Saturday, October 13, 2007

An Interview with Maryrose Wood

Maryrose Wood

Author of Sex Kittens and Horn Dawgs Fall in Love and Why I Let My Hair Grow Out, Maryrose Wood has kindly stopped by The Wordslingers blog for a (virtual) cup of coffee and an interview. More information about Maryrose can be found on her website:

Hi Maryrose, thanks for being here! Why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about yourself.

First, thanks for inviting me to stop by your blog! It’s great. It makes me wonder how exactly a group of people could share a brain, but maybe that can be the premise of a YA sci-fi novel one of you will write.

I’m an author of YA fiction, and also a playwright, lyricist, librettist and screenwriter. I’m a mom, a dog-owner, an old-house-fixer-upper, a gardener, a middling tennis player and a novice kayaker. I’ve lived in or around New York City pretty much my whole life, but am feeling more like a country mouse than a city mouse these days.

Tell us about the books you have in print - and any upcoming ones, of course!

My first YA novel was published on ‘06, and another came out in 2007. I have two scheduled to come out in ‘08, and just signed contracts for ’09 and beyond! So I’ll give a brief round-up, and there’s more info on my website at
Sex Kittens and Horn Dawgs Fall in Love (Delacorte), my first book, is a romantic comedy in which a pair of 14 year olds (one of whom has a mad crush on the other) do a science fair project to discover the Secret of Love. It was an ’06 hardcover release, and came out in paperback in July ‘07.

Why I Let My Hair Grow Out (Berkley) is a comic fantasy with an Irish twist. Morgan, a 16 year old Connecticut girl, gets sent on a bike tour of Ireland to help her recover from a recent heartbreak. Once there she ends up slipping back and forth in time to the days of Irish lore, where she discovers that she’s really Morganne, the half-goddess of old. The book came out in trade paperback in March ’07 and just went into a second printing; a sequel will be out next May.

My first ’08 release will be My Life: The Musical (Delacorte, March ’08), which draws heavily on my own history as a Broadway baby! Two Broadway-obsessed teens find out their favorite musical is closing; hilarity ensues as they get caught up in the frenzy to see the final performance. Along the way they solve Broadway’s biggest mystery, and their friendship goes through some important changes, too.

My other ’08 book is How I Found The Perfect Dress (Berkley, May ’08). It’s the sequel to Why I Let My Hair Grow Out. Morgan’s magical and romantic adventures continue, in Connecticut this time. This book definitively answers the age-old question: why are there no female leprechauns?

I’m thrilled to announce that I just signed a contract for my next projects with Delacorte as well, so I’m working on a brand new book right now. It’s called A Beautiful Nothing. Expect wine-making, boccie tournaments, and romantic misadventures, that’s all I’m saying at the moment!

You had an unusual path to publication. Can you tell us about it?

I’m not sure there is any “usual” path to publication; everyone’s work seems to find its own way and its own time. Perhaps my path is unusual in that writing novels had never been an explicit ambition of mine, though I’ve been a voracious reader all my life.

In round numbers, I spent my 20’s as an actor, director, and doing improv comedy, and then my 30’s as a playwright, screenwriter, librettist and lyricist. So, after spending a looooooong time being steeped in pretty much all the storytelling arts except writing fiction, I changed focus just a smidge and go figure – now I’m on my fifth novel! Life is funny, isn’t it?

The mechanics of that change involved an important bit of encouragement from my pal and wonderful YA author E. Lockhart, whom I knew from writing musicals. She was quite familiar with my writing for the theatre (much of which involved teen characters, by the way). She pointed me toward the world of YA fiction, which has proven to be a perfect fit for me.

What did you do to promote your books? What worked and what didn't in "promotion"?

Honestly, I think the number one thing anyone can do to promote a book is to write the very best book you can! This sounds self-evident, but it’s sometimes alarming how much writers tend to daydream about book tours and interviews on NPR when they haven’t yet written a fabulous book. Hear me, o wise ones! There is no substitute for writing a great book! The readers decide which books break out, nobody else does.

Given that you’ve written an awesome book, try to have the right title and best cover possible. This is not always something you can control, but do your best to work with your editor and publisher to achieve something eye-catching, right for the book and appropriate to your target audience. Good covers can’t save books that readers don’t like, but bad covers can prevent readers from discovering books they might love.

When you’re writing for young adults, having a web presence is essential; I think most people realize that by now. So do a website and perhaps also a MySpace page or a Facebook page so your readers can find you easily.

I like having lovely color postcards to hand out at trade shows or when I happen to meet someone who might want to check out one of my books. You can also do bookmarks or business cards.

I also do an emailed author newsletter about four times a year that goes out to people who’ve signed up on my website, as well as indie booksellers and librarians. It’s cheap, easy to do, and gets the news about my books in front of people who are quite important: the readers, booksellers and librarians who create “buzz” about books that excite them.

As for what doesn’t work — much of the stuff people think of as “promotion” – book store appearances, school visits, etc. – it’s my personal opinion that, unless you’ve already got a breakout book and a big fan base, these are too often very time-consuming ways to sell five books at a time to your friends, or your kids’ friends.

For name authors, book tours and the like are a great way to deepen and extend the relationship with their readers. If you’re not there yet, that energy might be better spent creating a top-notch body of work.

Do you feel pressured to produce now that you're a published author?

Well, I feel pressured to produce by the fact that I like to make my living writing! Given the choice between finding a job making frappucinos and coming up with a salable book pitch, I go with the pitch every time. Though the frappucino job would probably provide health insurance.

I’ve been very fortunate so far to have sold all my books on pitches, so I begin new projects already knowing what my deadline is. That’s a kind of pressure, though I prefer to think of it as structure! I don’t really buy the whole notion of “being pressured” to do things. One chooses to have access to electricity, therefore one chooses to do what must be done to pay the Con Ed bill. Writing is a proactive discipline: you and you alone sit down and get the first draft done and then you rewrite it until it’s as good as you’re capable of making it. Nobody can make you do all that work, but if you don’t you’ve chosen not to be a writer.

Where do you get your ideas?

Everywhere! How can a person leave the house for even five minutes without encountering some scrap of human drama or mysterious encounter or inspiring moment of beauty or disgust or frustration? To be alive and pay attention is all that’s required.

My personal familiarity with unrequited crushes, Broadway musicals, bike riding, New York City, and an as-yet-unrealized dream of visiting Ireland have all found their way into my books.

What is your writing process? Do you have a critique partner?

I sit in a chair for four or five hours a day, five a week and type stuff into a computer, and maybe five or six months later I have the first draft of a book. That gets rewritten a zillion times, then I turn it in, the editor gives notes, and there are further rewrites until the copy editors are screaming to hand it over, already, and then we call it done.

I hardly outline, but I do continually map and remap my plan for what the story structure will be as I work on the first draft — what the major turning points are, what the three-act structure is in Aristotelian terms, what’s the darkest moment of the story, how the subplots fit together, that sort of thing. Well-turned sentences can come later, but the architecture of the story has to be solid.

As I write I keep notes on what I discover about the characters, too, so I don’t forget stuff about them. Sometimes I also find it useful to make a calendar for the book – plot the various events on a real calendar to keep track of how much time is elapsing as the story unfolds.

At the moment I don’t work with a partner or group. Nobody reads my first draft until I’m ready to turn it in, then my editor and agent get it simultaneously. My middle-school-aged daughter also likes to read it before anyone else, so she’ll get a copy at that point too. After I have a final draft I might let a few close friends read it before the book is in galleys, just for fun and to catch any glaring stupidities.

The revision process is really a collaboration between me and my editor, so I prefer to let the main voice of feedback be hers.

I generally think writers can benefit from good critique, though, and groups can be enormously helpful. Remember that in my case I spent twenty years peddling my wares in front of actual live audiences, and there is no feedback quite like that! You cannot hide from a theatre full of people who don’t get it, don’t like it, don’t find it funny or whatever. I encourage early-career writers to show their work to peers and mentors and LISTEN to feedback; keeping your secret masterpiece in the drawer is not going to help you improve.

What are you reading right now? Who are some of your favorite authors?

Oh, gosh. Within the last week or so I’ve read Philip Roth’s Exit Ghost and Ann Patchett’s memoir Truth and Beauty. I’m currently rereading Much Ado About Nothing and Francine Prose’s immensely useful Reading Like a Writer. I am browsing through Camping for Dummies, and have freshly resolved to carry my Swiss Army knife everywhere I go. I’m intermittently rifling through some fabulous Damon Runyon stories, some P. G. Wodehouse too. I’m always reading a dozen things at once. I did finally have to cancel my subscription to The New Yorker because I found that I carried it around instead of books, and I prefer to read books.

My favorite author is Shakespeare. Homer’s good too, and Jane Austen and Nabokov and Virginia Woolf and Charlotte Brontë and the people who write the SpongeBob SquarePants scripts, they’re pretty brilliant.

There are really too many to list, and my list skews deceptively upscale but “favorite” is kind of a loaded term. I think it’s important to read widely and without snobbery; fiction and non-fiction and poetry and biography and history and journalism and every scrap of compelling writing you can find, whether it’s “literary” or “genre” (note the highly ironical quotation marks) or a cartoon or whatever. It’s all storytelling; it either grabs you or it doesn’t.

In the YA world, I admire M. T. Anderson’s work madly and E. Lockhart is a constant inspiration; she writes superb contemporary realistic fiction that is always fresh and insightful and utterly devoid of clichés. There is a ton of great YA writing right now, it’s such a rich field.

If you weren't a writer, what would you be?

I would love to be a park ranger, or a kayak tour guide, or someone who worked outdoors in beautiful nature doing something physical. I realize that’s the opposite of someone who actually works sitting on her butt staring at a computer making imaginary things with her brain, so perhaps I crave balance!
(Wordslingers note: Yep - this is actually Maryrose herself in a kayak!)

What thoughts do you want to share for writers at all stages in their careers?

A favorite quote that someone once shared with me: your talent rises until it meets the level of your character. To succeed as a writer talent is helpful, discipline is essential, but the truth is your books can only be as warmhearted, fair-minded, intellectually engaged, righteously angry, vital and romantic and funny and wise as you are. Spend more time developing the body, mind and spirit and less time worrying about how to get an agent, and the odds increase that all will end happily.

Thanks so much for talking with us, Maryrose. Blog readers, if you haven't already, go buy her books!

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