I’m very excited for today’s W.O.W. for many reasons. First, this is my 200th POST!! Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would have the tenacity to get to this point. But, I’m thrilled that I have because this blog has allowed me to share my own writing journey, as well as meet some amazing writers and agents along the way. At the end of this post, I give details about a special giveaway to celebrate this milestone. Don’t miss it!
Second reason for the excitement is today’s W.O.W. features the spectacular Young Adult writer, A.G. Howard.
Every once in a while you read a book that grabs you by the throat and won’t let go. A novel so incredibly vivid and well-written you almost hold your breath until the last page. That’s how I felt when I read A.G. Howard’s debut, SPLINTERED. After devouring the last page, I knew I had to reach out to her and ask about her journey to publication. I had to postpone the interview for a few months while she finished up, UNHINGED, book 2 in the series, but her answers, as you’ll see below, were worth the wait.
Many thanks to A.G. for sharing her odyssey today…
What inspired you to write SPLINTERED, and why did you choose to make it a Young Adult story?
I’ve always been a fan of Lewis Carroll’s whimsical and slightly disturbing tales, so I’ll watch or read almost any adaptation that comes along. When I saw Tim Burton’s Alice in 2010, it appealed not only to my love of Alice in Wonderland but to my passion for visual aesthetics. The settings inspired me to imagine a different Wonderland tale—psychedelic and funky and contemporary with a gothic/creepy edge. When I saw the book Alice I have Been by Melanie Benjamin, it gave me the idea to have my heroine descended from the real Alice who inspired Carroll’s tales, Alice Liddell. This way I could bridge the generation gap and also have it still be a tribute to the originals. Deciding to make it a YA was actually kind of a no brainer… the premise just lent itself to a young adult audience, but at the same time would appeal to older adults/fans of AiW.
How many completed manuscripts did you query before one garnered agent interest?
Did you have critique partners or beta readers that helped you polish SPLINTERED? What did they add to the process?
Yes! I have six critique pals (2 who are online—Bethany Crandell and Jessica Nelson), but locally I meet with four authors every Wednesday evening—2 who are published and 2 who are on their way. They probably had the most input in SPLINTERED’s beginning phases. We call ourselves “The Divas” and each of us writes something different, so we use our individual fields of expertise to help one another craft more well-rounded and layered books.
Linda Castillo writes thrillers, and is our pacing and tension expert; she keeps the story moving along at a clipped speed and excels at finding ways to insert more tension or suspense into a scene.
Marcy McKay writes mainstream literary, and is a voice queen. She has a way of honing in on each of our unique voices and keeping us on track. Plus she’s a motivational speaker on the side and keeps us positive and upbeat about our WIPs and publishing journey.
April Redmon writes romance, so of course she’s awesome at sexual tension and internal conflicts. She’s also a particularly exceptional grammar and line editor.
Then there’s Jennifer Archer. Like me she writes YA, but hers are a little less fantastical and more on the light paranormal side. She has a very literary voice and rocks at characterization, helping us inject emotional depth into our characters. She’s also super-imaginative and is good at brainstorming when someone needs to come up with a unique twist.
How long did it take to write the query for SPLINTERED? Did it come easily or did it go through many drafts?
One draft, and it didn’t take very long. Maybe an hour or so. By that time I had already written and queried other books, so I’d learned the process. Once you can figure out how to sum up your book in blurb form, writing a query becomes second nature.
About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
I sent out 26 e-queries which resulted in:
7 full requests (4 rejections/3 offers)
5 partial requests (2 rejections / 1 closed no response / 2 bowed out after offers received)
12 rejections on query alone
Did you receive instantaneous response or did you have to wait for the requests/rejections?
I had a fast turnaround via passes and requests (within a day or so I started getting requests). I think the premise of an urbanized gothic Alice in Wonderland spinoff was high concept and different enough that it intrigued a lot of agents to at least want a peek at the MS.
Can you give us a short summary of your call with your agent, Jenny Bent? How did you know she was a good fit for you?
Jenny called and said she loved it. At the time I had two other agents offering so I’d had them all read one of my earlier MSS that I wanted to try to get published down the line. This way, I could hear what each agent’s game plan for both books would be. Jenny was the most eclectic of the three. She had many six figure deals to her name in genres ranging from non-fiction to YA to adult and literary. I knew that she would be the best fit for me long-term because I like to spread my writer’s wings and try different genres.
Was there ever a time you thought about giving up on your publishing dream? If so, what motivated you to keep writing?
I’m ashamed to say it, but yes. I received four rejections in a row on SPLINTERED fulls not long ago after leaving my first agent on the grounds I wasn’t willing to change the fantasy part of my book. I was at the lowest I’d ever been. One afternoon, I threw my hands up and said, “That’s it. I quit. No one’s ever going to get me. No one’s ever going to love my stuff. It’s TOO DIFFERENT.” My voice blurs the lines between commercial and literary / urban and epic fantasy. Not an easy thing to ascribe a genre to. Much less find an agent who will GET you. But I didn’t quit because my family is super supportive of my writing career, as are my wonderful writing friends (including the awesome support group over on QueryTracker). That’s what kept me going; that and the fact that I honestly couldn’t stop writing if I tried. I have too many stories and characters inside me who want to live and breathe.
The writing process is grueling and querying even more difficult. What one piece of advice can you impart to aspiring writers to encourage them to keep working towards their dream?
The most important piece of advice I can offer (this applies to critiquer, agent, and editor feedback) is to know the difference between pride and vision. In other words, if people are telling you to change something in your book that you love, stand back and ask yourself why you love it. Is it personal to you? Something that other people, including your readers one day, are likely not to connect with? Or is it something integral to the characters or your story’s foundation? That’s the difference between pride and vision. Pride applies to the glory it brings you. Vision applies to the glory it brings your characters/story. Never make changes that will compromise your character’s voices / plot which ultimately IS your book’s vision. But be humble enough to let go of pride if it will make your character’s voice stronger and your book a more solid read. The very elements in my story that caused me to part ways with my first agent and caused four other agents to turn me down, are the ones that caught the eyes of three agents who offered representation and then later my publisher. I knew all along I didn’t want to compromise the fantasy part of SPLINTERED. It was integral to the book. So I didn’t bend on it. I’m glad I listened to my gut, even if it was hard and scary at the time.
Alyssa Gardner hears the whispers of bugs and flowers—precisely the affliction that landed her mother in a mental hospital years before. This family curse stretches back to her ancestor Alice Liddell, the real-life inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alyssa might be crazy, but she manages to keep it together. For now.
When her mother’s mental health takes a turn for the worse, Alyssa learns that what she thought was fiction is based in terrifying reality. The real Wonderland is a place far darker and more twisted than Lewis Carroll ever let on. There, Alyssa must pass a series of tests, including draining an ocean of Alice’s tears, waking the slumbering tea party, and subduing a vicious bandersnatch, to fix Alice’s mistakes and save her family. She must also decide whom to trust: Jeb, her gorgeous best friend and secret crush, or the sexy but suspicious Morpheus, her guide through Wonderland, who may have dark motives of his own.
Alyssa Gardner has been down the rabbit hole and faced the bandersnatch. She saved the life of Jeb, the guy she loves, and escaped the machinations of the disturbingly seductive Morpheus and the vindictive Queen Red. Now all she has to do is graduate high school and make it through prom so she can attend the prestigious art school in London she’s always dreamed of.
That would be easier without her mother, freshly released from an asylum, acting overly protective and suspicious. And it would be much simpler if the mysterious Morpheus didn’t show up for school one day to tempt her with another dangerous quest in the dark, challenging Wonderland—where she (partly) belongs.
As prom and graduation creep closer, Alyssa juggles Morpheus’s unsettling presence in her real world with trying to tell Jeb the truth about a past he’s forgotten. Glimpses of Wonderland start to bleed through her art and into her world in very disturbing ways, and Morpheus warns that Queen Red won’t be far behind.
If Alyssa stays in the human realm, she could endanger Jeb, her parents, and everyone she loves. But if she steps through the rabbit hole again, she’ll face a deadly battle that could cost more than just her head.
A.G. Howard was inspired to write SPLINTERED while working at a school library. She always wondered what would’ve happened had the subtle creepiness of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland taken center stage, and she hopes her darker and funkier tribute to Carroll will inspire readers to seek out the stories that won her heart as a child.
When she’s not writing, A.G.’s pastimes are reading, rollerblading, gardening, and family vacations which often include impromptu side trips to 18th century graveyards or condemned schoolhouses to appease her overactive muse. For more on A.G. , check out her website or follow her on Twitter.
THE 200th Post Giveaway!!!! GIVEAWAY IS OVER. THANKS FOR ENTERING!!!
Want to win a copy of A.G. Howard’s SPLINTERED, as well as a $25 Amazon gift card to purchase the sequel, UNHINGED (releasing January, 2014)? If so, leave a comment about what has been your favorite W.O.W. so far and why. Please also include contact info (Twitter handle or email). Giveaway ends Tuesday, August 6 at 5pm/Eastern time. Open to U.S. residents only.
A BIG THANK YOU to all of you for reading my blog and following me on this journey. I promise there is more excitement in the future with incredible author and agent interviews to come!