How did you get started writing? What drew you to it initially, and what is it that keeps you writing?
I’ve been writing stories for as long as I can remember! I’m not sure what drew me to it… I’ve always liked imaginary worlds. When I was young, my family called me the “Queen of La-La Land” because I spent more time there than in the real world. I guess it’s only fitting that I’ve made a career out of it!
In college, I started out pre-med but got some good advice from a professor and changed to creative writing. I mostly wrote short stories, but while my husband was working on his undergrad, I did some contract work for Covenant and was inspired to try my hand at a novel. I didn’t stick with it at first! But it was something I came back to a few times and eventually I got it right.
The excitement of a new idea and a fresh first draft is one thing that keeps me writing…or at least keeps me motivated through many rounds of revisions. The fact that I’m writing for an audience, now, is also very motivating.
Why do you specifically write YA literature?
I sort of fell into YA literature, which is funny because in retrospect it was the obvious choice. Although I’m a fan of Mary Higgins Clark and Tess Gerritsen and others, for many years now my favorite book has been The Giver, by Lois Lowry.
The first manuscript I completed was a romance. Then I tried my hand at high fantasy. Twice! But when I started writing YA, it felt right. Natural. I read a lot of YA (some days I feel like I read little else!). There’s so much great stuff out there I could never hope to read it all.
Tell us about the process of getting Wings, your first novel, published.
Wow, that’s a very short question with an incredibly long answer! In fact, in May of 2006 I started a blog at apparentlyaprilynne.blogspot.com. I sold my first manuscript 150 blog entries later, and my first book appeared in stores about 120 entries after that. On average, I blog once a week, and the vast majority of those posts deal directly with my process.
The short version is that I wrote several books before I had one good enough to get an agent, then I wrote one more before I had something worth publishing. And then the real work began—I received a nine-page, single-spaced letter detailing what was wrong with my book and asking me to fix it. This was to be the first of several such letters! Each time my book got better. Sometimes I wish I’d had one or two more rounds of that before publication! But just like children, eventually you have to send your book-babies out into the world, and so it was with Wings.
What was your reaction when your debut novel hit number one on the New York Times Best Seller list?
Honestly? Disbelief, followed by terror. It was something I had never even hoped for, because it simply doesn’t happen to debut authors, unless you’re already famous. It’s hard to even explain, because I went into an almost physical shock. I was afraid to tell anyone because I was sure it would turn out to be a mistake, or a joke, and everyone would laugh at me. It’s the only time I’ve ever yelled while on the phone with my agent—and I yelled, “Are you kidding me?” Which of course made my husband come running. I then made him tell my mother, because I couldn’t do it.
Sometimes I still have a hard time believing it happened. I love being a writer. I love having readers. I don’t feel like a “bestselling author”—but I’m glad my readers enjoy my stories.
Your novel borrows from the fairy tale genre but has a few twists, such as the idea that faeries are related to plants. How did you come up with this idea, and what made you decide to write a fairy tale?
Well, while my high fantasy was out on submission, I tried my hand at a YA ghost story. I was a little ways into it when I saw on an agent’s blog that faeries were projected as the next “trend” in YA. It was a real “duh!” moment for me—I love faeries! Why wasn’t I writing about them?
Soon after, I woke one night with the idea to write about a goth faerie who lived with three old women and couldn’t go out after midnight because there was no power from the sun. It seemed like a great idea at 4:00 am, and did not seem so great at 8:00 am. But the concept that faeries could get their power from the sun stuck with me, and I asked myself, “Why would that be?” And the most obvious answer was that they used photosynthesis. We’ve all seen flower faeries and nature faeries in art and sculpture—I just brought them into YA.
How has your experience been working with agents? Any advice?
Advice? Yes. Get one.
My agent is, and always has been, completely priceless. A good agent knows how to help you polish your work, the right house to send it to, the right editor within that house, and—after you’re contracted—is there to help guide your career and get you out of (and keep you out of) sticky business situations.
Yes, they take 15%. More, on subrights. But (to borrow from the title of a great article on a related topic), 15% of nothing is nothing. My agent has earned her cut many times over, and I would not be the author I am, or have the career I have, without her.
How has your faith influenced your work?
Probably in more ways than I consciously realize. On a superficial level, I try to make my books accessible to a wide audience while at the same time keeping them appropriate enough that I could hand them to a Mia Maid. On a deeper level, I use my stories to explore what it really means to be good. Sometimes that means portraying characters who are not necessarily doing good things. Fortunately, I am secure enough in my own faith that I feel comfortable exploring characters who aren’t.
There seem to be quite a number of Latter-day Saints writing children’s and YA literature. Why do you think that is?
For one, our church’s focus on family seems to keep adults focused on the needs and interests of children longer than they might otherwise be. We also have a cultural affinity for education and literature. Another factor at work right now is the dominance of “paranormal” and “supernatural” YA literature, and Latter-day Saints have long been avid producers and consumers of fantasy for children and adults alike.
You’ve said that your books have been optioned for a movie. Any more news on that front? If you were to make some requests of or suggestions to the film studio adapting your novel, what would those be?
News? No. And if there is, there’s a good chance you’ll see it online before I hear about it! Hollywood is an interesting place and I’m very excited to see what Disney does with Wings, but so far we haven’t moved past the “option” stage.
As for suggestions, I’m a big believer in letting the professionals run the show. Where movies are concerned, I’m the amateur, and I feel confident that the people who have signed on to develop Wings into a movie will do the best job they can.
One of the major plot points in your debut series is a love triangle. I’m guessing that as with all famous love triangles in stories, you’ve had readers take sides on who they want the heroine to end up with. What feedback have you gotten on that from readers, and who seems to be leading the polls right now?
Most of the feedback I’ve gotten from readers has been…emphatic. My readers are very passionate! And I admit I was kind of proud of myself when, after Wings came out, fans seemed evenly split over which “team” they were on. The split has shifted to about 70–30, but hey, it’s only half-time…
That said, the fourth book is drafted and I know how the game ends, so I probably shouldn’t say anything else about that.
You’ve mentioned that your husband has been a sounding board for a lot of your ideas. He also maintains your website. How has your writing affected your family? What are the benefits and what are the drawbacks?
The very best way that my writing has affected my family is that my children now have two stay-at-home parents. The obvious drawback is that I can’t spend all of my time being a mother anymore—I have books to write! But between my husband, who is sometimes a better wife than I am, and my commitment to each child getting some one-on-one time every day, I think my children still come out ahead.
How do you balance your writing with your family responsibilities and other interests?
My two oldest children are in school all day, so that’s when I write (and leave the three-year-old in my husband’s care). But once everyone gets home, it’s children time—homework, piano practice, and cooking dinner together are daily activities. At night, each child is read to and gets some individual time with me. It’s a busy schedule and not always easy to keep, but it’s important to me. After the children are in bed, I spend time with my husband—often cleaning up the messes of the day, but we do enjoy European board games, British television, and artsy movies.
To this point, the baby is just attached. I have a sling. I wear her like a kangaroo.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers about developing their writing skills?
Read, read, read! Write, write, write! Revise, revise, revise!
Lather, rinse, repeat.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers about publishing?
I already mentioned my blog, but there is a lot to know about publishing. And sometimes it’s a little scary how much of it even published authors don’t know! There are skills you need to succeed in publishing that have nothing to do with writing books. First, you have to write good query letters. Later, you have to be an accountant, a contracts expert, a publicist, a marketer…and that’s on top of writing a publishable novel. Being an author—even if you don’t do it full-time—is a career. It will take time. You will need to learn, and you will probably spend many years failing. I did! And those years taught me how to succeed. It will probably take more than one book, and that’s okay. Have patience with yourself, and always, always find ways to learn from people who are more experienced than you.
You have a background in the performing arts. How do you think that has influenced your writing?
A lot of people tell me that my books read like a movie. I tend to think of my stories as though they are playing out in front of me on a stage. Because of that, I tend to be heavy on dialogue and light on description, which requires fixing later. Nonetheless, I think it helps my plotting and my pacing.
The biggest influence my performing arts background has on my career, though, has nothing to do with writing at all. When I tour, I spend a lot of time on a stage in front of crowds. Often those crowds are young adults, many of whom have never heard of me or my books and expect me to entertain them. Which, quite frankly, I’m happy to do! But I have met authors for whom public appearances are a great challenge. I’m grateful that’s something I haven’t had to overcome.
What are some of your personal writing goals?
At this point, I’ve met so many goals that my biggest goal is more of the same! I’ve learned that staying in the game, so to speak, can be as big a challenge as getting published to begin with.
I like to publish at least one book a year. I have never missed a deadline and I hope to keep it that way. I’m getting ready to embark on my second series, and planning an entire series in advance is a challenge all its own.
On a more day-to-day level, every book demands something different, so I don’t set a lot of word-count or writing-hours goals the way many authors do. But when I’m in drafting mode, I do like to push myself to get 3000 words per day. It’s often exhausting, but also tremendously satisfying to knock out that first draft.
What projects do you have planned for the future?
Laurel’s story has two more installments: Illusions will be released in May of 2011, and the final volume should come out about a year later. In late 2011 or early 2012, I will be releasing my first standalone novel. It’s about a kleptomaniac ghost and the boy who can see her.
I have one more book contracted after that, and I have lots of ideas about where to go from there, but it’s too early to say for certain. ❧