Last Saturday, I had the chance to interview New York Times bestselling author Becca Fitzpatrick, who had book signing events at National Book Store Glorietta 1 and Ayala Center Cebu over the weekend.
Becca Fitzpatrick is famous for her “Hush, Hush” saga, comprised of the novels “Hush, Hush,” “Crescendo,” “Silence” and “Finale.” The young adult paranormal romance saga is centered around Nora Grey, who is drawn to the mysterious Patch, a fallen angel whose fate is intertwined with hers. I read “Hush, Hush” in time for the interview, and the genre — plus the fallen angels theme — isn’t my cup of tea. As YA paranormal characters go, Nora wasn’t really a standout for me and beyond the mysterious, brooding image, Patch doesn’t strike me as a particularly likeable character. I did appreciate the mythology — part of the puzzle has been revealed in the first book, and while the poses more questions than the answers it gives, I felt that it had let out enough rope on the anchor for the next books. I was actually apprehensive about reading the book because I’ve heard and read a lot of criticism on the series, and while I can’t judge the whole series on the basis of one book, I thought that it wasn’t half bad, and for a debut novel, the prose was clean and a lot more readable compared to its contemporaries in the popular genre.
What I was more excited about, actually, was Becca Fitzpatrick’s upcoming standalone novel, “Black Ice,” set for release in October. It’s a YA thriller about Britt Pfeiffer, who is geared up to backpack across the Teton mountains of Wyoming with her best friend, but ends up abducted by two fugitives who force her into guiding them off the mountain in exchange for their life. One of the fugitives, Mason, confuses Britt with his kindness, but as Britt uncovers evidence of serial murders across their trail, Britt isn’t sure who she can trust. As luck would have it, Becca had brought over a delightful surprise for those of us who had attended the bloggers’ forum prior to her signing: ARCs of “Black Ice,” which prompted squees (!) all around.
Based on that premise, I thought “Black Ice” would be a unique offering for the YA genre, and I was eager to get started — I was actually reading the first few pages while waiting in line to get the ARC signed. I settled down to read the book after dinner that same night, and I couldn’t put it down. Britt’s a solid character, speaking in first person but not neurotic or whiny, and she appeared very real to me. Mason shares the mysterious appeal of Patch from “Hush, Hush” but I think Becca Fitzpatrick pulls it off more gracefully this time, picking exactly the right moments to show facets of the male protagonist’s character. The setting makes a perfect background for the novel, too; I thought the Tetons were beautiful and scary at the same time, and the cold being described in the novel was perfect for conditioning my mind against our current summer heat.
“Black Ice” works both as a thriller and a YA romance. As a thriller it was well-plotted: the clues are deftly layered, and the story moves along at a riveting pace, even past the big reveal. I sussed it out early on, but knowing “whodunit” didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the novel, which is exactly how a thriller should be. As a YA romance, it’s successful as well, even with the Stockholm Syndrome aspect thrown in. On top of the physical danger that the characters face, Britt’s internal conflict is compounded by the palpable romantic tension between the characters, and the emotional pull of this book is heightened all around (in other words, Oh, the feels!) .
“Black Ice” comes out in October, but you can read a preview on Becca Fitzpatrick’s site. There’s also a playlist for “Black Ice” which definitely amped up the reading experience for me (even with Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus thrown in there :p).
Meanwhile, here’s the transcript of my interview with Becca Fitzpatrick:
Q: How did this trip to the Philippines materialize?
A: In February, National Book Store invited me to come out and do a book tour here, and I was so excited because for years now, my Filipino fans have been asking me on Twitter to “Please come out [here],” and it just felt so good to be able to say “Yes, of course, I’m coming!”
Q: How did you get into writing?
A: I remember being a little girl and wanting to be a writer, but only because I saw the movie “Romancing the Stone,” where the main character is a romance writer and I wanted my life to be like her life. She hunts for treasure and falls in love with a handsome guy. I do remember wanting that, but I didn’t seriously consider writing until my 24th birthday, and that was when my husband surprised me by enrolling me in a writing class as my birthday present.
I understand you took a different career path?
In college I studied Health, which was kind of a worthless degree (laughs); I really didn’t do anything with that. Writing was a big change from that.
But did you continue writing even through all of that?
Growing up, all the way through my college years, I always wrote in my journal. I was really faithful about doing that. I liked going home at night and recording all the things that had happened to me and I had noticed about people, but yeah, I didn’t start really writing fiction. I wrote stories as a little girl, here and there but I didn’t write seriously until I was put in that class.
Q: So Hush, Hush was a product of that class? Was it a guided process?
A: I remember finishing a draft in that class, but I continued to rewrite “Hush, Hush” for five years after that class before the book sold. I received over a hundred rejection letters from publishers during that time period. After I had continuously sent it out and revised it, I kept doing that and finally found my agent, and my agent submitted it to publishers. It was really interesting, because after five years of hearing, “The story isn’t good enough,” all of a sudden, somebody wanted it. Simon and Schuster in the US bought the book.
Q: How did you put together the mythology for the series?
A: When I was in high school, I read the Old Testament, and Nephilim and fallen angels are both mentioned there. I felt like I had this foundation for the story based on what I had read in the Bible, and then the rest of it I kind of just used my imagination on how to apply these mythical creatures to the modern-day world.
When I wrote the first draft, there weren’t fallen angels, but Patch was one of the lead characters; he was always the hero of the story. I knew that he had a deep, dark secret, like he was this bad boy and I knew there was something about him and I didn’t know what it was. As the drafts went along, I kept thinking, what had caused him to become this bad boy? It kind of struck me that the fallen angels were the original bad boys; they were the first ones to be kicked out of heaven, and it just seemed like a perfect fit for his character.
Q: Where were you when you found out that you made it to the New York Times Bestseller List?
A: I was driving in the car. I live in Colorado and I was driving to Utah, so I was somewhere in Wyoming when I got the call that I made the list. It was a surreal moment. I remember being shocked, and screaming, and asking, “Is this real?” It was crazy.
How has your life changed since then?
I feel like I now have a career, and my publisher’s been really supportive — they’re interested in new books. As for my personal life, it hasn’t really changed that much. I’m still a mom, I’m still a wife, I still have friends and go to things with them. Life’s pretty normal but one of the big changes is that I get the opportunity to travel, and I travel all the time now, which is really wonderful. I didn’t even have a passport before I published my first book, and now it’s filled with stamps from all over the world. It’s really exciting to go travel and meet people who really love the books — that’s the best part. It’s just amazing that this book you’ve spent five years writing, there are people all over the world who love it and share it with their friends. It’s really rewarding.
Q: Describe your writing process.
A: I’m an outliner, so I always have my stories outlined before I begin writing; that always helps me stay on track and not get writers block. I write during the day when my kids are at school. It usually takes me one year to write and edit a book.
Q: How did you deal with the pressure, especially as your books became more popular?
A: Not well. “Crescendo,” the second book was the hardest. There was so much pressure on me to make that book great, and I remember writing it and turning it to my editor and she didn’t like it at all. She thought I needed to trash that draft and just start over. That was really demoralizing, because I was on a time crunch, and she didn’t like the book. So I rewrote the book, and once I got through that, after I finished “Crescendo,” I felt like nothing would be as hard as that ever again. I felt like I got through the worst part of writing. During “Crescendo” there was a point where it got so hard, I told my agent I’m never going to write another book, that “Crescendo” would be the last one.
So that means you didn’t plan on writing all four books?
No, I actually planned for just the one, and then my editor asked for a sequel so I wrote “Crescendo” for my editor. Once I got through “Crescendo” and was done with the hard work of rewriting it, I realized that ok, the worst is over, and I was so in love with the characters that I wanted to keep going.
Q: Lauren Kate was over here a few years back and mentioned you were friends. What was it like, writing a series on the same subject in the same subgenre? Were you able to read each other’s works, compare notes?
A: No, we didn’t compare notes. Had the books come out at different times, people might have said, “Oh, they clearly copied each other.” The nice thing about it was the books came out within a couple months of each other, so I wasn’t too worried there were going to be a lot of comparisons.
A: I haven’t heard a date, the last I heard was that they have a screenplay finished; that’s all I know at this point.
You’re not involved with the film?
I’m not. I’d like to go visit the set once they start production, but yeah, it’s their interpretation.
Q: It’s also been adapted into a graphic novel, how did that happen?
A: The graphic novel publisher approached me about doing a book and the cool thing about that process was when they were doing initial sketches for Patch, they would send me a sketch and I would post it on my website and the fans would give feedback, and they would adjust the sketch according to the feedback. I really felt that fans were able to shape what Patch and Nora look like in the graphic novel, which is cool, because that makes it special for them.
Q; How do you feel that your work is crossing over and being adapted into these different media?
A: It’s exciting because it means it will reach more readers. There are people who love graphic novels and they will get the story that way, and if it becomes a movie, there are people who learn about Patch and Nora’s story that way.
How do you feel about e-books?
My husband and kids are big e-readers, and I’m still a hardcover kind of girl. I like my books. So we have both in our house.
I don’t read fan fiction, but I’m not opposed to it; people are welcome to write what they want.
Q: Speaking of books, what did you grow up reading? What are your favorite books?
A: I loved the “Little House on the Prairie” books. Anything by Roald Dahl, I loved “The Witches,” Matilda.” In high school, we didn’t really have YA fiction the way we do now, so I read a lot of classics: Wuthering Heights, Charles Dickens.
What books are you reading now? Who are your favorite authors?
Ooh, I love Sandra Brown, who writes romantic suspense. Diana Gabaldon, I love her Outlander series. As for young adult, Aprilynne Pike’s books and I loved “Divergent” along with the rest of the world.
Why do you think there are a lot of young adult books, like Divergent, that become so popular even outside the targeted age group?
I think because people are really passionate about these books, and they tell their friends, and their teachers and their parents. And that word of mouth creates a wildfire that sweeps through people. Plus, because these books are such part of pop culture, when you are in the know and you can talk about these books that puts you in the “in” crowd.
Q: You have new books in the pipeline?
A: “Black Ice” comes out in October of this year. It is about a seventeen year old girl named Britt, who goes backpacking in the Teton mountains with her best friend. While they’re up in the mountains, they’re abducted by two fugitives and in exchange for their lives, the girls agree to guide these fugitives off the mountain. Britt begins to fall for one of their captors, so there’s a bit of a Stockholm Syndrome going on there. There are no paranormal elements, but just like how in “Hush, Hush,” where the readers are never really sure if they can trust Patch, who is this dangerous bad boys, one of Britt’s captors, you’re never sure if he’s good or bad; he’s definitely a bad boy.
What made you decide to shift outside of the paranormal for this book?
I’ll let you in on a little secret, the first draft of “Black Ice” did have paranormal elements. My editor read it and felt strongly that we needed to cut those things. I wasn’t realizing I was making a shift, I thought I was still writing a paranormal story. It was in the editing that it got taken out.
Do you have any other books planned?
I have another book coming out in October 2015 called “Sapphire Skies” and it’s a standalone contemporary YA. Now that I ‘m done with that, I’m brainstorming a new story that will possibly be a series.
Q: Where do you get the inspiration for your characters? Are they modeled on anyone in particular?
A: Almost always they are. I often go back and read the journals I wrote in high school to get ideas for my characters and storylines. I definitely steal from real life.
Q: What is your advice to young writers, especially those who want to break into YA?
A: First and foremost, I would say get a critique group. it can be online, it can be through your local bookstore. Just having people who can read your work and give you feedback is invaluable. Plus, when you’re going through the highs and lows of trying to get published, you have this support group who can get you through it.
I would also recommend reading, as much as you possibly can in every different genre. All of the genres, whether it’s horror or science fiction or fantasy, have taught me something important about creating a story.
Lastly I would say, be persistent. Rejection is part of the game, it happens to everyone, so push through that and believe in yourself and keep going.
It was great meeting Becca Fitzpatrick and she was so enthused about being in the country, telling me about how much she loved the summer sun on her skin and the abundance of her favorite fruit: mangoes :P
I got my books signed, of course:
Hush, Hush, trade paperback, review copy, 3/5 stars
Black Ice, trade paperback, ARC, 4.5/ 5 stars
Special thanks to National Book Store for arranging the interview. Becca Fitzpatrick’s books are available at National Book Store.