Sunday, April 5, 2009

Warning - May Induce Envy: Interview With Author Rachel Hawkins

I must put a warning label on this interview: If you are an aspiring author and you seethe at stories of writers querying before a manuscript is finished and then getting a request for full from a top agent, or writing 120 pages in 24 hours and getting signed based on that work two days later, or having an agent submission accidentally turn into a big auction, then avert your eyes! Avoid this post! Either Rachel Hawkins is sprinkled with lucky dust or she’s a really, really good writer. Or both. We’ll soon see as her book is now officially less than a year away from debut!

Here is Rachel’s deal report from Publishers Marketplace (note working title was DEMONGLASS, but new title is HEX HALL.)

Debut author Rachel Hawkins' paranormal YA trilogy starting with DEMONGLASS, about a sixteen-year-old witch shipped off to a boarding school for witches, shapeshifters, and faeries, where the traumas of mortal high school are nothing compared to the goings on at "Freak High," for publication in winter 2010, to Jennifer Besser at Hyperion, at auction, in a three-book deal, by Holly Root at Waxman Literary Agency (NA).

Hi Rachel, can you tell us how did you meet your agent?
Well, first off, I have to make a confession: I broke one of the most important rules of querying, and started sending out queries before the book was finished. However, at the time I A) was naïve and stupid, B) thought the book only had 50 more pages or so to be written, and C) thought it would take WEEKS for agents to start getting back to me.


So cut to about a week after I sent out my first query, and Dan Lazar at Writer’s House wanted a full. After I finished jumping up and down, I realized I did not actually HAVE a full to send him. So I threw up in my mouth a little, and then promptly got to work. Turned out the book DID NOT have 50 more pages- it was more like 120. I pounded those out in 24 hours. There was much consumption of chocolate and coffee. Also, there may have been some crying. Okay, there was A LOT of crying. Kids, don’t try this at home.

In the end, Dan passed on HEX HALL, but he DID give me several other agents to try, for which I’ll always be insanely grateful. One of those agents was Jenny Bent, who was then at Trident. Jenny sent me an email saying that it wasn’t quite her thing, but she’d shown my query to her friend/colleague, Holly Root at Waxman, and Holly really wanted me to get in touch with her. I emailed Holly, she asked for the full, and two days later, she offered representation! It was definitely a twisty road to getting an agent, but so worth it! Holly is Made of Win and Covered in Awesome Sauce.

Will you share with us how your book deal came together?
Holly and I worked for a couple of weeks on tweaking the MS and getting it ready to go out into the world. It went on submission the first week of April, 2008. If memory serves, we subbed to around a dozen houses. For the first week, things were pretty quiet. Then we got our first rejection. But that same day, we got our first offer! Quite the emotional rollercoaster! And the day after that, we had another offer on the table. Things started moving pretty quickly then, and before I knew it, we had several houses who said they were working on an offer.

That’s when Holly called me and said those magic words: “We have an auction on our hands.” And lo, there was much squeeing and dancing at Chez Hawkins.

The actual auction was supposed to start at noon on April 22 (I will never forget that day!) It was exciting, but also ridiculously nerve-wracking. It got so bad that I sent my husband to the store because we were both jumping every time my cell phone rang. So the hubs was MIA when Holly called around 10 and said even more magic words: “Are you sitting down?” Disney-Hyperion had come in with a pre-empt. I made Holly repeat the details of the deal about three times before it actually sunk in. And then I screamed. And cried. And babbled incoherently at Holly. Also, I may have used profanity. It was quite the moment.

What was the inspiration for HEX HALL and how long did it take you to write?
There were lots things that inspired HEX HALL! For one, I’ve always loved spooky stuff, especially stuff set in big, creepy houses, like The Haunting of Hill House, or The Turn of the Screw. Around the time I started writing the book, I’d just read Anne Rice’s THE WITCHING HOUR, and I really responded to the whole Southern Gothic/twisty family legacy aspect of that book. Also, I was teaching high school English, and I’d really fallen back in love with YA because of that. So I had all those things—creepy house, Southern Gothic, teenagers- percolating in my head when I sat down to start HEX HALL. I wrote the first chapter and a couple of “snippets” in January 2006. The story was very different then—my main character, Sophie, wasn’t a witch, just a regular girl, and the school wasn’t a reform school for monsters, but a regular boarding school. The original idea was that Sophie would get caught up in a supernatural mystery there (and there are still times when I wish I had written that book! Hey, maybe one day I will!)

Then I got caught up in work, and grad school, and family, and those 15 or so pages languished on my computer until October 2007, when I decided to quit my job and see if I could write a book. (I always have to give props to my husband when I get to this point in the story. We both quit our jobs at the same time because the high school where we were both working, um, was awful and soul-sucking. The hubs cashed out his retirement fund and worked a crappy retail job so that I could stay home and write. Books can get written without that level of support, but I’m not sure how!)

I had several half-finished projects that I thought about pursuing, but I kept getting pulled back to “that messed-up boarding school story” as I called it. Over October and November, I reshaped the story, but those key elements I really enjoyed—Gothic, spooky house, teen angst- remained. I finished it in late February, 2008, and I’d taken December off, so I guess it took me around four months to write. Or two years, if you want to count from the time the idea first occurred to me! ;)

What’s your publication date and where in the process are you now?
My pub date is March 2, 2010! So less than a year away now, hurray! Right now, I just turned in my copy edits, and the book is going to the presses in a few weeks, which fills me with ridiculous levels of glee. We’re also talking covers right now, so I’m waiting to hear something on that front pretty soon. I think it’s important for aspiring authors to know that even when you sell your book, there’s still EVER SO MUCH WAITING. I sold nearly a year ago, and I still have eleven months to go before I can go take embarrassing pictures of myself pointing to my book in stores.

Who is your favorite character in HEX HALL, and why?
I think I’m supposed to say Sophie, since she’s my main character and all, but I have to say, it’s actually her love interest, Archer. Shhh…don’t tell the others! ;) Now, as Sophie would be sure to tell you, Archer is The Hawtness, but that’s not why he’s my fave. I love him because he pretty much saved the whole book. I had this idea of creating a “decoy” love interest for Sophie, a guy who you would think would be her One True Love, only to have her fall for her REAL OTL in Book 2. The problem was, since I wasn’t interested in Fakey McBoyfriend, he was a completely blah character. Totally two-dimensional, and boring…ugh. And having this charisma-less, Ken doll of a guy for Sophie-who is feisty and funny and smart-to play off of, well, sucked. A lot. So when I was about halfway done with the book, I completely scrapped that character. I started to think about the fictional characters I’ve always crushed on, and bam! Archer showed up, all snarky and dreamy and carrying a boatload of back story. What’s more, he stopped being a fake love interest, and became a real one. And, best of all, he gave me a huge plot point for Books 2 and 3. So I lurve him and want to smoosh him and call him George.

What are you working on now?
I’m about halfway done with the sequel to HEX HALL. It doesn’t have a title yet, but personally, I have my fingers crossed for HEX HALL 2: HEXUAL HEALING. Sadly, I feel this might not fly with Disney. ;) I’m also in the prep stage (which means staring out my window and thinking, “Ooh, wouldn’t it be AWESOME if I wrote a book where, like, THIS STUFF happened?”) with a new series that will be sort of an offshoot of the HEX HALL trilogy. It deals with a relative of Sophie’s, and it’s set in the same “world,” but with different characters. And last but not least, I’m wrestling with a standalone tentatively called REBEL BELLE about a Southern Belle/homecoming queen turned supernatural assassin. You know, that old story.

Do you have any words of wisdom for writers trying to get published?
Don’t worry about the businessy side of things-agents, editors, query letters-until you have a product to sell (and yes, I realize I totally violated my own rule on that one! But in my defense, I’d spent a lot of time working on my writing before I jumped the gun with querying. Besides, grading a bazillion essays every year had definitely sharpened my inner editor, haha!)

I think a lot of aspiring writers get really caught up in that side of things-which is totally understandable!-and they neglect the whole craft part. Also, while critique groups and writing conferences are awesome and really useful, don’t let those things suck up the time you should be using to write.

And, the biggest thing of all, KNOW WHEN TO LET GO. Of your manuscript, that is. Obviously, you want it as shiny and special and pretty as you can get it, but if you keep putting off querying until your book is “perfect,” you’ll NEVER get it out there. And I know it’s hard! On this last round of copy edits, I was fighting the urge to call my editor and say, “How about I just rewrite the whole book? Can I do that, huh? PLEASE?!” You’ll always want to make it better, but you can’t hold on to it forever!

Rachel, where can we stalk you on the web?
As for where you can find me on the internet, I am everywhere, because I am that particular brand of obnoxious. I’m on Facebook, and Twitter and I blog on Blogspot and LiveJournal.

Thanks so much for the interview, Rachel! I love that you and your husband had the guts to quit your jobs, cash out retirement, and believe in the book that you were writing. A three-book deal from Hyperion is definitely the happily ever after in that story! Well done.


Anonymous said...

Okay, I should have heeded your advice! I'm seething. SEETHING! Mostly about the 120 pages in 24 hours, which officially qualifies for Superhero status.

I must apologize, old friend. On your first of these interviews I called your questions uninspired (only half joking!) but now I see the beauty of having everyone answer the same few questions. I've grown to love them.

I'm glad Hex Hall will be out in early 2010! Sounds magnificent.


Anonymous said...

Oh how I love this story!! 120 pages . . . 24 hours . . .

Laura said...

I find stories like this incredibly encouraging. :)

Wyman Stewart said...

Might need to speed up moments of this story, but I could see these events turning into a comedy movie in my head, featuring how Rachel Hawkins gets published. Would be hilarious, especially the 24 hour scene of drinking coffee and eating chocolate, while banging out 120 pages to finish the book. Thanks, wonderful interview and wonderful author as subject. Truly hilarious!!!

Jennie Englund said...

I smell MOVIE!

Irene Latham said...

Rachel is all kinds of amazing, and of course just said the very words I need as I am clinging ferociously to copyedits -- LET IT GO. Thanks, Christy!

Angie Frazier said...

I am SO looking forward to Rachel's book! To put it into her words: HEX HALL is sure to be covered in Awesome Sauce :-)

Little Ms J said...

Fantastic interview and a truly wonderful "road to publication" story! Congrats and I can't wait to read Hex Hall!

Rebecca Anne said...

Now thats a road to publication story I can adore and clap with glee for Rachel. What a fantastic rapid fire journey. I can only imagine the intense moments, and it looks like lots of them.
Well done and I wish you much success. Now when I buy the book for my teen daughters I can say, yes, well I knew about this book long before it came out!

Katie said...

That was so much fun! I felt like I was reading a movie! Way to go! Can't wait to read it!!!

Anonymous said...

More like a 1 hour TV special than a movie, moves SO fast. It is an unbelievable success story and very inspiring. Thanks.

Hardygirl said...

Okay, I just threw up a little bit in my mouth. Kind of like I do when I'm on a roller coaster . . .

Rachel, you are hilarious and I love your story. Can't wait to read your book!


Anne Spollen said...

Great interview, questions and answers! Both of you are funny.

E. J. Tonks said...

LOL--I thought i was the only person who quoted the mauling giant who calls his little friends "George." I enjoyed this interview more than most because of these cute little asides. Most editors scrap those fun personality touched before publishing an interview--so glad you've got it right! :)

PurpleClover said...

This gave me warm fuzzies.

Congrats on your book! What an awesome hubby you have!

Rachel Hawkins said...

*waves* Thanks everybody for your super nice-ness, both for me AND HEX HALL! Much appreciated! And Christy, thanks so much for letting me do this here on your blog! So much fun!

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