Thursday, December 31, 2009

Author Interview ~ Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie Morrill is a twenty-something living in Kansas with her high school sweetheart-turned-husband and their daughter. She loves writing for teens because her high school years greatly impacted her adult life. That, and it’s an excuse to keep playing her music really, really loud.

Welcome to Novel Journey!

Let’s start by giving our readers a little bit of insight into the force that drove you to start writing. Was there a particular instance or instinct that made you want to be a writer?

My elementary school really emphasized writing. Every day we had “writing time” for 15 or so minutes. We could write about whatever we wanted, and I thought it was the best part of the day. When you finished a story, you took it down to the “publishing house,” which was a tiny room at the school. You picked out your cover and binding, then someone typed up the story and returned it to you. After you illustrated it, you read it to the class. I loved every single part of it except the illustrating, and from the first “book” I wrote, I always told people I wanted to be a writer.

What's the most difficult part of writing for you (or was when you first started on your novel journey)?

Toward the middle, feeling like the book will connect with future readers. Or questioning if what I’m writing about really matters. That’s something I especially struggle with on the days that I don’t feel particularly inspired to write.

Do you put yourself into your books/characters?

I used to all the time, and then I realized I’m not that interesting of a person. For the Skylar books, I intentionally made Skylar as opposite of me as possible.

At what point did you stop juggling suggestions and critiques and trust yourself (as a writer)?

I actually didn’t find my first critque group until I was pretty far along in my novel journey. Back in 2007, when I went to the American Christian Fiction Writers conference, I prayed for both a critique group and an agent and walked away with both. I think the lack of input in my early years helped me develop my voice, but I also think it the road would have been easier and less lonely had I found my critique group earlier.

Tell us a little about your latest release:

Out with the In Crowd is the second book in the Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series. Skylar may have vowed to change her partying ways, but it’s not so easy to change her friends. She’s trying hard to live a new life, but her old one is constantly staring her in the face. Add to that two parents battling for her loyalty, a younger sister struggling with a crisis pregnancy, and a new boyfriend wishing for more of her time, and Skylar feels like she can’t win.

This is a YA novel, part of a series you developed around a high school senior battling all of the insecurities most teenagers face. What made you decide to target this age group?

Because the only book ideas I had were for YA novels. Seriously. I tried writing adult books, but I never caught fire for them the way I did my high school stories.

I work with the youth in my church, and I know the kind of mixed messages they get on a daily basis. What message do you hope readers gain from your novel, and how is it different from the things they hear on the streets?

Ooh, good question. I hope in Out with the In Crowd (in all three Skylar books, really) they’ll see that you’re never too far gone for God to redeem you. I think on the “streets,” it feels easy to get pigeon-holed. “She’s a party girl,” or “She’s a goody-goody.” But God never sees us like that.

Tell us a little about your main character and how you developed him/her:

Like I mentioned before, I made Skylar as opposite of me as I possibly could. I wanted to write a character who had complete confidence in her looks, but zero confidence in who she was inside. At first it was really hard to try and figure out how she would react to things, but once I dove deeper into her situations with her parents and younger sister, it became easy to see what kind of security issues Skylar had.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book? Least?

I really enjoyed the interaction between Skylar and her younger sister, Abbie. They’re so different from each other that it’s always fun when they discuss something.

I least liked all the junk with Skylar’s parents. It was really hard to sit at my computer and write these horribly tense scenes about their separation, to see how it was affecting Skylar and Abbie, and then call it a day and go hang out with my awesome husband and daughter. Those were really draining days.

What kind of activities to you like to do that help you relax and step away from your deadlines for a bit?

As you might guess, I’m kinda a bookworm. Reading feels like vacation time to me. I completely tune out what’s going on around me and get transported to another place.

Also, I just got a Wii for my birthday. I don’t know if “relaxing” is a good word for it, but it’s a lot of fun.

Briefly take us through your process of writing a novel—from conception to revision.

Wow. Okay.

1. I have a spark of an idea where I think, “This is going to be a book.”
2. I spend a couple weeks gathering other ideas to make it “big” enough to be a book.
3. I write the first three chapters and a synopsis. Those get sent to my critique partner, and then when she approves I send them to my agent.
4. I write a horrendous first draft. I focus on getting the story down as complete and as fast as I can.
5. I take a couple weeks away from the book, and then I start my first revision. The first one often involves a lot of rewriting.
6. I read it one more time to smooth things out, then send it to my critique partner and my husband.
7. I input their comments, read through it one more time, and then wait to see if it sells.

What is the first book you remember reading and what made it special?

The first books I remember loving are the Boxcar books. There was something really fun about reading books about kids doing so much stuff on their own, especially solving mysteries.

How do you think reading the work of others helps you as a writer?

I think it opens up my mind to different ways of saying, expressing, or illustrating ideas. It also reinforces things I’m taught at conferences, about what makes an exciting opening or satisfying end.

What do you wish you’d known early in your career that might have saved you some time and/or frustration in writing? In publishing?

In writing—Don’t get too picky with the first draft, just get it down. It was actually my engineer husband who suggested this to me. I was struggling with a manuscript, and he was like, “Stop editing and just write it.”

In publishing—This one’s tougher because I received my contract when I was 24 … it’s hard to shave off too much more time. But I’d say get in a critique group. It helped me to learn how to accept criticism better.

Tell us what we have to look forward to in the future. What new projects are you working on?

The series I’m fiddling with now is about a girl who loses 120 pounds in high school all with diet and exercise. It’s based on a girl I used to babysit for who did just that. I’m in the early stages still and having lots of fun.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

If you’re looking to get published, do everything you can to the best of your ability and trust God with the rest. When the offer came through for The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series, my agent kept saying to me, “I just can’t believe it. You have no platform and you write an unproven genre. I have no idea how we got you published. This is obviously God.” He can do it for you too.


lynnrush said...

Yeah, Stephanie. I love your book, and I can't wait for the second one. :-)

Great interview. Happy New Year!!

Elizabeth Ludwig said...

Wonderful interview, Stephanie. Thanks for stopping by Novel Journey.

Sheila Deeth said...

Great interview. Thanks.

Julie Garmon said...

Hey! We blog together on girlsgodgoodlife. Love your interview!!