Monday, April 20, 2015

Querying Author Interview: Jenna DeVillier

Happy Monday, all! Today's querying author is:

Jenna DeVillier

How long have you been writing?
I have been "writing" since I could tell stories and realized I enjoyed it! Some of my earlier works were almost of the screenplay variety and were invariably "cool" Star Wars ripoffs. I did enjoy building new worlds and inventing new alien species, though. I've always been drawn to fantasy/sci-fi storytelling. I wrote my first actual novel during NaNoWriMo 2012 (first participated but didn't finish in 2011), and as they say, the rest is history! I've written one more NaNoWriMo novel since then, and another completed book (83k words as opposed to 50k). For some reason, my NaNoWriMo projects tend to be set in the real world, unlike my thought-out projects. My first book was urban fantasy (sort of? I guess? More like magical realism, maybe...I don't even know! Think If I Stay meets Lost), my second sci-fi, but the first half is on earth.

What inspired the project you’re currently querying?
Colton Dixon's face, oddly enough (if you don't know who that is, look him up! He's a Christian rock singer who was on American Idol a few years back). I saw one of his album covers and an idea popped into my head for a story about a vampire hunter named Xavier Peters who falls in love with a female vampire. Well, by the time I got around to doing something about it, I knew vampires weren't in vogue, and I wasn't interested in that storyline, anyway. Instead, I thought of assassins in the desert. That was my first spark for what became Soulreader. The story has changed so much from that initial concept, to first draft, to sixth draft. The character's name is still Xavier, though! But he's not the main character.

What’s your elevator pitch for the project you’re currently querying?
Grave Mercy meets Shatter Me when a young assassin must choose between avenging her mother's murder and staying loyal to the assassins' clan which has taken her in, all the while grappling with her newfound empathic ability.

What are you working on in the meantime to keep yourself from checking your email every three seconds?
Work? What's work? Kidding (mostly). I'm currently plotting out a Mayan culture-inspired fantasy (tentatively called In the Shadow of the Necropolis) about a princess trying to save her brother, the king, when the dark Shadow of the Necropolis pyramid sends him spiraling into madness. Large-ish cast of characters, plots, an imminent invasion...oh, and explosives. 
I'm also toying with a handful of other ideas, and I don't know which one to write after Shadow! There's a sci-fi Snow White retelling influenced by Asian Indian culture and Firefly (but I'm not sure if I want to work on it right now after reading the amazing R.C. Lewis's Stitching Snow!). There's also my time-travel book set in 2144 Japan/1944 Japan about the daughter of an inventor of an observation time-travel device who falls in love with a WWII kamikaze pilot. And just the other day a mashup came to me: the Babylonian Exile (Biblical) meets the story of Anastasia/the Romanovs (the real one). So many ideas! So little time.

What are three books that have shaped you as a writer?
1) Writing Magic: Creating Stories That Fly by Gail Carson Levine. As a child, on through the first years of high school, GCL was my everything. I was delighted to find that she had written a book on writing, and I picked it up at my local library. I own a copy now and, though I haven't read it in years, that definitely made me more enthusiastic about writing something of my own. 
2) Writing Fiction for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson. Yes, I know. I was one of those people that picked up a For Dummies book. But this book has been an invaluable tool to me over the years. Through it, I was first introduced to the Snowflake Method of writing, which I still use in all my novels. It's odd, and not for everyone, but I love it! My copy of WFFD is sitting on my shelf, right now, at least a dozen colored flags marking important pages, the binding creased and lined. And you know what? I think my little sister (freshman in high school) uses the book more than I do now, which is AMAZING! 
3) No Plot: No Problem! by Chris Baty. This was a random Barnes & Noble buy, probably the same day I bought WFFD. I went on a writing-book-buying spree one day! The amazing thing about this book is that I was afraid of writer's block, and this tiny book looked perfect for getting me motivated. It was the first time I had ever heard the magic word: NaNoWriMo. I didn't know then that Chris was the founder! This book really started it all, writing-wise. I looked up NaNoWriMo and found my local chapter not long after that, and that amazing group of people are such fun to write with on cold Wednesdays in November. I never would have met them otherwise! 
Obviously, Stephen King's On Writing and Ernest Hemingway's book of quotes on writing deserve honorable mentions here. I only didn't include them in my top 3 because I've only read them in the last year, so while they are wonderful books, they didn't influence my writing in the way the others did.

Are you a plotter or a pantser or an all-of-the-above-er? What is your writing process?
I've tried everything! Since I like to be organized, I generally find I work better when I plot (I use the Snowflake Method), but for some reason, I've always pantsed my NaNoWriMo books. Lack of preparation, probably. But I prefer plotting, definitely. It's fun to see how everything is going to come together, even before a word is set down on paper (or Word doc, or Scrivener...).

What advice would you give to a writer about to take the plunge into querying?
Do your research, and make sure your book is the best it can be. I feel like I am qualified to give that advice, only because I've broken both of those rules by accident or overzealousness! I got two PitMad requests on Twitter last September from agents. I had been pitching my book all day even though I knew it probably needed another round of edits. Instead of waiting, I queried both of them anyway. I know! Not smart. And on doing your research, generally I'm pretty good about it, but somehow (I still don't know how), I managed to add an agent to my spreadsheet that doesn't rep fantasy! I just queried her a couple of weeks ago, still totally oblivious to that fact. It took someone on QueryTracker pointing that out to me for me to notice. Yikes! It doesn't happen often if you're prepared, but it can still sneak up on you. Do your research, stick to agents who rep your genre, and maybe don't work on your spreadsheets when you're tired or distracted...

How do you take your caffeine?
Any way I can get it! I love coffee and tea, but probably my favorite drink while writing is a soda. It can get annoyingly lukewarm, but at least it doesn't get cold like coffee and tea do! Unfortunately, caffeine seems to have no discernible effect on me. The addictive part? Definitely. The staying-alert-and-focused part? Not so much.

Thanks so much for taking part, Jenna! Best of luck with Soulreader and your future projects!!

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