I’m so excited to post this interview with the lovely Francesca Zappia, debut author of YA Contemporary ASK AGAIN LATER, coming from Greenwillow/HarperCollins in early 2015 (yay fellow ’15 debut!)
Francesca Zappia’s debut ASK AGAIN LATER is about the ultimate unreliable narrator, a schizophrenic teenage girl unable to tell the difference between reality and delusion who discovers — thanks to her Magic 8-Ball, her little sister, and a boy she thought was imaginary — that sometimes there really is someone out to get you.
Francesca Zappia lives in Indiana and majors in Computer Science at the University of Indianapolis. She writes all genres of YA fiction. Her debut, ASK AGAIN LATER, is a YA contemporary coming from Greenwillow/HarperCollins. She is represented by Louise Fury of the Bent Agency.
Can you tell us a little about the inspiration for your debut book?
Ask Again Later was inspired a lot by my interest in the brain, and how things like mental illness and autism affect different people. Alex, the narrator, is a paranoid schizophrenic. Much of the book is about her perception of reality and perception of reality by people in general. The other main character, Miles, is undiagnosed autistic, and another big draw for me was developing how he related to other people, especially Alex, and Alex’s slow unraveling of how he perceives reality and why he acts the way he does.
How did you come up with your title? Were there any you considered first?
Ask Again Later actually came from my agent and her interns. Alex sometimes consults a Magic 8-Ball for help making decisions, especially where reality is concerned. Before that it was calledAlexithymia, which is kind of hard to pronounce and not a lot of people know what it means, haha. Right now, we’re in the process of finalizing the title, so be on the lookout for another change!
What was the hardest part of writing this particular book?
It was definitely making sure Alex’s schizophrenia felt real and that she was a thoroughly unreliable narrator. Both of those things are kind of strange things to have to work into a story, because they can’t be too mechanical and forced, but they also can’t be too vague. It’s like trying to hold water in your fist: you can’t squeeze too tightly or too loosely. It was a good thing Alex’s voice was so clear in my head. I don’t think I would have been able to get it done if I didn’t have a good picture of her as a person.
Is there anything that helps you get into the writing zone – music, for example?
Always, always music. When I’m really in a slump, music is usually the thing that pulls me out of it. And there’s nothing like a new song to give me a burst of inspiration. Reading other books can also do that, and other books can give me great ideas for a particular voice or tone of a story if I can’t figure it out myself.
What is it about young adult fiction that draws you in as a writer?
I’ve always loved the freshness of YA fiction. There’s always this sort of “What’s Next?!” mentality, both in regards to trends in the category and in story ideas themselves. I’m always wondering who’s going to come up with the next cool concept (and who’s going to be able to pull it off). Plus, I love the teen readership. I’m not sure how to explain it, but there’s a vitality to YA readers that I don’t sense a lot in Adult readers, and it’s kind of contagious. You want to be part of not just the worlds inside the books, but of the YA world as well.
Was there ever a time when you seriously considered giving up on your writing dream?
Honestly, I don’t think there was. I’ve been writing since I was eight years old, since the first time I read a Harry Potter book. Being published was never my end goal; writing is just a thing I do. It’s so ingrained in my identity, I’m not sure who I would be without writing. But there were times when I was querying agents that I was very depressed, and positive that writing would only ever bethat thing I do, instead of That Thing I Do, the thing you tell people about when they ask how you spend your days. So while I never considered giving up writing, or even giving up on being published, there were times when I became very, very tired of trying.
Do you have any advice for writers trying to get published?
Don’t give up. I know it seems like an easy thing for someone who’s going to be published to say, but it’s the foundation for all other advice. I didn’t get an agent until I was clinging to the end of my rope. You’ll hear a lot–a lot–of success stories from people who got an agent right out of the gate, or who had publishers chomping at the bit to acquire their book, and it can be really tremendously discouraging. Don’t give up. Just because those things aren’t happening for you doesn’t mean your book or your skills aren’t worth it.
Can you say anything about your next project/s?
I can say that I usually work on a lot of things all at once, and at the moment I’m not exactly sure what’s coming up next. It could be another strange little contemporary I’m drafting, or it could be one of my forays into science fiction. But I can definitely say that there will be something next!
Thank you so much, Francesca!