Meet Amy Zhang, YA author of a debut novel to be published in fall 2014 by Greenwillow/HarperCollins. Amy’s blog A Story of a Dreamer chronicles her journey to publication after scoring an agent, and I’ve enjoyed learning her story. Amy is also on Twitter!
Could you give us a brief synopsis of your as-yet-untitled debut novel?
Liz Emerson is very good at hurting people and very bad at Physics. She lies and cheats and spreads rumors and she’s ruined a lot of lives, and the only way she knows how to stop is by ending her own. She plans her suicide carefully—an accident, a crash, and she will die and be forgotten.
Only, she failed Physics so badly that she couldn’t even crash her car right.
Narrated by her abandoned imaginary friend and told in terms of Newton’s Laws of Motion, the book tells not only Liz’s story, but the stories of those who taught her that every word, every move, and every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
How does it feel to be publishing your debut novel with your dream publisher, HarperCollins?
Sometimes I wonder if it’s really sunk in yet. Greenwillow is an imprint that I had grown up loving—the one I loved before I ever thought about writing a book. I was obsessed with Amelia Bedelia when I was little. Megan Whalen Turner and Rae Carson wrote some of the books that inspired me to write. When I started this book during NaNoWriMo, I actually fantasized about signing with HarperCollins, thinking they would be the perfect for this.
And then one day my agent called to say that HarperCollins thought so, too, and I hyperventilated (like, seriously–during that phone call, my agent repeated asked if I needed a paper bag).
So basically, I’m saying that it feels like drinking unicorn tears every single day.
What have you learned about the publishing world thus far that you might not have known before?
It doesn’t get easier. Which isn’t a bad thing! Not at all. But when I started writing, I thought, “Oh, I just have to find an agent, and everything will be flowers and sunshine.” Nope. You still have to sell the book. I thought, “Oh, I just have to find an editor who loves it.” Nope. The book I queried ended up hooking an editor, but it didn’t make it past the acquisitions board. I thought, “Oh, I just need a contract PLEEEEEEEASE.” Nope. People still have to, you know, buy the book—there’s marketing and publicity and blog tours and fun things and not-so-fun things. But it’s an encouraging thought, isn’t it? There’s always room to grow.
What is your greatest challenge while writing, and how do you overcome it?
I’d have to say focusing. Finding the time, enough time, to sit down and forget about emails and homework and sports and just write. Usually, I turn off my Wi-Fi and stick a chair under my doorknob and sing the barricade song from Les Miserables until my family gets the message: DO NOT DISTURB.
Fun fact: I wrote my fastest draft ever in a bathtub. I filled it with pillows and blankets, locked the door, turned off the lights, plopped my laptop on my knees, and wrote. 70K in fourteen days (the 70K, though? Not. Good. But that’s what revisions are for).
When are you most productive? What is your writing process like (plotter, or pantser?)
I’m most productive late at night or early in the morning. For me, drafting is a lonely process–I have to be somewhere quiet, somewhere dim. I need to tell myself that I can’t be distracted, that I won’t be distracted until I hit my word count goal (but usually I’m not very convincing. Write or Die is, though. Sometimes I have nightmares about Kamikaze Mode).
I tell myself that I’m a plotter, which is half true–I always start plotting my novels, and around the halfway mark, I get lazy and decide to pants the other half. It works well for me, actually. I always write the second half more quickly than the first, but it’s hard for me to start a new novel without an outline.
Are you a fan of sharing what you’ve written during the “early stages,” and asking for advice? If so, who has the privilege of reading your first drafts?
Again, I’m very solitary when it comes to drafting. I’m shy with first drafts. Usually, I send it to my agent and critique partners after an initial revision, along with a frantic, “Here take this make it better what do I do is it decent is it sellable is it GOOD?”
I have an absolutely fantastic writing group that puts up with all of my neuroticisms. We do group chats and writing sprints together, we critique each other, we call to patch up plot holes or to celebrate or cry or exchange publishing gossip. Honestly, I don’t know what I’d do without them.
What would you say to teen writers who struggle with completing their drafts?
Huh. What a coincidence. I’m having the same issue right now.
I think every author struggles with this. You love your characters and you’ve promised to tell their stories, but at some point or the other, the characters and their stupid friends and the story and the world and the imagery and the foreshadowing are all going to be very uncooperative, and of course there are always (very insistent) shiny new ideas demanding to be written.
Remember–it’s okay to take a break. Take a breath. Take a step back. Take a nap. Do some character development exercises or make a map or talk to a critique partner. Remember why you fell in love with this story in the first place. Find that passion again and remember that no one in the world can tell this story but you.
Why did you begin blogging? What, do you believe, is the purpose of your blog, and what do you typically blog about?
I began blogging in March of 2012, just after I signed with my agent. I wanted to start building a platform, and blogging seemed to be…what everyone else was doing, so I kind of jumped on the bandwagon and found that I really enjoyed it. I talk about my experiences with publishing, the mistakes I’ve made, the things I’ve done right. I blog about manuscripts and frustrations and how I want to kick a particular character in the shins.
What is next for Amy Zhang?
Well, tomorrow, I’m going to get up and spend a good half an hour trying to get out of bed…and that’s about as far as I’ve planned.
Writing-wise, I’m playing with a few ideas right now: MEMENTO MORI, which is about a girl named Mori Lee Monroe, who is trying to find the perfect grave site before she dies of AIDS. It features ice cream water gun fights and paradoxes and letters to the dead. THE BLACK SWAN THEORY (working title) is also told in letters, this time written by August Carter as he struggles to overcome cognitive biases and high school and the memory of what happened after their stupid winter dance, all addressed to his unrequited love, Janie Vivian. THE STORYWEAVER, a fantasy about a castle on a waterfall and a war and a kind of magic made possible through the sacrifice of memories.
Oh, and after I get out of bed, I might have some pie for breakfast.
*Thanks for answering my questions, Amy!