Writer-to-Writer Interview + Book Giveaway: Amy McNamara and LOVELY, DARK AND DEEP

This Writer-to-Writer Interview with Amy McNamara touches on telling ourselves stories in the face of things we don’t understand, the art she turns to when writing isn’t going well, and so much more about her debut YA novel, Lovely, Dark and Deep (Simon & Schuster BFYR, on sale TODAY).

I’m excited to tell you about a beautiful, lyrical debut novel called Lovely, Dark and Deep—one I haven’t stopped thinking about since I finished. To celebrate its release today, I have the author, Amy McNamara, here with a writer-to-writer interview that reveals why this novel was written and how it came to be, and which I hope will entice you to pick up this book.

Plus, you have a chance to win a signed finished copy of Lovely, Dark and Deep—in fact, we’ll be picking two winners! Just leave a comment on this post answering the question: “What is your creative outlet?” and you’re entered… (More giveaway details at the bottom of this post.)

Why that question? Keep reading and it will be clear…

A taste of Lovely, Dark and Deep from the jacket copy:

A resonant debut novel about retreating from the world after losing everything—and the connections that force you to rejoin it.

Since the night of the crash, Wren Wells has been running away. Though she lived through the accident that killed her boyfriend Patrick, the girl she used to be didn’t survive. Instead of heading off to college as planned, Wren retreats to her father’s studio in the far-north woods of Maine. Somewhere she can be alone.

Then she meets Cal Owen. Dealing with his own troubles, Cal’s hiding out too. When the chemistry between them threatens to pull Wren from her hard-won isolation, Wren has to choose: risk opening her broken heart to the world again, or join the ghosts who haunt her.

Now… for my questions:

Nova Ren Suma (me!): Every book has a story—and I don’t mean the one that’s printed on the page, but the story behind the story: Where the book came from and what first instigated it… Why you chose to tell it, or couldn’t help but tell it… What it means to you beyond the boundaries of the page…   

So what’s the story behind Lovely, Dark and Deep?

Maine © 2012 Amy McNamara

Amy McNamara: Hi, Nova. First, thank you so much for having me on your blog. I really loved Imaginary Girls. I loved the deliciously eerie exploration of two kinds of intense attraction—bonds of sisterhood and the raw charismatic magnetism some people just have. I’m also a reader of your fabulous Distractions and find myself routinely grateful to you for talking about the work of writing, which is, as you know, sometimes a lonely pursuit.

I wrote Lovely, Dark and Deep a few months after the sudden death of someone I loved. She and I were both writers and mothers and I was thoroughly unprepared to lose her when we did.

This loss thrust me into a kind of wilds of feeling I really hadn’t experienced before. I’d grieved people I’d loved, gone through mourning, but never in this way. I think Lovely, Dark and Deep was born from this wilderness inside me. There was a certain out-of-control feeling to my grief, uncontrollable tears at random times, inability to focus, and more than anything the desire to be quiet awhile, to sit still, alone, while some unnamable part of my heart came to understand what had happened. But life doesn’t work that way. I am the mother of two marvelous children, a wife, a daughter-sister-friend, and I had to keep each of those plates up in the air and spinning.

About four months after the death of my friend, I woke up with Wren Wells in my head. I may have been dreaming about her, I’m not sure, but there she was on her bike, dark hair whipping behind her as she made her way through alleys of shushing pine. I could see her as clearly as if I knew her.

Wren and her story really wrote themselves. I don’t recall a time I felt stuck or wasn’t sure what happened next. It was simply my job to sit there and get it all down. I think we tell ourselves stories in the face of things we don’t understand. There’s great comfort in falling, for a time, into the lives of others and letting language lead us to new truths, new ways of being.

NRS: One of the reasons I longed to do one of my “writer-to-writer” interviews with you is because I’m so intrigued by your background as a poet. (I often wish I could be a poet.) You have an MFA in poetry, have published numerous poems in literary journals, and, I imagine (though please do correct me if I’m wrong), you started off writing poetry before turning to prose.

What made you decide to turn to writing a novel? And how does being a poet influence the way you write and structure a novel? Did you always intend to also write fiction, or was it a surprise?

AM: I love the idea of fiction as a surprise. It has been the best kind of surprise. I hope it surprises me again soon.

I actually started with fiction, when I was eight or so. I think my first story was about a cricket clinging for dear life on the hood ornament of my dad’s car. I wrote fiction until my early twenties. Then I shifted to poetry. I wasn’t rejecting prose or anything, poems were just there instead. I remained an avid reader of novels and short-stories.

I didn’t think about writing fiction again until Wren and her world appeared. It was a sort of reprieve from everything, a place I wanted to visit.

Writing poetry’s not so different from writing fiction. Both seem to begin with image or at least that’s how it’s worked for me. The work’s pretty similar. You read and read and read, then face the page. Set something down. Once you’re in there tinkering, the tools at hand (image, music, syntax, &c.) become apparent. Reading poetry tunes your ear to the craft of writing poems just as surely as reading fiction instills a sense of or an intuition for narrative arc and voice and all the other tricks up the fiction writer’s sleeve.

Poetry has definitely informed my fiction writing. I am much more aware of syntax and music within the line or sentence—how the sounds of words influence what we understand, how we feel. I read it aloud, listen to how it plays in that reader voice, the internal one speaking when we read. I’m pretty sure I drove the copyeditors at Simon & Schuster crazy by using commas as rhythm instruments rather than in any clear or consistent grammatical sense. I think I was trying to sneak line breaks into my prose via comma.

NRS: Lovely, Dark and Deep is infused with art in so many forms. From the title itself—the perfect line from “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost—to your narrator Wren’s own street photography that she hasn’t been able to face during this dark year, to her father the famous artist and the world of art she escaped to when she moved in with him.

Plus, in addition to being a poet, I’ve seen that you, yourself, are a photographer just like Wren. So now I’m here, romantically imagining your own life immersed in art in all its forms. Am I off-base? Does your poetry, fiction, and photography feed off one another in any way? Do you use different creative outlets for different expressions and at different points in your life?

Maine © 2012 Amy McNamara

AM: Art is important in my family. In addition to his day job, my husband’s an artist and we moved to New York from the Midwest seven years ago solely because we wanted to live somewhere more arts-rich and arts-oriented. In terms of medium, language is the first tool I reach for but I love the visual arts and hope I get to have another life so I can be born a painter.

I’m not happy unless I’m making something from the imagination. I tried to quit writing some years ago at a time when I was feeling unhappy about my work, but I was a failed quitter. Now when writing’s not going well, I’ll turn to another art form, like photography.

One pull of photography for me is the way it slows things down. We often know what’s going on around us, even if we don’t fully see it, don’t consciously take in all the details. Photographs catch some of those things in flight and stop them long enough for quiet inspection and deeper inquiry.

My honey and I just went to the Rineke Dijkstra retrospective. Ms Dijkstra’s photographs (she’s a portrait photographer) hit me like novels; the stories within them are so complete. And Ms Dijkstra is shooting actual people (as opposed to imagined people) in their actual lives. Then there’s the work of someone like Anna Gaskell who makes photographs that are purely from her imagination. Often they illustrate a story she’s telling or challenge our understanding of one we think we already know. Or the marvelous work of Amy Bennett, a painter who builds elaborate miniature 3-D sets—people in houses, for example—and there’s often something incredible going on in these scenes (someone falling down a flight of stairs or swooning on a bed or something) and then she paints the scenes she’s just built. In miniature. She constrains these emotion-packed scenes in tiny spaces. Her work is incredible.

© 2012 Amy McNamara

NRS: The category of YA literature seems like it’s constantly being refined and redefined today—which, personally, I find especially exciting, because I sometimes don’t know how my books, past and future, fit into the box… and I’m starting to think there is no box. I’m drawn to novels that straddle the line, novels that five or ten years ago would not have even found their way to the YA shelves. “What makes a novel YA?” I ask myself. Such a huge question, I know, because we seem to keep pushing the boundaries of what YA can be with each new season of books.

Your own novel takes place when Wren is 18, in the year between high school and college… Did you intend the novel to be “YA”—or did you write it without a defined label or spot on the bookshelf in mind? How do you see your own novel and how might you categorize it? Does this even matter?

AM: I wrote Lovely, Dark and Deep without a thought for any of that. I wrote for me. I didn’t begin to think about doing anything with it beyond that until after I had a full draft. I was very lucky at that point to have several incredible people step in, ask to read it, and encourage me to take Wren’s story into the world.

Since I wasn’t really writing with audience in mind, Wren’s age and emotional stage arose on their own. I was drawn to her for many reasons, some of which included feeling protective of someone vulnerable. Also, that point in life is so incredible. It’s a time of powerful questions of identity, of thrilling independence and new levels of responsibility.

Around the time I was writing Lovely, Dark and Deep a friend said something very freeing to me. I was confessing with a fair measure of shame my guilty-pleasure love of series television, shows like Jericho, Haven, and Covert Affairs. My friend, a poet, children’s book author, artist, and professor, sniffed like a haughty pony then told me to lose the shame. An avid reality TV fan herself, she said, “There are no restrictions on the life of the mind.”

Maine © 2012 Amy McNamara

NRS: I don’t want to give too much away, but Wren—known as Mamie before, back in the city—is 18 and recovering from a devastating traumatic incident. She’s escaped home to do so, and is now staying in the remote woods where her artist father lives and works. It takes great skill and depth of emotion to be able to write so heart-wrenchingly, honestly, and believably from the perspective of a character who has all her walls drawn up and yet reveal her enough to let readers care about her and feel like they know her. Wren—the “grim girl,” in her own words—keeps so much buried and slowly, slowly lets us in.

How did this voice come to you, and did you find it challenging to write? Did Wren let you in easily, or did you have to fight to get closer? 

AM: Wren’s voice came from some magic place. I woke up with her in my head. I was writing out of my own heartache and Wren’s way of dealing with, or more accurately not dealing with the world was an urge I understood. Doesn’t it seem like a marvelous solution to most unbearable pain? Rename yourself and start again?

After I got her on the page, many people stepped in to help me strengthen the narrative arc. I’m especially grateful to my agent Sara Crowe and my editor Alexandra Cooper. I learned so much from them about crafting narrative and reinforcing voice by resolving issues of tension and pacing that did not come naturally to me.

NRS: What were the books and authors that spoke to you when you were 18, the way Larkin speaks to Wren in this story? And what and who is speaking to you right now, today?

AM: I wish I’d found Larkin when I was 18. I didn’t read Larkin until grad school. I read some poetry in high school, not a lot. I love, love, loved Salinger’s Franny and Zooey, much more than Catcher in the Rye, and I went on an F Scott Fitzgerald bender. I thought he and Zelda were marvelously glamorous, talented, and enviably wild people. I read Virginia Woolf and had a little Bloomsbury crush for a while. TS Eliot, though he was really too difficult for me, and a little Emily Dickinson. Dickinson’s compressed lyric poems were astonishing. Sylvia Plath scared me, but I was drawn anyway to the sheer force of the poems in Ariel. I was crazy for Lorrie Moore’s short fiction as well as the short stories of Ann Beattie and Raymond Carver. I also read Henry James, Nancy Mitford, Muriel Spark, Mary McCarthy. Oh, and Frank O’Hara’s poems! I nearly died from fear after reading Stephen King’s The Shining on a dare from my boyfriend and then had to turn the book backward on the shelf until I could get it back to its owner.

I just finished a great novel called Butter by Erin Jade Lange as well as two collections of poems, Meridian by Kathleen Jesme, and The Game of Boxes by Catherine Barnett. I’ve just started Susanna Moore’s new book The Life of Objects and so far it’s excellent.

Maine © 2012 Amy McNamara

NRS: Lovely, Dark and Deep is out in stores TODAY! Who do you hope finds this book on a shelf in a store or a library? Is there an ideal reader you’re hoping will be drawn to pick this up this stunningly beautiful cover and start reading? I hope s/he finds it.

AM: I’ve had the great fortune already to have had enthusiastic and heart-felt responses from some readers of the review copies—teen readers as well as adults. One girl wrote me a long letter about identifying with some of Wren’s feelings. You know, there can be great shame for people who are feeling bad—we live in a culture, in the United States especially, that has a lot invested in positivity and in putting your best face forward. One hope I have for this book is that it finds its way into the hands of someone who maybe isn’t feeling so hot, who maybe struggles sometimes with feeling hopeful, and who might take some strength in reading the story of someone like them. I think when we’re feeling bad, it helps to find someone else who’s put words to it. I was at a poetry lecture at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis given by the poet Jorie Graham. She said for months she and her teenage daughter had been struggling to communicate. Her daughter was in a dark place, suffering, she could see that, yet all she could get out of her were shrugs or that she didn’t know, she was “fine.” Ms Graham told the audience that she picked up a thesaurus and highlighted all the words in it she could find that describe feelings, states of being, and gave it to her daughter to help her find her way through her dark wordlessness. I guess I hope this book finds readers who are looking for what I go to fiction for, a good story, a new cast of light, some time outside myself and in the life of another.

© Amy McNamara

Wow. Thank you for such an inspiring, profound interview, Amy. I’m so thrilled to celebrate your pub day with you!

To all reading, Lovely, Dark and Deep by Amy McNamara comes out TODAY, Tuesday, October 16! Visit Amy’s website at amymcnamara.com, and you can also follow Amy on Twitter.

You can read Amy’s poems in Drunken Boat, the 2River View, Linebreak, Spork, and 42 Miles Press.

And guess what? Amy’s book launch party is a week from tomorrow at 7PM on Oct 24th  at 516 Court Street, Brooklyn NY—and it’s open to the public. You should go!


Everyone who entered the giveaway answered this question: What is your creative outlet?

And TWO winners were chosen randomly to win signed copies of Lovely, Dark and Deep. The winners and their answers to the question are…

Jamie: “I am a writer, but sometimes when I’m stifled or stuck with the words on the page, I feel the need to make something solid. My creative outlet is to pull paints, glues, crayons or colored pencils and make something for my apartment, whether it be a pencil holder or a floral arrangement or even a detailed 20-page scrapbook. I grew up crafting with my artist mother, and in creating something physical, my creativity is pulled and pried from an uncontrollable bolt of lightning to a steady electric current.”

jennimoody: “My creative outlet is bellydancing. I love how performing is different from writing. You practice and practice, but then there’s one performance and it is over. It makes me focus on enjoying the process instead of worrying constantly about the end result, and I’m trying to carry this over more into my writing. 🙂 “

Congrats, Jamie and jennimoody! I will contact you for your mailing addresses! I hope you love Lovely, Dark and Deep as much as I do.


Writer-to-Writer Interview + Book Giveaway: Nina LaCour and THE DISENCHANTMENTS

This new Writer-to-Writer Interview with Nina LaCour touches on novel inspirations, writing boy narrators, tackling second novels, and so much more about her beautiful new YA novel, The Disenchantments (Dutton, 2/16/12). 

I can’t tell you enough how much I admire the author I’m interviewing today. I first discovered Nina LaCour’s debut novel, the stunning Hold Still, soon after Imaginary Girls was accepted for publication by Dutton Books, and when I visited the office for my first lunch with my editor, her assistant gave me a good-size stack of books to take home with me. Hold Still by Nina LaCour was one of those books. Reading it in those fresh-faced weeks when my book deal was still new made me all the more sure that I’d chosen the right imprint and the right editor. Because oh, did I love and admire Nina LaCour’s writing.

In a wonderful reminder of the world’s connectedness, I discovered afterward that not only did we share an editor in Julie Strauss-Gabel, we shared a friend, the writer Christine Lee Zilka, which made me happier still. I was even able to meet Nina in person this past summer at the SCBWI conference in Los Angeles (she was meeting Julie at the hotel one night, and Julie knew how much I loved her writing, so I got to say hi). I made an effort not to fangirl all over Nina and embarrass myself, not helped by the fact that the theme for the gala that night was “Pajama Party.” Yes, I met an author I admire, in the company of my editor who I admire, while wearing pajamas. Sometimes life can be very surreal. Even so, I don’t think Nina held it against me.

Nina LaCour
Nina LaCour, photographed by Kristyn Stroble

The Disenchantments

Now, to celebrate the release week of Nina LaCour’s new novel, The Disenchantments, I’m thrilled to share this writer-to-writer interview—as well as my love and excitement for The Disenchantments. I am so passionate about this book, I blurbed it!

And YOU have a chance to win a copy of The Disenchantments—and this giveaway is INTERNATIONAL! Just fill out the entry form at the bottom of this post. And if you comment, tweet, or tell me you’re a librarian or a teacher, you get extra chances to win!

Before we dive in to the interview, I’ll leave it to the jacket copy and the book trailer to give you a peek into the story:

Colby and Bev have a long-standing pact: graduate, hit the road with Bev’s band, and then spend the year wandering around Europe. But moments after the tour kicks off, Bev makes a shocking announcement: she’s abandoning their plans—and Colby—to go her own way in the fall.

But the show must go on and The Disenchantments weave through the Pacific Northwest, playing in small towns and dingy venues, while roadie-Colby struggles to deal with Bev’s already-growing distance and the most important question of all: what’s next?

Morris Award–finalist Nina LaCour draws together the beauty and influences of music and art to brilliantly capture a group of friends on the brink of the rest of their lives.

Now… for my questions:

Nova Ren Suma (me!): I feel like I should start at the start—though maybe there’s a whole other start I don’t know about—when you came to be writing YA and publishing your first (brilliant, beautiful) award-winning novel Hold Still. I know you entered your MFA program thinking you were writing fiction for adults (which sounds oh-so-familiar, as that’s how it was for me), but your workshops there led you to realize the book you were writing was YA. So how did this come about? And once your debut was published for a YA audience, what led you to keep writing for teens?

Hold Still

Nina LaCour: First, Nova, let me just say how incredibly excited I am to be interviewed on your blog. I love your author interviews so much, and have secretly wanted to be featured here for a long time. So thank you!

Now, to answer your question about the start. I applied to Mills College with pages from a novel I was writing that was, and still is, definitely for an adult audience. Not because it’s too raunchy or anything—as we all know, YA can deal with mature content—but because the central characters are adults. I spent most of my first year of grad school working on that novel and on short stories, and then I decided to take a YA craft class, followed by a YA workshop, both taught by Kathryn Reiss, who is a celebrated author and an expert of YA and middle grade literature. I was so inspired by the novels we read in the class: Fat Kid Rules the World by K. L. Going and Looking for Alaska by John Green especially. I also stumbled on a novel called Brave New Girl by Louis Luna that I absolutely loved. These books were so different from the children’s literature I’d read growing up, and I found myself interested in writing about high school for the first time. I was in my early twenties, which felt like the perfect vantage point at the time: close enough to high school to remember almost everything, but far enough to have the distance I needed to really examine it. So I wrote a few scenes about a girl who recently lost her best friend to submit for workshop, and then I just kept writing. I found the experience of working on that novel joyful and natural in a way that writing my adult novel was not, so I set the adult novel aside and just kept writing. The first half of Hold Still was my graduate thesis. A year later Julie Strauss-Gabel at Penguin acquired it. I’ll always be grateful that I took those classes and read those novels.

Writing YA is still exciting; it still feels exactly right. But I also have every intention of returning to that first novel I entered grad school with. It’s continued to evolve in my imagination and I know that I’ll be able to write it much better now than I could have eight years ago. I hope that I’ll be able to write for both teens and adults for a very long time, because I still have a lot of stories about being a teenager to write, and I also have older stories itching to get out.

NRS: Let me just pause and flat-out tell you that I am absolutely, deeply in love with The Disenchantments, your new book coming out from Dutton February 16. There is something magical about this novel—how Colby, your narrator, sees his friends Bev, Meg, and Alexa, the three fascinating, exciting, and yes, beautiful girls who make up the Disenchantments, the worst all-girl band in history. And oh, especially the way he sees his best friend, Bev. Colby’s feelings for Bev fill up this novel in every line of dialogue, every paragraph and description, without ever being too in-your-face. I loved never being able to get inside her head and only seeing her as Colby does: a true mystery. I was struck by this choice in POV and so thrilled you told the story this way. Did you always plan to keep it to Colby’s perspective? And as a female author, was this your first time writing from the male POV? Was there anything different to you about writing in a male voice, or Colby’s voice in particular?

NL: Thank you so much, Nova! Have I mentioned how thrilling this little box on the back cover is to me?

I didn’t worry too much about writing in a male voice. No matter what, people will say that it isn’t masculine enough, and that’s okay with me. It’s Colby’s voice, but it’s also very much my own, and I didn’t try to fight that. Though I know there are major differences between teen boys’ and teen girls’ experiences, most of what we go through are human experiences. We all know what longing feels like, what anger feels like. We’ve all dealt with deception and secrets and forgiveness and hope and friendship and love. So I tried to get into his head and heart the best I could, and trusted that that would be enough.

A couple male friends read an early draft and their reactions to it confirmed what I knew going in—that there isn’t a single teen boy experience. The first friend wrote to tell me about empathizing with Colby because he had once felt about a girl exactly the way Colby feels about Bev. The second friend told me that I was not objectifying the girls enough, that no matter how wonderful and sensitive Colby was, he would be noticing things about their bodies. I took some of this advice, which wasn’t difficult, but I let Colby remain a romantic. I kept him respectful.

NRS: My novels often start from the tiniest bloom—a scene maybe, a character in a situation, but beyond that it’s all fuzzy and I have no worldly idea what will happen. I guess, in a way, I write to find out. So I can’t help but be curious about other writers and their ideas. Tell me, how do your novels first come to you? Is it a character, a concept, a line of dialogue, a song, a place? How did The Disenchantments begin for you—where did the idea emerge from? And did the story come to you fully formed, or did you discover it more as you wrote?

NL: Stories usually begin with a voice for me. Some character, somewhere in my head, will say something, and I’ll think, Well, that’s interesting. Usually a mood goes along with it, too. And then I go from there. I need to know certain things about a story before I get too deeply involved in writing it. At first, I’ll write a lot of scene fragments, just whatever comes to me, usually focused on characters or tone. Soon, though, the story begins to take shape. I know the skeleton of it, but I have to fill in the rest.

The first tiny hint of The Disenchantments came to me in a writing exercise in 2006. I had just graduated from my MFA program, was revising Hold Still, and was terrified about being finished with school. I hadn’t not been in school since I was five years old. So I took an informal workshop with a Mills professor on writing beautiful sentences. I had never taken a class so focused on language, and found the exercises freeing because they weren’t about story or character; they were about structure. So, one day while modeling a very long sentence, I wrote something about a girl named Bev, the lead singer of The Disenchantments and the best friend of the narrator, and how she suddenly changes after a science fair. Those of you who have read the book understand how much of the story this single sentence gave me. I set it aside for a while, but the story kept growing.

Photo courtesy of thedisenchantments.com

NRS: You may not remember this, but I started reading The Disenchantments on a train ride back from the Hudson Valley and while I read I was tweeting wildly about how much I loved it. I wish I could go back in time on Twitter to screen-cap my thrill over your words, but you should know, I dog-eared quite a few pages in the ARC I read… which is something I do when I love a book and savor its sentences and plan to reread it later to savor some more. You have a way of describing emotion that thrills me. What question am I trying to ask you here besides telling you how much I love your writing? Oh, yes. What advice do you have for writers about crafting a story and taking their writing to the next level?

NL: Those tweets made me so happy. Before the release of both of my books, there was this time where I held my breath. We finish copyedits and the ARCs go out and then there’s no turning back. The hush before feedback comes is brutal, so when it does, and when it’s good, it’s the greatest relief.

I am so flattered that you dog-eared pages—I do that with writing I love, too—and I’m glad that what spoke to you was the emotion, because really, that’s what art for me is all about. It’s great if art makes me think—I thrive on that. But when I look at a painting or read a book or listen to a song or watch a movie, what I’m hoping is that it will make me feel something.

For a long time I hoped to change my writing style because I wanted to write rich, lyrical sentences (like yours!). That’s why I signed up for that beautiful sentences class. I thought a lightbulb would go off and I would suddenly be writing the way I thought I should. Like I would suddenly write brilliant similes and have all of this creative imagery. But that didn’t happen, so eventually I had to accept that I write simple, straight-forward sentences and that that’s okay. Sometimes I still worry about it. I worry about my dependance on “to be.” I worry about my copious use of dialogue. About adverbs. About everything. But then I remind myself that for every writer I love who writes in a luxurious, descriptive style, there is also one I love who writes simply. That would be my advice: Pay attention to the way you write and honor it. Don’t try to write like someone you’re not.

NRS: This advice really resonates with me, as I’m struggling with a similar feeling off-screen right this very moment. Thank you for that. Back to the questions…

Nina LaCour

How does your work as a high school English teacher find its way into your writing? Do your students influence you at all—and does the act of teaching about writing or literature change how you view your own work?

NL: The best thing about teaching high school for me is that it’s so removed from my writing. When I go to work, I get to stop thinking about looming deadlines and plot gaps and Goodreads. I can just sit in a classroom with bright, funny, motivated students and talk about books that are not mine. And yes, my students influence me, but only as much as everything else in my life influences me. I enjoy teaching because it takes me out of my own head, gives me a community of people to focus on so that I’m not so focused on myself.

NRS: Place is so much a part of this novel. Colby, Bev, Meg, and Alexa head off on a road trip from San Francisco up to the Pacific Northwest on the last tour of the Disenchantments, stopping for shows along the way. Every single place is so incredibly vivid: from a basement to a field in the middle of nowhere to a grungy hotel room to “Melinda,” the borrowed VW bus out on the open road. Were any of the places in this novel places you’ve actually been? How many were invented for the story—or how much did the real world, and real settings, shape the fictional road trip that Colby and his friends take?

NL: So many of the places were snatched from real life. In Fort Bragg, I stayed in a motel just like the one I describe, with a laminated list of rules just like the list that offends Meg. That lemonade stand? I passed it on my way north. I drove for another half mile or so and then turned around to go back, and as soon as I got a better look at the wild children and their crappy lemonade and their bikes strewn across the vacant lot, I knew everything would go straight into the book. A few months later, on another trip, my wife and I visited our friends who were farming on Vashon Island. I didn’t have any idea that farming or farmers would be part of the story, but suddenly, it fit. Those are just a few examples. A lot of the places are imagined, though. Going back to Fort Bragg, The Basement, which is where The Disenchantments play their first show, appeared to me out of nowhere in a burst of inspiration. It isn’t real but when I was in that town I felt like there must have been more going on. I wondered where people hung out at night, and then I invented an answer.

NRS: There’s something I’ve struggled with after writing my first YA novel Imaginary Girls, and I keep hearing it’s pretty common: Second novel syndrome. Maybe there’s the pressure of meeting expectations, or not having met expectations; maybe it’s fear or nerves, or some unspeakable creature that haunts novelists after their first book comes out, just for fun. So I wonder, did it get to you, too? Because your second novel shows not a hint of it. It’s so full of life, so gorgeously sculpted, and distinct from your first book in the best of ways, while also staying true to your voice. Did you have any struggles to get it there? And what advice do you have for authors working on their second novels?

Hold Still hardcover

NL: I had a terrible case of SNS. I spent a year fretting and barely writing anything. I had the idea for the book, a few scenes, and a crushing desire to write a second book that was better than my first. It’s important to me to be always growing, so while I was so grateful that Hold Still was well received, I was afraid that I was going to disappoint people. I went from a book about a suicide and its aftermath to a book about a road trip. I mean, that’s oversimplifying things, but it’s how I felt. I knew there was a lot of substance lurking beneath the surface of The Disenchantments and that, if I did it right, I could make longing and uncertainty resonate the way Hold Still’s grief and healing did for many readers. I just didn’t know how to get there. One thing Julie said to me on the phone after she read the first draft was that it was a much more complicated novel than Hold Still, which I hadn’t thought of before and which made me feel a lot better.

My first draft was something like 46,000 words. It was a skinny little thing, but it was all I could do at the time. It was in the second draft that it came to life. I added so many pages and a major plot point. First drafts are always a little bit painful for me; I love the revising, the fleshing out, the reconsidering. What made my second draft successful was that I got out of the house, which is something I blogged about here. And then I let myself play a little. I felt very little joy in writing my first draft, but I had some of those amazing highs that come with believing in your work during the second.

I’m the kind of person who, when expecting an email, will stare at my screen until it arrives, barely able to eat or hold a conversation until it does. So my most practical piece of advice to debut writers is this: Start your second book as soon as you can. Don’t stop writing while you wait for the first one to come out. Learn to use all of the empty months, or else you’ll spend too much energy waiting for tiny slivers of information and not enough on the one thing you still have complete control over: your new work.

NRS: I am absolutely not going to give away the end of the book. No spoilers! But I want to say that I found your choices at the end of The Disenchantments—how you left the story, and where you left each of your characters—to be exactly what I wanted for them, and yet also surprise me as a reader. I didn’t predict, yet I now couldn’t imagine this book, and this road trip, ending any other way. When you came up with the idea for this story, did you know how it would end? Was there anything about this novel—or your characters—that surprised you?

NL: I know that it’s a trend, especially in film, I think, to just let a story drop off at the end. Martha Marcy May Marlene is a great example. I understand that choice, but it’s not a choice I’ll ever make. One thing that novels and films can give us, that life can’t always give us, are satisfying endings. I’m drawn to literature and film for the narrative, for the full story, complete with a resolution. I don’t care if it’s happy or sad as long as there’s something. In my first drafts of Hold Still I tried a little too hard. Julie said something along the lines of, “I feel like this story ends for fifty pages,” which was both funny and entirely true. I had to cut a lot.

What you said earlier about writing to find out? That rings true for me. Sometimes the only way to find out is through the work itself. I had no idea what Colby was going to decide to do at the end of the road trip, for example. I had a possible solution, but it didn’t feel exactly right. And then, as the story evolved, it became clear to me. I actually don’t know if I could have captured Colby’s uncertainty about the future if I had been certain of it while writing. In some ways, his panic reflected my panic—I had no idea where I was going in the story!—but I knew where the band had to go next, so I kept moving them up the coast, trusting that I would figure it out eventually.

Photo courtesy of thedisenchantments.com

NRS: And finally, if there were one song you could leave us with, to get readers in the mood for reading your exciting, sexy, gorgeous, and deeply authentic new novel when it comes out this week on Thursday, February 16, tell us… what would it be?

Camera Obscura easily takes a place in my top five favorite bands, and when I went on my first research road trip for The Disenchantments, I spent many hours listening to My Maudlin Career on a loop. The lyrics to this song, “Forests and Sands” suit my novel in so many ways. I mean, the first line is “I’m in a van and I’m holding your hand.” I love its wistful, bittersweet tone, and this version was filmed in San Francisco, where the book begins.

The Disenchantments

Happy Release Week, Nina, and thank you for letting me interview you! I have to say, I’m feeling very inspired by the wise writing advice you’ve shared here with everyone. Thank you so much!

The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour comes out this week, on Thursday, February 16! Find out more about the book at thedisenchantments.com and visit Nina’s website at ninalacour.com. You can also follow Nina on Twitter.


The Disenchantments(The original winner from Feb. 22 never replied to claim her prize—so sad!—so I just chose a new winner!) Thank you to everyone who entered the giveaway attached to this interview! One lucky person has won a copy of The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour… and that *new* lucky person is…

Jenn Estepp

Congrats, Jenn! I will email you soon for your mailing address. Thanks again to everyone who entered!

And now I’ll leave you with one last peek into The Disenchantments, with this music video from the “worst band in history”:

Photos of Nina LaCour by Kristyn Stroble

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!)