Thursday, December 13, 2007

Debut Author of the Month: S.A. Harazin...

S.A Harazin spent years working in hospitals--and years writing--before finding an agent and a publisher for her debut novel Blood Brothers, a July 2007 release from Delacorte (with whom she has a two-book contract). Here Harazin talks about her book and her path to publication.

Tell my readers and me a little about your debut novel, Blood Brothers, and Clay, your main character.

Clay is an orderly at a hospital where mopping floors and facing life or death situations is normal for him. He dreams of becoming a doctor, but he does not have the money or good grades. His childhood friend, Joey, has it all—good grades, money, supportive parents, and plans to attend to Duke University.

One evening Clay goes to Joey’s house and finds him confused and combative. Clay acts in self defense and then has to call 911 for help. Joey ends up in the hospital on life support. Over the course of a few days, Clay faces suspicion, betrayal, and lies as he tries to uncover what happened to Joey before he arrived.

Before you got your first book contract, you had been writing for more than a decade. Had you submitted novels to editors or agents before Blood Brothers?

Yes, I have another novel I submitted three or four times before I wrote Blood Brothers. I’d get revision suggestions, and I would revise. But I really did not know how to revise. That manuscript is now in a drawer.

You definitely subscribe to the philosophy of “write what you know.” During the time you worked in hospitals, did you ever envision the experience flavoring YA novels?

Never. I’ve always been a writer, but I never considered submitting anything for publication until about ten years ago. I was writing short stories at that time and attending a writer’s group at a bookstore for fun. One day I was reading a short story and a group of teens came over and started listening. One of the teens—a male—complimented the story and asked if I had anything published. He said the “voice” of the short story sounded like him, and he knew exactly how the character in the story felt. Then I decided to submit the story to a lit magazine. The editor wrote back that I should be writing for children. That’s when I started reading young adult books and writing for teens.

Please tell me about your path to publication. How did you find your agent?

I’d been writing, reading, and learning the craft for several years before I submitted my first novel attempt. In 1999 I wrote the first draft of Blood Brothers and over the next few years submitted it to four agents. The third agent gave me some suggestions but did not ask to see a revision. The fourth agent said yes. I had found him by networking with other writers.

You’ve said that your agent asked for some revisions and you did a major revision of Blood Brothers with your editor. Is this what you expected? How did you feel about the whole editorial process? Any surprises.

I did expect to do a major revision because other authors I knew would have to do major editorial revisions. The process was intense. I had to do a rewrite in six weeks, and I am a slow writer. I learned that I could write fast when I had to, but I also had my editor (Joe Cooper who is no longer at Delacorte) to give me advice. Surprisingly (to me at least) he asked for more flashbacks with a tone change. I enjoyed writing those less intense scenes most of all. My agent Steven Chudney had not read the rewrite until he received an ARC. He said it was the same book but it was also a different book. I was amazed at the difference that editorial input made. I think it took the book to a whole new level. There were others at Delacorte—including my new editor, Claudia Gabel—who played a significant part in the process.

Your book has been out for a few months. How does it feel reading reviews?

I generally won’t read a review unless my editor or a reviewer emails me. The book is published, I wrote it from my heart, and I wrote what I was passionate about. I feel like I’ve done all I could do at that time in my life to write a good book.

What have you done to promote Blood Brothers? How has your involvement in the Class of 2k7 helped you?

I did the usual things. I set up a web page and a blog, and I joined MySpace. I’ve contacted local bookstores, and I asked to participate in a SIBA conference which turned out to be a great experience. I am normally shy, but the Class of 2K7 helped me move out of my comfort zone and gave me the support I needed to promote. I’ve made friends, read great books I would have otherwise missed, and shared the ups and downs.

Do you think all new authors should have websites? What else should debut authors do to promote their work?

An author should have a professional looking website, and I think this should be the priority in promotion.

Other ways to promote:

  • Check out book fairs and conferences and get things started early if you want to participate. Be aware that most are planned many months in advance.
  • Visit your local bookstores after your book is out and introduce yourself. Offer to sign stock.
  • Set up a MySpace page. This is a great way to network. I actually get more book-related email from MySpace “friends” than I do from my website.
  • Start a blog.
  • Bookmarks are nice to have for school or library visits. Postcards and brochures—for me at least—are not all that effective except for mailing locally to let schools or libraries know you are available for visits. I think bookstores toss them into the trash.
  • Do not obsess. A writer can spend every hour of the day promoting and still feel like it isn’t enough. I try to balance promotion with writing—I am a writer. That is what I do best. I want to write, and that is the most important thing to me.
You said, “I feel like I’ve been stuck between 14 and 19 years old,” and you have three teenage kids. As an author, what appeals to you about teenage-hood?

I find teens interesting and amazing. The teenage years are filled with so much emotion, conflict, and change it’s hard not to be intrigued.

You used your initials rather than your first name (in great company with S.E. Hinton, J.K. Rowling, E.L. Konigsburg, K.L. Going…) Is that something your publisher encouraged you do to as a female author writing male characters? Any particular reason you chose a male main character?

I have author friends who were asked to use their initials, and I could see why it might be a good idea. I made the decision to use my initials.

I didn’t actually choose a male main character. When I first heard his voice and then visualized him, he was male.

Tell me about your second novel, Painless. When will it be released?

Painless (which is the working title) is about a boy with a hereditary disease who is trying to beat the odds and survive. After moving to a colder climate—something he needs to improve the quality of his life—he meets a girl.

My editor mentioned something about 2009—but she has not seen a draft yet. I have not shown this draft to anyone. It’s not where I want it to be yet. I want to write a better book and grow as a writer. For me, it’s all about the writing and the story.

What was it like for you getting a contract for a book you hadn’t yet written? Was that at all scary?

I was thrilled and surprised to get a blank contract, and I will admit, I thought I heard my agent wrong when he called.

I have moments when I experience fear. I think it goes with the territory. But passion and determination squash the fear.

What advice would you give unpublished writers working on YA novels?

Read hundreds of books. Write and rewrite. Take time to learn the craft. Develop grit. Grit is the ability to persist with passion. Experts speak of the 10-year rule—it takes a decade of hard work to become successful in most endeavors. The ability to persist in the face of obstacles is important in major achievements.

And new authors?

If you’re a new author, turn off your Google alerts and don’t Google your name or check your Amazon rankings endlessly. (I think checking once in a while is OK.) Focus on writing a fabulous book. Enjoy the journey.


Mary Cunningham said...

Thanks for your great insight into getting published, Shirley. Your persistence in learning your craft has certainly paid off. We could all learn from you.

Good luck with the 2nd book!

Stephanie J. Blake said...

Thanks for the interview. I think Blood Brothers is the best YA I've read in 2007. I whisper PRINTZ when I think of this book. It is that amazing! I am looking forward to Shirley's next book.

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Margaret J. McMaster said...

You mention that Joe Cooper left Delacorte. Do you know which publishing house he's at now?

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