Sara Raasch is a YA author represented by Kate Schafer-Testerman of kt literary. She writes a great blog called See Sara Write, which you should definitely check out (she also has a jazzy red website). Here, I ask her about writing, getting an agent and her YA fantasy novel, Steam Pirate:
1. When and how did you start writing?
Throughout childhood I wrote/drew a lot of really, really awful picture books about Beanie Babies (I'm sure there was some copyright infringement at work...), but I didn't start seriously writing until I was 12. I wrote the entire first draft of what would become THE QUEEN OF WINTER trilogy in a notebook, and spent the next seven years writing the other two books, editing, querying, and basically eating, sleeping, and breathing this trilogy. It was a fantastic learning experience, but I call THE QUEEN OF WINTER my "practice novel" now; while I would've been ecstatic to land an agent for it while I was writing it, I'm thrilled I didn't. I got my foundation in writing through it, but it's now one of those novels you never, ever let anyone read.
2. Could you share a little bit about your YA fantasy novel, Stream Pirate?
Of course! STREAM PIRATE is a YA fantasy novel inspired by a geology class I took during high school. It was a night class I took for college credit, and in case you don't speak "college class lingo", night class = OHMYGODBORING. A bored writer is a dangerous thing, and soon the spaces around my notes were filled with doodles of rivers and glaciers and rocks -- but it was when the professor mentioned the term "stream piracy" that I knew something was happening. "Stream piracy" is just too quirky of a term to pass up. I let the idea simmer for two years before I dove into it last fall, and it is by far my favorite world to be in. Pirates, rivers, steamboats, magic tree sap -- there's something for everyone!
3. What inspires your writing? Are there any authors who particularly influence your work?
Inspiration strikes anywhere, anytime. Music, movies, books, certain things people say, even just watching someone walk can be inspiring; hence the reason I have to carry a notebook with me at all times to avoid forgetting any bouts of inspiration.
As far as authors go, there are two I worship: Sharon Shinn and Libba Bray. Libba wrote the freakishly amazing Gemma Doyle Trilogy while Sharon wrote the Twelve House series (among other things). Both have such rich characters, vibrant worlds, and poetic writing styles that it's nigh-impossible to not be inspired by them.
4. Were there any parts of the writing process that you really struggled with?
Beginnings. In fact, now that STREAM PIRATE is done and agented, I've been having a heck of a time starting something new. The ideas are all there, but beginnings are always my weakest point; I think knowing that makes it worse, because I expect it to be bad, and perfectionist-me won't stand for that. I've got a few stories started that I've been toying around with, so now it's just waiting for one of them to decide it wants to be written. My stories are so finicky.
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?
Querying THE QUEEN OF WINTER was long, grueling, and painful, mainly because of the 100+ queries I sent, I only got about 3 partials. Uber-discouraging. So when I started querying STREAM PIRATE, needless to say I was terrified and expecting another few years of querying, rejections, and small, dim beacons of hope. Almost instantly STREAM PIRATE did far, far better than I expected, bringing in more partials and fulls than I had ever hoped to get with THE QUEEN OF WINTER. And after less than a year of querying, I had two interested agents. Kate was so helpful with revisions and so excited about my story; it just felt like a good match. After my struggle with my first trilogy, I'm still having trouble realizing it's actually happened so easily!
I didn't have one dream agent in mind, as I didn't want to get my hopes up too prematurely. I targeted every agent who represented YA or YA fantasy. I'd even go into bookstores and flip to the acknowledgments page of books to see if I'd missed any agents. I've accumulated a nice long list of could-be-queried (that I will never have to use again! Woot woot!).
6. Complete this sentence: My teenage years were...
...nonexistent. Seriously, I don't even feel like I had teenage years. I transferred to a private school for the first two years of highschool, foregoing a "real" highschool experience, and then spent the last two years taking college courses for college and highschool credit. While I knew kids were out going to dances or football games, I was studying or writing or querying. People said I was boring quite frequently, but I wouldn't change a moment of my teenage years. I had fun, even if it wasn't the "traditional" fun.
7. Complete this sentence: Outside of writing, my life is...
...nonexistent. Ha, just kidding. Outside of writing, my life is constantly changing. In the past year I've transferred schools, changed majors 4 times, gotten a puppy, moved, and had two surgeries. Writing is the one constant in my life; no matter what is happening or where I am, I'm always a writer. I'm always surrounded by stories and magic and things bigger than this world. Knowing that at the end of a particularly horrible day all my characters are still there, waiting for me, makes life so much more bearable.
8. What are you working on now? (If it's not top secret...)
I'm torn between two projects: the sequel (now a trilogy) to STREAM PIRATE and a YA-dystopian that may or may not be a trilogy. (I have an obsession with 3's, apparently.) I keep chapter-hopping between the two, which has made for some interesting voice-switches that will have to be edited out someday. I keep waiting for one to take hold stronger than the other, but right now they seem content to share the spotlight. It's a little unnerving.
Thank you, Sara! Head over to See Sara Write!