Today's interview is with Amy Huntley, debut author of *The Everafter*
Madison Stanton doesn't know where she is or how she got there. But she does know this--she is dead. And alone, in a vast, dark space. The only company she has in this place are luminescent objects that turn out to be all the things Maddy lost while she was alive. And soon she discovers that with these artifacts, she can re-experience--and sometimes even change--moments from her life.
Her first kiss.
A trip to Disney World.
Her sister's wedding.
A disastrous sleepover.
In reliving these moments, Maddy learns illuminating and sometimes frightening truths about her life--and death.
Hey Amy! Tell us a little about yourself as a writer. Do you outline, or wing it? Do you write daily, or in snatches?
I do a little bit of everything, actually. I’m not a big outliner on paper until I’m partly underway. Then I’ll sometimes try to make a timeline of things to come, but I don’t commit myself to those. I need a little flexibility for moving in new directions as I’m writing.
As for how often I write, that also depends. There are times when I write daily. Or nearly daily. That’s been my pattern while writing my second novel. But while I was writing The Everafter, I tended to write on fewer days but for longer periods of time. One of the things I think it’s important for a writer to realize is that they might not need to work in exactly the same way all the time. Different projects spark different needs. At least they do for me!
When – and why - did you begin writing?
I suppose—in a way—I’ve been “writing” since I was very little. As a small child I did a lot of fantasizing by telling stories in my head. Over the years, as my reading skills developed, so did my storytelling ones. By the time I was in sixth grade, I was trying to write books like Judy Blume did. I loved the honesty and personality of her characters. It wasn’t until I was in ninth grade, though, that I got serious enough about writing to actually start and finish an entire YA novel project. I then did the same thing in 10th, and 11th grade. I had a group of friends in high school who were always waiting for the next installment of some book I was working on, and that kept me writing.
What was it liked getting published? What was your publishing journey?
Considering when I started writing, it took a tremendously long time for me to get published. That’s partly because once I went off to college, I got very “serious” about “growing up” and becoming a teacher. Then I became a parent.
One day I suddenly realized that I still had a major dream to fulfill—writing and publishing a YA novel. I decided to take that dream far more seriously and to invest true time, effort and emotional energy into it. I joined SCBWI, started going to writing conferences, found a local critique group, and decided I wasn’t going to let myself get discouraged by all the inevitable rejections I had to face. One of my critique group members has an agent who took a look at my manuscript for The Everafter and thought she knew of an agent who’d like to represent it. She was right, and Adams Literary took me on as a client. Josh Adams sent my manuscript out and it ended up in the hands of Donna Bray at Balzer and Bray, who made an offer on it.
That was such an exciting time period for me!
Tell us about your process writing *The Everafter.* What inspired you, and what did you struggle with?
I was inspired to write this story when I overheard a conversation in the teacher’s lounge one day. Some teachers were talking about how annoying it was to lose little things like pens and buttons. One of them said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if all those things turned up after you were dead—just when they’d be useless to you anyway?” I recognized immediately that this was a good premise for a story, but I knew I wanted the objects to have a purpose. I’ve always had a strong tendency to attach to objects in my life whether they’re pencils, stuffed animals or my favorite books. This is the part of my personality that knew immediately what use the objects could be put to in my story. They needed to take the narrator back to the moments in her life when she lost them—and along with them, little pieces of herself as she experienced the changes and transitions of growth.
I’m really curious about the way you formatted this story. Was it difficult, creating a novel out of memories with little real-time action? How did you keep it from becoming static?
In many ways, creating a nonlinear text was easier to keep from becoming static than a linear one—at least for me. I started by thinking about the objects someone was likely to have lost throughout her life. Then I tried to think about what ages I wanted to make sure to take the narrator to. If the book was going to be realistic, it had to cover a variety of ages and objects (both eventually found and unfound). Then I identified three different story lines that could have led to the narrator’s death. All I had to do from there was bounce around from storyline to storyline and age to age, thinking about how long it had been since I’d last visited a particular period of the narrator’s life or a possible avenue for her death. Well, that and figure out what she’d be learning in her limbo state from revisiting all those life moments.
That’s not to say that the moments of Maddy’s life were actually all written in the order they eventually ended up in the book. I had to do a lot of thinking when I’d finished most of the episodes. Were they truly in the best order? Did they build on each other? What parts of the story needed enhancement? I did quite a bit of revision based on answers to those questions. There were times my brain got pretty tangled up in itself.
Tell me one thing I wouldn’t know about *The Everafter* by reading the blurb.
This story isn’t really about death—even though it appears to be. It’s actually about accepting change—any kind of change—throughout our lives.
Here on Headdesk, I have a minor obsession with the rules of writing. Is there any particular rule you write by?
I’m really not a rebel, but I have to say that I’m distrustful of “writing rules.” Writing isn’t a scientific process composed of rigid skill sets. It’s a living, breathing process, and while it is important for a writer to listen to advice about skills that can be employed in writing, she has to realize that working with those “skills” is a matter of trial and error. You can’t expect to just “follow the rule” and have the writing turn out well. You have to be willing to play with it.
For example, take the advice to “Show. Don’t tell.” It’s always good to keep this in mind, and to ask yourself why you’re choosing at any given moment to show or to tell, but there are actually times when “telling” is important too. Too much telling and readers will “check out”. Too much showing and you might seriously slow down your plot in key moments. Getting this balance right—based on the overall story you’re trying to tell--can require a lot of test runs on yourself and other people. My advice about “writing rules” therefore, would be: Know what experts suggest, but realize you’ll need to play with those rules to make them work effectively in any given project.
If knew you a teenager who aspired to be a novelist, what would you say to them?
There are so many important things to keep in mind if you want to be a writer! For one, don’t underestimate the importance of reading. While reading, think about how you would write the story differently. Play with the storyline. Writing itself is also important, but keep in mind that there are lots of ways of writing. They don’t all happen when you’re at a computer or working with pen and paper. A lot of my fantasies yield elements that eventually make their way into stories. I do a lot of really important writing work while I’m running or driving in the car. Those seem to be the times when major revisions for the text occur to me, or when significant ideas about where to go next surface. I then have to jot those ideas down so I don’t forget them.
As important as it is to value those “less obvious” writing moments, you’ll also need to exert some self-discipline to carry through on them. Don’t be discouraged when the writing doesn’t turn out how you want it to. View that as an invitation to play the writing game. Work with it. See what happens when you mess around with it—or even start over all together.
Lastly, find an audience! There are lots of writing classes, conferences and organizations that encourage writing. Knowing someone is likely to see what you’ve written is a huge motivator!
What’s next for Amy Huntley?
I’m working right now on another novel--still unnamed. I’m having a lot of fun with it. It, like the first, will be published by Balzer and Bray.
How do you hope to see yourself growing as a writer?I love writing for teenagers and want to continue to do that, but I’d also like to learn more about writing for younger kids, too. Watching my daughter’s growth as a reader has been fascinating, and someday, I’d like to try writing chapter books, or middle grade novels. It requires a different skill set than I have right now, but I look forward to the growth!