Monday, October 29, 2012

Writing From Behind the Hood

I had the pleasure of interviewing young adult author, Marita Hansen, for YA Stands. This New Zealand native bypassed the traditional publishing route and has made waves with publishers. Check it out:

Is writing your life, or do you live to write?

I'm pretty much obsessed with writing, it drives my husband nuts.
When did you first know you wanted to write? What did you enjoy writing at the time? How did it go when you queried your first story? Please tell us about your experience.
I used to write when I was a kid, the usual things - diaries followed by short stories. I was always good at English in school, but at that point I was more interested in art, and never considered writing as a career option.
After working in the art field for a short time as a graphic artist, I decided to go to the University of Auckland (New Zealand). Unfortunately, I didn't take English Literature, but instead opted for Art History and Italian Studies. I did very well in those subjects, especially in Art History, winning an award for being the top under-graduate student. I got a second degree after having my daughter, a postgraduate degree in Art History (BA Hons-first class). Upon completion, I worked in the Art History department for a short time, before getting a full-time job as an academic librarian at the same university. I also did a bit of lecturing in High Renaissance Art. However, I needed to do one more year to get my Masters then do a PHD to get further in the field, and because I couldn't afford it, plus was pregnant, my husband and I decided it wasn't a good idea to put more money into a field that was extremely hard to find work in. So, I fell back into being an artist and doing gallery work.
Then out of the blue, and I have no idea why, I started to write a book. At that point it was a YA fantasy with a Catholic tone. I worked on the idea for a few years, then managed to write a full manuscript, which I sent to a New Zealand literary agent. And that was when I discovered how hard it is to get something published. I paid about $30 to get it couriered to her, yet she said she never received it. I found out she did (via the courier company), and maybe she didn't like it or she lost it, but I was greatly disheartened, because I couldn't afford to keep doing this. So, I sent a copy straight to Harper Collins (NZ), but they turned it down. I wanted to know what was wrong with it, how I could fix things, but since publishers don't tell you these things, I decided to try out a writer's website called Through them, I learned a lot about writing and how to fix my manuscript. But in the process the book was re-written a few times and I eventually got frustrated with all the conflicting views.
Out of frustration I put it aside, and started to write a YA fantasy set in Singapore. But the location wasn't working, so I shifted it to an old suburb I used to live in, and within a day I had written a chapter, one that was nothing like I had planned. Because of the setting, which was the roughest neighborhood in New Zealand, and the fact I had a teenage girl walk past a gang of teenage boys, the story rapidly became a harsh realism tale.
I popped the first three chapters up on youwriteon and "Behind the Hood" took off, rapidly rising to the top of the website and winning a review from Orion (UK). I fixed that section up and put more of the book onto another writer's website called Authonomy. Again, the story did very well, Behind the Hood reaching number one on the countdown and winning a Harper Collins review. But, from the comments and the suggestions that Harper Collins (UK) made, they wanted me to change elements that would make the story into what I didn't want it to be. Because of this, I employed an editor, John Hudspith, and self-published the book in August 2011. And, since it was the first book in a series, I instantly started writing the second installment. However, I decided to extend the prologue, and in doing so, I ended up creating a new series called Graffiti Heaven, which follows the lives of four teenagers in the year 2000.

What I enjoy about writing? Creating characters that people feel are real.

Did you start out writing long stories, or short?
I wrote two short stories when I was younger, but I only write long ones now.

What led you to write young adult fiction?
I don't know. Maybe because my daughter thinks that I act and speak like a teenager :) Maybe because I can relate to YAs. I'm not sure. But I have been told that my YA characters are authentic, the Orion editor even commenting on it. This is what she said:

"I was really impressed by your characterisation. In the vast majority of novels that I have read and reviewed on this site, the character that most writers struggle to depict realistically are teenagers. It’s all about getting the voice just right, and this is something that you have accomplished brilliantly."
Natalie Braine.
She also suggested that I pitch Behind the Hood at YAs. I declined to do this, because I thought the story was too harsh, which was why I made sure that the Graffiti Heaven series was aimed at the YA market.

How long did it take to write your first book?
Excluding the one I abandoned (although I hope to go back to it), Behind the Hood took 15 months. Graffiti Heaven took a lot less.
Do you have an agent? How did you get your agent?
I don't have an agent, because I had a few bad experiences with some who ran me around in circles, wasting my time, and because of them, I decided to not bother looking for one. I didn't send Graffiti Heaven to any agents, although Harper Collins (UK) are going to do a review on it due the book winning its place on the editor's desk on Authonomy. However, I didn't wait for the review (which I've yet to receive), and instead, went and worked with the same editor who did my first book. He commented on how much my writing has matured and that he loved the book.

What are you writing now? Do you write full-time?
I'm writing Behind the Tears, book #2 in the Behind the Lives series (plus a direct link to Graffiti Heaven). I have also laid out plans for Crying Out Silent book #2 in the Graffiti Heaven series, due to be published in the middle of 2013. I have partially completed a children's book for younger kids, and have also started a romance book for a new series called Dirty Dancer, which is due out next year. At the moment I write full time, but in 2013 I won't be able to as I have to get a full-time job when I return to New Zealand, as writing doesn't pay the bills. I will just have to write into the small hours of the morning, and sleep will become a distant memory.

Book plug - please tell us who, what, why, where and when (provide links as well)!
The Blurb for GRAFFITI HEAVEN (15+):

THE BOOK EVERY TEENAGER WILL WANT hide from their parents.

A group of high school students deal with sex, love, bullying, family and betrayal. (Edgy YA)

Life is turned upside down for Ash Rata and Tiana Lilu after they skip school to take their relationship to the next level. When their family and friends find out, they are forced to deal with rumors, bullies, an overprotective brother and mortified parents.

Amongst the turmoil Ash grows closer to his stepdad, learning to trust again after years of holding a grudge against his jailed father. But following a guys' night out together, Ash's life is shattered when he wakes up in hospital and learns his stepdad has done something unforgivable. Traumatized, he pushes everyone he loves away, terrified that they will discover what really happened that night.

Set in the year 2000, ten years prior to Behind the Hood, Graffiti Heaven is the first in a series that follows Ash Rata's teenage years, a coming of age tale where both comedy and tragedy battle it out on a New Zealand stage.


"The novel shines a light on a cultural sector rarely addressed in fiction writing, and the fast-paced narrative befits a contemporary thriller fiction novel." -HarperCollins.

Life on the rough side of New Zealand.

In this South Auckland neighborhood where gang culture, drink, drugs, sex and violence is already a way of life, a vicious attack on a teenage girl sparks a ripple effect of revenge and fury. Live the carnage through multiple viewpoints as the tale unfolds to a bloody climax. NOT for the fainthearted.

To read more about Marita and her stories, visit her on Amazon, at Goodreads, and her blog. You can also find her on Facebook and on Twitter as @MaritaAHansen.

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