Friday, February 5, 2010

Friday Feature: Journeys Toward Publication and Beyond: A. Grey

I am happy to welcome A. Grey to this week's Friday Feature. I stopped over at her blog a while back, and became instantly enamored with her funny blog posts. She is open and honest and boy, does she know how to tell a story! Make sure to click over and check it out (after reading through the interview and leaving her a question in the comments, of course).

Here's a glimpse: A. Grey is 29. She was raised running barefoot in the mountains and hollows (pronounced holler) with her identical twin sister and has been writing since she learned how to hold a pen. Her days are spent throwing hay bales, driving tractors, riding horses and working on an all-girl staffed farm. Her favorite word is indomitable and she prefers to hear women use it in three word sentences that begin with 'I am'.

Welcome, A. Grey. What are you currently working on?

Right now my two main WIPs are a retelling of Beauty and the Beast titled 'Thornbriar', and an urban fantasy titled 'I'll Love You Forever'. Both are YA. Thornbriar was born out of my love for the story of Beauty and the Beast, but also my frustrations with Beauty's perfection and the fact that the Beast (in almost every rendition of the story) is reduced to 'Mr. Perfect' by the end. In 'Thornbriar', Beauty is a haughty, egotistical young Lady sold into marriage with the Beast King by her father for a hefty profit. But there is more to the kingdom of Althea than any outsider could suspect. There is a curse and breaking it might well bring about the downfall of the entire kingdom.

'I'll Love You Forever' was a story that just flew into my head one day. It follows eighteen year old Perla as she struggles against a growing apathy towards the world around her brought on by the drunken, careless acts of a driver which left her father dead and her younger stepbrother in a coma. Although Perla's best friend Niamh tries to help her and warns Perla that her flippant remarks can hurt people or cause even worse trouble, Perla just doesn't care anymore. But when she promises to love a total stranger forever if he can make her brother wake up and recover, Perla finds out how right Niamh was. Trapped in a world parallel to her own, bound to the Goblin King by her brash vow and condemned to try and breech the massive Labyrinth that confines him and his minions Perla has no choice but to care what happens. If she succeeds in rescuing the Goblin King, her little brother will get his life back. But if she fails, they'll both die.

What stage are you at, currently, in your journey toward publication?

At this point I'm shopping a YA titled 'Evernow' to prospective agents. I've had two requests for fulls. One of those ended in a pass, but the agent was very supportive and felt the manuscript is destined to both land me an agent and get published. That was great to hear, even if I was getting a pass. I haven't heard back from the other agent who requested a full yet, which I'm hoping is a good thing. I have several other queries out and I'm trying not to obsessively check my email. I think the only thing that has surprised me about this stage is how stressful it's been. It brings home to me how serious I am about my own success.

What made you start to write seriously?

Oddly enough, for me, writing has always been very serious. Not in the way of becoming a 'successful writer' but because writing is something fundamentally necessary for me to be happy. I wrote on and off as a child but began writing long, complicated stories when I was fourteen. The point at which it became something I knew I couldn't live without was when my father gave me a 'nice' Papermate pen when I was fifteen. It's been nothing but stacks of paper and ink-stained fingers since then.

If you had to pick a favorite blog, what would it be?

One? ONE? Had to like my hand was going to get cut off if I didn't pick JUST ONE? *sigh* I'm going to go with Kristin Cashore's This Is My Secret. This is because I've learned so much, about Kristin, about writing, about the process of publication, about the planet, about EVERYTHING from her blog. It's a font of knowledge, a plethora of lessons about what it is to write and to be a writer. I can say easily that I wouldn't be where I am with my own writing if not for Kristin's graciously giving nature in her blog. Recently she has disabled comments on her blog (a temporary setting) so that she can focus on her current writing project and not be drawn into interacting with her blog readers, but I still recommend This Is My Secret to anyone interested in writing, just as I'd recommend Kristin's books 'Graceling' and 'Fire' to anyone who loves to read!

What is your favorite blog post that you have written?

I think I have to say it was one called Gutter Maintenance. It still makes me laugh now, which is always a good thing.

What online resource have you found most helpful?

Does Blogger count? Because thus far I've met a lot of great people, learned a lot of great, important things (still learning) and been given some awesome opportunities, all through Blogger. Agent Query is a close second.

What has been your biggest trial in writing?

Just in the writing process itself? Technology! Without a doubt! I write longhand and love it. I don't even mind transcribing it to the computer because that's when I do my first big overhaul edit. But formatting, and manipulating the computer files? Not so much... Luckily my sister's hubby, code name Chucky Duck, is willing to constantly rescue me. Well, and commas. I stick them everywhere. I embarrass myself with my commas.

What tricks have you acquired to make you write or create when you don’t feel up to writing?

One trick I've nailed is that when I don't feel up to writing, I don't write. Instead, I edit. I fool myself into it by insisting that I'll just 'read this one section' (I go for something I've finished or something other than my main WIP) and once I start reading I inevitably start tweaking things and before I know it, I've gotten a bunch of 'boring' stuff done. I started doing this when I started looking at my writing as a business of sorts. I don't think you have to create every day if you don't 'feel' it. I actually passed up a full scholarship to an art college because they were so focused on 'produce, produce, produce'. Most of my friends who went to similar colleges burned out because of that commercial drive. But I DO believe that you have to do something every day to further your progress in some way. If you can't do that before you've landed and agent or publishing contract, how will you be able to afterwards?

Tell us about a book that has impacted your writing life.

The most profound would be Dragons of Autumn Twilight, along with the rest of the Dragonlance trilogy all by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. They were the first books whose characters really took me with them on their adventures. They were the books that made me want other people to know MY characters that way. Right on top of the Dragonlance trilogy, and too close not to mention, is Villains by Necessity, by Eve Forward. This was the first book that made me sob for love of one of the characters, and tremble with fear of what might happen to him in the coming pages. I want people to cry for my characters. I want to move the 'here and now' with my writing.

What is your practical goal with your writing? Do you have a reach-for-the-stars goal that you would like to share?

My practical goal is to be successfully published. And by successful I mean successful enough that I can continue to be published for as long as I write. I don't need to be the next Stephen King, or randomly and wildly popular Stephenie Meyers. But it'd be nice to make enough to live quietly on. My reach-for-the-stars goal is to change people with my writing. If I find out some day that the course of a person's life was changed because of the way one of my books made them feel about themselves (obviously in a good way) that would be the ultimate. To think that something I wrote inspired them, or gave them strength or a sense of being. That'd be IT.

So far, what has been the best part of your writing experience?

Meeting people and finding out, after thinking of myself as 'weird' my whole life, and then trying to 'fit in' when I started writing for fear of being dismissed, that weird is good in the writing world, and that people like you just fine that way.

If you could be a character in a book, and live within their world, what character would you be?

Actually, I think I'd choose to be a character from one of my own manuscripts named Pony. She has this gregarious nature, and yet an assertive authority. She's very comfortable being loved by all her friends and family, never met a stranger and is a good judge of people. She can be fiercely protective and openly affectionate, sometimes at the same moment.

And, just because I’m curious, coffee or tea?

Oooh. Both! I love a good cup of joe, straight black and strong. Occasionally I'll go for a white chocolate mocha with hazelnut. But black's my go to. I do, however, adore tea as well. Usually when I eat out I'll have hot tea, and when it comes to writing in stints I drink tea more than coffee because I'm already amped up with the writing, so the tea smooths my energy transfer to the paper rather than making me jittery. But I have been known to sit into the wee hours with the coffee pot beside me...

A. Grey, Thanks for the insightful answers! Everyone, make her feel welcome by leaving a question in the comments--she'll be stopping by to answer them.


  1. How validating to hear such positive remarks from an agent. I think that could carry me for at least a year! Good luck!

  2. A Grey--Thanks so much for the great interview! It sounds like you have a lot of ideas and WIP that you work on simultaneously. How do you balance it all to get a manuscript all the way to polished completion?

  3. Great interview!
    Good luck with Evernow. It sounds like you've gotten some encouraging feedback.
    And your WIPs sound really interesting, too.

    Lot's of research has come out lately that points toward running barefoot as a way for runners to avoid injury.

    Do you still run barefoot?

  4. Wow, Heather, top-notch pick, once again.

    A. Grey, first off, coolest name.

    I love commas too, a little too much, and sometimes they just snicker when you inappropriately place them.

    Your farm life sounds very different, I live on a tiny hobby farm. Have your experiences on the farm shown up in characters of your books? I just realized my answer to that question is no.

    And finally, weird is not only good in the writing world, it gets you noticed!

    Thanks for such animated answers, I feel like I really know Pony, err, you.

  5. Thornbriar sounds like an intriguing manuscript!! Great interview!! I'll check out her blog right now!

  6. I'm a big fan of Kristin Cashore's blog too. She always posts such interesting things! And to echo what others have said, Thornbriar sounds great!

  7. A. Grey, great to meet you! I love to hear about your process and not feeling up to producing. That sounds like a great strategy. I probably already do it to some extent but it is nice to have it articulated--it makes it seem so justified. Do you have a regular schedule? Are you an everyday writer?

    Your characters sound awesome and I love the names!

  8. Thanks for the comments everyone! I'll be stopping back throughout the day to try and answer questions. I admit that I totally forgot what day it was until Heather sent me an email letting me know the post was up! I'm in VA and we're plotting survival strategies for the blizzard... so it's been all hay stacking and pony organizing.

    Heather- I really don't know. Sometimes I work straight through on just one ms (the YA I'm shopping to agents now was like that) others I'll write back and forth on and then I'll take a break once they're fully written out and go back later for the edits.

    Paul- I'm still barefoot almost all the time. Working on a horse farm, obviously boots are a must, but I go out to my own barn barefooted, and occasionally hop on one of the guys bareback, and barefooted. Yes, if I got stepped on it would stuck, but you'd be surprised how nimble and 'aware' you are when your toes are at stake!

    Jonathon- Glad you like my name :) The 'A' stands for Artemis, but in writing I though it sounded a little high drama, so I went with 'A' instead. That's a little mysterious too though. And actually, yes, experiences from the farm DO turn up in my writing. The character I listed that I'd like to be, Pony, was inspired by all things horse. That series was started while I was foal-watching one year. Pony works with horses and has a lot of experiences that were based on things that have actually happened to me over the years.

  9. I love that about being indomitable. That's just a great word all around.

    I've only just discovered Kristin's blog, but it looks like I need to take a gander at the archives.

    Good luck on your YA!

  10. I just discovered this blog yesterday, and to my surprise I come here today to find a lovely interview with A.Grey! (I am a daily visitor to her blog, so it was very nice to see her over here too)


  11. Thank you Heather for hosting an interview with me! There, I said it. I totally forgot to say thank you to you directly in my first comment. I wrote a post, about forgetting things, in which I remembered that I'd forgotten to thank you. :D Now I've fixed it. But I've lost a ring, so I'll be back later, after I've hopefully remembered where the ring is...

  12. Loved the interview! How long did it take you to write your two WIPs? Did having two at once make it more difficult? Congrats on the positive feedback - best of luck!!

  13. Christi--Thanks so much for stopping by! What a nice coincidence!

    A. Grey--I hope you found your ring.

    Lisa--Good questions! I can't wait to hear the answers.

  14. Thanks for the shout out Christi :)

    Lisa- It totally depended on each one. I've dragged along sometimes, and other times I've steamrolled right through. And equine drama has an undeniable affect on my writing simply because high drama with the ponies usually involves high levels of physical labor, which means I go to sleep and drool on my notebook in the evenings, regardless of my enthusiasm for whatever I'm working on. As for two (or more) at once, it was sort of an acquired taste. At first, I simply couldn't do it. I had one thing I was working on. I'd start others, but I'd remain obsessive about the one. The more I've written, the more of a taste I've developed for drifting from project to project, still getting work done on each one. And I go back to the YA I'm peddling to agents once in a while too. Folks thought I was nuts working on several things at once. Then I found out that Stephen King sometimes has double digit WIPs. So now I just tell everyone who questions me about that. :)

    Heather, thank you again. And I found the ring. My mother actually had it in a totally random spot that made us both scratch our heads. It was a phone in the fridge moment to be sure.

    And thank you again everyone for the questions and comments and wishes for luck! It makes me crazy excited to be on this journey, knowing that there are folks out there like you all! And I'm glad for the interest in Thornbriar. I've been sort of afraid that people would roll their eyes at the thought of another retelling of something well known. There seem to be a little tide of those coming into the market right now. And some of them are wonderful indeed. Ahem... Ash by Malinda Lo, for one, and Ice by Sarah Beth Durst, for another... not to peddle, but both are great and Ash is Malinda's debut so a big woot to her for her success!!!

  15. Fun!

    I've never been to her fav blog and am going there NOW!

  16. Tina, Heather just pointed out that I've missed your questions, sorry about that! And they're great questions too.

    As to scheduling, I've never been very good at that sort of thing, so it's something that is beginning to develop and manifest in a solid manner the more that I write. When I first really began writing, I was so uncontrollably compulsive that I carried small notebooks in my pocket and would stop in the middle of my regular work to write. Not just make a note, but write entire scenes, pages sometimes, which obviously made me a very inefficient worker. Thank goodness I work on a horse farm, and they know me and love me. A friend used to swear that I had hypergraphia because I was so obsessive.

    Now, I've become disciplined enough to write on breaks, although I'm bad to start first thing in the morning after I get up, and then be late because of it. Waiting is also good, I've learned, because if I stew on a scene or piece of dialog long enough, it's much more polished when I do put it down and requires less editing later. I do still carry little notebooks for scratching out ideas though.

    I'm definitely and everyday writer! There are times, during very high stress, physical or mental, when I don't write for several days. But usually I'm still going over whatever I'm working on in my head, mapping out what's going to happen next and the like. There have been a couple of times when I couldn't even do that because I was in such distress over something (sister's brother's mother's death, cancer scare with my dog) but normally I just can't turn off that part of my brain. Even when things are bad, I find myself asking "What would (enter character here) do?" Or, taking whatever the situation is and morphing it into something I could throw at one of my characters.

    I'm glad you like my characters and their names! I love naming new characters. I probably like that task too much. And I adore coming up with new characters themselves, finding those little things that make them who they are. Little personal things like the way Jean-Luc Picard always straightened his uniform whenever he stood up. That cements my geekism to Platinum status, I know. But it's those mannerisms that make memorable characters. Even if (like Patrick Stewart who HAD to do that because the costume bunched) you need a character to do something simply because later that habit will become important to the plot, a little thing like straightening a uniform can define a character's personality.

  17. Oh, and now that I rambled ridiculously in response to Tina's questions I forgot to say that if I should disappear and not answer any new questions, it most likely means that the power went off... or that I was dragged into an unexplored ice cave by a wampa and have not yet been rescued. Little more geeking out for you there...

  18. A.--I love that you ask yourself "what would (your character)do?" when things happen to you in real life. That is such a cool technique.

    And I forgot to mention that I love the 'I am indomitable'. I'm going to start repeating that to myself! If there are any latecomers to the party, please, feel free to still leave a message or question for A. Grey!

  19. How fun! I follow A. Grey's blog and her posts make me laugh, too.
    Fun interview, Heather.

  20. A.Grey - I started Fire late last night and the first fifty pages are so gripping! I have followed Kristin's blog for a while (since before she turned comments off - wa). Would you compare your books to hers?

  21. Lori--I agree, A. Grey did a great job. Lots of fun.

    Jon--I'm jealous that you have all of Fire still ahead of you. I loved that book. I think I liked it just as much as Graceling. I'm waiting to see what A. Grey repies!

  22. I found your blog along with A. Greys today! I love that there are so many blogs that I haven't been to yet!!! I love the interview!!!

    I am excited to have you as a blog buddy! Look forward to more fun posts!

  23. Heather- I couldn't tell you when I started thinking about my characters that way. One day at work while I was trying to figure some problem out I said something aloud, but didn't realize it until my manager asked 'Who's Dreena?' I said 'What?' She shrugged and said, 'You just said 'This wouldn't happen to Dreena, she'd have just stepped over it' so I wondered who Dreena was.' That was the first time I realized how much I think about my characters. I don't think of them as 'real' and yet, they ARE, in their own way.

    And I'm so happy you love my indomitable motto! It really is probably my favorite word.

    Lori- Glad my posts make you laugh! I always say that I'd have to sell my bio as fiction because such absurdly silly things happen to me.

    Jonathon- Fire is AMAZING!!! I actually like it better than Graceling. I am irrevocably in love with Fire herself.

    Compare my books to Kristin's? I would love to... but I think I'd better go with I aspire for my books to be comparable with Kristin's. :) If I can make my characters as magnetically endearing as Kristin's, well, that really would be something.

    Jen- Glad to have you aboard! I'm still finding new blogs too. It's like an Easter egg hunt!

  24. Aspire is the modest way of comparing. I too like FIRE better, so far at least. On page 150, finishing tonight.