I had the joy of attending the 7th annual Teen Book Con at Alief Taylor High School in Houston, Texas on Saturday. There were 25 young adult authors in the line-up, with a fabulous keynote address from Ruta Sepetys, author of Salt to the Sea, and six topical panels.
For the most part, teens asked the questions for the author panels. I was so impressed with the quality of their queries that I jotted several down. And I thought I’d answer them myself — see how I’d do on an author panel.
What’s the worst piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
Authors are often asked about the best writing advice they’ve received, so this question was a nice reversal. I’d say the worst advice is anytime someone says there’s a single process for writing a novel. Whether it be plot this way or you must never edit while writing the first draft or use this method and you’ll turn out bestsellers, it’s just wrong. Not wrong for everyone, but wrong for some. It’s silly to assume that the way one writer turns out a great novel is the same process another must use. That would be like saying, “There’s only one route to New York,” when one of you is coming from Pennsylvania and the other from Africa. We’re different people coming from different places, so find whatever route gets you to the destination of Great Novel.
How often does the ending of your book surprise you?
When I write mysteries, I’m definitely surprised. I’ve written two mystery manuscripts, and both times I didn’t know who the perpetrator was when I started. I wrote more than half of those books with three different possibilities in mind — which made it easier to provide “red herrings,” I guess — but as the books progressed, it became clear whodunnit.
If you could spend a day with one of your characters, who would it be and what would you do?
This is a hard question, because I’d like to hang out with several of my characters. However, I’m currently writing a novel, Daring Charlotte, about a teenage girl who adores musicals. As a musical fan myself, I’d love to spend a day with Charlotte just watching musicals in a marathon movie event. The trouble would be narrowing it down to which ones we’d want to fit into our 24 hours.
What is your hidden talent?
I can touch my tongue to my nose. Actually, now that I say that, it doesn’t sound a talent — more like a weird trick.
What’s your favorite part of the book to write?
First chapters. I love that fresh moment of a story idea falling onto the page, when I’m excited to meet these characters and eager to find the hook that gets readers interested in knowing more. I’m sure I spend way more time on the first chapter of a book than any other, because I believe it’s that important. (And that fun.)
What’s a romance trope you hate?
Bad boys turned good, solely because of the love of a nice girl. Seriously, ladies, if he’s only changing because he thinks it will get you to go out with him or get you in bed, it ain’t gonna last. Love does not cure drug addiction, bad ethics, or prison-worthy behavior. And it doesn’t make a jerk into a prince. A guy can be flawed, but he’d better be a good soul before he has a shot at the worthwhile female characters in my books.
What is your advice for aspiring writers?
Be willing to write crap and be willing to edit it into something wonderful. You can get so wrapped up in writing perfection that first time that you don’t get words down on the page. Set yourself up for the reality that you will delete or change quite a bit of what you write, and that’s okay. Excellence demands perspiration, so just commit to writing and then be willing to rewrite to make it better and better and better. Until you realize that what you wrote overall is pretty darn good, and worth sharing with others.
If your main character was real, what would they be doing right now?
I immediately thought about my YA novel Sharing Hunter (out on submission) and those two main characters. Chloe is wearing a small bikini, breaking into the hot tub at a local hotel, and inviting her love interest (no spoilers) to join her in the foam already. Rachel is carefully sketching a portrait of her and her love interest (no spoilers) to give to him for their __-month anniversary.
How would you answer any of the questions above? Or what questions would you ask of your favorite authors?