Sharon Biggs Waller

My Writing Process (Blog Tour)

Guys. I am the *worst* at this blog thing.

Apologies for the long radio silence. It’s been a busy few months! Over at the Greenhouse, there have been deals, new clients, release dates, and all manner of agent-y ass-kickery. Here at my writer’s desk…well, more on that below.

My pal and occasional short-fiction publisher, the fabulous Kerri Majors, “tagged” me in her Writing Process blog post a few days ago. Kerri is the founder of and editor-in-chief at YARN (Young Adult Review Network) and the author of THIS IS NOT A WRITING MANUAL (Writer’s Digest Books, 2013), a guide for young writers. I’m delighted to answer the tour’s four burning questions (and then I get to tag two bloggers much better at blogging than I.)

A’ight let’s do this.

1. What are you working on?

Right now I’m wrapping up the final section of a new young adult novel. It’s a large, sprawling “faux-historical” (which means, I wanted to write a historical but didn’t want to do any research…kidding…sort of). It takes place in a re-imagined turn-of-the-century Manhattan. It’s the story of a girl who rises from an ethnic ghetto to the glamorous rooftops of Central Park while becoming entangled with organized crime and terrorism. Think a steampunky Boardwalk Empire.

I like to explore themes of personhood, gender, and class in my novels (I didn’t know that starting out, I just look back and it seems those ideas keep cropping up), but unlike GIRL PARTS and CHERRY MONEY BABY, this new project is a bit more sprawling in scope. I wanted to write something epic and sweeping, about family and history and culture, like Jeffrey Eugenides’s MIDDLESEX. It’s more ambitious than anything I’ve ever done and I’m very excited about it.

2. How does your work differ from others in its genre?

As far as the current WIP goes, it’s a “steampunk” novel, but not a swashbuckling adventure. This is a character-driven story, though it takes place in a newly-imagined world. There are life and death stakes, but no robots or coal-powered giant spiders.

Generally, I’m a devotee of unreliable narrators, and there are certainly a great host of those in young adult. I also like to write narrators who are unreliable to themselves, who have only so much self-awareness. My protagonists grapple with how society has defined them and how they’ve self-defined. In GIRL PARTS, Rose is built to love one boy, and must forge an identity of her own when he rejects her. In CHERRY, the title character has an image of herself as a small-town girl, and must question that self-image when faced with the opportunity to enter a more glamorous tier of society. The protagonist of this new project, whom we’ll call Vette (because that’s what she’s called), is an infamous historical persona in her world, like Annie Oakley or Patty Hearst. She has a public persona of cruelty and danger that’s separate from who she is, or feels she is.

So, I suppose that’s something unique about my work- the exploration of multiple identities within single characters, personas, self-image, and one’s “true self,” if such a thing exists.

Sorry. I haven’t had my coffee yet…

Okay! Let’s keep going!

3. Why do you write what you do?

I love young adult fiction. I love writing it. It’s honest, and unpretentious, and relies on great story and true characters. You can’t hide behind pretty prose or brilliant metaphors in y.a.; you’ve got to make the reader *feel* something. Though I read a lot across age groups, writing y.a., and exploring that particular formation of identity that happens between 13 and 18, is where my heart is.

I’ve made the switch with my current WIP from a contemporary realistic backdrop to something more fantastical. I’m a sci-fi fan at heart, and I wanted to exercise that part of my brain this go-round. It’s been beyond fun.

4. How does your writing process work?

I go by drafts. I start with an idea, usually a series of images, or a very vague plot arc, and after taking some rough notes, I start with Chapter One, Word One. From the there the story will usually develop away from my initial concept or outline. I sometimes jump around– I like to begin chapters in the middle and then fill in the edges– but I more or less write in chronological order. I’m pushing the protagonist forward, watching her strive for her goals, and at the same time figuring out what the book is *about* as I go. In a sense, I write plot first, theme second. It usually takes a draft or two before I can say, “Ah ha! So *this* is what I’m trying to say!” From there it’s a matter of shaping and developing.

If you enjoyed reading my pre-caffeinated ramblings, and would like more, even *better* ramblings, there shall be new posts on the tour every Monday.

Next week, head on over to Sharon Biggs Waller’s. Sharon is my client and the author of the amazing and critically acclaimed y.a. historical A MAD WICKED FOLLY (Viking, 2014). Sharon does great giveaways on her blog, plus occasionally posts pictures of her beautiful farm (my favorite). Summer Heacock, aka Fizzygrrl, is one of my favorite book-bloggers and posts some of the most insightful and touching stuff about this maddening thing we do. Check ’em out!

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A MAD, WICKED cover reveal

I’m so psyched for client Sharon Biggs Waller‘s January 2014 release, A MAD, WICKED FOLLY. Yesterday was the one year anniversary of its sale. You can read all about how Sharon and I met, and how MWF came to be published, here. And check out the superb cover!

MWF Cover

Welcome to the world of the fabulously wealthy in London, 1909, where dresses and houses are overwhelmingly opulent, social class means everything, and women are taught to be nothing more than wives and mothers. Into this world comes seventeen-year-old Victoria Darling, who wants only to be an artist—a nearly impossible dream for a girl.
After Vicky poses nude for her illicit art class, she is expelled from her French finishing school. Shamed and scandalized, her parents try to marry her off to the wealthy Edmund Carrick-Humphrey. But Vicky has other things on her mind: her clandestine application to the Royal College of Art; her participation in the suffragette movement; and her growing attraction to a working-class boy who may be her muse—or may be the love of her life. As the world of debutante balls, corsets, and high society obligations closes in around her, Vicky must figure out: just how much is she willing to sacrifice to pursue her dreams?

Here’s more from Icey Books on MWF.

Pub Stories: A MAD, WICKED FOLLY

At conferences I’m often asked What do you actually do all day? On camera, my job would look fairly boring: a Warhol-esque single-shot film of me staring at a computer, getting up every few hours to fetch a Red Bull from the office fridge… Truth is, what I get up to varies from week to week. Every book has a different story, from conception to sale to shelf. In my experience, there’s no real “usual way” a manuscript gets rep’d, sold, and published. The best I can offer is anecdotes. So here, for your enjoyment, is one book’s (ongoing) story:

I was sitting on my couch one Saturday afternoon, having just finished a four-hour marathon of the Masterpiece Theater program Downton Abbey. In case you live in a cave, and read this blog on printed transcripts winged to your dark little fissure by carrier pigeons, Downton Abbey is an immensely popular Edwardian soap opera following the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family, their romances, exploits, and financial disasters. It’s smart, sexy, and addictive.

Now, I’m of the opinion that young adult trends follow television and visual media. I’d seen twenty-somethings and teens swooning and speculating online over the Crawley’s romantic entanglements, and thought this needs to be a book, if it isn’t already. Waiting for a brilliant Edwardian y.a. to drop in my lap would take too long, so instead I tweeted I was in the market for a Downton Abbey for teens.

Sometime that evening, a freelance writer and farmer named Sharon Biggs Waller was scrolling through her feed and spotted my tweet. It just so happened she had an Edwardian y.a. she’d not yet been able to sell. In fact, historicals can be difficult to place; Sharon had shopped her manuscript, A MAD, WICKED FOLLY, before there was a swoon-worthy cult hit to compare it to.

Sharon queried me via my agency’s online form. The first line of her cover letter hooked me utterly. I mean, how can you not love this?:

London, 1909. When 17-year-old Victoria Darling poses nude for a forbidden art class, she gets dismissed from her posh French boarding school.

SOLD. I requested the full manuscript and read it overnight. I discovered Victoria was a bold, forthright, talented, passionate protagonist, ahead of her time and yet steeped in the attitudes of her era. The story had romance and high stakes, but on a deeper level, something I hadn’t known I’d been looking for: an examination of women’s suffrage, gender politics, and sexism that would resonate with a contemporary audience. It was a deeply-felt and socially relevant story wrapped in a delectable crust of Edwardian fashion and romance. Smart and sexy. Agent catnip.

The next day I called Sharon and offered representation. She agreed, we popped the metaphorical champagne, and I put together a list of editors I hoped would love FOLLY as much as I did (including a few editors who’d contacted me after I’d tweeted about signing Sharon- Twitter for the win, again). Responses began to roll in. Editors offered notes, some wanted to speak with Sharon directly. Particularly exciting was the afternoon I was away at a conference in Salt Lake City and had to keep excusing myself to “run to the bathroom,” dashing outside to field calls from excited editors, relaying that info to Sharon, then hurrying back to the conference in time for my phone to ring again (I’d switched my ringtone to the Downton Abbey theme song, for luck).

After some back-and-forth, we placed A MAD, WICKED FOLLY with Leila Sales, a brilliant editor (and y.a. author herself) at Viking books, an imprint of Penguin. After so many phone calls and emails, Sharon and I were able to meet in person last month when she came out to NYC for lunch with Leila and me. Afterwards I took Sharon for coffee and she pitched me ideas for future projects (one of which I so wish  I could talk about now. But soon, boy, soon.)

Now, Sharon is revising A MAD, WICKED FOLLY, which will be released by Viking in 2014. Sharon and I found each other via twitter, but I’ve picked up clients at conferences, via their blogs, at parties, and of course, through the slush pile. Every story is different.