Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Life As Fabulous As Fiction: Interview With Author Alexandra Bracken

If I pitched a novel about a funny and beautiful girl at college who writes a couple of novels, gets the call that she’s landed a top literary agent while out celebrating her 21st birthday, then gets a book deal with Egmont and subsequent foreign deals all before graduating from The College of William and Mary with a double major in English and History, the response would be, “Right, like that would ever happen!” Well, it has. It's the true story of Alexandra Bracken. This is all so baffling to me; as previously noted in this blog, my college career could be measured in acts of stupidity performed not works of literary merit produced. Ah, Alexandra, how do you do it? (BTW, this photo of Alexandra was taken on her 21st birthday right after she accepted representation by Writers House.)

Here's her deal report from Publisher's Marketplace:

Alexandra Bracken's BRIGHTLY WOVEN, about a girl with a dark curse who is taken from her village by a mysterious young wizard in the midst of an apocalyptic war, to Regina Griffin at Egmont, for publication in Spring 2010, by Lindsay Davis at Writers House.

Welcome, Alexandra! Can you tell us how you met your agent?

I finished Brightly Woven in the October of my junior year (2007) and worked on polishing it for submissions all through December. It took a lot of willpower to wait until AFTER finals were over to begin submitting to agents, but I just had this picture in my head of me sneaking a glance at my Blackberry in the middle of a test, trying to see if I had any new emails.

I submitted to my agent on the night of February 25th and she got back to me right away, asking for a full. At the time, I was trying to memorize the titles, authors, and content of a ridiculous amount of early American primary documents, because I had a midterm on the 27th. The 27th rolls around and I’m being a total Bitter Betty about the fact I have a monster midterm on my 21st birthday, so when my cellphone started buzzing with an area code I didn’t recognize, I ignored it, thinking it was a wrong number. I think you can see where this is going!

I took my midterm and promptly went back to my room for a nap. In the meantime, the same phone number calls again, only this time I get a message—and it’s from Lindsay Davis at Writers House, asking me to call her back. I flipped out and tried calling her back right away, but I got her voicemail. (There’s a side story here about my mom walking around Target, trying to visual Lindsay calling me back right away, but I’ll spare you the details!) Eventually, my friends brought me to Carabba’s for a quick birthday dinner, and that’s when Lindsay called me back and offered representation. It was lucky it was my birthday, because my friend had a camera on hand and took that picture of me a second after hanging up. The waitress brought me a martini to celebrate, too! Best birthday ever!

Can you tell us how your book deal happened?
I revised with my agent for a number of months, until we both felt that it was ready to go out and visit with editors. She submitted it to an awesome group at the end of October, and we started hearing back right away. The timing of it actually made it very exciting (but also stressful!), because editors were trying to finish things up before leaving for Thanksgiving and we weren’t sure who would be able to put an offer together in time. In the end, I was very, VERY happy to go with Egmont USA, who had gotten back to us very quickly with an offer and a neat marketing plan. I got to tell all my friends and family on Thanksgiving Day that we had officially accepted.

What was the inspiration for your 2010 debut book and how long did it take you to write?
There are two ways to answer this question, but I promise I’ll keep it brief! Brightly Woven wasn’t the first novel that I wrote while I was in college. My freshman year, I had finished this 150,000 word beast that began as a NaNoWriMo novel. I went through many, many agent rejections for it before finally shelving it. It was devastating to me at the time, and it really ate away at my creativity and confidence. When I finally had another idea for a novel, I was completely intimidated by the thought of going through it all again, so instead of writing it with the aim of trying to get it published, it was only ever going to be a birthday present for my friend Carlin, who had edited the aforementioned 150,000 word beast and had been an amazing support system. I was only done with half of the story by the time her birthday rolled around in July 2007, but writing it for a friend—and really, only for a friend—made the story something special, I think. So I have her to thank for restoring my writing mojo. (She’s wearing the green sweater in that picture, by the way!)

The actual story itself was inspired by the insane weather we had in 2006/2007, both at home in Arizona and in Virginia, where I was attending school. Coming from a city in Arizona that averages about 7 inches of rain each year (if we’re lucky!) to a place that got 45+ was a hard adjustment, even before we had Tropical Storm Ernesto AND a series of about five Nor’easters. I had literally never seen so much rain in my life!

But the idea for Brightly Woven didn’t come until I returned to Virginia from Winter Break. I had literally just walked back into my dorm room when my mom called to tell me that it was snowing. In central Arizona. I was so mad that I missed it by a day, but my mom only laughed and said, “You jinxed us, the minute you left it started snowing!” She wasn’t too happy when I hung up on her and immediately started brainstorming, but the idea of a girl unwillingly at fault for a series of weather disasters was way too interesting to pass up!

What's your publication date and where in the process are you now?

I don’t have an exact date yet, but I’m hanging out as a “Spring 2010” author. Right now I’m in the process of revising with my editor, so it’s still a little up in the air for me! I’ve heard that there’s a draft of my cover floating around somewhere, but I won’t get to see it until all the right people approve it.

How do you handle being both a writer and a college student at the same time?

There’s no easy way to do it, to be honest. I’ve been asked this by a number of students, both here at my school and some who have emailed me or left a comment on my blog. If writing is something that you love, then you should write! But if you’re going to try to be a novelist in college, you’re going to be confronted with a lot of problems and issues you wouldn’t have as a graduate. Midterms, finals, papers, social events, roommate situations, extracurricular activities, looking for jobs and internships, trying to figure out who you are and what you want to do with your life—and so on and so forth. I’m sure any writer will tell you that writing is a very lonely occupation and it’s difficult to juggle all areas of your life with writing, and it’s no different in college. I “sacrificed” (is it a sacrifice if you love it?) many opportunities to go out with my friends on weekends because I knew Friday or Saturday night was the only time I was going to have time to write that week, to say the least.

The advice I usually give is to just be disciplined and manage your time well. Don’t let your schoolwork fall by the wayside, because you’d much rather be writing. Well, of course you’d rather be writing than reading a textbook or studying, but don’t forget your parents (or you) are paying for you to get an education, not for you to skip class and have unlimited writing time. ;) That said, write when you can and where you can, even if that means plotting in the margins of your notebook where you might have doodled...

I hope that doesn’t sound scary! There are a ton of benefits, too—I can’t even tell you how much both my History and English classes have informed my writing. I like that I can go through the story and think, “I wrote this while I was taking 18th century British Lit!” or “I wrote this scene studying abroad in England!”

What are you working on now?
I have two projects that I’m working on right now! I’m about two-thirds of the way through a story about a reluctant immortal looking for a way out of his predicament, but I’m taking a break because the story needs to simmer for a while, until I work all of its kinks out. My other “secret” project is the story of a boy willing to do anything to save his childhood sweetheart, even if it means making a pact with a demon with terrible consequences.

Do you have any words of wisdom for writers trying to get published?
Write what you want to read and don’t even THINK about trying to be published until after you’ve produced something you love and believe in. Easier said than done, but when you genuinely love something it comes through in your writing.

Where can we find out more about you on the web?

I’m all over the place - Blog, Website, Twitter - so stop by and say hello!!
(I highly recommend checking out this little video from Alexandra's blog - I loved it!)

Thanks for the interview! And congratulations on creating such a fabulously fictional real life. Can't wait to read Brightly Woven!


Anonymous said...

Are you sure this isn't a Disney movie? How does this young woman do it? Amazing!


Anonymous said...

There is a great idea for a screenplay -- her life so far. A perfect YA movie. One of you out there should write it! What an accomplished and beautiful young woman. Thank you for the interview, Christy.

Steve Brezenoff said...

Seriously, amazing. (TBH, I'm as impressed by the double-major thing as I am by the write-a-novel-at-the-same-time thing!)

Crystal said...

Wow! What an accomplishment at such a young age! Congratulations, Alexandra! And thanks again, Christy, for bringing us readers and aspiring writers another inspirational success story. I so love reading these!

PurpleClover said...

I never tire of reading these stories!


Kimberly Derting said...

OMG, Alexandra is only 21? My God, when I was 21 I was puking up tequila shots in alley behind a bar somewhere! And I love your line about your college career being measured in acts of stupidity...I have a feeling we would have been great friends back then. You could have held my hair!

Congrats Alexandra, that is fricking amazing!!!

Katie said...

This is totally exciting and INSANE!!! I love these interviews you round up Christy! Thanks!

Hardygirl said...

Amazing! I tried to write when I was in college--and now when I go back and read some of that stuff, the gag reflex totally kicks in. I was so full of sappy angst.

Way to go Alexandra for knowing what you want to do AND for being self-aware enough to be able to accomplish it.

Little Ms J said...

Inspiring. As usual!

Jennie Englund said...


I don't think "I don't have time..." is a viable excuse anymore.

Wyman Stewart said...

Well, I would be depressed, morose, and melancholy, but I am trying to pick my jaw up off the floor so I can stand up and shout, "Bravo, bravo!!!" Nothing wrong with a person doing the impossible, when they don't know what they're doing is impossible.

Better to celebrate than deflate when you see someone blazing a path to happiness, which some of us would call success. No, success is only success, when it is happiness. May your happiness last a lifetime!!!

Christy Raedeke said...

Great comments, everyone! Thanks for stopping by.

Heidi R. Kling said...

Awesome intro, Christy and I'm so excited for Alex and her book!