Special Feature: Author Interview of
David E. Hughes
Rebecca Taylor's debut young adult novel ASCENDANT is coming out in June of 2013 from Crescent Moon Press.
Tell us about ASCENDANT.
ASCENDANT is a YA mystery about a girl investigating the connection between her mother's disappearance and her family's involvement with secret societies.
Here is my blurb:
When I was twelve, my mother disappeared. I was the first person to never find her.
I'm sixteen now and she has never been found, alive or dead.
I'm not the girl I should have been.
When Charlotte Stevens, bright but failing, is sent to stay at her mother's childhood home in Somerset England her life is changed forever. While exploring the lavish family manor, Gaersum Aern, Charlotte discovers a stone puzzle box that contains a pentagram necklace and a note from her mother-clues to her family's strange past and her mother's disappearance. Charlotte must try to solve the puzzle box, decipher her mother's old journals, and figure out who is working to derail her efforts-and why. The family manor contains many secrets and hidden histories, keys to the elegant mystery Charlotte called mom and hopefully, a trail to finding her.
What would you say makes ASCENDANT stand out from the numerous other YA novels on the market?
Ascendant is a contemporary mystery, and yet I'm tackling subjects often described as "paranormal" or "supernatural"; magic, or alchemy if you will. I've seen many books go either way, contemporary OR paranormal, or I've seen the subject worked with under the umbrella of being a historical YA (think Libba Bray's Emma Goyle books) but I haven't seen much (although there are thousands of YA books I haven't read) that take on everyday magic and the everyday girl set in today's world (there are no angels, werewolves, vampires, or zombies in ASCENDANT.) One exception that I have recently read is THE RAVEN BOYS by Maggie Stiefvater (great book, loved it.) There is this whole culture out there surrounding the modern day practice of alchemy, this book is Charlotte's introduction into that world.
Is ASCENDANT a stand-alone or part of a series? How far along are you on the next book?
ASCENDANT is the first book in the series-I am currently about 30% into the second book (tentatively titled MIDHEAVEN.) I am also working on another novel that is a stand alone, DAY OF THE DEAD, which my agent will begin to shop in 2013.
Tell us a bit about your personal background.
Every time I get asked this, Steve Martin in THE JERK immediately springs to my mind, "I was born a poor black child . . ." and I chuckle stupidly to myself. The very next thing I think is, "which background do they want to hear?" Well here is one: In 1975 I was born to a sixteen year old British immigrant who had somehow managed to hide her pregnancy from her parents for eight months before being ratted out during a parent-principal conference at her American high school. When I was three, she married and U.S. Marine and I spent my childhood moving from place to place. We were working poor, paycheck-to-paycheck kind of people. A fairly high percentage of my family didn't finish high school-never mind college. I have held a variety of different jobs that range from cleaning people's sweat off of tanning beds to serving champagne to first class passengers over international waters. Despite not being "set up to succeed" in the endeavor, I did manage to put myself through college and then through graduate school (if you detect a note of defensive pride in this admission, you are not far off the mark)-I now work as a school psychologist with kids kindergarten through high school that I often find pretty relatable, as you might imagine.
What inspired you to write young adult fiction?
I feel that it "allows" for greater exploration of that everyday supernatural that I love so much. You seem to be able to get away with more in YA books than adult books. Of course, this is just my perception. David Liss did write THE TWELFTH ENCHANTMENT, which I loved, but again, the magic is safely contained within that historical setting which I think supposedly aids readers ability to suspend disbelief. Also, even when I've written an "adult" book, most of it ends up being about the characters' childhood and adolescence. I think I am fascinated with that time of life, how those experiences shape us, or how we grow past them. Also, it can be convenient in terms of plotting and conflict-teens don't always have access to resources or those resources can be removed by the adults in their life: money, cell, computer, freedom in general, cars, etc, etc.
What impact has your professional background had on your writing?
One thing I think I am very, very good at is ferreting out motivation in an individual-this includes my characters. One of my biggest pet peeves when reading is when a character's behavior doesn't gel for me with a viable motivation. Basically, I'm too busy thinking, "But they would NEVER do that" to enjoy the scene.
Discovering WHY a child (or sometimes adult) is behaving a particular way is a HUGE part of my day job. I can't effectively help if I don't know why-the REAL why. In relation to writing, character motivation is key and their behavior must make sense within the boundaries of that motivation, their personalities, and the situation. Even if a character does something completely unexpected (especially if they do something unexpected) I still want to marry the surprise (They did what?!?) with that character's background (Oh, of course-he would so do that *disappointedly shakes head*)
How would you characterize the YA fiction market today? Anything you see too much of? Too little?
There is so much variability right now; it's a really opportune time to be a YA author, regardless of your genre. I don't much troll the message boards or agent blogs the way I used to, so I'm not hearing much about what people are complaining about (for example: Is dystopia the new vampire book? When will it end?) All I know is that when I'm at the bookstore standing in front of the YA section, I can choose anything from contemporary romance (FAULT IN OUR STARS) to science fiction fantasy (INCARCERON) with all the varying degrees of literary merit and achievement in between.
Tell us about your path to publication.
How much space do I get? I'll give you the abridged version. In 2007 I finished an adult novel titled A BETTER LIFE that I had penned under my maiden name, Rebecca Burgess. I queried many, many agents, had a handful ask for partials, and a Redwood's worth of rejections. In 2008, I self published A BETTER LIFE under my own "publishing company" name, Ophelia House. I learned much from this experience and could probably fill an entire interview with those gems alone.
Fast forward to 2009-I have an idea for a new book, an idea I'm very, very excited about-this will eventually become ASCENDANT. In 2010 I attended the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference and paid for the agent critique session with Laura Rennert. Laura liked my first ten pages and asked for the partial afterwards, which eventually led to her asking for my full manuscript. At this time, I am also querying other agents. I was fortunate enough to have several agents ask for the partial and/or the full of ASCENDANT, Emma Patterson (my agent) offered first AND we really connected well both personally and professionally-we still do.
We were close with a few of the larger publishers (requests for revision, acquisition meeting) but never received an offer. I won't lie, this was very, very hard for me. Soul crushing. The sky is falling. Oh, woe is me. It was my first time out on submission and even though Emma had prepped me very well about realistic expectations, I was not emotionally prepared for the experience. For the first time since I started writing, it was very difficult for me TO write. Again, it was a major learning experience. Emma encouraged me to start working on something else, and I agreed, but I just couldn't let ASCENDANT go-I really believe in that book gosh darn it! So, while I started working on the new book, DAY OF THE DEAD, I started to look into boutique publishers who might be interested in ASCENDANT. I was fortunate to find one almost immediately, Crescent Moon Press.
What tips or recommendations do you have for aspiring authors?
1. The big one? Get better. Study writing, writers, craft-if you think you are above all this, you have a problem. No one is above getting better. We should always, always be striving for better. Also, if studying about writing sounds like a chore to you-do you REALLY want to be a writer? Because I have always loved learning about writing, reading about writing, and talking about writing. Just like I have always loved reading, learning about reading, and talking about reading. This is my passion-through and through. If you are not passionate about books and the creation of books, think hard about what is motivating you towards writing as a career.
2. There is more than one way to skin a cat. There are many more options when it comes to publishing these days: traditional, small press, boutique press, self. Research all your options and make the best informed decisions for you and your career. The industry is changing every day, always keep up with your options. For example: ASCENDANT did have agent representation but we were unable to sell it to one of the larger houses. I could have shelved it, moved on and just put all my writing energies into working on DAY OF THE DEAD. But that didn't feel right to me. I researched other options and decided to publish with a boutique publisher. This way, my work gets out there and I can hopefully begin to build an audience that enjoys my work. When we start shopping DAY OF THE DEAD, I am coming to that acquisition table with more experience, greater skills (remember, Get Better), as well as a deeper understanding about how the industry works.
3. If you really want to be a published author, don't give up. If you just kinda think it would be neat to be one, you will eventually give up.
What has it been like working with Crescent Moon? Has anything surprised you about the process of developing the book?
Not any surprises. Typically, authors don't get much input on cover design, but with CMP they ask you about what you have in mind, what do you really hate, etc. So I thought that was one great perk to working with a boutique press. Also, the community of CMP authors is phenomenal! They communicate frequently through a private message board and help each other out with promotions, education, information sharing-everyone has been so amazing. The experience has been very personal, I like that.
Looks like you've got a blog--what type of things do you post on it?
I like to post about recent books I've read (and enjoyed-I don't post negative reviews or talk publically about books I didn't like), writing, and motivation. I sometimes will blog about personal stuff, pictures if we went somewhere interesting as a family, but I'm intentionally steering my content further and further away from these types of posts. Just recently I've been thinking more intently about subject matter and blog audience-it's a work in progress. Right now I'm in the middle of running a series entitled "Writers, No One In Publishing Is Ever Going To Save You!" The posts have been about taking control of your writing career instead of waiting around to be noticed and saved by a bus full of power agents and brilliant editors suddenly showing up at your front door to yank you from obscurity. I try to be fun, informative, direct (maybe even blunt), but most of all, encouraging.