Welcome to YA Q&A! Today's featured author is Sarah Tregay, whose debut novel, LOVE AND LEFTOVERS, was published by Katherine Tegen Books in December... of 2011. Yes, Sarah's book has been out there in the world for a whole year (hanging out on the YA shelves, cuddling up with readers, feelin' the love...). She's been kind enough to stop by and answer a few questions about her work, and share some insights into her past year.
Q: Hey, Sarah! Tell us a little bit about your journey as a writer... how long have you been writing, what have you written, and how did you find your way to the wonderful world of YA?
A: I was one of those teens who scribbled her heart out in spiral-bound notebooks, but I knew that writing fiction wasn’t a practical career. So I went to college and majored in graphic design. Many years later, I started dabbling with writing again. There was no doubt in my mind that I’d write YA—I never did make it to the adult section of the library because I stopped reading for fun when I started college. And when I started reading again? I felt at home in YA—right where I left off.
I wrote five manuscripts in four years and submitted them to agents without success, collecting a binder of rejection letters. In 2007, I got to a point where I either needed to change how I wrote or I needed to find a new hobby. I decided to try my next project in verse. That project turned into LOVE AND LEFTOVERS, which was sold in 2010 and published in December 2011.
Q: I love novels in verse, and am curious about the writing process. How do you know when a story is best suited to be told in verse? What special challenges do you face in a verse novel, and what are some of the advantages?
A: Verse novels feel most natural when there is a reason for the format. For example, HOME OF THE BRAVE’s main character is learning English so the short-lined poems fit his knowledge of the language. In MAY B. and THE WILD BOOK, we have characters who struggle with dyslexia. Perhaps the most common connection is characters who are learning about poetry in English class, such as in LOVE THAT DOG and SHAKESPEARE BATS CLEANUP. In LOVE AND LEFTOVERS, Marcie writes poems in her blue notebook and the notebook becomes part of the plot. These connections between format and story make them inseparable.
Verse novels can be challenging because you can’t dwell on setting, transitions, and long passages of dialog, yet you don’t want the piece to feel too jumpy. You have to rely on small clues to keep your readers up-to-date. Sometimes passage of time was boiled down to a title of a poem, for example, “On Saturday.”
The advantages to writing a verse novel are in the editing phase. If your editor asks for more information about character A, you can add a poem. Less about character B, delete one. If your plot is too slow, delete a few poems and it speeds up. And best of all, you can re-arrange poems without much rewriting.
Q: Tell us about your experience over the past year - with the release, promotion, etc., and how you keep that all going while working on whatever comes next?
A: Prior to the release, my publisher did a great job of sending out advanced readers copies and getting reviews, but other than that they didn’t do a whole lot to promote my book. So to keep things one step shy of crazy, I worked on promotions and in-person events every other month instead of 24/7.
LOVE AND LEFTOVERS was my debut novel, so I joined up with the Apocalypsies and the Class of 2k12 for shared promotional opportunities. Some of us got together in New York City during Book Expo America and held events at the convention center and bookstores around the city.
A little closer to home, I reached out to my local independent bookseller whose customer base included school librarians. Together we contacted them, offering a free lunchtime author visit if the school bought copies of LOVE AND LEFTOVERS. These visits worked fit into my 9 to 5 day job, and best of all, I didn’t have to prepare a big presentation for large groups of students.
I worked with Teen Book Scene to do a blog tour of author interviews and book reviews. Because I don’t blog (I can never think of a topic to write about) or tweet (ditto), this and interviews on other blogs were my focus for online promotions. I do have a Facebook page www.facebook.com/sarahtregaybooks and a website www.sarahtregay.com.
Q: Do you work with critique partners? If so, where did you find each other, how do you work together, and how important are they to your writing/revising process?
A: Yes, I love to work with critique partners. The two groups that I am in now meet face-to-face. They were both created by getting the word out in the local writing community.
We work together by submitting work before we meet, along with a note about what we are looking for critique-wise, such as big picture or character development. Then we get together at a restaurant and discuss the writing. The discussions often weigh the pros and cons of certain ideas, helping me navigate through my manuscript.
Before I had an agent, my critique partners were essential. Now that I’m working with an agent who edits and an editor, they aren’t as necessary—but they still add value to my writing process.
Q: What are you working on now/next?
A: I have a YA novel under contract and I am working on revisions with my editor. The working title is FAN ART, and it is scheduled for 2014. It’s about a high school senior who hijacks his school’s literary magazine, and in the process, he ends up outing himself. Sadly, it isn’t in verse. The original short story was written in poems, but when HarperCollins expressed interest in seeing it as a novel they asked for it to be in prose. So I’m trying to sneak a little poetry and a graphic short story between the chapters—we’ll see if that flies.
Thank you, Sarah! And for those interested reading other verse novels, check out the great list Sarah has compiled of novels and short stories in verse for adults, teens and middle grade readers, right here!