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On Writing:

Q: Where do you get your ideas for books?
A: Most of my ideas primarily come from reading, and lots of it. But I am a huge fan TV series too. Either through Netflix or my DVR, I love to watch how stories unfold over time. Some of my recent favorites are THE WALKING DEAD and DOWTON ABBEY. I know, great combo, right? For KILLING RUBY ROSE, it was a mixture of both reading (Ally Carter’s HEIST SOCIETY books) and a TV series (Showtime’s DEXTER series, which is based on a book by Jeff Lindsay) that started the ideas flowing. I wanted to create sympathetic, Dexter-like, serial-killing, anti-hero character, but in a YA form. And then I read the HEIST SOCIETY books, where teenage thief, Katarina Bishop uses her skills of high-stakes robbery for good. Voila, Ruby Rose was born.

Q: Did you always want to be a writer?
A: Nope. I have a very clear memory of being in a high school English class and absolutely hating writing so much that it felt like a special brand of torture. But things change, and so did I. It wasn’t until I had my second child that I decided to try my hand at creative writing.

Q: What’s your writing schedule?
A: Early mornings are the best for me. I usually only get 1-2 hours per day, but I take a weekly “writing night” where I go to Starbucks or Barnes & Noble for at least a four hour block to get some things done. I also take writer’s retreats, where I go away with my writing partners and spend days writing.

Q: Describe your writing process.
A: I used to be a “pantser”—which is the term for someone who doesn’t outline. Now I am a “plotter”—the term for someone who uses some kind of outline process to pre- determine the major plot points of the story. I use a “beat system” based on Blake Snyder’s book called SAVE THE CAT. Essentially, the process goes something like this:

1. Outline for a few days, weeks, months.
2. Write the first draft.
3. Put the crap away for a few days, weeks, months.
4. Go back in and clean it up the best I can alone. (Second draft)
5. Send it to my critique partners (CP’s). I have two friends who I met at a writing conference several years ago and have been with me ever since: Peggy Eddleman and Erin Summerill.
6. Go back in and implement all the priceless advice from my CP’s. (Third draft)
7. Send the manuscript to beta readers (other writer friends who I’ve met through the blogosphere or at conferences). I sent it to approximately two readers at a time.
8. Go back in a implement even more advice from the beta readers. (Fourth draft)
9. Repeat Step 7 as many times as I need to in order to get it polished enough to submit. For KILLING RUBY ROSE, I had 15 different readers over the course of several months. A little overkill perhaps, but I needed it.
10. Print it out and give it one last read through. I read it out loud or let my computer read it out loud to me, to ensure that I haven’t missed anything.
11. Take a deep breath and press the “send” button to submit the sucker. Then go get a treat! Like a Cokey (what I call Coke Zero), or some chockie (what I call chocolate), or a bunch of caca (what my mom calls candy).

Q: What resources best helped you become a writer?
A: There are many so I’ll break it down:
1. Writing Conferences- Attending a good conference can go a long way in moving your writing forward. Not only in learning the craft of writing, but in meeting well-matched writing partners, experienced authors, powerhouse agents, and important editors and industry executives. Find one in your area and research it to make sure that it is worth your time and money. Seriously, I’ve been to some strange conferences where my lack of cape and sword really made me feel out of place.

2. Writing Books/Websites- Like I mentioned earlier, I really love Blake Snyder’s book called SAVE THE CAT. I’ve also studied several of Donald Maass’ books and workbooks. Websites such as Shannon Hale, The Bookshelf Muse, or Storyfix are great too. But really, there are a plethora of resources available online or your local bookstore.

3. Reading- It is the number one way to learn how to write. Read like the wind. Read like a crazy person at the library who looks like they haven’t showered in days. Read until your spouse tells you have a problem and tries an intervention. Just read until your eyeballs feel like they’re going to fall out, and soon you’ll be a pro.

Q: Can I send you my manuscript to look over? Can you recommend me to your agent?
A: If your work is unpublished, the answer is an unfortunate no. I can't review unpublished material because of potential liability. Remember, I’m a lawyer and I don’t like the L-word: Liability. I once asked this question of one of my favorite authors back when I was just starting to write, and she was nice enough to gracefully decline with the offer of reviewing my query instead. So as long as I have time, I may be able to give some query feedback. And as for recommendations to my agent, that’s another awkward negative response. But the good news is that if your query and manuscript rock, you won’t need any recs, right?

On Publication:

Q: Is KILLING RUBY ROSE your first book?
A: Haha…no! I wish it didn’t take the blood, sweat and tears of my first several books to finally get one right. Alas, there is a steep learning curve to writing and it took me many years to climb.

Q: How many rejections did you get before you landed your agent?
A: I received approximately twenty no’s while at the same time receiving several yes’. Some of those no’s were on queries, and some were on partial or full submissions. Though before any offers of representation were extended, I received several R&R’s (Revise & Resubmit requests). I took these very seriously and spent many months carefully considering feedback from agents on how I could improve my manuscript. See my blog post here to read more about that fun process.

Q: Who is your agent and why is she so awesome?
A: My super-fabulous-ninja-agent is Sarah Davies at the Greenhouse Literary Agency. Sarah has a wealth of editorial experience, is consistently ranked as one of the top ranking agents in terms of sales for Young Adult books, and is British—which makes her 25% cooler and more refined straight off the bat. From the day that Sarah requested a R&R from me to the day she sold my book, KILLING RUBY ROSE, she blew me away with how professional, generous and hard-working she is. Sarah Davies is one of the best agents in the business and I feel so honored to work with her.

Q: How did you get past the slush pile?
A: Um, luck?! Probably not. Well at least not all the way. I worked very hard to polish my query and put myself in a position to catch an agent’s attention. I researched agencies very diligently and made sure that I only queried the agents who were looking for a manuscript like mine (YA contemporary thriller). But probably the one thing that got me past the slush pile the most was meeting the agents at conferences and either officially pitching to them or cornering them in the elevator. Just kidding—on the cornering. However, I did not meet Sarah Davies at a conference. With her, I did it the old fashioned way: I read every article about her that I could get my hands on to determine that we would be a great fit, and then tailored my query to fit what she was looking for. Turns out, I was right—we are a great fit.

Q: How do I write a killer query?
A: Others can explain this much better than I can. For excellent query advice, check out: Elana Johnson’s blog, Query Shark, Nathan Bransford, and Absolute Write.

Q: Do I really need a synopsis?
A: I’m sorry to have to say this but…YES. I know how grueling they are to write, but it’s good to have one in your bag of tricks. Some agents want to see them upon submission, some editors require them before acquisition, and sometimes the Devil just wants to see you sweat. For me, I never needed mine until my publisher sent me an “Author Questionnaire.” From cover artist to publicist, they needed a shareable document more detailed than my query blurb and less detailed than the entire manuscript. Instead of slaving away, under a deadline, trying to write a detailed description of characters and plot points, I cut and paste my synopsis into the questionnaire.

Q: Do I really need a blog?
A: I’m not sure “need” is the perfect word here, because a lot of authors get picked up without having one. However, in my opinion, having a blog is a huge advantage. This is why:

1. In the blogosphere you meet other writers. These relationships are invaluable in feeling like you are part of a community, getting all your writing/publication questions answered, and developing contacts, which can later help you once you get published.
2. Through blogging you can develop your writing “voice”—that flare, that style, that distinctive way of telling stories that is unique to only you.
3. You will develop a following. People who will probably want to buy your book when it comes out.
4. Keeping a consistent and professional blog will show prospective agents and editors that you are ready to play ball!

Q: Do I really need a website?
A: This is debatable, but in my opinion I don’t think you do until you have a published book or an almost-published book.

Q: What was it like to get a book deal?
A: Freaking amazing! The thrill of hearing the three little words from your agent, “Your book sold,” is simply freaking amazing. It’s a total highlight of a lifetime, and definitely worth all those bad days of writing crap, facing criticism and getting rejected.

On Life:

Q: What kind of law do you practice?
A: Estate Planning (Wills and Trusts mostly). I also handle Probate, Family Law, and some Business Law. I almost always limit myself to non-litigated cases, because despite how much I like to create characters that fight, I don’t actually like to do it myself in real life.

Q: Does being a lawyer help you write creatively?
A: I like to think that the persuasive writing I’ve learned through law school and drafting legal documents in my practice has helped me in my creative writing. Although I would say that there are far less rules in writing fiction than writing to convince a judge, both forms of writing consist of convincing people of a story. So yeah, I don’t think it hurt to go to law school.

Q: What does your husband do?
A: Mr. Humphries owns a small business, which has given him a fair amount of freedom to help out with the kids when I abandon them to go write. He’s been my number one fan from day one.

Q: Why do you live in Las Vegas? Isn’t that place reserved solely for strippers and gamblers?
A: My grandpa moved to Vegas to be a milkman to the mob over sixty years ago, and though my family no longer has any ties to the mafia (that I know of), my ties to family and community have kept me here. I steer clear of the Strip as much as I can, and the extent of my gambling is an occasional game of Bingo with friends on “Girl’s Night.” A lot of good people live in “Sin City,” and I am proud to call it home—just as long as I get to go to Southern California on the weekends twice a month.

Q: How do you balance work, writing and family?
A: Balance? Hah! I’ve got as much balance as a one-legged centipede. I’m just doing my best to live life to the fullest.