About HOW WE FALL:
In the wake of her best friend’s disappearance, 17-year-old Jackie throws herself into an obsessive relationship with her cousin, only to find out her best friend’s secrets might take him, too.
Hi Kate, thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
I always hate the question “Where do you get your ideas?”—but your debut novel, How We Fall, is about a girl who falls in love with her cousin. But it’s also a mystery. Now I’m curious. Which formed first?
The cousin relationship definitely came first. But people rarely have just one thing going on in their lives, and it’s often one thing that makes us see another more clearly. Jackie’s missing friend, Ellie, becomes a determining factor in her relationship with Marcus.
Two of my favorite romances deal with cousins falling in love, actually: the play The Importance of Being Earnest and the movie The Young Victoria. Related or not, who’s your OTP (One True Pairing)—your favorite couple—fictional or otherwise?
Mikael and Lisbeth from the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy. Lisbeth is such a complicated character, and it’s so difficult for her to relate to people and show her emotions that it was really something to watch her relationship with Mikael change. Watching him change and discover his attachment to her was so compelling, too. Struggle makes or breaks a romance for me, because it shows so much character and really tests the relationship itself.
What’s the best / worst writing advice you’ve ever gotten? (Ed. note: Links added by Lara, post interview, for readers’ benefit.)
The worst advice I’ve ever gotten, I think, is to write what you know. It gets passed around and misunderstood to mean writing about living in your state, or working your own job, or basically writing your own life. That can make for boring, unimaginative stories, or stories we can’t see clearly because we’re still living them. I think a better interpretation is to write things you can identify with—conflict in sibling relationships, revenge, regret, the struggles of first love, etc.
The best advice I’ve received is to study writing fiction, and not just keep writing draft after draft. Practice is definitely important, but there’s so much to storytelling that I’d struggle to pick up just from practicing. How the human attention span works, what makes people curious, what puts them on edge, how to make concepts interesting, the difference between theme and message, identifying and then connecting with your readers, etc. Reading good books on craft and hearing great authors speak has been invaluable to me.
You’re an editor with Entangled Publishing. Did being an editor change the submission process for you?
It didn’t, actually. Publishing is a small world, but my agent had very specific ideas about where she wanted to submit, and she was totally right. Also, I’m new enough to publishing that they were all places where I didn’t know people. It did help me know, though, what kind of imprint I wanted to be with. It also helped to be really familiar with editorial letters, and publishing language, and general timelines. It made it easier to handle some of the stress and nerves!
I love the sixty-nine test—where you gauge whether you’ll really like a book by flipping to its 69th page and reading it. (It is an easy number to remember.) Would you care to share yours?
Oh, that’s a really great test! And I totally would, but I just checked, and that page is super spoilery. So I don’t spill secrets, here’s the first page instead:
Last year, Ellie used to hang out at the vegetable stand with Marcus and me on Saturdays. This year, her face fluttered on a piece of paper tacked to the park’s bulletin board. Most weeks, I tried to ignore her eyes looking back at me. But today, Marcus had set the table up at a different angle, and she watched me the entire morning.
The day that photo was taken, she’d worn her Beauty and the Beast earrings. The teapot and the teacup were too small to see well in the grainy, blown-up photo, but that’s what they were. She’d insisted sixteen wasn’t too old for Disney.
The crunch of tires on gravel sounded, and a Buick slowed to a stop in front of the stand. I rearranged the bags of green beans to have something to do. Talking to people I didn’t know, making pointless small talk, wasn’t my thing. My breathing always sped up and I never knew what to do with my hands. It had been okay before, but now—surely people could see it on me. One look, and they’d know. Chills prickled up my arms in spite of the warm sun.
Marcus lifted a new crate of cucumbers from the truck and set it down by the table, his biceps stretching the sleeves of his T-shirt. Barely paying attention to the girl who got out of the car, he watched me instead. And not the way most people watched someone; I had his full attention. All of him, tuned toward me. He winked, the tanned skin around his eyes crinkling when he smiled. I bit my cheek to keep from grinning.
The girl walked over to the stand and I quit smiling.
Marcus looked away from me, his gaze drifting toward the girl. Each step of her strappy heels made my stomach sink a little further. Marcus tilted his head.
He didn’t tilt it much, but I knew what it meant. He did that when he saw my tan line or I wore a short skirt. I narrowed my eyes.
“Hi,” she said. “I’d like a zucchini and four tomatoes.” Just like that. A zucchini and four tomatoes.
Marcus placed the tomatoes into a brown paper bag. “Are you from around here?”
Of course she wasn’t from around here. We’d know her if she were.
“We just moved. I’m Sylvia Young.” The breeze toyed with her blonde hair, tossing short wisps around her high cheekbones. Her smile seemed genuine and friendly. Of course. Pretty, friendly, and new to town, because disasters come in threes.
How long did it take you to write How We Fall? Any idea how many revisions you went through? Any darlings you had to murder?
I drafted it in 6 weeks, but then spent several months revising it, queried, did another significant round of revisions, queried again, went through an R&R with my agent, another round after I signed. Finally, I did revisions with my editor. And yes, lots of murdered darlings. 🙂
Whom are you represented by? Are you willing to show us the query letter that got you your agent?
Of course! My agent is Carlie Webber at C.K. Webber Associates. She’s fierce, awesome, and is really great to work with. Here’s my query:
HOW WE FALL, a YA suspense, is complete at 88,000 words.
Making out with your cousin has its pitfalls. Seventeen-year-old Jackie hasn’t been able to end her secret relationship with Marcus since he kissed her on a dare. He’s her best friend, which only makes it harder to quit.
Except she has to, because she’s falling in love with him. It’s not like it’s illegal to date her cousin, but her parents would never approve and the families would split up their multi-family home. Afraid of losing her best friend, she calls it off. She can’t lose Marcus right now: the cops just found her missing friend’s body.
Hurt and angry, Marcus starts dating the new girl, Sylvia. But with Sylvia comes a secret and a stranger. The stranger starts following Jackie everywhere she goes, and Marcus is nearly killed in a car accident. When Jackie finds out Sylvia lied about not knowing her murdered friend, Jackie’s certain Sylvia is connected to the man threatening Marcus.
The more Jackie finds out about Sylvia, the bigger the wedge between Jackie and Marcus, but she doesn’t have long to figure out what’s going on. She may have lost both her relationship and her friendship with Marcus, but she couldn’t handle losing him for real.
If she doesn’t act fast, Sylvia’s secrets may mean their bodies will be the next ones the police dig out of the Missouri woods.
Thank you so much! Final act of business: Hogwarts house and favorite Billy Joel song. Go.
Ravenclaw! And “The Stranger” by Billy Joel is so interesting, it’s definitely a favorite.
Are you an author that has been (or will soon be) traditionally published? I’d love to interview you and turn you into your own adorable 8-bit sprite! Contact me on Twitter or e-mail me: lara willard at icloud dot com.