Saturday, August 4, 2012

"Each One Teach One" Interview: YA Gothic Trilogy Author, "Rising Star" Megan Shepherd

If you haven’t heard of this week’s “Each One Teach One” Interviewee Author Megan Shepherd, you soon will!  Megan is a rising star in the YA publishing world.  (Go Megan!) She has 2 YA fiction trilogies about to hit the bookstore shelves beginning in January 2013, from Harper Collins, and she already has a loyal following. The first of her books, THE MADMAN'S DAUGHTER has already been optioned for film! 

In addition to her YA writing, Megan also serves as editor for the Pen and Palette, the quarterly publication of SCBWI Carolinas.

Because Megan has found her niche on the fast track in YA noveling success, I wanted to interview her on writermorphosis so that she can share with us some of her techniques and experiences.  This will be a 2 part interview – today, and next Saturday.

Thanks so much, Megan, for taking time out from your writing to be here with us today! As usual, we’ll start with our normal first question. Please tell us who was a more experienced author or other publishing professional who helped you when you were first starting out in the fiction world? What did that person help you with?
When I started out writing, I didn’t know a soul in the publishing world. I’d grown up in a bookstore, so I knew a lot about authors, but wasn’t acquainted with any of them personally. It wasn’t until I went to the Highlights Chautauqua Workshop in 2009 that I first met published authors and industry professionals. Alvina Ling, Editorial Director at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, was assigned as my mentor during the weeklong workshop. She read three samples of my work and gave me incredible feedback. More than that, she gave me the encouragement and confidence to believe my work was (or would be) publishable. She liked the novel I was working on at the time, and even took it to Little, Brown acquisitions board. It was rejected, but she gave me a revision letter. By that time I was working on THE MADMAN’S DAUGHTER, so nothing else happened with it. I don’t know if Alvina would remember me, but she was really the first person to make me believe I had a shot at this crazy dream, and for that I will always be so grateful to her.

 That’s really great, Megan.  Encouragement definitely is often the most powerful “help” that anyone can give to a new author.  Great job, Alvina Ling!

What a Beautiful Cover  Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins has made for the first book
in your first Trilogy! I love it!

Now that Alvina Ling's encouragement (and a ton of hard work on your part) is propelling you into great YA noveling success, I want to pick your brain a little to learn some of the things you’re doing “right” that perhaps the rest of us can learn from. 
But before we get into the nitty gritty, I know that many new writers envision that becoming a published author will be easy. But in truth it takes a lot of time and hard work.  So, in order to ground us in reality a bit, tell us please, how long ago did you start planning and writing THE MADMAN'S DAUGHTER Trilogy?  And did you write other manuscripts before this one that you have shelved for now because you felt they weren’t ready for publication?
Yes. I wrote three full manuscripts before coming up with the idea for THE MADMAN’S DAUGHTER. Two were middle grade adventures, and one was a YA psychological thriller. I barely queried any of those—I knew they weren’t good enough. In addition to those, I started but never finished about five other novels, and started developing about twenty ideas that I later decided weren’t strong enough.

I came up with the idea for THE MADMAN’S DAUGHTER in September 2010 and started writing it straight away. I had a full-time job at the time, so I could only work on it evenings, lunch breaks, and weekends. I finished it in June 2011, and submitted it to agents. A few weeks later, I had an agent, a book deal, and a film option!

Wow!  That second paragraph about how quickly you wrote THE MADMAN'S DAUGHTER, and how quickly you got an agent for it, sold it, and got the film option leaves us all amazed and inspired, I think! But even more important is the paragraph right before it where you described all the work that laid the foundation for that success, and all those prior novel manuscripts where you learned and strengthened your writing skills.   That’s a wonderful reminder to all of us of the need to keep honing our skills and not to give up if we haven’t “arrived” yet! 
Ok, now for the “brain-picking.”  I know that many people are interested  in writing trilogies or series’.  How did you decide that these books needed to be trilogies versus stand-alone novels?
I hadn’t intended THE MADMAN’S DAUGHTER to be a trilogy; I wrote it as a stand-alone, which is what they tell most aspiring writers to do. But when I reached the end of the book, I realized the story had really only begun. So when my agent suggested we expand it into a proposal for a trilogy, I definitely agreed!

I always planned for THE CAGE to be a trilogy. I knew that the first book in that series would only be a jumping-off point, and the action would continue and grow in the second and third books.

Yes, I have always heard that it’s better to write your first book as a “stand alone” and then if the editor or agent recommends a Trilogy go with that. I’m glad to see an example of how that played out in your case.

So now that you are writing trilogies, Megan, what has been your process for developing a compelling plot that will carry your character logically and with proper passion and emotions through 3 books?  Do you use a comprehensive plot outline for the entire trilogy plus one for each separate book? Index cards? A plot map on the wall? What has worked for you so far?

Since I hadn’t planned from the start for THE MADMAN’S DAUGHTER to be a trilogy, that series-long arc has been very difficult, and I’ve had to continually brainstorm and revise as I’ve gone along. Now that I’m starting to write Book #3, it’s crucial that I continue and wrap-up the internal and external arcs—not an easy thing, and I’m not exactly sure HOW I’m going to do it!

For THE CAGE, this is easier. Since I always knew it was going to be a trilogy, right from the start I planned for that. Instead of thinking about each book’s individual plot arc first, I started by thinking about the series arc, then breaking that down into three components that each have their own unique story and arc.
Hmmm. It’s interesting to think about the complexities of creating the larger trilogy plot-arc after having written the first book as a stand-alone.  It does seem easier the way you're doing it for THE CAGE.  I wonder if it would be helpful for people who are writing the first book as a stand-alone, but who think they might want to expand it into a series if given the chance later, to write a bit of a larger outline for the whole 3 books at the beginning,  just so that they have thought through where they would take the books if they went past the first one. Then they can write a separate outline just for the initial "stand-alone" novel, and write that book. 

Do you have any additional specific recommendations for new authors who do want to pitch a trilogy idea to agents or editors?
Middle grade and YA trilogies are popular now, but they are hard to pitch if you’re an aspiring writer because you don’t have a proven track record. In my case, my agent recommended we expand the idea into a trilogy, and I trusted his opinion. I still think the advice of writing a stand-alone is best. If you have an idea that really must be a trilogy, write only the first book, and then write a one-page synopsis for the second and third books. It’s useless to write all three books before the first one’s sold. I think the best bets are “stand-alones with series potential.” That gives editors the most flexibility, which works in writers’ favor.

Thanks, Megan. That’s great advice!  I defintely have enjoyed some wonderful YA trilogies and series' in the past, and I am looking forward to yours!
Next Saturday  we'll be back here with some more fun interview answers from Megan, including, specific tips on what she includes in her plot maps, and how she keeps up with writing two series’ at once! See you then.


Janelle said...

Ha Ha Ha - Megan. Just a note. :) You may be a bit embarrassed to have me call you a "rising star" on this blog.
But you are that, my friend. Congratulations on it!

I look forward to seeing where these books will go. Far - we know that already. More details on that next week. :)

Megan Shepherd said...

Thanks for hosting me, Janelle! This was fun!

Carol Baldwin said...

Count me speechless and impressed. Megan--this is all quite amazing. Thanks for revealing your story and letting us all know that it's not overnight success, but lots of hard work that leads to publication!

Linda A. said...

Got to read this title. Thanks for the interview, Janelle. Megan, I wish you the best with your stand alones and trilogies. Congratulations!

Liz Hollar said...

Great post. I especially liked the comment about how many books and how many book ideas you went through to get to the publishable ones.