Thursday, July 8, 2010

Hannah and the #MagicGayFish

Hey guys! I'm super excited about today's entry: YA writer Hannah Moskowitz has agreed to an interview! YA isn't my genre at all, but Hannah has an amazing voice (very reminiscent of JOHN GREEN's stuff I find) both in her first novel Break (Simon Pulse, 2009) and her amazing blog. Plus, she got her first publishing deal at only seventeen years old. All of us knee deep in rejections know what an accomplishment this is, so I couldn't be happier to have Hannah as my first interviewee!

F: Hello Hannah! First of all, thank you so much for agreeing to this interview! People might know you from your hilarious blog or your first YA novel Break, which was published by Simon Pulse in 2009. When did you officially tell yourself "I'm gonna write about a boy who makes it his mission to break every bone of his body and I'll have it published"?

H: By the time I wrote BREAK, I'd already written seven manuscripts, so publication was a shiny beacon in my head from the start. The idea for BREAK came to me in a few parts. I knew that I wanted to write about a boy on some kind of crazy mission. That was going to be the hook that made the book stand out--that it was a mission no one else had done yet. I didn't think of anything good until my head suddenly stuck on, "I'm going to write about a boy who wants to break all his bones." So, really, it's exactly as you said!

So I never set off to write a book about self-injury, and I still don't look at BREAK as your typical self-injury book, but of course once I thought of the idea, the next question in my head was, "...why?" Which is the same question that inspires a lot of people to pick it up, I think. You want to know why someone would do that. So I built Jonah's plot and character to answer that question.

F: As I'm sure you remember, unpublished writers always love to hear stories from those who actually made it. If you don't mind, would you mind sharing your query stats and how long it took to land your agent, Suzie Townsend? Ballpark numbers are a-okay too! How long did it take from the time you wrote the first page to the day you landed a book deal?

H: Okay, so my process came in many distinct waves, haha. Suzie is actually my third agent, so a lot happened before we even hooked up.

I queried four different novels at various points. One of them, the earliest of the four, got quite a few requests and quite a few rejections off those requests, but I kept querying because I loved it
and I was getting a pretty high request to rejection ratio. I started querying that one in February 2007.

Two of them, the ones I wrote between the first one and BREAK, were hideously unsuccessful, maybe one or two requests each, nothing good. I phased out querying both of them.

In November 2007, I wrote BREAK, and I started querying that in the winter in conjunction with the first ms I loved, which at that point I'd been querying for nearly a year. BREAK did very well in the querying sense--I forget the exact number, but somewhere around 2/3 of
my query responses were requests. In February 2008, I suddenly got four offers--3 for BREAK, 1 for the earlier ms. Because the earlier one was my favorite, I went with that agent.

Except after she read BREAK, she decided that was the one to sub first. We went out in April 2008, got interest from Simon Pulse in June 2008, and closed the deal in July 2008. I wrote INVINCIBLE SUMMER that July as well.

A year later I split with that agent, signed with Brendan at FinePrint pretty quickly, and he sold INVINCIBLE SUMMER, my second novel, also to Simon Pulse in about a month, in August 2009.

In January 2010, he left to go be an editor (go Brendan!) and Suzie snatched up a bunch of us orphans, haha! I wrote ZOMBIE TAG that in April 2010 and we sold that in June. And here I am now!

You might be wondering what happened with that other manuscript I was querying? It eventually went on sub unsuccessfully, so now it's just...sitting...I might release it as a free ebook at some point, I'm not sure.

F: You recently declared you no longer wished to be called a teenage writer (and why should we call you that? You are an adult officially. Nineteen is enough to get legally drunk where I live!).

Many agents recently blogged about an increase in queries coming from young writers. Was there any point in the process, from querying to finding an editor or working with the publisher, when you thought you were being treated differently because of your age?

H: None of the agents who offered on me, either the first time around or the second time with Brendan, knew how old I was. But I did mention it in a few queries scattered here and there, just to see if I got more or less requests. It seemed not to matter.

To be fair, I was querying largely before the big influx of least as far as I know. Most of the comments from agents and books from other teenagers I didn't hear about until after BREAK sold. So I felt pretty alone at the time, though I guess a few of the teenage musers were also querying...but I've always understood that the musers are not representative of the real world.

F: You are known to have colorful ideas.Was there ever a time when an editor or your agent asked you to tone it down?

H: Suzie did recently ask if one of my books could have slightly less rape...but no, not really. Suzie is very supportive of all the crazy shit I throw at her. And she claims to like it. I dunno.

F: Your newest book, Invincible Summer, is due out for release in 2011. Can you give us your elevator pitch for this one? (FYI: Hannah is currently running an Invincible Summer ARC contest until July 17th 2010! Enter here.)

H: I'm so incredibly excited for INVINCIBLE SUMMER to come out. It's a story about a boy named Chase and his family over the course of four summers. Chase has to deal with his deaf little brother's refusal to learn sign language, younger sister's mad descent into "womanhood," older brother's tendency to run away, and the birth of one more sibling than the family could probably handle. In the meantime, he's falling in lust with his brother's girlfriend across the street and falling in love with the French philosopher Albert Camus. It's very gritty-sexy, like getting it on in the sand, and it's darker than the cover would have you believe, I think.

F: You have over 44k posts on the AW forums and post a lot on Twitter. All your followers also know about secret project codenamed #MagicGayFish, the sequel of which I suggested you name #MagicBiFish: Bigger and Grandeur. On top of your YA writing, you are also working on your first MG piece. Finally, in a time where series are so popular, you chose to go with standalone stories.

Just where the hell do you find all these crazy ideas before you turn them
in awesome literature? Has your online presence been important to the fleshing out process of these ideas?

H: People I know online have been absolutely crucial in helping me develop ideas. I can't count how many times I've gone on twitter and been like, "THERE'S SOMETHING HIDDEN IN THE BASEMENT! WHERE IS IT?" when I can't figure out where an object is, or "YOUR FRIEND JUST SAID THIS TO YOU. WHAT DO YOU DO?" when I can't figure out what a character's reaction should be. And I always get fantastic ideas.

The internet really recharges me, to be honest; it's so incredibly helpful to talk to people who know what you're going through and understand how exciting it is when you reach whatever goal you've set for yourself. It's so entirely motivating.

Ideas usually come to me in pieces. I have a hint of something in my brain for a while, the way I did with BREAK--"I want to write about a boy on a crazy mission," and then I tuck that away in my brain and wait for something to come that I can mash into it. A lot of times, they don't fit as neatly as they did with BREAK. My third YA, THE ANIMALS WERE GONE, coming in Spring 2012, came from the union of the two ideas, "Boy/boy romance during the D.C. sniper shootings" and "tons of escaped animals."

F: WTF is a Muser? Is it related to a vuvuzela?

H: We do love vuvuzelas. Nah, the Musers are this group of writers...we're more like a family than a writing group. We've been together for about three years and we are, to put it plainly, madly and passionately in love. There are about 25 of us, and we share everything writing-related in our lives, but it goes a lot beyond that. We talk about our jobs and our families and our roommates and our kids and our boyfriends and we really know each other as well as I know any of my friends in real life.

Nobody ever wants to say this out loud, but the writing world, particularly the YA writing world, can be a sort of unfriendly place. You have so many great people, but there's a lot of resentment under the surface and a lot of jealousy, and it can also get very, very cliquey. There are lot of published writers who only look at unpublished writers as inexperienced fans. It can get very frustrating to watch these amazing writers--and amazing people--get caught up in some of the drama. I'm definitely not immune to it myself.

The Musers aren't like that. I'm not saying we don't have our share of drama--what families don't?--but we are honestly incredibly happy for each other's success and we celebrate it like it's our own. There's no competition. We're all very aware that none of us are on exactly the same path. And one thing I really love is that we have people from all stages of the publishing process--multi-published authors, debut authors, writers on submission, writers querying, writers revising to query, writers writing to query, writers who couldn't give less of a shit about we have a lot of different perspectives.

We read each other's manuscripts, but because we are interested in them, not because we feel obligated. There are enough of us that there's always three or so who feel a draw to whatever you're working on, so you just read whatever interests you. Except I'm a shitty beta, but I help with their query letters!

And when we first got together, only one of us even had an agent, so it's pretty exhilarating that we are where we are. We counted it up yesterday, and among the 25 of us, we've sold 18 books. And I, for one, know that I couldn't have sold mine without them. Okay, I've babbled way too long on this one, but it's because I love those bitches. A bunch of us are on twitter...if you want to know who a few of us are, just ask. But we can't reveal all of us at once... Have to maintain some secrecy.

F: Thanks so much for your time! And damn... 18 books. That's some powa!

You can find Hannah on her blog or Twitter.


aspiring_x said...

wowzee! that's one creative young lady. going to go look up her book now. why would a boy want to break every bone in his body? sounds like SUCH a good read!

suzie townsend said...

Fabulous interview! :)

Anonymous said...

Musers are known to be louder than vuvuzelas by a factor of 25. True Story.

Francis said...

How much louder are they when Taylor Lautner takes off his shirt?

cat hellisen said...

Except that Musers can hit more than one note. :D

Great interview, darling.