If you’re looking to get into writing to get famous (if so, you may want to choose something easier), you won’t have much in common with Elly Blake, author of Frostblood. She enjoys meeting fans and other YA authors at signings and conferences, but she ultimately finished Frostblood for herself and her craft. “I wasn’t totally prepared for the ‘being an author’ side of it as far as going places and interviews and things like that,” she said. “I was more focused on the craft part and trying to learn as much as I could about writing.”
Don’t mistake Blake’s love for craft as a lack of joy for Frostblood’s success, though. “It’s literally a dream come true,” she said to Fictionist in a recent interview. “(It’s) something that you daydream about.” She barely has time to enjoy life as a New York Times bestselling author, however, considering she’ll be releasing two books and two novellas by the summer of 2018. She’s had to take a leave of absence from her part-time job at a library, and her time is taken up with revising book two (Fireblood) and writing book three.
If you ever want to distract Blake from her stress, though, all you’ll need to do is make her smile — and that’s not too tall of an order. Blake likes to look on the bright side of life, even if you’re writing a two-star review of her debut book. “There’s one negative review on Amazon … It says, ‘I cannot begin to express how happy I am to be done with this book,'” Blake recounted with a laugh. “But he or she still gave me two stars so I thought, ‘Well that’s pretty generous, if they really disliked it that much and still gave two stars. I guess I have to appreciate that generosity.'”
It can’t be easy for someone to find a way to appreciate a two-star review, but it seems like Blake stays humble. In fact, she threw out the whole second half of Frostblood because of an idea she had while she was waiting to pitch to an editor at RWA.
“I went home from the conference and deleted 30,000 words and wrote 40,000 words over a few weeks or a couple of months,” Blake said. “The first draft (of Frostblood) was very different. It’s much better now. I read a little bit (of the first draft) a couple of months ago, and I was cringing. It’s amazing how you grow, not just with each book, but with each revision. You learn with each stage you’re at, thank goodness.”
While Blake works on book three and we wait for Fireblood‘s release this Fall, enjoy this full-length interview from Fictionist’s Q&A with Elly Blake!
Where are you living right now?
I live just across the (U.S.-Canada) border, actually. So if you were in Detroit and you came across the bridge into Canada, you’d be in Windsor, which is the nearest city to me, about half an hour away. So, close to Michigan, but on the Canadian side. I’m in a town close to where I grew up — there’s a little village about 10 minutes away, and that’s where I grew up, but I’m in the town now. It’s still very small, but slightly bigger than the village.
How does it feel, as a debut author, to have a book become a NYT bestseller?
It was amazing. It was a surprise — a great surprise — and, I mean, there are no words, right? It’s literally a dream come true, something that you daydream about, and you don’t know if that’ll ever happen, and I didn’t think it would happen to me, so it’s incredibly exciting. I was not expecting it, especially because it didn’t happen the first week — usually, if it’s going to hit the list, it’s the week it comes out, and I think it was the fifth week it came out when it hit The New York Times list.
If I Google you, a photo of you and your books with the label “writer” comes up. How does it feel to be cool enough to have your own Google entry?
My gosh this is slightly terrifying. I wonder what books it was showing. It’s — I don’t know — a rush, you know? I mean, what do I say? It’s not something I really thought about when I was thinking about, you know, writing a book and becoming an author — or writing a bunch of books, since I have a bunch of unfinished manuscripts. I wasn’t totally prepared for the ‘being an author’ side of it as far as going places and interviews and things like that. I was more focused on the craft part and trying to learn as much as I could about writing. I didn’t really think too much about after (I got published) because, you know, I have to have that hyper focus because it’s so hard to get published. So, you have to just kind of pick a focus and stick with it.
What’s the most entertaining — good or bad — feedback you’ve gotten about Frostblood so far?
I try not to read the reviews too much, because one day I read some and I kind of fell into a black hole of reading all the one and two star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. I know some authors that read all of their reviews, and I don’t know how they do that because I just mentally can’t process that. It’s not like I have a ton of confidence as it is in my writing, so (it’s hard) to read all of the negative reviews — because of course, you’re drawn to the negative ones. Or even if you read 10 positive ones and one negative it’s sometimes a negative one that sticks with you. Sometimes people have tagged me. Usually, when people tag me online it’s with a positive review, but sometimes they tag me with negative ones, and I’ve sort of read those by accident. Because if someone tags me I feel like they want me to see it and I try to look at it and thank people for taking the time to review the book. There’s one negative review on Amazon — you’ll see it as the top negative review — that says very bluntly how they felt about the book. It says, “I cannot begin to express how happy I am to be done with this book.” So (Elly laughing), they didn’t pull any punches on that. But he or she still gave me two stars so I thought, “Well that’s pretty generous, if they really disliked it that much and still gave two stars. I guess I have to appreciate that generosity.” I kind of, in a way, admire that. Because if I hate a book, I really can’t make myself read the whole thing. It’s just too difficult, I can’t get into it if I’m not liking it. So it’s amazing to me that some people will finish every book that they start. I can’t imagine doing that, because if I can’t get into a book, I put it down.
What was your worst job?
The worst job I ever had was a phone solicitor. I was in my teens and it was a summer job and I had to sell things over the phone. What I was selling was some sort of vacation package, I can’t remember… it was a radio station that was doing this, so long ago now. But I was selling really well, I was getting a lot of people buying it. But I could tell it was people who didn’t need it. They were just… sometimes they were older people who might be a little bit lonely, and they were happy to have someone to talk to when I called. I felt really guilty about it. It was terrible. So after the first week or two — that workplace who was right near the mall, I think I was 15 at the time so this sounds really bad, but this is what happened: So, my mom would drop me off at my phone soliciting job. And then sometimes I would just not go. I would go to the mall instead. It was such a bad job. I quit shortly after I think I only did that for like two days and then I quit. It was a hard job, I didn’t like calling people up and selling them something that they didn’t need. Yeah. I had a few other jobs that I had for like, one day or one week that I just hated so much that I left, but I mean, they weren’t that interesting.
How could you have a job for only a day?
Oh my gosh, it’d probably take too long to explain why that one was a bad job. But it was for a bath tub refinishing company, and it was something about calling people up, it could have been sales. But the circumstances of the job — the boss and the people who worked there — it was just really bizarre, and it only took me a day to figure out this was not a healthy work environment. I quit after that one day. They never paid me, but it was good that I quit.
Would you ever want to become a full-time writer, or do you think you’ll keep your part-time job?
I’m actually taking a six month leave of absence right now from my library job. I really love my library job, and I adore my coworkers, but just balancing the time… I realized that there’s no way that I could write book three and do my day job at the same time, so I took this leave of absence to get through this. I kind of have to see how things go once I’m done with this series. On the one hand, I find there’s some mental benefit to having a day job that’s not about writing, and interacting with people instead of being alone in my basement writing. You know, having an identity, helping people at the library and having that good feeling of “Oh, I got something done today.” Whereas, sometimes with writing — which I love — but there are days when I’m really stuck and my anxiety’s bad and I might not get any writing done. Sometimes it is nice to have that balance of having another reality that’s not related to writing, but at the same time, writing is my dream. It’s my priority. So, that has to come first. Whatever reality I create where I get the writing done, that comes first.
Do you ever get homesick for your fictional worlds?
Oh, that’s a good question. So, the previous fictional worlds I’ve written about were unfinished manuscripts that I would write, say, 80,000 words on. But I wouldn’t know how to end it, so I’d just abandon it and write something new. There’s a couple of those that I think about sometimes, and I’ll think about going back to (them). But there’s nothing that compares to the Frostblood Saga, because I’ve just spent so much time in this world. I think when I’m finished – I’m already sort of wondering how that will hit me. I think it’ll be a form of grief to let that go. I love my characters, of course, so it’ll be strange to say goodbye.
Have you traveled anywhere other than Ontario? Do you want to?
When I was a kid, my dad used to do an almost yearly motor home trip in the US, so I’ve been to various states. I’ve been to Yellowstone Park multiple times, and out to California… I have some relatives who live in New York, as well, and (we went to) Florida, of course. And we had done some driving trips around the Southwest and things like that. I’ve only been to Europe once, when I was 17. I went to go visit some relatives in Germany and Switzerland. I think it was a three-week trip, and I brought a friend along – that’s my only experience outside of North America, though. I’d like to go back to Europe, I’d like to take a longer trip and see more countries. My brothers have both traveled extensively in Europe and Asia and all over, so I’d like to be the one to do that someday.
Do you have a favorite place in the world?
I like to be near water, in general. My house was a lakefront house growing up, so we were right on Lake Eerie. I was used to the water sounds and being near the water, but… I’m trying to think if I have a favorite place. I mean, when we went to Switzerland, my relatives actually had a chalet so that was super fancy. It was great for skiing — I was terrible at skiing, by the way. I have embarrassing stories about that, but it was really beautiful. The town was called Verbier, and it was really lovely, so I wouldn’t mind going back there. But as for favorite places, I guess if I really want to relax I just drive down to the beach near where I grew up. There’s a public beach, a big sandy beach, on Lake Eerie. It’s cold in the fall and winter, but sometimes if I need to clear my head or calm down I’ll just drive down to the lake. I guess that’s my favorite place.
So, you mentioned embarrassing skiing stories, and now I have to ask about that.
Um, I’m trying to remember… well, I fell down pretty spectacularly on the way to the hill – we weren’t even there yet, and my friend laughed at me, so that was a bad start. But the worst one was when I was holding onto one of those ropes that pull you up the hill, and I wasn’t at the top yet and of course there’s a bunch of people behind me, right? And my German relative started yelling something at me in German, and I thought he was yelling, “Let go! Let go!” Well, he was apparently saying, “Hold on!” But I found that out later. So, I let go and I, you know, crashed into the people behind me. It was not a good experience, but it makes for a fun story. I took out a few skiers.
(Jackie: That’s good, you took people with you! Elly: (laughs) Yes, that’s the way to go down! Take them with you!)
Do you have any events or signings coming up?
I don’t have a tour planned, but I have some local signings around here in London, Ontario, which is a couple of hours away toward Toronto. There’s one in London on May 27 — I should probably put all of this on my website — and there’s one in the Toronto area on June 8th, in Collingwood, which is north of Toronto. So there’s a few, just mostly in the Toronto area right now. I did a couple of things in Michigan and I went to RT in Atlanta and did the book fair signing at RT. I’m going to go to RWA in July. That’s in Orlando, and I’m probably going to do a signing there. There’s things like that, where I’m just already going to a conference and I’m sort of working on the opportunity to do a signing. But I’m on a really accelerated publishing schedule for this series. I don’t know if you noticed, but the books are coming out nine months apart instead of a year apart.
Which, of course, means I have to write them and edit them in that time period, and it makes it a little bit harder to have time to do other things. So, maybe in the future when I’ve done the actual writing and finishing book three part, maybe I’ll have more appearances and things like that. For right now I just have a few, because I have to focus on the writing.
I was going to ask what other projects you’re working on, but with the tight deadlines I suspect it’s just this series.
Yep. Just this. The rest of this year, for sure, because there’s also two digital novellas. One comes between book two and three, and one after book three, and I still have to write those. So yeah, this year is solid Frostblood Saga. I believe they’re e-book only, unless something changes. Fireblood, which is book two, comes out in September. Shortly after that, a digital novella will come out, sometime in the fall. And then book three comes out June 2018, and I think the other novella will follow shortly after that.
Did you enjoy going to RT and any other events you’ve recently attended?
I had done some smaller (events) like the signing with Stephanie Garber, the author of Caraval, in Michigan, which was fantastic. It was actually her signing, but she let me kind of come and have a chat with her and ask her questions and then I signed books as well, and that was a total thrill. I think that was my very first signing, so this (RT) wasn’t my first signing, but it was my first signing at a conference which is a totally different experience. It’s an enormous room with tables set up and it gets really crowded, and you know, it’s kind of exciting. It was nice to see people in person who enjoyed the book — and one memorable (fan) was a very tall man who was a little bit older than I am, and he came up and he just said, “I am not your typical demographic.” And I said, “Oh, great! That’s even more flattering!” I just thought that was really flattering, that he sought me out. He wanted my book and he sort of joked about not being the typical demographic for my book, but wanted it anyway.
I see that you have a Husky, so I assume you’re a dog person?
Yes, I am. I’ve had her since 2012, I believe. And before that I had two miniature poodle mixes who were sisters, but we’d had them for 16 years and they passed away within a few weeks of each other, actually. I could not live without a dog, so I started looking at the Humane Society and we actually sort of met with two or three other dogs but…. My son was afraid of one of them. I have three kids, and they were younger at the time to my little guy was, you know, pretty small. So he was afraid of one and there were just certain things with the other dogs that we weren’t sure about. And then I met Sasha, my dog that I have now. And she was so sweet. They had us in a room where we could just sit and interact with her and play with her and stuff. And as soon as the kids came towards her she laid down and showed her belly which is, you know, a sign of submission. But she wasn’t scared, either. She was calm about it — she was just like. “pet me.” So she was just really good with kids immediately.
What is your strangest hobby/interest?
I collect owls. That’s not terribly exciting, but my grandmother collected owls, and when I was about four or five I just started collecting them, too, because I was always playing with hers. I think she gave me a few to start, and then once people hear you collect something, you know, you’re going to get that for gifts. My dad traveled a lot for work growing up, so he would bring home owls from wherever he went, and friends and family would give me owls as presents. I still love it. Every time I get an owl, I’m excited, even though I have a whole bunch of them. My mom still gives me owl jewelry.
Have you ever considered writing anything to do with owls?
I haven’t, actually. Maybe because of Harry Potter with Hedwig because, like, how can I top that? It’s Hedwig. I do have a Hedwig mug, too, by the way, that I got a Disney World. (Editor’s note: Elly and I are both still sad about Hedwig.)
What’s the easiest way to brighten your day (other than giving you an owl)?
Sometimes there are random things that people share online that hit you the right way. It can be a comedy sketch or SNL sketch – I don’t know. I like humor, so I like things that make me laugh. If a friend shares something that makes me laugh, that brightens my day. Just seeing the brighter side of things is helpful in any situation, I think.
Is there a fail-safe way for you to get writing inspiration?
I wish there was. Sometimes it helps to listen to the same music that I’ve listened to over and over when I’m writing to get myself into writing mode. Doing sprints* online with my writing friends, I find really useful. If someone else is writing at the same time and we’re checking in every 15 or 30 minutes, it keeps me accountable so that rather than giving up and going off to do something else, I stick with it. Sometimes if things are really bad, I set a timer for five minutes – this is probably the most effective method for me. Just lowering my expectations. The times when I’m stuck, I almost always realize that my expectations of myself were too high, and I was being perfectionistic and being too hard on myself. So, if I lower my expectations for quality of writing and how much I have to write, sometimes that gets me on a roll. Sometimes I just stop after the five minutes, but at least I accomplished something. It gives you that sense of success rather than thinking, ‘oh, I didn’t get any words down today.’
*Editor’s note: writing sprints are exercises where authors write as much as possible for a set amount of time. Another type of sprint focuses on a specific word count rather than a time trial.
Would you say the line between YA and adult fantasy is getting more and more blurred?
I mean, I hope so. I certainly hope so. I sometimes will hear, or there will be an op-ed piece that displays stigma against YA. I don’t understand that at all, because, you know, it’s it’s not like the appeal of YA is limited to a certain age of reader. It’s sort of an umbrella that covers all genres, and it’s exciting for a reader of any age in my opinion. So I hope (the line) is blurring more. That would be great if that were the case.
Have you ever had to talk to someone who was very anti-YA?
Not directly. I work part-time at a library, so I think I’ve heard people say things about YA, but until recently — until my book deal went public — I didn’t even tell anyone at work (with a couple of exceptions of coworkers) that I was writing. So, no one said anything to me directly or made me defend it or anything like that.
But occasionally, you know, there’s people who… you hear them sort of dismiss YA because ‘oh, you know, they wouldn’t read that’ kind of thing. But I never confronted anyone (who was anti-YA) as an author. I don’t know if I would, anyway. I mean, that’s their opinion, they’re entitled to that anyway. So maybe that’s not their thing, but I love it and I hope that lots of other adults love it. I mean, I know (other adults) do.
Would you say there’s something missing from YA as a genre? A lot of people have mentioned LGBT issues, multicultural characters, etc.
Well, I think when people are saying that there is a gap, that means there is one. You know, they’re speaking from their own experience and they’re seeing that they’re not seeing themselves (represented). There’s something missing in the genre. I read your other interview (with Victoria Schwab) — this is just echoing what she said, but I totally agree. I think part of the solution is going to be to have more diversity in the publishing industry so that the books that are chosen — you know, the books that are published — reflect a wider array of viewpoints and backgrounds. I think if people are expressing that there is a need for something that’s not there, I think there probably is (a need), right? Change is slow, but hopefully that changes over time.
It’s very exciting when someone comes in and they sort of create new subgenres with a book that’s really popular and does really well, and that proves that there is a demand for that book even if maybe publishing didn’t think there was.
If you had to pick only one word to describe Fireblood, what would it be?
Oh, that is so hard. This is about the book, not about my process of writing it, right? Because if it was about me writing it, I was going to say, “difficult.” But it’s about the book, not me. Hmm. I have to think of how to encompass it, it’s about Ruby confronting her origins and who she wants to be and things like that. I’m trying to think of the right word to sum that up… “conflicting?” I don’t know if that’s a good enough word. I think I’ll have to go with “conflicting” because I can’t think if a better word. Ruby has inner conflict with, you know, who she is. I’m going to be thinking about that all day and night – one word, one word. You’ll get an email from me at midnight like, ‘this is the one word!’ (Editor’s note: Elly did not actually email me at midnight with a new word, so we’re going with “conflicted.” Dear Elly: if you ever want to email me at midnight, we can always add another word!)
Have there been any pieces of fan art that have really affected you?
I’ve only had a few pieces so far, but I’m incredibly thrilled by each and every one. I love fan art, and it’s one of my ‘dream come true’ things. The first one was from another author, Diana Pinguicha, and she did a really beautiful job. That was incredibly touching. More recently – I have a writer friend who lives in Utah, and her daughter who I’ve sent all my books (even the advance readers’ copies, and she’s a fan), she sent the most beautiful fan art, and I didn’t even know she drew. I didn’t even know she had a talent. And it is just so beautiful. I’m just excited by every bit of fan art.
Take me through a typical day for you.
It’s probably not as ideal as you would think, or as I would like. There’s a lot of me sitting as my computer not knowing what to write and then taking breaks. Or reading, or chatting with my friends online – I have some really great writer friends who are also critique partners, and they will brainstorm with me or just comfort me, and I will comfort them or brainstorm with them. So that’s a necessity. I have to talk to my writer friends every day, of course. The days really vary. There are some days when, if I know where I’m going, I can draft a lot of words in a day. But lately, more often it’s the days where it’s like blood from a stone writing where you just try to chip out any words you can and have something to show for it. It depends on where I am mentally with the plot – because I’m a pantser who likes to be a plotter. I always really want to outline and plot and figure it out, but even that overwhelms me often, so if I try to do too much of that it just shuts me down. I’m always trying to figure out what works for me, and I still don’t know. Even though I’m on my third book, I’m still trying to figure out what works for me in my writing process. It’s really messy. I always wish for more time, but then my husband points out that if I had more time I would just waste more time, because he knows me and I’m a procrastinator. I think I need the fire of a deadline under my feet to force me to get it down. Maybe the tight deadlines are actually good for me. This is all new right now, so we’ll see if I ever figure out a routine. It’ll get easier. Actually, I don’t think it ever really gets easier, you just don’t beat yourself up as much. You accept where you are.
What was different about Frostblood that made you finish it and not one of the ideas you had already written 80,000 words on?
I think I was inching closer to finishing something with my previous manuscript. It was YA sci-fi, and it had finaled in some contests. I actually had a published author in my writing group who said that if I finished it, she would send it to her agent – a big YA agent. But I could not finish that book. I tried for a year or two, and I kept coming back to it. I would designate a NaNoWriMo and say ‘okay, I’m going to finish this book,’ but I kept hitting a wall every time I opened it. My anxiety would skyrocket every time I opened the document, it just got so bad. I finally realized I just don’t know how to finish this book. And during that period, around 2013, the market for sci-fi was a little softer, in a downturn, and fantasy – which I love, fantasy was my first love – was stronger. So, I thought, ‘I’m going to write a fantasy because that’s my first love anyway.’
I didn’t know how to start. I said, ‘I have this idea of a girl in a prison, or a dungeon area.’ I sort of had the premise; I had had this dream about a girl with power over fire and a king with an icy heart. I had the basic premise figured out, but then you need scenes, right? You need to be able to see the scenes. And my critique partner said, ‘Just write the scene with the girl in the prison,’ so that’s how I started it. That’s actually chapter two of Frostblood; chapter one was added later, once I had an agent. So chapter two was the initial beginning of the book. I don’t know why I finished (Frostblood). I think it’s because I came so close with the previous book and I tried so hard, so I was determined to actually finish it.
How did Frostblood get picked up by an agent?
I got into this contest called Pitch Wars, and basically people send their first chapter and a query letter off to four different mentors that they want to help them with their book. I was just lucky enough that one of those mentors that I sent it off to chose my book. So, I think it was September 2014 when the Pitch Wars entrants were announced. I had started writing earlier in 2014, and I had sent a whole rewrite over the summer, which is another story because I had pitched it to someone and then realized I needed to rewrite the whole second half. So I had rewritten it and then I got into Pitch Wars, and my mentor helped me over a two-month period to revise it, and then it went to an agent round in November, which is when I got some agent offers, and luckily one of those was Suzie Townsend. She is fantastic, and New Leaf Literary is great for YA – Veronica Roth, for instance. I really lucked out.
I do want to hear about why you rewrote the second half of Frostblood.
Okay, this is bad. Don’t do what I did. I went to the RWA conference in 2014, and you can pitch in-person with agents or editors, so I had a pitch appointment with an agent. And you’re in this room with a bunch of people, everyone’s really nervous. You’re all lined up in order of which agent you’re seeing, so I’m all lined up and I have my piece of paper that talks about my book, and I was looking at my piece of paper – this is, like, 5 minutes before I had to pitch – and I realized there wasn’t enough conflict in my second half. So I took a pen and I literally scratched out my second half and I added “gladiator-style matches,” which is in Frostblood, to my pitch. When I went in and pitched it to the agent, her eyes lit up at that part. I stuck around, and I was kind of on a high because she requested, so you can stick around and wait for cancellations so that you can pitch to more agents and editors. I pitched to five people that day, and all of their eyes lit up at that part, the gladiator-style matches. So I went home from the conference and deleted 30,000 words and wrote 40,000 words over a few weeks or a couple of months – July and August – so yeah, it was the revised version that went off to Pitch Wars and agents. The first draft was very different. It’s much better now. I read a little bit (of the first draft) a couple of months ago, and I was cringing. It’s amazing how you grow, not just with each book, but with each revision. You learn with each stage you’re at, thank goodness.
Have you met any other YA authors at events or signings that you’ve gotten along well with?
I’ve met Susan Dennard a couple of times this year, and I really like her a lot. I was lucky enough to meet Alexandra Bracken at RT, so I was really thrilled to meet them. I like them a lot. I’ve met a few others, but it was usually very brief. I also think I mentioned that I know Morgan Rhodes, she lives in the Toronto area. I do know her a little bit better, and she’s been so good to me. She’s probably actually the reason why I finished. She was the author who really liked the sci-fi I wrote, and she wanted to send it to her agent but I couldn’t finish. And then she read the first five pages of Frostblood at a critique session in March of 2014, and she rolled up the piece of paper and hit me over the head with it and said, ‘finish it.’ She wrote ‘finish it’ on the paper, I actually shared it a few weeks ago on Instagram because I found that piece of paper.
And Eve Silver is another author, she’s written a series called The Game, and she’s also in that Toronto group. She is also vital to me, just really encouraging. But I also have some author friends through my 2017 debuts group, who I adore of course, but I’d have to list them all and it would take too much time.
Writer friendships are just so important, because you kind of have to be a writer – it doesn’t matter if you’re published or not, but you have to write – to understand someone else’s writing woes. It’s a very specific set of problems, I feel like, so you need those writer friends to really get what you’re going through.
Do you have any favorite YA books right now?
I have some favorite authors and series, but I’m pretty behind on my YA reading right now because I find it really hard to read in my own genre while in writing, and to compare myself. I see everything that I’m not good at and I see everything that that author is good at, and then it sort of, you know, it’s not always good for my mental state. So I haven’t been reading nearly as much YA as I should because I’ve been so focused on trying to write and get to my deadlines. But some of my favorite authors… I love Marie Rutkoski’s The Winner’s Curse. I was just able to finish that one. I mean, her writing is so good. It is hard sometimes to read one of your favorite authors when you’re writing or when you’re going through a tough time in your writing, because you just wish you could write that beautifully. And she’s a lovely writer. This is going back years, but I love the Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa. It’s one of my favorite series and I think it might have been one of the first series I ever read that actually made me want to write YA. I think that was one that I got really excited about and thought, ‘I want to write like this.’ I actually found an old diary entry where I said, “I wish I wrote like Julie Kagawa.” There’s so many others… The Falling Kingdoms series by Morgan Rhodes — and I’m lucky enough to know Morgan as well, in person, in real life, and I love her. She’s wonderful. The Orphan Queen by Jody Meadows… I mean, I could go on. I’m looking at my bookshelf over here, but those are some top ones.
I have been on a total binge of historical romance. So if you need historical romance recommendations, I can help you out. Like I said, I just have a really hard time reading YA, but I seem to be able to read certain other things that are totally — in my mind, anyway — unrelated, or different enough that my subconscious gives me a break.
(Editor’s Note: These last two questions were sent via email at a later date rather than over Skype with the rest of the above questions.)
What would you say to unpublished authors who feel they are too old/too young/too busy to debut?
It’s always hard to find time to write, and it’s also hard to have confidence that this is the point in your life when you’re ready to pursue publication. The first challenge, and it’s a big one, is finishing a manuscript. You have to take your writing time seriously, somehow create space in your life, and learn to say no to things that are unnecessary and deplete your energy for writing. It’s not easy. As for being too old or too young, I don’t think either is ever the case. If you’re young and you’re writing YA or MG, you’re closer to the age group you’re writing about. And sometimes not knowing conventions makes for fresh, original writing. If you’re older, you have life experience and hopefully a wealth of reading behind you. It’s never too soon or too late to try!
When did you first decide that getting a book published was something you really wanted to do?
I dreamed about writing a book and having it published from about age 14 on, but I didn’t have the courage to pursue my writing dreams until many years later, after I had kids and realized maybe I should give this a try. If I hadn’t received early encouragement, I might have given up very quickly. Fortunately for me, I happened to join a wonderful writing group and I learned so much from the published writers in that group, as well as finding a fantastic critique partner and great writing friends. After a few years and a bunch of abandoned manuscripts, I still didn’t think my writing was ready to query, so I entered contests instead. In 2014, I entered a contest called Pitch Wars and my book was chosen by one of the mentors. That contest led to finding my wonderful agent! It was about a year later when my book sold, and since then, I’ve come to realize how very lucky I’ve been along the way. The road to publication is often very bumpy, and I’ve been fortunate in so many ways. I’m filled with gratitude to my friends, family, agency, and publisher!