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Happy Monday Everyone! Today I’m thrilled to have debut YA author Katherine Locke here to share about her YA historical fantasy THE GIRL WITH THE RED BALLOON. I’m super excited about this book because it’s got time travel, historical fiction, and magic. Love the title too. How could this not be fantastic?

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:

When sixteen-year-old Ellie Baum accidentally time-travels via red balloon to 1988 East Berlin, she’s caught up in a conspiracy of history and magic. She meets members of an underground guild in East Berlin who use balloons and magic to help people escape over the Wall—but even to the balloon makers, Ellie’s time travel is a mystery. When it becomes clear that someone is using dark magic to change history, Ellie must risk everything—including her only way home—to stop the process.

Hi Katherine! Thanks so much for joining us.
Thanks so much for having me!

1. Tell us about yourself and how you became a writer.

I think I’ve always been writing and telling stories—I remember writing a picture book when I was six or seven called The Girl with a Thousand Cats, which a) was pretty prophetic (I have four cats—thank god, it’s not a thousand.) and b) shows I was clearly into the “The Girl with” titles far before they were popular. I was definitely ahead of that trend ;) Just kidding.

I wrote my first novel length book when I was fourteen—it’s called The Riders of Eight and I recently found it on a floppy disk! Then the next book I finished I wrote during my freshman year of college and that’s called Caesura. I wrote the sequel the following year, and then spent a few years just trying to get Caesura right (and failing each time. Maybe one day I’ll come back to it.)

After a break—between depression, college, graduating college and finding a job, I was burnt out and not feeling very creative—I wrote the first draft of The Girl with the Red Balloon in the spring of 2013. I rewrote it entirely (literally—3 sentences survived to draft 2) in spring 2014. And that draft, I knew I’d gotten it right. In the meantime, I’d written my first romance book, Second Position, signed with an agent and sold it in the spring of 2014. It came out in 2015. So THE GIRL WITH THE RED BALLOON is my YA debut, but not my debut novel!

When I think back to the first books I was writing, they were all fantasy—more Tamora Pierce than the fantasy I write now which is lighter and more real-world based (and historical)—but they share some themes with The Girl with the Red Balloon: The books I wrote when I was 14 and the book I wrote when I was 18 and the book I wrote when I was 27 were all about girls who felt like outsiders, even in a place where they should have felt like they belonged. I think that was a feeling I felt as a teen, and something I still struggle with sometimes.

2. Yes, I struggle with feeling like an outsider too. Where did you get the idea for THE GIRL WITH THE RED BALLOON?

I was driving one day and the Goldfinger cover of 99 Red Balloons came on the radio (not for the
first time) and suddenly in my mind, I could see a girl going over a wall holding onto a red balloon. And immediately I was like, “Oh, that’s interesting. Why? Where’s she going? Why is the wall there?” My book ideas almost always start as images or one line of dialogue, so that wasn’t unusual! I sat down and wrote the first chapter as soon as I got to work that day.

3. Your story is set in 1988 East Berlin. What was your research process like?

Very extensive. I read blogs, looked through photographs, read books and articles by people who’d grown up in East Germany and specifically East Berlin, I watched movies (like The Lives of Others) and news programs about East Berlin. I googled every detail of the book to see if there was something relevant to East Berlin that I could work in—Ellie passes a sign early in the book that says “The Stronger the Socialism The Stronger the Peace” which was a real sign that existed in the neighborhood where she’s staying in the book. Despite the magic in the book, I did try to adhere to historical record as closely as I can.

4. Sounds like you did a lot of reseach. I saw on your blog that you say that you hate first drafts and love revisions. That’s me too. Share what the revision process was like for THE GIRL WITH THE RED BALLOON and tips on revision in general.

I mentioned above that I rewrote the entire book a year after I finished the first draft, which is generally how revisions are for me! Large amounts of rewriting. I ended up outlining the second draft because between the first and second draft, I’d taught myself to outline and it’s saved me from writing first drafts that messy ever again. I also find that reverse outlining—that is, outlining the draft after you’ve finished it and then finding holes and fixing your plot in that reverse outline before revising—is immensely helpful too.

5. I'm trying to learn to outline more too to avoid those messy first drafts too. A number of people who have already reviewed your book said it made them cry. Wow! That’s pretty powerful. What do you think about your story evokes such emotions?

At its heart, The Girl with the Red Balloon is about impossible choices in terrible times of human history, and about forgiveness. It’s the story about two brothers and two sisters, and about a grandfather and a granddaughter, and about three friends, and I think that those relationships are ones we have in our lives, and ones we can imagine being under threat, that we fear will be under threat. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want you to cry, because I do. But a reader’s tears, to me, say much more about the reader—and their deep capacity for empathy and compassion and love for people around them in their own lives—than they do the author or the author’s skill. The moments that make you cry in a book are really the moments where the author holds up a mirror to your own life.

6. Your agent is Louise Fury. Share how she became your agent and what your road to publication was like.

Yes! This is a good question because DO NOT DO WHAT I DID, haha. Just because it worked didn’t mean it was the right way to go about things, which I didn’t really know or understand at the time. I first queried Louise with a YA…paranormal/fableism fantasy book? I don’t know what genre that book is. I called it The Killing Mists and I still really want to find time to go back and fix that book. Anyway, she politely rejected it, and a few weeks later, I participated in a Twitter pitch contest where I pitched my New Adult Romance (Second Position) and Louise requested it. I also sent it into Carina Press at the same time. And about four months later, I ended up with an agent and a publishing deal at basically the same time. Which was really lucky! But was also a little complicated to do at the same time because I shouldn’t have been submitting to publishers AND querying agents at the same time. So, writers, please don’t do that. While it’s tempting because you’re like “But it worked for you, Katherine!”, it really was kind of messy and I was exceptionally lucky that my agent and my editor knew each other already and both of them were beyond patient.

But when I had my call with Louise, she said, “Didn’t you query me before?” and I groaned and was like “Yes…it was this really weird YA I wrote called The Killing Mists.” And she told me she remembered the book and that I’d been really close with it, that she really felt like there was something there and had considered asking me for an R & R or a call about it. So that was really gratifying because I really really love that book, and it meant that Louise liked my books, even when they were at their weirdest. Most of my YA tends to blur genres, which not every agent, editor, or reader enjoys.

7. Yes, I can see how querying an agent and publisher at the same time could backfire with other agents. Glad it worked for you. I saw on your website that besides your launch party that you are scheduling appearances at book festivals and other events as well at least one recent middle school visit. How have you decided where to reach out and what advice do you have on marketing for other authors who will debut in the future?


Regarding conferences and book festivals: I realize that I’m lucky in two regards here: one, I’ve been an active member of the YA writing community online for several years and I have a really good friend circle in the writing community. We share information, links to festivals to apply for, invites, how we set up school visits, etc.

Two, I have a solid elevator pitch for my book, and I know it’s rather unusual for YA, so it stands out to festival organizers. Not that historical fantasy hasn’t been done before (I highly recommend BLOOD ROSE REBELLION, also a 2017 debut, for another book that uses magic built into real history), but it’s unusual: it’s science fiction and it’s fantasy and it’s historical and it has a contemporary chapter. It does a lot for a little book and it stands out in a sea of YA fantasy right now. It has enough magic for the fantasy readers to pick up something heavily historical, and it’s heavily historical enough for historical readers to tolerate the fantasy.

In terms of marketing, I think it was Susan Dennard or Erin Bowman, two stellar YA authors who were debuting about the time that I was poking my head into the online writing community, who said that you should really just do the marketing that you’re interested in doing. In the end, an author can’t do a ton to move the dial on a book. But what an author can do is raise a book’s profile enough that their publisher might say, oh, this is getting traction and throw more weight behind it.

I am writing postcards to booksellers, libraries, and other people who might be interested in my book or able to support it, and I’m online, but mostly, I’m going to events and festivals and being visible. And most importantly, writing the next book.

8. That's great advice to focus on what you're comfortable with. You’ve also written a new adult romance/contemporary series, District Ballet Company, which also got great reviews. What did you learn from marketing that series that is influencing what you are doing now?

The readers who found me through District Ballet are some of the most incredible people I’ve ever met. I rarely get to meet them in person because that was a digital first series (so without physical books, I didn’t do signings or travel or do conventions.) It’s amazing to me that as small as those books were, I still have people come up to me in my Red Balloon lines and say, “I read Second Position and I loved it and thank you for Zed and Aly.” It means the world to me when people tell me they read and loved those books.

In terms of what I learned, I learned that word of mouth is the best gift someone can give an author. There are a handful of Second Position fans out there that continually, two years later, mention it on Twitter or Goodreads, and so Second Position and Finding Center are still finding new fans. I didn’t do that. Readers did. Readers and two or three bloggers who never stopped loving that book. And I really really hope the same thing happens for The Girl with the Red Balloon.

If you love a book, talk about it.

9. What are you working on now?

Good question! I think by the time this is posted, I’ll be in edits on The Balloonmakers #2. I can’t share the title yet, but it’s coming! It’s not a direct sequel to The Girl with the Red Balloon, it’s a companion novel set 45 years earlier. Same world, same magic, new cast of characters. It’s about a sister and brother who get recruited to use balloon magic on different parts of the Manhattan Project (the secret US project to build the first nuclear bomb during WWII) and they each uncover a spy in their midst. It should be coming out Fall 2018 if everything stays on track!

Right now, while I’m writing this post, I’m working on two projects: one is a middle grade fantasy that is mash-up of Beowulf meets Twelfth Night, and the second is a new YA about a girl who uncovers a serial killer using magic.

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Katherine. You can find Katherine on Twitter and Instagram at @bibliogato, and at KatherineLockeBooks.com.

Katherine has generously offered THE GIRL WITH THE RED BALLOON for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower and leave a comment through September 23rd. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter the contest.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. You must be 13 years old or older to enter. The book giveaway is for U.S. and Canada.

Here's what's coming up:

Monday September 18th I have an interview with debut author Lindsey Miller and a giveaway of her YA fantasy MASK OF SHADOWS

Monday September 25th I have an agent spotlight interview with Danielle Burby and a query critique giveaway

Wednesday October 4th I have an interview with Sheri Larsen and a giveaway of her new YA fantasy MARKED BEAUTY and my IWSG post

Monday, October 9th I have an interview with debut author Tracey Neithercott and a giveaway of her YA magical realism GRAY WOLF ISLAND

Hope to see you on Monday!


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I've never reverse outlined after the book is written - smart.
Way to take an idea and run with it, Katherine!

S.P. Bowers said...

It seems every writer has struggled with feeling like an outsider. Are we just wired differently, or just more sensitive to what everyone feels?

Pat Hatt said...

Neat how you go about outlining after the first draft. Never thought of doing it that way. Bah, I'll stay an outsider, more fun that way haha

Tamara Narayan said...

I would love to win a copy of this book.

tamara (dot) narayan (at) gmail (dot) com

I graduated high school in 1988, so it’s funny to see that year together with the words “historical novel”. In college, I took German as my foreign language and it was something to discuss the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

H.R. Bennett said...

What a fantastic interview. It's comforting to know I'm not the only one banging their head against stuff like this. Thank you.

Suzanne Warr said...

I reverse outline as well, so it's comforting to hear I'm not alone in that! Really great interview all around, and excellent tips for the after-publication process!

Brenda said...

The premise and time period sound very intriguing. No need to enter me Natalie, I have some books that I am currently working on, but defiantly adding The Girl with the Red Balloon to my TBR. Hope you have a lovely week.

jpetroroy said...

Congrats, Katherine! SO excited for you.

Dustin Hansen said...

wow - this sounds amazing. I recently met Katherine in a twitter group, and she's as smart, engaging, and passionate about here work there as she is in this interview. Go follow her :).

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Katherine has an amazing story. I wish I had started writing at a young age like her. Not many people could claim they wrote a novel as a teenager. Best of luck to her.

Jemi Fraser said...

The book sounds great - love the inspiration for it as well.
That outsider feeling is pretty omnipresent, isn't it? :)

Darlene said...

I actually featured this book on my blog for "Can't-Wait Wednesday" on August 23rd! I love the time travel aspect to that particular time period. My parents immigrated from East Germany, so I'm very interested in this setting. Congrats on your debut!

+1 for tweeting:


darlenesbooknook AT gmail DOT com

Darlene said...

Sorry, I meant your YA debut!

Jenni said...

Ooh! I love stories set behind the Iron Curtain and the magic element is fascinating! It was also great hearing about "what not to do" in the querying business. Thanks for a great interview, Natalie! Congrats to Katherine!

Greg Pattridge said...

What a great story line—both for the book and how it reached publication day. The setting pulled me in from the get go. Best of luck, Katherine.

Danielle H. said...

I love the idea behind this book and how the idea came to you. I'm singing 99 Red Balloons right now. This is my most anticipated debut book for 2017.
I shared on tumblr:

mshatch said...

I find reverse outline very helpful. And This sounds like another great book to share with my nice!

Leslie S. Rose said...

After reverse outlining a MS, I've become a convert on much tighter up front plotting. Thank you for sharing your experience with the process. I can't wait to grab THE GIRL WITH THE RED BALLOON.

Rosi said...

A book with time travel, historical fiction, and magic -- how can you go wrong? Thanks for an interesting interview. I always learn from others journeys.

Sheena-kay Graham said...

I can't remember the artist but the cover I listened to for 99 Red Balloons had both the English and German version. The latter is my favorite though I only speak English. Congrats Katherine on your book and it's everywhere on Twitter. Also I'm glad your agent enjoys the way you write books.

Donna K. Weaver said...

Love the premise of this story!

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

Wonderful interview. I've been seeing your book in several places. Great title. Love your story. Congratulations.

Angie Quantrell said...

Your book sounds wonderful! Congratulations!


Carl Scott said...

Thanks for the interview and the chance to win this new, exciting book. For extra entries I tweeted a link to this post: https://twitter.com/carlrscott/status/908386458578251776, posted it on Google+: https://plus.google.com/u/0/110534035050076883640, and pinned it on Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com.mx/pin/336573772142827287/. Thanks again, have a great day! crs(at)codedivasites(dot)com

Chrys Fey said...

A YA book set in 1988 East Berlin sounds fascinating.

DMS said...

Sounds like a fascinating story. Great cover too. It was interesting to learn how Katherine got her agent and publisher. Also, good advice about marketing the book. Thanks so much for sharing this book and author with us today. :)

Empty Nest Insider said...

Now I can't get the 99 Red Balloons song out of my head! I also enjoyed learning about Katherine's inspiration for her book. How exciting that a sequel is already in the works!


Charlotte said...

This is one I'm looking forward to lots! (charlotteslibrary at gmail dot com)

Angie Quantrell said...

I won this book, THE GIRL WITH THE RED BALLOON, from this blog. I've just started reading it, and I am hooked! Great work! Thanks so much to Katherine and Natalie! You rock!