Holly's first book was published with a little help from SCBWI (more on that below), and it's a truly a compelling read. Here the debut author tells how she found her agent, talks about voice, offers some marketing tips and more.
Visit her website for her full tour schedule. During the tour she'll be giving away prizes each week for blog comments (signed books each week, t-shirts, music, journals, gift cards, etc.).
Speaking of giveaways: I have an ARC of TELL ME A SECRET up for grabs! Just post a comment about Holly's interview and I'll pick a winner at random.
If you'd like to continue to follow Holly on her tour, her next stop is tomorrow at LoveReadingX.
And if you'd like to stop by on your own promotional blog tour, I'd love to have you. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You’re an SCBWI success story. Where/when/how did SCBWI play a part in your path to publication?
All along the way! I’ve been a member for years, have been very active in SCBWI WWA (Asst. Regional Advisor, newsletter design), and have attended lots of conferences. A few years ago, SCBWI gave me a Work-In Progress Grant for TELL ME A SECRET (then titled Brimstone Soup), and I met my amazing agent at an SCBWI event. They taught me how to write and who to talk to, and have been a tremendous support at every step.
How did you get together with your agent Edward Necarsulmer IV? Why is he a good fit for you?
Luck of the draw. I was randomly assigned to his table at the SCBWI Writer’s Intensive event, and after 500 words, he said, “W-w-w-w-wow. I…don’t know if I have anything to add to that.” He asked me to submit it immediately, even though there were other agents looking at the full manuscript. Both he and another agent offered to rep me. You’d think it would be fun to dole out a rejection, but it absolutely wasn’t! I have a tremendous amount of respect for both of them. I chose Edward because he was so passionate about the story, and I just had the sense that we would work really well together--and we do. On the downside, he was the one who wanted revisions…and I knew he was right. So I also appreciate that he makes me work harder!
TELL ME A SECRET is hard to put down. (I stayed up until 2 AM-ish finishing it in one sitting.) Can a writer work toward developing a compelling voice or do you think it’s an either-you-have-it-or-you-don’t proposition?
Thank you, Alice! I’ll confess, the voice didn’t come to me right away. I had the arc and supporting characters, so I wrote for a little while just trying to find the story. Miranda’s voice came to me at a most inconvenient time (speaking of the middle of the night). I had a new baby, was totally sleep deprived and just getting to sleep when the first lines of the novel flashed through my mind: “It’s tough living in the shadow of a dead girl.” That’s when I knew exactly who Miranda was, and why her story was so urgent. I definitely think voice can be develope--through reading, writing, and simply getting out of your own way. I think doubt can be one of our greatest enemies.
Your book also deals with a compelling topic, teen pregnancy. Tell us what motivated you to tackle that topic.
I didn’t set out to write an intense YA novel…actually, it was probably the last thing on my radar when a major life event changed everything for us. Before that, I was writing nice picture book manuscripts and Chicken Soup-y stuff, nothing too personal. But all of that changed when we lost our first daughter at birth. So many wonderful friends--especially kidlit friends--surrounded us through that and simply wouldn’t let me quit. The idea came to me very suddenly, and I could feel the weight of it. This was a story I was meant to write. So I kept working on it as we had another little girl (she’s five now!). It was very hard, but also very healing.
Your teen characters, especially your MC Miranda, feel so real. (There’s no "Secret Life of the American Teenager" nonsense going on in TELL ME A SECRET.) Can you offer some advice on creating authentic characters?
The night Miranda’s words flashed through my mind, she became real. Before that, I could only define her in relation to other characters--which, as it turns out, is a major theme in the novel. Characters can have secrets, flaws, fears…but on some level it boils down to intuition. How well can you know someone? How much of them is you? Think about them, dream about them, fear and hope for them…all of that will come out on the page.
Your (7-week!) blog tour seems to be running like a well-oiled machine. And from this end I can tell you’re very organized and on top of things. Can you offer some promotion tips to other new authors?
Self-promotion can be such a weird undertaking. How do you allocate resources? What’s the most important promotional strategy? What if you’re terrified of networking? I say, figure out what you like to do, what you do well, and focus on that. I hate networking, but I love to make friends. I’m good at graphics. I can now say I’m very good at Excel! Above all, have fun—the first time only happens once, so give it your all.
Tell us about your involvement in readergirlz. How long have you been involved and in what capacity? How has your involvement ultimately helped your writing career?
Readergirlz was begun by four award-winning Seattle authors, and I have been so fortunate to work with them! They invited me to join a few months after they launched, and I have been doing graphics and special projects ever since. If you see a banner or poster or event trailer, I probably did it! So much of readergirlz is about connecting people who love YA lit, and I think that has been a real value for me--being a part of the community.
What's next for you? Is there a work in progress you can tell us about?
STREET CREED (tentative title, Fall 2011) is another YA set in the same vicinity as TMAS--in fact, a few characters make cameo appearances! It’s about Joy, a sixteen year-old girl who runs away from her suburban home to meet up with a band of street kids in Seattle--including a boy called Creed. She has secret reasons for leaving, and every one of the characters has a reason to run. At its core, it’s about what it means to love.
I know you’ve gotten some helpful advice from author friends along the way. What advice would you pass along to my readers?
Author friends Kirby Larson (HATTIE BIG SKY) and Randy Powell (TRIBUTE TO ANOTHER DEAD ROCK STAR) have said, “Write through the bad stuff.” I’ve held onto that through a lot of bad stuff! I think it’s essential to write as honestly as you can the first time and get to the end--you can always go back and fix it up. What may seem bad at the time can sometimes contain the most truth.