It’s debut author interview time! Today I chatted with Veronica Bartles, whose debut YA contemporary, TWELVE STEPS, will be out from Swoon Romance on March 25th, 2014 (coming right up!)
Sixteen-year-old Andi is tired of being a second-class sibling. She could be better than her sister, Laina, if people gave her a chance. But when Andi’s crush asks her to fix him up with her sister, she decides to stop waiting. The only chances she’ll get are those she takes for herself.
Andi devises a twelve step program to wrangle the spotlight away from Laina and make it her own. Step one: admit she’s powerless over her perfect sister and her life really, really sucks. Step four: make a list of her good qualities, even if all she’s got going for her is really good hair. Step seven: demand attention for more than just her shortcomings.
But when a stolen kiss from her crush ends in disaster, Andi realizes the prince isn’t as charming as she thought. And when Laina’s flawless façade begins to crumble, the sisters work together to find a spotlight big enough for both to shine.
(And I have to say how much I LOVE that cover.)
As the second of eight children and the mother of four, Veronica Bartles is no stranger to the ups and downs of sibling relationships. (She was sandwiched between the gorgeous-and-insanely-popular older sister and the too-adorable-for-words younger sister.) She uses this insight to write stories about siblings who mostly love each other, even while they’re driving one another crazy. When she isn’t writing or getting lost in the pages of her newest favorite book, Veronica enjoys knitting fabulous bags and jewelry out of recycled plastic bags and old VHS tapes, sky diving (though she hasn’t actually tried that yet), and inventing the world’s most delectable cookie recipes.
Can you tell us a little about the inspiration for your debut book?
When my little sister read the manuscript for my first novel, she sent me a one-page bit of “fan fiction” from the perspective of Andi, the little sister in that story. “You have to write this one next,” she insisted. “The little sister needs her chance to set the story straight.”
I laughed it off, but the idea stuck with me, and last November, I decided to write Andi’s story, just for kicks and giggles. By the time I was finished writing, I was totally in love. So (against the advice of every single one of my critique partners, who thought I was giving up too soon) I put my first novel aside to focus on TWELVE STEPS. (I plan to go back to the first one at some point, because I do still love that story too.)
How did you come up with your title? Were there any you considered first?
My first manuscript was called KISSING FROGS, so I originally wanted to go with that same fractured fairy-tale vibe. My little sister suggested THE PRINCESS APPRENTICE, so that was the original working title. But then I wrote my first line: “There should be a support group for kids with perfect siblings.” And I realized that Andi would be the kind of girl to create her own twelve-step program for dealing with life as a “second-class sibling.” And so my title changed to TWELVE STEPS.
What was the hardest part of writing this particular book?
I had to work from an outline for the first time ever (I’m usually more of a “pantser” when it comes to writing), because Andi is a list-making, highly-organized character, and without the outline I couldn’t be sure the story would actually flow from one step to another the way it was supposed to. This was really quite an adjustment for me, because I’m not used to having such detailed structure to my stories from the beginning. Ironically, about halfway through, the story took an unexpected twist that basically left my carefully plotted outline in the dust, so the final novel didn’t end up the way I planned at all. But that’s kind of fitting, since Andi’s carefully constructed schemes and plans don’t always turn out the way she expects them to either. 😉
Is there anything that helps you get into the writing zone – music, for example?
I have a special collection of pencils that I only use for writing my stories. I started collecting pretty pencils when I was in 3rd grade and announced to everyone I knew that I wouldn’t even sharpen any of them until I was ready to write my first published book. (I sharpened the first story pencil for NaNoWriMo in 2008 to write KISSING FROGS, the novel that inspired TWELVE STEPS.) I only use these pencils for writing my stories (to-do lists and other mundane tasks have to be done with other writing utensils), so whenever I pick up one of my special story pencils, I know it’s time to step into the creative zone.
I also like to create a soundtrack for each manuscript that I’m working on. I try to step into the mind of my main character and create a playlist of her favorite songs. For TWELVE STEPS, Andi’s playlist was an eclectic mishmash of boy bands, country and classic rock. Other projects have required playlists of classical music (heavy on the Tchaikovsky and Vivaldi) or movie soundtracks. Every time I switch gears between projects, I can easily step into the right frame of mind by loading the appropriate playlist.
What is it about young adult fiction that draws you in as a writer?
It’s quite possible that I’ve never actually grown up.
Was there ever a time when you seriously considered giving up on your writing dream?
Many, many times. In fact, when I graduated from college, fear of failure took over, and I put aside my writing dream for a really long time. I didn’t pick up my story pencils for ten years. Then, in 2008, I pulled my pencils out and wrote my first novel for NaNoWriMo. I’ve had plenty of self-doubt crises since then, but luckily I have very supportive friends and family who wouldn’t let me quit. They keep me moving forward when I start to wonder if I’m good enough.
Do you have any advice for writers trying to get published?
The first, and most important advice I can give is: Don’t give up! You may be closer than you think to reaching your goal, but you’ll never get there if you stop moving forward. Everyone should have people who love and support them unconditionally. You need cheerleaders who will tell you that you’re wonderful when you’re feeling not-so-great, and who won’t let you quit when you’re ready to give up.
The second, equally important, thing is to find a good critique group, or at least several critique partners who aren’t afraid to give you honest feedback on your manuscripts. If you’re only getting feedback from people who tell you that you’re wonderful and perfect, you’re not likely to improve. You need people who aren’t afraid to tell you when your writing isn’t good enough, and who will help you improve. Some of the best feedback I’ve ever received was the kind that made me cry and throw things. It’s hard to take sometimes, but without fail, these honest, and difficult critiques have made me a better writer.
Can you say anything about your next project?
I just signed with literary agent, Jessica Sinsheimer, for my Upper MG contemporary novel. (Yay!!!!)
(Interviewer’s note: CONGRATULATIONS!)
LETTERS FROM HEAVEN is about twelve-year-old Missy Tuttle, whose mother dies from a brain tumor. Dad starts dating too soon, her best friends have gone AWOL, and Missy has no one to turn to. But then, a letter arrives, signed Love, Mom. When the letters keep coming, referencing events Mom couldn’t possibly have predicted, Missy realizes she’s receiving actual letters from heaven.
This was the most difficult, emotional and deeply personal manuscript I’ve ever written, and it took me a full three years to complete the manuscript (because I had to keep putting it aside to work on “easier” stories), but I also feel like it’s the most important story I’ve ever told.
Thank you so much, Veronica!
You can find Veronica online at the following places: