Welcome back to my Fall 2012 YA Debut Interview series! I’m excited to feature these debut novels from the fall season, and I hope you’re as intrigued to get your hands on them as I am. Today’s YA debut author is Colleen Clayton—her first novel, What Happens Next, comes out October 9 from Poppy / Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Read on to see how Colleen answered my Q&A…
…And be sure to enter the GIVEAWAY for a chance to win a signed and personalized finished copy of book, plus bookmarkers!
Nova: I’ll start with the dreaded question you may be hearing already from strangers on elevators, long-lost family members, and your doctor while you’re sitting on the examination table in the paper gown during your next checkup: “So what’s your book about?” (Feel free to use the jacket copy, or describe in your own words. Up to you.)
Colleen: Before the ski trip, Cassidy “Sid” Murphy was a cheerleader (on the bottom of the pyramid, but still…) and a straight-A student, with two of the best friends a girl could ask for.
When Sid finds herself on a ski lift with hunky local college guy, Dax Windsor, she’s thrilled. “Come to a party with me tonight,” he tells her, but Dax isn’t what he seems. He takes everything from Sid—including a lock of her perfect red curls—and she can’t remember any of it.
After the ski trip, Sid is an insomniac and an obsessive late-night runner, unable to relate to her old friends.
Caught in a downward spiral, Sid drops her college prep classes and takes up residence in the A/V room with only Corey “The Living Stoner” Livingston for company. But as she gets to know Corey—slacker, baker, total dreamboat—Sid finds someone who truly makes her happy. Now, if only she could shake the nightmares, everything would be perfect…
In my experience, every book wants to be written differently—and each one behaves differently from the one before it. Some novels like it out of order, and some rigidly insist on being written from start to finish. Some novels come out fast; others are excruciatingly slow. Some novels torment you, and some sing you to sleep. What did your novel want? How did you appease it? Did it ever misbehave?
I am, by nature, a very linear writer in that I do not usually write scenes out of order. I cannot move on in a story until I am generally happy with what came before. While I had a very good idea about the opening scenes, I had no idea, beyond chapter two, what was going to happen from one page to the next. WHN absolutely wanted me to keep an open mind in regards to plot. I did not outline this novel so I was very open to the idea of the plot shifting to someplace unexpected. It may sound cliché but whenever I sat down to write, I followed the voice and let my main character, Sid, take me where she needed to go. I will say though that the novel misbehaved a bit in the end. I tend to panic at endings and go way overboard. Luckily, I was reined in by my amazing editorial team at Poppy who encouraged me to tone it down a bit. The ending was so very explosive in the original manuscript. Very “Law and Order Special Victims Unit” as opposed to the quieter, more realistic ending that it has now. I love my ending so, so much. It’s just beautiful and I seriously can’t imagine it any other way now.
Tell us about the place—as in the physical location: a messy office, a comfy couch, a certain corner table at the café—where you spent most of your time writing this book. Now imagine the writing spot of your fantasies where you wish you’d been able to write this book… tell us all about it.
My writing space consists of wherever my laptop happens to be sitting in my house. Usually in the middle of the living room, on my couch, TV blaring, and my husband, kids, cat, and dog sitting within arm’s reach. I have trained my brain to work in ten to fifteen minute increments with utter chaos surrounding me and to pick up where I have left off when I am interrupted. I made a “writing space” in my basement once. Ha! I have used it twice in the last year. I hate it. I feel like a fake writer when I go down there. I don’t have a writing spot fantasy. Truly, I can’t imagine writing anywhere else than in my messy, obnoxious house.
Imagine you’re on the subway, or the bus, or sitting in a park somewhere minding your own business… and you look up and see the most perfect person you could imagine devouring your book. This is your ideal reader. Set the scene and describe him or her (or them?) for us.
It would be a female between the ages of 14 and 20. Someone who society maybe doesn’t view as traditionally beautiful, who might, for whatever reason, feel badly about the way she looks. It would be wonderful to see this person smile at something that my main character says and then, after turning a page, wipe her eyes in an attempt not to cry in public.
What was the moment when the upcoming publication of your novel felt “real” for the first time—when you got your editorial letter, when you saw the cover, when you held the ARC in your hands… or something else? Or if it doesn’t feel “real” yet, when do you think it will?
When I held my ARCs. There is nothing like holding a book in your hands with your name on the front of it. I was lucky, I was given a generous amount of ARCs from my publisher. I stacked them all up, rearranging them over and over…long ways, then into two columns, then three, then I would make a pyramid, lay them all out like playing cards, stack them in a shelf, take them out again, etc. This went on for days. I couldn’t stop looking at the spines for some reason. Seeing the title WHAT HAPPENS NEXT over and over, stacked up on itself, was so amazing. I would run my finger down the spines and think: Wow. I did it. I really did it.
Dream question: If you could go on book tour anywhere in the world, with any two authors (living or dead), and serve any item of food at your book signing… where would you go, who with, and what delicious treat would you serve your fans?
I have not been many places outside of the U.S. I went to Mexico and the Caribbean once a very long time ago before the need for passports so I would very much like to go to Europe, I think, starting in Ireland then working my way down to Italy. While I am tempted to name-drop someone fabulous like John Steinbeck or Harper Lee, I don’t know them and can’t judge from their work what kind of travel partner they might be. What if they don’t travel well? There is nothing worse than being stuck for an extended period of time, in a strange place, with a person who doesn’t travel well. I’ve traveled with high-maintenance people before and wanted to cry about an hour into it. So, when choosing my Dream Book Tour partners, I am going to lean more towards a sure thing in the “travels well” department. (I only get one Dream Book Tour so I want it to be fun and stress-free, right?) I would take Alyssa Brugman, an Australian YA writer whom I am very good friends but whom I have never met in the flesh. She’s been very kind to me over the past few years and has been a big personal supporter of mine. I admire her writing so much and we have a lot in common. I want to hang with her in real life, not just through emails, chat, and Facebook. Also, I would ask Tina Fey who, while primarily a comedian and TV writer, is technically still a book author because she wrote Bossypants. I just finished it and howled laughing from page one to page 275. Plus, Tina Fey travels really, really well. There are whole chapters of the book that describe in microscopic detail how well this woman travels. I can say with 100% certainty that Tina Fey would not ruin my Dream Book Tour, therefore, I would love to have her along.
At my book signing I would serve various bakery treats mentioned in my book. Scones, pizzelles, macaroons, clothespin cookies and then also fancy coffees and teas out of real bone china cups.
If you had to pick one sentence, and one sentence only, to entice someone to read your book, what would it be? (I almost hate myself for asking you this question and making you choose! Almost.)
Just one, huh? Can I add semicolons and drag it out for a few lines? No? Dang. Alright. Here’s ONE of my favorite sentences:
“I think of a forgotten lake and hopeful poppies.”
What Happens Next comes out October 9, 2012, from Poppy / Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Read on for a chance to win a signed and personalized finished copy of the book and more!
Colleen Clayton holds an MFA from the Northeast Ohio Consortium. Before she became a writer, Colleen was a social worker for teens in a residential treatment center and also Program Director for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mahoning Valley. When she is not writing or teaching at Youngstown State University, she is spending time with her wonderful husband, daughter, and son.
Visit her at colleenclayton.com to find out more.
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