So I got the most fabulous idea to interview some of the awesome agented-but-not-yet-published YA authors that I've found in the blogosphere recently. First up is the amazing Natalie Whipple, represented by Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown LTD, and author of a book that sounds totally awesome, Relax, I'm a Ninja. Here, she shares a little bit about her writing and her path to being an agented author...
1. When and how did you start writing?
I've loved to write since I was taught the alphabet. I even wrote a picture book when I was 6 that won a young author's award in my city (and it's still in their library!). That's when I first had the thought, "I want to write when I grow up." But I'm also a rather practical person, so I thought that might be a long shot of a dream. While I dabbled in writing throughout my schooling, I told myself I wanted to teach or edit or study language. You know, something that could get me a "real job."
I ended up studying linguistics, with a minor in editing, at Brigham Young University. I wrote for their multicultural magazine, Eagle's Eye, and hoped to continue editing after school. But then I got married and had a baby. I was at home with my little newborn (in 2006) when I decided to pull out the old book ideas I had in high school. I figured, "Why not give novel writing a shot?" If I was being totally honest with myself, there was still nothing in the world I wanted to do more. That's when I got serious about writing a book, when I told myself I wasn't going to give up on my dream.
2. Relax, I'm a Ninja sounds awesome. Could you tell me a little bit about it?
It's the story of Tosh(iro) Ito, a nerdy 16-year-old who is secretly a ninja. One night his friends dare him to spy on this hot cheerleader named Courtney Petersen. Not being one to back out of dares, Tosh sneaks over to her house and finds out the hard way that Courtney isn't quite what she seems.
It's a bit of a mystery, so I don't want to give away too much more. Maybe just some teaser words? San Francisco, Dungeons & Dragons, an evil ninja, Japanese myth, kissing, poisons, and lots and lots of secrets.
3. What inspires your writing? Are there any authors who particularly influence your work?
Hmm, hard question. As far as inspiration goes, I seem to get it from all over the place. Music, art, movies, books, nature, research, etc. I did grow up a devoted anime fan (I also draw anime), though, so that might make me a little different. It definitely fueled my love of Japanese culture, which, obviously, was a big help in writing Relax, I'm a Ninja.
The first author that comes to mind is C.S. Lewis and The Chronicles of Narnia. They were my favorite books as a child, and even now I still pull them out to reread—they're the only books I've ever reread. I've always been drawn to fantasy, so they hooked me there. But what I truly love about The Chronicles is how Lewis uses fantastical elements to say something. They are symbols, which I think adds a deeper level to the story.
I didn't intentionally make my fantastical elements symbols, but looking back, they really are. And when I look at all my stories, there's something deeper there than I realized at first glance. So thank you, C.S. Lewis.
4. Were there any parts of the writing process that you really struggled with?
Editing—lots and lots of editing. I write first drafts fast (like 1-2 months), but then I have to edit them to death. I did almost nine months of editing with Nathan before he signed me. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done, but I wouldn't take back the experience for anything. At times I wanted to delete the whole book because I'd never make it what it needed to be, but I kept going and was always amazed by the results. I'm very proud of this book. The hard work was worth it.
5. 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?
Oh, I'm so laughing right now, mostly so I don't cry. Finding an agent is hard. No matter if it takes 15 queries or 200, the waiting and wondering and hoping and despairing can be utterly soul crushing. My journey was on the longer side—I started querying my first project in October 2007 and I signed with Nathan September 2009. Almost two years! (That wasn't all on one project though. I queried 4 projects total.)
Actually, Nathan was my "dream agent." And I feel very lucky that we are working with each other now. I never expected it to end up that way, but I did query him with every one of my projects anyway (as well as a lot of other agents). I just thought he was very professional, and yet still kind and funny. He's a "hands-on" agent, which is something I always wanted. I was never sure he'd like my projects, but he sure liked my ninjas and I'm still so excited about that. I couldn't ask for a better agent.
6. Complete this sentence: My teenage years were...
BORING. Truly, I was the epitome of responsible and unexciting. I finished in the top 30 of my class. I never went to any wild parties...or any parties, for that matter. I saw those things as "a waste of time," and I still do, actually. I wanted to DO something with my life, if that makes any sense. I wanted to accomplish as much as I could with the time I was given.
So my high school days were filled with responsible things like AP classes, art, Student Council, and theater (I was a techie). It was also filled with various introverted activities like watching anime, playing glorious RPGs like the Final Fantasy series, writing seriously bad poetry, pining over boys who would never like me, and wishing there were more people who wanted to be friends with the quiet over-achiever.
*Shrugs* I wouldn't take any of it back. I had fun in my own nerdy way.
7. Complete this sentence: Outside of writing, my life is...
Messy. I have two kids—3 and 1—and they have this idea that messing up the house is the funnest thing in the world. I can't keep up, but I try. When I'm not writing, I'm doing very mommy-like things—cleaning, cooking, changing diapers, washing sloppy faces, keeping baby from light sockets and utensil drawers, and answering all my son's burning questions (like "Why do I have a belly button?"). That kind of stuff.
8. What are you working on now?
Editing-wise, I'm working on the umpteenth draft of my novel Void. It's about Coral Starfall, who was born to a wizard family, except she has no magic. She runs away to our world, but the wizards aren't quite ready to let her go. It has a Victorian flair, plus cute boys, motorcycles, and aluminum foil.
Writing-wise, I'm working on a French-twisted steampunk that I've nicknamed Spork, since I have no clue on a title. It's about two brothers, Gil and Adair Lefevre, who end up on a wild adventure to find a rumored rebel camp. Gil has to keep Adair alive if he wants to inherit his father's metaforge, where they forge elemental weapons. That's no easy task, since Adair is as reckless as they come. Throw in a deadly metagun named Nero and you have a recipe for war.
Thank you, Natalie!
Check out her blog, Between Fact and Fiction and follow her on Twitter.