Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Author Interview: Courtney Summers
Imagine four years.
Four years, two suicides, one death, one rape, two pregnancies (one abortion), three overdoses, countless drunken antics, pantsings, spilled food, theft, fights, broken limbs, turf wars–every day, a turf war–six months until graduation and no one gets a medal when they get out. But everything you do here counts.
So begins the recently released YA novel, Cracked Up to Be. It’s a truly wild ride written by one truly wild, not to mention awesome, author. That author is Courtney Summers, and TWFT has snagged an interview with her, so sit back and enjoy…
Hey Courtney! Cracked Up to Be, your debut novel, has gotten some rave reviews and lots of positive attention since its release in December. Eight months after the fact, what insights have you gained on “The Published Life”?
The more I do this, the more I learn (over and over again) that it takes a village to get a book published. It constantly amazes me how many (fantastic, passionate!) people are involved in the process and how hard they work to make the final product absolutely perfect. Every decision is made toward that goal and it defines the way you listen and the way you ask your own questions. Also, publishing works on its own time. Patience is a virtue, both before and after the sale of a book. (Has it been eight months already?! Aaah!)
Okay, it’s more like seven months – I rounded up, so relax… for now! After all that exposure to the publishing world, do you still remember your querying days? What happened on your road to agentdom?
PHEW! Seven months I can deal with! But eight–that’s just crazy. ;) I do remember my querying days. I haven’t deleted a single query I’ve sent from my inbox, actually. My road to agentdom was fairly standard. I wrote the books, I polished the books, I wrote queries for those books and targeted my submissions to agents VERY carefully. Research is essential for querying. The amazing Amy Tipton of FinePrint Literary Management read the query, requested the full and shortly thereafter offered representation and we’ve been happily working together ever since!
Sounds like a happy ending! The book features Parker Fadley, a high school senior who’s gone through some seriously traumatic stuff… and whose happy ending is not so assured. How did you go about developing such a complicated character?
Once I knew what Parker’s problem was, I had her voice. She was very clear to me. And because so much of her attitude is defined by her responses to other characters and the situations around her, my approach was to write her out and see what happened, let her develop with the story. I got some pleasant surprises by doing this–I didn’t pre-plan the finger-snapping, for example. It just happened!
Are there any similarities between yourself and Parker? Finger-snapping, or maybe compulsive hair-combing?
I think Parker and I have the same need for perfection. We are hard on ourselves and sometimes it gets the better of us. But luckily (!), it hasn’t gotten the better of me in quite the same way it got the better of her…!
Good to hear, good to hear. Your second novel, Some Girls Are, is due out in January of next year. Are you more or less excited than you were for the release of your first book? More or less nervous?
I am as excited about the impending release of Some Girls Are, but much more nervous than I was for the release of Cracked Up to Be, which is something I never would have thought possible. Second books are scary; you’ve shaped reader expectations with your first novel and you hope that what you put out next lives up to those expectations. At the same time, you also hope the book is allowed to stand on its own. It’s nervewracking!
Cracked Up to Be utilizes a writing style I haven’t seen before in the YA genre – I’d almost call it “punk minimalism.” (Okay, skip the punk thing, it’s just really cool.) How much of that is Parker’s voice, and how much is simply your personal style? Can readers expect something similar in Some Girls Are?
Thank you so much! That’s definitely my style. I’ve always really, really loved being economical with words. Some Girls Are is similarly spare/minimalist in style, but I feel the voices in each novel are distinctly their own. Where Parker had a biting running commentary going on and avoided her pain by being a total bitch to everyone, Regina (the main character in Some Girls Are) is much angrier and more questioning–she’s a different kind of wounded.
Right now you’re working on your third book, the plot details for which you have kept pretty secret. (I’m all right with that, really. Really.) What has been your hardest challenge in writing this particular novel?
I think the challenge of writing this particular book is that it doesn’t want to be written! And so I am trying to honour its wishes for me to LEAVE IT ALONE and am putting it away for a while and moving onto another idea. I’m simultaneously resentful and excited about this. Resentful because all that time put in, all those pages… it’s hard to let go! Sigh. But excited because I can’t wait to see what challenges the New Book 3 holds. And hopefully the Old Book 3 will become Book 4, because it is a story I’d really like to tell.
Oh wow! I can’t imagine putting all that work aside, but I’m totally sure it will turn out for the better. Did you receive any pressure from your agent or others to finish through with Old Book 3? I’m curious about what stress, if any, new authors are put through to establish their “name” by releasing books quickly.
The only pressure that is put on me is the pressure I put on myself. My agent is incredibly supportive of what I do, and the ideas I pursue. Because book three is not contracted I have the freedom and time to play around with ideas until one sticks and that’s very fun. When you write a book, you make a big commitment to it. It’s not just a one-off. You have to be prepared to spend a lot of time and a lot of work on it. It’s an investment. It is basically a relationship. And no one would ever encourage me to stay in a relationship that didn’t make me happy. :)
(Note: As of Courtney’s recent blog post, Book 3 has been given another chance. You write that thing, girl!)
Has novel writing in general gotten easier as you go along?
I wish! Oh, HOW I wish. Every novel has easy moments, but writing novels is consistently hard. And never hard the same way twice. Or maybe that’s just me… I hope it’s not just me.
What’s your number-one piece of advice to give to aspiring writers?
To just do it and to not let ANYONE talk you out of it. Writing is hard and painful but also wonderful and rewarding. It’s also one of those pursuits that has absolutely no guarantee. When you plan to do something that requires a lot of work and zero guarantees, the first thing other people will do is attempt to talk you out of it. These people generally mean well, but… don’t listen to them. Because life is short and you should be happy. And if writing is what makes you happy, you have to try it. Go straight at it.
If you met up with your sixteen-year-old self right now, what would you say to her? What would she say to you? (Ignoring any possibility of rips in the space-time continuum.)
I have a hard time with these types of questions because–whether or not this is actually the case–I feel like they sort of speak to regret and I generally don’t like doing that. If I told you my answer would be, “Start planning for the zombie apocalypse now!” That probably wouldn’t seem serious enough (although it is very sage!), but if I tried for profound, I’d likely fail. I honestly think I’d just say hello to her, and maybe she would say it back. And then I would stand aside and let her make every single mistake that I know she’s going to make because those mistakes define who I am today, and those mistakes helped me learn and they helped me to grow as a person. And I know my sixteen-year-old self makes it out okay. Mostly all of us do. :)
Your blog has been recognized as one of the quirkiest in the YA blogosphere. Do you think YA authors have a duty to blog, considering their readers? How important is blogging, really?
Those are great questions. Blogging is not for everyone. It’s a committment and it’s time-consuming and it can be hard to think up new content regularly to engage your readers with. You have to invest in it and some people simply can’t. That’s okay. But I do firmly believe that YA authors NEED to have a website at the very least. Nothing drives me crazier as a reader than hearing about a great book and discovering no author website and I honestly can’t imagine why anyone WOULDN’T take advantage of the opportunity to connect with readers in this way. And because I think blogging is a personal choice, I can only tell you that blogging is VERY important to me. I love it. I enjoy entertaining people–or attempting to–with my blog entries and I enjoy engaging with my blog readers. I value their comments and appreciate them taking the time to read the stuff I put out there. It’s a fun way to connect.
An unlimited supply of Ray-Bans OR one completely safe trip into the center of a volcano?
Well, now that I have my ~Lady Gaga~ sunglasses, I would totally take the completely safe trip into the center of a volcano! That would be amazing. All the Ray-Bans in the world could not out-amazing that. They would try, but they would fail.
A day with Edward Cullen OR a day as the hero of a zombie flick?
I have a poster of Edward Cullen in my room. I have a feeling it’s as good as having an actual Edward Cullen around, to be honest. He is quiet, broods and sparkles and sleepstalks me, JUST as he would in real life. So I definitely choose to be the hero of a zombie flick. Although that would be kind of awful because the heroes of those movies are always left with TONS of emotional baggage and about 95% of the people around them die. And usually those people are the people the hero loves the most. Wow. It must suck being a hero in that context. But wait! If it’s a zombie MOVIE none of that emotional baggage is real and the loved ones that die just go off-set, right? In that case: HERO OF A ZOMBIE FLICK ALL THE WAY.
Name your top three favorite plot elements to write:
Secrets, haunted pasts and small towns.
Name the top three loves of your life:
My family, my friends and my pets.
And finally, the TWFT’s most important question: what’s your favorite flavor of jellybean?
GREEN. The best colour AND flavour of them all. I will hear no arguments against this.
Thanks so much for the interview, Courtney! TWFT mission: pick up Cracked Up to Be now and Some Girls Are on January 5th (it’s pitched as Mean Girls meets Heathers). You can read the first chapter of Cracked Up to Be HERE.
Labels: Author Interviews