Writer-to-Writer Interview + Book Giveaway: Amy Garvey and COLD KISS

Hey there. Do you love to slip into a piece of good writing? Take a peek at this:

…I loved him. I loved him so much that I couldn’t see anything else for a while. Danny filled the cracks inside me, blotted out the cold, empty places in the world. It didn’t take long before Danny was the only thing that mattered.

Love like that is what they make movies about. It’s the thing you’re supposed to want, the answer to every question, the song that you’re supposed to sing.

But love like that can be too big, too. It can be something you shouldn’t be trusted to hold when you’re the kind of person who drops the eggs and breaks the remote control.

Love doesn’t break easily, I found. But people do.

—Amy Garvey, COLD KISS

When I first opened the ARC of Cold Kiss that was sent to me by an editor at HarperTeen (thank you, Harper!), and I came upon those words in the prologue, something happened to me. I stopped what I was doing and took notice. I knew this was a book I would want to read slowly and savor… which just so happens to be my favorite kind of book of all.

So I’m excited to have the author of Cold Kiss, Amy Garvey, here today to answer all my deep and twisty writerly questions about the creepy, emotional, and stunning book she wrote as her YA debut. But first, let me tell you a bit more about the novel. Cold Kiss came out this fall from HarperTeen, and it has an icy perfect cover (those lips!).

Here’s the book’s official summary:

It was a beautiful, warm summer day, the day Danny died.

Suddenly Wren was alone and shattered. In a heartbroken fury, armed with dark incantations and a secret power, Wren decides that what she wants—what she must do—is to bring Danny back.

But the Danny who returns is just a shell of the boy Wren fell in love with. His touch is icy; his skin, smooth and stiff as marble; his chest, cruelly silent when Wren rests her head against it.

Wren must keep Danny a secret, hiding him away, visiting him at night, while her life slowly unravels around her. Then Gabriel DeMarnes transfers to her school, and Wren realizes that somehow, inexplicably, he can sense the powers that lie within her—and that he knows what she has done. And now Gabriel wants to help make things right.

But Wren alone has to undo what she has wrought—even if it means breaking her heart all over again.

I hope this intrigues you as it did me! And now here’s my interview—and if you keep on reading to the end, you’ll find a chance to win a *signed* hardcover of the book and some “cold kiss” tattoos!

NRS: The starting point of a story is so important; to me, everything depends on that initial moment. I must say, I love the moment where you start your debut YA novel COLD KISS, from the first line “I wasn’t thinking about falling in love the day I met Danny Greer” to, especially, the choice you made in having the story begin after Danny has died and been brought back by the narrator, Wren. There is a short prologue from the past tense, steeped in Wren’s regret, and then we’re visiting undead Danny in the neighbor’s garage where Wren now keeps him. It is such a perfect moment to insinuate us into this story that it makes me wonder a very writerly thing: Did you always know where to start? Was this the first piece of the story that came to you—or did you ever envision any other starting point as your opening? Is there a reason you didn’t want to start when Danny is still alive?

AG: That line was the very first thing that came to me when I was thinking about the story. I sat down and wrote most of what you see in the prologue now, and I knew I had to write the book.

I never imagined starting with Danny still alive, and I’m not sure why. It just didn’t feel right? I don’t analyze a lot of what I do, especially when the writing is coming really easily, the way this book did. But I think it was the right choice—to start while Danny is still alive would have really changed the oomph of the book, I think. I like that the reader gets just a taste of what Wren once had before they realize what she has now instead.

Wren loses her first love to a car crash and in a desperate moment finds a way to keep him with her. This expression of her grief is so heartbreaking to me, so true. I completely believe that Wren would think she cannot live without him. I remember how that felt myself, so vividly. As YA writers, we must find a way to transport ourselves back to that time of “firsts”—when everything was new and confusing and so much more significant than it seems now. How do you transport yourself there? What advice do you have for YA authors to keep themselves in that moment and keep it ringing true?

People ask me this a lot, and I’m never sure what to say. Inside, I’m forever sixteen? It doesn’t seem hard at all to remember that age, and if I close my eyes and go back to a certain day or time, I really can feel it all over again. Maybe it’s easier for me because I really didn’t loathe being a teenager—sure, I was bored with school now and then, and I wanted to be able to do so much more than I was allowed or able to, but for the most part, high school was not hell for me. So remembering isn’t really painful overall, although there were those specific moments when the world seemed to be shattering right in front of me, or that I was shattering, cut into ribbons by my own angst. Good times, right? But those are the moments that usually matter, too, the ones that shape who we become.

Sometimes I think it’s helpful to look at kids around you, too. Just walking down the street in a pack, for instance. You can see which boy is trying to impress which girl, and which girl is too focused on the drum solo she’s hearing through her headphones to pay attention to the others. If you look around, they’re all right there, feeling the same things you did once.

Before publishing COLD KISS, you wrote romance novels for adults. Is there a difference in how you would approach your adult fiction than your YA fiction? Do you find yourself writing your YA fiction in a different way? While listening to different music perhaps… or focusing on different pieces of the story… or, maybe, while wearing a whole different set of clothes? Or is there very little difference to you at all?

I don’t have a lot of rituals to writing, either! (I’m beginning to feel like The Weird Writer.) While I’m writing, I’m just me, generally in something comfortable, with tea, hot or iced. I sometimes change up playlists (and sometimes I didn’t even have specific playlists for the romances) but I sometimes write with the TV on in the background. And I write wherever is convenient that day; that’s usually my bed, now that I have a laptop.

In terms of story, though, romances are a fairly specific beast, for me, anyway. I was always very focused on both sides of the story—the hero and the heroine, and figuring out where the twain, as they say, would meet. With Cold Kiss, the focus was very much Wren. I also wrote them in very different styles—romance works best (unless you’re Diana Gabaldon) in third person, but I love to write in first person, and I knew it was right for Cold Kiss to do that. It felt like a treat, too—I know some people don’t enjoy writing in first person, but it’s always been my holy grail in terms of POV, and I’d really missed it.

I read that the first novel you ever wrote—a novel that lives under your bed—was a young adult novel. I always feel a surge of kinship with writers who have novels living under their beds, since I have two of my own (do they enter our dreams while we’re unconscious, I wonder? what does it mean that we sleep on top of them?). I really think there is something to be said for having the strength to let go of a novel that isn’t working and move on to something else. It hurts, yes, but you learn from it. I know I became a better writer from it. Tell us about the novel that lives under your bed and why you chose to let it dwell there. Do you wish you’d published it? Do you want to go back to it? Do you think you needed to write it to get to where you are as a writer today?

Here’s a dumb secret—when I say “box under the bed,” it’s completely metaphorical. One of the reasons that book remains untouched, and even unread, is because I don’t really have it anymore! I don’t have a printed copy, and the disk where it was saved was a floppy, from many computers ago. That was fifteen years ago, too, and we’ve moved several times since then, so wherever that hard copy went, I hope someone read it and enjoyed it. Or used it for something sensible, like papier mache.

It sounds unsentimental, I know, but more than the story or anything else, that book was important to me because it was the first book I ever wrote to completion. It proved to me that I could, and I think what helped is that I wrote it on a deadline, for a publisher’s first novel contest. I found out about it a little late (well into September, I think), and the deadline was Dec. 1, but I decided to give it a shot anyway. I was living in Wyoming at the time, and pregnant with our second child, and my oldest was in kindergarten half the day. So when he was at school, I wrote, and I finished the book in time to send it off. It didn’t win, not that it deserved to, but it was one of the most important books I ever wrote, simply because I set my mind to it and did it.

One day I would love to read it again, although I don’t know if I would ever bother revising it. It was highly (and I mean SKY high) autobiographical, just me dressed up in different clothes with my heart pinned to my sleeve on every page, and a lot of the emotional issues I worked through in that book have been long since put to rest. A lot of them worked their way into Cold Kiss, in fact.

I know you also have a background in book publishing, though I think more on the editorial side than I do (I worked mostly as a production editor/copy editor). So, as an editor yourself, how does it feel to be edited? Do you think it helps you be an author? Are you ever able to turn off your editor-self while writing, or is she always there, lurking and scribbling difficult editorial questions in your margins? 

My self-editor is always hovering, although I’m not sure it has anything to do with the fact that I was an editor in another life. I think a lot of writers face that self-editor sometimes, especially if they’re at all perfectionists, or, like me, incredibly impatient. I want to write it right the FIRST time. (I can hear you all laughing, you know.)

Working as an editor has given me a lot of insight into the process as a whole, and a huge appreciation for what editors do. I love my editor, and I trust her to steer me right, as well as to trust ME when it comes to some of the emotional aspects of the story. I’m not going to argue about a word here or there (although sometimes it does depend on which word, in which sentence), but I do want to hear my editor’s opinion on how to make the story I’ve written into the best book it can be. My editor at HarperTeen, the lovely and charming Erica Sussman, is an incredible partner, and I feel really lucky to have her.

I saw in your author’s note at the end of the novel that the town in COLD KISS is based on the town where you went to high school. This got me so excited, because the town in IMAGINARY GIRLS is based on the town where I lived when I was in high school… and I know I changed and reimagined as I needed for the story, and I also know it made the writing feel so alive to me, and also surreal, like I was stepping back in time. What was it like for you, re-creating a place from your memories? Do any of the specific places you used to go as a teen find their way into this book? How close to truth did you stick?

It was so incredibly helpful—I always need a place to focus on, and a real place, if possible. Wren’s house is my old house, her room is my room, all of it. We had that butler’s pantry, and at one point in high school my parents actually let me take it over and move in a typing table and a chair, and use it as my “study.” It didn’t work for long, but I guess even then I was looking for a room of my own.

I think it also made the memories of those feelings a lot more intense—Bliss, for example, was actually the Elm Deli, where my friends and I spent countless afternoons. It was nowhere near as cozy and charming as Bliss is supposed to be, but it had about six tables, and Tim, the owner, loved us and knew us all, and since after school was long past the lunch rush, we were welcome to hang out with chips and sodas and the occasional sandwich for as long as we wanted. A lot of intense conversations took place there, as well as breakups, first “dates,” and frantic paper finishing. Thinking of that place—and a lot of others in town—really made those years come alive for me again.

The funniest thing is that my father-in-law (eighty-six this coming year!) just finished reading the book, and he particularly commented on how memories of that town came to life for him as he was reading. It’s really cool to think that any of my old friends from those days might recognize some of the places I mention.

Danny is brought back to life by his confused, grieving girlfriend, Wren, who has a strange, unexplained power coursing through her. It is never named in the story what he is—a zombie created and controlled by Wren—though we read between the lines. What drew you to write about zombies? Are there any zombie novels or movies that fed the creation of Danny? And, more, what drew you to write a love story about zombies? That unexpected combination is, to me, the magic of COLD KISS.

Someone in a conversation about where to go after vampires and werewolves mentioned zombies. He seemed to be joking, although I think by that time Generation Dead and maybe some other zombie novels were already out. It made me think, though—the zombies I love are usually the murderous, brain-eating kind (the remake of Dawn of the Dead is one of my favorite movies) but writing them didn’t really interest me. Then I thought about what kind of zombie would be something to write, and somehow I arrived at raising a loved one from the dead.

That’s not really what the voodoo zombies are about, although Danny is that type of zombie—the victims raised are more often enemies, or someone who owes a debt, created to serve the sorcerer as a sort of slave. I’m also a huge Buffy fan. The idea of “not coming back right” and the episode where Dawn wants to resurrect Joyce in her grief both had a big impact on me. And from there, Wren was born.

Grief, especially experienced for the first time, can be so huge, so utterly unassailable, I’ve always thought it’s natural to simply want to undo it—make the death go away. Denial is supposed to be the first stage of grief in the Kubler-Ross model, and I think it’s the one almost everyone goes through. So for Wren to want to bring Danny back, especially knowing that she, out of anyone, just might be able to pull it off, was irresistible. But who’s going to think about the consequences? No one, I bet. Not until it’s too late.

Now a more general question about the novels lurking inside you… I know I have a few. Is there a dream book on a dream topic that you’d one day want to write, one you’re holding yourself back from? Saving, perhaps, for the perfect moment? If so, would you spare a little hint?

This is a hard one! There are a few! One is an adult novel that I haven’t been able to pin down for pretty much ever—I have the setting and a whole cast of characters, even their histories, but I’m still not sure exactly whose story I would be telling, or why. There’s a YA novel that’s also been brewing for a good…wow, nine years? It’s actually fighting to be told NOW, instead of the proposal I thought I was going to write, which is a little confusing at the moment, because they’re completely different in tone, from each other and from Cold Kiss and its follow-up.

I have a lot of dream topics, too, or at least themes or inspirations—twins, carnivals, madness of all kinds, the tarot, Gilded Age New York, and anything remotely to do with the Tudors or that era of British history. (Not all in the same book, of course!) And actually, three of the items on that list show up in the YA book ideas above—one in the book shouting to be written NOW, and two in the one I thought I would write.

Thank you so much, Amy, for answering all my questions and revealing so much about the book and your writing process! Utterly fascinating.

As I said, COLD KISS was published by HarperTeen this fall! If you don’t have this book already, I really suggest you go out and get it! For more about Amy and her book, read her blog or follow her on Twitter

And now… YOU. Want to win a signed hardcover of Amy Garvey’s new novel COLD KISS and some “cold kiss” temporary tattoos (they’re blue lip prints!)? To enter, just leave a comment on this post and you’re in it to win! (US/Canada only.)

(I’m closing this giveaway on Tuesday, January 10 at 5:00 p.m. EST and I’ll reveal the winner soon after!)

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