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Happy Monday Everyone. Today I’m excited to have Katya de Becerra back here to share about her new YA supernatural thriller, OASIS, which is set in a fantastic setting—the desert. I interviewed her when her debut book, WHAT THE WOODS KEEP, came out in 2018 and am excited to pick her brain about what’s she’s learned since then.

Here’s a blurb of OASIS from Goodreads:

The oasis saved them. But who will save them from the oasis?

Alif had exciting summer plans: working on her father’s archaeological dig site in the desert with four close friends . . . and a very cute research assistant. Then the sandstorm hit.

With their camp wiped away, Alif and the others find themselves lost on the sands, seemingly doomed . . . until they find the oasis. It has everything they need: food, water, shade—and mysterious ruins that hide a deadly secret. As reality begins to shift around them, they question what’s real and what’s a mirage.

The answers turn Alif and her friends against one another, and they begin to wonder if they’ve truly been saved. And while it was easy to walk into the oasis, it may be impossible to leave . . .

Katya de Becerra’s new supernatural thriller hides a mystery in plain sight, and will keep you guessing right up to its terrifying conclusion.

Hi Katya! Thanks so much for joining us!

Thank you for having me again, Natalie! It’s truly exciting to be back J

1. Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got your agent and your first book contract.

I was born in Russia, studied in California and now call Melbourne (Australia) home. I’m an academic by day and work at a university as a lecturer and researcher. I am also a co-founder and co-host of #SpecLitChat and a writing mentor with the 1st5pages workshop. My debut WHAT THE WOODS KEEP and my latest novel OASIS are both YA genre-benders inspired by things I love: mysteries, science fiction and mythology.

I got my first agent in 2015 and sold my first two books in 2016. There isn’t really much of a “how I got my agent” story as it one of those “I was discovered in the slush pile” lucky break situations. Leading up to the moment of being discovered by the wonderful Amy Tipton (now editor with Feral Girl Books), I’ve been querying on and off throughout 2013 and 2014 with mixed success. Having written and queried two books by then, I’ve received many full or partial read requests but no offers. That’s when I started to see what mistakes I kept making and realized how to best revise one of these books to increase my chances of success. I’ve focused on the book that eventually became WHAT THE WOODS KEEP, as it felt very close to my heart but perhaps was missing something – that essential X factor that would make it unique in agents’ eyes. I don’t remember exactly how I came up with the idea of using “found documents” as part of the narrative, but that was truly a breakthrough moment for me. Amy requested to read the manuscript within an hour of me querying her and offered to represent me within the week. It was amazing and so surreal! We went on sub pretty quickly with it but it’s been about 7 or 8 months before we had a solid offer (I had to do a “Revise and Resubmit” first). By then, I’ve completed a pretty solid draft of OASIS, so Amy pitched it to the same publisher (Imprint at Macmillan) who was already interested in WHAT THE WOODS KEEP. The rest is history!

2. Where did you get the idea for OASIS?

OASIS is linked to a specific place and that place is Dubai. I won’t say that travelling to Dubai gave me the idea to write OASIS but it definitely influenced the book’s setting and context. I used to be a big archaeology nerd as a kid and teen and I think if things played out differently in my professional life and I became a field archeologist, I’d make a really good one! I’ve tons of patience and perseverance, so I’d be great at careful work that is required when unearthing ancient history. 

That aside, it’s difficult for me to trace it all back to the very inception of a specific idea as my brain is very busy and constantly thinking and coming up with scenarios (I can’t even just sit down and read a book for enjoyment – I’m constantly jotting down ideas that either build on what I’m reading or just emerge via random association). Though after a darker kind of story that was WHAT THE WOODS KEEP I felt like writing a different kind of book, perhaps one that’s more action-focused, while also drawing on all the things I love like the interaction between science fiction and philosophy as is the case of OASIS.

3. I'm sure your students and readers are glad you decided not to be a field archeologist. Oasis is a supernatural thriller with a mystery to solve. How did you plot it out? Do you have any tips and/or craft books you recommend for writers wanting to write in this genre?

My first and foremost advice on writing a book in any genre is to read a lot in/outside of that genre. It’s always helpful to familiarize oneself with various genre expectations and tropes. Having said that, as I tend to write genre-benders, I write them around a specific premise. I develop a situation and main characters first and then go from there. The idea is that the plot will emerge naturally from the characters’ hopes and dreams and motivations. What I found particularly helpful when plotting OASIS was to keep character descriptions (I use hand-written index cards) somewhere close so that I could refresh my mind once in a while as I was writing. It became especially important toward the end of the book when the characters’ differences as well as their specific desires and fears became absolutely critical for the mystery’s resolution. In terms of craft books… I have a complicated relationship with them, to be honest. I’ve read a few and skimmed the rest, always finding something useful as well as something that made me cringe in disagreement in most of them. Most recently, I’ve read Stephen King’s ON WRITING and found it very interesting as a craft book in the context of a thriller/horror writer’s memoir (King’s been a huge part of my reading diet as a teenager, so it was really cool to read about how his seminal books came to be).   

4. Oasis is set outside Dubai. I’ve read that you lived there once. How did this help you in building your setting?

I haven’t actually lived in Dubai but it’s one of my absolute favorite places to visit. It was such an
incredible experience to travel there as I could really feel the heat on my skin and see it all with my own eyes. Being out in the desert was one of the most interesting things I’ve done – and also one of the scariest, in the sense that you really feel like you’re in a beautiful but unforgiving place and that if you find yourself out there alone and without help or provisions, you’re screwed. I’ve also experienced a sand storm (a minor one!) when I was there and that really helped me write one of the earlier key scenes in OASIS when the excavation site where Alif and her friends are volunteering is under attack by a much bigger and scarier sand storm.

5. I bet your visit and experiences, like with the sand storm, really helped you get your story right. Your book sounds like a haunting, page-turner. Share your tips on how to keep the pace and tension up.

To me, it’s really all about when to reveal a critical piece of information and how – and also what it means in terms of future events (the cause and effect thing). OASIS is more fast-paced book than my debut (though, I must add that “pace” and “speed” are still subject to reader’s perception and expectations, which we authors can’t fully control), so it meant I couldn’t let my narrator contemplate too long on something because the next danger was already here and she had to deal with it. But still, no matter what I’m writing I always keep in mind my premise and the what-if question at its core, so the steps of my plot all need to eventually lead to the resolution of that question. 

6. Was the process of writing your second book different than your debut book? How do you deal with the pressures to write your books more quickly now that you have publishing contracts?

OASIS was a much faster book to write compared to my debut. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve written it while WHAT THE WOODS KEEP was on submission with editors. Plus, as I’ve partially written OASIS during a NaNoWriMo, by the time I came back to it after getting an agent all I had to do was just write the third part of it and then revise. Given my first two books were fully written before they sold, the only thing I had to do to specific deadlines is revision, which was still lots of work but doable as I had an excellent editor and his notes were spot-on, complete with useful suggestions on how to fix things.

7.  That's great advise to try to get the second book written while the first one is on submission, especially when you are writing stand-alones. Are you still working as a teacher and researcher full-time? How has juggling your writing and day job been going?

Yes, I am. I can’t imagine quitting my “day job” and going full time with my writing at this point of my life. I worked pretty hard to get where I am now in my academic job, so it’d have to be a pretty compelling case for me to leave all that behind, especially considering how unstable the income from publishing is for most of writers who are just starting out. What helps though is that academic jobs, especially those research-focused like mine, can be quite flexible. I schedule my writing around my academic duties and usually it works out pretty well.  

8. I totally agree with you on the not quitting your job. Even though my writing is way slower due a day job, my job was always fulfilling and made my life so much more financially stable. When I interviewed you in 2018, you said that you did a lot of your book promotions through blog tours and giveaways on Twitter and Instagram. Is this still a big part of your marketing plan? Why?

OASIS was a very different experience for me in regards to publicity and promotion compared to WHAT THE WOODS KEEP. I’ve decided to organize a mini tour in the US to promote OASIS and have launched it in Books of Wonder in New York as well as in Once Upon a Time bookstore in Los Angeles. It was a wonderful experience and I’m so grateful to the booksellers, my fellow authors and my family who supported me as well as to my publisher and my wonderful publicist who was instrumental in setting up my US tour. I’ve also organized digital signings for OASIS via Good Choice Reading which was a great way to entice people to preorder the book as it’d then come signed, personalized and with a beautiful art print as a gift. I’m now back home and have four events lined up in Australia over the next two months, including a launch for OASIS in three cities. I’m coming back to the US in June for a family visit and am planning to do an author event in my local Barnes & Noble then.

In addition, with digital marketing for OASIS, similarly to WHAT THE WOODS KEEP I’ve only done what I like doing anyway. I worked with the wonderful team at The Nerd Daily to release an excerpt from OASIS and then I had a blog tour (organized by the publisher) and a few giveaways. I still have a few interviews and blog posts to write but everything I said yes to is exciting to me so it doesn’t feel like “work” to do this. Overall, though it’s difficult to talk about “return on investment” for things like tours and signings and blogging, the experience is great and I love doing it, which is what matters to me.

8. So interesting to see how you've handled marketing. What advice do you have for debut authors from your own experience?

Ask questions and be proactive. Ask to see your marketing plan, and if it warrants it, discuss with your publisher what you can do to supplement it - things like strategic giveaways as well as stock signings in your area. But don’t stress if you can’t do some or all of the promotional things you think you are supposed to be doing. Not everyone has the time or resources. Just write your next book then.

9. What are you working on now?

I’m working on my next YA – I’m still deciding what I want it to be though. I’ve also recently written a middle grade fantasy grounded in my own immigration experience, and I’m currently working with my agent on its revisions. I’m also looking at new ways to diversify my writing. For example, I’m planning on writing a historical fantasy as well as adult thrillers.

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Katya. You can find Katya at Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @KatyaDeBecerra or at her blog https://katyabecerra.blogspot.com/

Katya has generously offered a hardback of OASIS for a giveaway.  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 February 22nd. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter either contest.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog or follow me on Twitter, 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 International.

Here's what's coming up:

Wednesday, February 12th I'm participating in the Love Is in the Air Giveaway Hop

Monday, February 24th I have an agent spotlight interview with agent Megan Manzano and a query critique giveaway 

Wednesday, March 4th I have a guest post by debut author EM Castellan and her agent Carrie Pestritto and a giveaway of IN THE SHADOW OF THE SUN, a YA historical fantasy, and a query critique giveaway

Monday, March 9 I have an interview with debut author Tanya Guerrero and a giveaway of her MG contemporary HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE SEA

Saturday, March 14 I am participating in the Lucky Leprechaun Giveaway Hop 

Monday, March 16 I have an interview with author Beverly McClure and a giveaway of her YA contemporary GABE'S GUARDIAN ANGEL

Monday, March 18 I have an agent spotlight interview with Ann Rose and a query critique giveaway

Monday, March 25 I have an interview with debut author Alechia Dow  and giveaway of her YA sci-fi THE SOUND OF STARS

Hope to see you on Wednesday!


nashvillecats2 said...

Happy Monday to you Natalie. another wonderful post and interview.
Another storm has hit us hope all is well your end.


Yolanda Renée said...

Being a world traveler must give such richness to your work. Congratulations!

Ilona Bray said...

Fascinating back story, thanks for sharing some of the trials and tribulations of bringing to market what sounds like a fascinating book!

Computer Tutor said...

What an interesting background. I have no doubt all those fascinating pieces add spice to your story. Good luck with the book!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

She is certainly well-traveled. I'm sure that helped a lot with her writing.

Brenda said...

Oasis sounds exciting. Sandstorms can be very unnerving when you're caught in one. All the colors around you get washed out into this yellow haze. Have a lovely week Natalie.

Pat Hatt said...

Wow, sure lots on the go in her life indeed. Great when one has a flexible job that allows writing time too. Used to have that lol not any more. Read a lot in and out of the genres is a good tip too.

Mary Preston said...

A fabulous post thank you.


Jenni said...

Very interesting interview, Natalie! I liked hearing about Katya's travels helped her with her writing. A fantasy with archaeology sounds intriguing! Congrats to Katya!

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

I love how Katya has pulled things from her background to work into her books: Oasis especially. And -- "a supernatural thriller with a mystery!" That sounds fascinating. She also sounds so wise in her approach to her writing: writing a second book while the first is being marketed. Very hard to do.

MorganeG. said...

Very interesting! I'm super intrigued by this book

Danielle H. said...

I like that this author has continued to balance her life with work and writing--very inspirational. I've wanted to read this book since I first read about it as it sounds unlike any book I've read before. I shared on tumblr: https://yesreaderwriterpoetmusician.tumblr.com/post/190776731522/katya-de-becerra-interview-and-oasis-giveaway

kathrynjankowski said...

Great interview. Thanks! I love the Twilight Zone so it will be interesting to see how it compares.

tetewa said...

Enjoyed the interview today, sounds like my kind of read! tWarner419@aol.com

Rosi said...

An informative and interesting interview as usual. Thanks, Natalie! I will step aside for the giveaway.

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

Thanks for a great interview, ladies. What a world of traveling. Sounds so exciting. Congratulations. Katya. Best wishes to you.

Sherry Ellis said...

Sounds like you have a great marketing plan and have been getting a lot of exposure for your book. Best of luck with it!

Carolyn Chambers Clark said...

Loved Katya's writing process comments and her story sounds right up my alley. I mentioned the giveaway on Twitter @DrCCClark.

Vahlaeity said...

Another fabulous interview. I can't wait to go back through the archives and read all your previous interviews!

Thanks to Katya for sharing her experiences. I always love hearing how home town authors promote their books internationally.

Natalie Aguirre said...

So glad you found my blog and are enjoying it. I really appreciate the feedback.

Natasha said...

Great interview! Oasis sounds like a great read!
natasha_donohoo_8 at hotmail dot com

Anonymous said...

Genre-benders are so interesting! Thank you for the giveaway.