I am so pleased to welcome YA author Erica O’Rourke to the blog today! Author of the YA novels TORN (available now), TANGLED (Feb 2012) and BOUND (Fall 2012), from KTeen/Kensington Books. You can find out more about Erica and her books on her blog and on Twitter.
Patricia: Has your writing and process changed since you went from writing for yourself to writing under contract? If yes, how?
Erica: HAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAA. Yes.
Like so many debut authors, I had all the time in the world to write and revise TORN. It was kind of idyllic, and very much a hobby -- I wrote when I felt like it, spent a lot of time hanging out with other authors and learning about their processes, read nearly a book a day. If my life were a movie, this would have been the montage shot in soft-focus, with me looking pensively out at the trees, hands poised over the keyboard, or talking earnestly with friends over coffee, or finding inspiration during a particularly touching moment with my kids. The soundtrack would be an indie-female singer songwriter. I’d be wearing earrings and my hair would look nice.
Once I got serious about publication -- and especially after I had a contract -- I needed to change my mindset and treat my writing as a job. I’m much more disciplined now. I write every day, barring family emergencies. My agent has gently and lovingly pointed out some of my lazier habits, so I make a conscious effort to avoid them in the drafting stage, rather than waiting until revisions. But the biggest change is that I plot the book out in much greater detail than I used to, right off the bat. Knowing what happens before I go into draft means much less work at the revising stage. And while I LOVE revision -- far more than drafting -- I no longer have the time to do endless rounds. The more I can get right the first time, the more I enjoy the process later on.
If this part of my life were a movie, it would be the rock music montage, and I’d be falling asleep face-down on the computer, wearing sock monkey pajama pants and a ratty t-shirt, or serving my children frozen pizza, or talking to myself as I did the laundry. And my hair would look AWFUL.
But I love it. Like, insanely, deliriously, love it.
Patricia: In your FAQs you mention that you outline (which I take to mean you are a plotter rather than a pantser) Can you tell us a little bit about your process and how detailed you get at this stage?
Erica: I am most definitely a plotter, not a pantser. I envy pantsers, actually, because they always seem like they’re having so much fun. But for my own peace of mind, and to enjoy the process of writing a book, I need to have an outline -- a clear idea of where I’m going.
I use a really big sketchbook, and I hew pretty closely to Michael Hague’s screenplay structure. http://storymastery.com/articles/30-screenplay-structure The sketchbook allows me to reword and cross out and be messy -- which helps with the brainstorming aspect. The screenplay structure helps me decide what’s next, and ensures the overall pacing of the novel is on track. Breaking it out like this usually takes me two or three days, and five or six panicked phone calls to my critique partner, and a fair amount of bad language.
I don’t get super-detailed, although if I think of something I’ll jot it down in the appropriate spot (another reason big sketchbooks help here). But if I don’t have the turning points nailed down -- the dilemma, the choice the character makes, and the direction it spins her in -- I’m pretty well doomed.
Patricia: As a mom of little ones, I'm very interested to know how you approach finding time to write when kids are always yelling, "Moooom! I need you to [insert anything and everything here]..."
Erica: Oh, I know that noise. That’s the battle cry of the pseudo-neglected child. We hear it a lot at our house.
Juggling family and a writing career boils down to three things: figuring out what you need, in terms of time and environment, getting your family on board, and deciding what you can live with.
I need big chunks of time to write well -- a couple of hours at a time is ideal -- and I need to know I won’t be interrupted. I’m a stay-at-home mom, and while I love my super-special snowflakes....writing during the day, especially when the younger ones weren’t in school, was impossible. I couldn’t focus, because I always had one ear cocked for disaster. If they were all playing nicely or watching TV, I could jot down some notes or answer email, but no actual writing got done.
Once we realized this, my husband stepped up in a huge way. As soon as he walked in the door from work, I would escape to my basement lair and work like crazy. Ditto on the weekends. (It’s amazing how focused and productive you can be when you know your time is limited.) Having his support made all the difference in the world. I absolutely could not have done this without him.
Now that they’re all in school (the baby goes to preschool) life is a lot easier. I try to make my daily wordcount before the kids get home and save the evening for things like blogging and emailing. This allows me to help with homework and drive them hither and yon without freaking out about how much work I still need to do.
Except when I’m on deadline, of course. That’s when my kids learn to be independent and self-starters. As in, “start the toaster yourself, because I do not have five minutes to come up and make that bagel for you.” And when the baby dresses herself for school in hideously mismatched clothing, I remember that it shaved ten minutes of fighting off our morning routine. That’s when you decide what you can live with (mismatched clothing and pizza for dinner four times a week) and what you can’t (unchecked homework and poor dental hygiene).
Patricia: Can you tell us a little bit about your agent and her role in your process?
Erica: My agent is amazing -- incredibly smart about both the craft of writing and the business of writing, and generous with her time and attention. I am so fortunate to have her in my corner. And if that weren’t enough, she works with an incredible team -- from her brilliant junior associate, who reads everything I write and makes it a zillion times better -- to their subsidiary rights agent, who knows everything there is to know about social media -- every single person at the agency has gone out of their way to help build my career.
She helps me at every stage of the work -- from brainstorming to revisions to marketing and promo. She reads every draft of my story, and we’re very in sync -- I will have a feeling that something’s not clicking, but not know the exact problem, and she will pick up on it immediately and be able to offer suggestions about potential fixes. She’s always very clear that her ideas are suggestions only -- if I have another way to solve it, she’s totally on board. (But her ideas are so good, I’m usually happy to take them!) It’s a very collaborative relationship, and always focused on making the book as strong as it can possibly be.
Patricia: Similarly, can you tell us a little about your publisher, K Teen/Kensington Books, and their role in your process?
Erica: My editor and I brainstorm together a little bit as the book begins, but I’m very fortunate that she trusts me to tell the story I want to tell. Once she gets the first draft, she’s excellent at looking at big-picture stuff -- arcs in the series as a whole. She’ll say, “I think you need to refine this theme or this major symbol,” and that sort of question has a cascade effect -- the answer changes each scene a little bit, but cumulatively, those changes transform the story. She’s also outstanding at detailed edits -- little tweaks to up the tension in a scene, or ensure a character is acting consistently.
The rest of the KTeen team is awesome -- savvy and enthusiastic and incredibly hard-working. They help me with everything: social media, publicity, sales, copy editing, cover art. I was fortunate enough to meet some of them this summer, and they’re absolutely fantastic. I’m very lucky that I get to work with them.
Patricia: What is your perfect atmosphere for writing?
Erica: I used to be pretty high-maintenance: Clean office, the right snacks, notes arranged just-so nearby, soundtrack playing in the background, coffee piping hot and made just right.
Now that I’m on deadline, I’m happy if my desk is clean enough to find a spot for my coffee cup and my kids don’t interrupt me. I am less concerned with “the right snack” and more concerned that my family hasn’t eaten them first. And I’ve developed a pretty high tolerance for mediocre, lukewarm coffee. I still really like having a soundtrack, though.
Patricia: What types of scenes do you get most excited about writing? What scenes are the hardest for you?
Erica: Oooh...I really love banter between Mo and either of the boys. And if that banter leads to kissing, so much the better. Actually, banter between the boys is fun, too. Clearly: banter wins, especially if there’s a lot of emotional stuff that’s under the surface but not actually talked about. I subscribe to the notion people don’t often talk about their feelings -- they talk AROUND them, until there’s a crisis and they have no other choice.
Fight scenes are tough for me. So much stagecraft goes into a fight scene that it’s sometimes hard to keep it all straight in my head. Also, there’s a lot less dialogue once fists start flying -- and unless you want to sound like a superhero movie, you can’t banter. It ruins the tone completely.
Patricia: Your book, TORN, has a kickass heroine and two very hot boys, what is your favorite thing about each of them? (Mo, Colin, & Luc)
Erica: Favorite thing about Mo? I really love how tenacious and loyal she is. She looks so sweet and nice and manageable, but she’s actually really strong-willed, and that quality puts her in danger and also saves her, in the end.
Colin: He won’t let Mo get away with anything. He catches her when she sneaks out, he calls her on her BS, he won’t let her make excuses, and yet, he’s always there for her. It’s a very appealing combination.
Luc: He pushes Mo. Once he realizes that she’s not going away, he pushes her to become something she might not be ready for. Partly it’s self-serving -- he needs her to save his people -- and partly, it’s because he knows she IS capable of doing something amazing.
Patricia: Anything you can tell us about what you are working on right now or what's next from you?
Erica: Right now, I’m working on the last book of the TORN trilogy -- BOUND, which comes out in sometime in the fall of 2012. Once that’s done...I will probably clean my office. It’s pretty bad in there right now.
Patricia: Because I love any opportunity to mention and geek-out about Merlin and Doctor Who, I have to ask... Do you have a favorite BBC show you recommend?
Erica: Doctor Who, of course!!! Here’s the thing: it’s a fantastically entertaining program. It manages to be campy and smart at the same time. It has a ridiculous amount of heart and truth to go along with all of the time travel and flatulent aliens. People ask me where to start watching, and I think you either need to begin with Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor -- the reboot of the series -- or Matt Smith’s Doctor. David Tennant was indescribably wonderful, but because Rose Tyler’s storyline is so important to the show, I think it’s important to start when Rose does. But if you’re pressed for time, The Eleventh Hour is a great place to begin, because you can learn about the Doctor alongside Amy Pond.
If I had to choose a non-Doctor Who show, I’d pick the Vicar of Dibley, which is about a female Anglican priest who gets sent to a quirky little village in the English countryside. They are not thrilled about getting a liberal female priest, and hijinks ensue. Also, there are SO MANY dirty jokes, which is kind of unexpected in a show where the heroine is a member of the clergy.
Can BBC’s Sherlock be considered a series? It’s more of a mini-series, since each episode is a movie. Regardless, it’s fabulous, and done by the same people who write Doctor Who. Benedict Cumberbatch is so gorgeous he doesn’t even look human, and the writing is some of the tightest I’ve ever seen. I have watched it countless times, and I will continue to do so. (Though the second episode -- the Blind Banker -- was much weaker than the other two.)
Erica also had some questions for me!
Erica: What’s your favorite part of the writing process? Least favorite?
Patricia: My favorite part of the writing process is revising. I love taking the incredible draftiness of my first draft and re-shaping them into something so much better and cleaner and more awesome. Honestly, my least favorite part so far is drafting, I have a hard time getting my stories out and when I do I want them to be polished and beautiful. It’s difficult for me to get my internal editor to shut-up and allow myself to write enough bad stuff to get to the good stuff.
Erica: What craft books do you think have been most helpful?
Patricia: *Searches through 40+ craft books on shelf* I think the two books that I learned the most from were WILL WRITE FOR SHOES by Cathy Yardley and SEE JANE WRITE: A GIRL’S GUIDE TO WRITING CHICK-LIT by Sarah Mlynowski and Farrin Jacobs. Both books are geared toward chick-lit (which is what I was writing when I started) but they were actually great resources about the craft and having fun with writing.
Erica: What has surprised you most about your journey as a writer so far?
Patricia: That I can do it. :) It continually surprises me when I reach different milestones in my WIPs. The closer I get to finishing my first draft the more excited I get about the fact that I really *CAN* do this! (And of course, all the encouragement I get from my writer friends is a spectacular part as well!)
Erica, thank you so much for stopping by Tangled Up In Words today! It was wonderful to have you!
GIVEAWAY! Erica has generously provided me with copies of her FANTASTIC debut TORN and swag. To enter, please leave a comment letting us know your name, a way to contact you, how many points you got (see below) and the best piece of advice you took away from this interview with Erica today.
You can earn extra points by:
+1 if you follow @TangledUpNWords on Twitter.
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+2 if you tweet/blog about this interview! (Leave links in comment)
1 GRAND PRIZE WINNER will win a signed copy of TORN and swag!
2 RUNNERS-UP will win a copy of TORN and swag!