Author Chats: Interview with Jackie Lea Sommers

Jackie Lea Sommers‘ debut novel, Truest, is available for preorder! Find it at your local independent bookstore, Barnes and Noble, or Amazon.

About TRUEST:

A breathtaking debut brings us the unforgettable story of a small-town love, big dreams, and family drama.

Silas Hart has seriously shaken up Westlin Beck’s small-town life. Brand-new to town, Silas is different from the guys in Green Lake. He’s curious, poetic, philosophical, maddening—and really, really cute. But Silas has a sister—and she has a secret. And West has a boyfriend. And life in Green Lake is about to change forever.

Truest is a stunning, addictive debut. Romantic, fun, tender, and satisfying, it asks as many questions as it answers. Perfect for fans of The Fault in Our Stars and Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn’t Have).

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Hi Jackie, thanks for agreeing to do this interview! 

Your debut novel, Truest, is coming out in just a few DAYS(!!) Do you care to talk about your publishing journey?

2013 was a whirlwind! I queried literary agents and signed with one, won the Katherine Paterson Prize for Young Adult Writing, and was offered my book deal with HarperCollins all within a period of a few months. It was exciting and rewarding and terrifying. I celebrated by having my first panic attack and getting a prescription for Ativan. (But really.)

Querying was an emotional rollercoaster. I spent months perfecting my query letter and researching literary agents who seemed like a good fit with Truest. All told, I had about a dozen agents request full or partials, and in the end, I signed with Steven Chudney, who really resonated with my characters and my writing style.

Truest is your debut novel, but it isn’t the first novel you’ve written. How did you know when to shelve your first book, and how did you know Truest was “the one”?

Back in 2012, I queried about forty literary agents and only heard back from one. It was pretty clear to me that it was time to shelve the novel I was working on and tackle something else. That first novel was written for adults; this time, I wanted to try my hand at writing for teens. The entire process felt so different. I had learned so much in the previous four years of writing that first novel, and all of it was put to use in writing Truest. I spent about six months writing a first draft, then handed the manuscript out to a couple beta readers. They and I both knew that this novel was different, that this one was going to be my debut novel.
How long did it take you to write Truest? Any idea how many revisions you went through? Any darlings you had to murder?

All told, there were over twenty drafts. I spent six months on a first draft, another year on revisions, one round of revisions with my agent, and another year on revisions with my editor at Harper. I murdered darlings like it was my job—even right up to the very last draft!

Are you a plotter or a “pantser”?

That’s a good question—and the answer differs depending on what stage I’m in. In general—and especially at the beginning of a project—I’m a pantser. I don’t know the ending when I start writing the novel. In fact, I might not even know the ending until several drafts in. But once I’m in the middle of the project, there is a lot of planning and organizing that has to be done.

See: after pantsing all the freewriting, I had to get them all in the right order. This project looks more like a plotter’s work, doesn’t it?

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But, if I had to choose only one, I’d say I’m a pantser. If I plot prior to the first draft, the project dies a sad death and I can’t find any energy in the project anymore.

I’d plotted out an entire other novel (for my next book), and once I did, I didn’t want to write it. I returned to my pantsing ways and wrote a different story.

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And then I wrote yet another one. That story will be my second novel.
How long have you been writing? 

I’ve been a storyteller my entire life. I’ve wanted to write books since second grade.

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?

“Yup,” he said. “Afraid so. You know my secret … well, one of them.”

“One of them?” I raised an eyebrow. “You don’t have any other siblings, do you?”

“I’m for real, West.” He shoved my shoulder with his own. “Let’s be good to each other.”

“Friendship doesn’t work like that, Silas. You don’t just decide to be friends.”

“I just did.”

“Well, I didn’t.”

He looked me in the eye. “My girlfriend is in Alaska, and my sister is messed up. Your boyfriend lives on a tractor, and your best friend ditched you for summer camp.”

“Hey!” His choice of words stung. “She—”

“Let’s be good to each other,” he repeated, and his eyes were so sad and serious and intense.

“Starting when?” I said, trying to mask the panic in my voice.

“Starting now.”

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What’s the best / worst writing advice you’ve ever gotten? 

Best: Write “shitty first drafts” and give yourself short assignments. Thank you, Anne Lamott.

Worst: Wait to write till you’re inspired. As Stephen King wrote, “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”
I’m sure all of your characters are your brain children, but if you had to pick a favorite, who might it be?

I adore Silas Hart, one of the characters in Truest. But I’m also enchanted by Asa Bertrand, the main character of my next novel. Rowen Lucas, Asa’s best friend and the girl he’s in love with, is a strong, artistic badass. I want to be her.

Your gorgeous blog has posts about faith and OCD. How do either of these affect your writing? Will we see these themes in Truest? In your next book?

My faith affects everything in my life, and especially my writing. God and I wrote Truest together, and God had all the best ideas.

My OCD doesn’t affect my writing in the same way, but having a nearly life-long battle with clinical anxiety has affected my writing life.

The main character in Truest—Westlin Beck—is a pastor’s daughter, and faith is a big theme throughout the novel. I think (and hope) it’s addressed in such a way that anyone can enter into the conversation though.

OCD/anxiety is something I’m tackling in my next novel, Mill City Heroes.

When my blog readers finish Truest and are anxiously awaiting your second book (working title: “Mill City Heroes”), what should they read?

Everything by Melina Marchetta.

If you could have any superhero power, what would it be?

Flying!!! Or running so fast that it’s nearly flying. I can do these things in my dreams.
Which Hogwarts house would you be sorted into?

I’m a proud Ravenclaw.

Last question. Favorite Billy Joel song. Go.

“She’s Got a Way”

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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: query lara at gmail dot com.

Author Chats: Interview with Kate Brauning

Kate Brauning‘s debut novel, How We Fall, is available! Find it at your local independent bookstore, Barnes and Noble, or Amazon (UK).

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.

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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 We Fall Cover

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.

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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.

Author Chats: Interview with Katrina Leno

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Katrina Leno’s debut novel, The Half Life of Molly Pierce, is coming out July 8th! Order it at The Book Depository, Barnes and Noble, or Amazon.

Hi Katrina, thanks for agreeing to do this interview! Most of my readers are unpublished authors, and I’m sure they’d love to hear your journey as a writer, especially through drafting, editing, and submitting. First, how did you deal with rejection?

I’ve heard so many horror stories about the publishing industry, about people trying to get books sold for years and years… But I have to say, I had the most positive, encouraging experience from the very beginning. Even my rejection letters were kind and honest and said things like “We JUST bought a book like this, otherwise we would scoop this up!” or “You are so talented and your book is great; it just isn’t right for our list for the following reasons.” I think as far as rejection goes, you just have to really understand that there are BILLIONS of people in the world. Not all of them are going to respond to your book. And that’s really okay. Read your rejection letters, though. Try and glean some wisdom. These are really smart, intelligent professionals who have taken the time to read your work. Why don’t they want to buy it / represent you? Is there something you can do better or differently next time? Use your rejection letters as a tool for your own improvement. Find the positive. And then mooooove on.

Great advice. So how did you find your agent?

I actually queried a very small handful of agents, because I get overwhelmed easily and didn’t want to put myself in a weird position—querying fifty agents and then getting them all mixed up or something. I sat down with Writer’s Market and a pad of paper and took notes on everyone that immediately stood out to me. Then I did research on their current client list and what sort of books they represented. In the end I queried a very small group of agents. I received two offers for representation, and one request for a rewrite and resubmission. I spoke to the three agents on the phone and made my decision based on how our conversations went. I am OVERJOYED with my agent. She is truly a gem. So, the takeaway here: take your time, do your research, make sure you’re querying agents that make sense for your book, and make sure you’re sending them EXACTLY what they’ve requested (the quickest way to get your query chucked into the slush pile? Sending them twenty pages of writing when they’ve only asked for ten. Seriously. Follow instructions!). It took me about two months from when I started querying until I found my agent. 

Next step: My agent then queried a small handful of publishing houses, and one by one they all said no. BUT, they all said no in the thoughtful ways I mentioned above. So the rejections really didn’t bother me, because they all made sense. I chose to look at it as a learning experience. It’s all about perspective! I could just as easily have taken to bed and spent weeks sulking as each new “no” came in. 

A good perspective to have! (I’ll try to remember that the next time I reach for the ice cream.) What was your reaction when you heard about your deal with HarperCollins?

When I finally got that “yes” from HarperCollins… My agent emailed and asked if she could call me. I was alone in the house. I took her phone call in the kitchen and as she talked, I sat on the floor. I didn’t move for ten minutes afterward. My body was in complete shock. It was the best feeling, but completely overwhelming. I’d spent so long coaching myself not to get bummed out about the rejections that I was wholly unprepared for the “yes.” But—unprepared in the best way possible. 

You mentioned on Twitter that you quit your job. What was your day job, and what are you working on now?

Oh man, I just quit my job! Every time I think about that, I feel SO HAPPY. It was the best decision. I was working as a retail manager in a really negative, caustic environment and it was stifling any sort of creative energy I was trying to access. I am EXTREMELY lucky that I am able to take a couple months off in order to re-center myself and, hopefully, write another book. Right now I’m working on a novel that’s been brewing for a number of years and has taken many different forms during that time. Maybe it goes without saying, but I LOVE writing, and I am happy it’s all I have to focus on right now. I am the best version of myself when I am maintaining a word-count-based writing schedule. (Currently: 5K words a day. This is lofty, and I don’t beat myself up if I don’t quite get there, but I damn well make a huge effort to do so.)

Five thousand words every day? Nice! How long did it take you to write The Half Life of Molly Pierce? 

My first draft of HALF LIFE took me three weeks to write. I was kind of like an author possessed. I truly worked some eight- and ten-hour days, pausing only to get lunch or refill my coffee. I was just so READY to write this novel. It burst out of me fully formed, the most cathartic experience I could have hoped for. 

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Any idea how many revisions you went through? Any darlings you had to murder?

My editor, agent, and I went through, I think, four revisions? But there was never a massive overhaul, no huge rewrite. It was mostly little things, like changing a few names and reversing the last two scenes the book. I didn’t have to murder any darlings for this one! My second book, though … That’s been another story! 

How long have you been writing? 

I started writing and reading a lot when I was in grade school. When I was twelve or thirteen I asked my mom how novels are made. I was in this heavy Stephen King phase at the time, and I’d just had this earth-shattering revelation that Stephen King was a grown-up person, and he had written these novels and given them to the library (I was fuzzy on the process). I wanted to do that, too. My mom gave me TERRIBLE advice (sometimes moms are fuzzy on the process, too … she told me that there were computer programs that wrote books, now. She doesn’t remember saying this) but I was smart enough not to listen to her. I wrote my first novel about an alien entity that could jump from one body to the next, taking over consciousness for a period of time before moving on. It was called JUMPER, and it was truly horrible. But it marked the start of a journey. And I hope each thing I’ve written has gotten slightly less horrible.

I’m sure all of your characters are your brain children, but if you had to pick a favorite, who might it be?

For HALF LIFE, I really liked writing Lyle because he was so different from anyone that Molly, my MC, has so far encountered in her life. She’s surrounded by positive, supportive people, and then you have Lyle—who’s selfish, egotistical and incredibly immature. It was a challenge to make him so flawed without making the reader hate him. I mean, I want people to care that he dies (not a spoiler! He dies in the first chapter) and I want people to feel sorry for him—that he’s never able to grow up. He’s a good guy, really. He just hasn’t realized that yet. 

You have a gorgeous blog combining two of my favorite things—words and pictures. Can you share a picture of your favorite place to write?

Ohhh, thank you! My blog is so personal, I’m surprised whenever someone actually likes it. Sometimes I think I should make it more about writing or my books, but it always feels a little disingenuous when I put that sort of stuff up there. I’m not sure why! I’m trying to get over that. As far as my favorite place to write… This is where I used to write when I lived in New York. I had a studio apartment in Crown Heights in Brooklyn with these three gorgeous windows. I spent hours and hours in that grey armchair, and it was where I eventually wrote the majority of HALF LIFE (although the chair and I weren’t in Brooklyn anymore, we had moved to Connecticut). I love that chair. 

photo cred:

photo credit: Amanda Jane Shank

If you could have any superhero power, what would it be?

The ability to freeze time. It’s moving much too quickly. 

Which Hogwarts house would you be sorted into?

I think Ravenclaw, because I’m not overly adventurous and I like learning new things. And I read too much to be in Gryffindor. I don’t have time for rescuing people from giant snakes. 

Ha! Favorite Billy Joel song. Go.

To Make You Feel My Love, which was actually written by Bob Dylan but first released by Billy Joel. This has been my favorite love song since I heard Garth Brooks’ version when I was a very young, sentimental kid. I think there’s something pretty magical about unironic love songs. 

Do you have a top 3 list of books or authors, or a recommended reading list?

How about this: if I could somehow smash together the writing of Gabriel Garciá Márquez, Donald Barthelme, and Vincent Van Gogh, the ensuing novel would be the exact thing I want to write. Someday I will get there. 

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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.