On your website, you mention the twin protagonists in YOU’LL MISS ME WHEN I’M GONE are “in many ways, similar to who I was in high school. Adina is everything I was too scared to be in high school. She’s all the thoughts I had but never acted on.” Do you think your personal connection to the girls made it any easier to persevere through finishing the book? Or did your closeness to them make edits harder?
This is such a great question. Each book I write feels more personal than the last, which is funny because whenever I finish a book, I’m like, “welp, guess I used up all my ideas and I have nothing else to write about!” Though none of my books have completely mirrored my experiences, all my characters have a slice of myself in them, and each new project allows me to learn something new about myself.
I think I was able to persevere through edits because, while these two characters each have a bit of me in them, neither is a clone of me—so that kept my interest while also enabling me to dig deep within myself for inspiration.
For YOU’LL MISS ME WHEN I’M GONE, my first nugget of an idea was that I wanted to write a sexually aggressive female protagonist because I hadn’t read very many of them in YA. That became Adina, the viola prodigy who owns her sexuality and is fully comfortable in her body. Her twin, Tovah, is ambitious too (in a different way—she wants to become a surgeon), but she’s much shyer about her body, and her arc deals more with the exploration of that.
Tovah is similar to the girl I was in high school—shy, embarrassed to talk about anything sex-related with even my closest friends, ashamed to acknowledge desire. Adina is who I wish I’d been: confident and in control. She acts on a lot of thoughts most of us probably wouldn’t, which made her extremely fun to write.
Other than novels, you’ve also written for newspapers. Has writing for newspapers helped your novel writing at all and vice versa?
I tend to throw myself into my hobbies a bit intensely, so while I was still in college, I also freelanced for The Seattle Times and a number of other outlets, including public radio stations. I loved to begin my stories with a person—some unique aspect of their experience that would provide a fresh angle to whatever I was reporting on. I really think all news stories are human stories, and I’ve always been drawn more to character-driven stories than plot-driven ones. Almost all my books begin with a character; I can’t start writing until I have a clear (or clear-ish) picture of my protagonist, her passions, her desires.
Before signing with Laura Bradford you parted ways with your first agent. Any advice for other authors who may find themselves back in the query trenches after their first agent?
The best advice I gave myself after I parted with my first agent was to not view it as a step backward. I only knew more about publishing after 2.5 years with my first agent, and I had absolutely become a stronger writer! It may seem like you’re going back to square one if you’re querying again after previously being represented, but I assure you, the opposite is true! Leaving an agent is so difficult to do; it’s not a decision anyone makes lightly. If you’ve made this choice, I’m positive it was the right step forward in your career. Not backward.
Switching agents is also much more common than I used to think—at this point, more than half of my friends are with second, third, or even fourth agents. It’s difficult to know who’s going to be your perfect agent fit—which is partially why I don’t believe in the concept of a “dream agent”—until you’ve spent some time working together. You may find your communication styles don’t mesh or you have different editorial visions—and that’s okay. If you’re back in the query trenches for the second or third time, I promise you aren’t alone, and you deserve a partner who is as passionate about your work as you are.
In your post about your journey to publication you advise writers to have an outlet other than writing. For you that outlet is dance. How does dancing help you deal with rejection and other writing struggles?
Because I work full-time in addition to writing, I need to occasionally turn off my brain. Dance is better at flipping that switch than anything else—when I’m focusing on choreography, I’m not thinking about a rejection or other writing-related stress. I’ve been tap dancing for nearly five years, and I perform annually.
As a mentor, how often do you communicate with your mentee during Pitch Wars?
Is constantly too much? Haha…somewhat kidding :). I approach Pitch Wars looking to find someone I can work with long term, not just during the contest, and so far, all five of my past mentees are people I communicate with on at least a weekly basis. I consider all of them friends and critique partners. (I love them all! So much!) So that should give you an indication of how communicative I’ll be during the contest: extremely, because I want this to be a lasting relationship. I want my mentee to feel comfortable talking to me about anything in publishing. It’s an impossible industry to navigate alone.
Finally, you are a fan of red lipstick. Do you have a favorite brand or shade?
I have about twelve, but lately I’ve been loving Stila stay all day liquid lipstick in the shade Beso, a true red, and Kat Von D everlasting liquid lipstick in Nosferatu, which is more of a crimson.
Thank you, Katelyn!