About THE BOOK:The Twitter version: tell us about your book in 140 characters or less:
INSIGNIA is the story of a teenage video gamer who becomes a government weapon in a futuristic world at war. It’s coming out in the summer of 2012 (Katherine Tegen Books).
What else are you working on? Secrets? Inside scoops? Give us the juicy stuff!
Regrettably, nothing so juicy. Right now I’m revising INSIGNIA, and brainstorming for two and three—probably getting going on two sometime soon. I’m always writing other things, too, but never seriously. Usually the bulk of my energy goes into just one project at a time.
I’ve always loved writing, but I never seriously considered it as a primary career. I knew even as a teenager that the vast majority of writers can’t pay their bills just by writing alone—and that’s even after publication. I wrote INSIGNIA while I was in an intensive training program for another job. I probably should have been studying or doing homework, but instead I was writing. Thanks to my editor, Molly O’Neill, this became the first time in my life that procrastination actually paid off.
What made you decide to go that “extra step” and seek publication?
I always wrote stories as a kid. I wrote this long one in fourth grade, wrote a prequel to that in fifth grade, and then a prequel to that prequel in sixth grade. The sixth grade one was a pretty epic story, actually. It was about this Prince who goes hunting in the forest, and gets attacked by a bear. He slays it. He finds its bear cub, adopts it, and raises it. When the Prince gets older, his parents decide to kill him (I clearly had little understanding of primogeniture back then), but instead, they accidentally kill his pet grizzly bear. He beheads both of his parents to get revenge, and then stands up in the rising sun holding a head in each hand to announce, “NOW I AM KING!” And that was just chapter one.
My parents found it and read it, and I remember they kind of looked at each other dubiously… Those were great times. They’ve always encouraged me to write, though. I’ve been into writing ever since.
After college, I started writing a YA story on my own. I got about halfway through it, and then decided, “I should just be realistic. There’s no chance I’ll ever finish this.” I abandoned it after that. (It didn’t help that, yes, I was halfway through it… At 95k. I had no idea how long that was!)
A little while later, I was in a bookstore with a friend of mine, and I think we were looking over some YA books. She mentioned an idea for a story. We brainstormed, and figured it would be hilarious to write it as a love story between a really unpleasant, unlikeable girl with no redeeming qualities and an incredibly idealized, dreamy guy. We started writing it as a joke, and then we ended up getting into it, and eventually finishing it. That made me realize, "Hey, finishing a story is possible!" There was no going back after that.
I grabbed the first story with its monstrous 95k first half, cut that down to size, and then finished it, too. From there, writing essentially became my primary hobby while I moved to various places, held various jobs, and eventually returned to school. And then I got my fantastic agent, David Dunton, and the rest is history.
Tell us something about yourself we don’t know.
As soon as I finished INSIGNIA, I was pretty sure this was the best thing I’d ever written—maybe the best thing I could write. I was about to graduate and pursue a real-world career, so I figured that this was it. If this one couldn’t get published, nothing I wrote ever could. I was going to wait and see what happened with INSIGNIA, and then stick everything I’d written in the last four years online, and just be done with the publishing thing. This manuscript was make-or-break for me—glad it wasn’t "break"!
About WRITING:Best writing advice?
On writing itself: Read. I can’t imagine being a writer without also being a reader. I think it must engage the same parts of the brain or something, because reading binges and writing binges always go hand-in-hand for me. Those times when I don’t have the patience for a book (I know, blasphemy!) seem to be the same periods when I simply can’t put two words together.
As for publishing: Have a thick skin and a lot of patience. Query widely, because agent rejections don’t necessarily mean your story is terrible. My firm suspicion, after doing far too many of those agent searches, is that your premise either does, or does not, resonate with an agent—and if it doesn’t, there’s no compelling query letter in the world that will change his or her mind. Just IMHO.
What’s your schedule like? How do you manage the insanity of writing among your real life?
My writing schedule’s pretty erratic. I tried out the word count per day thing a few manuscripts ago, and I found that I could force myself to write when I needed to—but the stuff that came out just wasn’t as interesting or as inspired as the writing I produce when I’m really into a manuscript. Now my writing schedule consists of writing binges, sometimes a few days in a row, sometimes a bit more erratic, and only when I’m inspired. I’ve heard that inspiration doesn’t last forever in a writing career, so it’s not something you can count on in the long run. That may be true, but I figure I still have it now—so I take advantage of it and try only to write when I am eager to do it.
Ironically, by confining my writing only to periods when I’m inspired to write, I seem to have a much greater output than I ever did writing to a word count per day.
Wow, I can't wait for INSIGNIA to hit the shelves! You can learn more and/or stalk SJ on her blog or twitter.