Monday, August 28, 2006

Author Interview: Laurie Faria Stolarz on Bleed

Bleed by Laurie Faria Stolarz (Hyperion, September 2006). From the catalog copy: "Over the course of a single day, the lives of ten teenagers will intersect in powerful and unexpected ways. Among them are Nicole, whose decision to betray her best friend will shock everyone, most of all herself; Kelly, who meets the convicted felon she’s been writing to for years; and Maria, whose definition of a true friend is someone who will cut her. Derik discovers his usual good looks and charm won’t help him get the girl he really wants, while Joy, a fifteen year old waitress, hoping for true intimacy, narrowly escapes a very dark fate. Seamlessly woven together, this collection of interconnected short stories paints an authentic portrait of today’s teen experience that is at once funny, moving, and often very haunting." Ages 12-up.

How did writing first call to you?

I've been writing since before I could even hold a pen. As a small child, I was constantly telling stories to whomever would listen to me. When I'd exhausted my family with my endless babbling, I'd go out and tell my tales to the neighborhood kids--passing the stories off as truth. I'd tell of going into the meadows at night and wrestling with a mountain lion or the time I found a boa constrictor in my mom's garden and had to grapple for my life, winding the snake from around my neck just in the knick of time. Telling stories is just something I've always done. I used to write plays and scripts for my Barbie dolls and make people watch the performances.

My love of creating stories continued into school when I'd have to write a paragraph or short essay about what I did during Christmas vacation or summer break. I never thought my own life was exciting enough, so I was forever inventing stories.

People along the way, including some teachers, would tell me that I should pursue writing as a career but, at the time, it wasn't a possibility. We didn't have a lot of money growing up, and majoring in something like English wasn't really an option. It was more like a luxury. I ended up going to business school, following in my older brothers' footsteps.

It wasn't until after I got my B.S. in marketing that I pursued my graduate degree in creative writing. I'm thankful for my marketing degree now, however, because it really helps me with my books.

Could you tell us about your path to publication, any sprints or stumbles along the way?

I have a folder filled with rejection letters for Blue is for Nightmares. My favorite rejection letter is from an editor who said: "While this is an interesting project, I do not feel it is strong enough to compete in today's competitive young adult market."

That same young adult novel has sold well over 100,000 copies, was named a Reluctant Reader Quick Pick, and was nominated for YALSA's Top Ten Teen pick list. And that same editor has since expressed interest in my future work.

When I speak to young people and aspiring writers, I always tell them this story, that if I had stopped persevering, like many of my former classmates, after I received my first--or my 40th rejection letter--I may never have been able to enjoy the success of my series. I was finally lucky enough to find an enthusiastic home for Blue is for Nightmares at Llewellyn Publications.

Perseverance is key--and so is believing in yourself and being open to learning and getting better in your craft.

Your backlist glows with the best-selling Blue is for Nightmares series (Llewellyn, 2003 -). Could you tell us a bit about it?

I first started Blue is for Nightmares in an adolescent fiction writing workshop at Emerson College. I knew I wanted to write a mystery/thriller. I loved suspense novels as a young adult, and I really wanted to write something that would have appealed to me at that age, adding in elements of humor, romance, and drama. I wanted my main character to be relatable for teens; I wanted her to be flawed, to have secrets, and to have lots of opportunity for growth.

When I started the novel, I had no idea I would delve into the world of magic and witchcraft. That is until I did a free-writing exercise in my workshop class. I had no idea what I wanted Stacey, my main character to do, so I had her meditating in front of a blue candle, looking for answers. Because I had made Stacey originally from Salem, MA, like me, people in my writers group made the witchcraft connection with the candle. They encouraged me to go in that direction. That one scene ended up being the inspiration for the novel and now the series.

Even though I grew up in Salem, I didn’t know too much about the formal practice of the Craft, though I had heard growing up that my grandmother had experience with the sixth sense. I started doing research and asking lots of questions. I learned a lot this way. I learned of passed-down home remedies, interesting family superstitions, tea readings, card readings, and specific experiences with the sixth sense, some of which find themselves in the novel.

I also researched the more formal practices of Witchcraft and Wicca, as well as other folk magical practices/home remedies that pass down within families.

Having done this research and seeing the way that Witchcraft is so often negatively portrayed in the media, I wanted to show the true peaceful nature of this earth-based religion, without the hocus-pocus. I wanted to weave an education into the story, using Stacey Brown as a reflective, self-empowering young woman.

When I sold Blue is for Nightmares, I knew I wanted to write a trilogy. But, the ending of Silver is for Secrets, the third book, is somewhat of a cliffhanger, which is why I wrote the fourth book, Red is for Remembrance. Teens write to me all the time, asking if I plan to continue the series. We'll see.

[The second book in the series is White Is For Magic.]

Congratulations on the publication of Bleed (Hyperion, 2006)! What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

Thanks! I really wanted to explore how the decisions we make everyday--even the smaller ones--can affect others in ways we may never even consider. The decision whether or not to pick up the phone or let the machine get it; the decision of walking to someone's house versus taking the bus; or of taking a walk by a cemetery rather than at the beach--how the outcome of those decisions can have a domino effect, affecting other people's lives...even the lives of people we may not even know.

The book starts out with one girl (Nicole) grappling with the decision of whether or not to betray her best friend (Kelly) by going after her best friend's boyfriend (Sean) while the best friend is away. We see how the effect of that decision plays out, affecting all the other characters in the book.

What was the timeline from spark to publication, and what were the major events along the way?

I wrote the manuscript in about a year, while I was trying to sell Blue is for Nightmares, so, even when I was finished with the manuscript, I still didn’t have any publication credits behind me. It took over a year to sell, but it finally found a great home at Hyperion.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?

The novel is told from ten different points of view, some of them male. Getting into the heads of all the drastically different characters was a challenge, especially when dealing with some of the more sensitive and troubling issues in the novel. I also didn't want to churn out what's already out there. I wanted to show a different take on eating disorders, on bullying, on cutting.

Also, because the novel takes place over the course of just one day, I wanted to show the potential for character growth while still being true to the events.

In other words, at the end of a single day, it wouldn't have been realistic to wrap everything up in a pretty bow or to have a seriously troubled character evolve completely. I had to walk a fine line--tying things up in a satisfying and yet believable way.

What do you love about your writing life?

Getting to connect with my readers. I'm lucky to receive between 50-100 reader e-mails per week, telling me how the books have touched them, impacted them, empowered them in some way. It doesn’t get much better than that. Also, I like having an excuse to watch MTV and read Teen Vogue on a regular basis.

What are its tougher aspects?

Writing can be very isolating, which is why it's so important--for me--to try and connect with other authors, friends, colleagues whenever I can. I love making school visits or attending author events, stepping out of my quiet office to connect with readers and people in the business.

What advice do you have for beginning writers/authors?

I would recommend reading what it is you love. Ask yourself why you love it, why you feel it works. What technique does the writer use that works for you? What point-of-view? What do you like about the dialogue? The characters? Do the same for books that don't appeal to you. Become a better reader.

By answering some of these questions, you'll become one. You'll be able to identify what works for you as a reader. Then, apply those elements to your writing. Also, consider joining a writers' group. I rely heavily on mine. They're there for inspiration as well as critiques. We support each other through every step of the process--from that first idea to the finished book.

And lastly, of course, it goes without saying that before you send anything out, know the market. Know which editors are looking for your type of book, what their policy is on reading unsolicited manuscripts, if you’ll need an agent, and which agents are accepting new clients in your genre. Also, be sure to ask your agent for a client list, check that they're a member of AAR [Association of Author Representatives], and never pay reading fees.

How about for short story writers and novelists specifically?

Same as above. Become a better reader. This will help you become a better writer. It will help you channel your inner critic. And, always remember, perseverance is key.

What do you do when you're not reading or writing?

I'm big into yoga. I also love healthy cooking, going for long power walks, seeing a good suspense film, watching lots of reality TV, and reading YA books.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I'm working on the edits for my companion book to Bleed. The working title is Project 17, and it explores one of the characters from Bleed more deeply. It's about a group of teens who break into an abandoned asylum at night to film a movie.

Cynsational Notes

According to the publisher website, Laurie will be "blogging exclusively at fluxnow.com and at myspace.com/fluxnow" from Aug. 28 to Sept. 1.

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