We caught up with the author to find out how she landed an agent for her young adult manuscript–straight from the slush pile. We also found out what it takes to write dystopian fiction for a YA audience. Highlights from the interview follow below.
Q: How did you find your agent?
A: I sent out queries to agents who represented young adult fiction. I found their names online at agentquery.com and then researched them at Publishers’ Marketplace and online to make sure they would be a good fit (i.e., I wasn’t sending young adult fiction to those who didn’t represent it!). A friend clued me in to all of these websites—things had changed a bit since I originally queried my first book in 2004!
However, almost all of the queries were cold queries. I sent out a LOT of letters and only one of those was a referral (meaning another author friend had recommended me). And that wasn’t the agent who ended up representing me. So I am proof that you can be found in the slush pile!
Q: Describe the writing process you underwent for Matched.
A: The writing process for Matched was similar to the way it’s been for other books I’ve written–I had the idea, was very excited about it, and then started writing away! I don’t write chronologically–I write the scenes I want to write and then put them together. I spend about 3 to 4 hours every day writing while my kids are asleep–during naptime, evenings, etc. Then, after I have a draft (and I do mean a draft–my writing isn’t very finished or polished initially) I go back through, over and over and over, finessing and making things fit together and smoothing out the rough places.
Q: Why do you think dystopian fiction is so popular in children’s books?
A: Dystopian fiction is a great way to explore what-ifs and high stakes in a world that’s just enough different from ours that it’s interesting, intriguing, and something the reader can discover. I think kids (and adults!) love that element of figuring out what’s at play and who can be trusted.
Q: Did any research come about while you were writing Matched? Maybe you looked into the history of arranged marriages?
A: I did do a bit of research, but not into the history of arranged marriages. Most of my research consisted of conversations with my husband about economics–game theory and the prisoner’s dilemma, in particular. He’s a professor of economics so he always talks about these things and I thought they’d be interesting to include as parts of the society in Matched. However, I have to add the caveat that any mistakes are mine alone!
Q: Was there ever point where you used comparative titles such as Brave New World, The Handmaid’s Tale, or The Hunger Games as a point of reference for creating the dystopian society featured in Matched?
A: Not exactly. I hadn’t even read Brave New World or Handmaid’s Tale when I wrote Matched (I’m ashamed to admit this). However, I loved other classics like 1984 and Fahrenheit 451, and, while it had been since high school since I’d read them, they were my first exposure to the world of dystopian lit and I adored both books. There is one scene in Matched that is a tribute to 451 but it came about sort of organically, not as a tailored reference point. That said, I certainly owe a great debt to Orwell and Bradbury.
Q: Having been a high school English teacher, what do you think we need to do to instill a life-long love of reading in teenagers?
A: I think we need to give them access to books they can love and find themselves in. There’s so much competing for their attention and time, but there is also a wealth of YA fiction out there right now–truly something for everyone. Keeping up on current titles, book-talking, having reading circles in class and creative writing workshops–there are so many possibilities. And so many great teachers and librarians out there facilitating teen reading. They are my heroes.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: I’m very focused on the trilogy [for Matched] right now–we’re editing the second book and the third one is very roughly drafted. After that, I don’t know! I have a lot of ideas kicking around, including one for a contemporary YA story that I’d love to write. In the immediate future, it seems like my life will stay as it is now–lots of writing in the Matched world and taking kids to soccer practice.
Full Disclosure: This GalleyCat contributor has interned at Penguin Group (USA) in the past.