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Debut Author Interview: Ann Fraistat on Writing a Page Turner and What We Harvest Giveaway

Happy Monday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have debut author Ann Fraistat here to share about her YA contemporary fantasy What We Harvest. It sounds like a riveting tale and one I’d really like.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:

For fans of Wilder Girls comes a nightmarish debut guaranteed to keep you up through the night, about an idyllic small town poisoned by its past, and one girl who must fight the strange disease that's slowly claiming everyone she loves.

Wren owes everything she has to her home, Hollow’s End, a centuries-old, picture perfect American town. Tourists travel miles to marvel at its miracle crops, including the shimmering, iridescent wheat of Wren’s family farm. Until five months ago.

That’s when the quicksilver mercury blight first surfaced, poisoning the farms of Hollow’s End one by one. It began by consuming the crops--thick, silver sludge bleeding from the earth. Next were the animals. Infected livestock and wild creatures alike staggered off into the woods by day—only to return at night, their eyes, fogged white, leering from the trees.

Then, the blight came for the neighbors.

Wren is among the last locals standing. And the blight has finally come for her, too. Now, the only one she can turn to is the last person she wants to call: her ex, Derek. They haven’t spoken in months, but Wren and Derek still have one thing in common—Hollow’s End means everything to them. Only there’s much they don’t know about their hometown and its renowned miracle crops. And they’re about to discover that miracles aren’t free.

Their ancestors have an awful lot to pay for, and Wren and Derek are the only ones left to settle old debts.

Hi Ann! Thanks so much for joining us.

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

Thanks so much for having me! I’m an author, playwright, and narrative designer, who loves all things monsters and magic. Outside of writing, I’ve worked on stages in the Washington, D.C.-area as an actor and director. Other loves include reading, gaming, baking, and drinking as much tea as humanly possible.

While being an author has been my dream since I was ten, it was a long journey. My big break came through Pitch Wars, an author mentorship program that culminates in an agent showcase. I was a mentee in 2018 and then again in 2019—that time with the book that would become my debut, What We Harvest.

2. It’s so interesting that you’re a director and actor too. Where did you get the idea for When We Harvest?

Growing up, I always loved horror, but I hadn’t considered fully embracing the genre in my own writing until I read Claire Legrand’s Sawkill Girls. I was so inspired by the hope in that book. Another big inspiration was Midsommar, which sets horror alongside vivid flowers and sunshine. The dichotomy was fascinating to me. That’s when I knew what I wanted to create—beautiful, hopeful horror.

But the specific seed of What We Harvest was planted by a dream. Honestly, I was between projects at the time. Deeply burned out. And this image stuck with me: a glimmering field of rainbow-colored wheat. When I sat down to explore it as a freewriting exercise, that wheat became the inspiration for Rainbow Fields, one of the four founding farms of Hollow’s End. In a place that was touched by magic—that needed to be protected—blight was the natural enemy.

And the book sprouted a life of its own from there. It grew so organically, I think, because this was the story I needed to hear. The horror. The beauty. The endless grit of its characters, and the hope to be found in that perseverance.

On Writing a Page Turner

3. What is your plotting process like? Do you think this helped in making your story a page turner?

Oddly enough, What We Harvest was the book that converted me from a plotter to a pantser. I’d always thought of myself as the type to plan and outline my plots, but I was in a creative rut and wanted to try something different. At the time I was reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, which recommends a freewriting exercise in which the goal is to keep moving your pen (or your fingers over the keyboard) as quickly as possible, not stopping to judge anything. Essentially, letting the writing flow from the back of your brain, not the front.

As I wrote What We Harvest, that was my goal—to let my unconscious do the driving. I deliberately tried to surprise myself. And I do think that helped to make it a page turner. In that first draft, I was discovering the story in the moment, as a reader might, having no idea what would happen next and making decisions based on whatever choice I found most compelling. When I got stuck, my go-to prompt was: “Okay, now what’s the worst thing that can happen?” I wanted to see just how many obstacles I could throw at these characters. Just how much they could overcome.

It also didn’t hurt that I was familiar with structural guidelines from craft books like Save the Cat (my personal go-to!). For instance, when I reached what felt like the midpoint, I knew I needed an earth-shattering beat. And planned a big attack by the blighted horde accordingly.

4. It’s funny that you went from a plotter to pantser. Most writers make the opposite transition. People who have read your story say they couldn’t put it down. Share your top three tips on writing a story that makes readers keep wanting to turn the page.

First and foremost, you need your scenes to build on each other. One craft tip I found really helpful was to think about structuring the manuscript with scenes (Goal-Conflict-Disaster) and sequels (Reaction-Dilemma-Decision). This method was recommended to me by one of my 2018 Pitch Wars mentors, Laura Lashley, and this article by Randy Ingermanson has a great breakdown: https://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/articles/writing-the-perfect-scene/.

The second tip comes courtesy of one of my 2019 Pitch Wars mentors, Kylie Schachte, who talked about the importance of building two kinds of tension in a book: fast-paced action and slow-paced dread. It can be easy to remember the former and forget the latter, but, as Kylie pointed out, they’re both critical! For example, in What We Harvest, there are visceral chase sequences with the blighted horde. But the slower dread comes from Wren’s creeping fear that her exposure to the blight in Chapter One is leading to an irreversible infection. The dread also mounts with the blight’s progress through her farm, Rainbow Fields. At first, only the violet wheat at the back of the field is infected. From there, slowly but surely, the blight devours each and every shade of wheat: indigo, blue, green, etc., until it reaches the red at the front. (Nerdy little tidbit: I write in Scrivener and color-coded the chapters based on how far into the wheat the blight had eaten, which helped me remember the book’s current level of urgency.)

Third, another easily overlooked aspect of writing page turners: establish that emotional connection between the reader and your characters. This is part of why it helps me to remember that structure of Goal-Conflict-Disaster followed by Reaction-Dilemma-Decision. Those Reaction-Dilemma-Decision points bake in time for the characters to respond to the plot—to build their relationships and reaffirm their personal stakes. These intimate moments are opportunities for valuable bonding time with your reader. And the more emotionally invested the reader, the more they want to turn those pages to see if the characters can escape whatever sadistic situation you’ve written them into!

5. Those tips are great. What did you learn from working with your editor that made your plot stronger and the stakes higher?

My editor is so sharp and amazing to work with—I adore her! Since What We Harvest had already undergone multiple revisions between my Pitch Wars mentors and agent, my editor was less focused on the plot and more on pulling deeper themes to the surface and bringing the world of the book into sharper focus. She poked all the holes she could find, so that we could fill them. And she was excellent at anticipating which worldbuilding questions readers would want answers to, and when those answers should land.

The more effortlessly the reader can follow along with the world and story, the better they can connect with the plot and understand the stakes. So, I do believe it’s all related!

On Your Road to Publication and Marketing Your Book

6. Tell us how Christa Heschke became your agent and what your road to publication was like.

Although I’ve been writing books since I was a kid—and quietly stockpiling them on my hard-drive—I only began to seriously search for an agent in 2017, with the third manuscript I’d written. I wasn’t getting many bites. Then came Pitch Wars, that author mentorship program I mentioned. Laura Lashley and Ian Barnes rescued me from the slush pile and mentored me over a period of four months. I gave it more than everything I had—stayed up past 3 AM way too many nights, writing and editing and writing and editing until I burnt myself all the way out. I grew so much in the process, but my book wasn’t one of the splashy Pitch Wars break-outs.

Some fellow mentees who weren’t having quick luck with agents started talking about reapplying to the next round of Pitch Wars. My previous book had taken me ten years to write, so that seemed impossible to me. But, with nothing to lose, I tried Julia Cameron’s freewriting technique. That’s when What We Harvest was born. And I was selected by mentors, Kylie Schachte and Aty Behsam, for Pitch Wars 2019.

This time, What We Harvest did get a big response from agents in the showcase. My first offer came a week or two later. I notified the other agents considering the book and was lucky enough to talk to several before making a decision. Christa Heschke was the last one I spoke with, the day before my deadline. But from her first email, I’d felt an instant click. Christa and her assistant, Daniele, loved the same things I loved about the book, had a specific and well-considered submission plan, and answered every question to my more-than-complete satisfaction. Combine that with kindness, professionalism, excellent experience, glowing client reviews, and . . . yep, I’d found my agent!

As soon as I submitted my next round of edits, Christa sent the book out on submission. We got quick interest and even went to auction. But again, one person stood out to me from the start—Krista Marino from Delacorte Press. She was actually the one who’d proposed the biggest changes to the book, but her reasoning was so smart and clear, and when we chatted via phone, I felt such a friendly and inspiring connection.

So, overall, there was a definite whiplash effect. The road to publication was slow and bumpy . . . until it became shockingly smooth. Technically, my debut is the fourth book I’ve written.

7. What are your plans for marketing your book? What did you do in the year leading up to its release to spread the word about it?

The most important thing I’ve done is to connect with the online writing community. Making author friends is such a joy, and it’s so moving to see how folks support each other. I’ve also really loved getting to chat with readers and bookstagrammers, once the advanced review copies came out.

Beyond that, there are some specific things I did, like overhauling my website, starting a newsletter, and getting a Canva Pro subscription to make promotional graphics. I also collaborated with a couple of artist friends to create swag for What We Harvest’s preorder campaign. And I partnered with a fabulous local bookstore—shout-out to One More Page Books in Arlington, VA—to coordinate a launch event.

A couple of more in-depth resources I found really valuable, while navigating the process:

https://www.aiden-thomas.com/survival-guide

http://www.rachelsolomonbooks.com/blog/my-promo-breakdown

Highly recommend those tips! But, I admit, I didn’t manage to follow all those recommendations, and definitely not on those timelines. I’ve heard many times from other authors that, in truth, what we can do for our book’s visibility is such a small fraction of what a publisher is capable of. The advice I’ve gotten is to do what I can handle promotion-wise and what brings me the most joy—and to try not to freak out over all the things I can’t control. Mixed success on that front, but I’m doing my best!

8. I bookmarked your links. They look really good. It can be overwhelming to become a debut author. Have there been any groups or individuals that have given you guidance as you’ve navigated the process?

Yes. Definitely overwhelming. I connected early on with the #22debuts group, which has been an indispensable support network. And I’m still in touch with the Pitch Wars community, including my former mentors. My agent and editor are always available to answer questions and help where they can. I’m also lucky to have such supportive critique partners, friends, and family, who have been rocks throughout.

9. What are you working on now?

My upcoming book is another standalone YA horror/supernatural thriller. It’s a mental health recovery story set against the backdrop of a haunted house, full of seances and mysterious masks, and crawling with bugs and blue roses. Very excited to share more about that soon!

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Ann. You can find Ann at annfraistat.com, and on Instagram and Twitter @annfrai.

Giveaway Details

Ann has generously offered an ARC of What We Harvest for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower of my blog (via the follower gadget, email, or bloglovin’ on the right sidebar) and leave a comment by April 9th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter the contest. Please be sure I have your email address.

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

Upcoming Interviews and Giveaways

Tuesday, April 5th I’m participating in the April Shows Giveaway Hop

Wednesday, April 6th I have an interview with debut author Dannie Olgiun with a giveaway of her YA contemporary Between Safe and Real and my IWSG post.

Monday, April 11th I have and agent spotlight interview with Kari Sutherland and a query critique giveaway

Wednesday, April 13th I have a guest post by editor Mary Kole with a giveaway of one of her books

Saturday, April 16th I’m participating in the Raindrops on Roses Giveaway Hop

Monday, April 18th I have an agent/author guest post with Andrea Somberg and Carolyn Tara O’Neil and a giveaway of Carolyn’s YA historical fiction Daughters of a Dead Empire and a query critique by Andrea

Monday, April 25th I have a guest post by debut author Christina Matula with a giveaway of her MG contemporary The Not-So-Uniform Life of Holly-Mei

Wednesday, May 4th I have an interview with debut author Betty Yee and a giveaway of her YA historical Gold Mountain

Monday, May 9th I have an agent spotlight interview with Jennifer Unter and a query critique giveaway

Hope to see you on Tuesday, April 5th!

 

31 comments:

  1. Loved the interview with Ann. Really interesting.
    Have a good week and keep healthy.
    Yvonne.

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  2. Sometimes trying something new (switching from outlining) can make all the difference! Best of luck with the upcoming release. :)

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  3. Creepy story line. Reminds me of an HP Lovecraft story.

    Congrats, Ann.

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  4. Your book sounds exciting, Ann. I agree, I think my editor is marvellous too. Don't know what I'd do without her. Hi Natalie!

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  5. Lots of great information in this interview. I love hearing how you found your agent with Pitch Wars. I need to give those a second look.

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  6. I enjoyed the writing tips--I know as an avid reader, if I don't feel an emotional connection to the POV character, then I find another book to read instead. I follow Natalie on Twitter and shared on tumblr: https://yesreaderwriterpoetmusician.tumblr.com/post/679989991025377280/debut-author-interview-ann-fraistat-on-writing-a

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  7. A woman in my writer's group tried pantsing after being a plotter, and she really enjoyed the process. But, I think, you need to understand the structure of story before you can get anywhere with that.

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  8. I am so excited to read this one. It has been on my must read list since I heard about it last year!

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  9. What a great interview! This sounds amazing.
    scooterbabeieee at yahoo dot com

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  10. I am so excited for this book. I have heard nothing but good things! (I follow via twitter- @akilley)

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  11. I'm excited for the chance to win a copy. Thanks for the great interview. I just completed Pitch Wars and I can hardly imagine doing it again, lol. It's an intense experience, but like you said it brings about a ton of growth so I'm so grateful to have had the chance. Best of luck with your release. It sounds great!

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  12. Thanks for sharing this interview-- I hadn't heard of this book, but I'm super intrigued by the "hopeful horror" description. :)

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  13. Sounds like a fabulous (and creepy!) premise for the story - fun!!

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  14. Congratulations, Ann. Your life sounds very very busy. I applaud your energy. Best of success to you. I bet working as a stage actor is fun.

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  15. Great interview. This book sounds like an edge of your seat read.

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  16. Congrats on the release, sounds good! tWarner419@aol.com

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  18. Omigosh, such a great article and full of great resources, thank you! I'm working on a MS that has a creepy element to it (though not horror) and love the "slow-paced dread" point. I follow this wonderful blog and tweeted about this release. Congrats on the release, would be honored to read it: elizabethchestney@gmail.com

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  19. It seems that Ann has many talents. Congratulations on her success! I'd love to read her book.

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  20. What an interesting, informative and hugely useful interview. Thank you Ann & Natalie. I've bookmarked those resources & also taken note of the structure tips, but my real takeaway is to return to the Artists Way and to read Save the Cat. I'm a pantser in nature but feel the need to understand structure better.

    Natalie, you sound like you have a very busy April - hope it goes great.

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  21. Oh wow, this one sounds amazing! Congrats, Ann!

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  22. This sounds great! Added to my reading list. Also good tips and an interesting journey.

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  23. Wonderful debut author interview. The book sounds amazing. I can't wait to read it.

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  24. Congrats to Ann! And thanks for some really great advice and tips shared here.

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  25. Congratulations, Ann! Sounds like a terrific read.

    Thanks for sharing, Natalie ;-)

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  26. Sounds like Ann wears many hats.
    Hope you both have a grand weekend.

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  27. Wow! Look at that cover! Story sounds intriguing. Great interview too. Thanks for sharing. :)
    ~Jess

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  28. 'Beautiful, hopeful horror,' I love it. I'm heading to my library right away to place a hold.I really appreciated the tips and resources, too.

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