Saturday, May 29, 2010

April Henry : Face of a Writer

April Henry doesn't have much time for time sucks like social networking. She's too busy writing dozens of witty mysteries and fast-paced thrillers for young adult and, well- old, fully-mature adult audiences.

The first in her Triple Threat Club series, Face of Betrayal, co-written with Lis Wiehl, was on the New York Times bestseller list for four weeks. April's first young adult novel, Shock Point (Putnam, 2006) was an ALA Quick Pick, a Top 10 Books for Teens nominee, and a New York Library's Books for the Teen Age book.  Her books have been short-listed for the Agatha Award, the Anthony Award, and the Oregon Book Award. They have been translated into Japanese, Spanish, Dutch, German, and French.

April's next YA Girl, Stolen (Henry Holt, 2010), about a blind teen who is kidnapped, will be out on shelves in the fall. I read an advance release copy that grabbed hold of me so tightly that I imagined being blind for the next two days until I nailed my knee on a door jamb while pretending, thus jolting myself back into reality. Embarrassing, but sadly true.

 April took time to answer some questions about what it's like to write different genres, how she conducted research for Girl, Stolen, and surprisingly, confides that she herself once engaged in an act of thievery as well!

AB: You and Fox News legal analyst Lis Wiehl have formed a successful partnership co-authoring the New York Times bestselling Triple Threat Series. Lis brings her experiences as a federal prosecutor, reporter, and daughter of an FBI agent. You bring your skills at crafting a compelling narrative. How did this opportunity arise for the two of you?

AH: Lis's agent originally contacted my agent, and then after that it was kind of like an arranged marriage, where we had to figure out if we liked each other or not.  Thankfully, we did.  Lis is very down to earth and so stunningly beautiful that when you first meet her you have trouble talking. Our first book in the series, Face of Betrayal (Thomas Nelson, 2010), is about three women (an FBI agent, a reporter and a federal prosecutor) who set out to solve the mystery of a missing Senate page. Our second book Hand of Fate (Thomas Nelson, 2010) was released in April. The three colleagues must uncover who killed a polarizing radio talk show host.

AB: You did a lot of research for Girl, Stolen, including working with guide dogs and blind consultants, one of whom is a high schooler. What was your favorite part of the process of constructing this page-turner?

AH: Setting up cliff hangers for most of the endings.  Oh, and after I talked to an opthalmologist and learned that most people blinded by this type of injury have a blurry sliver of sight left, I spent a lot of time walking around my house with my hands over my eyes letting in just one faint crack of light on the outside edge of my left eye.  Oh, and being blindfolded and walking a guide dog.  Actually, I enjoyed the whole process.

AB: How does writing YA differ from adult material for you?

AH: YAs are shorter (I normally aim for 50,000 words vs. 80,000 or 90,000 for the adult market), and as a result may have fewer suplots.  Right now, all my books are fairly clean.  After being asked by a teenager in Texas why I used "the b word" in Shock Point, I asked that it be taken out in the paperback.  Writing about sex or having a lot of swear words in your YA means your book might be challenged - and that a librarian could risk his or her job fighting for it.  I'm not saying writers shouldn't do it - we should just do it for a reason.  
Also, in YA, all your point-of-view characters should be teenagers.  And there's a strong preference for the book to be told from a first-person POV, to help teenagers relate even more strongly to the character.

Teen fans are incredibly enthusiastic, whereas adults have been around the block a few times and are more jaded.  

AB: In a mystery, the reader and the sleuth discover clues to the who-done-it together. In thrillers, we read to the end to see if the main character makes it out in one piece. How does writing mysteries differ from thrillers? What, if anything, are the challenges for you to write both of these different genres?

AH: Right now, my YAs are all thrillers, which are so fun to write.  You don't have to plot that much, you can just throw problems at the character and watch what they do to get out of them.  The challenge is that sometimes you don't have any idea how they will get out, or what your kick-ass cliffhanger chapter ending will lead to, i.e, you write, "She opened the door and gasped."  Then you have to figure out what comes next.  
AB: Do you currently write novels full-time? Is there anything you miss about your medical writing position at Kaiser?

AH: I do write full time.  I miss paid vacations, great health insurance, automatic contributions to a retirement plan, sick days, and some of my co-workers.  The work, not so much.  Although I'm still proud of a pamphlet I wrote on necrotizing jaw fascitis (an infection in your jaw bone that some women who take osteoporosis drugs get) that passed the government standard of meeting a sixth grade reading level.

AB: What for you is challenging about being a full-time writer? What marketing and self-promotion do you find helpful?

AH: You have to live on faith, or at least I have to, because you can't count on regular paychecks or even regular royalty checks.  Most of my publishing houses (I currently have three!) want you to Twitter, Facebook, blog, have a great website, etc.  I love blogging, and I do Twitter and Facebook because I feel I should.  They would probably be more enjoyable if I spent more time on them, but I'm on deadline right now and can't afford the time suck.

AB: Describe a book tour. Are you on one now? Do you have one coming up?

AH: Book tours are scarcer than hen's teeth these days.  With the decline and consolidation of newspapers and TV, there's fewer places to talk about your books, in addition to speaking at bookstores.  The last book I got toured for was in 2001 or 2002.  That being said, the publisher for my next YA, Girl, Stolen, will have a Northwest tour.

AB: As a child, you sent one of your stories to Roald Dahl, who liked it so much he passed  it on to a magazine editor who had it published. I’m assuming you enjoyed reading Roald Dahl books as a child. What other books did you enjoy reading as a kid? As a young adult?

AH: I loved The Silver Crown by Robert C. O'Brien so much that I stole it.  (As an adult, I paid the school's library back many times over.)  I also was thrilled by Enchantress from the Stars by Sylvia Engdahl.  There wasn't a lot of YA when I was a kid, so what happened was that I read a lot of sci-fi meant for kids, and then went upstairs and read the same authors in the adult section.  Let me just say that Robert Heinlein and and Robert Silverberg addressed very different issues in their two types of books.  In the books for kids, it was boys in space with slide rules.  In books for adults, it was often group sex on distant planets.  

AB: What do you enjoy reading now?

AH: I read mysteries, literary novels, and YA.  The sad thing is that the longer I've been writing, the fewer books I can enjoy whole-heartedly.  I was really looking forward to Scott Turow's follow up to Presumed Innocent, called Innocent, but I'm 100 pages in and it's not grabbing me yet.  Next up is Anna Quindlen's Every Last One, and then Michael Grant's third in the Gone trilogy.  

AB: I’ve read that you’re experimenting with e-book sales of your out-of-print books. How does this work? How’s it going? Any observations you’d like to share about the e-book industry?

AH: I had old files for almost all my books, so I followed the steps listed on Amazon (for Kindles) and on (for all other readers) and put them up, linking them to their original Amazon pages.  Some people, most notably Lee Goldberg and JA Konrath, make tons of money.  I think the most I've made is $200 in one month, but I also haven't put any energy into promoting them.  

AB: How about your next YA thriller, The Girl in the Mini Cooper?

AH: It's about a girl who doesn't return from delivering pizzas.  It was inspired by a thirty-year old case that happened in Salem.  In my book, two of the girl's co-workers team up to figure out what really happened to her.  I should get my editorial letter for it really soon.  

AB: Anything else in the wings that we can look forward to?

AH: The next book with Lis is about a really scary sociopath - and it was inspired by a real-life case Lis prosecuted here in Portland.  It's called Heart of Ice.  And this summer I hope to wrap up another YA thriller called Finish Her Off.

AB: Thanks for your time, April! One last question: what do you hope to write about in the future?

AH: I'd like to do something with a paranormal element, but not vampires, werewolves, or fallen angels.  More like special powers.  

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Suzanne Young: So Many Books

Suzanne Young doesn't mess around. She writes. And writes. And writes! She should win an award for most prolific YA author, like, ever. Her debut and first in her comedic series, THE NAUGHTY LIST (Razor Bill, 2010) hit the shelves in February. The second in the series, SO MANY BOYS comes out on June 10th, to be followed by A GOOD BOY IS HARD TO FIND this fall. 

THE NAUGHTY LIST series begins with a racy, frothy and witty tale of Tessa Crimson. Tessa's a perky cheerleading captain by day, but heads a secret spy-for-hire society (SOS- The Society of Smitten Kittens) by night. Their mission? To catch cheating boyfriends in the act and bring justice to the girls of Washington High. But before we continue, you should know that Suzanne's got (at least) two more books coming out next year in which she explores two completely different genres: deep, paranormal fantasy and raw, realistic fiction.

Read on to find out how IMing can lead to a novel, why middle schoolers in Arizona were incredibly lucky, and how to win a copy of SO MANY BOYS!

AB: Congratulations on the publication of your first book in your SOS Series:  THE NAUGHTY LIST, which I read in the span of one two-hour bath and found hysterically funny.  How long did it take from kernel of an idea to the shelves of bookstores near us?

SY:  I started THE NAUGHTY LIST late one night while IMing with a friend. I thought the idea of ninja cheerleaders would be hilarious. At the time, I had no idea I was writing a book. I wrote a draft in 2008 and set it aside for several months. Then out of the blue I picked it back up and revised it. It sold soon after, but didn’t hit the shelves until a year and half later. All and all, about two years from idea to shelf.

AB:  I’ve been told I talk like a sailor, and that’s part of my charm. So I was surprised to find that I really liked your main character, Tessa Crimson, a perky cheerleader-spy who abhors vulgarity, preferring to utter her own euphemisms such as “Fiddlesticks!” and, my personal favorite, “Sticker Shock!” Why did you choose to write Tessa’s character this way? (Was it fun to come up with her sayings?)

SY: Um, yeah, it was fun. And if you think you talk like a sailor, let's just say that I am your captain! This is probably why coming up with Tessa’s ridiculous sayings was so much fun for me. It was purely accidental; a few "dang it’s" and one "strawberry smoothie!" and the language took on a life of its own.

AB: The second in the series, SO MANY BOYS is coming out on June 10th and I’m ready for more. Tell us about it.

SY: I think readers will be surprised at the turn this series will take. SO MANY BOYS starts off three months after THE NAUGHTY LIST ends. Turns out, someone has hacked into the database and now a "copy kitten" is on the loose, enacting vengeance in the name of SOS. It’s up to Tessa to figure out how to save her squad’s rep. Oh… and there are some boys….  Click here to find out how to win a copy!

AB: A GOOD BOY IS HARD TO FIND, the third in the series, hits bookstores next Thanksgiving, just in time for Christmas shopping. What’s it about? Boys?!? And, as an aside, you write very convincingly about straight teen characters. May I ask: are you yourself straight? 

SY: I am what my mom used to call "Boy Crazy". A GOOD BOY IS HARD TO FIND picks up right after SO MANY BOYS, and man… has the smoothie hit the fan. There will be in-fighting, kissing, and poorly-timed broken bones. Not to mention ESPN. 

AB: While THE NAUGHTY LIST is your first novel published, I bet you’ve been writing for some time. How many “graveyard novels” did you write before polishing this gem?

SY: I’ve been writing short stories since I was in 7th grade—but honestly, they were awful. I started writing seriously in 2007 and I completed four novels before I wrote THE NAUGHTY LIST. Before I sold it, I completed three other books. My novel graveyard is overflowing with started stories. I’m addicted to drafting.

AB: Have you always wanted to be a writer?

SY: No, I wanted to be a FBI agent, but I fell into writing. Actually I was a language arts teacher for years. I’d never realized that writing could be a career. I consider myself unbelievably lucky.

AB: Before becoming a full-time writer, you taught writing at a Title I school in Arizona. Do you think that teaching writing to teens helped you in your journey as a writer as well? Do you miss teaching?

SY: I absolutely miss teaching. The kids I taught at that school are among my favorite in the world. Teaching teens to write helped me learn to write. I had to strip the process down and always keep it interesting for them. I still try to do that in my own writing.

AB: You are an active member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). You even volunteer to do live blogging at their conferences. When did you first become involved in SCBWI/ the greater kidlit community?

SY: I had not been lucky enough to know about SCBWI before getting published—I was still really new to the community. It was actually an author friend who told me I should attend a conference. I hit up the 2008 LA conference and WOW! What a blast!! After that I went to the Western Washington Conference, the NY one, and soon the LA summer conference again. I’m so excited to be part of Team Blog which is a fantastic way to follow the events if you can’t be there yourself. 

Honestly, anyone who’s an aspiring writer for kids and/or teens should really be a member of SCBWI. Even though I already had a book deal when I joined, it was at a conference that I met agents and editors who helped me with my next book deal. The connections you make are amazing.

AB: You’ll have had 5 books published in the next year and a half. This strikes me as notable- likely some sort of record in YA authorship. I think the Young Adult Library Services Association will need to invent an award for you. What about the craft of writing appeals to you? What do you find most challenging as a writer?

SY: Like I said, I am addicted to drafting. I do it constantly, even if the story isn’t going to go anywhere. I love being lost in my head, in this new world I create. But the challenge is my patience. I have none. So sometimes when nothing it going on, it feels like backward progress. It’s taken me a long time to get used to the pacing of the industry.
AB: I’m getting super pumped about your upcoming paranormal fantasy A NEED SO BEAUTIFUL (Balzer & Bray, 2011). Could you give us the teaser for this one?

SY: I’d love to! A NEED SO BEAUTIFUL is about seventeen-year-old Charlotte Cassidy. Against her will she’s compelled to help people—perform good deeds. But soon she realizes that each time she does, her own existence begins to fade. But there are worse things than being Forgotten. And if Charlotte turns away from the light, she’ll see what lurks in the shadows.

Favorite line: “There is no such thing as me.”

AB: How about for your darker realistic fiction novel DELINQUENTS? 

I wrote DELINQUENTS immediately after THE NAUGHTY LIST, but it couldn’t be more different .Here's a bit about it:

After jamming her pencil through her boyfriend’s hand in math class, Savannah Sutton is sent to a school for juvenile delinquents. She was just trying to protect Evan, her mentally handicapped little brother. Somebody had to. A year in another school won’t solve her problems at home, or the real possibility of losing custody of Evan altogether. And even with her troubled new friends, friends more loyal than any she ever had before, Savannah can’t escape the wrath of her ex. He wants an apology, and he’ll break her arm to get it. 

Favorite line: “Don’t you think your boyfriend would be jealous that I’m charming the hell out of you right here in our local McDonald’s?”

AB: Thanks for taking the time to talk about your huge body of work! What are you currently working on?

SY: I’m working on revisions for A NEED SO BEAUTIFUL and DELINQUENTS. As well as writing a new novel titled SICK AND TWISTED. I like to stay busy.