Monday, July 29, 2013

NAWS: Interview with Katie M. Stout

I am so excited to have the fantastic Katie M. Stout on the blog today for another Newly Agented Writers Series interview! Katie is a YA writer represented by Emily Keyes of the L. Perkins Literary Agency (Woot! We are agency-mates!!). Be sure to check out Katie’s blog, and if you would like to follow her on Twitter, you can do that here. (Do it!)
Q and A:
First of all, can you tell us a bit about yourself? What do you write? What kinds of things do you like to do when you aren’t writing?
Hello, Internet peeps!
I'm Katie, and I currently live in Atlanta, Georgia, but I'm about to move to England in a few weeks for a new job.

I write YA of the contemporary variety, though I also like to dabble in fantasy when I'm feeling self-indulgent. When I'm not living vicariously through my characters, I enjoy frequenting Starbucks, chilling with my book club ladies, exercising (no, really; I know, it's shocking), and stuffing my face with Thai food.

Do you have a particular writing routine? A way to get yourself focused?
Not really. I tend to take a lot of Twitter breaks, which isn't really productive, but it keeps my brain from exploding.
I have to listen to music while I'm writing, but the playlists change all the time. For example, the MS I'm working on right now always has Hans Zimmer background music, but when I was drafting the MS that I queried, I listened to KPOP constantly. 

What would you say are the easiest and hardest aspects of writing?
Totally depends on the story. At least, for me it does. Sometimes, I like writing dialogue. Other times, I enjoy the narration. But I always like writing setting/description, and I have to edit a lot of that out in revisions, because I go a bit crazy during rough drafting.

The hardest part of writing is writing.
Sometimes, I wonder why the heck I do this crazy thing called "writing," because sometimes, the words don't come and my computer and all my characters hate me. 

But other days it's pretty awesome. :)

How do you find inspiration for your writing?
I know a lot of people don't like this advice, but I tend to be a supporter of the "write what you know" philosophy. I wrote the MS I queried my agent with after I went to China, and then the next MS I finished was inspired by an internship I had in Thailand and the wonderful people I met and the tasty food I ate there.

But I find that you can only take personal experiences so far. They're like a launching pad. For example, I traveled to the same country and had some of the same experiences as the MC in my MS that's set in China, but I, sadly, didn't meet a famous Korean pop star and fall in love with him like she does - that bit all came from my absurd imagination that not-so-secretly wants to write fanfiction about all my favorite KPOP stars.

Can you tell us a bit about the novel that you queried your agent with? If you would be willing to share a copy of your query letter for learning purposes, that would be brilliant! 
Sure! My MS, titled FROM CHINA, WITH LOVE, is about the sister of a country music star who runs away to boarding school in China, following a family tragedy, where she falls in love with a Korean pop star.

Here's my query:

Dear Ms. Keyes,

Because of your interest in YA, I’m writing to you about my contemporary manuscript FROM CHINA, WITH LOVE, which I believe will appeal to fans of books with international settings like Kirsten Hubbard’s Wanderlove and romances that make you sigh like Stephanie Perkins’s Anna & the French Kiss.

Grace Wilde is running—from the multi-million dollar mansion her record producer father bought, the drugged-out older brother who’s topped the country music charts five years in a row, and the mother who blames her for her brother’s breakdown. After escaping her snooty private high school, she jets off to boarding school in China—the farthest place from home she could think of—hoping for a fresh start.

She expects the bicycles, rice, and smog, but what she doesn’t see coming is her roommate’s twin brother, the hottest Korean she’s ever met. After growing up in America for most of his life, Jason Bae is now the fresh face of Korean pop music, but for a reason unknown to his fans and friends alike, he opts to take a break from the music industry to finish high school in China. He and Grace have a lot in common, including their immediate aversion to each other.

But when Grace’s past begins to catch up with her, she realizes how alone she is in a foreign country. And how the only person who soothes her guilt over her brother’s problems and can make her smile again is Jason. When she writes home to her brother every week, she signs her letters “From China, with love,” but what if love is what she’s been running away from since the beginning?

FROM CHINA, WITH LOVE, complete at 75,000 words, is about moving past guilt and finding a home in unexpected places.

A native of Atlanta, I’m a recent graduate of North Georgia College & State University with a degree in Writing & Publication. My adult manuscript IN THE SHADOW OF ILIUM was a finalist in the historical category of the ACFW Genesis Contest, and my creative nonfiction story “Remember My Face” won Best in Literature for my university’s literary magazine. I’m a travel junkie and have traveled throughout Asia; FROM CHINA, WITH LOVE was inspired by my own trip to China, where I spent the summer teaching English. 

What is one unique thing that happened to you during the querying process?
I went to a writer's conference about a month after I'd started querying. About a week before it, one of the agents who was going to be there (not the one I was pitching), requested my full MS. I emailed her back and told her I hoped to see her at the conference, and she responded a few minutes later telling me to definitely introduce myself.

After I basically stalked her the entire conference, I finally scrounged up enough courage to approach her at the cocktail party (with the help of my critique partner buds, who kinda shoved me in her general direction), and I got to talk to her. She remembered my submission and said she'd read the first 12 chapters in 2 days and she wanted to give me a revise and resubmit. So for the next 20 minutes, I got my first ever R&R...verbally. She was able to articulate more of what she felt than she would have in an email, and she basically blew my mind wide open. It was amazing.

While I didn't end up signing with that agent, I feel like her revision notes made my MS a million times better, and she was just so kind and helpful that I think if I ever see her again, I want to give her a tackle hug. know, if that wasn't totally creepy. 
What were your reactions when you received The Call, and what made you realize that Emily was the perfect fit for you and your novel?
I'd already received one offer from another agent, but I was overseas and didn't get to talk to her on the phone. I spent the entire plane ride home wondering if any of the other agents who had my MS would be interested, and then when Emily emailed me the day after I got home, saying she wanted to talk on the phone, I freaked. out. I tried insanely hard to sound at least semi-professional and not flail all over her while we talked, but I'm not sure I succeeded.

When Emily emailed me to set up the call, she told me she had some revision ideas she wanted to talk over, and once we got to chat about them, I realized she and I had matching visions for the story. I feel like this is a total writer-ly cliche, but I felt like she "got" me and my story.
Plus, I straight up asked her if she would be okay with me writing lots of Asian-inspired books, and she said yes, so I knew then and there we could work together. ;-)
So… kpop, huh? As you know, I love jpop/jrock (though, I now have a few kpop faves thanks to the influence of you and Kristin Rae… ;). How and when did you first discover your love of this awesome music?

I actually got interested in KPOP by watching Korean dramas (TV shows), which I first started watching back in 2011 after I went to China and bought a pirated DVD of the K-Drama 49 Days at a cheap video store because I thought it sounded hilarious. Come to find out it's horrendously sad and wonderful, and I cried my way through the entire series, then went on a mission to find more dramas, which led me to the wonderful world of KPOP, "flower boys," and the entire Korean Wave that, in my opinion, needs to spread across America a lot faster.

I know you love to travel, particularly to Asian countries. Which ones have you visited so far? Would you say your love of Asian culture has influenced your writing in any way?
I do love to travel! As of now, the Asian countries I've visited (excluding airports, because that unfortunately doesn't count) are:

1. Thailand

2. Vietnam

3. Laos

4. Burma/Myanmar

5. China

6. South Korea

I definitely think my interest in Asian culture has influenced my writing. Besides the obvious, which is that one of my MS's is set in China and another is set in Thailand, I also tend to utilize themes and archetypes that are popular in Asian entertainment in my writing. For example, I'm obsessed with hand holding in a romance, and I totally blame Korean dramas for that. I also like that Asian dramas favor slow-developing romances that simmer for a long time before anything ever happens, and when something does happen, it isn't big, but you as the viewer are totally emotionally compromised anyway. I try really hard to mirror that type of emotional drama in my writing.
Based on personal experience, do you have any final writing advice for querying/soon-to-be-querying writers?
I read this somewhere before querying but didn't really take it to heart, though I wish I had: don't put agents up on pedestals as "my favorite agent" or "my top agent." When we're querying, we really don't know anything about agents besides what they put on their submission guidelines, their client lists, and maybe how they interact on Twitter. And when your "dream agent," rejects you, it's really easy to be disheartened, when another fabulous agent is waiting for you around the corner. And you can't know how you'll work with an agent until you actually work with them.

I definitely think it's a good idea to research and choose a group of "top agents," based on sales and what not, but I would also say to be open. There are so many fabulous agents out there; don't limit your options by querying only your "top agents."

Just for fun short answers:
Favorite book/s or series?
You're totally going to laugh at me, but my favoritest favorite book ever is actually Homer's The Iliad, followed closely by The Lord of the Rings and Beowulf.
...I have a thing for epics.
In terms of YA, The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare, basically anything by Laini Taylor, and Holly Black's Curse Workers series. 

Favorite kpop group? Favorite non-kpop group?
What an evil question! I'm a total music whore, so I'll have to narrow it down to my top 3 for both.

1. CN Blue (Holy hotness, Jung Yong Hwa!)

2. BIGBANG (Every song of theirs is golden.)

3. Super Junior (Don't judge me.) 


1. Florence + the Machine

2. Coldplay

3. The Black Keys

Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Baha! Plotting? What IS that?! *laughs hysterically*
If you could have dessert with any fictional character, who would it be? What dessert?
I feel inclined to answer "Achilles," as he's my favorite fictional character of all time, but I'm not sure he would be a good dessert buddy, so I'll say "Gandalf."
And we would end our night of snickerdoodles and peanut butter cookies with fireworks and him blowing pipe-weed smoke rings.
Can you tell us one quick story from your travels?
Well, I feel like a lot of my crazy stories have ended up in MS's I've written, but a recent one that I haven't found a place for in a WIP yet is from when I was traveling in Burma last fall. We were supposed to take a flight from Yangon, the capital, to a town called Kalaymyo, but our flight got canceled and we had to take a bus.
For 34 hours.
On dirt roads through the jungle.
Besides my ankles swelling to cankles and my jeans stretching out to a full size larger than what it said on the tag, I didn't get to pee for 24 hours. The fact that my kidneys didn't shrivel up and die makes me a believer in miracles.

First draft or revisions?
Honestly, it depends on my mood. I'm inclined to say "revisions," because that's what I normally prefer, but sometimes, you just get on a roll and drafting is fun. 
Would you prefer to drink coffee or tea while writing?
Oh, goodness. Coffee. All the way. I used to be a huge green tea drinker, but I've recently decided coffee is secretly the nectar of the gods, gifted from Zeus and his cronies on Olympus to all us mortals.
What is one thing about you that might surprise readers?

I feel like for anyone who reads my blog or follows me on Twitter, there's nothing surprising, as I tend to plaster my life all over both.

But I guess maybe the fact that I don't like animals. I don't even really like my cat, but he doesn't like me back, so we're in a mutually-tolerating-relationship. I change his cat litter, and he occasionally snuggles with me, but mostly we just ignore each other. ;-)
Thanks so much for being a part of the Newly Agented Writers Series, Katie! It was great having you on the blog! :D
Eeepppp!!! Thanks for interviewing me, Kristin! :D

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

August Writing Challenge!!

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve given myself a public blog challenge. In 2011, I did the Chimichanga Challenge with the brilliant Brodi Ashton and Bree Despain. Last November, I successfully completed a NaNo self-challenge. So next month, I’ve decided to do an Achieve All The Things August Challenge (AATTAC)!

This started as a personal challenge to myself, but I got to thinking…  Self-challenges are fun, but group challenges are EVEN BETTER! Therefore, I’d also like to extend the invitation for other writers to participate with me in the AATTAC!

*stares at acronym*

Um, does anyone else think that looks kind of like the word “attack”?



Okay, name change…

This is now the August Attack Challenge! In which we shall attack our goals and achieve ALL THE THINGS!

The rules are simple:

1. Set a writing-related goal (or goals) for the month of August – this can be drafting, revising, editing, whatever…

2. Work like crazy to achieve that goal.

You don’t have to set a ginormous, suck-the-life-out-of-you goal, but don’t go easy on yourself, either. This is supposed to be a *challenge,* after all. ;)

So, what are my goals for the month?

1. Complete the first big revision of my current MS (Ice Story)
2. Write at least 20,000 new words in the WIP that I’m drafting (Dagger Story)

Okay, I’m ready for this! How about you?

*rubs hands together*

*peers at calendar*

Is it August yet…? ;)