ALL FOUR KIDS: AN INTERVIEW WITH COURTNEY C. STEVENS, AUTHOR OF FAKING NORMAL

Standard

So pleased to share with you an interview with the insightful and brave Courtney C. Stevens, author of the YA debut Faking Normal.

Faking Normal HC-official cover

Here’s a description of the book:

Alexi Littrell hasn’t told anyone what happened to her over the summer. Ashamed and embarrassed, she hides in her closet and compulsively scratches the back of her neck, trying to make the outside hurt more than the inside does.

When Bodee Lennox, the quiet and awkward boy next door, comes to live with the Littrells, Alexi discovers an unlikely friend in “the Kool-Aid Kid,” who has secrets of his own. As they lean on each other for support, Alexi gives him the strength to deal with his past, and Bodee helps her find the courage to finally face the truth.

AMAZON / B & N / INDIEBOUND / !NDIGO / BAM / POWELL’S / GOODREADS

CourtneyStevens0036CJ: This is a book that takes on quite a few serious topics. Did you go into the writing thinking you wanted to tackle these specific issues or did the problems come from the characters?

CS: The original concept of the book was born out of several things, among them the question, “Why can’t I say no?” I wanted a character who deals with boundary issues as that’s something very personal to me. That question led to issues of sexual abuse and recovering trust. I decided it would take a special boy to see through the walls of this girl; that he would have to be someone who truly understood abuse, which is what added the layers of Bodee’s background. From the inside, it didn’t feel like an issue-driven book. I was trying to find the puzzle piece character that fit perfectly beside Alexi.

CJ: The book also has a few mysteries in it. Was this part of the book hard to figure out how to write properly? To have the reader wondering but not quite knowing the answers?

CS: The hardest aspect of writing the mysteries was a question of when to reveal the truths. In the original plot, Alexi didn’t reveal who hurt her until Act III. I had a long conversation with my critique partner one day and she encouraged me to move that particular reveal up to the end of Act II and let the characters have time to deal with the truth. She’s a wise woman.

As for the mystery of Captain Lyric, that storyline emerged in the effort to create juxtaposition between a negative mystery and a positive one. It’s the lighthearted part of the book, (which desperately needed a light side) but I also believe music is a language Alexi could understand from her position of pain.

CJ: Do you have other books in the works? Are they similar to your debut in theme or tone or not?

CS: Yes. I have a novella that releases the Tuesday following Faking Normal (3/5/14) called The Blue-Haired Boy. It is a prequel to Faking Normal, written from Bodee’s point of view.

I also have a second book that is scheduled to be released in fall of 2015. I won’t say too much about it right now except it deals with the power of truth in friendships.

All of my projects are realistic contemporary in genre, and I believe that whether they are “big issue” books or not, they will be tonally similar and feel like the same person crafted them.

CJ: Did you ever consider telling the book in a dual narration structure? Since the character of Bodee is almost as present as Lexi? Did you do any freewriting from his perspective?

CS: No. I never considered two POVs, and I never free-wrote from Bodee’s POV until a year and half after I wrote FAKING NORMAL. Bodee presence has to do with the way Alexi sees him. Is he perfect? No, but he’s perfect to Alexi. Keeping that aspect sacred was very important to me. It is Alexi’s view of Bodee that makes him accessible to the reader. If we were in his head too, I think that accessibility would have decreased.

Alexi, by nature, is harder to relate to because she can’t clearly see herself. While that’s realistic for someone who has been through her circumstances, I wanted to craft someone very transparent to sit opposite her. Bodee fit the bill.

CJ: As someone in the throes of a revising process myself, I’d love to hear a bit about yours. How much drafting did you do for this novel? Did it change much from the selling point to the final version?

CS: I’ve said in the past, some books come out of the author like old, dead syrup and some like Niagara Falls. FAKING NORMAL was my Niagara Falls. Concept to completion occurred between August 8th and October 18th and the story sold by the following June. The biggest revision was to remove the first four pages of the novel. My agent suggested that those four pages belonged to me instead of the world, and I agreed. We removed them, and from there I partnered with my editor to make the language and characters stronger. For those who read an early version of “23” as it was then called, they wouldn’t see many noticeable changes.

That said, everything else I’ve worked on has been old, dead syrup and revision has actually been re-writing and re-visioning. The Blue-Haired Boy took me five complete drafts; tossing 200 pages of writing in January alone. My second book has also had four complete re-writes, (1200 plus pages of circular file material), and it hasn’t made it to my editor yet … so I’m preparing for more.

Someone asked me for a quote on revision recently and this is what I said:

“Revising is like getting a washing machine for Christmas. It sucks as a gift, but it’s a necessary evil if you want things clean.” – Courtney Stevens

CJ: Is there anything else you would like our readers to know about you or about Faking Normal?

CS: I’d love for them to watch the youtube video if they have three minutes. Here’s the link:

CJ: And, lastly, as this community is fearless, we’d like to know something you’re afraid of, and something you’re not afraid of.

CS: I’m terribly afraid of being afraid. Truly. i.e. I don’t pass out over needles or pain (I have tattoos), but I recently passed out at the doctor before he ever hit me with the needle because I was scared it might hurt. It didn’t, but I still passed out.

I am not afraid of revising.

CJ: Thanks Courtney!

CordeliaJensenAuthorPhotoCordelia Allen Jensen graduated with a MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2012. Cordelia’s YA Novel in Verse, SKYSCRAPING, is forthcoming from Philomel/Penguin in early 2015. Cordelia was Poet Laureate of Perry County in 2006 & 2007. She’s a Writer in Residence at The Big Blue Marble Bookstore in Philadelphia where she teaches creative writing classes for kids & teens and does author interviews for their blog. Cordelia is represented by Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger, Inc. You can find her at www.cordeliajensen.com and on Twitter @cordeliajensen

Introducing: Sarah J. Schmitt

Standard

Hello everyone! I’m Sarah J. Schmitt and I’m a Fearless Fifteeners premie. My YA Ghost story, IT’S A WONDERFUL DEATH, comes out from Strange Chemistry (Fall, 2014).

When I was in fourth grade, I proclaimed to my mother that I was going to be a writer. Many decades later, that dream is finally coming true. I even came in second in a county wide writing contest when I was a freshman in high school. (I lost to my English teacher’s son… I wanted to cry fix, but they showed me the shiny trophy and I was distracted.) When I got to college, I decided I needed to get serious and got a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Psychology, but I kept writing a few pages of fiction here and there. When I graduated, I was pretty directionless. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, so when someone commented that I would be a good college administrator, I thought, “Sure, what the heck.”

Best and worst decision of my life. Worst decision because midway through my first semester of graduate school, I realized I was tired of school and just wanted to be a writer. Best decision because I finally figured out what I wanted to do with my life and I met so many amazing people who encouraged me to follow my dreams. They continue to be the greatest cheerleaders of all time. I graduated with my Masters, came home, wrote seventeen chapters of a horrible novel, had two babies and thought this is as good as it’s going to get.

Then one day, when I was folding clothes and watching The Ellen Show. Ellen was interviewing Stephanie Meyer about Twilight and I remember Stephanie saying she had three small kids at home and had never wanted to write a book before but she had to know how the dream ended. I thought to myself, “Hey. I only have two kids and I’ve always wanted to write a book. If she can do it, why can’t I?” That week I started writing and within 6 months had a first draft. It was that moment, on October 3, 2009, that I knew this is what I was supposed to do with my life.

Three years and two completed manuscripts later, I decided that I was FINALLY going to “win” NaNoWriMo, but instead of saving the world like my other books, I just wanted to save the cheerleader… a snarky, self-centered, barely redeemable cheerleader. I finished in 23 days and then revised for six months before sending out my first batch of query letters. A week later I signed with my agent, Liza Fleissig of Liza Royce Agency and five months later received my offer from Strange Chemistry.

I’m looking forward to the year to come and celebrating the successes of my Fearless Fifteeners! This is a crazy wicked talented group of writers!

Here’s the summary of IT’S A WONDERFUL DEATH.

Seventeen-year-old RJ always gets what she wants. So when her soul is accidentally collected by a distracted Grim Reaper, somebody in the afterlife better figure out a way to send her back from the dead or heads will roll. But in her quest for mortality, she becomes a pawn in a power struggle between an over-zealous arch angel, who has grown tired of the white wings and harps, and the Hawaiian-shirt wearing Death Himself.

While she waits for the decision of the Tribunal charged with determining whether her life is worth rewinding the hands of time, RJ wanders through the afterlife where she meets several colorful characters including the Cornhole-playing St. Peter and Al, the handler for the 3-headed Hound that guards the gates to Hell. Finally, the Tribunal present her with two options: she can remain in the Lobby, where souls wait to be processed, until her original lifeline expires or replay three moments in her life in an effort to make choices that will produce a future deemed worthy of being saved. It sounds like a no brainer. She’ll take the walk down memory lane. How hard can changing her future be?
But with each moment, RJ’s life begins to unravel until this self-proclaimed Queen Bee is a social pariah. She begins to wonder if walking among the living is worth it if she has to spend the next sixty years as an outcast.
SarahJSchmitt_color_lowresSarah J. Schmitt is a K-8 school librarian and Youth Service Professional for Teens at a public library. She lives outside of Indianapolis with her husband, two kidlets and a cat who might actually be a secret agent. Her debut novel, IT’S A WONDERFUL DEATH, comes out Fall 2014 from Strange Chemistry. Check out her antics on Twitter.