Hey Gems! We have a special guest with us today on the blog. I recently reviewed Katie Pierson’s ’89 Walls [click here to read the review] and she agreed to be apart of a Q&A post. This post is VERY long so grab a snack and get comfortable!
Authors get asked these questions A LOT!
JORDAN: What inspired you to write ’89 Walls?
KATIE: A conversation with a friend in 2006 about the pros and cons of potentially attending my 20th high school reunion brought to mind the random people you run into at those things: old crushes, old “frenemies.” I suddenly had the idea for Seth and Quinn’s reluctant romance. I thought it would be fun to introduce young readers to the concept of Star Wars as more than just a movie, and the good old days of writing notes in cursive and getting by on 12 cable channels.
Halfway through the first draft, I realized I was also writing a partisan allegory. Seth is the Democratic Party in the late 80’s: reactive, angry, without a compass. The successes of the 1970s’ social movements had been dampened by Vietnam. Quinn’s father, Tom is the Republican Party: optimistic, smug, and still grounded in a true small government philosophy but underestimating the rising Religious Right. Mr. Levine, the teacher, is the moderator who allows two strong points of view to talk it out respectfully. Quinn is all of us, trying to find her way when tidy theories crash into reality.
JORDAN: Are any of the characters based on you or someone you know?
KATIE: The novel’s broad outlines are autobiographical. I grew up in a prominent Republican family in Lincoln, Nebraska, and spent my childhood leafleting neighborhoods, pounding yard signs, and helping elect Nebraska’s first woman governor. In a former life I wore a fuchsia debutante’s dress and campaigned for Dole in my role as the Executive Director of College Republicans. While nothing in this book’s plot actually happened all of it is emotionally and politically true.
JORDAN: You chose indie publishing over traditional publishing. Why?
KATIE: I craved a traditional publishing contract for the usual reasons: an advance, high editorial standards, broad marketing and distribution, collegial support, and the all-important stamp of legitimacy.
I approached traditional publishing with my realistic historical young adult novel in 2008 which was during:
- an international economic collapse
- the publishing industry’s subsequent version of its own Hunger Games
- the e-print revolution
- the creation of special sections in bookstores for Paranormal Teen Romance
I signed with an agent in 2010, and fired her in 2012. She badly muddied the waters for me with Big 5 editors and other potential agents. It was kind of like finding out that not only is your Prince Charming a pimp, but that he’s your pimp. I did learn that editors liked my writing but didn’t think they could sell politics to teens.
Two more top deal makers asked for extensive revisions and then ignored my calls. Another agent loved it but after hearing that several editors had passed, told me to abandon it altogether.
I took a year off to pout. Then I thought, “I’ve rocked natural childbirth, learning Hebrew as an adult, and two international moves with toddlers.”
I got offers from two small presses but neither they nor their authors could convince me that they brought anything remarkable to the table besides a software program.
Determined to produce a book that could compete with Big 5 titles, I finally found a mentoring press—Wise Ink Creative Publishing—to deliver the professionalism and high quality standards that I hadn’t been able to find in traditional publishing.
JORDAN: Any tips for outlining a novel?
KATIE: Not really. I start out just writing. If it seems like it’s turning into something, I outline the whole thing. I love outlining and revising. It’s the middle part that’s hard. I have a quote by Ernest Hemingway taped to my desk that says, “The first draft is always shit.” It’s so true. But Anne LaMott says go ahead and write that “shitty first draft.” So that’s what I do. My first drafts are painfully earnest and rambling.
JORDAN: How about for editing?
KATIE: It’s painful but so necessary. I thought I was awesome when I finished the first draft. What you hold in your hands is version 14.0. I hired freelancers to tell me the truth. I pouted before each round of revisions and then put on my big girl pants.
JORDAN: Where did the title “’89 Walls” originate?
KATIE: I had three different working titles but none of them quite fit. Then a freelance editor suggested ’89 Walls. I love it because it captures the book’s layered themes: the walls we build around ourselves for safety, the walls that trap us, and the Berlin Wall that crumbled in 1989 at the end of the Cold War.
JORDAN: What is your favorite “how-to” book on writing?”
kATIE: I love Betsy Lerner’s The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers. I feel like she gets me.
Unique questions authors, in my opinion, aren’t often asked!
JORDAN: How did social media grow your audience as an author?
KATIE: I can’t overstate the importance of social media in book promotion. I’m on Facebook and Twitter and use both to chat about other people’s books, list my own events and promotions, and direct followers to media coverage and blog reviews like yours. Once in a while I ante up $5 to really promote something (like articles in Cosmo.com and Salon.com). It definitely pays off.
JORDAN: Who were your favorite childhood authors?
KATIE: I grew up reading S.E. Hinton, Paula Danziger, Judy Blume, Norma Klein and Paul Zindel: they pioneered this idea of writing for teens.
JORDAN: When writing do you eat or drink? If so, what?
KATIE: My favorite food is Lays Potato Chips but I can’t be trusted with them in the house. My back-ups are Choco-Love Cherries & Almond dark chocolate bars and apples with peanut butter.
JORDAN: Do you have a specific place you enjoy writing? Where is it?
KATIE: I do all of my writing in my office. My dog sits on the red sofa behind me all day and stares at my back.
JORDAN: Does writer’s block exist?
KATIE: Unfortunately, yes. When it hits, I force myself to do one writing prompt a day. My favorites are from 642 Things to Write About by the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto and A Writer’s Book of Days by Judy Reeves. I also take classes at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis.
JORDAN: What are you working on now?!
KATIE: I’m toying with a memoir of my family’s sabbatical year in London during the final year of the Bush administration. The working title is, Acting Canadian. I loved writing ’89 Walls and read as much YA as I do adult fiction. I would love for another idea for a YA novel to drop in my lap.
The Speed Round was created for quick fun answers!
This Speed Round is eighties inspired!
JORDAN: Chupa Chups or Cow Tales?
KATIE: I adore Chupa Chups. Cow tales, not so much.
JORDAN: Shoulder pads or leg warmers?
KATIE: I wore both in the 80s but was the queen of shoulder pads. I even had an undershirt with built-ins.
JORDAN: Dynasty or Dallas?
KATIE: I never got into either. (My parents limited our TV viewing. When I got to college I was like, “What’s the Sonny and Cher Show?”
JORDAN: Style wise: ’80s hair or today’s?
KATIE: I only thought I rocked the big hair look. Short and straight is a much better look for me.
JORDAN: Sixteen Candles or Dirty Dancing?
KATIE: Both, but I had a major movie star crush on Jake from Sixteen Candles.
JORDAN: Madonna or Green Day?
kATIE: Then: Madonna. Now: Green Day.
Jordan: On your man: tracksuits or V-neck sweaters?
JORDAN: Thanks for stopping by Katie! I cannot wait to read your next title!
KATIE: Thanks so much for having me, Jordan!