Interview with Kiersten White

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Kiersten White's debut novel PARANORMALCY is to be published by HarperTeen in September 2010. She's represented by Michelle Wolfson of Wolfson Literary. She blogs at Kiersten Writes and has a pretty website. I'm going to put money on PARANORMALCY being a huge deal in the YA blogosphere next year and you can find out a bit about Kiersten and her novel below...

1. When and how did you start writing?

I'm guessing half the people who get this question are really clever and say something like, when I was four and my mom taught me to write my name. So I'm going to be clever by not being clever, and say I started writing creatively (aside from some EPIC attempts at poetry in high school) right after my first daughter was born, so about five years ago. My husband was in law school, I was bored, it seemed like the thing to do.

2. Paranormalcy sounds so intriguing. What made you write a paranormal novel for teenagers?

I have yet to work on an idea that doesn't have some sort of paranormal element. I like to be entertained, and my daydreams are always more entertaining when they're not quite normal. My first couple of novels (including the one that got me an agent) revolved around girls with psychic powers. I hadn't expected to go more into the fantasy side of paranormal until I got the idea for Paranormalcy. And then it was so fun I couldn't stop. I love the idea of all of the usuall teenage emotions and drama being dealt with alongside really unusual problems. I think it's a fun way of exploring issues. Also, mermaids! How else could I have a mermaid? John Green doesn't have mermaids.

3. Were there any parts of the writing process that you really struggled with?

After my first book, Flash, didn't sell, I couldn't decide what to do next. I had two other finished novels--including Paranormalcy--but I didn't know whether to edit Flash and pitch it for adults or buckle down and get Paranormalcy shiny enough for editors. I have a tendency to juggle projects, and the idea of putting all of my focus onto just one was kind of scary. However, I realized I didn't want to write for adults. So I took a couple of months and worked my butt off (not literally, though, which is a good thing because otherwise I'd have nowhere to sit) editing Para, and it worked out pretty well : )

4. Was the search for an agent difficult or easy for you? Did you have a dream agent in mind that you targeted, or did you query every agent you thought would suit your novel?

It was definitely difficult. I wrote a middle grade novel that I queried on and off for about a year until I wrote Flash. With Flash I sent out 45 queries. In general I got a good response, but it took about four months before I found my agent, Michelle Wolfson. That doesn't sound like a long time, but it felt like an eternity. Plus there were some Big Bad Life Things that happened to compound my frustration. Stupid Life, doesn't it realize writers are fragile things?

I was pretty open as far as querying. I did have a few "dream" agents, but I ended up with one I queried just because I liked her name. I can't imagine a better agent for me! So I think it's good to be open-minded when it comes to the agent hunt.

5. After you signed with your agent, what happened? How did you react when you got a book deal with Harper Teen?

After I signed with Michelle we sent out my first book on submission. And...nothing happened. After four months of generally positive-but-not-in-love responses, we decided to reevaluate. As I said before, I thought I had something special with Paranormalcy, so I edited it and sent it to Michelle. And I was terrified. Really, truly terrified. It was pretty different from the book she had signed me for, and I was so scared she wasn't going to like it and I was going to be her most disappointing client ever. Fortunately she was thrilled with it. The idea of going out on submission again made me a little sick to my stomach, but I figured I had already been through a book not selling and it didn't kill me (although it did make me gain five pounds, CURSE YOU FIRST SUBMISSION), so it wouldn't be as bad the second time around.

Two weeks after she sent it out, Michelle told me that we were getting some very early interest. Two days later she was telling me that people were VERY excited. Three weeks after sending it to Erica Sussman, my fabulous editor, we had a pre-empt from HarperTeen, which had always been my dream house. When Michelle called me the day before our scheduled auction to tell me about their offer, I sat down and couldn't stop laughing. I still can't quite believe it's real!'

6. Complete this sentence: My teenage years were...
Lonely. I think in many ways I was both very immature and too mature, so I wanted things I couldn't have yet--like, say, meaningful relationships? I was also an insomniac, struggled with depression, and was deeply insecure. Being a teenager is hard, no matter who you are or what your life is like. There's no way around it other than to just go ahead and keep having birthdays. However, being a teenager is also wonderful, which is why I will always write for them. Plus, I met my husband when I was eighteen, so my teenage years also brought me the best thing in my life!

7. Complete this sentence: Outside of writing, my life is...
How sad is it that the only words I can think of are boring and monotonous? I'm a stay-at-home mom, and while my kids are freakishly cute and I'm so glad I get to be home with them, it's a bit repetitive. This is where writing comes in--it's the perfect outlet to keep me sane and happy.

8. What are you working on now?

The SEQUEL. Or at least I'm thinking about it. I've yet to really get going on it, but I'm planning on it. Sometime. Soon. Ish. Don't tell my editor.


Thank you, Kiersten! Head over and check out her blog.
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