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JANICE HARDY INTERVIEW AND BOOK GIVEAWAY MARVELOUS MIDDLE GRADE MONDAY
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Today I’m interviewing Janice Hardy. THE SHIFTER, the first book in The Healing Wars series came out in 2009 and BLUE FIRE, the second book, was released in October, 2010. The final book in the series, DARKFALL, will be released October 4, 2011.
THE SHIFTER is one of those books that I totally had to read from the cover alone. Don't you just love it? I remember seeing it advertised on PW Children’s Bookshelf. I didn’t know anything about Janice or her agent, but I knew I had to read that book. And I was so glad I did.
Hi Janice. Thanks so much for joining us.
Thanks so much for having me!
1. Tell us a little about yourself and your books.
I’m a former Florida gal who now lives in Georgia, though I couldn’t quite trade my oranges for peaches. I’m a movie buff, gamer geek, and lover of all things zombie. My teen fantasy trilogy THE HEALING WARS follows Nya, a war orphan who can heal by shifting pain from person to person, and when her sister disappears, this ability is the only weapon she has to stop her. In trying to save her sister, she’s pulled into a much bigger problem and ends up stuck in the middle of a war.
2. I’ve read that you started THE SHIFTER years ago and then pulled it out and reworked it. What made you decide to pull the manuscript out of the drawer and how did it change as you created THE SHIFTER?
I went back to it after a workshop at a conference made me realize the story I was pitching was never going to work. All the presenters kept stressing fresh, original ideas, and I had this been-there-done-that prophecy quest novel. I came home and looked through my old idea folder hoping to find something fresh and original, and there was THE SHIFTER.
It changed pretty drastically. The original idea was about a boy who accidentally healed people when he touched them, and sinister pain merchants were trying to exploit him, taking his pain and putting it into a box they could use as a weapon. (I shudder now at how bad that is) The one thing I did still like, was the concept of pain shifting— healing by moving pain from one person to another. And even though the pain merchants didn’t actually sell pain, that idea also stuck with me. I started thinking about a world that did buy and sell pain, where healing was done by moving pain around, and how that system could be abused and used for evil as well as good.
Giving healing consequences really fascinated me, and I found my original idea. I’d never really seen anyone approach healing that way before.
3. That’s great advice for the rest of us on how we might rework our stories in the drawer into something publishable. Nya is a strong, resourceful but vulnerable character. How did you develop her and did you draw from other characters you like or your own life?
I don’t base any of my characters on specific people, but traits of those I know do make it into my characters from time to time. I knew early on that Nya had to be a strong girl stuck in a bad situation, because I planned to do some pretty awful things to her. She needed guts to survive all that. As I threw her into trouble, her personality emerged. I wish I could say I did X, Y and Z to build her, but she really did just develop as I wrote her. I put her in impossible plot problems and then had to decide how she would get out of them and the choices she’d make. Those choices were often based on what made the most interesting outcome for the scene, and bits of her personality started building a whole person. She’d refuse to do something in the story and I’d have to know why, so I’d create reasons. She’d need to have things at stake and I’d come up with vulnerabilities for her so she’d have something to lose.
Once the first draft was done, I saw the type of person she had turned into, and that made it a lot easier to go back and further develop the aspects I liked and get rid of what wasn’t working. My character development is definitely trial by fire.
4. I love how you increase the tension and the stakes in both THE SHIFTER and BLUE FIRE? Do you do this through plotting the books out before you write or as you go? What are some tips for doing this?
I like to plan the major plot points before I start writing. That gives me a basic framework to work in, so I always know where a character is going. I also like to know what they have to lose in each scene, because then I know what to mess with. I don’t always know in the first draft what that is, though. I might have a scene, and I know it needs to be there for plot reasons, but I also know it’s not personal enough to my characters. So I’ll make a note to find something to tie back to that, and eventually it comes and I go back and edit that scene. I do a lot of back and forth sometimes, writing until I figure out how a scene or idea works, then going back to lay the groundwork for it.
Tips for tension and stakes:
1. Give your protag something to lose that’s personal. What’s conceptually high stakes (like blowing up a ship or killing a bunch of people) seems like great stakes, but the reader doesn’t care about those faceless people. They care about your hero. Something bad that will affect your hero personally is much more compelling than vague disasters.
2. Keep things unpredictable. Let your hero fail sometimes. Let them make mistakes and get things wrong. We all know how stories typically go, and often we write a scene knowing the hero is going to be okay. The scene becomes about Bob escaping the zombies, not Bob trying to escape the zombies. It’s a subtle thing, but if it’s clear what has to be done we don’t make the bad guys do what they might really do to stop the hero. But if you let your bad guys be as bad as possible, then you get some interesting problems to overcome. If you’re not sure how the hero will solve the problem, readers won’t be either. Don’t be afraid to write yourself into a corner. You might have to back out a little to make it work, but you often come up with great ideas because you force yourself to think beyond the obvious.
3. Never underestimate the value of internalization. Action can get boring because there’s no personal interaction between the reader and the character. But if you keep them in the heads of the hero, and they see the worry and the fear and the thoughts racing through that hero’s mind, then you keep the reader in the emotion. That emotional level is where the tension and stakes lives.
4. Great tips. And guys, you should seriously follow Janice’s blog if you don’t. She always gives awesome tips like this on all aspects of the craft of writing. Let’s move onto the business aspect of writing. Can you tell us about your road to publication and any struggles along the way?
It was pretty typical, actually. THE SHIFTER was the fourth book I tried to sell, and I had a stack of rejection letters for the others. When I first started submitting it to agents, my goal was to get one manuscript request. I felt if I could get past the partial stage, I’d know I was getting one step closer and I really wanted that validation of improvement. Signing with an agent at that point was still just a dream.
Well, I got my manuscript request, then another, and another, and then I started to freak out a little (grin). It was so real. I might actually get an agent. I went back that conference where I’d been inspired to write THE SHIFTER, and pitched the book to an agent (Kristin Nelson). She asked for the full, and ten days later I signed with her. I’d also gotten a few other offers in that same time frame, and it was so weird (and nerve-wracking, and amazing, and terrifying) to have to choose between agents.
I did several rounds of revisions to tighten the book up (the ending had to be redone, twice) then my agent sent it out on submission (this took about 4-6 months). Interest started coming in within a week or two, then the first offer, then the second, and then I was on the phone talking to incredible editors and hearing them gush about my book. It was surreal. My agent and I weighed the two offers and made a choice.
If I hadn’t tried and failed to sell my first few books, I’d think this whole publishing thing was easy. THE SHIFTER was astonishingly easy to both write and sell. But I’ve been through the struggles same as every other writer, and I know how it feels to cry over a rejection, feel like you ought it abandon it all and stop writing. I took time off for a while, but I couldn’t stop writing, and it pulled me back in. I just kept studying, kept learning and doing my best to improve and eventually I got it right.
5. Some middle grade authors have noticed that middle grade books get less attention and say it’s harder to market them through blogs. How have you marketed your books and what do you think has worked? How has this influenced your plans for marketing DARKFALL?
I’ve noticed that as well, but I think it’s more the online marketing that’s less. A lot of MG marketing goes on between teachers, librarians, booksellers and parents. I try to do events that get me out among readers where I can chat and meet folks. It’s the connections that work best, whether they’re on or offline. I do a lot of school visits, which are tons of fun. Book festivals are also great, and I hope to do more plus some conferences in the next year for DARKFALL. I do blog tours and guest posts, because even though my MG readers aren’t likely to be reading, parents, teachers, booksellers, and librarians are, and they’re the ones who do all the heavy lifting in promoting middle grade novels.
I also do business cards and postcards to hand out. The business cards are great because when folks find out I’m a writer they always ask about the books. I have an easy thing to hand them so they remember the title and information.
6. What are you working on now?
A YA fantasy about a deep cover spy who’s caught between love and loyalty when a political assassination exposes her true identity. I’m having a great time with it so far.
Good luck Janice. You can visit Janice at her website and her blog. I really recommend her blog. I’ve learned so much about how to improve my writing from it.
I’m giving away one copy of THE SHIFTER. All you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment by midnight on May 7th. I’ll announce the winner on May 9th. International entries are welcome.
Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays was started by Shannon Whitney Messenger to spotlight middle grade authors. Check it out here.
And check out these other Marvelous Monday Middle Grade Reviewers:
Anita Laydon Miller
Next week I’m interviewing Rosanne Parry and giving away a copy of her book, SECOND FIDDLE. And on May 16th, I’ll be starting my Ask The Expert series where I interview kids between 5th and 12th grades about how they find out about books.
I hope to see you next week!
Posted by Natalie Aguirre on Monday, May 02, 2011