Friday, July 16, 2010

Author Spotlight on: Susan Kaye Quinn

 I love hearing about the successes of other bloggers. I mean, at some point, some of their fairy dust has to rub off on me, right? One of the blogs I read on a regular basis is Inkspells, from Susan Kaye Quinn, where she focuses on MG books for boys. So imagine my surprise last month when she announced that it was release day for her first novel, a YA romance. Never saw that coming!

Of course I bought the book, gobbled it up and asked if I could interview her. If you haven't already heard the amazing story of how the publisher found her and invited her to submit, do yourself a favor and check it out. Trust me. It's like porn for aspiring authors. And when you're done, come back and read this interview to learn more about former California girl, debut author Susan Kaye Quinn.

You obviously know how to keep a secret! Seriously, how hard was that not to spill on your blog about this novel?
I share so much of my writing process on my blog, it was hard to keep from blurting it out. But I respected my publisher’s wishes to keep it under wraps until we were able to launch and give people something to hold.

On Ink Spells you focus on books for boys. How did your boys feel about LIFE, LIBERTY AND PURSUIT?
They want me to write more science fiction! My boys are 7, 9, and 11, and don’t have much interest in romance. My oldest read the back cover, shrugged, and walked away. They want to know when my middle grade novel is going to be published, and I have to keep explaining that publishing is a very long process. Seems like eons to them.

Oh, trust me. I can sympathize with them there!
Are you working on anything they'd be interested in?

I’ve written a middle grade science fiction novel called Byrne Risk. It’s a story about a girl struggling to save her clone caretaker from the Peace Police, who want to arrest her for stealing secret wormhole technology to help the clone resistance. My boys like the technology and the genetically engineered pets, as well as the broader themes of slavery and standing up for what’s right. Byrne Risk is in final edits, and I hope to start querying it soon.

I’ve promised them I’ll start writing another MG book this fall.

Wow, Byrne Risk sounds like a cool story! I hope someone picks it up once you get the queries out there. I'm pretty sure my son would enjoy reading that as well.

You’ve named Eoin Colfer, one of my personal favorites, as an influence on your SF/MG writing. Who are your YA romance literary heroes?

This is a tough one, as I haven’t actually read a lot of YA romance. My niece was enamored with Twilight, and I wrote LIFE, LIBERTY AND PURSUIT as a love story for her that was grounded in reality and didn’t require magical creatures to create the compelling tensions of the love story. Not that I have anything against fantasy – far from it. But life is epic all by itself.

You read and write a lot of different types of books, from MG sci-fi to YA romance. Do you think it will be a challenge to reach such varied groups of readers?
There are definitely different paths for different markets. Cynthia Leitich Smith is my hero for crossing genres and showing it to be acceptable (she writes picture books, MG, and YA). It’s easier to reach YA readers because they are online, and there are a growing number of adults that like to read YA. MG is still a more traditional market, which is why I’m pursuing a traditional agent/publisher route for that book. And why it will be much harder to break into.

There are some incredibly steamy scenes between David and Eliza. Is it more challenging to write a love scene or create a dystopian world?
I wanted to create some realistic scenes to drive the tension in the story, so David and Eliza kiss. A lot. But there is no sex in the story, and it was important to me to keep it clean, yet realistic, for teen readers. I would say it’s more technically challenging to write a dystopian world, just because you are creating something you’ve never experienced, whereas I’m familiar with love scenes. However, getting the emotional part of a love scene right is very challenging, so I think it depends on your strengths as a writer.

I know you grew up not far from where I live on California’s central coast and your father worked at the Naval base in Port Hueneme. He wouldn’t by chance be named David, would he?

No, but he did come from a Polish family raised near the Great Lakes Naval Station, which is where David attends boot camp! My dad actually consulted on a few of the navy terms in the book, and went through boot camp himself (although as a Marine, a long time ago).

LLP has a lot of great detail about David’s life in boot camp. How much did you have to research and how much did you learn from childhood through your father?
The consults with my dad didn’t come until the final stages of editing with my publisher, to make sure we had the right terminology between “mess deck” and “chow hall!” So almost all my research was done online – I actually followed the blog posts of a young navy recruit who went through confidence training in the gas chamber. A lot of our navy personnel are young and used to being online, so there’s a wealth of material.

Very true. I am constantly amazed by how much you can find on the internet. 

You also have a background in science. Is that going to show up in some of your future books?
Byrne Risk is rife with technology, from anti-matter engines to dark matter to genetically engineered clones. My next YA book, a paranormal novel called Open Minds, has a few tech elements because it’s placed 70 years in the future, but I would call it more science fantasy than science fiction. I have ideas for another MG book rumbling in my head, and I would like to fill that with more technology. My ulterior purpose is to get kids excited about science, but my boys also simply love the tech.

Note: The photo above is taken with my fellow engineering students at NASA Langley in front of the X1E, the experimental aircraft Chuck Yeager used to crack the sound barrier. I’m the wacky one on top. (I was about to fall off, hence the look of Holy ….! )

I love the story of how you were discovered by your publisher, Omnific. Have they expressed interest in any of your other stories or are you looking for an agent?

Omnific is terrific and they have asked about a sequel to LIFE, LIBERTY AND PURSUIT (I’m not planning one). I’m sure they would be interested in any future work that fell within their niche (mostly romance), because I know they are very supportive of growing their authors. However, I’ll be looking for an agent for my middle grade work, as that’s not the kind of novel that Omnific publishes.

Well, having read LIFE, LIBERTY AND PURSUIT, I don't blame Omnific for wanting a sequel. I would certainly read another book about these characters (hint, hint)

Small publishers are known for being able to get books to market sooner. How long did it take from when you turned your story in to your release day?
It was about a month from submitting my full MS to having it under contract. And about four months from contract to publication. That’s lightning fast in the publishing world, and you are right that small publishers are nimble and able to get books to market faster. Interestingly, I’ve seen a few larger, traditional publishers trying to shorten up their publishing times. I wonder if it is a trend.

Yes, I know Simon and Schuster has some very tight turnarounds with books like Jessica Burkhart's Canterwood Crest series. She has a new book out about every other month, so it is possible for big publishers to get books out faster.

Now I've heard of businesses having a Mission Statement, but you’re probably the first author that I’ve known to write one. What prompted you define your mission as a writer?

Well, I worked in industry (GE aircraft engines) and academia (National Center for Atmospheric Research). Writing mission statements or project plans is practically in my blood. Plus, I have a personal need to know why I am headed down a certain path. What’s my goal? How will I measure it? What is driving me, and how will I know if I’ve achieved what I’m striving for? The mission statement helped me think through and put all that into words. I’m surprised more writers don’t do this! We put things into words. It’s what we do.

Well, the mission statement obviously worked for you. I just might give that a try...

It's been a pleasure talking to you, Susan. And I'm looking forward to seeing you in person at SCBWI-LA in a couple weeks! Yay!

Thanks so much for the opportunity to interview!

Where you'll find Susan on the internet:
InkSpells blog
Life, Liberty and Pursuit website


Karen Jones Gowen said...

Great interview! Your book sounds wonderful Susan, definitely on my list to read! I wish you every success with it and also with your MG work which sounds very cool, too.

Candyland said...

Porn for writers? I'm in! Great interview and now I'm curious. I love stories like this.

Elisa Dane said...

Great interview!

Kristan said...

"But life is epic all by itself."

LOVE. IT! That's rather my philosophy too, although sometimes it's just plain fun to introduce magic or fantasy.

Also love the mission statement, perhaps because I have one (somewhere...) as well. My boyfriend made me write it up, and I kind of rolled my eyes at the idea, but after we did it, I thought it was fabulous and really motivating!

Thanks for a great interview, y'all!

Laura Pauling said...

Great interview! Can't wait to hear more good news in the future about Susan!

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

@KarenG Thanks so much! And also for all you do helping other authors! You should definitely join our Author Blog Hop on Monday (see my post today about it - coming up at noon, with the contest winners!).

@Candyland I about choked on my spit when Sherrie described it that way! I love it!!

@Lisa Thanks!

@Kristan Considering I mostly write SF and Fantasy, I am leagues away from not liking it. I LOVE it. In a way, it was a departure for me to write a real life story. But I simply fell in love with it - that happens sometimes! :) And I would love to see your mission statement, if you'd care to share on your blog sometime? Let me know...(you're the first person I know that did it too!)

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

@Laura I definitely won't be keeping quiet if I have any success in the future! Thanks for the well wishing. :)

Beth Kephart said...

As always, you produce great interviews!

Sherrie Petersen said...

Thanks, Beth! I love learning about people and interviewing is just one way to find out more :)

C.R. Evers said...

wow! So awesome! what an inspiration. I love debut stories. Thnx for sharing! :0)

Anonymous said...

You do the most intriguing interviews. I love them.

Margo Berendsen said...

I don't think I've ever read any MG sci fi (unless Ender's Game counts???) but I'm really curious about it. I love sci fi but adult-level novels are sometimes really hard to get into. The worldbuilding can be overwhelming! It's gotta be tricky to write sci fi for kids, making science accessible. Very cool! Loved this interview. Reminded me I want to work on my mission statement, too.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

@Margo Ender's game is classic SF, but it's really YA not middle grade (in spite of the age of the characters). There is a dearth of SF in middle grade, which is part of why I'm writing one! But I'm going to do a post soon about the resurgence of kidlit SF(or surgence? Because I'm not sure there ever was kidlit SF before). And it IS tricky to write. :)

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