Saturday, January 09, 2010

Author Chat: An Interview with Melissa Kantor (With a Giveaway!)


Today, I'm chatting with Melissa Kantor, author of several teen novels including Invisible i, one of my favorite reads of 2009. Welcome to BBB, Melissa!

Me: Tell me a little bit about your path to becoming a published author. You've said that you knew as far back as 7th Grade that you wanted to write, but how did it all come about?

MK: I have an embarrassingly easy path to getting published. I was teaching English (which I still do) and doing some freelance magazine writing (which I really didn't enjoy). Out for dinner with an old friend who was also an editor at Hyperion books for children, I started complaining about writing articles (I wasn't excited about the editors' ideas, they weren't excited about mine, etc.), at which point my friend demanded, "Write me a YA novel." I did, and Hyperion bought that book ("Confessions of a not It Girl") and two (at the time unwritten) others.

Me: What made you decide to write for young adults? What elements do you think books for teens absolutely must have to be effective? What do teens seem to find most appealing about your books?

MK: I think the lives of teenagers are, in some ways, much more exciting and difficult than the lives of adults. If you're an adult, you probably don't have to sit next to the guy who dumped you every day in biology. And you don't have parents telling you what to do. I'm forty and married with three children, so I understand that adult life is complicated and scary in ways that teens can't anticipate or understand. But the drama of being a teenager--I'm not sure there's anything more difficult than that. Teens have a lot of adult problems but few adult resources. That makes for exciting story lines.

You ask what elements a book must have, and the more I think about it, the less sure I am. Teens like an appealing character and a great plot as much as adults, but they'll definitely forgive a bad plot if they love the character, and they'll read about someone they dislike or can't relate to if the story's exciting enough.

In terms of what teens like about my books, that's a great question. Most of the letters I get from teens tell me they feel I understand what they're going through, be it with a difficult step-parent or a break up or their own general insecurities. That's a huge compliment to me, a teen saying I got it right.

Me: I know you're a teacher. What age/grade level do you teach and what effect does your career have on your writing, if any? What do the kids think about having a *celebrity* for a teacher?

MK: I teach middle and high school English. Many of the girls have read my books, and we're all a little shy about it. Once in a while a student will say, "I read your book over vacation!" or something like that, and we'll both be pleased and a little embarrassed. My students are really generous--if they don't like my books, they're not telling me.

Me: The young adult market is so hot right now. What's your best advice for authors who want to write for teens?

MK: I give all would-be writers and authors the same advice: Write a book you would want to read. So if you enjoy reading teen fiction and/or have an idea you think would appeal to teens, by all means develop it. But I wouldn't pitch or write a YA novel just because it's a hot market. There's truly nothing worse than writing a book you don't want to be writing.

Me: I've read your first book (CONFESSIONS OF A NOT IT GIRL) and your newest (INVISIBLE I), and thought the latter was so much more interesting and clever. How do you think you've evolved as a writer since the publication of your first novel?

MK: I think I've learned a lot about plot over the past few years. I feel deeply loyal to "Confessions of a Not It Girl" (ti's my baby), but since then I've written increasingly complex plots with many more variables. I think the characters in my books have a lot in common and probably haven't changed all that much.

Me: Speaking of INVISIBLE I, how did the whole idea of The Amanda Project come about? What can readers expect in the upcoming books?

MK: The Amanda Project is the brainchild of Lisa Holton (a publisher) and JillEllyn Riley, an editor. Lisa developed the concept and JillEllyn did much of the story, and they hired writers to write the books. I met Lisa for coffee a couple of years ago when the project was just really getting underway, and she told me the idea--a girl, Amanda Valentino, shows up at a high school, turns everything upside down and then...disappears. I immediately knew I wanted to be one of the writers on the project.

In terms of where the books go from here, In "Invisible I," the mystery of Amanda seems more or less focused on Amanda. In the next book, "Signal from Afar," we learn that it's a much bigger conspiracy and that all of the guides (Callie, Hal and Nia) are involved...

Me: What are you working on now?

MK: Right now I'm finishing up the first book of a three-book series. Tentatively called "The Secrets of the Darlings," it's about three best friends in New York City who were in elementary school together and are now going off to different high schools. Their friendship is real and deep and true, but it is put to the test as they navigate the very different worlds they find themselves in.

Me: Not that this has anything to do with anything, but I'm a Capricorn, too. What does that say about us? And Happy Birthday!

MK: I'm a TOTAL Capricorn, are you? I think of Capricorns as the tortoise in the tortoise and the hare. Slow and steady...

Me: I AM a total Capricorn, almost to a fault ... Back to the serious stuff, I ask this question of every author I interview, just because I find the variety of answers so fascinating: What's your writing routine? Or do you have one? Do you write at a certain time every day or just when the mood strikes? Do you outline or let your writing flow more freely? Where do you write? Do you have any writing habits that are uniquely yours? Is there anything you absolutely HAVE to have by your side when you write?

MK: I have three young children and a full-time job, so I don't have the luxury of having things I "must have" when I write (silence, large blocks of time, inspiration from my muse, etc.). I can't really write at home because there is usually a child or two there, so I write at a cafe nearby, but I've written on the steps of my building when forced to. I'm learning to be a better outliner by necessity. For years I let the book take shape as I wrote (though I always knew the ending ahead of time), but I see now that means a lot of wasted time and doesn't necessarily result in a better book. What I learned from working on The Amanda Project is that a good, tight outline frees you up to do a lot of fun stuff like focus on dialogue, character, setting, etc.

Me: Lastly, what has surprised you most about becoming a published author? How does the dream you had as a 7th Grader differ from the reality (if at all)?

MK: A good friend once said to me (about writing), if you're successful, all it means is that you've earned the right to keep writing. I think about that a lot since I'm pretty sure my 7th grade idea of being a writer probably had more to do with being famous and doing interviews like this one than it did revising a manuscript that refuses to come together. I really love writing, but when you're a professional writer, you can't just write when you want to or what you feel like writing. You have contracts to fulfill, readers to satisfy. I think being an amateur writer is like dating and being a professional writer is like marriage. It's not quite what you imagined before you signed the papers, but it's a wonderful and exciting ride.

Me: Thanks so much, Melissa!

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You may remember me gushing over Melissa's newest book, Invisible i. It's fabulous - so fabulous that I wanted to share it with you. The kind and generous folks over at HarperTeen have agreed to give away three copies of the book to BBB readers. I'm seriously so excited about this! All you have to do to enter is leave a comment on this post. I won't even make you answer any questions. As always, you can earn extra entries by spreading the news about the giveaway - post about it on your blog, Tweet about it, chat it up in your Facebook update, whatever! Just let me know what you've done to help get the word out. Deadline to enter is Saturday, January 23. Since Harper will be mailing out the books, the contest is only open to readers in the U.S. Good luck!

(Author photo from Melissa Kantor's official website; Book image from Barnes & Noble)


24 comments:

  1. I remember your review of this book. I think I marked it so I would remember to read it (still haven't). I guess this is my chance!

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  2. Excellent interview! And it's nice to see that some terrific writers find an easy path to publication. :-)

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  3. Great interview, as always!:) I would love to be entered in the giveaway!:)

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  4. I've started reading books that my students recommend and just the other day one of my students said I HAD to read this book!

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  5. Loved the interview... thanks!!

    Would love a chance to win a book that I could share with my 15 year old daughter...

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  6. I am in line for this book at the local library. I can't wait to read it! Thank you for sharing the interview!

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  7. I would love a chance to read this!
    Thank you!

    victoriah40@yahoo.com

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  8. This looks like a great book!

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  9. Thanks for a great interview. Sadly, I'm not eligible to win (Canadian!) but I think I will pick it up on my own.

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  10. I'd love to be entered in this giveaway too! Fun interview.

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  11. Great interview from one Capricorn to another!!!

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  12. Great interview,,and please enter me in the giveaway..thanks

    hanna_563 at msn dot com

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  13. Nice!! I would love to read it.

    smith.katie99@gmail.com

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  14. Great interview! I would love to read this book

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  15. I'm intrigued by what you say, because I chose to write Angela 1: Starting Over (the first of three books set in coastal Texas) as a teen novel, primarily because it came to me that way and also because it seemed to afford me much more freedom as a writer than if I were writing for adults.If you would like to know more, please click on my name and follow the link to my website. Thanks!

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  16. I'd like to read this book.

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  17. Awesome interview! Sounds like a great book.

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  18. Thanks for your blog - I love finding out about new books and hearing from interesting authors, this isn't a book that I would have found w/out you. Thanks for keepin' us in the loop!

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  19. How'd I miss this? I really enjoyed the interview and the book sounds great!

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  20. I somehow missed this giveaway, but I would love chance to win this book. With two children reading young adult now, I love all the wonderful recommendations you give.

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  21. With the way you raved about the book I want to sign up for this contest! Sign me up.

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  22. I'm glad you got this author interview (and review) - this book was one of the books my high school book club wanted to read, but having never read it before I wasn't too sure about approving it yet. However, now I actually want to read it and give it a chance!

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