Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Expatriate: Interview With Author Stephanie Burgis

Ever since I read Stein's The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas and Hemingway's A Movable Feast as a teen I've wanted one thing: to live abroad as an expatriate. However, the choices I continue to make get me no closer to that goal, which only fuels the burning envy I have when I read about expatriates. Today I bring you a perfectly seethe-worthy case study in expatriatness:

Stephanie Burgis
Too damn young to be so accomplished
Spent a year in Vienna on a Fulbright scholarship, studying Austrian music history before receiving Masters degree in Historical Musicology. Was accepted to the Clarion West six-week residential writing program where she met her husband, the writer Patrick Samphire. Now resides in Yorkshire, England where she can freely use the term expatriate. Has a three-book deal for regency-romance-flavoured fantasy series (my own categorisation, not hers). Ed. note: See how easily I can slip in the u and swap the z for an s? It's all part of my expat preparation program.

I like to start interviews with a deal report becasue it's a good way to get all info about book, agent, and editor all in one place, but Stephanie says her report is all wrong now. "My editor and I have both changed publishers (I followed her from Hyperion to Atheneum Books), and the book titles (and series title for the trilogy) have all changed!" she says. "My trilogy is now called The Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson, and Book One: A Most Improper Magick is due to be published by Atheneum Books in early 2010."
Becasue we don't get a blurb about the book's premise, I'll add the summary at the bottom of the interview. For now, let's get to The Expatriate!

How did you meet your agent?
I'd heard of Barry Goldblatt years ago as a really stellar YA fantasy agent - he represents a lot of my favorite writers in the field - so he was always my dream agent, from the moment I first decided to market A MOST IMPROPER MAGICK. I’d never met him in person or online - I just mailed him a query letter and hoped like crazy for him to like it. So you can imagine how excited I was when an email from him popped up in my inbox a week later, asking for the full manuscript! And from then on, everything went just amazingly well - he offered representation, as did another couple of really good agents at the same time, and I was suddenly in the unexpected position of getting to make a choice. I am thrilled that I signed with him. He's been absolutely wonderful.

Can you tell us how your book deal happened?
After I signed with Barry, I did one more round of revision based on his critique, and then he sent the novel out to 11 different editors, giving them a 1-month deadline to reply. Two editors made serious offers at the end of the month, and we ended up choosing to sign with my editor, Namrata Tripathi, who has been fabulous.

What was the inspiration for A MOST IMPROPER MAGICK and how long did it take you to write?
A MOST IMPROPER MAGICK mixes up my two favorites genres of fiction - fantasy adventures and Regency romantic comedies. But I really never planned to write it!

I was actually already in the middle of writing a different - a very different! - novel, one that was very angsty and dark and adult. It was the kind of novel I felt that I *should* write if I wanted to be a Serious Writer, rather than what I actually *wanted* to be writing (or reading!). Then, as I was chopping onions one day for lunch, I actually heard Kat's voice very clearly in my head, speaking the first two lines of A MOST IMPROPER MAGICK. ("I was twelve years of age when I chopped off my hair, dressed as a boy, and set off to save my family from impending ruin. I made it almost to the end of my front garden...")

I giggled as I "heard" those lines, and that was it - I was hooked. I just had to write down those first two lines to save them for later...and then I just had to write the next paragraph and the next...I wrote the first two chapters in a week, having more fun than I'd ever had writing *anything* before. Then I forced myself to stop, because I was convinced that it was a commercially impractical thing for me to do. A few years earlier, I'd come very close to selling an adult historical fantasy novel with my first agent, and I was convinced that that meant I should write more dark, adult novels as my way to break into publishing. I told myself that it didn’t make any sense for me to write a lighthearted, funny book, no matter how much fun I was having with this one.

So I put away A MOST IMPROPER MAGICK for almost a year. But I missed it like crazy, and I kept wondering what had happened to Kat and her sisters. Finally, I gave up, because I couldn’t focus on any of those serious, angsty novels I thought I was “supposed” to be writing. I came back to Kat instead, I told myself I would just write it for fun and not worry about ever marketing it, and I wrote the rest of the book in a big, joyous rush, finishing the first draft three months later. took me only 4 months of actual writing time to write the first draft of A MOST IMPROPER MAGICK (followed by another 3-4 months of revisions), but if you add in the year I took off in between, I guess the answer would be a year and a half.

What's your publication date and where in the process are you now?
A MOST IMPROPER MAGICK is due to be published sometime in early 2010 - there's no exact publication date yet, but I'm waiting with bated breath! :) I've been through the copyedits and have just turned in my dedication and acknowledgments.

What are you working on now?
Right now I'm revising Book 2 of The Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson, which is full of scandalous gossip, notorious rakes, and wild magic. :)

Kat plays matchmaker to all three of her older siblings in your trilogy, but she doesn’t even look for her own true love. Why not?
The easy answer is that these books are set in a Regency society where no real concept of “boyfriend” existed for well-bred twelve-year-old girls. The real answer, though, is a lot more complicated and personal.

When I was a teen, I loved the Regency romances of Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen, as well as some adult contemporary romances. All of those books left me feeling hopeful and happy about my own adult future. When I read YA romances, though, I often ended up feeling really depressed and “less” because I didn’t already have a boyfriend, whereas the YA romances I was reading seemed to prove that “normal” girls were dating like crazy all through high school.

The truth is, although I and my friends from high school have all experienced wonderful romance as adults, none of us had any luck with romance as teens, and I think that’s not uncommon for smart girls who are better at schoolwork and writing than at makeup and flirtation. There are lots of wonderful YA romances out there - I particularly love the romances in Maureen Johnson's and Sarah Dessen's novels - but a serious romance just didn't feel realistic for Kat at this stage of her life, partly because of my own personal experiences, and those of my friends.

I wanted Kat to have all the fun of vicarious romance, by observing (and sneakily manipulating!) her older siblings, but I also wanted to empower those smart high school girls who aren’t getting any romance of their own yet. So Kat, at twelve years old, is much more focused on her family, and on the magical challenges that face her as she discovers and develops her own powers, than on trying to find the perfect boy.

On the other hand, if the series ever continues past these first three books to show Kat growing into adulthood, then of course I’d love to explore her eventual romance, with all of its attendant magical complications... ;p

Do you have any words of wisdom for writers trying to get published?
Yes! Don't imitate my mistake of writing what you think will be most publishable/what you think the market wants. Writers are terrible at making those predictions! Instead, write what calls to you the most strongly. Write the novel that's most fun for you, and there's a good chance it'll be just as fun for other people, too!

Where can we stalk you on the web?
Livejournal blog

And here's the summary of Stephanie's book (this was what she sent in the query that landed her the agent Barry Goldblatt).

Her mother was a scandalous witch, her brother has gambled the whole family into debt, and her Step-Mama is determined to sell her oldest sister into a positively Gothic marriage to pay it off--so what can twelve-year-old Kat Stephenson do but take matters directly into her own hands? If only her older sisters hadn’t thwarted her plan to run away to London dressed as a boy and earn a fortune! When Kat makes a midnight foray into her mother’s cabinet of secrets, though, she finds out something she never expected. Her mother wasn’t just a witch, she was a Guardian, a member of a secret Order with staggering magical powers--and Kat is her heir.

Of course, there’s no chance of Kat choosing to join the Order that forbade her parents’ marriage...but Mama’s magical mirror doesn’t seem to understand that. It keeps following her wherever she goes, even when the family travels to Grantham Abbey to meet the sinister Sir Neville, her oldest sister’s chosen fiancé. And what with Sir Neville showing a dangerous interest in Kat’s untapped powers, her mother’s old tutor insisting that she take up her mother’s position as a Guardian, and her sister Angeline refusing to listen to her about anything, as usual...well, it’s a good thing Kat kept her boy’s clothing, because she may well have to use it--especially if the rumors of a highwayman are true.

Thanks so much for the interview, Stephanie! You've kept the expatriate dream burning in me!


Steve Brezenoff said...

Excellent interview! Great story, and the book sounds amazing.

Something I've noticed: so many Tenners (and Debs and every class, I'm sure) had put off working on their YA or other book for young readers, thinking it wasn't serious enough or respectable enough. It's so great to hear about all these manuscripts that got saved from the back burner (or off the stove entirely) and will now see the light of day!

Crystal said...

Great interview, Christy! Her book sounds delightful!

Angie Frazier said...

Stephanie's book is on the very top of my "I can't wait to read this next year!" list :-) Great interview!

Anonymous said...

OMG! Regency-romance-flavored fantasy? PERFECTION! Can't wait!

Good stuff.


Tina Lee said...

I'm with cdg, excited about Regency flavored YA. Thanks, Christy, for the great interviews.

Jennie Englund said...

All this magic is just, well, magical!

Congrats on your success, Stephanie! And on another cheery interview, Christy!

Katie said...

Great interview and I can't WAIT to read this!

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this interview, Christy! And thanks to everybody for the great comments! :)

Kimberly Derting said...

This sounds great! And thanks, Christy, for another awesome interview!!! I love getting to know all the Tenners!

Shelli said...

sounds spectacular - thx christie and stephanie