2009 Debutante Author Interview Series: Carrie Ryan

 

In Mary’s world, there are simple truths.
The Sisterhood always knows best.
The Guardians will protect and serve.
The Unconsecrated will never relent.
And you must always mind the fence that surrounds the village….


forest_home

 

I have been oh-so-excited about this interview. Carrie Ryan is the author of The Forest of Hands and Teeth, which will be published by Delacorte and will hit shelves March 10th. Everyone is talking about this book. I know that I’ll be buying a copy the day it launches. For personal reasons, I’ve been dying to know how Carrie handled law school, working at a firm, and writing books. I’m so thankful Carrie put so much thought into these answers. Hope y’all enjoy.

 

The Forest of Hands and Teeth is your debut novel, so a big congrats on that. But can you give us a little statistical rundown on how long it took you to get to this point? How many books? How many rejections? How many days, months, or years?

 

The short answer: Three completed novels (The Forest of Hands and Teeth was the third); seven years (only three years of actually writing); 19 rejections.

 

Longer answer:  I started writing my first novel just before graduating from college and I finished it that next year.  It was a western historical romance (long story behind that choice) and I queried about six agents — a few requests but all ended up as rejections.  And I realized I was okay with the rejections because I never wanted to write another western historical romance again!  After that I wrote a romantic comedy that I never polished or queried.

 

Then I had this grand long term plan that I’d write chick lit and I somehow convinced myself that the best way to do that was to go to law school (another long story behind that choice!).  So basically I stopped writing for four years while I applied and attended law school. 

 

After starting work as a lawyer for a few months I decided I needed an exit strategy and I started writing seriously again.  I had many false starts (I wrote about 172k words that year but finished nothing).  I started writing The Forest of Hands and Teeth on November 2, 2006 (I still have the email where I sent myself the first line).  I finished the rough draft in April 2007, revised it until the end of August when I started querying agents and sold in October!

 

Oh boy. An exit strategy from practicing law? I need to cover my ears!

 

Which “Call” thrilled you more? The call in which you landed an agent or the call in which you landed your book deal? Can you describe to us what it felt like?

 

Wow, I don’t think I can compare the two!  My agent, Jim McCarthy, called me on a Monday and it was totally out of the blue.  I was standing in the kitchen when I heard his voice on the answering machine asking me to call him back.  I just stared at my fiancé, JP, and he stared at me and he started jumping and dancing but I just kept saying “it could just be that he wants to talk.  It might not be an offer.”  It was well after business hours and for about twenty minutes I walked around the house in a daze unable to really utter anything coherent.  Then I checked my email and Jim had sent an email letting me know that he wanted to offer representation.  That’s when I started dancing too and we went out to celebrate!

 

The call for the book deal was also way unexpected!  We were going to send FHT out on submission on a Monday but Jim called Friday afternoon and asked what I thought about sending out a sneak peek to a few editors who’d showed early interest.  I was all for it!  So when he called on Monday morning I figured it was just to check in and talk about sending out the rest of the submissions.  But he was calling to tell me there was a pre-empt!  When he gave me the details I just remember staring out the window completely floored. 

 

Actually, now that I think about it, I think the call for the book deal thrilled me more.  Getting that offer of representation was an amazing feeling but knowing the book had sold – wow.  I floated all day (I’m still floating!)

 

Now THAT is a fast sale.

 

You’re lucky enough to have quit the day job now, but how did you balance the demanding task of being a lawyer as well as being a writer?

 

I had no life – haha!  Seriously, I decided that if I was really going to do this — write and try to sell a book — that I had to figure out how to make it work.  I didn’t want five years to pass and look back and lament not really striving for my goals.  I cut out most TV (and honestly, that’s how I found a lot of time), I ate frozen dinners, the house teeters on being a wreck (our Christmas tree was almost always up through my birthday in mid-January).  I’d wake up, go to work, come home and write.  On the weekends, I’d write.  Some months (when I was working on a big trial) the only time I had to write was the 8 minutes while the pasta was boiling for mac ‘n’ cheese!  I’m not really sure I would call that balance – haha!

 

That’s a really honest answer. Thanks for sharing.

 

I believe when I talked to you last you were rushing to meet a deadline. Are you working on the sequel to Forest? What fresh challenges are there in writing a sequel and in trying to avoid the infamous sophomore slump?

 

I made that deadline – yay!  I’m working on a sequel to The Forest of Hands and Teeth that will come out in Spring 2010.  It’s kind of a loose sequel, though, set quite a while after the end of the first book and with a different POV character.

 

Fresh challenges — there were plenty (and old challenges too!).  One challenge for me was that I’d never planned to write a sequel so I hadn’t created a character arc and plot arc that I felt like could span another book.  I had a few other issues but can’t get into them without spoilers But I think that’s one reason I ultimately decided to use a different POV character for the second book and set it later.  So I’m using the same world, but it’s not really a direct sequel.

 

I also think it’s often nice that the lead times with YA are so long that you have plenty of time to write the next book in a vacuum without hearing public feedback about the first book.  I think sometimes hearing the responses to the first book can really influence the way you think about the second!

 

Interesting. I had no idea different genres/categories of books had different lead times.

 

This is Fumbling with Fiction, so I have to ask, in your writing career have you ever had a big “Oops!” moment?

 

Oh yes!  The first one that comes to mind is when I ended up querying an agent before the project was remotely ready.  In my defense, it was a pitch workshop with an agent and I didn’t expect her to actually be requesting material, but I didn’t even have the partial ready!!  I scrambled to edit that and sent it before the book was finished (never did finish the book) and got a rejection (rightfully so!).

 

However, I’m also a big fan of believing that things tend to work out and happen for a reason.  I definitely learned not to query until the manuscript is as polished as possible and I also met my critique partner, Diana Peterfreund, without whose support I’m not sure I’d have sold FHT.

 

I think your fiancé is also a writer and an attorney. That’s two writers/lawyers under one roof! Good, bad, or ugly?

 

Lol, I asked him this question and he was like “all three.”  For me it’s wonderful.  He understands that writing can be hard, he supports me unequivocally, and he’s an amazing editor.  He’s not afraid to tell me when something’s not as good as it can be nor is he afraid to heap on the praise   The hardest part for me is that he is truly an amazing writer and I strive to write as well as he does!

 

You’re now at the beginning of your writing career. Can you believe it? Where would you like that sure-to-be illustrious career to take you?

 

No, I still can’t believe it!  Honestly, there are days when I just clap my hands and dance around with glee!  For me and career goals… I’d just love to be able to keep writing (and to keep writing full time).

 

Tell us a little about receiving your first editorial letter. What was yours like? How did you feel when you received it?

 

My first editorial letter came on the Wednesday after I sold that Monday!  So I was utterly surprised because I thought I’d be waiting weeks or months!  The first letter focused on broader issues and then we worked on smaller and smaller issues with subsequent letters.  I was really energized when I first got it because it made everything feel so real!  I think for me the key with revisions has been understanding the “why” of it — if I know WHY my editor wants a certain change it’s easier for me to figure out how to make that change.

 

Your editor must have been really psyched to start your book. That’s great!  Finally, if you could have written one book previously published by another author, which book would it be?

 

I’m sure it will seem quite strange to most people, but I wish I’d written Lolita by Nabokov.  I remember when I first opened that book, standing in the college bookstore loading up for my semester classes, and I had to sit down on the floor because the beginning is so stunningly written.  I love the wordplay, the fun with language and I learned a lot from that book about how to write descriptions and choose words. 

 

 

           (Be sure to check out the coolest book trailer ever!)

 

                 

 

 

 

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2009 Debutante Author Intervew Series: Deva Fagan

In Fortune’s Folly, a girl who survives by telling fake fortunes must
make one of them come true to save her father’s life–to succeed,
she’ll have to procure a wicked witch, recover a pair of enchanted
slippers, and, worst of all, find a princess to marry the prince she’s
falling in love with herself.

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fortunesfolly

 

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Does that not just sound like the cutest story? A girl has to find a princess to marry the prince she’s fallen in love with–LOVE it! Today’s deb is Deva Fagan, author of the forthcoming Fortune’s Folly. You can reach Deva through her website at www.devafagan.com. And! be sure to look for her book this Spring.

Fortune’s Folly is your debut novel, so a big congrats on that. But can you give us a little statistical rundown on how long it took you to get to this point? How many books? How many rejections? How many days, months, or years?

I wrote an absolutely terrible novel in junior high (it had a silver-eyed girl who was the Chosen One and an anti-hero who looked like my favorite pop star and lots and lots of very overblown prose), so if you start counting with that, it’s been over 20 years, 5 completed (now trunked) novels, and too many rejections to count.

On the other hand, it was only in the last five years that I got a handle on the submission process (thanks in large part to the resources available online!) and really made writing a top priority in my life. Once I stopped flailing about things began to improve. I started getting personalized rejections, then positive rejections, and finally a sale! 

Which “Call” thrilled you more? The call in which you landed an agent or the call in which you landed your book deal? 

 Actually, I didn’t get any calls at all! My communications with both my agent and editor throughout the submission processes were done over email, and I’ve still never spoken with either of them on the phone (though we have met in person and do email regularly).

But one moment that did truly thrill me was on January 1st, 2006. I like “firsts” and will often start new projects or endeavors on the first of a month (or week, or year). I had just suffered several rounds of rejections, but I had decided to hold fast to my determination and send out another spate of query letters to agents. I was in the middle of sending off my e-queries and suddenly a response popped up in my in-box.

I was sure at first that I’d mistyped and it was a bounced mail, but no, it was a request from one of the agents to see more. I had sent her the query at 7:13 and the response came back at 7:18. I nearly fell out of my chair! Apparently that was an omen of things to come because just about a month later I had signed with her, and just about a month after that we sold the book!

When it happens, it happens fast!

I think you said you actually wrote Fortune’s Folly as a “break” from the big, serious book you were then writing. Whatever happened to the big, serious book?

Unfortunately, it was SO big and serious it was also terribly dull and spiritless. So right now it’s sitting in my virtual trunk. At some point I may chop out the parts I still like (some of the secondary characters, the setting) and reuse them, but for now it’s been set aside.

Well, it sounds like you made the right decision in starting something new!  I’m always curious about this subject: How do you balance writing and your day job? What do you do when you get overwhelmed?

I’m a morning person, so I usually wake up early enough that I can get in a good two hours of writing time before I have to go to the office. It can be difficult, though, because my day job involves sitting in front of the computer (I’m a software developer).

What helps me keep the balance is making plenty of time to get outside (my dog helps with that, since he is always up for a walk!). I also always have paper and a pen with me so if I get an inspiration when I am at work, I can jot it down. Of course this leads to my purse being stuffed with scraps of paper scribbled with things like “her hair turns purple!” and “minions have pumpkin heads” that I then have to sort through. I really ought to get a notebook!

Hey, Whatever works, right? Did you feel your relationship with your agent changed after your sale?

Not really, since the book sold so quickly I didn’t really have time to establish a relationship before the sale happened!

This is Fumbling with Fiction, so I have to ask, in your writing career have you ever had a big “Oops!” moment?

Oh plenty! Though thankfully most of them relate to the actual writing and thus only impacted me personally (well, and my friends who had to listen to me bemoan my mistakes). I tend to find the plots and settings of my books first, and then have to sort of wait for the characters to introduce themselves and become real people in my mind.

Unfortunately I am not always good about waiting for that to happen. I want to rush ahead and write the story down. This has led to quite a few partial (and, sadly, full) novels with cardboard characters, that I end up having to toss aside and rewrite once I find the real, living, breathing characters who belong in the story.

You’re now at the beginning of your writing career. Can you believe it? Where would you like that sure-to-be illustrious career to take you?

It is hard to believe! I am very grateful to be here. The thing that thrills me the most is the idea of people reading, and hopefully enjoying, my books. If I can look back on my writing life as an old woman and believe that I have entertained people, that I have brought magic and adventure and love and beauty to them, then I would be a very happy old lady!

That’s such a sweet sentiment.

Tell us a little about receiving your first editorial letter. What was yours like? How did you feel when you received it?

My first editorial letter was about three pages long. I love my editor for many reasons but one of them is that she always finds something nice to say (before getting to the part that’s going to be hard work). So it started with some quite nice things that made me blush, and went on to the things that she felt would make the book stronger.

The two main issues we dealt with in that revision were pacing and establishing more empathy with the main character. I will admit that at first I was intimidated! Both seemed like daunting tasks. But then I saw that my editor (bless her!) had also included lots of notes on the manuscript itself to show me where to start. I decided I would go through and do all the “easy” stuff first, and then tackle the big stuff. That eased me into it and by the time I did get to the big stuff, it felt much more manageable.

Finally, if you could have written one book previously published by another author, which book would it be?

I would love to write a book as beloved as my own childhood favorites, and to feel that I was part of the grand tradition of storytelling. With that in mind, I might chose Lloyd Alexander’s The Black Cauldron (from his Chronicles of Prydain series) because it combines adventure, humor, tragedy, and heart. I loved those books as a kid (and still do!).

Thanks for having me, Chandler!

Rejection’s Not the End of Your World Unless You Let It Be

Warning! Warning! Second post of the week in which I get all mushy!

 

Awhile back I interviewed Mandy Hubbard (debut author of Prada and Prejudice) as part of the 2009 Debutante Author Interview series. I already frequented her blog, but several commenters mentioned reading her “Road to Publication” posts. Well, if y’all don’t know, Mandy had a pretty long road to publication, so I was really curious to read how her experience was. I mean, how often does a writer really outline the rejections as she gets them? Answer: not often.

So anyway, I decided to wait until I went on submission as sort of a treat, food for the “on submission soul,” I guess. Of course, with all sorts of other things swishing around in my head, I forgot it until I’d been on submission for a couple weeks. As soon as I remembered, I opened up the Road to Publication posts in a new window. First thing I read was this:

“So, THE JETTSETTERS SOCIAL CLUB has now been out on submission for 8 days. Those dreams of an overnight sale are dashed. Ha. Just kidding. I’m way more reasonable than that. My dream was 2 days….still kidding.”

I loved this! We can say we understand that it takes time to sell a book, blah, blah, blah, but any writer that claims they do not secretly hope (and maybe even more than hope), just a little, that that their book is going to land on an editor’s desk Friday afternoon only for a 212 number to pop up on the caller ID Monday morning—well, let’s just say any writer who claims they don’t hope for that is going to have a nose longer than Heidi Klum’s left leg.

As I continued to read through Mandy’s posts, I was constantly amazed by her honesty. But with her honesty, came a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.

“I was burnt out…the idea of reading and writing wasn’t so exciting. I didn’t think of it every single night as I fell asleep. I didn’t conjure up a thousand different versions of what it would be like to get THE CALL.”

That statement hurt my heart. I do fall asleep every single night thinking about what it will feel like to get The Call. What I will do to celebrate? Who will I tell first?—Extremely important considerations, of course. It’s incredibly comforting to know that other writers on submission (or even not yet on submission!) feel this, too. Because, I’ve got to admit, sometimes I feel a liiiiiittle silly with so much thought devoted to the dream of publication and of sharing my book with others.

This, however, reminded me that these thoughts are actually a blessing. It’s when these dreams disappear that your dream is in danger or dying. Every second I spend hoping to realize that goal pushes me to materialize it. But sustaining that level of hope and that level of desire requires energy. It can really take it out of you! So, I can certainly see how I could get burnt out. And THAT is one of the saddest writing thoughts I’ve ever had. Fortunately Mandy pulled out of her slump and proved that secret to success is persistence.

Yes, Mandy’s story is incredibly inspiring for sure. But seriously, somebody ought to canonize her and her agent because they both truly stuck with it. And the very thought of waiting that long makes me want to jam the voteß(Please see SNL for reference)

Then again, she reminds us that “there is ONE SINGLE PERSON who could change everything.” She’s right. It only takes one editor. Or one agent. Whatever it is you are hoping for. But you can’t snag one if you don’t put anything out there.

“No one thinks, ‘okay, this is going to take a year.’”

How true is that? No one thinks that at all. I certainly don’t. But Mandy’s experience is probably MUCH more common than we realize. Sobering, but I’ve also learned from her that it’s not the end of the world unless you let it be.

Anyway, I just wanted to share and to publicly voice my appreciation for these posts. Y’all should definitely head over to her blog and read through these. I’m so thankful that she was willing to voice her feelings as she felt them during the submission process.

 

NOTE: I provided the link to her posts above. Skip to the beginning. You really can’t appreciate unless you read through the process as she goes through it.