Teens Can Write, Too!

Changing the world's opinion… as soon as we finish this math homework

Interview With Author Vahini Naidoo

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Hey guys! So today we have a very special guest in our presence, which means: EVERYONE, ACT NORMALLY. (And hide the dead bodies.)

But seriously, I’m absolutely thrilled to have the honor of interviewing Vahini Naidoo, author of Fall To Pieces, a YA contemporary novel releasing from Marshall Cavendish on October 2nd, 2012. Here’s the blurb:

When your best friend dies, you’re supposed to know what happened. You’re supposed to know why.

But Ella has no idea what happened the night Amy jumped to her death. She has no idea why Amy would want to die.

Ella’s other friends, Mark and Petal, are hiding something. Ella thinks they know exactly what happened that terrible night. But they’re not talking. Instead, Ella, Mark, and Petal play Pick Me Ups—a game in which they jump from dangerous heights. And every time Ella falls, she begins to remember pieces of that night. . . 

It’s still not enough. So Ella brings a mysterious new guy into the group, hoping he will help shake things up and unearth the truth. But Ella’s “Explosive Boy” has secrets of his own.

And there may be some secrets that Ella doesn’t want to face. The truth—the real truth—about Amy’s death might just be more than she can handle.

(*hurries to Amazon to pre-order this ASAP*)

What inspired Fall To Pieces?

The idea for Fall to Pieces came to me, weirdly enough, as a response to one of Nathan Bransford’s contest prompts and was partially inspired by the presence of a garden gnome in my bedroom at the time. Nathan was running a contest on teen diary entries, and I wrote an entry that featured a girl jumping off a roof at a party, and landing in front of a garden gnome. The idea developed from there – over time it became a fully fleshed out novel, with a mystery at its core. The garden gnome still features in the manuscript!

How long did it take to write your manuscript? How many revisions did you do?

It took me about a month to write the manuscript. I actually wrote most of it during two weeks of examinations, as some sort of down-time from studying. So it was a fairly quick process. I did about three or four rounds of revision on it before it went on submission, and I’ve done another two since, with more still to come. There have definitely been a lot of major changes along the way!

Is it difficult to balance writing, school and other daily commitments?

Yes, of course. I think everyone has a tough time balancing writing with their other commitments – finding a work/life balance is one of the hardest things to do in anyone’s life. My strategy is fairly simple, though. I just try to write every day. Even if it’s just a sentence or two – and some days it really is impossible to do more – that’s still some kind of progress, and it’s still keeping my skills sharp.

What was it like leading up to The Call? (For those who don’t know, The Call = when a literary agent calls to offer you representation.) Were you so nervous that you couldn’t focus on anything? What was going through your mind while it took place? 

I didn’t actually have very much notice leading up to the call! I’d just given my agent my phone number, and she called me ten minutes later. I was nervous, yes, but I was also pretty much euphoric in those ten minutes leading up to the call. I’d been querying my manuscript for three months, had done a lot of revision requests and received a fair few rejections. So I was understandably excited that someone had loved my book.

When the phone rang, I didn’t actually think it would be an agent. And I didn’t pick up the phone. My dad did. He told me it was someone from America, and when I actually got onto the phone and it turned out to be my agent I did internally freak out a bit! Mostly, during the call I was asking some questions, thinking that the agency sounded really cool, and giggling like a little school girl (I was nervous, but too interested in what my agent was saying to really pay too much attention to how idiotic I must have sounded).

Fall to Pieces

Was this the first agent to show interest in your work? 

No, it wasn’t. I’d actually received an email from another agent offering representation about twenty minutes prior to the phone call. I sort of just woke up one morning and there were two offers (well, one offer to talk that looked very much like an offer of rep and one concrete offer of representation) in my inbox.

How does it feel to know that your book is going to be published? Is it a burden off your chest?

I actually don’t think about it all that often. Mostly, I forget that I’m going to be published until someone brings it up, or I’m working on Fall to Pieces or something. When I am thinking about it, it’s simultaneously exciting and terrifying!

It doesn’t really feel like a burden off my chest, or like a weight has been lifted, or anything. Mostly because being unpublished wasn’t really a weight to me, if that makes sense? It was definitely hard, experiencing rejection and being patient (that’s still hard for me!) waiting for editor and agent responses, but as long as I was writing I didn’t feel burdened in any way by that process. I mean writing and creating stories is what I really love to do, getting published and getting to share those stories is just the cherry on top of the ice cream sundae.

What would you say to skeptics of teen writing? Did you ever let their cynicism influence you?

I’d say that they have every right to be skeptical, but that there are plenty of amazing teen authors (and twenty-something authors) out there that prove this skepticism somewhat unnecessary. Veronica Roth, Hannah Moskowitz, Kat Zhang, Steph Bowe etc.

I actually did let people’s cynicism influence me in certain ways. For instance, I chose to hide my age when querying (largely because I think it’s irrelevant – and I strongly advise aspiring teen writers to not mention their ages for this reason –  but also because I was worried I’d be judged by that number rather than by my writing). There was also a point, when I was fourteen or so, when I thought I’d hold off querying until I was in my twenties, just because everyone seemed to be saying that teenagers couldn’t write decent novels. I obviously didn’t wind up doing that, and I’m happy with my decision.

What advice would you give to burgeoning teen writers?

The same advice that I’d give to any writer! Keep writing, keep putting your work out there. The only way to really know whether or not something is good, is to throw it out into the world and see what feedback you get. If it’s nothing but white noise and static, you go back and write something new, and throw that out there and see what happens. Often, though, the feedback that you get while querying, or on submission will improve your craft exponentially. I know this was the case for me, and it’s why I’m so glad that I didn’t wait out on querying until I was in my twenties. I’m sure that reviews and other responses to my work once it’s published, will also help me grow as a writer.

What is like to work with an editor on critiquing your book? Is this done on paper, MS Word, Google Docs, etc.?

Working with an editor is fantastic! Mine is so insightful, her comments are always really astute and detailed. There are no two ways about the fact that feedback from Marilyn (my editor) has hugely improved Fall to Pieces, and taken it to a whole new level. I’m actually still working on edits – I think I’ll have one or two more rounds to go before the manuscript is ‘done’ – so it will be nice for me to see the evolution of my novel continue.

My editor prints off my manuscript, and makes comments throughout on the hardcopy. She also writes up an editorial letter, which is usually a couple of pages long, about overall changes that I should implement. She mails me the hardcopy, and then I work on the manuscript in Word (although I’m sure other writers use different programs, I think Word is fairly standard), and email it back to her. Rinse and repeat for the next round of edits, and the round after that.

What is your favorite aspect of your book?

I will always have a soft spot for the garden gnome that makes several appearances in Fall to Pieces, but my favorite aspect is probably the way that the mystery unravels at the end, with all the twists and reveals.

Thank you so much for stopping by, Vahini!

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About Michael Waters

I'm Michael, I'm eighteen, and I blog about YA books for Barnes & Noble.

One comment on “Interview With Author Vahini Naidoo

  1. Pingback: Writing Advice, Agent Interviews, Teen Authors, And More | Teens Can Write, Too!

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