Upcoming Agent Spotlight Interviews & Guest Posts

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Happy Monday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have debut author Emily X.R. Pan here to share about her YA THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER that releases 3/20/18. It sounds like a super compelling story with a setting in Taiwan, contemporary themes, diversity, mysteries, and a touch of magic. This is definitely on my TBR list.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:

Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird.

Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life.

Alternating between real and magic, past and present, friendship and romance, hope and despair, The Astonishing Color of After is a novel about finding oneself through family history, art, grief, and love.

Hi Emily! Thanks so much for joining us.

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

Thanks for having me! I’ve told stories all my life. I guess it’s sort of in my blood, and in the way I was raised: My mom is also a writer, and I grew up with my dad making up bedtime stories on the spot instead of reading to me from books. Once I was old enough to have ideas of my own, we made up the stories together.

2. Awesome how you come from a family of writers. Where did you get the idea for your story?

It started with my grandmother, who’s had many incredible (and often stranger than fiction) life experiences—I wanted to capture those in a novel. So I began with a character based on her, and then ended up reframing the story through the eyes of her teenage granddaughter…and it all grew from there. And of course, it completely changed itself, because books have minds of their own.

3. Yes, that is a strange think about stories--their own mind and opinions on where a story should go. Your story is set in Taiwan. How did you research the places where Leigh travels to in Taiwan?

Even though I had been to Taiwan multiple times, I made a special research trip specifically so that I could visit all the places Leigh goes. There was quite a lot that I was rewriting from scratch in order to make some giant structural changes, and my trip ended up guiding the story in several parts where I hadn’t yet worked out exactly what needed to happen.

4. I love this part of your blurb: “Alternating between real and magic, past and present, friendship and romance, hope and despair, The Astonishing Color of After is a novel about finding oneself through family history, art, grief, and love.” How were you able to bring so many issues and emotions into your story?

This question sort of made me laugh, because I didn’t do any of it intentionally. As I mentioned before, I began with my characters. I worked to pin down who they were, and what was important to them, and it all just spun out from there. I wanted the emotions and experiences in the book to feel real, so I guess the additional facets carved themselves out from my seeking that verisimilitude—things in life are rarely ever simple and clean.

5. I read that your book started out as an adult literary/historical novel. What made you decide that it needed to be a YA story instead and how did you go about changing and revising it? I read that it went through about seven more revisions once you made the switch to a YA story. Share a bit about your revision process.

I never set out to write a specific age category or genre—I was always simply trying to rewrite it in a way that worked best for the story. So it wasn’t like I sat down and decided, “Oh, I guess this’ll be young adult instead.” I tried many styles and many voices, and when I found the one that worked, it was with a teen protagonist and a YA voice.

The way I revise changes based on which part of the process I’m in. If I’m early on in a project, I usually just end up redrafting again and again from scratch. Like, literal scratch. Blank page. Not even looking at what I wrote before.

If I’ve reached the point of believing in the version I’ve got, then most commonly what I end up doing to improve the book is “re-outlining” the whole draft—writing a breakdown of each chapter in bullet points in order to get a bird’s eye view of the whole novel. From there I can much more easily spot pacing issues, and clashing plot points, and where the emotional logic goes wrong. Then I write color-coded notes to myself for what changes to make, and I go through the entire novel in multiple rounds, focusing on a specific category of changes with each pass, until I feel like I’ve made all the changes I need. At that point I try to put the book aside and take a break, maybe work on a different story, do some relaxing, and then I come back and do it all again, starting with another round of re-outlining. Rinse, lather, repeat, until I’ve solved all the problems I can pin down myself. Then it’s ready for feedback from another pair of eyes.

6. I really admire your willingness to so dramatically revise and change your story so much to make it the best it could be. And I've done the color coding for revisions too. One of the most compelling things I’ve read about THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER is how emotionally gripping it is. Share how you were able to delve into and express Leigh’s emotions and grief in such a compelling fashion. What advice do you have for other writers?

Well, I’m grateful to hear that people find it emotionally gripping! I’m not sure I could reverse
engineer my brain or process to tell you how I did it. I would guess that it comes from writing the things that are true to me, that matter to me. It was less about inventing situations / imagining how the characters would feel in those circumstances, and more of me fictionalizing the real things that I’ve experienced, and finding a way to trap those feelings on the page.

7. Your agent is Michael Bourret. Share how he became your agent and what your road to publication was like.

I queried Michael just by following the guidelines laid out on the DG&B site. I wrote a pretty lengthy blog post about my querying experience, and that’s archived here for anyone interested: http://exrpan.tumblr.com/post/165342814359/how-i-signed-with-my-agent

But to jump straight to the end of querying: By some great stroke of luck, I had offers from my top choices, and I spoke to them all on the phone. I was looking for a very specific click factor, and when I spoke to Michael I felt within minutes like he was a telepathic extension of my brain I’d never realized was missing. It was clear he just got my book in a very magical way. He understands my writing and my intentions so well that as I was revising, he was at many times an extremely crucial soundboard for me. Not to mention, he is a class act and simply amazing at his job. So I’m grateful to have him on my team. Oh, oops, I guess this turned into a gush-about-my agent moment!

As for the road to publication: I signed with Michael, and he gave me big picture notes so I could get to work on sharpening the book for submission, and then I spent about a month revising. After that, he sent the book out, got an auction going, and sold it in two weeks. It was a wild ride, to say the least. That’s not typically the speed of publishing, so I got extremely lucky.

8. What a great road to agent and publication story. You used to work at Penguin Random House marketing children’s books and have held other jobs in marketing. How has this helped you to develop your social media platform and market your debut book?

I worked in trade marketing, which is very different from digital marketing. I don’t think my job there helped me with social media—I was already very into social media on my own by the time I started working at Penguin. (Plus, before that I had worked at a tech company doing online marketing, so I think I actually learned more about online platforms from that.)

But my experience working in publishing has been helpful in that I have a good understanding of the timeline of things happening behind the curtain, and that’s definitely allowed me to stay calmer. And, I really understand just how much is in my control…which is pretty much nothing, aside from the words in the book itself.

The thing about trying to market one’s book is that unless you’re a celebrity, you don’t have the reach that your publisher has, and you don’t have the ability to influence the key people who decide to stock your book and to push it hard. Regarding marketing online specifically: I think anything you do online is useless unless you’re enjoying it yourself. For an author, good online marketing is born organically out of that.

9. That's great how you are realistic about the lack of control of so much in a writer's life. It's so true, and I think that many writers can avoid some heartache by understanding this. I noticed on your website that you were at the YALSA’s 2017 Young Adult Services Symposium and the YALL Fest in November 2017. You also have a number of events scheduled in 2018, including the ABA Winter Institute, The Muse and the Marketplace Conference, and the North Texas Teen Book Festival. What made you decide on these events and how we you able to arrange to attend them?

I simply received invitations and said yes! In some cases the invitations came directly to me and in some cases they came through my publisher. I’m really excited for opportunities to meet more readers and fellow writers.

10. What are you working on now?

I’m working on a couple of other young adult novels, and I’m also working on FORESHADOW: A Serial YA Anthology with the brilliant Nova Ren Suma. The latter is a new online venue for young adult short stories, with the intent of boosting marginalized writers and showcasing brand new voices, and we already have some incredible people on board! Check us out at https://foreshadowya.com/.

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Emily. You can find Emily at:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/exrpan
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/exrpan/
Website: https://exrpan.com/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35604686-the-astonishing-color-of-after

Emily has generously offered an ARC giveaway of THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment through January 27th. 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. This giveaway is U.S.

Here's what's coming up:

Wednesday, January 17th I have a Call for Questions for Agent Peter Knapp who will pick questions to answer on Monday, February 5th

Monday, January 22nd I have an Agent Spotlight Interview with Molly O'Neill and query critique giveaway

Monday, January 29th I have an interview with debut author Gwendolyn Clark and a giveaway of her YA fantasy INK, IRON, and GLASS

Friday, February 2nd I'm participating in the For the Love of Books Giveaway Hop

Monday, February 5th I'll have a Q&A with agent Peter Knapp

Wednesday, February 7th I have an interview with debut author Brenda Rufener and a giveaway of her YA contemporary WHERE I LIVE

Hope to see you Wednesday!


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Congratulations, Emily!
Sometimes the theme or true meaning of our stories never comes to us until we're finished.

Greg Pattridge said...

Emily did all the right things to reach her goal of publication. I love the title and the story sounds just as good. Best of luck with its launch.

Unknown said...

I am so excited to read The Astonishing Color of After -- I'm half-Caucasian and half-Chinese myself, so after learning that the main character in the book was the same, I knew I needed to read it and perhaps even relate to Leigh's character :)

My email is zoie@whiskedawaybywords.com!

Gwen Gardner said...

You had me at "chasing after ghosts"! LOL. The book sounds wonderful.

David Powers King said...

Congratulations, Emily! That's a super cool premise for your book.

Megan said...

AHHH! I'm so so excited for this gorgeous book, it sounds so wonderful. Congrats Emily! <3
I'd love to enter, I follow as Megan S. (megan(dot)clarsach(at)gmail(dot)com) and I tweeted here: https://twitter.com/WordsThatStay1/status/952958752134782976
Thank you so much for the chance <3

S.P. Bowers said...

Wow, that sounds like an amazing book! I can't wait to read it.

sarapbowers (at) gmail (dot) com

cleemckenzie said...

I'm in love with the cover, the title and the theme. I'd love to read it. cleemckenzieATgmailDOTcom

Danielle H. said...

I can't wait for this one. I've never read a book set in Taiwan and I love traveling through books. From the amazing description, I know that this author has created living characters on page. I shared on tumblr: http://yesreaderwriterpoetmusician.tumblr.com/post/169741047202/emily-xr-pan-interview-and-the-astonishing-color

Karen Lange said...

Congrats on the book, Emily! It's nice to meet you. Wishing you much success. I think it's very cool that you come from such a wonderful family of creatives. :)

Natalie, appreciate you hosting today. Thanks so much for another great interview. I'll pass on the giveaway. Have a good week!

J.L. Campbell said...

The Astonishing Color of After sounds like an interesting read. It also sounds as if a huge amount of work went into the book. I expect it is a great read.

Pat Hatt said...

Congrats, Emily. Coming from a family of writers sure must leave you with many a tale to weave indeed.

Jemi Fraser said...

LOVE the title and the concept - sounds beautiful!

Tyrean Martinson said...

Congratulations, Emily! I love the excerpt and the story of the storytellers in your family. That's a wonderful tradition to keep alive in your writing.

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

The novel sounds fascinating, Emily. Congratulations. Best of luck to you.

Kathleea said...

Can’t wait to read it!

Tammy Theriault said...

Congrats, Emily! This book sounds hauntingly good 😊

Nas said...

Congratulations to Emily! This story sounds interesting!

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

This sounds like an amazing story. Congratulations to Emily. What a wonderful ride. And what an interesting writing process. I was intrigued at how many times she revises before anyone else sees her manuscript. I was also intrigued that in her early revisions she would just start with a blank page a gain and rewrite until she had the copy she wanted to work with.

On another note, I met Peter Knapp at a conference last year and was so impressed by his presentation. Looking forward to the Call for Questions . . . tomorrow! Wow. How does that work?

Natalie Aguirre said...

Glad you're excited to ask Peter questions tomorrow, Elizabeth. Just post your questions in the comments, and Peter will pick the ones he wants to answer.

Kirsti Call said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kirsti Call said...

I can't wait to read your book! Thanks for sharing your writing journey.

Margaret G. said...

Thank you for a great interview. I'm completely intrigued by this book and can't wait to read it!

Terry said...

A very thought provoking post. I loved reading the comments.

Natasha said...

This one sounds like an amazing read!!
Thanks for the interview and the chance to win!
natasha_donohoo_8 at hotmail dot com

Natasha said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rosi said...

Revision starting over with a blank page??? Wow. That is brave and dedicated. Clearly it worked. Good for her. Thanks for this fascinating post. I will pass on the drawing. I am way behind on my reading.

Angie Quantrell said...

Congratulations! This book sounds fascinating and I totally appreciate all of the WORK you've done to make it happen. :) angelecolline(at)yahoo(dot)com

Tamara Narayan said...

Sounds like a beautiful story. I'd love to read it:


DMS said...

I love that Emily was inspired by her grandmother's life and stories. :) Sounds like a wonderful book. Thanks for sharing! Great interview.

Julie Abe said...

I love this interview. I'm looking forward to THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER and FORESHADOW!

Suzanne Warr said...

This sounds like a gorgeous book, and I find it reassuring that X.R. Pan 'finds' her stories through the process she does, since my process is similar. Thanks so much for the fabulous interview!