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Interview with Laura Lascarso and Giveaway of COUNTING BACKWARDS

First off, the winner of Shannon Wiersbitzky's The Summer of Hammers and Angels is...Linda A! Linda, I can't find your e-mail address, so please e-mail me at agentspotlight(at)gmail(dot)com. If I don't hear from you within a week, I'll need to draw another winner.

Now, I'm very excited to kick off Laura Lascarso's blog tour for her debut YA Counting Backwards due out August 14th. Laura first contacted me back in 2010 when Tip Tuesday was still in double digits and CB's release date felt forever far away. Two years later, I'm happy to report her book is even more fantastic than her tips and the time is here (finally!) to talk about her debut!

From Goodreads:
When troubled Taylor Truwell is caught with a stolen car and lands in court for resisting arrest, her father convinces the judge of an alternative to punishment: treatment in a juvenile psychiatric correctional facility. Sunny Meadows is anything but the easy way out, and Taylor has to fight hard just to hold on to her sanity as she battles her parents, her therapist, and vicious fellow patients. But even as Taylor struggles to hold on to her stubborn former self, she finds herself relenting as she lets in two unlikely friends-Margo, a former child star and arsonist, and AJ, a mysterious boy who doesn’t speak. In this striking debut, Laura Lascarso weaves together a powerful story of anger and self-destruction, hope and love.
Hi Laura. I'm so thrilled to finally feature you here on Literary Rambles. Why don't you start off by telling us a bit about you and your debut YA novel, Counting Backwards?

Thank you, Casey. It seems like a long time ago when we first met here on Tuesday Tips. I’m so excited to be here at last!

Briefly, Counting Backwards is a story about a girl who wants to escape—her situation, her family and even at times, herself.

Counting Backwards is set in a therapeutic boarding school called Sunny Meadows. Everything about the setting and treatments administered read realistic to me. How much and what kind of research did you have to do to set the story?

I interviewed several professionals who have worked or still work in juvenile facilities, both state-run and private. Among them were Tracey, a psychologist, and Geoff, a woodshop instructor. They later became my beta readers. Tracey gave me some great tips in the therapy department and Geoff pointed out things like, “they probably wouldn’t have pencils,” and “no light switches in the hallway.” In fact, he gave me the name “sharps” and laid out that scene in the classroom nearly play-by-play. Thank you Geoff and Tracey!

To get the Sunny Meadows terminology, I read a lot of therapeutic boarding school literature. “Safeties” is one of my favorite terms. I think it has a nice irony to it.

Just goes to show how important research can be in a novel. I love the terminology! 

In your review from Kirkus, the reviewer mentioned that "Taylor's character arc will surprise nobody" but was "satisfyingly believable." While one can guess how things will turn out, the path there isn't obvious. In fact, I was seriously impressed by the smoothness and realism of Taylor's transition. Do you have any tips for creating such a realistic character and arc?

Ha, you read that review! That’s awesome. Yeah, for me CB is more about the journey than the destination. In writing Taylor, I really wanted to get in her head, which actually, isn’t so different from my head. She had many of the feelings that I think most people would have going into an institution against their will—anger, defiance, distrust—coupled with the survival mode she’d been living in with her mother, who is an alcoholic. She wasn’t in a safe place coming in and the incidents that follow only heighten her flight response.

Tips for creating a realistic character and arc? Spend a lot of time with your character. Be true to them, what they want, what they need, what they’re afraid of, how past experiences and losses have shaped them and what they want most of all but are afraid to admit, even to themselves. Don’t be afraid to show their weaknesses or have them do something stupid. Mistakes are how we learn.

Real tips for real characters. Fantastic. 

One of the things I love about your novel is how multi-layered it is. Even after I finished reading I found new things to connect up. Like how Taylor's experience at Sunny Meadows is subtly reflected in the going and coming of two other characters. And how (true to the first person narrative and her denial) Taylor's issues read almost as a subplot until she's ready to face them. Were these story elements intentional or did they come out naturally in the telling?

I will tell you, Casey, it wasn’t easy. I think, in all, I did seven rewrites on CB. Like, back-to-the-drawing-board rewrites. But going over it so many times really allowed me to internalize the story. My editor, Namrata Tripathi asked great questions—“Why would she do that?” “What is she feeling?” I kept thinking, “isn’t it obvious?” But it’s not always obvious to the reader. That was probably my biggest struggle—giving the reader enough of Taylor to feel it with her while still allowing them room to experience their own thoughts and feelings. So, it’s very satisfying to me that you noticed that.

For the first part of the story, Taylor is so focused on escaping that she can’t see much else. It is her survival mode. Then, when she is forced to look inward, her struggle changes from an external to a more internal one, which I think is even harder.

Seven rewrites! Well, I'd say it was worth it. Just a superb story all around. 

After finishing the book, I reexamined the cover and really appreciated just how fantastic it is. Not only could the model possibly pass for Taylor but the image on the back is a direct depiction from the novel. I'm guessing these aren't stock photos! What was involved in the creation of your cover? And how did you feel when you first saw the complete jacket?

The Atheneum team was so awesome in asking me for my input before the photo shoot. They were choosing between two models and I ultimately got to pick who we went with for the cover. This model has such an expressive face that is both vulnerable and tough at the same time, and once I saw her contact sheet, I immediately recognized her as Taylor.

I actually stumbled across the photographer, Laura Hanifin, online. She did an amazing job of capturing just the right expression and the young lady who modeled for Taylor delivered just what I was hoping for.

The double image was a complete surprise, but a welcome one. I think it really speaks to Taylor’s denial and tendency to hide things in order to survive. Plus, let’s be honest, the cover is a little creepy. And so is Sunny Meadows!

Absolutely. I love the creativity of the double image, and that Antheneum let you have so much input. Go team!

I also love that Taylor is half Seminole Indian and how threads of her culture are lightly woven into the narrative. Why did you choose this heritage for her? And is there somewhere we might read the tales mentioned, like that of cunning Rabbit?

Yes! The tales of Rabbit, Panther, Thunder and Lightning and many more can all be found in Betty Mae Jumper’s Legends of the Seminole. I also recommend her autobiography A Seminole Legend: The Life of Betty Mae Tiger Jumper. She was such an amazing woman and a pioneer for both Native American and women’s rights.

I chose this heritage because I am fascinated by the Seminole Indian culture and have been ever since I was very young.

*Scribbling down book recs*

Writing and publishing journeys differ hugely. What was yours like, and how did you end up with your agent, Caryn Wiseman of ABLA?

I queried Caryn back in 2008. I remember looking at the Andrea Brown staff page and seeing Caryn’s picture and thinking, she’s the one. She has such a warm and welcoming smile, just like her personality. She liked the first 50 pages and wanted to see the rest. I sent it. She took me on. We revised. She submitted. We waited. Atheneum wanted it. (Yay!) We sold it the summer of 2009. Namrata and I revised. And here we are.

Caryn’s advice is invaluable. And she’s always available to chew on an idea of mine or offer her thoughts on a project. I can be a little “out there” at times. Caryn is a good grounding influence.

I also have to say here that I have an amazing critique group consisting of me and two other ladies who are both brilliant writers, amazing editors and dear friends. This sounds a little trite, but it’s true—I couldn’t have done it without them. Go Trinity! (Sorry, had to get that out.)

Caryn and your critique group sound just fabulous. It really is invaluable to have that kind of support team. 

Now that we know about your lovely agent and CPs, what was your experience working with your editor, Namrata Tripathi at Atheneum / Simon & Schuster? 

Namrata is great. She’s a very thoughtful editor who can see both big picture stuff as well as the finer details. She asks tough questions and because of it, CB is a much better book.

I also have to give a shout-out to Emma Ledbetter, editorial assistant extraordinaire, who has graciously answered every little question I’ve had throughout this process. I’d like to keep her on speed dial.

Namrata and Emma sound wonderful as well! I hope you're able to work with them more in the future. Speaking of, what's next for author Laura Lascarso? Can you divulge what you're working on now?

Well why not? Caryn is shopping around my second project with the working title I Am to You. It’s a story about love and obsession. I am taking a lot of risks in trying to get it published, but it is, I think, an important story. So, cross your fingers for me that an editor will bite.

Love and obsession? Two words and you've already got me interested! Sending positive vibes your way for a sale. 

Finally, where can readers stay up-to-date on you and your books?

I’m not very good about keeping up with Facebook, but please, check out my blog. I’ll be having a super showcase giveaway at the end of the blog tour where those who’ve commented on all my stops will be entered in to win some CB swag. Also, I love poetry, so feel free to drop me a poem or particularly beautiful line every now and again (it doesn’t have to rhyme!)

And, thanks so much, Casey, for hosting me on your blog. And thank you for everything you do for the writing community. Lit Rambles is like my favorite coffee shop—the people are cool and the coffee is kickin!

Thank YOU, Laura, for creating such a great read then letting me pick your brain about it. It's been a long time coming and I'm so happy CB will finally be available in three weeks.

Readers, if you'd like a chance to win a copy of COUNTING BACKWARDS just be a follower and leave a comment by August 7th. As usual, if your e-mail address is hard to find please leave it with your comment. This is open internationally, with thanks to Laura's fab publisher. 

Before you go, here is the shiny new book trailer:

And if you're interested in following Laura's blog tour for a chance to win the big giveaway mentioned above, here are all the stops!


Rachna Chhabria said...

Love the cover of Counting backwards. Caryn sounds like a great agent.

Unknown said...

I want to get to know AJ. The synopsis sounds like refreshing read.


Natalie Aguirre said...

Awesome interview Casey and Laura. This sounds like a fantastic book. Loved hearing about Laura's road to publication. Good luck with your book.

Dionna said...

Excellent interview! Thanks for sharing!

Lisa said...

The book sounds right up my alley! Love it!

lisarosenman (at) hotmail (dot) com

Donna K. Weaver said...

That is a creepy sounding place. *shudders*

And that cover--awesome!

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

I am putting this one on my TBR list! It sounds super. :D

Anonymous said...

Thank you Casey & Laura...great interview! I look forward to reading Counting Backwards:)

Kristin Lenz said...

I'm a social worker, as well as a writer, and this sounds like a fascinating story. Thanks for sharing!

Patricia Wojnar Crowley said...

I follow on GFC as tcrowley122

Thanks so much for the giveaway/interview! Sounds like a great book!

tcrowley122 at hotmail dot com

Vivien said...

Sounds like a really intriguing read!
GFC: Vivien

deadtossedwaves at gmail dot com

Beth Hull said...

That IS a creepy-great cover! Congratulations, Laura, on your debut! I can't wait to read it.

tbeth.hull at gmail dot com

Carl Scott said...

Great interview, thanks. This sounds like the kind of story I could really get into. I love the practical knowledge gained from the research with Geoff. Those details will seal the deal for those of us who have seen the inside of similar places.

Gale Nelson said...

thanks for a wonderful interview and giveaway. I look forward to reading this! Thanks! Gale

Natasha said...

Great interview! Sounds like a really good read! Thanks for the chance to win!
natasha_donohoo_8 at hotmail dot com

Lori L. Clark Art said...

This looks like an amazing book. I look forward to reading it. Great interview!


Rosi said...

This looks like something I'd really like to read. Nice interview.

Unknown said...

The books sounds great . . . and I've met Caryn and I too felt she would be the ideal agent. So friendly and accessible. Congratulations on the book . . . and good luck finding a home for the next one.

Carmen said...

Sounds facinating. The cover is beautiful as well. It's so great that she had so much input!

cerickson at integra dot net

Katie Bucklein said...

This book sounds thrilling--and I can't wait to find out what the title has to do with the story. =D

ktbucklein@gmail.com (Not sure if mine is hard to find but thought I'd put it there anyway.)

Evie said...

Love the cover!
Thanks for the giveaway.
GFC follower: Evie

Yolanda Ridge said...

Great interview. I love the cover and I'm looking forward to reading the book! congrats.

Olívia said...

Wow, this book sounds amazing. The cover is great too. I see so many covers nowadays that show a beautiful face or some scenery but have nothing to do with the actual story, and this is not one of them. :)

This was a great interview, it really made me want to read the book. Also, thanks for the giveaway!


LTC said...

This book shows how important research is. Thanks, Casey - I thoroughly enjoyed this interview. I would love to meet Laura at a writer's conference someday!


alicia marie said...

This book sounds really great! I love the interview and now I must read this book!! Thanks for the great giveaway : )

jayedee said...

sounds like a good one and i'm hungry for new reading material! please throw my name in the hat!


warisha_jayanti said...

Thanks for the giveway!
The books sounds really interesting.


katja9_10 said...

Sounds like a great read. And I too, am horrible about keeping up with Facebook ;).

GFC follower (katja9_10).

katja9_10 at hotmail dot com

Lauri Meyers said...

I am always interested in the research writers do. The story about the sources becoming beta readers was a surprise.

dark knight rises bane costume said...

Thanks for making me apart of it.