Young adult novelist Kelly Hashway (author of the upcoming Touch of Death, SpencerHill Press January 2013) let me interview her last week about a number of important, burning topics. Most importantly, we talked about why she is so awesome.
Here is the interview, so you readers and writers out there can glean some of her wisdom, and turn it into prolificness! And, of course, get a sneak peek into the inner workings of a talented wordsmith. I didn’t edit a thing, just for you.
Me: So, Kelly. You have a YA novel coming out with SpencerHill Press in January of next year, a sequel already slated to released six months later, and a triquel in the works (later she corrected me that, in fact, she had finished a first draft of the final book in the series and was just waiting to be contracted for it).
Now I know that your first YA book, Touch of Death, is about necromancers. Why did you pick necromancers?
Kelly: I came up with the idea when I was writing another novel that had to do with the thirteenth sign of the zodiac. He didn’t play a major part in the novel, but when I looked into his story I learned a lesser-known myth about him. It had to do with Medusa. His name is Ophiuchus (K note: I had to look up how to spell this), and he has the ability to bring the dead back to life. I thought that was pretty cool, but necromancer books have been done before—so I wanted to do something a little different.
So in this myth, Ophiuchus was given Medusa’s blood by Athena, and that’s where he got the power to bring the dead back to life. But it turns out that only the blood from the right side of her body restores life, while blood from the left side kills. I thought it would be cool to have two characters who were descended from Medusa and had her abilities—so my necromancers can not only bring the dead back to life, but they can take away life, too.
Why did you decide to make it a three-part series?
When I wrote the first book, I left the ending because I wasn’t sure if there was going to be a second book. Usually the way I work is that I think, “Okay, this is going to be a stand-alone novel,” and then as soon as I finish I realize there’s still so much story to tell.
So I left the ending thin, and as soon as I wrote it, I knew I wanted to continue the story. The question was: should I continue writing one more book, or extend it to two? So I hashed that out with my agent. The second book ends with a cliffhanger that leaves the reader aggravated that they have to wait for the next book. The third one resolves the conflict, and my agent really like that, so we settled on three books.
That’s the magic number in YA right now, isn’t it?
Yep, three is the magic number.
So, I remember when I first looked at the “works in progress” page on your website, down below your Touch of Death series, and saw you have about a half-dozen books listed there, including your middle-grade series, two paranormal YA books, a contemporary YA book, and… a fantasy YA book? I was blown away. You write many different genres, even picture books for kids. What drives you to be so diverse in genre? Is it just an accident?
When I started writing, I actually wanted to write middle-grade because I taught that age level. So I wrote my middle-grade series first, which I just recently sold, and then after that I came up with the idea for a YA book. I never thought I would write YA, actually. That first book isn’t even out on submission yet—my agent has it in her hands now. That’s the book that inspired Touch of Death.
When I wrote that book, all of the sudden I just felt comfortable in the young adult age group. I never thought I would, but I did work in a middle school/high school building, so I was around high schoolers a lot. Then my daughter was born and she was reading picture books all the time. She’d say, “Mom, I want to read a story about this”—but I didn’t know of any books like that, so I just started writing them myself.
After that I thought, “Why don’t I try to sell it?” Next thing I knew I sold one, and I have four more under contract.
Wow. You’re brave.
Actually, I really like putting myself outside my comfort zone and seeing what I can do. You don’t really know what’s going to work for you until you try it. I always tell people, “Write out of your comfort zone and see what you can do.”
Speaking of your comfort zone, do you mostly write female characters, or do you ever write male characters? Do you venture into different voices?
My middle-grade series is told from a male point of view, and all of my YA so far feature a female point of view. My agent’s trying to talk me into doing a dual point of view (which I’m a little leery to try), but knowing me I’ll end up doing it.
You totally should! Those are some of the best YA books out there—stories told from male and female points of view. I just read Under the Never Sky where, as a reader, I feel really comfortable and familiar with the girl’s perspective, but I always looked forward to the guy’s chapters. I kept wondering, “What weird thing is he going to say next?”
Well, in Touch of Death, one of the most complimentary things my agent said to me was that I nailed the male character and accurately portrayed the things that he would say. That’s why she really wants me to do a dual POV for one of my upcoming books.
That’s a huge compliment. I’m looking forward to that one, Kelly.
So, while we’re on the topic of your upcoming books, I’ve noticed you’re pretty hush-hush about the manuscripts you have in the works. You don’t really blog about them specifically. Is there a reason for that? Or does it just not come up to share the concepts or characters you’re writing?
Well, when I first started out blogging a few years ago, I talked about what I was writing a lot more. But once I found my agent she told me, “You have to take everything down before we go on submissions,” so that made me stop talking about what I was doing except for little things, like “I’m writing in this genre” or “I’m this far along on the manuscript.”
I do try to keep the ideas to myself until we get a contract and I’m allowed to talk about it more.
So it’s at your agent’s request, then.
Kelly: The editors at the publishing houses, too. They usually don’t want me saying too much about a manuscript until things are finalized. I am with different publishers so each one is a little different in what they want. For example, SpencerHill will let me do readings for up to one hour, so I’ve already done readings for Touch of Death (even though the book wasn’t even fully edited at that point!).
Well, you’re drumming up excitement for it. That’s great marketing.
While we’re on the topic of your blog… wow, you are a crazy woman. You’re always posting to your blog, commenting on my blog, and generally maintaining an internet presence. However, I do know that you also have a daughter. How do you balance the sheer quantity of writing that you do, and the marketing that you do, with your family life? That just seems like way too much for one woman.
The thing that helps right now is that I only have two jobs: mom and writer. I’m also doing a lot of freelance editing right now, which takes up a lot of my time. But I’m happy with that—I love doing editing, too.
Not having another full-time job on the side gives me so much more time to write. When my daughter was younger and napping twice a day, I’d have about four hours worth of nap during the day when I could write, and then again when she went to bed. She was in pre-K this year so I had three days a week where she wasn’t home all morning when I could just write, and then again in the evening.
Summertime is a little tough for me, but my husband pitches in a lot. He takes my daughter out and gives me time alone in the house when I can write. I find time anywhere and everywhere I can.
I try to do my social media stuff in the morning. I’m usually the first one up and the last one to bed. I’m totally guilty of sneaking in blog comments while we’re eating dinner.
Sounds like you have a smart phone that you hide under the table.
Actually, no, I don’t, but I have two laptops in the house, so it doesn’t matter whether I’m in my actual writing space or just sitting on the couch pretending to watch TV.
And you’ll just have your laptop out and open? Ha ha!
My friends laugh at me because they’ll send me messages and I’ll respond in, like, two seconds because my computer is always on.
Attached to it at the hip!
Well, I guess that takes us to the big question: How are you so darn prolific? It just blows my mind to see you posting this “I’m almost done with this manuscript that I just started!” stuff on your blog. Is there some secret potion you take that makes you write like a madwoman?
To be honest, I wasn’t always like this. It used to take me months and months to write a book. I used to look at people who did NaNoWriMo and think, “How on Earth did you write a book in a month?”
It all started with Touch of Death, when I pitched the idea to my agent, she said, “I know three editors who are going to want this,” and she pitched it to them before I’d even written a single word.
Whoa, so much pressure!
Yeah, right? So she kept emailing me and calling me, asking, “How are you doing? How far along are you?” I ended up writing it in fourteen days.
And, honestly, the story came out so much better when I wrote it that quickly. I didn’t have time for me to think; it was all the characters and their story. I was just getting it down. It flowed so much better that I write all of my books that way now. I try to make sure I have a two week period where I can just focus on my book and not do anything else. I’ll just write for hours at a time without stopping.
So you must go into it with a pretty well-fleshed-out outline?
I had twenty-four pages of notes for Touch of Death before I started writing it. My agent laughed at me. She thought I was completely crazy. I had the entire story planned out so well in my head that when I sat down to write it, it just all came out. I put a lot of time into it up-front with my planning so I can write that quickly. Usually I don’t even touch the planning while I’m writing, it’s just there in case I ever get into a situation where my fingers stop moving across the keys and I think, “What am I going to write next?” Then the planning work I did is there to back me up.
That’s a great idea. How many words per minute do you write? Have you ever taken one of those Mavis Beacon typing tests?
Hmm… No, I haven’t, not since high school when we were forced to take typing. I want to say I got somewhere close to eighty, maybe? I don’t know. But my record for words in a single day is 15,000. That’s the best I’ve ever done.
OK, you have officially kicked my butt.
My agent puts me to shame. She wrote a book in four days once.
WHAT? Who does that?
I don’t know. When she told me she did that I was writing Touch of Death, and I just kept telling myself, “If she can do that, I can write this in two weeks.”
That would be the ultimate writing competition, like NaNoWriMo—except it would be, like, “NaNoWriWe”?
I keep hearing about this new 17-day challenge that’s going around, where you have to write a whole first draft in 17 days.
I’m totally going to do that.
Well, those are all the questions I had already planned to ask you. Your first book is coming out next January, and your second one that summer. Is your publisher waiting a year to release the third one after that?
The third one is not contracted yet. SpencerHill contracted me for the first two, so hopefully the third one will get contracted too. If the first one sells well enough they’ll probably say, “Yes, we want it.” It is already written, I just have to go back and revise it now. I’ve just been waiting for the second book to be revised so I don’t get too far ahead of myself, in case changes are made. Book two is in revisions right now, so I think I’ll be revising the third one this summer.
So why are you working with multiple publishers for your YA and middle-grade book series?
SpencerHill Press does publish some middle-grade, but my middle-grade is actually with Month9Books. They lowered the age of my characters a little bit, and they’re taking my books and making them shorter—which is going to be fun for me because then I can write them really quickly!
What’s the average length of those?
These are early chapter books, so they’ll be somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 words each.
Yeah. When I saw that, I thought to myself, “Well, my record is 15,000 words in a day, soooo…”
That is insane. If you could write a single one of those books in a day… whoa. [Note: I couldn’t even express how mind-blown I was by that thought.]
I think it’s going to be challenging to make it lower in age level. It’ll be tricky for me to go from YA to that.
Well, you’ll have hit every major age group at that point. Filled up your catalog. Now when do you start writing adult books?
You know, I haven’t even thought about that. I’ve written one adult short story, but I don’t do much writing in that genre. I do edit a lot of it, though, for other people, but other than my clients, I haven’t read an adult book a long time. I stick to middle-grade and young adult. I guess I never grew up.
I know what you mean.
Well, it sounds like you know what you like to write and you’re good at it, so I’m looking forward to your first YA book coming out. Thanks for spending the time with us today, Kelly.
Of course! [That girl is so gracious.]