I lost someone (my father), and the world shifted, changed. Until then, I’d been a sunny kid. My favorite color was yellow. Now I was someone defined by loss. I was that-girl-whose-father died, too.

I was resilient, and though I was often alone, I beat back the darkness. With my flashlight under the covers, I found not only feeble light, but fortitude. Companionship. I knew the SF section of the local library as well as I knew the patterns of peeled paint over the radiator beside my bed. I’d walk through, touching my fingers to the spines. When I was thirteen or so, I read a book called Alien Earth by Megan Lindholm. It was the story of an alien spaceship, and her love for a man. That man’s name was John Rafferty–Rafe. I loved that book, that alien, that man. The name Rafferty lodged in my brain. Maybe that’s when it all started. Thirteen or so, Alien Earth, Rafferty.

Or did this book start when I was fifteen? My best friend Nicole and I taught ourselves 3d modeling on some freeware graphics program. I made spaceships. Over and over again, staying up until two or three in the morning. My ships always had glass domes for the ceilings. Inside were forests, trees. Nature’s best oxygen factory. Maybe the book, this book, my book, started then.

Or maybe it started later, much later. In graduate school, I took a class on James Joyce. Because I was an MFA student, I was allowed a few excesses–creative projects rather than scholarly papers. I rewrote Joyce’s “Evangeline,” setting it on a generation ship. There was a girl, and her mother was dead, and her brothers did not care about her. And the ship was about to land, and she had to make a choice. My professor gave me a B on that project, my only B in graduate school. “The science fiction is implausible,” he said. I asked him if he’d let me rewrite it. He said no. But it lodged in my brain and began to make its home there. Maybe that’s when it all started–when it all truly began in earnest.

Or maybe it was Israel, that fateful Birthright Trip when I started to think of my religion in a whole new light. I’m Jewish, but my name is not, but I do not believe, but neither do many Israelis. What does “cultural Judaism” even mean? Can a religion be a culture? And what is a girl’s place in all of this? A feminist’s? What happens in diaspora, when belief becomes diffuse?

That’s part of it, but that’s not all of it. I tried to write fantasy for awhile. Tried to get an agent on a book with a merman. Failed and failed better, over and over again. Then someone told me about Beth Revis. “What do you mean,” I asked, “That teens will soon be reading books about space?” Before that moment, I’d been told it was impossible, that teens don’t read science fiction, so maybe it’s all Beth Revis’s fault. I stood in the shower that day and remembered my “Evangeline” story. And all of those high school generation ships. The pieces started to come together.

That same week, I read a blog post about how stories where kids’ parents die are so done, so over. As a woman who had once been a girl whose father had died, I got angry. Those books had been my lifeline. The myth of the orphan kid is not always just a myth. I knew then that my genship girl would lose someone, too–would lose everyone. She would know what it was to be different, to be The Girl Who Is Alone. That was the day I began furiously typing. Maybe that’s the day the book started?

Or maybe it began with my agent Michelle, who saw snippets of my writing online and saw promise. Maybe the book really began not with drafting, but with the months where we edited and worked together and she challenged me in ways I had never been challenged before. It was hard, but it was wonderful, too. Maybe my book began with a phone call, when Michelle said to me, “I want to work with you. But how do you feel about revisions?”

Or maybe it began two weeks ago, when this happened:

University of Florida MFA graduate Phoebe North’s STARGLASS, in which a girl is drawn into a rebel group’s assassination plot aboard a generation spaceship but realizes that doing her duty isn’t so easy when she begins to fall for the boy she’s supposed to kill, to Navah Wolfe at Simon & Schuster Children’s, in a two-book deal, by Michelle Andelman of Regal Literary (NA).

Or maybe the beginning is yet to come. Because when I was a little girl, I lost someone. But then I read books. Books by Megan Lindholm and Anne McCaffrey and Mercedes Lackey and Frederick Pohl and Douglas Adams and LJ Smith and Cynthia Voigt and so many others that I can’t even count them. And they helped me so much–made my world bright again, gave it texture and life and vibrancy. Maybe someday a girl will read something I wrote and it will help her, too. Maybe pieces of my words will lodge into her brain. Maybe maybe maybe . . .

Because a book isn’t singular. It’s not an event with a clear beginning or a distinct end. It’s not a monologue. It’s a conversation. And I’m so, so honored to have been given the chance to join in.