This phenomenon happens around the turn of every year where writers get on their blogs and start listing their resolutions for the new year. Well, ultimately I decided not to do that, but I did (quietly) make three resolutions for myself. 1) Finish my latest WIP. 2) Be more selfish with my writing time. (Which sounds terrible, but whatever.) and 3), which, although I’m putting it last, was the biggie – it was the one I wasn’t sure I would do, the one that actually took some guts and wasn’t an automatic list cross-off.
My #1 resolution for 2013 was: Interview one of my absolute favorite authors. And, since I’m not big into doing things half-ass these days, I decided to go big or go home and ask my very favorite. Here is the very brave way I asked her:
Yup, guys – that’s how cool I am. I ASK-BOMBED COURTNEY SUMMERS’ TUMBLR. FIVE MINUTES AFTER SHE SET UP THE DAMN THING.
But you know what? It worked. Because she is a freaking lovely person, which if you don’t already know, you probably should. Oh, and if you also didn’t know, she’s an incredible writer of contemporary YA, with four books under her belt and a fifth on the way next year.
Why do I love Courtney’s books so much? Because her characters have personality; they have bite. They’re not the girls who wonder why the guys like them or what they’ll wear to the dance, and they aren’t afraid not to be sweet. Of course, mingled in with the great characters are great, relevant storylines, including bullying, sexual assault, panic attacks, suicide, familial relationships, and, of course, zombies. If you haven’t already read them all, you should probably get on that ASAP. But if you need a little more convincing, come join me and get to know the fabulousness that is Courtney Summers.
D: Confession: when I first saw on Twitter that you were nice, I was shocked. I think a lot of readers instinctively expect authors to be like their MCs, and yours generally aren’t the sweetest, which is part of why I love them. What of your characters does come from you?
C: Does that mean I am shockingly nice?! 🙂 Thank you for loving my characters in spite of their best efforts to scare you away. I can be as scathing as the girls I write about but I just have a better filter–so some of that part of them might come from me. 🙂 But really, I try to keep out of the way of my characters as much as possible and just let them do their thing.
D: And speaking of those vicious fictional girls, your name always seems to come up with regard to making unlikable MCs work. What do you think makes readers connect with characters who aren’t the traditional nice girl, and what makes you dislike a MC?
C: I think readers ultimately connect with characters who feel real. It doesn’t matter how nice they are or aren’t, it’s that whatever their nature is, it’s truthfully drawn. So I try to be as honest as possible in my work and I hope that’s what people are really connecting with. If a main character doesn’t feel authentic to me or is thinly drawn–that would prevent me from liking them.
D: Your upcoming 2014 title, ALL THE RAGE will be your first hardcover release. How do you feel about switching formats for book 5, and what can you share about how that decision came about?
C: When I was first published (2008), St. Martin’s Griffin was primarily a trade paperback imprint, with few YA hardcovers. Now they seem to be expanding more and more into hardcover territory and I’m excited that my next book is going to be one of them!
D: Pause for a really embarrassing fangirl moment here, but I distinctly remember the very first time we ever exchanged tweets: it was about the fact that AtR would end up being your longest book by far. What about it brings on that “must write more” feeling, and what about it are you really excited for readers to see?
C: Aw, don’t be embarrassed! ATR has been an interesting experience. It’s an emotionally complicated plot. There’s a lot I want to pack into it and make sure I’m doing justice to. It’s making a lot of demands on me as a writer and the more demands it makes, the less inclined I am to say a thing about it because so much of it has the potential to change. Let’s just say I’m on draft 5 now and I haven’t written the same book twice. 🙂
D: You took something of a break from genre for THIS IS NOT A TEST, infusing contemporary with good-ol’-fashioned zombies; what was agent/editor/fan reaction like to that change? Any plans to do something similar in the future?
C: My agent and editor weren’t too surprised and I don’t think my readers were too surprised either, especially not the ones who have followed me since the very beginning. I talk about zombies so much just in general that it seemed like almost a natural progression. The reaction was overall pretty positive. I did see some wariness from some readers, which I totally understand. Zombies aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I hope they’ll come back for my next realistic work. I have such a wide variety of things I would like to write about so I’d be shocked if I didn’t continue to explore other genres. Whatever I write, I’d like to keep going in a darker, moodier direction.
D: Since you happen to be the first published author I’ve had the honor to interview for my personal blog, you get the benefit of my new favorite Awkward Question: What’s it like to have a real fanbase? Anything cool of note been done for you?
C: I’m honoured to be the first published author you’ve interviewed! Thank you so much. I’m grateful for my readers. I think part of me will never get used to the idea of people being out there, reading my work and even anticipating more of it. Every time someone picks up one of my books and gives it a shot–that’s something notably cool that’s been done for me. On a less general note, there has been fan art of my books on Tumblr and some people have made book trailers. I never thought I’d see something like that happen! Very neat.
D: One thing that comes up on this blog a lot are the ups and downs of the publishing process. What stand out as high and low points for you throughout?
C: Honestly, the writing side of the process has held both the highest and lowest points for me throughout. Publishing can be really good and it can be really tough, and sometimes it’s both of these things at once, but your work is your foundation. It’s what you have control over regardless of what else may or may not be happening for you. And if you don’t have that foundation, that belief in your work, it can be incredibly difficult.
D: You’ve been with the same agent (Amy Tipton) and editor (Sara Goodman) for all five of your novels, which seems like a rarity these days. What do you think are keys to making those relationships work?
C: COMMUNICATION! It’s the most important part of any working relationship. If there’s a problem, you have to say so. If things are great, it’s good to tell people that too. I used to be very worried that vocalizing any issues I might have had–small or big–could be misinterpreted as ingratitude, because it is so hard to get published. I don’t think that’s an uncommon feeling for a new author to have and it can be easy to fall back into that frame of mind even as a seasoned one. But that’s not a productive way to approach a business and creative partnership and I learned that the best thing that I could do for myself and the people I work with was to communicate clearly and honestly. If you have a good team, they want to hear what you have to say. I have a very good team.
D: Your books tend to have more open endings, rather than the neatly tied-up HEAs we often see in YA. Anything you could tell us on where you envision your characters from one or more of your books ending up after The End?
C: I’ve had a couple of reviews state, “Summers doesn’t do endings.” That is my favourite thing ever! Because it is true. I refuse to tell people what happens to my characters after The End of their books (unless I one day write a sequel to one of them)–it’s totally up to the reader. 🙂
D: You’ve blogged before about the fact that you dropped out of high school at 14. What do you think compels you to write about it now, and how do you “research” the traditional high school experience?
C: The teen years can be so brutal, visceral and overwhelming whether you’re attending high school or not. I’m compelled to write about that. And though it was brief, I do remember my time there. It definitely left an impression on me. The school in Cracked Up to Be is my high school. I went a Catholic school, I wore those uniforms. But honestly, I’m not trying to capture a traditional high school experience in my work, I’m trying to capture a specific experience of a specific character, that may or may not happen to take place in a school. (But obviously the setting will play no small part in those experiences!)
Broke and Bookish recently did one of their Top Ten Tuesday posts on “auto-buy” authors. Unsurprisingly, you’re on my list, but more importantly, who’s on yours?
Thank you! My list… this is by no means the complete list! But–Joey Comeau, Robert Cormier, Lucy Christopher, Kirstin Cronn-Mills, Emily Hainsworth, Anna Jarzab, Melina Marchetta, CK Kelly Martin, Blake Nelson, Amy Reed, Tiffany Schmidt, Mindi Scott, Lauren Strasnick, Scott Tracey, Nova Ren Suma, Daisy Whitney, Katie Williams, Sara Zarr… annnd I will stop there! But there are loads more!
So yes, she is awesome, and although I SAW HER FIRST, I am totally willing to share. You can follow Courtney on Twitter, Facebook, and on her brand-new Tumblr account (where she is very diligent about answering all questions asked!), and of course, check out her website and her Goodreads page.