Saturday, May 26, 2012

Interview with a Vamp— err... Amy Zhang

Hey, guys! Mark here, bringing you my interview with the lovely purple hippo Amy! Yaaaay!

After much binding, gagging, and kidnapping, I got Amy to sit down with me, and she graciously answered my questions. (As if she had a choice!) Without further ado, (adoo? adieu?) here's our interview!

M: Tell me about your novel.

A: Hmmm...can I cheat by pasting my query here? No? Well, WILDFLOWER is set in a world in which peace is upheld through violence, and every year, nine hundred children are sent to fight a small, pointless, and brutal war that keeps everyone else safe. ((Fun!)) My main character, Faye, is captured during one of these Wars by a soldier named Aro, who turns out to be following orders from the man who murdered her parents. ((Ooohhhhhh...))

M: How long did it take you to find your agent, from the time you started querying to the time you accepted representation?

A: Well, the answer to that is actually rather complicated...I started querying a version of my novel last June, but was struck sometime in December with a major epiphany about my plot that essentially turned my manuscript into a new novel (with a new title and everything. Even my guy protagonist even went through a name change). ((I had this same thing with my second novel. The first draft was suckish, to be kind, but I've done rewrites that turned it into what is basically a different novel.)) I started querying again in January, and got my offer thirteen days later (yes, I counted. I got an app and everything :P). ((...*has been querying for a month and a half* *throws tomato, pretends it wasn't him*))

M: How many queries did you send?

A: Well, when I started back in June, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. ((Me too! I spent a hundred words complimenting the agents in my first batch of queries for my first novel.)) Which is my way of defending myself against the fact that I submitted a ghastly query to over forty agents, only six of which asked me for a partial or a full. ((Better than my request rate for my first novel. :P)) After rewriting my novel, researching the industry, and finally getting some feel for what I was doing, I sent out fourteen queries and got four full requests and an offer within two weeks. Which was, you know, very cool. ((2 kewl 4 skewl!))

M: Have you previously been published?

A: Not extensively. I've had a few poems and short stories published in a state high school literary magazine, but that's about it. ((Nothing to scoff at.))

M: How long does it take you to write a first draft? To write subsequent drafts?

A: The first draft of WILDFLOWER took...three months, maybe? Basically, I wrote it during the summer before my freshman year. Subsequent rewrites (twelve of them), have taken me up until now, so that's...nine months? Ish?

M: What inspired you to write WILDFLOWER?

A: This is going to sound a bit insane, but I was approached by my guy protagonist. ((That doesn't sound insane at all. The same thing happened to me with my MC.)) I had been on a mission trip in Arizona at the time, and it had been hot and dusty and I'd been a nosebleed every other hour, ((Fun!)) and while I had been lying awake one night, he sort of just...tapped on my mind and said that he had a story to tell me. Make sense? No?

M: What was your biggest challenge while writing?

A: Definitely finding the time to do it. When I first started writing, my parents were always yelling at me to stop wasting my time and go study for my SATs instead. Also, in the fall (during tennis season), I don't get home until pretty late, with absolutely no time for writing during the week. So, sometime this winter, I rearranged my schedule so that my writing time was in the morning instead of in the evenings. I started getting up around 4:00 a.m. to write (I'm a morning person, okay? least, I'm less misanthropic in the mornings than at night, after being around people for an entire day...), which was a pain before I got used to it. Honestly, it's nice to start my day with a few hours of writing. ((You wake up at 4 A.M.… by choice... *dies*))

M: What was your most awkward writing related moment?

A: Oh, gosh...did I mention that I didn't tell my agent that I was fifteen until THE CALL? Yeah...she was all like, " you mind if I asked how old you are?" and I was like, "Um...uh...about that...ummmm...I'm kinda in...high school?" I was totally tongue-tied. And I sounded like a complete idiot, of course. ((*thinly disguised snicker*))

M: What is one the one piece of advice you would give a teen writer?

A: Don't let the condescension get to you. Ever. Seriously, you can do it. Come here and rant about it instead! ((Agreed! Bring us your rants, your raves...))

Wasn't that the bee's knees? Amy is so kind to have not screamed for help! What a sweetheart., Amy, I will not let you go now. Silly goose!

Come back next week, guys! We have more fun stuff brewing in the cauldron, if y'know what we mean.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Interview with (The One and Only) Mark O'Brien

So, you guys remember how we mentioned on our last blog post that we wanted to feature author interviews on this blog? Since we're just starting off, Mark had this brilliant idea of interviewing each other before we go around begging authors to answer our questions. So, after a heated argument over who should be interviewed first, Mark lost the nose goes...and so here's his interview, with annotations, comments, and snark by yours truly!

1. Tell us about the novel you're currently querying, BROTHERS.

When Ryan Gaunt's older brother kills himself, Ryan has to piece together why— and prevent a moment that could spark another teen's suicide.

2. What was your inspiration for it? What drove you to keep on writing it, after getting the initial idea?

I drew inspiration from the recent surge in teens with depression, self-harm issues, and the urge to kill themselves. Also, (and forgive me if we're getting too personal; I'm a very open person) I've previously attempted suicide. I wanted there to be a book written from the perspective of someone who has actually been there and survived. Music, namely Rise Against's "Make It Stop (September's Children)", also helped inspire me. (*nods approval* He has a good taste in music).

I wanted my novel to get out in the open. I know other books like THIRTEEN REASONS WHY have explored this issue, but I feel BROTHERS has an interesting dynamic in that it details how the family of a dead teen may feel, especially when the death is completely unexpected. It's largely autobiographical, and in essence I suppose by writing it, I explored how my own mother and brother would react had I completed the attempt. (I want to read this. Like, seriously seriously seriously. Hint hint).

3. Have you written any other novels? Can you briefly describe them?

Yes! I've written a trunked YA contemporary called WORDS THAT BURN about a boy with Asperger's Syndrome whose girlfriend is raped. I've also written a YA dystopian romance called EMBER, in which a girl escapes from a concentration camp and conceives a baby that will kill her once she gives birth. (And these, too).

4. What drove you to write? In other words, why did you choose to write a novel during high school, and what first gave you the idea to pursue publication?

I've always written. When I was six, it was my ideas for SpongeBob SquarePants episodes. (Awwww! That's soooooo cute!!! I used to write episodes of Clifford the Big Red Dog!) When I was nine, it was comics. When I was twelve, it was terrible short stories. When I was fourteen, it grew into novels.

I didn't want to be published at first, mainly because I was scared random strangers would read my work and tear it to shreds or, potentially worse, praise it. (Gosh, I know, right? I hardly slept the night I sent off my first queries). After much plodding from my sister, I sent off my first query letter, and now here I am...still sending off query letters.

5. What was your biggest challenge in writing BROTHERS? How did you overcome it?

At least in the beginning, my narrator Ryan and I didn't agree on anything. He's old-fashioned and definitely not open to change and diversity in any form, while I'm the opposite of that. It was hard for me to get into his mind and write his thoughts because, frankly, I didn't know what they would be. He was a stranger, and I had no clue what made him tick.

I solved this problem by distancing myself from him. My narrators for other projects were pretty much me in fantastical situations. For BROTHERS, I knew I wouldn't stay true to the story if I made Ryan my carbon copy, so I gave him a few other traits (athleticism, carefree attitude, jock-like qualities) that made us more different. By making Ryan his own person, I believe I made a better story. (Initially, I had the same issue with my MC. And I think she's a bad influence. Over the past year I've spent with her, I've begun to notice a few of her more reckless, waspish qualities rubbing off on me...)

6. Besides writing, how else do you spend your spare time?

My two passions are writing and psychology. I love researching obscure psychology facts. Also, I spend a lot of time hanging out with my family, going on Twitter, and pretending I have a social life. 

7. What was your most awkward writing-related moment?

My sister wanted to see the first draft of my first manuscript. I sent it to her.
...I forgot there was a sex scene in there. ( is awkward...*disguises a snort of laughter as a cough*)

8. What one piece of advice would you give to other teen writers?

Develop a thick skin. Seriously. I am the most sensitive guy ever, but I developed one toward my writing, and it's the bee's knees. Don't take rejections personally. The agent is not rejecting you; he/she is rejecting your manuscript. Let people critique you, and let yourself feel bad about it and whine and watch Oprah's Next Chapter and lament the fact that she had to cancel the original show, she just haaaad to. And then reread the critiques and realize they're trying to help you. (Seriously, though, he's totally right. You're going to get rejections. Don't let them get to you).

Overall, I'd say to not take anything personally. It's a business, and agents and editors have to make smart business choices. The heart doesn't always agree with the brain, and vice versa.

While I'm on my soapbox, stay in school, get out and vote, and eat your gosh-darn vegetables.

*Holds up cue card APPLAUSE, and then puts it down because it's unnecessary* Woot! Wasn't that a fantastic interview, guys? When I read it, I was like..."Maybe I should post my interview first, because it's going to seem so sucky after this..." But rest assured, it will be posted next week, and when it is, you'll most likely find me hiding under the covers, too embarrassed to come out. Until then...toodles!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

What to Expect When You're Expecting Content

Hi! I'm Mark. I'm terrible with introductions, so bear with me.

Basically, Amy (*who butts in here* and is going to be posting in purple) and I wanted this blog to be a teen writers community of sorts. Of course, there's like seven hundred of those out there already, so we wanted this to be a little different.

Among other things, we plan on having contests, giveaways, critiques, and author interviews. If you're traditionally/self published/soon to be, please contact us! We'd love to feature you here.

The interesting dynamic in this blog is the perspective. Amy is agented and I am not (yet!). Because of this, Amy can post all about going on submission/getting an editor/becoming rich and famous (Ha! No), while I'm right there with most of you in the anxiety-inducing process of querying.

Also, we'd love to hear any suggestions you guys have. We're starting out, essentially, with nothing more than a jumble of ideas. If you want to see a particular kind of blog post, please, please comment. This blog is for all of you teen writers to leave your rants and raves on it, because we know how hard it is to be trying to balance school and sports and extracurricular activities with writing a novel.

In short, we want to hear from you guys. We are also young adults writing for young adults, so we'd love to hear from you. Please leave a comment with a suggestion of a certain kind of post or a certain author you want us to try to get for an interview. Thanks so much!