NIGHTSHADE CITY author Hilary Wagner. How can you not be? She's such a joyful person, has a great blog, and word about her fabulous debut is spreading fast. I've known Hilary for over a year and I've been waiting the entire time to interview her as a published author. Finally, I have!
Hi Hilary! I’m so excited to interview you. Thank you so much for taking the time! Can you tell us a little about yourself and your middle grade debut Nightshade City?
I write middle-grade and young adult novels. I love vividly written, lively stories, which leave me still thinking about them the next day--a hint of creepy works for me too! I live in Chicago with my husband Eric, our seven year old Vincent and our two year old Nomi. We also have a neurotic Italian Greyhound, Louie, who is cute, but an enormous baby! ;)
Here is the summary from my publisher and there is a lot more on the official site. From Holiday House, "This enthralling animal fantasy, in the classic tradition of Redwall and Watership Down, encompasses timeless themes of honor and loyalty, family ties and lost love, alliances and betrayals. Readers will respond enthusiastically to this surefire page-turner, by a talented new novelist, set in a brilliantly imagined world filled with easy-to-root-for heroes and villains they'll love to hate."
I have to tell you (again), I absolutely adored Nightshade City and I’m pretty picky about middle grade. What was the evolution of the novel? How did you end up writing about rats?
The rats were an easy choice! I've always loved animals and Halloween, so rats made perfect sense. I love that their so clever and make such good pets, there is much more too them than meets the eye. The novel actually started as a picture book, but after writing the first page which involved a dark, falling down city and two skinny, hungry rats, it didn't scream picture book to me. So here I am. ;)
You’re represented by the lovely Marietta Zacker of Nancy Gallt Literary. What’s the skinny on how you got your agent? I seem to recall you had quite a few rejections before that one Yes.
Errr...yes! 175 to be accurate. I received a lot of partial and full requests, but all resulted in the same answers, "The market's not right now," or "Too much competition", etc. In the end, it all worked out. My original agent, Craig Virden, Nancy Gallt's husband, called me back a month after rejecting me. He said he couldn't stop thinking about the book and wanted to rep me despite the market woes or the competition. It was crazy, because he was the agent I'd wanted all along--THE ONE! He passed suddenly in May of 2009. It was a blow to everyone in the industry. He was a very special man. At that time, Marietta had recently joined the agency and stepped in as my agent. Lightning does strike twice--she's amazing!
Is there anything you've learned or experienced during the publishing process that's surprised you?
I was very nervous about working with an editor. I didn't know what to except! Was Julie Amper going to tear my rats to shreds? Was I going to be able to do the edits to her liking? Was she going to be nice? Well, Julie couldn't have been nicer or cooler to work with. She was supportive throughout the entire process and told me I didn't have to change every single thing. She said her comments were suggestions not demands, which I thought was pretty cool, though I DID change everything she asked for! She's the editing expert after all!
What was your reaction when you first saw (or heard) your blurb by author Rick Riordan? Had you read his books?
My agent was in NYC, walking down a crowded sidewalk when she called me. She said I have something to read to you and just started reading me the full quote over the phone. I nearly fell off my chair! I was actually in my office and my boss could hear me screaming through the walls! Luckily, he was happy for me! ;) I'd read The Lightning Thief and have since read others. I just finished Red Pyramid, which was awesome! If we are ever in the same place at the same time I may rush him like a rock star groupie and give him a huge hug, though he might think I was pretty weird after that!
I love your blog and the websites you create for your books. The book trailer you made for Nightshade City is fantastic, too! How has the marketing and promotion side of publication been for you so far?
It's been great! For a debut author, my goal was to get myself out there and meet people, both on-line and at SCBWI meetings, etc. Who is going to care about my book if they don't know who I am? Marketing is tough, as far as balancing your time. You want to get the word out, but you want to sleep sometimes too and of course you don't want to be promoting your book too much. You want to talk about your book, but you also should get to know the people around you. I've met so many great writers and readers, people I call friends, just from reaching out on my own.
You’re a full-time author (and mother!). What’s an average work day like for you? How do you stay on task and motivated?
Don't forget the full-time job too! Staying on task is tricky sometimes, but luckily my husband is very supportive and a great dad, who has no problem being "Mr. Mom" when he knows I'm on a writing role. I write a lot at night and/or super early in the morning, sometimes getting up as early as 4:30am. Sounds crazy, but I'd rather be dog-tired than unable to write!
What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Gosh, that's always a tough question. I think, as writers, we must trust our own instincts. If you're in a writing group and don't agree with the changes others suggest, than by all means stick with what works for you. We all have our own singular voice--don't lose yours--ever.
One of your main villains, Billycan, is a fabulous example of an antagonist with well-developed motivations. There’s something almost (almost!) likable about him. Do you have any advice for others in creating compelling villains?
Don't get me started on villains! They are my favorite! Whenever I become attached to a villain, it's usually because I know the reasons why they're a villain. They just weren't born bad. There's much more to it than that. I think the best villains are almost more complex than the good guys.
You must be working on something new. Can you divulge anything about your current work(s)-in-progress?
No, I can't! It's under lock and key per my publisher. It is another animal fantasy, not quite sure yet if it will be stand alone or a series. It's a story that's been bouncing around in my head for a year now. When I had lunch with Mary Cash, the Editor in Chief of Holiday House, back in April and told her about it, she told me to keep quiet and get writing, so that's what I'm doing!
Where can readers stay up-to-date on the latest and greatest on you and your books?
The official Nightshade City website, www.nightshadecity.com and of course my blog, www.hilarywagner.blogspot.com.
Finally, what’s one interview question you haven’t been asked and wish you would be? And please, answer it!
Hmmm...If you could change one thing about your publication path what would it be?
Answer: Absolutely nothing.
Such great answers! Thank you so much for the interview, Hilary. I wish you the very best success with your writing career!