Five YA Authors in One Interview

By Maryann Yin Comment

How often can you meet authors who write about outer space, werewolves, dystopian societies, fairies, and reincarnation in the same event?

The Breathless Reads tour featured Beth Revis, Andrea Cremer, Ally Condie, Brenna Yovanoff, and Kirsten Miller.

We caught up with the five authors for advice on writing, getting published, and more. Highlights from the interview follows below.

BR: Beth Revis, author of Across the Universe
AC1: Andrea Cremer, author of Nightshade
AC2: Ally Condie, author of Matched
BY: Brenna Yovanoff, author of The Replacement
KM: Kirsten Miller, author of The Eternal Ones

Q: How did you land your book deals?
BR: I had an agent; Merrilee Heifetz at Writers House. She got in touch with Ben at Razorbill and brokered the deal. We worked together to make it into a trilogy.

AC2: My book was found in the slush pile. I was querying everybody. Jodi Reamer ended up agenting me and she took it to Penguin. It went to auction, but we ended up here which was perfect.

BY: I was another slush pile author. My agent, Sarah Davies, decided she liked it but she wanted some revisions so I revised and revised and revised. By the time I was done and she was happy with it, we went out and it went to auction. We were really, really thrilled to wind up at Razorbill.

Q: As an author, how do you use your blogs?
AC1: For me, it’s very much about linking the weirdness that is my persona with another way of writing. I actually find that if I’m having trouble with the writing I’m doing in my novels, that writing on my blog helps me get un-stuck. So I can do things like talk about the music that I’m loving; embedding YouTube videos is just one of my favorite things to do. It’s just about extending my persona through a blog…I have a special section of my website; I actually create soundtracks for all my books.

BY: I’ve had it [her blog] for years before I ever had an agent. It’s been a lot more about incorporating my personality and things that I’m interested in or things that are really cool that I wanted to share. I’ll share information about the book from time to time, but it’s most just like shiny things I want other people to look at.

KM: I have a really personal relationship with my blog. I started it right after I wrote my first book. It was really the kids that started showing up on the blog that kept me writing and kept me interested in doing what I was doing. And the blog, since 2006, has been devoted to everything weird and wonderful. It’s just something that I love doing; Big Foot, aliens, literally any strange thing you can possibly think of. Some of my books are for younger kids so I try very hard to make as weird, kind of edgy, and yet completely okay for all ages. And it’s actually a really difficult thing to achieve because you have to end up scouring websites to make sure you’re not linking to something that’s demeaning to women, etc.

Q: What’s a good rule of thumb to follow when it comes to deviating from the mythos that inspires your fantasy writing?
BR: I think for me it was just a matter of finding a science-fiction that would be the kind of science-fiction I’d like to read. Because a lot of science-fiction is heavier on the science than on the fiction, I really wanted a story that did blend all sorts of different things and didn’t rely so much on explaining every scientific detail. It’s more about the characters and what they do in this extreme situation. For me, it was a matter of bringing in some scientific elements to this much broader story that’s not really about science at all.

AC1: For me, it was very much about finding mythology that was compelling and blending my passion for the wilderness, for feminist politics, and for history because I’m a historian; bringing all those things together. In creating a new mythos, one of the wonderful things about mythology is that it is so re-occurring and constant in human history and it’s always taking on new forms. So, what we’re doing is a very old practice. In fantasy, it’s wonderful because you can do anything. You just have to know your own world and its rules and then you as the author can’t break those rules. I think that’s the key.

BY: For The Replacement, I knew I wanted to write a changeling story because I think the idea of changelings is really disturbing. That’s a very strong component in fairy folklore, but I knew that I didn’t want it to be specifically a fairy story. So I read a lot of folklore, but I was always looking for the thing that would have the same feeling as the idea of changelings; the scary stuff and the creepy stuff. I was trying to draw that altogether and make it into its own little world.

Q: What advice would you offer other writers about tackling tough issues when writing for a young audience?
BR: The most important advice is just be honest. If the honesty requires that you go into something that is controversial or a touchy subject, then as long as you’re being honest you’re telling the story that should be told. I think that’s the most important thing to do; to be honest and true to the emotions and the feelings whether it be pain or love. Just be as honest as possible.

AC1: I think it’s really important not to be afraid or to censor yourself because you’re trying to appease an audience. Tough issues are tough because they’re real. They’re things that children and teens are struggling with and they need a space that is both safe and accepting in which to explore those issues. Be willing to put yourself out there as an author and as a listener. When you get feedback from parents and teens and readers of all ages on those subjects, being willing to be a sounding board in some ways is something I think is really important.

KM: I agree with everybody. There are somewhat controversial elements in my book. I was also sort of basing some of my characters on people that I knew and people I grew up. For example, there’s a scene in my book where the gay character goes to school with a Barbie lunch box and beats everybody up who makes fun of him; that was actually my cousin. So it’s just one of those little snippets that I’ve sort of cut-out and saved in my head over the years of real situations where somebody did something kind of unexpected that I thought was really inspirational. Think of this 9-year-old kid just being completely unafraid of who he was and what other people thought. I think that just sticking as closely as you can to real life is the way to go.

Q: What’s the best way to self-edit?
AC2: I don’t outline. I write all the things I want to write first and then do all the hard work later. Then, I have to have space from the manuscript. For me, a week probably wouldn’t be enough. I have to walk away for a while before I undertake a big revision.

BY: I’m exactly the same way. I dive in; I’m all over the place. When I finally finish a draft, I have to step back because otherwise I won’t be able to look at it objectively. When I come back to it, for each scene I look at it and ask: ‘Why is this here?,’ ‘What should it be doing?,’ ‘Is it doing it?,’ ‘How can it be doing better?,’ and ‘Did I already say this somewhere else and not need to say it twice?’

KM: I outline; I outline like crazy. My outlines will be forty to fifty pages long. My books are often plot-driven and incredibly labyrinth-like; keeping all of those threads in mind is incredibly difficult and I’m just not smart enough to do that in my head. So I have to outline and I also have a real terror of the blank page. So, I will sit down and just spit everything out and usually get ahead of myself. Then, I panic and go back to make sure everything’s sort of reading right and sounding right. It’s this kind of never-ending churn for me. I don’t know if I’d recommend it.

Q: Any predictions about the future of young-adult fiction (YA)?
AC1: I think YA will continue to get stronger. I think what we’ll see are constantly increasing genres that building in YA. Paranormal has been going strong and dystopian is getting to be huge. I think you’re going to see more horror and more mystery; I think you’re just going to see lots more branching out from YA and I think it’s going to continue to find a new audience.

AC2: I feel like that too; like it’s a bubble still being blown that hasn’t reached its full potential yet, but it’s doing amazing.

BY: I think there’s just something so compelling about this idea of first experiences like first love and self-discovery that appeals to so many more people than only teenagers.

Q: What’s next for you in terms of writing?
BR: I am currently working on the second book of the Across the Universe trilogy and the year after that I’ll be working on the third. And then, I have a few ideas for what I’d like to do next. It’s all going to be YA because I’d never write anything else and I’m very, very excited about that possibility.

BY: I’m working on another stand-alone; this time it’s about demons. It’s called The Space Between and it’ll be out this fall. It’s kind of about these epic themes of moral ambiguity, self-destruction, and true love. I’m really excited about it.

KM: I just finished the sequel to The Eternal Ones which is called All You Desire. It will be out in August. And I am right now closing in on the finish of the third Kiki Strike book which is called The Darkness Dwellers. It’s nice and I love Kiki; she’s so much fun to write.

Full Disclosure: This GalleyCat contributor has interned at Penguin Group (USA) in the past.