Monday, February 16, 2009

Gang Leader: An interview with Heidi R. Kling

In 2007 I stumbled across a group of debut YA authors who had banded together to brave the unknown world of having a first book published. At that time I didn’t even have an agent, but the thought of joining this kind of gang excited me almost as much as seeing my name on a book contract. So the minute I had an actual publication date, I started putting out feelers for a gang—I needed a gang! At a conference last summer, Suzanne Young told me she had just joined the Tenners, which had been started by one Heidi R. Kling. I excused myself from the conversation, ran up to my hotel room, and emailed Heidi immediately. Now I am a member of the Tenners gang, and Heidi is the one I salute.

Here’s a synopsis of Heidi’s book, coming Summer 2010 from Putnam:

Emotionally messed up after her mom disappears in a plane over the Indian Ocean, Sienna, a California teenager, reluctantly travels to Indonesia with her trauma psychiatrist father and his Team Hope for a three-week volunteer stint at an orphanage six months after the tsunami. Used to comforts of her cozy, safe live in the U.S., she is horrified by creepy critters in the mondi, the moldy sleeping conditions and goats riding sidecar on motors…until she meets Deni. Haunted, irresistible tsunami survivor, Deni, who is shockingly more like Sea then anyone she has ever met. Unable to resist her feelings for the soulful, damaged boy, Sienna risks everything as she slowly sparks back to life, embracing head-on a thrillingly forbidden journey of the spirit, body and heart. And her real adventure begins.

Can you please tell us how you met your agent?
I met my wonderful agent Sara Crowe through I was given her name by a well-known YA author who thought my synopsis of SEA on myspace sounded good (points for MySpace!) and wanted to know what stage I was at in publishing it. She gave me a short-list of five agents and Sara was on that list!

I queried Sara and she responded right away (same day) requesting a full manuscript. Simultaneously, I had the manuscript out with an interested editor. When the editor emailed me asking for a phone meeting, I emailed Sara who called me a few minutes later offering to represent me.

It was a classic case of good timing. Just so I don't sound like a Cinderella story, which I'm so not, the other four agents I requested that day didn't even request a partial! (Shhh, don't tell anyone.) So that old saying really is true. It just takes one yes!

How did the story that became SEA come to you, and how long did it take you to write?
My husband, a young psychiatrist fresh out of residency, volunteered to spend two weeks at an Indonesian orphanage 6 months after the tsunami. He was utterly changed by the experience of working with these incredible child survivors who witnessed and lived through something we can imagine in our worst nightmares. I was working on another novel at the time and he said, "You should write about this." At first I resisted, thinking I could never pull off such tough material, but then I came up with a character, a smirky and thoughtful American teenager traveling to post-tsunami Indo with her trauma psychiatrist father who had lots of issues of her own. And then I came up with Deni. And this, well, I don't want to sound cheesy, but this really tender and beautiful love story, and I thought, okay this could work.

SEA took three years to complete. I started writing when my son started preschool and treated it like a job. From 9-11:00 each morning I worked on it and on weekends. I did a lot of research on Indonesian culture and religions as well as interviewed tsunami survivors that my husband met, who we still keep it touch with. It was a giant epic project. I wanted to make sure every detail was right. I hope it was right. It will be 5 years from sparkle of idea to publication.

You sold your book in 2007, you pub date is summer 2010, can you tell us where in the process you are now?
Shortly after Sara took me on as a client we sold SEA to Putnam. Summer 2007 with a pre-empt. Very exciting! Originally, my editor told me we were hoping to be penciled in Summer, 09 so I joined debut groups etc. Last May, after I completed a huge line-edit and had just had my baby girl, she told me it would be Summer, 2010.

So basically, I did a lot of work upfront and haven't had any new notes since last May. My line-edits were really extensive. I joked that I got out my chain saw. Ended up cutting about 150 pages off of it! Believe me, I learned my long-winded lesson. So now I'm waiting for the last bit of edits, then we go to copy-edits. My ARC's for SEA are expected to be ready this Fall. Oh, and I started the Tenners, which you know about already.

How would you cast SEA as a movie?
Wow, good question! :)
- Sienna, my MC, would be the actress who plays Julie on Friday Night Lights. She has the perfect mix of soulful thoughtfulness and playful innocence. Plus, she looks just like Sienna in my mind.
- Dr. Andy Jones (Sienna's dad): A tie between George Clooney and Brad Pitt. I keep in close touch with both of them, so it will just be whatever my whim is at the moment. *holds hands up like scales* Brad, George, Brad, George...
- Deni: An Indonesian actor. I love how they cast Slumdog Millionaire. I'd love a smoking hot no-name guy. I have someone in mind, someone we know, but he may be too old by the time the movie is out. And I don't want to do a Andrea Zuckerman type of move and have a 30 year old play a teenager.
- Spider: Riggins from Friday Night Lights. Hands down. =D
- Sienna's mom: Angelina Jolie or me. Again, it will be a hard decision for the casting director. We're both equally talented and sought after for major Hollywood roles, you know. Plus, there's the whole Brad Pitt connection.

Do you have any other manuscripts in the works now?
Yes! My fantasy novel JADE is complete (just last week) and is in my agent's hands now! JADE is the first novel in an urban fantasy series called WITCHEZ & WARLOX about gnomes and trolls. No. It's about witches and warlocks. Teen-aged ones. I can't give too much away but it's a modern battle-of-the-sexes story featuring swordplay, stolen amulets, and ancient grudges. It's told from the alternate points of view of a angsty warlock named Logan, and a kick-ass witch called Lily. I told someone recently that JADE is to my imagination what SEA is to my heart. Fingers crossed it sells quickly and I can give you a release date for JADE too!

What are your words of wisdom or nuggets of advice for aspiring writers?
Advice? Um. I'd say write the book you want to read. I think if you are writing something that you are passionate about, if you truly are in love with your characters and are in love with your story, you have a much better chance of selling it to an agent or an editor, because they can feel your enthusiasm. That said, never ever say to a professional publishing person, "My mom loves it! So does my sister!" Believe me I learned that the hard way. No, I'm kidding, but you know what I mean. Join a writing group either online or in person (I'm in both.) Trust those people. They are smart and savvy. Enjoy the process, don't take yourself too seriously or other people may make fun of you. Just enjoy it, and realize publishing moves at a snail's pace and there's not too much you can do to speed that up. Pay attention to the market but don't be a total trend jumper because you may jump on the trend too late and fall smack on your booty. Oh, and be nice to people. No one likes Blue Meanies. Was that at all helpful?

Incredibly helpful, Heidi! Please check out Heidi’s website, and be sure to stop by and read her blog. But don’t stop there! You can also be virtual BFFs by friending her on Facebook! For you really obsessive types, she’s also on Twitter, Goodreads and Myspace under Heidi R. Kling, and she adds that “by the time 2010 rolls around there will probably be 10 new networking joints I'll also be hanging out in. Oy!” Heidi R. Kling, gang leader extraordinaire, has got it covered.

Thanks for the interview, Heidi. And best of luck shopping JADE, it sounds amazing!


Paul Äertker said...

I don't know which is better: Heidi's answers or your questions. Both are great. Thanks for posting.

jennie said...

Brilliant advice: "Write the book you want to read."

I've never thought about that before!

Love these interviews: thought-provoking and hugely helpful!

Heidi R. Kling said...

Thanks for having me, Christy! You are SO sweet!

Anonymous said...

Great interview, Heidi. Thanks for all the details!

Anonymous said...

I love the "cast your book" question! You should make that a staple of your interviews. This book sounds wonderful.


Kelly Fineman said...

Great interview, ladies.

Irene Latham said...

How fun was that?? Well done ladies. and yummm, Riggins....

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Christy, for another insightful interview. Fantastic questions, and informative answers. I will look forward to more of them from you.

Suzanne Young said...

Excellent interview. Heidi rocks!!!!!!!!

Mrs.Pilkington said...

Wow, you guys really know how to do this! Such a thoughtful interview -- thanks.