Hey gang! Today I am thrilled to have the wickedly talented Adele Dazeem stop by Middle Grade Minded and...excuse me? (covers microphone, blushes)...err, the freakishly talented YA author Tonya Kuper stop by and visit with us. In addition to writing YA, Tonya spent a year interning with the fabulous Seymour Agency and she's got a unique perspective on the industry. Her debut novel, Anomaly, comes out in November but I'll let her tell you more about that. Welcome Tonya!
TK: Thank you so much for having me on your blog! I'm so excited to be here.
Question 1: First, the really important stuff. In the past two months, you announced awesome news, your first novel, a young adult book called Anomaly, will be published in November of 2014 by Entangled publishing. And further, Anomaly is the first in a trilogy. Huge Congrats and, if you don't mind, could you tell us about Anomaly?
TK: Anomaly is written in dual POV and is the first in the Schrodinger's Consortium trilogy, a YA scifi series. It's about a science-chick, Josie, who finds out one of the biggest quantum physics theories is real. She, along with an entire secret race, can create reality simply through observation, and that secret race is on the verge of civil war. One side, Schrodinger's Consortium, wants to enslave humans, the resistance fights for humanity. A smart-ass guy, Reid, shows up to train Josie in her new abilities and rubs Josie the wrong way and she's less than thrilled when she finds out she has to work side by side with the jerk. For the official blurb or to hear more, feel free to check out my website or Goodreads. How do ya like that little plug?
Question 2: Anomaly looks and sounds fantastic and can't wait until the fall. I mentioned your experience interning for the Seymour Agency and before we get into any Middle Grade specific questions I just wanted to know, what were a couple things you learned from being on the inside of an agency that helped you improve as a writer?
TK: One thing that helped me as a writer was recognizing when my own work wasn't practically perfect. I quickly learned that material sent to agents/editors needs to be as good as humanly possible because the competition is tough out there. You may have an amazing premise, but if the plot is full of holes or the characters aren't believable, that cool premise doesn't matter. Nothing else matters if you can't write. I was offered representation at almost the same time I accepted the internship and what I had to fix in my own work was making sure it was submission ready and the character motivations where there (which is my personal weakness).
Question 3: One more question about your path to publication. What was your writing process like with Anomaly prior to your agent submitting it to publishers? In other words, how many drafts did you write? How long did it take you? Would you have any guestimate as to how many hours you put into that manuscript prior to it finally selling?
TK: My publication story is a little...unique. My contemporary YA was subbed to a very short list of editors to gage reaction. I got no's due to plot and premise. One editor who already read my contemporary asked my agent a few weeks later if she had an author who could write a YA scifi set in contemporary times (not futuristic), written in dual POV, and specifically based on one quantum physics theory, Schrodinger's cat experiment. My agent, who loves my contemporary voice and knew I was a raging scifi nerd who was just too chicken to tackle the genre, told the editor that I was the person for the job. I got nothing but what I just told you: dual POV YA scifi set in contemporary times based on the popular quantum physics theory. I read for more than six hours on quantum physics, wrote a synopsis, and the first 20 pages in four days. Long story short, my amazing editor still never gave me more than a one sentence pitch on which to write, but I somehow managed to do well enough to land myself a three book deal contract. I'm still pinching myself. The lesson to be learned from this? My "no" on the contemporary turned into a "yes" for something else. With every "no," you are one step closer toward a goal. So freaking cliche, but true.
Question 4: One of the things you did as an intern was read queries and submissions. In a general way, what did reading so many submissions teach you about writing?
TK: The huge thing? It's all SOOOO subjective. I may've thought something had amazing potential and would write up what I liked about it, but it wouldn't be the agent's personal taste. On the flip side, I also learned that being an intern or agent is a difficult job. Agents are people, too, who don't want to hurt people's feelings, but they have a job to do.
Question 5: More specifically, having read both Middle Grade and Young Adult submissions, what seems to be some of the key differences between the two categories that authors might want to remember?
TK: To me, love seems to be a huge one. Sure, middle grade has it's share of first crushes, noticing the opposite sex, etc, but a "romance" is not the focus. It may be love in another sense, involving a family relationship, friendships, and so on, but not romance. Once you cross over into YA, usually a 12 year old and older audience, romance is found quite often, but that mirrors reality. Another difference between the two categories, is vernacular and actions. I read so many MG queries and first pages where the MC acts WAY too old for being 11 years old, or whatever.
Question 6: Do you have any specific advice for writers of Middle Grade fiction?
TK: Remember, kids typically read up. I don't mean dumb it down, but if it's a literary upper MG and it talks about controversial issues, you will have some younger kids reading it, as well. Also, watch your references and vocabulary - not as in it being too difficult, but make sure you are speaking their language and using their words. Again, this goes back to vernacular and actions.
Question 7: I know you are a big music freak, I mean fan, and I heard a rumor that you once spent a year traveling the world as a groupie for the Wiggles. Can you either confirm or deny?
TK: I'm not at liberty to discuss this matter. My publicity team explicitly advised me to avoid such questions. I really hope those pics don't turn up, though. ;)
Question 8: Last chance to give fellow writers some advice and for this one I don't want the standard "never give up" or "write what you love". I want to know a strange or an odd piece of advice or wisdom about writing that you've picked up along the way. Got anything like that?
TK: I have a bunch of weird tid-bits.
1. Read your manuscript aloud - I'm sure you've heard that one. But don't just listen for wording, listen to the beat, the rhythm.
2. If you find a way you write best, whether that is in complete silence in a white (padded) room or listening to death metal while in surrounded by people in Starbucks, go with it. If the words are flowing, don't try to change it up. Why fix something that isn't broken?
3. Make a playlist for your book or your characters. It doesn't matter what kind of music it is but it needs to be your personal taste. If you don't listen to it while your writing, at least listen to it before you write or throughout the day. I think music adds a layer of depth to the story in our heads. You may be surprised by how it affects the story or characters. (Yes, I am a total music freak.)
A huge thanks to Tonya Kuper for stopping by Middle Grade Minded today. This industry is filled with kind, generous people who work hard and she's one of them. To connect with Tonya check out the links below her picture.
Amazon pre-order: http://www.amazon.com/Anomaly-Schrodingers-Consortium-Tonya-Kuper/dp/1622664051
Tonya Kuper's debut novel, ANOMALY, the first in the Schrodinger's Consortium trilogy releases November 4, 2014 by Entangled Teen. She's a mom to two awesome boys and an alt music freak.