Saturday, 29 September 2012

Interview with a YA Author, Amy M Newman!

I have my good friend Amy Newman on my blog today, talking about her writing process, world building, how she gets her ideas and which she would prefer, shoe shopping or getting in a few extra hours writing!

Thank you for agreeing to let me pick your brains Amy!

Me: How did you come up with the idea for Drive Back the Darkness? (Love that title by the way!) 
Amy: Every one of my story ideas starts with what I call a spark; a character, a small bit of plot or dialogue, a situation, something that intrigues me. In this case, I had a dream about a girl who was taken from her home and forced to fight for something she wasn’t entirely sure she believed in. The dream was actually a nightmare. I’ve had horrible, vivid nightmares since I was very small. At least now I’m able to do something with all that scariness! The dream is just a starting point of course. It can take several months to develop that spark into a full-blown plot.

Me: Can you tell us a bit about your writing process?
Amy: Like I said before, all my stories start with a spark. In this case, it was the idea of Ellie and the inciting event of the story. The next step is to do detailed character biographies. This can take up to a month, or even longer, depending on the amount of characters there are. For me, I can’t begin writing until I really know the characters, their entire back-stories, the events in their lives that shaped them, etc. Even then, when the book is done, I go back and rewrite parts because I almost always know the character better by the end, and I realize they wouldn’t have acted the way I had them act.
The next step for this book was world building. More on that in the next question! Then, I write. I try to write most days, aiming for around 1,200 words a day. I can’t remember exactly, but I think the rough draft of this book took six to eight months to write, which was longer then normal. At the time though, I was expecting my first son. 

The next step after that is revision. Based on the advice of family, friends, and my trusted critique partner (thank you, Aimee!), I revised, revised, revised. I think I went through three or four drafts before I started sending it out. Then, you polish, polish, polish. When I signed with Michele Rubin, my agent, she actually told me on the phone that she appreciated how much I had polished my manuscript and how professional it was. That was for my second book, a dark, contemporary YA novel. For all you aspiring writers out there, do not send your manuscript out until it is done!
Me: You’ve created a very convincing world in this book, how did you manage that?
Amy: Alladon is a semi-medieval, magical place that is being overrun by evil. It has become filled with dark and dangerous predators (human, animal, and supernatural).

I actually love world building, and did a very in-depth analysis of Alladon. I started by drawing maps, because I knew that Ellie would be journeying across the kingdom and didn’t want to get mixed up about where the mountains, forests, and villages were.
The next step was figuring out the actual structure of the country. In much the same way that I make character biographies, I made “biographies” for the social structure, the governmental structure, and the magical system. I made detailed “biographies” of the flora and fauna, and made sure it seemed like a supportable system. The trick to making a world seem real is making sure that it works. Large animals must have a sustainable food source, magic has to have rules, the nation has to have a way of policing itself, etc. The world building by itself took me three months. :) 

Me: Yikes, that’s probably why I don’t write YA. Hard work :D. I know you write romance too. What is your favourite genre to write?
Amy: While I love to read romance, I like writing YA better. I feel like there isn’t enough room to stretch as a writer in romance. There are so many rules that you can’t break and only so many directions you can take your plot. On top of that, I’ve never been very comfortable writing love scenes. However, all my stories have a romantic element to them. A story isn’t satisfying to me if it doesn’t involve love. And I also love to read romance, especially historical romances. Sometimes, I just have to take a break from all the heavy stuff!
Me: How long have you been writing?

Amy: I started writing twelve years ago, but didn’t finish my first full manuscript until five years ago. Then, I slogged away for another four years, collecting rejections, before I signed with a publisher, and then an agent. 
Me: Congrats on the agent & contract! What advice can you give to writers just starting out?
Amy: I actually have two pieces of advice:

1. Don’t ever give up. I firmly believe that if you are tenacious enough, if you are willing to learn, and if you just keep writing, you will eventually be published. This book is the third manuscript I wrote; the first two will probably never see the light of day. Before them, I started and stopped another three manuscripts, probably about 60,000 words total. These weren’t a waste of time though; I learned the lessons I needed to learn to be published. The fourth manuscript that I wrote is the one that landed me my agent, Michele Rubin of Writers House.

2. Read, read, read. Read everything; books in your genre, books not in your genre, non-fiction and fiction, literary classics, writing references and manuals. Read anything and everything that interests you. Read what repulses you. Read, dissect, and analyze the novels that move you the most.
 I honestly feel that this is the only way to truly become a writer. Sure it helps to be born with talent. Yeah, it’s great if you have an MFA. But the only way you’ll ever really learn to write, is to read.

Me: I completely agree! I’ve been dying to know, who designed your gorgeous cover?
Amy: Amanda Kelsey. She’s one of the artists who work with Etopia Press, my publisher. They have an award winning cover art department and I think it shows. I couldn’t be happier with my cover!

Me: It’s fabulous! So, how do you balance writing and life with a young son and a baby on the way? I struggle without those commitments!

Amy: Well, to be honest, I’ve been struggling lately too! It was a lot easier before I got pregnant again. I’d write (or network) during naptime, and sometimes before he woke up in the morning. Since I’ve been expecting our second baby, it’s gotten a lot harder. I’m tired all the time, so sometimes I need to nap when my son naps. I have a bunch of other stuff I’ve been going through right now too, and I’ve been feeling overwhelmed. Because of that, I’m actually hoping to take a break for a month or so before the baby comes. After that, I’ll have to just play it by ear.
Me. I hope you get the chance for that break! You deserve it :) Given the opportunity to go shoe shopping (at someone else’s expense, of course) or write for a few extra hours, which would you choose? 
Amy: Shoe shopping! Writing is important, but it’s also important to take time for yourself every now and then or you’ll go insane. Since I’m the primary caregiver for my son, I don’t get to do much shopping right at the moment. My main way of relaxing now is reading a good book while he’s asleep.
I’d pick shoe shopping too! Thank you so much Amy for taking time out to share with us.
Here’s a bit more about her new release and an excerpt to whet your appetite!

On her sixteenth birthday, Ellie Lyons discovers her entire life has been a lie. She’s kidnapped from her home and left in Alladon, a kingdom controlled by an evil man named Morfan, a kingdom that she was born to rule. 
Ellie reluctantly faces the impossible tasks confronting her; like learning to control the magic that now roars through her and burns everything she touches, training to become a lethal warrior, or dealing with the fact that Devin, the guy she is irresistibly attracted to, is actually one of the assassins sent by Morfan to kill her. 
Devin has a troubled past; he has spent the last five years tracking the person who murdered his family. He is dark, dangerous, and deadly serious, but Ellie can see the core of kindness shining deep within him, as well as the fear of getting hurt again that makes him push people away. Though Ellie knows her life might be at stake, she can’t seem to stay away from him, even as her feelings become strong enough that they begin to scare her.
Vance, the second assassin and Devin’s best friend, is the opposite of Devin; blonde, charming, seductive. But his heart holds a kernel of darkness, one that makes him dangerously unstable, especially after he realizes that he has feelings for Ellie, feelings he knows Ellie doesn’t share. 
Ellie can’t let her emotions for the two men cloud her focus, her quest to remove Morfan from power. When Ellie discovers that the children of Alladon have been imprisoned in a secret factory, Ellie knows she can’t fight her destiny any longer. She must claim her rightful place as princess and fight Morfan, or surrender and be slaughtered. Will she be able to survive long enough to save her people from the Darkness?
Two weeks ago
Something was wrong. The tingle at the base of Ellie’s spine told her so, long before she heard the sound of footsteps on the cement behind her. The bright fall sunshine crackled with danger. Something was very, very wrong.
Ellie’s hands began to shake. She wrapped them around the straps of her backpack and walked a little faster. Her home was only a few blocks away. She could make it a few blocks, couldn’t she?
There. Another footstep. Whoever was behind her had sped up too. Ellie took a deep breath and glanced over her shoulder. The woman behind Ellie smiled. Ellie’s arms went limp, and her backpack thudded to the sidewalk. For a brief second, her blood froze in her veins. Then, she ran.
The air around her seemed to thicken, holding her back. She pushed through it, desperate to get away from the monster behind her. She ran as fast as she could, blind to everything around her. If Ellie didn’t get away, she knew she was dead. She could hear the woman running behind her, the light footfalls on the cement, the rustle of her black leather coat. The woman was toying with her, like a cat with a mouse.
There. There was her house. Her heart thudded fast and thick, struggling against waves of hot, sticky panic. Ellie’s legs trembled underneath her, and her stomach pitched. She had to make it. She put on one last burst of speed, jumped the three porch steps, and hammered on the door.
Ellie’s mom pulled open the door. “Goodness, Ellie! Did you lose your key?” 
Ellie pushed her inside, kicked the door shut, and turned the dead bolt. She stared at the woman on the other side of the glass. She was still smiling. And every one of her teeth was as sharp and pointed as a dagger.
Chapter One 

Today was like every other day of Ellie’s life except for two things: one, it was her sixteenth birthday, and two, she was being stalked. Ellie gnawed on a thumbnail, the sharp, rusty flavor of blood filling her mouth. She had never been a nail biter, but she was now. It seemed to help the constant panic fluttering in her chest. She glanced at the window, a shiver snaking down her back. She knew the woman was out there, waiting.
“Eleanora Lyons.” Mr. Smith, Ellie’s history teacher, called her name. Ellie slid out of her desk, her too-pale legs flashing like sticks of chalk under her swirly skirt, a fact that would have bothered her two weeks ago. Now, it no longer seemed important. She took her test from him, not even bothering to cover the big red A+ with her fingers, like she would have before.
“Freak,” Chris, the quarterback of the football team, fake coughed the words.
Ellie sighed and then glanced at his paper, which had a D inked across the top.
She sat down in her seat, almost too tired to deal with him. Almost. “At least I’m a freak that can manage to remember basic facts.”
Chris frowned and flexed his big, beefy fingers. “Watch yourself, nerd-girl. You don’t want to tick me off.”
Ellie ignored him. She used to wonder why they picked on her, running all the possible reasons through her mind. Maybe it was because she ruined the grade curve, or maybe it was because her skin was so pale you could see her veins through it, when the other girls were all shades of gold. Maybe it was because she had a monster following her like a puppy dog. Somehow, Ellie couldn’t bring herself to care anymore.
The bell shrilled through the room. She shot to her feet and then crashed to the floor, courtesy of the backpack strap that had wound itself around her leg. Apparently, panic made her a bit of a klutz. Laughter echoed behind her as she stumbled to her locker, stuffed a bunch of books into her bag, and then sprinted down the hall. She had to make it outside while there was still a crowd of kids milling around.
The sunshine dazzled her eyes, and she blinked frantically, her heartbeat thudding in her ears. She didn’t see the woman, but that didn’t mean that she wasn’t there.
As she started the jog toward home, dead, dry leaves rustled under her feet sounding like creepy voices whispering at her.
“Come on, Ellie, get a grip,” she muttered. She took a deep breath, crouched down, and pretended to check the strap on her sandal. She glanced behind her. The woman let Ellie see her for just a second, before disappearing. A shiver prickled her skin, and she began to run.  

Phew, an average girl thrown into a world and responsibilities she'd never dreamt of, falling for one of her assassins plus a potential love triangle! I’d be right over to Amazon if I didn’t already have it ;) 
And here’s where you can find Amy and her book!

Twitter: @theliterarymom

You can find Drive Back the Darkness at Amazon here.
You can find Drive Back the Darkness at Barnes and Noble here.

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