Tuesday, May 10, 2011

New Voice: Caissie St.Onge on Jane Jones: Worst. Vampire. Ever.

Caissie St.Onge is the first-time author of Jane Jones: Worst. Vampire. Ever. (Ember/Random House, 2011)(excerpt). From the promotional copy:

For Jane Jones, being a vampire is nothing like you read about in books. In fact, it kind of sucks. She's not beautiful, she's not rich, and she doesn't "sparkle."

She's just an average, slightly nerdy girl from an ordinary suburban family (which happens to be made up of vampires). Jane's from the wrong side of the tracks (not to mention stuck in the world's longest awkward phase), so she doesn't fit in with the cool vampire kids at school or with the humans kids.

To top it all off, she's battling an overprotective mom, a clique of high school mean girls (the kind who really do have fangs), and the most embarrassing allergy in the history of the undead, she's blood intolerant.

So no one's more surprised than Jane when for the first time in her life, things start to heat up (as much as they can for a walking corpse, anyway) with not one, but two boys. Eli's a geeky, but cute real-live boy in her history class, and Timothy is a beautiful, brooding bloodsucker, who might just hold the key to a possible "cure" for vampirism.

Facing an eternity of high school pressure, fumbling first dates, or a mere lifetime together with Timothy, what's a 90-something-year-old teen vampire to do?


When and where do you write? Why does that time and space work for you?

I love to write in big chunks, usually working on a first pass or a revision of an entire chapter at one time, if I can manage it. I do this, of course, sprawled out across my bed.

[Pictured: Frito Pie behaving.]

My house is kind of small, and we have an office/laundry room, but my husband is also a writer with a “day job” that he works from home and somehow that office became his office.

I’m not complaining, mind you. It fits his working style perfectly, and since he’s in there so much, he does ninety-eight percent of the laundry, too. I can’t argue with that!

I have a nice wingback chair in my bedroom, and I scored a vintage rolling typing cart on eBay, so I can sit up and type like a normal person when I want to, but I barely ever do. For some reason, I am most comfortable sitting cross-legged on my bed (hopefully made, but sometimes not) until my laptop starts burning my legs. Then I switch to lying on my stomach with my computer in front of me and maybe my cat balled up on the small of my back or my dog nosing my shoulder for chest rubs.

Writing in long all-day stretches is what works for me right now, because I also have a regular job working in television, and the show I work on currently is broadcast a couple of times a week, live and late at night. On those days, I’m in the office while the sun is up and then I head to the studio, where I usually don’t finish until the wee hours. I can’t steal any time at all to work on a manuscript during those two show days, but I’m so unbelievably lucky to have a gig where the rest of the week is mine to spend on my bed, writing.

I think the reason why the whole bed-as-desk thing works for me is because I’m a creature of comfort, first and foremost. I also think of writing as similar to acting. I’m trying to give life to these characters, so I’ll talk out loud to myself, or I’ll make a face or gesture in the mirror before I try to put it into words. I feel safe doing those kinds of weirdo things in my room. [Pictured: Frito Pie misbehaving.]

Finally, it probably works for me because I still feel, in many ways, like I am a teenager. Or at least that I can very clearly remember just what it felt like to be a teenager. And teenagers are the ones I’m trying to connect with.

So, it seems fitting that the way I’m working now is exactly the same way I was working when I was sixteen, only instead of flopping out and reading a book for Ms. Gallo’s English class, I’m flopped out trying to write a book.

It might be unconventional and it may not work for me (or my spine) forever, but it feels right for now. (And I’m really, really glad you didn’t ask what I wear when I’m writing. The world may never be ready to hear about my Sock Monkey pajamas.)

How have you approached the task of promoting your debut book? What online or real-space efforts are you making? Where did you get your ideas? To whom did you turn for support? Are you enjoying the process, or does it feel like a chore? What advice do you have on this front for your fellow debut authors and for those in the years to come?

Promoting my debut book is an interesting experience. I feel a little like I have two lives now. The first is as this comedy writer/producer/TV worker bee. The second is this new, and somewhat unexpected, life of a YA novelist. '

I have some experience in promoting things, but have never been in a position to promote something that was so…mine. My ideas, my words, my name. It’s exciting and fearsome all at once.

The idea for this book was born online. On Twitter, precisely (@Caissie). I’ve been using Twitter for about two and a half years, because it’s an excellent platform for a joke writer.

Brevity is the soul of wit, right? Well, you can’t get much briefer than 140 characters! I’d been using Twitter mainly to post topical zingers and thoughts that weren’t going into whatever TV stuff I was writing at the moment.

Then, something interesting started to happen. I began to connect with friends of friends – people I probably never would have met in real life – and they were talking back to me and sharing my little jokes with their followers, with whom I was also connecting.

Soon, I had built this little community of people who seem to like my humor and who are, in return, very likable, entertaining, smart, fascinating and generous.

One day when I made some joke about how being a teenage vampire would be so unsexy and awkward, and with my luck I’d be blood intolerant, people responded enthusiastically.

Without the people in my little Twitter community telling me to run with that idea, I might never have taken the next step in writing the novel. And it’s been that community that’s helped me brainstorm ideas for getting the word out there about the book. I owe a lot to these 7,000 people, most of whom I’ve never met in real life! Yet.

Mostly all of my promotional efforts thus far have been online. I’m working on a blog. I already have a little personal blog of personal essays that my personal friends read, and I love that, but I’m hoping to put together something a little more professional before my book comes out.

Your blog has really inspired me, and I’m hoping that eventually I could create an online space that not only serves to promote what I’ve written, but also allows me to promote other work I admire, and maybe even becomes a little community for young readers to communicate with kindred spirits. That’s the dream.

I’ve done a few other things too. I’ve set up an account and an author page on GoodReads.com. Now I’m racing around trying to put every book I’ve ever read on my virtual shelf. I think I only have twelve so far! If you’re my friend on GoodReads, please believe that I’ve read more than twelve books.

I’ve also made a (gulp) “fan” page on Facebook, which is just surreal to me. Right now, I think my mom is a fan, plus a handful of friends who are basically ribbing me for having made a fan page. This afternoon I’m going to try to talk my son into being my fan, but it might be a tough sell.

In real life, I’m scheduled to be interviewed on a couple of Internet podcasts, which now that I’m saying that I realize have the word "Internet: right in them, but somehow seem more real to me than virtual. I’ve also been asked to do a reading at my local library in Westport, Connecticut, which thrills me.

I’ve never Skyped with anyone in my life, but I am kind of fantasizing that maybe some schools will ask me to do some Skype visits. For that, I would be willing to learn how to Skype!

I’ve also worked with my editor at Random House, Shana Corey, on a list of my own personal contacts in the media to send the book out to. I think people might believe I have some kind of promotional advantage coming from the world of television, but that’s not really the case. [Shana pictured.]

Yes, I worked for David Letterman for several years, and I’m sure he wishes me every success in the world with my book, but it’s not very realistic to hope to be invited on his show to plug it. It just isn’t a likely fit for him or for my book.

If anything, the one advantage I have is understanding a little bit about how these things work, and not harboring any grand illusions that I will get on "Ellen" or "The Daily Show" because I know some people that work there. There’s more to it than that and having been the person on the receiving end of countless envelopes similar to those I’m sending out now, I recognize the chances of exposure are tiny.

But, if my publisher is willing to do it, why not? You never know when a seed scattered on the wind will take root, right? Plus, I’m excited to show my TV colleagues what I’ve been up to since I saw them last.

Whatever happens with the book, I’m enjoying the process of promoting it because I’m learning a lot. I mean, sometimes I wish I could learn a little faster, especially when I’ve spent forty minutes trying to find the button that connects my Facebook page to my GoodReads page, but how psyched was I when I finally found it!

I’m also looking at this as an opportunity to keep building that community that I’ve come to love so much.

Another thing it took me a long time to learn, but I’m so glad I did, is that the scary feeling that mounts just before you put yourself out there is no match for the amazingly beautiful feeling you can get when someone who’s been scanning the crowd says, “Oh, there you are…I’ve been looking to know someone just like you!”

I have yet to learn how successful my promotional endeavors will be, but if I were to offer advice on this front to anyone else, I would say that the first step is to put yourself out there. Join Facebook if you haven’t. Make a Twitter account, or if cyberfellowship is not your style, join a writing group or a book club of like-minded people. These will be the people you will turn to for inspiration as you write, and when you revise, and eventually when the time comes to unleash your writing on the world.

The very important second step, though, which I think that some people may forget, is that it’s not enough to just put yourself out there. You have to be active. You have to communicate with and be there for the other people you meet who are putting themselves out there.

When you’re using any type of community or platform to strictly broadcast your thoughts or your writing, it can be frustrating, because you often start to wonder why folks aren’t responding to it in the way you’d hoped, or at all. That may be because people can only “like” and “comment” and “retweet” and “buy” so many times before fatigue sets in, and they start to wonder what’s in it for them. You may have made an initial connection, but if it isn’t a two-way street, you may not maintain the connection.

It’s important that you’re willing to give as much as you’re asking for – and part of the giving will come in the form of creating something wonderful that people are eager to read and share, but I believe another part is responding to people who reach out to you as often as you can, sharing advice with people who aspire to do what you do and shouting out mad props for all the other people who are out there being creative or talented or dedicated or funny or kind.

Whew! I feel like I sounded kind of like a motivational speaker there. Well, the truth is that I’d love it if everybody got to enjoy the kind of support that I have had throughout this process, and while generating some positive buzz and selling a few books is certainly a welcome byproduct, the truth is that I place tremendous value on my relationships with these people, many of whom I wouldn’t recognize outside of a thumbnail avatar. And that would probably be just as true if I had decided to be a human cannonball instead of a young adult novelist!

Cynsational Notes

P.S. from Cassie: "In my career as a TV professional, I dislike ever having to pass on any pitch, book or otherwise. Every padded mailer that comes across my desk represents someone’s passion and ideas and effort, and those are three things I always want to say ‘yes’ to. And, despite not often being able to put a person’s work on my show, I am often able to enjoy it. In fact, some of my favorite books – books that I’ve read, reread and recommended time and time again – first came to my attention in the form of a pitch. It’s not Oprah’s Book Club, but it’s something."

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