Monday, August 19, 2013

Aspiring Writers Series #8: Wendy Higgins

Does that name appear familiar to you?  Yes, no, maybe?  Well, it should!  Wendy Higgins is the author of the Sweet Trilogy and the upcoming self-published novel, See Me*.  I happened to follow her on twitter (because I'm nearly finished with Sweet Evil) and she followed back!  Not only that, but she responds to tweets and is happy to talk about anything!  I'm incredibly honored she took the time to be interviewed (since I threw many questions at her) and would recommend her writing to everyone!

The Sweet Trilogy grapples with the concept of good and evil.  How did you come up with such a universal theme and make it so unique?
~ "Good and Evil" are never black and white for me. I've always believed we're each capable of both. Life is hard enough, and then our vices are always pulling us down. I thought it'd be interesting to show a girl who has that inherent goodness and bad urges, just like humans, only on a more severe level. At the time I hadn't read any other YA angel novels, so I thought it'd be a fun subject to explore. 

On your site, you discuss writing the first book as bits and fitting them all together like a puzzle.  How was it like writing that way, and do you still do it when writing today?
~ I try not to write like that anymore because it requires heavy rewriting, which is very time consuming. That first book came to me in such a passionate rush - I had no choice but to write it as it came to me, in fear that I'd lose it all if I didn't! But subsequent books have been a steadier process. I've had to think and plot and plan ahead. Honestly, I don't have a method. Every book is different, and I just go with it!

You posted your story on inkpop before publishing it.  Many of my readers have accounts on FictionPress, and it's also where I got my start.  What is your personal opinion on posting stories online as opposed to writing a book and trying to get it published without using platforms like that?  What did you learn from your experience there?
~ It really depends. Some people don't need to post/share online because they have reading friends or writing groups who can critique them. I didn't have that, so I found people online who could give me feedback, and I'd give them feedback in return. It was an extraordinary experience, and I'm still close friends with many of the people I met on Inkpop. Working on your project "babies" together, and sharing the joys and struggles of writing/publishing is a bonding experience.

Did you learn anything about your personal beliefs tackling themes like good and evil, God, and religion?  (My book, AWAKEN, tackles similar themes, meshing biblical themes and mythology together, and the more I wrote, the more I discovered about my own personal beliefs which had originally been pretty generic.  It's actually why I started reading your book, because I love the different way writers interpret things like redemption, being damned, forgiveness, etc.) 
~ I've always been a spiritual person, so I didn't shy away from the Bible angle and mentioning God/Lucifer. It just seemed natural to me to bring those elements into a story about angels and demons. I worried that people would be turned off by it, but most seem to enjoy the lore. I think every person in the entire world asks themselves questions about life and creation at some point. I don't think a fictional book can change anyone's core beliefs, but there's no harm in pondering things.

Who is your favorite character to write and why?
~ Anna is the best friend I wish I'd had. It's sweet and endearing to be in her mind. But my favorite scenes by far are the ones with Kaidan in them. He really makes me push myself as a writer - trying to balance the sensual tension he brings - that love/hate relationship we have with him. I have to reveal just enough of what he's thinking/feeling, but not too much. He's a challenge.

What is your favorite scene you wrote for any of the books in the trilogy and why?
~ Chapter 17 - First Sacrifice - when Kai says "no." That was the very first scene that came to me when I first imagined this angel/demon girl and the son of Lust who she'd fall for. I felt this passionate connection between them right away. I had no idea where the scene would take place (I originally imagined them on the couch at her apartment!) or at what point of the story it would happen, but I knew it would be the pivotal scene in the book - the big moment when everything changes.

What inspires you to write?
~ Life.  And an active imagination that's always craving something.

How do you deal with writer's block?
~ I allow myself to take a step back. Do some beta reading for friends. Then try to dive back in. It's hard. I've had to force myself to write one slow word at a time.

What are you reading now?
~ Legend by Marie Lu

How does it feel concluding a trilogy?  Should we expect to see the characters again?
~ It feels amazing, and so much more emotional than I expected. I'm already brainstorming possible novellas I can write with the Sweet characters!

You have a new YA book entitled See Me.  Since I'm Irish, I obviously can't wait to read it.  Could you please tell us a little bit about it and what inspired you to write it?  Can we preorder it anywhere?
~ It's not available for preorder since it's a self-publication. It'll hopefully go live on October first!  :)
~ See Me is set in Ireland, but it doesn't really deal with modern Irish people. It's fantastical creatures, so their language is more like Ireland a few hundred years ago, lol. I've always been obsessed with Ireland, even though I've never been (I'm dying to go!)  I knew I wanted to write a story set there, so I started researching the mythology of the country and voila!  I got an idea.  I wanted to write something very different from my Sweet books. I wanted to color outside the lines and conventions of usual YA fantasy, and I think I did, but it's definitely different. Not everyone will love it, but I hope everyone will have fun with it.

Any advice on how to make something stereotypically unsexy (like leprechauns) into dashing, believable heroes readers will legitimately fall in love with?  Was it difficult or easier than you expected? 
~ If you focus on building your characters individually, bringing out every nuance of their personality, and playing off the emotions of your main character, the feelings will *hopefully* come to life for the reader, regardless of what type of creature you're dealing with.

From my experience with your writing, you tend to write things that wouldn't normally fall within the category of what's trending in YA.  Does it scare you to be left of center, or does it thrill you that your work is so unique?
~ I'm not kidding when I say that I don't think of trends AT ALL when I'm writing.  I write what's fun for me.  I write what I think is sexy.  If I think an idea is intriguing, I run with it and think about category, etc, afterward.  It's both thrilling and frightening to be out of the norm, though.  The publisher took a big chance on the Sweet books. They weren't willing to put it in hardback or anything like that, and I think they've been surprised by the positive reception.  I know I certainly have!  :)

Please describe your daily writing process.
~ I get nothing done in the summer.  But during the school year I run my daughter to elementary school and my son to preschool. I then dash off to write/edit as much as possible during the few childfree hours I have.  After that I have to wait until evening when the kids are in bed to work again.  Unfortunately I need complete quiet to write, and I have to be alone.  It's hard to get quiet time around here, lol.  

How did you acquire your agent?
~ Through the online query slush pile.

What did it feel like, getting the news that you would be a published author?
~ It was beyond thrilling.  I bawled my eyes out from the disbelief and joy.  Being published was a childhood dream come true.

Do you have anything you're working on now?
~ I'm finishing up the final revision of See Me this month, and then I have a new story idea that I'd love to begin working on!  It's a YA contemporary.  We'll see if the inspiration stays with me or leaves. Or if something else raises its head.  I'm up for anything

Why did you decide to self-publish?
~ My publisher passed on my Irish fantasy titled See Me, and I figured most of the other publishers would think it's too risky, as well. I have several great writing friends who are enjoying self-publishing success, so I wasn't afraid of those waters. I've been there through their experiences, and I'm excited to give it a try myself!

How much creative license did you get in terms of editing, book cover, and release dates?
~ Through my traditional publisher (HarperTeen) I am given a lot of freedom when it comes to editing. My editor and I make a good team as far as seeing eye to eye on the story content.  But in terms of book cover and release date, I have no say-so in any of that.  My editor will generally show me the covers to see if I like them, but if I don't it's not like they're going to spend the money to change them, you know? The editorial and design teams at the publisher work their magic as best they can.

How do you plan on marketing it?
~ Well, I'm lucky to already have a fan base from my Sweet Trilogy, so I don't have to start from scratch like many self-published authors.  I don't plan to market any differently than I already am.  My plan is to be available to readers - to interact and have fun with them. Goodreads, Twitter, and Facebook are wonderful platforms for self-published authors to get the word out about their books.

Would you self-publish again?
~ Yes.  It's been nice to have the control.  And I love being able to get a book out in months rather than years.  I hate making people wait.  

Was there tension between your publishing house and yourself once they passed and you decided to take the self-publishing route?
~ Not at all, actually. The only contacts I have at the publishing house are my editor and my marketing girl. It's a professional relationship, and lots of books get turned down. My editor felt bad that she couldn't get See Me through acquisitions. She tried. All is well, and she said she'd be happy to read anything else that I write, especially if it's contemporary.

What about the story did you feel needed to be told? It's incredibly inspiring that despite rejection, you're pushing on and saying, "No, this is a good story.  I believe people will benefit from reading this.  I want to get this out there in my own way."
~ It's just a neat story for me because it's unconventional and different. It was so incredibly fun to write. I got lost in the magic and fantasy, and my beta readers adored it. They've been pushing me to get it out there for two years now. It took a whole year before my agent would even sub it.  (She was  wary for many of the same reasons as the publisher was, lol.)  

What are major differences between self-publishing and traditional publishing?  Where does your agent fit into all of this?
~ Normally an agent doesn't go on board with a self-publication, except to handle foreign rights, etc. But since my agent helped me revise and subbed it for me, I felt like she should get a cut from the self-publication profits. 
~ The major differences are that traditional publishing can take 12-24 months, while self-publication is more like 3-6 months. Traditional publishers can get books on shelves of B&N and The Book Depository, while self-published authors cannot. Self-published authors have to search for hours on stock image sites to find possible covers, and then pay someone to design it, or do it themselves (this is fun, but tiring - there are positives and negatives to both sides of the cover creation.)  With traditional publishing you get a whole editing crew and several editing passes. This is awesome.  I love the editing process. Self-published authors need to have critique partners to give feedback and help edit. Then you can either pay someone to do line edits, or you can put it out there as is. (I'm having mine edited by a brilliant editing friend.)  I got lucky because I have friends willing to help me out for free at every stage of the process!
The biggest difference is the pay.  I get 6% on paperback sales and 25% ebook sales from my traditional publisher.  As a self published author I'll get 70% of the ebook royalties!  And I'm not sure what percentages are for paperback, but I know I'll be getting close to $2 per paperback sale vs. $.50 that I get from traditional paperback sales. 
It's crazy.  Writing is not about the money, but it will be nice to financially contribute to my family.  Especially since I spend tons of money on swag and mailings each year (a good chunk of my income goes right back to fans, as do the incomes of many authors, and we don't get paid nearly as much as people assume, unfortunately.) 
So, as you can see there are good and bad elements on both sides of publishing. Nothing is going to be perfect, and no two authors' experiences are the same.

Thanks for having me, Heather!


About Wendy
After earning a bachelors in Creative Writing from George Mason University and a masters in Curriculum and Instruction from Radford, Wendy taught high school English until becoming a mommy. Writing Young Adult (YA) stories gives her the opportunity to delve into the ambiguities of those pivotal, daunting, and exciting years before adulthood.
She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband, daughter, and son. Sweet Evil is her debut novel.


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