Below find a Q&A with author William Richter, who is celebrating the release of his YA crime novel, DARK EYES (Razorbill, March 2012). Richter describes the book as a “gateway thriller — meaning it’s an adult-style crime story but told from the point of view of young central characters.” (Sounds very cool!) It’s his debut YA book, and I always enjoy spotlight up-and-coming authors on my GLA Blog. Read on to learn more
What’s the book about?
Wally Stoneman, 16, a privileged Upper West Side girl now living a rebellious life on the streets of New York City, sets out on a thrilling and dangerous quest to find Yalena Mayakova, her Russian biological mother who–it turns out–has been living nearby all the years of Wally’s childhood, watching over her.
Where do you write from?
I live and write in Santa Monica, California, which is pretty close to being a writer’s paradise. I generally work at home, but libraries and fee-based writer’s offices are options that I use occasionally, when I need a change of setting.
What led up to this book?
I’ve been a working screenwriter for many years, but had taken some time out recently to write a comedic crime novel, COOLER HEADS, a book that I’m proud of and enjoyed working on. I really like the book writing process–it’s sort of a consciousness-shifting exercise for me, to go from screen form to prose and back, and I think the experience made me a stronger writer in both categories. When the story idea for DARK EYES came to me, I thought it was something I’d really have fun doing in prose form, so I just dove in!
Time frame for writing the book?
I had been working on a spec screenplay called QUIVER (which is now currently in pre-production, scheduled to shoot next fall). There was a lot of interest in the script when my screenwriting agent–Robert Lazar at ICM in Los Angeles–started shopping it, but the process took a while, as it often does. To maintain my sanity during that stressful time, I began working hard on DARK EYES, and I think my first draft was probably 6-8 months in gestation. I suppose writing the novel was almost a therapeutic thing–I was self-medicating through literature.
How did you find your agent?
I met my publishing agent–the lovely, gracious and whip-smart Kari Stuart–through my screenwriting agent. They are both with ICM, but on different coasts.
What were your 1-2 biggest learning experience(s) or surprise(s) throughout the publishing process?
Until now (my first novel was self-published) I was never really aware of all the behind-the-scenes steps that go into the successful release of a book. It’s a long process, with so many phases, and it’s been a great feeling to know that while I’m doing my job–the writing–there are a bunch of folks who are taking care of everything else, expertly and quietly (maybe only quiet because I’m three thousand miles away!) The folks at Razorbill–starting of course with my publisher, Ben Schrank, and my editor, Anne Heltzel–have worked hard to pull everything together while I’ve been doing my own thing.
Looking back, what did you do right that helped you break in?
This is easy: I kept an open mind. When I first wrote DARK EYES, I hadn’t really thought about who my target audience was… it was just a story I was excited about, featuring Wally Stoneman–a sixteen year old girl–as its central character. My agent, Kari Stuart, came back to me and basically said I had written a YA novel, whether I knew it or not. Instead of resisting her input, I took a step back and realized she was right. I got excited about the book all over again, in a new context. Within 24 hours, I dove in and worked hard for a couple months on revisions, re-focusing the story as a young adult thriller. I turned the new manuscript in to Kari, and within a month, I think, we had our deal at Razorbill/Penguin.
Did you have a platform in place?
I had nothing in place, but with the help of Kari Stuart and Razorbill/Penguin I’m starting to get that stuff going, building up a presence online and so forth. This is a particular struggle for me, because I was born without a self-promotion gene. I mean, saying nice things about myself or my work is a kind of torture, and I used to just get all embarrassed and self-deprecating. It’s still a struggle, but I’m making a conscious effort to change that, and the online side of the promotional process is a good place to start–no one can see me blush or squirm (turn off that webcam!)
Plus Twitter, of course (@Will_H_Richter) and an author page on Facebook (William Richter)
My next book is TIGER–the sequel to DARK EYES. I’m finishing up the first draft right now, and I’m really having fun with it. Plus, I already can’t wait to see what sort of cover the folks at Razorbill/Penguin come up with.
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