Thursday, August 30, 2012

Interview: Colleen Clayton, Author of What Happens Next

From Debut Author Colleen Clayton

What Happens Next

Sixteen-year-old cheerleader Cassidy “Sid” Murphy ends up on a ski lift next to a handsome college boy. She’s thrilled – but he isn’t all that he seems. What happens – and what follows that – is a surprising, devastating, but ultimately triumphant journey for an indelible and sharp young woman who loses almost everything following a night she can’t remember.

Debut author Colleen Clayton’s beautifully rendered, heartrending and funny WHAT HAPPENS NEXT is filled with sharp and incisive moments, recalling the best of Sarah Dessen and Laurie Halse Anderson. WHAT HAPPENS NEXT deftly navigates issues including date rape, eating disorders, financial difficulties, and living in a single-parent household, with brutal honesty
and a compassion-filled light touch. Sid makes new friends, falls in love, and
(overdiscovers that becoming whole again will depend on her willingness to take ownership of not only what happened already, but also what will happen to her next.

Today I am SUPER lucky enough to have the wonderful Colleen on FireStarBooks for an interview. And yes! Colleen answered all 25 questions!
1. If you could work with any author who would it be? 
I have always had a dream of participating in and/or editing a collection of YA short stories set solely in the Rust Belt, penned by Rust Belt authors. Some great names to choose from: Christopher Barzak, Shelley Pearsall, Siobhan Vivian, Cinda Williams Chima, Rebecca Barnhouse, Rhonda Stapleton, and Jeannine Garsee.

2. Who is your favorite author and is you writing style similar to theirs? 
One of my favorites is Australian YA author Alyssa Brugman. When I first read her books FINDING GRACE and WALKING NAKED I thought: “She thinks like I do!” I instantly felt a connection to her writing style.

3. What's your favorite part of a book? 
Dialogue. I enjoy writing and reading snappy dialogue so, so much. Romantic tension is fun to write, too.

4. When naming your characters, do you give any thought to the actual meaning?
Cassidy means curly-haired in Gaelic! There’s an American-Irish thing going on in the book so I absolutely wanted to use Irish names for her family. Regarding Corey’s nameit is “new classic,” not overly pretentious but a solid, non-bland name in my opinion. I use a few of my real life friends’ names for minor characters, as well as my sister’s name. (I might only get one book published in my life, so I wanted to cram all the “awesome” that I could into it. “Dude, look on page 100I used your name!”)

5. How do you get started with writing a story (as in, how do you start developing the story, how do you get inspired for it?) 
I usually start with the character in a scene during a point of crisis. I let the character’s voice lead me through it and explore how they are feeling. I try to let them do a lot of talking and/or ranting. Lots of internal dialogue. This helps me get to know them and find the voice of the character. 

6. What advice would you give to people who "run out of creativity" when writing?
Keep your butt-in-the-chair for as long as you can but if you feel overwhelmed or completely tapped out, take a breather. Find some music that might inform your writing. (Music informs mywriting A LOT…) I find driving alone with certain types of music helps release some of my creativity. I do a lot of “dream work” in the car, listening to music.

7. How long did it take you to publish your first book, after you started trying?
Seven years to get a manuscript sold. Eight-and-a-half to see that book on the shelf.

8. How did you come up with the title? 
My publisher and I came up with the title together. It was sold as ERASING SID MURPHY but, because of its “compulsive readability,” (their words, not mine…) we decided that WHAT HAPPENS NEXT was a good way to go.

9. Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp? 
The main messages, I think, are that everyone deals with trauma differently. There is no “one way” to deal with the horrible things that might happen in life. And however a person deals with their pain, it is their way and their unique path. And alsoto remember that there is always, always hope for a brighter day.

10. What books have most influenced your life? 
Alyssa Brugman’s YA novels really helped me in the early stages of my writing career. Her unique sense of voice gave me something to aspire to and helped me find my own unique voice as a YA writer. Also, while I’ve read many classics (and tons of what some like to call “serious” or “literary fiction”cough, cough…) and while I hope that those books have all taught me something, I feel commercial authors like Stephen King, V.C. Andrews and Dean Koontz were a big part of my development as a writer as well. Looking back, when I was in middle and high school and first discovering books like THE STAND, PET SEMATARY and MY SWEET AUDRINA, I think I was doing more than just reading a good book, I was learning the art and skillset of creating a page-turning, riveting story arc.

11. If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor? 
Nebula-award nominee Christopher Barzak. He is literally my actual mentor and shoulder-to-lean-on. He was my MFA thesis advisor and is a very dear friend. And then, Alyssa Brugman, the Australian YA author whose work I admire and who I’ve gotten to know personally through the magic of the internet. She’s been a wonderful source of support to me.

12. What book are you reading now? 
FINGERPRINTS OF YOU by Kristen-Paige Madonia. It’s lovely and compelling and I don’t want it to end.

13. Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? 
Huntley Fitzpatrick who wrote MY LIFE NEXT DOOR, Trish Doller (SOMETHING LIKE NORMAL) and then E.M, Kokie (PERSONAL EFFECTS). They are contemporary debut YA authors like me and I have great respect for their writing. Also, Lana Krumwiede who wrote a middle grade fantasy/sci-fi/unclassifiably awesome genre-blender that releases this fall called FREAKLING. I read an ARC of it and was blown away.

14. What are your current projects? 
Book Two, which is untitled. It is a YA novel set in Lakewood, Ohio, the same setting as my debut.

15. Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members. 
My agent Alyssa Reuben, of course! She’s my most enthusiastic cheerleader but also doesn’t let me get away with anything. If something in my writing smacks of sloppiness or falsehood, she’s right there pointing it out. She has a fantastic editorial eye which I appreciate immensely.
16. If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book? 
Nope, not a thing. Seriously, not one thing.

17. Do you recall how your interest in writing originated? 
I came to writing later in life than most. I was a social worker, then a stay-at-home mom for years. I comefrom a working class background so the idea of “being a writer” just seemed so other-worldly to me. Honestly, it never really even occurred to me that I could be a writer. But I always had a sense of being out of step in my life. Something was always missing for me in that Big Picture sort of way. Then in my mid-thirties I became obsessed with the image of a girl, a manifestation ofmyself as a teen, only a fictionalized version of me. I decided to write a scene one day, a scene that I couldn’t get out of my head. One page led to another, then another. (That story never landed an agentfrankly, looking back, it’s a story that I hope never sees the light of day…) but in the process of writing it, a switch went off inside of me. A voice inside me said: “This is what you are supposed to be doing with your life. You’ve been a writer all along. You just didn’t know it.”

18. Can you share a little of your current work with us? 
Alas, I cannot. If it sells, then maybe I will! J

19. Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing? 
Writing every day is something I wish I could do. But it’s just not my process. I write in spurts. I’m a binge writer. I go, go, go around the clock until my hair falls out, I’ve lost fifteen pounds, and my entire family hates my guts. Then, when I’m done, I do nothing. It takes me months to get going again on something new. I marinate in my own head for a while, swimming in fruitless ideas until something eventually sticks, until a spark happens. But then, when the spark hitswatch out!

20. Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work? 
I don’t really have a favorite, there are too many. I will say that right now, I’m really enjoying an adult fiction writer named Daniel Woodrell. He writes country-noir and it is a nice break from reading YA. I try to read widely and not get YA tunnel vision when it comes to my reading. Woodrell is truly an amazing voice in contemporary American fiction.

21. What was the hardest part of writing your book? 
The ending was a little tricky to navigate. I’m terrible with endings.

22. Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it? 
I learned how to deal with loads of rejection, how to eventually rise to the top of the slush pile, get the attention of a great agent, and land a book deal. It’s been a long road.

23. Do you have any advice for other writers? 
Never give up. Be persistent. Rejection is part of the process, it helps you grow as a writer and appreciate, so, so much, your successes. Also, have a back-up plan financially. In other words, don’t quit your day job.

24. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers? 
Thank you for reading my book! I hope you enjoy it!

25. What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?
Hard research and logistics are my Achilles’ heel, I’m not going to sugar-coat it. I find hard research and logistics really irritating and mind-numbingly boring. I’m more into exploring feelings, relationships, creating unique word arrangements (on a sentence level), “living out” vicarious experiences on the page, writing snappy dialogue and definitely finding the humor in any situation that I create for my characters. Facts are a complete drag for me. But, alas, even in fiction, they are often a necessity or the story will just ring false to the reader. 

On sale: October 9, 2012
Hardcover ISBN: 9780316198684 / $17.99 / $19.99 CAN
E-book ISBN: 9780316215046 / $9.99 / $9.99 CAN

About the author:
Colleen Clayton has worked with troubled teens as a social worker ad as program supervisor for Big Brothers Big Sisters. She currently lives in Ohio with her family and recently received her MFA from the Northeast Ohio Consortium at Youngstown State University. WHAT HAPPENS NEXT is her debut novel.

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