Friday, October 17, 2008

A2A Chat: Interview with Heather Duffy Stone

Tip of the Day: Our guest today blogs here.

Happy Teen Read week! It's been a fun week here at Author2Author, meeting five new authors who will have books coming out the first part of 2009. It looks like it's shaping up to be a fantastic year for young adult fiction!

Today we get to meet Heather Duffy Stone, author of THIS IS WHAT I WANT TO TELL YOU, March 1, 2009, Flux.


The book begins with these lines: "The stories people tell are always about the things we left behind, and the things we wish we could do again. The real story isn't about what you know; it's about what you wish you knew then..."

A2A: Can you tell us how you got the idea for this book? How long did it take you to go from idea to completed manuscript?

Heather: In the spring of 2001 I moved to Los Angeles. I’d been out of school for about two years and I’d been working in publishing, first for a teen magazine and then for a literary agent , in NYC. I was struggling with trying to be a writer and trying to pay my bills. So I quit publishing and packed up my stuff and moved to L.A., where, I was somehow convinced, I could be a writer… this is another story. But I moved to L.A. and I started waiting tables and writing vigorously. I wrote this story about a woman named Lace. She was a single mother who had six year old twins. The twins were a product of her one great love affair with an Italian boy she’d met at her family’s lake camp when she was 18. He disappeared but she could never get over him. When this story began she had a third child, a baby named Bella, and a boyfriend named Toby, who was very salt-of-the-earth, very caring, very good to her and her family. But she was in love with this man who’d become a ghost… and so. I finished the story and then I got an amazing job developing creative writing programs for high schools and my life sort of changed. I started to focus on different things. On teaching. And suddenly I was writing very little. 

Fast forward six years and I moved to Italy to teach in an international school. I worked with this incredible group of students. I was such a bad teacher—it was my first year as an English teacher, I only knew how to teach Creative Writing then and I was such a pushover—but I adored them and they taught me so much. I was struck by how hard it was to find books for them. Books that asked them to look at narrative style and movements in literature and also spoke directly to their lives. And in all of this I stumbled across this story I’d written about a mother and her Italian lover. Suddenly, the twins grew up. They were sixteen and the story was about them. 

I fell into their story. I started writing for my students, and then for the twins, and then the story just took off. I wrote notes about them. I knew this was the story it was supposed to be. And then about a year later I wrote an essay about this very personal experience, this sort of re-acquaintance with someone I used to know. And in reading over that essay, I realized I hadn’t told the truth exactly, but I’d made up a character. And he belonged in the story. Once all of these things came together (and I’d just moved back to New York) I enrolled in a writing workshop. And I wrote the whole thing in about four months. It became THIS IS WHAT I WANT TO TELL YOU.

[Lisa:  So we should never throw away those stories that never go anywhere, right? Who knows where they might lead us in the future!]

A2A: What was your publishing journey like - a pretty straight road or did you have lots of detours?

Heather: Publishing this book has been so surreal. I finished the manuscript (sort of. It definitely had holes) over Christmas vacation last year. And I was sitting in my apartment on New Years Day and I said, I turn 31 this year. And I was supposed to publish a novel by 30. I have to do this. So literally on New Years Day, I sent my manuscript out to two editors. One of them was Andrew Karre at Flux, who I’d been hearing a lot about. Andrew wrote back within a week and asked to see the manuscript. I was so floored. When we spoke, I was so blown away. He GOT my book. A big thing for me was that I don’t use quotation marks in dialogue in this project. This is really important to me. I wanted the line between thinking and speaking to be very intentionally blurred. I knew this was going to be a hard sell. But Andrew knew too. He said, this is going to make some people nervous, but I see why it needs to be. He sent me an offer letter within a month. When I got it, I think I stopped breathing. And then I turned off my computer and went into the kitchen and started to make dinner. I think it was a few hours before I told anyone. I was in total shock… at this point I got an agent and my agent, Jenoyne Adams, has been so wonderfully supportive through this whole process and she so gets my work. We had all of these connections—people we knew and writers we’d studied under. It was just very fortuitous. That part was kind of backwards I guess, because the agent came after the offer. But it has all worked out… 

[Lisa: I've heard great things about Andrew Karre. I know a lot of people who are sad about him leaving Flux.]

A2A: I was reading your blog and see that you work in a high school as a counselor and an English teacher. As a fellow YA author I have to say, wow, how cool! It seems teens have so much going on these days, I'm amazed they can find any time to pick up a book just for fun. But they are! What do you think makes a teen pick up a book - the cover, a friend's recommendation, a librarian's recommendation, etc? Any interesting observations you've made about teens and reading you'd like to share?

Heather: You know it’s funny. I was working at a high school last year and my students were a little bit older than I think my reading audience will be. They had a lot of demands on them. Many of them worked and went to school and helped support family members. They had so much going on. They are really incredible, inspiring kids. One of them, a poet, was one of the first people to whom I showed my cover. I was so nervous about it. But I was like, I have to see what kind of reaction it gets. And he was really honest. He talked about it for a while, why it would jump out, what story he thought was behind it (he even sent me an email later with another idea for the cover, an image he really thought would work). I was so impressed. He was very analytical about the whole thing—the story, the cover, the marketing. He thought about this book and what makes a story appealing and what makes a book sell, he thought about all of this in a way that was so sharp and so critical (and I mean that in a very positive way) I finally asked him:
“Do you go into bookstores? Would you ever go pick up a novel and buy it?”
“Nah,” he said. “I never buy books.”
This experience was so telling for me. Because the audience I think I wrote this book for, is the one who wouldn’t necessarily pick up a novel. Those who don’t have time, or don’t think it will be relevant to them. Yet they are such great critics. Such great readers. It poses an interesting dilemma though.
I’m afraid I might not have answered your question at all…

[Lisa: Yeah, kids are so busy these days, I do wonder how they find time to read for pleasure at all! But the way the YA section at the bookstores is growing, they must be doing it somehow!] 

A2A: Is there anything you're especially nervous about as you move from the status of unpublished to published author?

Heather: Well, I guess my biggest fear is that no one will read my book. I mean, it’s kind of a quiet little book in a world where there are a lot of BIG books and BIG stories and mostly, I just want it to reach readers. I’m also really proud of this story, I’m really close to it. And I suppose there is always the fear that I won’t ever feel as close to another project.

[Lisa: Those were my biggest fears, too!]

A2A: What YA books have you read lately? What's in your TBR pile now?

Heather: Oh this is embarrassing. Because once I start teaching I am only reading what I’m teaching. Right now I’m re-reading Frederick Douglass’s Narrative because I start teaching it next month… but let’s see. Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist is one of my favorites. I’m very scared about the movie because that story is SO narrative-driven. I just love their voices. But I’m excited too. Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower is my all-time favorite. In my pile right now… mostly I can’t WAIT to read the ARCs of all of my fellow Debs (www.feastofawesome.com) especially Neesha Meminger’s Shine, Coconut Moon and Cheryl Renee Herbsman’s Breathing. But really, all of them…

[Lisa: Yeah, you're so lucky to get to read all those ARCs - I'm envious. :) ]

Thanks for chatting with us, Heather, and good luck with your book! I look forward to reading it!!

11 comments:

seaheidi said...

yay heather! thanks for the interview. =)

Maggie Stiefvater said...

I love Andrew! And your novel sounds great and just like my sort of thing. I'll have to add it to my wish list for spring.

Kate Fall said...

I'm so intrigued by the missing quote marks in the dialogue, especially with twins. I'll be on the lookout for this one! Great interview.

DeenaML said...

After Jordan Sonnenblick did DRUMS, GIRLS, & DANGEROUS PIE without quote marks, I am SOLD on those of you who can do it. I can't wait! Thanks!

Heather said...

thank you all... and thank you SERIOUSLY to Lisa and the Author2Author ladies for this (my very first!) interview... and all of your awesome posts...

Kristina Springer said...

I can't wait to read your book Heather! It sounds SO cool! And Andrew must be a rock star-- everyone always talks about his awesomeness.

Deena-- I'm totally listening to D, G,& DP in the car right now!

Sarah MacLean said...

heather...EVERYONE is going to read your book. Because it sounds AWESOME. and it has an AWESOME cover. EVERYONE.

J.E. MacLeod said...

I LOVE this cover and the book sounds great!

Joy said...

First off, a really good interview. And, I am so looking forward to buying the book, getting it signed by you, and reading it!

Erika Lea said...

I just pre-ordered...can't wait!

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