Friday, January 21, 2011

Fun Friday: Interview with First-Time YA Author, Shawn Goodman!

Readers, please welcome Shawn Goodman to A2A!

Not only is he the second winner from upstate NY (in a row!) of the Delacorte Press Contest for a First YA Novel, but he's a great guy to dish with about great YA books (especially for boys!).

His novel, SOMETHING LIKE HOPE, came out on December 28th, 2010, and I just read it and loved it (see my review here). Isn't the cover beautiful?

Here's a blurb on the book and on Shawn from his Authors Now page:
Shavonne is a fierce and desperate seventeen year-old who finds herself in a large juvenile lockup hundreds of miles from home. She wants to turn her life around before her eighteenth birthday, but her problems seem too big, and time is running out. Amidst corrupt guards, out-of-control girls, and shadows from her past, Shavonne must find the courage to fight for a redemption she’s not sure she deserves.

Shawn Goodman based SOMETHING LIKE HOPE on his experiences working as a psychologist in a girls’ juvenile justice facility. He has been an outspoken advocate for juvenile justice reform, and has lectured around the country on issues related to special education, foster care, and literacy. Shawn lives in Ithaca, NY with his wife and two daughters.

Take it away, Shawn!

1. When did you start writing novels with the hopes of one day having one published?
Shawn: About six years ago, I started writing SOMETHING LIKE HOPE with a vague idea about publication. But mostly it was a very private way to process what I was experiencing at work (in the juvenile detention centers).

2. What was your first paid writing gig?
S: I wrote a column called Frank's Wild Years for the local alternative paper. I think it paid forty-five dollars per column, which was just enough for drinks and a couple dozen oysters at Maxie's in Ithaca. I wrote forty or fifty of them, all under a pseudonym. The experience taught me how to write every day and stick to a deadline. It also taught me how to develop characters quickly and tell a complete story in seven hundred words.

3. Did you have an agent when you sold your novel?
S: I still haven't sold a novel. My first book won the Delacorte Prize, which came with a publishing contract. I signed with Seth Fishman shortly after I got the call from Delacorte. He's since changed houses (from Sterling Lord to The Gernert Company), and I very happily moved with him. He's been a terrific agent.

3a. Can you tell us a little about how the sale went down?
S: Even though it didn't sell in the true sense, I'd say it all went down slowly. For most of us who have been writing and working hard for so long, we're ready to hit the group running. We've revised, attended conferences, participated in critique groups, read writing books and writing blogs, etc. But the publishing industry moves at its own pace, and it's a slow one. First of all, there are so many steps from initial editing, to second rounds, and then copyediting, and, finally, pass pages. There's cover design and jacket copy considerations, obtaining blurbs, marketing plans. And each of these things takes time. It's hard to wait, because of our excitement, our impatience.

4. How has your writing/writing process changed since selling your first novel?
S: Not much, except I've been reading more, which is actually great for the writing. I still work full-time as a school psychologist, so a lot of my thinking energy still goes into work. Sometimes, if I can get moving early enough, I'll write before work in my office or at a breakfast joint. Or during lunch. Or at home with my wife and kids. I might sit in the evening with my daughters watching a movie, but I'll have a notebook on my lap and I'll write a chapter or two longhand. Ditching the laptop was a great thing for me because a notebook is so much easier to take out and use (or close and put away if life is happening around me and I need to tune in). There's no decision about whether or not it's worth my time to fire up a laptop, carve out a suitable space, charge batteries, etc. Plus there's something nice about using a good pen and a quality notebook to write the old fashioned way. I type it all in later on my computer, but it feels good to write by hand, and anything I can do to make the act of writing pleasant and enjoyable in and of itself... well, it's a good thing.

4a. How about since it hit the shelves?
S: It's only been a couple of weeks, but I've felt self-imposed pressure to do more marketing stuff than actual writing. I write and answer emails, work on setting up appearances, etc. And then I start feeling negligent, or even like a fraud, and so I pull out my notebook and write. Then I feel a little better.

5. How do you work to keep your books on the shelves?
S: I'm not sure if I have a right to answer this one, especially since my one book has only been on the shelves for a few weeks. But here goes. First is to write books that are completely engaging and accessible to kids. There are so many reasons to not read. If I am expecting kids to put down their ipods and cell phones, to turn away from their friends and activities and part-time jobs and homework and social lives to read my book, it's got to be completely engaging and accessible to them. That's exactly my job as a YA writer, and I have to take it seriously. Which is why I write short, emotionally laden chapters that end with some kind of a question, idea, or punch. I want enough dialogue and action to carry the story and to make the arc feel natural. I want a certain rhythm of speech and thought so that the voices resonate in the readers' heads. If I do a good job with some of these things, then all that is left is to connect as much as possible (in thereal world) with readers, teachers, librarians, parents, and booksellers. It's still surprising to me how enthusiastic adults can be about YA fiction. If a parent or teacher reads a good YA book, they feel compelled to share it. They will put it in the hands of their kids, and their friends' kids. And, if the kids read it, then new connections are formed between them and the adult who recommended the book. They now have something exciting in common - it breaks down the all-powerful barrier of "you don't understand." But I may not have answered the original question, which has to do with sales. Short answer - I haven't a clue!

Bonus: What are you working on next?
S: My second book is a boys' road trip adventure, kind of a cross between Pulp Fiction and The Motorcycle Diaries. It's the book that would have gotten me excited about reading when I was sixteen.

Thanks so much, Shawn! I especially like being reminded to sometimes write longhand (I used to when I snatched writing moments at my old job), and that hopefully a Pulp Fiction-Motorcycle Diaries book will hit the shelves. :)

Deena, Miss Subbing for Pubbing


Amy Fellner Dominy said...

Great interview-thanks!
I read Shawn's book and it's WONDERFUL. Once you pick it up, it's impossible to put down.

Rosi said...

Nice interview. I look forward to reading the book. It sounds wonderful.

Lisa Tiffin said...


I can't wait to read this. I remember being blown away at the language and emotion in the pages you read at our NY retreat. So happy for you and happy to hear you're working on your next book.

Kate Fall said...

Yes, I loved this interview and I can't wait to read Shawn's book! Thank you so much for being on the blog today, Shawn, and I hope our paths cross again. I loved your advice on writing "emotionally laden chapters." That's something I want to work on especially this year.

Liana said...

great interviewing. thanks for introducing me to a great new author. That's a huge prize to win. Liked the comments about writing longhand. I couldn't do it though. My hand hurts when I try to write anything longer than my name with a pen. It's so sad. lol

Shawn Goodman said...

Thanks, everybody. Deena sure does a mean interview. And thanks for the interest in the book! Hope to see you all at the next good writing event...

DeenaML said...

Amy -- I totally agree -- WONDERFUL book. So glad Shawn's gaining fans already!

Rosi -- thanks for reading and commenting! I know it means a lot to authors to see ppl are interested in their work and path.

Lisa -- I recognized the part about the busted tooth from the writing workshop all those years ago... :)

Kate -- yes! My takeaway as well from SG's words was how he ends his chaps with punch.

Liana -- you're right, Delacorte is a HUGE prize! SG's book deserved it.

Thanks for reading and commenting, everyone! This interview was fun for me to do. I've got some more lined up for Feb and April. :)

Kristina Springer said...

Great interview! Good luck with your book Shawn!

Susanna Leonard Hill said...

I'm late to the party, but the interview was great and I can't wait to read the book. Congratulations, Shawn!

Anonymous said...

Finally got my hands on this book, and read it in one sitting. What an amazing read! It actually made me cry near the end, which I don't do too often.

Thanks for posting this interview, Deena, and for writing such an awesome book, Shawn!!


Stephanie J. Blake said...

Something Like Hope is a wonderful book! Congrats on winning the prize. It was duly deserved!

DeenaML said...

Kip and Stephanie -- I'm so glad you got a chance to read and enjoy SLH! Thanks for commenting. :)