Archive for the ‘Interview’ Category


Diversity in YA ficton: Guest Post by writer Jennifer Walkup

March 24, 2010

A hot topic lately is diversity in YA–or lack thereof. Just look at the heated discussions over the whitewashing of certain book covers, like Justine Larbalestier’s Liar (which has thankfully been changed to reflect the correct heritage of the MC).

Liar cover gets a much needed facelift

This is an important, serious topic. One that has to be handled with a modicum of tact. So, of course, savvy girls that we are–we farmed it out.

Seriously, though. Read this guest post by the awesome, newly agented Jennifer Walkup, represented by Kathleen Ortiz of Lowenstein Associates. Her YA book featuring characters of diverse ethnicities is currently on sub.

Jennifer Walkup’s thoughtful discussion on Writing Diverse Characters in YA:

Diversity in YA. Wow, broad topic. Diversity as authors, diversity as characters, diversity all around. How to do it “right.” How to do it well.

When I started writing YA, I didn’t set out to write diverse characters. I set out to write the world I live in. I’m really lucky to live in a diverse place full of people of different racial, socioeconomic, and ethnic backgrounds and sexual orientations. I’ve always been surrounded by people who weren’t exactly like me, so that’s what I want to represent in my stories.

In writing Beyond Us, my current novel that is (eep!) on submission, I told the story as it needed to be told. Shauna is a black teen–not because her being black fit the novel, but because that’s who she is. It’s her story that was in me to tell.

Getting it right is important. And it’s what we fear being unable to do whenever we write a character that is unlike ourselves. There are a few ways to go about getting it right. First and foremost, research, research, research. For instance, if you’re writing a character of a certain ethnicity and including related customs or traditions, make sure you do your research, just like you would for any other detail of any other character: ask people whose lives mirror your characters’s, reach out, ask questions, meet people, and follow through. Read books with voices in the same background you are trying to represent, and make sure you have readers who will give you honest feedback, preferably readers who are representative of your characters.

Do not write to stereotypes. This is so important. You want to be accurate, and you want to portray your characters and their lives as best you can, but you don’t want to write characters that are nothing but stereotypical cutouts of what’s expected/perceived. This goes beyond representing diverse characters, anyway; it’s just plain boring. Who wants caricatures when you can create real, full, round characters?

Diversity does not just come in the form of ethnicity or race. My current WIP is told from three points of view, two of which are male, one of which is hearing impaired. None of which are me. So again–research! Writing a male point of view is just as difficult and important for me to get right as it was to get Shauna right. I’ve read books with male POV and have been researching teenage boys (scary, I tell you!) to get my facts right. When the time comes, I’ll hopefully have a male reader or two to look over the manuscript. Because I want to get it right. Same goes with my character who is hearing impaired. I can’t just give him a hearing aid and move on. I have to figure out what it means to be hearing impaired, what it means to be him, and like any other detail of any other character, how one attribute of him does not define the whole of who he is.

But the bottom line is, you will never get it right for everyone. Wait, what? But I have to get it right! Hear me out here. . .There is not one universal reader that represents any one group. When I wrote Shauna, I crafted her as best I could; I created a character that is true to herself, above all else, to her voice, her story. If it’s published, I’m sure I will have readers who say I got it right, and I’m sure I will have readers who say I got it wrong, because there is no one universal reader.

For example, my personal experience as a 30-something mom is likely to be very different than the experience of another 30-something mom living in another state, country, or maybe even down the street. So if someone writes about a 30-something mom who happens to do something I find completely unrealistic, as in, “No way would a mom do that,” but mom B says, “Wow, I did that last week. This author got it right on!” who’s to say the author didn’t do his/her job? It’s just as likely an Indian American reader who grew up in the plains of Illinois and another Indian American reader who grew up in a desi community could read the same book and have very different reactions to the portrayal of Indian American characters as being done right/wrong. As readers, we all bring our own baggage to the table, and our experiences/lives likewise affect how we perceive characters and situations.

So as authors, we do the best we can. As long as you’re conscientious and know you created the characters who needed to be created, told their story as it needed to be told, respected who they are and where they come from, and did your homework on being true to them, you can say you did your best. Will you make everyone happy? No. Will you get it right every time for every reader? Probably not. But that’s true of any character and any story.

But just as readers ask authors to do their best writing characters unlike them, we authors ask the same of readers. Do your best to give us a chance, to believe that we did do our homework and aim to get it right. I wouldn’t dismiss a book written by a man with a female main character, assuming he couldn’t get it right, and neither should readers assume we haven’t done our best job to deliver the story of characters that may be different from us but have exciting stories to tell!

Jennifer, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on diversity in YA–it definitely gives us all something to think about!

By Debra Driza


Querying Blunders Take Three: More Agents Share!

March 19, 2010

(photo credit: / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

So, time for part three of our Querying Blunders series. If you missed part two, you need to read—agents Kathleen Ortiz and Suzie Townsend talk about how sending your query in a bag of flour will neither a) turn your agent-of-choice into Betty Crocker or b) garner you a request.

This week, we’ve got a new batch of agents sharing querying blunders with us. First up is agent extraordinaire Laura Bradford of the Bradford Literary Agency, agent to AW’s very own YA writer Corrine Jackson. Laura dug into her query vault for these quotable examples, and boy are we glad–there are some goodies. (Note: throughout our post, all agent comments are in blue.)

(photo credit: / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

“The book I am authoring is a fantasy/adventure geared toward teenagers to adults that will span 200 chapters and around 3,000 pages; word count roughly around 1.47 million.”

Be aware of general submission guidelines and the kinds of ms lengths your chosen genre will bear. (Talk about the need for the old editing chainsaw—or more like, 5000 of them.)

“By the time you receive this letter you will know that someone has kidnapped your child—that someone is me. I can promise you that this time you will not be sending me a rejection letter.”

This was a VERY notable query. It was for a ms in which a crazy, frustrated author terrorizes a literary agent and kidnaps her child. The subject matter is fine, but by opening the query in that way, without explanation, instead of being hook-y, it was actually ALARMING. It got my attention, sure, but in a really bad way. Probably it isn’t a good idea to open a query with anything that could be construed as a threat. (Wow. We’re not even really sure what to say here.  Just don’t.)

“Although my story is a novella, (39 000 words) I have been working on it for close to 5 years.”

I don’t know that I would recommend pointing out in a query that you are a painfully slow writer. It would be very, very difficult to sustain a career at that writing pace. I don’t know of any agents that would be up for taking on a debut author that could take more than a decade to complete 1 full length novel. (This falls into the realm of TMI.  Try not to share things with agents that chronicle how much you’ve struggled.)

One last query faux pas I have to mention (I don’t have a query quote for it) is don’t insult a genre or an author that the agent (or editor) you are targeting works with. An agent is not likely to look kindly on your query if you mention in it that your work is so much better that that derivative, semi-pornographic romance tripe when that agent specializes in that genre.

Next up is Lauren MacLeod of the Strothman Agency. You might know her as BostonBookGirl on twitter, or lovely agent to both AW writer Helene Boudreau and of course, the Query Project Queen herself, Jodi Meadows. Lauren says:

(photo credit: / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The oddest sentence I have seen in a query this winter was “I would like to publish ch. 3, 6, 7 first.” I’m not even sure what that means. (Us either-unless the author thought chapters 1, 2, 4, and 5 really sucked. Um…) We actually got this query again (sent directly to an agent) after the agency rejected it from our submissions email, but this time forty or so other agents were also CC’ed—two more major query mistakes.

I also recently had an author walk in unannounced with a literary fiction manuscript. (EEK!)  Not only had the author not queried first, made an appointment, or called, the author also wanted to drop off a portion and come back for it in an hour! We tend to have someone drop by like this about every six months or so. (Sort of like the gift that just keeps on giving–Oh, joy.)

I find unannounced drop-ins incredibly creepy and slightly threatening. All agents tend to approaching querying slightly differently, but I think we would all agree that an author should NEVER EVER AND UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES drop by without an appointment to drop off their manuscript or query. EVER. (Yeah, we sort of thought this went without saying, but apparently not.)

On the more mild side, lately I’ve received a few queries written by the main character in the story. (Ex. Something like: “When I turned sixteen I found out I had magical healing powers and could talk to ghosts!”) Although there are circumstances where this might work, it usually results in me reading half of the query under the assumption that the author is a complete lunatic. (Which is a bad thing, in case you’re wondering.)

Though I understand the desire to rock the boat a bit to get noticed, I don’t think it works as well in a query as authors hope. I’m drawn to clean, by the book queries—they show me that the author did his or her research and can present themselves professionally.

And finally, a blurb from Jennifer Laughran on querying.  Jennifer, Literaticat on twitter and an agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency, says her REALLY awful query stories are just too specific to name, but she had this to offer overall:


(photo credit: / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

I don’t know. I don’t think I can really devote brainspace to this. I try to erase bad queries from my mind as quickly as possible, and in fact, most of the “bad” ones are just the same collection of mistakes over and over and over and over… and over… AND OVER. Like, you know, not following basic directions, misspelling the word “query” five different ways, or sending very grown-up pornography or murder books when I only rep children’s/YA books… It is actually rather depressing, if you let yourself think about it too much. So I don’t.

While Jennifer wasn’t specific, we think her bit kind of says it all. Agents don’t want the “out-there”, the bizarre, or the downright creepy. They don’t need you getting all wild with your query to stand out. Really, they just want a query that follows directions, is easy to read, sums up your story and fits the agent’s profile.

Now, that doesn’t sound so hard, does it?



Interview with author Cindy Pon

November 2, 2009

Silver Phoenix book cover

Silver Phoenix: Beyond the Kingdom of Xia, is a lush YA fantasy set in ancient China.  Silver Phoenix explores the journey of heroine Ai Ling to escape an arranged marriage and find her missing father in the Palace of Fragrant Dreams. Along the way, Ai Ling encounters some very mysterious creatures, taps into magical abilities she didn’t know she possessed, and meets handsome stranger Chen Yong and his cheeky brother, Li Rong.

The much anticipated sequel to Silver Phoenix is due out in Fall, 2010!  Below, author Cindy Pon was kind enough to answer a few questions about her books and writing in general.

1. Your debut novel, Silver Phoenix, has been out since April of this year. Were you surprised at how much critical acclaim it received, including your ALA starred review?

honestly, i was surprised. my personal motto is always expect nothing, be pleasantly surprised. i put out the best novel that i could with the help of my publisher–but you never know how it will be received. so it’s always a blessing to know that some critics enjoyed my debut. it’s even cooler when actual readers let you know how much they loved it as well. reading is such a *personal* experience.

2. Silver Phoenix is what many would call a traditional fantasy, following a hero’s (or in your case, heroine’s) journey. Is this the type of story you enjoy reading? What drew you to write this?

i love fantasy as a genre. and yes, traditional fantasy by authors such as tad williams and terry brooks were always a favorite. honestly, the idea of a straight heroine’s journey came to me as it was for ai ling. it seemed like something i *could* write for the first novel–as it was so familiar to me.

3. I know you’ve been working like crazy to finish up your sequel these past few weeks. Can you give us a sneak peek of what to expect? How is it different from Silver Phoenix?

it will be two storylines following ai ling and chen yong and the relationship between silver phoenix and zhong ye three centuries earlier within the palace of fragrant dreams. it’s definitely a more complicated set up than the straight heroine’s journey. in my mind, the sequel is the aftermath of what ai ling did and had to do in the debut. things don’t happen without consequences. and you get to find out about zhong ye and silver phoenix, it’s the prequel really, to my debut.
it’s different in that i think the story has turned much more *personal* in this second book.

4. I already know the denouement—the curse of many an author—is one of your favorite parts to write. Can you tell me which part of a novel is the hardest for you to write? Was there a specific scene in SP that stumped you for awhile?

oh. The Dreaded Middle for sure. 50k of words is pretty darned daunting. and i don’t do chapter outlines or even chapter when i rough draft. i just go. there weren’t specific scenes that stumped me, but i stopped writing for six months after ai ling goes to visit master tan with
chen yong and what happens to her subsequently. i was forty pages in the novel and then truly scared myself into immobility because i had no idea how to move forward. the idea of writing two hundred more pages
terrified me!

5. What would be your main words of advice to aspiring YA writers?

writers write. you may not sell your first novel, but know that you will improve with each novel that you do write. always challenge yourself with each new project. read widely–beyond the genre you are writing
and beyond your favorites.

6. What can’t you live without when you’re writing?

my laptop. classical music. a drink and good snacks / food! =)

7. Just for fun—because of your luscious descriptions of food, everyone says Silver Phoenix makes them hungry. How much of the food that you wrote about have you actually tasted?

some of the dishes are made up! but i’d say i’ve eaten at least 75% of what i listed. a personal favorite is beef tongue! i don’t eat pig ears, tho!

8. Finally, what’s in store for you next, writing-wise?

i do have a children’s picture book i need to work on with my editor featuring my chinese brush art. but i also have the inkling of a third novel–set also in xia, but not related to ai ling. it’s tickling the back of my mind, and i never acknowledge these puffs of story ideas. but from past experience, they do manifest into full novels in the end. =D

thanks so much for having me! i had a lot of fun with this

And thank you, Cindy, for taking the time to chat! Visit Cindy on her website, Paint and Prose or her blog. Her book is available online at amazon or at a major bookstore near you.

Debra Driza


Interview with Lucienne Diver, Author of VAMPED and Literary Agent Extraordinaire! By Jamie Blair

July 25, 2009


From Lucienne’s website,, here’s a synopsis from her main character, Gina Covello:

Because I’m terrible with synopses, I’ll let my protagonist (heroine might be pushing it just a bit), tell you all about it in her own words:

Hey, all, it’s me… Gina Covello, fashionista of the damned.  Yeah, I know, I managed to get almost all the way through high school without cracking a book and now here I am immortalized in one.  Well, actually, the immortalization process might have started a bit earlier, like in the broom closet at the after-prom-party, somewhere around the time Bobby-freakin’-Delvecchio started gnawing on my neck.  Anyway, this is one book I’d maybe even phone a friend about, since it covers all my adventures going from chic to eek. Because, let me tell you, eternity without a mirror or tanning options—totally uncool. And they don’t tell you in, like, Vampirism 101 about crazy conspiracies, psycho-psychics and other hazards of unlife. But I will, so stay tuned.

Thank you for taking the time to chat with our readers, Lucienne.  Vamped is a funny, fabulous read deserving of all the rave reviews it has received since appearing on bookstore shelves in May.

Thank you so much!  You can’t see me, but I’m blushing furiously.

Q:  Gina Covello is quite the little spitfire!  Her personality is contagious.  How did Gina come to you?  What made you give her life, or unlife I suppose is more in context with Vamped?

A:  My stories always begin with characters talking in my head.  One day Gina started carrying the conversation.  I didn’t have a plot to associate with her, just a vignette, really, about an undead fashionista stalking her stylist.  But everyone who read it said, “This wants to be a novel.”  Gina agreed that a novel would be cool.  A series would be even better.  And if I’d just get out of the way and let her handle things, we’d be golden.  It’s like that.  The best characters kick me to the curb and I simply write out the stories as they’re told to me.  Sometimes, though, I have to wrestle the storylines back under my control so that they don’t meander this way and that.   (For example, Gina, if given the chance, might just spend all her time at the mall hunting hotties and couture.)

Q:  Is Gina anything like the teenage Lucienne?  Does her humor reflect your personality?

A:  You know, it’s funny but the only thing Gina has in common with the teenaged me is big hair.  (Hey, it was the eighties.  We barely knew about the ozone layer.)  My hair was about the only stylin’ thing about me.  I was a geek.  I played D&D, did chorus and drama, took extra art and English classes in lieu of lunch and study hall.  I was kind of the anti-Gina.  Her humor, though….  You know how you always think of just the right thing to say about five seconds too late?  Gina is maybe me on that five second delay.  She’s always got the snarky comment right at the tip of her tongue.  No one’s going to walk away from Gina without getting as good as she gave.  I have to respect her for that <g>.

Q:  Without giving spoilers of course, which scene is your favorite?

A: Wow, that’s so tough.  There’s a scene that didn’t even make it into the final draft that I dearly love – of Gina getting even with her ex.  Hmmm, maybe I ought to post that on my website as a little bonus at some point.  Second to that, I think there are two: Gina kicking major booty in a scene I don’t want to spoil, and the quiet moment she finally has with Bobby toward the end.  I share Gina’s weakness for Bobby.  He reminds me of my husband, kinda geek chic.  I’m not sure he’d find that flattering, but there it is.

Q:  Have you always been a fan of vampire fiction?  Who are some of your favorite vamps?

A: Oh, I’m a fan girl all right.  My favorite vamps…hmm.  I like Jean Claude from Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series and Dorian Black from Susan Krinard’s wonderful romance DARK OF THE MOON.  I love P.N. Elrod’s Vampire Files series, though I have to admit partiality for Jack Fleming’s human partner in crime(solving) Charles Escott, who’s very Sherlockian to me.  I’m also a big fan of Rachel Caine’s Morganville Vampires series and Chloe Neill’s new Chicagoland Vampires.  As for television series, I kinda love Spike from Buffy and I’m finding Bill in Charlaine Harris’ TrueBlood HBO series a little irresistible.  (If I could only get over the killing.)

Q:  Bravo for making Gina a tough, together heroine!  What are your thoughts on female main characters in YA books?  Do you prefer a strong female protagonist?

A:  Thank you!  I really love a character who can kick butt and take names.  I especially like that Gina doesn’t triumph because she’s super-powerful (vamp strength isn’t much of an edge in fighting other vamps), but because she is who she is.  In the right hands, even hairspray can be a very powerful weapon.  And spiked heels…don’t even get me started.  I guess the point is that most people don’t actually set their minds to becoming heroes.  They see a need to right a wrong and step up.  Or, as Gina would say, they put on their big girl panties and deal with it.

Q:  Revamped comes out next year.  Can you give us a hint about what’s in store for Gina next?

A: (cue evil laugh) Finally with Gina I’ve found a character I like to torture.  You can be sure that whatever it is, it won’t come with a clothing allowance.

For fellow writers, I’d like to ask a couple questions about your writing style.

Q:  How long have you been writing?  What are some of your other published works?

A: I’ve been writing since I was eleven years old.  Maybe even earlier, but that’s when I first remember actually finishing stories and showing them to someone else to read.  My fifth grade teacher was amazing.  I really credit him with helping me find my calling.  In addition to VAMPED this year, I’ve got a story coming out in Esther Friesner’s STRIP-MAULED anthology.  Next year will see REVAMPED published, as well as an adult vampire story in another Esther Friesner anthology from Baen Books.

Q:  Do you outline or wing it?

A: A little of both.  I’ll generally have a sense of where the story will go, but I only outline a few chapters ahead, because I find that so much changes as I write, as I learn more about the characters and their worlds, that there’s no point in plotting beginning to end early on.  I’d have to throw out all the latter material in any case by the time I got there.

Q:  Do you prefer to write in first person or third?  Present or past tense?  Why?

A:  Most of my stories come out in first person.  I think that’s because, as mentioned, my characters seem to come through and tell their stories personally and I more or less step out of the way.  I hope that’s what readers hear when they pick up my work — my characters’ voices and not mine.  Different stories, though, call for different POVs.

Past tense, definitely!  I find it very difficult to read, let alone write, present tense.  Some authors do it tremendously well, but most attempts I’ve seen at present tense are inconsistent and intrusive to the narrative.  Distancing even.

Q:  Did you or do you have a critique group?  Do you see a benefit in having one?

A: I had a critique group for a long time, including when I wrote the first draft of VAMPED.  Now I have a crit partner.  I can’t speak for all writers, but I know that for me it’s vitally important to get a second opinion on my work.  I need to be pushed sometimes.  It helps to have someone point out the flaws I’m hoping no one will notice (or those I didn’t even know existed) so that I can fix them before my work is ever submitted.

Q:  Writers sometimes struggle with bad habits, like using too many adverbs, or passive verbs.  Do you catch yourself having a writing habit that you try to break?

A: Bad habits are another great reason for critique partners/groups.  Many of us don’t even realize we have them until they’re pointed out.  But once you’ve worked with a group for a while, you start to hear them in your head and can avoid past pitfalls.  Yes, it gets crowded in here sometimes—my critique group, my characters, my mother telling me the dress I’m wearing is way too short….

I have to be careful with the word “just.”  I’ve also struggled a lot with action scenes.  I used to drag my feet whenever I approached one.  Now I just accept that my action scenes are going to take a few drafts, but I no longer fear that I won’t get them where they have to be.

Q:  Do you edit while writing, or leave editing until after the first draft?

A:  I try to write forward – a full draft from beginning to end before I allow myself to go back over what I’ve written.  However, there always comes a point (or more) in the course of the writing, where I have to go back and add something in or change it before I feel I can move on.  I’ve found that fighting that urge only keeps me from progressing.

Q:  Best piece of advice for aspiring authors?

A:  Writing is hard work.  I think that often the difference between those who make it and those who don’t is the willingness to put the work in.  Yes, you should enjoy what you’re doing and yes it’s an art, but even artists hone their skills and improve from work to work.  Think artists don’t do drafts?  What about the sketches that come before the great paintings or the scale models that come before the sculpture?  No pain, no gain goes for writing just as it does for body-building.

Hand in hand with that is the willingness to accept criticism productively.  You can always learn something from an honest critique.  It may not be what you want to hear.  You may not even necessarily agree, but take it under consideration.  Try to see where the reader is coming from.  There may be things that are clear in your head that don’t come across on the page.  There may be things you like that don’t serve to further the story.  Lynn Flewelling, who is absolutely fabulous, once said that she throws out as much as sees print.  It’s not the fun part of the process, but if you’re only looking for fun, you’re probably not looking toward publication.

Q:  What kind of networking do you do, and how do you interact with your readers?

A: I have a wonderful street team who helped me get the word out on VAMPED (hey, guys!), a blog, a Twitter account, Facebook, MySpace, a website…whew!  I also answer all the fan mail I get.  It makes my entire day every time someone writes to say they’ve enjoyed the book.  (Gina always wants to take total credit, but I won’t give her my passwords, so I get to answer on her behalf.  Tee hee.)

Q:  As an agent, what makes you jump out of your chair and request the full manuscript?

A: A really wonderful voice, fresh ideas, and lots of suspense.  I want to be wowed with the reality and originality of the voice and the world.  I’ll read anything that hooks me and drags me along for a fast-paced thrill-ride.  The genre doesn’t so much matter to me—romance, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, thrillers, I love them all—as the connection to the work.  If I stay up way too late reading and gush about the novel to everyone I come into contact with, I know it’s for me.

Q:  Any upcoming releases or announcements from clients that you would like to share?

A:  Oh, so many!  Looking just at July, there’s:

DYING BITES by D.D. Barant, a fantastic urban fantasy, first in a very original new series.

STRANGE BREW edited by P.N. Elrod, an anthology with stories by Charlaine Harris, Jim Butcher, Patricia Briggs, Rachel Caine, Karen Chance, P.N. Elrod, Caitlin Kittredge, Faith Hunter and Jenna Maclaine

THE CALLING by David Mack, a dark fantasy thriller

SKINWALKER by Faith Hunter, the first in her excellent Jane Yellowrock series

DARKNESS CALLS by Marjorie M. Liu, the sequel to her bestselling uf THE IRON HUNT

SOUTHERN PERIL by T. Lynn Ocean, Southern-styled mystery

THE EDGE OF DAWN by Patti O’Shea, paranormal romance, newest in her Light Warriors series

WILD WOLF by Karen Whiddon, the latest popular Pack novel from Silhouette Nocturne

Then in August there’s a new Weather Wardens novel from Rachel Caine, a Dirk & Steele from Marjorie M. Liu, a debut mystery from Diana Orgain….  So much going on!

Just for the fun of it…

Q:  What is your favorite color?

A:  Cobalt blue.

Q:  Favorite flavor of ice cream?

A:  Dulce de leche!

Q:  Mexican, Italian or something else?

A:  It depends—which one of them has the fangs?  Oh, wait, you’re talking food!  Boy, is my face red.  Uh, after that I think I’d have to go with my husband’s bourbon and vanilla marinated pork and sweet potatoes.

Thank you for taking the time to talk with OPWFT.  We’ll be watching for Revamped to hit the shelves next year so we can catch up with Gina’s antics!

Thanks so much!  I really enjoyed the interview.  Have a wonderful summer, everybody!


Interview with Jay Asher, NY Times Bestselling Author of THIRTEEN REASONS WHY by Jamie Blair

July 13, 2009


I’m a big fan of THIRTEEN REASONS WHY. To me, it explores teen suicide on a basic, everyday level, and leaves the reader thinking about how their actions can impact other people in unintended ways. For anyone who hasn’t yet read it, you should – go get it now, then come back and read this interview.

Second, here’s a synopsis from the books website.


Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker–his classmate and crush–who committed suicide two weeks earlier. On tape, Hannah explains that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out how he made the list. Through Hannah and Clay’s dual narratives, debut author Jay Asher weaves an intricate and heartrending story of confusion and desperation that will deeply affect teen readers.

Thank you for taking the time to talk with OPWFT, Jay. We’ll start with questions about the book for the fans.

Q: What inspired you to write THIRTEEN REASONS WHY?

A: After taking an audiotour through a King Tut’s tomb mock-up, I spent several years trying to come up with a story told in an audiotour format. But I was only interested in writing humorous books at the time and couldn’t come up with a funny idea where that format was necessary rather than just a gimmick. About that same time, a close relative of mine attempted suicide. Talking with her over the years about what led to her decision was very eye-opening, but it took nine years before that subject matter clicked with the audio idea.

Q: Is there a part of the teenage Jay Asher in Clay Jensen? Did you know a girl like Hannah in high school? How do we see your teenage experience reflected in your characters?

A: Personality-wise, I was a lot like Clay in high school. And like Clay, I hardly went to any parties, though I wasn’t anywhere close to being valedictorian. I’m sure I knew plenty of girls like Hannah in high school, but I had no idea who they were…which is a big part of what I was trying to say with the book. People can appear one way, but have a lot more going on in their lives than we know about. And I wouldn’t say my teen years are represented in the book very much. When I began writing, I talked to a lot of my friends about their teen years, and those (much more interesting) years are what you’ll find in the book.

Q: What is your favorite scene in THIRTEEN REASONS WHY?

A: My answer to that question changes periodically. For pure creepiness, I like the scene where Hannah’s outside the Peeping Tom’s window. I like the subtlety in the interaction between Clay and his mom at the diner. But my favorite scene to write was the one where Hannah and Clay kiss. The kiss didn’t last long, but after everything I’d put them through…and was about to put them through…I really wanted that moment to last forever.

Q: How much research on teen suicide did you do before writing THIRTEEN REASONS WHY?

A: Not very much scholarly research. I talked extensively to my relative about her frame of mind leading up to her attempt, and I went to a couple suicide prevention forums (which I’m now a featured speaker at!). I simply began writing when I felt I understood the emotions and the point-of-view of someone like Hannah enough to tell her story confidently. I wanted the story to be led by her as a full character rather than a bunch of research. But after I wrote a draft, then I read books on teen suicide, spent many hours doing online research, and went back to enhance certain aspects of the story.

Q: What is the message you would like your readers to take from your book?

A: Primarily, the book’s about the small things we do that impact the lives of others. And since we don’t fully know what’s going on in anyone’s life but our own, there’s no way to know exactly how they’re going to be affected by what we do. It was also important to show that Hannah didn’t do everything she should have to get the help she needed. I hear from a lot of teens in Hannah’s position who say they were inspired to get help because they recognized they were making the same mistakes as Hannah.

Q: What do you have up your sleeve next for our reading pleasure?

A: A secret!

For fellow writers, I’d like to ask about your journey to publication and writing style.

Q: How long have you been writing? Was THIRTEEN REASONS WHY the first manuscript you completed and queried to agents?

A: It was far from my first completed manuscript. From the time I began submitting to when I finally sold something, twelve years had passed…and three agents had come and gone. But this was my first teen novel, as well as my first non-humorous manuscript, so I think I stumbled around until I found my voice with this book.

Q: Do you outline or wing it?

A: I wing it. Winging it can be scary, but I’ve tried outlining and I find it way too stifling. A lot of my favorite moments in THIRTEEN REASONS WHY came when my characters drifted far from where I thought they were heading. I usually have an idea where the book will end up and a few major points I want to hit, but other than that, I just want to know one scene ahead of where I am.

Q: Do you prefer to write in first person or third? Present or past tense? Why?

A: I prefer third person in the past tense, but THIRTEEN REASONS WHY was told with simultaneous first-person narrators speaking in the present tense. I guess you should just do whatever the story needs as opposed to what you’re comfortable with. But my favorite books growing up were third-person, so that’s what always sounds most natural to me…at least in the early stages of an idea.

Q: Did you or do you have a critique group? Do you see a benefit in having one?

A: I was in a critique group for many years and it helped tremendously. If you want to be published, it’s so important to realize that when people read your words, you won’t be there to stand up in their defense if people misread what you were trying to say. That said, no one read more than the first ten pages of THIRTEEN REASONS WHY until it was finished. Because of its unusual structure, I needed complete freedom to make plenty of mistakes before showing it to anyone. But I had four sets of trusted eyes read it before sending it off to agents.

Q: Writers sometimes struggle with bad habits, like using too many adverbs, or passive verbs. Do you catch yourself having a writing habit that you try to break?

A: Not much anymore. My critique group beat my most severe bad habits out of me. They taught me to reorganize my sentences so they don’t all sound the same. I was horrible with that one!

Q: Do you edit while writing, or leave editing until after the first draft?

A: I edit like crazy as I go. If I can’t go back to any page of my manuscript at any time and be satisfied, I get very discouraged. So by the time I finish what you’d call a first draft, it’s fairly polished.

Q: Best piece of advice for aspiring authors?

A: Join a critique group. You want one that’s honest and made up of people with similar goals. If they enjoy writing but don’t absolutely want to get published, they’re not going to push you as hard as a group of writers battling to be the first one published. But they should also be extremely supportive, and it helps if someone in the group bakes cookies!

Q: What professional organizations are you a member of?

A: The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. SCBWI. Love ’em!

Q: What kind of networking do you do, and how do you interact with your readers?

A: There’s a website for my novel, set up by my publisher (, and a lot of people leave comments there. I also have a blog ( But most of my interactions come from my MySpace page ( My favorite part of every day is when I check my MySpace mailbox. I get messages from teens and librarians all over the world…and I answer every one, unless they have a blocked account. (Note: if you ask for a response, UNBLOCK YOUR ACCOUNT!!!). And I absolutely love doing school visits. The face-to-face interaction is amazing.

Just for the fun of it…

Q: What is your favorite color?

A: Purple. Truthfully, I don’t have a favorite color. But the last time I did, when I was a kid, it was purple. So let’s stick with purple.

Q: Favorite flavor of ice cream?

A: Chubby Hubby by Ben & Jerry. If you’re not careful, it’s definitely a case of truth in advertising.

Q: Mexican, Italian or something else?

A: Italian. My first girlfriend’s grandparent’s owned an Italian restaurant. I didn’t know that when we began dating, but it was an added bonus for sure!

Thanks again for talking with us! We look forward to many more Jay Asher books lining the shelves in our Borders and Barnes and Noble stores in the future. Congrats on the success of your book.


A Look at Bell Bridge Books…Interview to Follow!

July 2, 2009

It’s a good time to celebrate Belle Bridge Books. Why? Because they’re coming up on their one year anniversary after being launched last July. So who are Belle Bridge Books? Well, they are an imprint of BelleBooks, which is a well established publisher of Southern fiction with offices in Atlanta, Memphis, and Saltillo, Mississippi. Belle Books was started over ten years ago by six Southern writers with over 100 published titles between them, including New York Times Bestseller Deborah Smith.

But with the launch last year came acceptance past the “Southern Fried Fiction” genre by embracing Fantasy. Some of Belle Bridge’s YA Fantasy titles are Moonstone by Marilee Brothers, Bite Me by Parker Blue, and Once Bitten by Katalyna Price.

Belle Bridge titles are released in both trade paperback and ebook editions. Book Promotion is very important at Belle Bridge Books. First, they have their own website where you will be featured with your own sales page, author page complete with bio and photo. Here’s a link to their website:

There are also extensive email promotions where your book is announced to an established email list, which reaches thousands of readers throughout the online community. Third, there are author book signings. And last, but not least, there’s video book trailers that are available on YouTube, the Belle Bridge Books website, Myspace, and Facebook page.

Here’s Belle Bridge Author and fellow AbsoluteWriter, Marilee Brothers, book trailer for Moonstone.

So, you think you got what it takes to submit? Well, here’s what Belle Bridge Books is looking for in their own words:

Yes, we’d love to find the next Harry Potter, but our primary focus for the moment is publishing for the teen market.  If you read Holly Black, Stephanie Meyer, Laura Whitcomb (A Certain Slant Of Light), Neil Gaiman, Scott Westerfeld, Robin McKinley etc. you’re probably writing something we’d love to see.  We’ve just acquired a contemporary fantasy of magick by Marilee Brothers.  Her voice is so compelling she made us want that book after reading only 8 pages in a contest a year ago—that’s all she entered…8 pages.  Once we established Bell Bridge Books, we hunted her down.   (Folks, voice is important)

 Speaking of Marilee Brothers, I loved Moonstone, and I just ordered the sequel, Moon Rise. I was swept away into Allie’s world, and like every teen or “teen at heart”, I empathized with her dilemmas from what to do about her powers to the swoon worthy Junior Martinez. I also snorted with laughter many times at the hilarity of Allie’s voice and predicaments. I highly recommend this book, and I can’t wait to get back to Allie’s world!

We will be featuring an interview with Marilee Brothers later on this month, and there will also be a one on one interview with Belle Bridge Books in August.


Interview With Rhonda Penders, Editor-In-Chief, The Wild Rose Press

July 1, 2009

Climbing Rose

I was fortunate enough to have Rhonda Penders, Editor-In-Chief of The Wild Rose Press, answer some questions about their Young Adult line, Climbing Roses.  Here’s what she had to say:

Q:  How long has The Wild Rose Press been publishing novels, and how long have you been Editor-in-Chief?

We have been in business since May 1, 2006 and we have been  publishing novels since shortly after that time.  I have been Editor-in-Chief since we opened.

Q:  When did the Climbing Roses line begin, and how many YA novels are there to date?

Climbing Roses was opened in May 2007 and to date there are 25 published products (this includes short stories and full length novels)

Q:  What do you look for in a submission to Climbing Roses?  What makes you say yes?

For us the story has to appeal to the audience.  Our target audience are 13 to 17 year old females.  We have a department of volunteer teen readers who read every submission and answer an extensive survey on the story.  We base a lot of our decisions on these reader reactions.

Q:  Is there something that makes you reject a submission automatically?

The story has to be basically “clean”.  We don’t allow any sexual relations, nothing more than a kiss, in our YA line.  We also try to keep it relatively wholesome – no profanity, drug or alcohol use.  We want these stories to be something a parent is comfortable to let their teen read.

Q:  Are Climbing Rose books electronic, print, or both?

Anything over 65,000 words in available both electronically and in print.  Up to 65K it is available electronically only.

Q:  What is the typical turn around time for queries and submissions?

We have a solid 30 day turnaround for queries.  Once you have been requested to send a full length novel or short story we have a 90 day window to either approve or reject the submission.

Q:  The Wild Rose Press does not use form rejections, but personalizes individual correspondences.  (I can hear authors singing your praises as they read this.)  What led to the decision to personalize letters and how much time do your editors devote to this process?

The decision to personalize our rejections came from a belief that a writer can’t grow if she/he doesn’t know what is wrong with what they are writing.  In order to learn you must be gently instructed as to what isn’t working.  Our editors sometimes spend a big chunk of time on a rejection letter, especially if they feel the writer either has a lot to learn or if the editor thinks the writer shows real potential and wants to really help them along.

Q:  Finally, what Young Adult projects are coming soon that we should be keeping our eyes out for?

When Mike Kissed Emma – by Christine Marciniak

March Misfits by Barbara Stremikis

The Stillburrow Crush by Linda Kage

Submission guidelines can be found for Climbing Roses on The Wild Rose Press website,