Thursday, May 30, 2013

YA Stands interviews: L. L. McKinney

I don't know if you feel the same way, but I have a strong feeling the writers of young adult fiction out there, our dear friends, are making (literary) history. Look around next time you visit your favorite bookstore: these authors' stories will be everywhere. They're taking over the world with their stories about young people going on quests and finding themselves in the process. It's amazing. They invest these characters with so much power, no matter how self-conscious said characters may be, that makes one think that whoever called children and teenagers "the future" should consider calling them "the present" from now on. These characters are ready to make decisions, fight, love and hate, and be strong and scared to death right now.

Are scholars out there already calling this generation of writers who write YA fiction something already? I'll go ahead and call it YA wave.

That said, I'd like to every other Thursday (my blogging day) introduce a new YA author (published, unpublished, agented, unagented, self-published, anybody who writes YA fiction and is passionate and willing to say a thing or two about it) to the YA Stands community. I'd love to expose this new generation of writers and see if there's a pattern in the way they write. Does YA fiction have a goal? Does it have characteristics leading up to a new literary style? Are they indeed making literary history? I don't know. We'll see. The best way to get our literary analysis going is by bringing new authors here, and asking them more about their writing and what inspires them.

So, here we go...


Today, I'd like to introduce you to writer L. L. McKinney:
(Don't forget to leave a comment. El will be picking one or maybe even two lucky commenters to get a query and first five pages critique!)

My name is Leatrice, but most people call me El. Easier to try and pronounce. I write under the name L. L. McKinney. I live the single life in Kansas City, 28 years young.

When did you start writing? Why did you decide to make writing your career?

I have been writing for as long as I can remember, the same with reading. My love of books and great stories is one of the few constants in my life.
I decided to make writing my career after getting off track when I started college. I went to school for Digital Art and Design, in order to make video games. After years of schooling, building websites, coding, blah blah blah, I came across a lot of my old work in my grandmother's basement. that woman keeps everything. 

Holding the first manuscript I ever completed, 120k words at age 10 (It was heavily skewed toward a Power Ranger theme) I wondered why I gave it up. Why I had listened to the talk that said I couldn't make a real life at writing. I read my first book in one sitting, it was pretty good for a 10-yea-old if I do say so myself. Afterwards, I took a look at the books on my shelf, the stories I loved, and I said "if they can do it, so can I".

Do you write full-time? Do you have another job? Are you a student?

At this moment, I am a full-time writer. I am blessed to be in a position where that is possible, even though I'm not published yet. After saving up, I left work a few months ago with the plan to focus on writing during the spring, then go to school full time in the summer. This time, I'm going after my Creative Writing degree.

What keeps you writing?

I love it. It's what I've always done, what I want to do for the rest of my life. And when it gets hard, and it always does, I make myself sit down and put words on the page. Good words, bad words, it doesn't matter. The beauty of it is, after a while, bad words become good, and good words become great.

What is it about YA fiction that makes you so passionate about it? Do you have a favorite YA book?

I couldn't tell you. When I was young, I didn't read very much YA. I gobbled up Goosebumps, The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, other R.L. Stine stuff, all of that. When I became a preteen, I skipped straight to adult books. I read a lot of Anne Rice and Dan Brown in high school, and didn't really get into YA as we know it now until I was in college.

I don't really have a favorite YA book, more like a series. Or two. Harry Potter, though it started as MG, definitely hit the YA list with the latter books. At least, in my opinion. That's a favorite. So is The Mortal Instruments, the Iron Knight series, and the Roswell series.

You write adult fiction, too. Is the process of writing adult novels different compared to when you're writing YA fiction?

Yes and no. Though I write adult fiction, the voice is still somewhat young. I can't really help that I guess, it's my voice after all. I have to say that the difference is in mechanics. Things are structured differently, introspection looks physically different on the page, thoughts are actually tagged as thoughts, that sort of thing. But at the heart of it, I treat it all the same when it comes to getting the words on the page, and that's to stay true to the characters and their story. They haven't led me wrong yet.

What is the essence of your writing? Where does your writing come from (dreams, daydreams, etc)?

Okay, this is where my inner geek gets to shine. When I was younger, I was heavily into roleplaying games. Dungeons and Dragons, LARPing, The Masquerade, on and on. I'm an avid World of Warcraft player--FOR THE HORDE!--and I RP there as well. I've been inventing characters and their backstories, weaving pasts and fates, for all of these instances, and it sort of stuck. Characters tend to wander up to me fully formed. They have names, physical appearances, characteristics, nervous ticks, wacky idiosyncrasies, the works. It then becomes my job to chuck them into a scenario, watch how they react, and record it all.

I will admit that I've had a couple of story ideas pop up due to dreams, but most of it is an "omg, it would be so cool of person x had to do mission y and obstacle z got in the way!"

You describe your writing as having religious undertones. What religions inspire your work? Is this something readers will always find in your writing? Do these elements appear unintentionally, or do you go to religion for inspiration on purpose?

I'm Christian, so that tends to sprinkle my work. Themes such as forgiveness, retribution, sacrifice, angels, demons, etc. The book of Revelations and the whole "End of the world" playing out has always been a fascination of mine (not weird in the least, right?). I think readers will always find a hint of what I believe in my work, but I'm not going to beat anyone over the head with lessons or preaching or anything like that. I don't mean to put it in there, but when you write you tend to piece out yourself, intentionally or no.

My stuff tends to lead towards a "you are in control of your destiny. No one else can damn you, and no one else can save you, you have to do it for yourself" sort of tone.

Tell us a bit more about your writing habits. Do you write daily? Do you like to listen to music while you write? Do you have any superstitions?

I write every day now, with a minimum of 2,500 words. Well, almost every day. If I can squeeze in writing on Sunday, it's due to luck, that's when I spend a lot of time with my family. 

I didn't start out with that many words, I remember at one point it was a struggle to hit 500, but doing it every day, even when struggling, helped me get to a point where when I sit down the words just flow. I go in expecting them to come easily, and I've made my peace with the fact that I'll probably get rid of or change 30% of them at the very least.

I listen to music while I write. Each WIP has it's own playlist, songs I imagine would be on the soundtrack if the book was made into a movie. Or I watch a movie sort of like the book I'm writing. Avengers for my Superhero WIP, Underworld for my vampires and werewolves.

And I do have some superstitions. I have to have a drink whenever I start writing, and I have four cups that I ONLY drink out of when I'm writing. Each story has its own journal for plotting, and each journal has a corresponding pen. And before I write or plot, I say a prayer.

Why do you love fantasy and science fiction?

There's something imagining the impossible, seeing it happen in a book or on screen, that just gets to me. All things fantasy, elves, faeries, gods, vampires, lycans, superheroes, giant robots, alien words, time travel, outer space, I LOVE that stuff. I can't do contemporary to save my life, though. I live every day life, I see it in my friends and family, on daytime TV, so I can't stand writing it. I have mad respect for anyone who can manage it, I just suck at it.

Now and then, there's a contemporary book that manages to pull me in, but it's usually a mystery of some sort. Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, remember?

You're represented by Brittany Howard of the Corvisiero Literary Agency. How was the querying process leading up to signing with Brittany? How long had you been querying when you sparked Brittany's interest? 

The querying process was brutal. Anyone who says otherwise is lying or incredibly lucky. I must have queried near 50 people by the time I found Brittany, and even then it wasn't through conventional means. 

Long story short, I enter The Writer's Voice contest, hosted by a four awesome writing bloggers around the beginning of May each year. If you've never heard of it, look it up, it's a great opportunity to get your work in front of agents. I was selected by the wonderful Brenda Drake to be a part of her team, and she helped me whip my quest and first page of COVETED into shape.

Well, I didn't get any requests through the contest itself, but Brenda really loved my story, so she championed it beyond the contest. She gave it to her agent at the time and submitted it to her publisher. Both passed, but the acquisitions editor at Brenda's publisher was Brittany! She tracked me down and told me to submit it to her in a direct query. Shortly after that, she emailed me about representation and voila! fabulous agent.

None of that would have happened without Brenda. whom I cannot thank enough.

What book got you representation? Can you tell us a little about it? Are you on submissions?

COVETED is my YA Urban fantasy that caught both Brenda's and Brittany's eye. 

Seventeen-year-old Caleb Dunnelly spends his spare time searching the net for clues about his missing parents. Coupled with looking after his younger sister, he doesn’t have much of a social life.

Okay, he doesn’t have much of a life at all.
The one time Caleb goes out to try and enjoy himself, he winds up in the Twilight Zone complete with explosions, black fire, weird symbols, and a group of religious radicals who want him dead. They believe Caleb possesses a power capable of enslaving mankind. He doesn’t want to ‘enslave’ anyone, but try telling that to the lunatics with the glowing swords.

Or to Scarlet, this random girl who shows up to help Caleb stay alive long enough to figure out what’s going on. She’s fiery hot, but also eight kinds of crazy. According to her, everyone wants a piece of his ass because he can raise the dead, which will trigger Armageddon. Yeah, the demons walk the earth, war-waging angels, fire and brimstone, meet your maker Armageddon.

Now Caleb just wants his boring life back, but it’s much too late for that. He’s a coveted vessel. Heaven wants him to fight for the light, Hell wants him to end the world, and the humans caught in the middle just want him dead. It’s impossible to know if he can trust anyone, but the truth has a way of coming out. His parent’s disappearance, his so-called powers, and even Scarlet—none of them are what they seem.

COVETED is currently on submission, and we've received over half a dozen requests for fulls. I wish you could see my face right now, this smile is ridiculous.

Do you feel there is a difference in the way you approach writing now that you're an agented writer?

I don't really feel different about the way I approach writing itself, but something has definitely changed. Having validation that someone out there believes in my work as much as I do helps with the nagging voice that used to tell me I wasn't good enough. Now it nags about other things, but that's a different story.

It has made me eager to write more. I want to finish my WIPs so I can show them to my agent, so I can get her feedback. I will say that I have written more in the spans of having an agent than before.

Many members of our community are querying, too, and the quest to getting representation is very frustrating and times. A little depressing, actually. We doubt ourselves, our decisions, and the quality of our writing all the time. We cling to stories like yours for hope. I know I do. Now, do you have any words of advice to keep us going?

Three main ones: Do. Not. Stop.

Don't give up, don't back down, don't retreat. The absolute worse thing you can do for yourself and your writing is to stop. Everyone is going to hear no. Rejection is the name of the game, and I know people get sick of it but it's so very true, this industry isincredibly subjective. What someone loves, turns off someone else. What works for one person, completely throws off another.

What I did to get through the Nos was look forward to them. Strange, yes, let me explain, it--...

Too long, let me sum up. A writer admired said she went through 44 queries before she found her agent. She heard no 44 times. Some people have a smaller number, some people went higher, the point is they didn't stop at one, or ten, or thirty. I got it in my head that each No brought me closer to my yes, and you only need one yes.

So, every time I got a rejection, I did a little happy dance because I found out who was not for me. And I was that much closer to my yes.

Are you working on a new project? Tell us a little about it.

I am currently working on the first book in my Heritage Blade series. Awakening introduces us to James "Jay" Mitchell, a fifteen-year-old Sentinel who has a price on his head, and everything that goes bump in the night arrives to collect.

It's sort of like Buffy meets Star Wars, a sort of Slayer/Jedi mashup. It's got Faeries, Lycans--of more than the lupine variety--Vampires, Gargoyles and more. The Guild is the law of the realms and upholds the Edicts, the rules that keep the peace between Pandorans (the supernatural folk) and humanity. The Sentinels are the enforcers. I'm currently in the honeymoon phase of writing, and just another 30k words or so, I get to start editing.

YA writers are hardcore readers-- meaning: we read, read, and read, and don't know when to stop. I think being a YA writer comes hand in hand with being addicted to reading... especially reading YA fiction. YA fiction, in fact, seems to be getting stronger every day, and moving really fast toward different trends. Do you remember the YA book that got you hooked to reading and writing YA? What was so special about it?

I'd have to say it was the Harry Potter series as a whole. It made magic real, for me. The story of how a boy who believed he was painfully ordinary, and he was in the muggle world, turned out to be completely extraordinary. I was a teenager when I read the first book, around 14 I believe, and I was so unbelievably awkward. My best, closest friends I've had from then to now are friends I shared my fanatic love of Harry Potter with.

Brief side note, this is how crazy about this stuff we are--or how crazy we are in general. Deathly Hallows part two came out, and on premier night, I and two of my friends, went to the midnight showing dressed as death eaters. They were Bellatrix and Snape, and I was Lucius Malfoy, snake cane and all.

We were applauded as we walked down the hall and entered the theater. People took pictures with us, asked us to play out favorite scenes with them, it was awesome.

Do you think our generation of YA writers will be known for / as something? Do you notice a similar pattern in the works of this generation? And, who do you think started this literary wave?

I think we'll be known as the generation that stretched YA into NA. A lot of writer friends are either upping the ages of their characters or stretching their series to enter the NA genre as it goes on.

Caleb, my protag in COVETED is seventeen, but he started out twenty-two. I wrote the book, I kept reading in articles and posts how NA wasn't really a viable genre, and no one was taking it, so forth and so on. So I cut his age down. He was angry for a while, since he wasn't old enough to drink anymore. 

What do you plan to achieve with your writing (do you want to inspire others? Just want to have fun with something that makes you happy? Immortality? Nothing in particular)?

I guess it would be nice to be remembered, but that's not a goal in my writing. I, of course, want to get to a point where I can support myself and my future family with my work. And I want to give to someone what writers before gave to me, an escape from every day life. They provided a glimpse into the fantastic, where anything and everything was possible. 

Do you mind sharing your favorite excerpt from one of your books with us?

Huh, that's a good one. Hnm... let me pull something out of COVETED. This is after Scarlet helps Caleb get away from the lunatics with glowing swords I mentioned earlier.

“Where are we?”
“Somewhere outside the city. The neighbors are a little uppity but not really a bother. The schools here are fantastic, too.” She whirled and patted the side of his face. He jerked away as if dodging a punch. “Easy Handsome. Pick a room and settle in. This is going to be home for a little while. Go take a shower, you have a bit of Marshall on you right there.”
He swatted her hand away from where she plucked his shirt and glared down the length of his nose at her. “Take me home. Now.” His jaw set, the words growled out between clenched teeth.
“Mmm, sorry.” She didn’t sound it. “You’re gonna have to chill here for a while. We didn’t go through all that just for you to run off and get yourself killed.”
“It’s not me I’m worried about.” He gestured frantically. “If those people are after me, what’s to stop them from hurting my family?”  And if his would-be assassins found him at the hospital, they probably knew where he lived. Where everyone important to him lived.
“You’re still wound up from earlier. I have these scented candles, great stress relievers.” She set her hands on her hips where she stood between him and any possible exit.
“Thanks for the save. I’ll find a way on my own.” Glaring, he brushed past her, intending to move for the door. He didn’t need these people to take him anywhere. He’d hitchhike, catch a cab, something.
Scarlet sighed behind him. He didn’t hear her move before her hand clamped down on his shoulder. She spun him around, catching him face-to-face. Face-to-chest, really, she was so short. “Afraid I can’t allow that.”
Can’t allow? Who the hell did she think she was? He started to tell her where to stick a rusty spoon, but everything went painfully white. A familiar ache lodged itself between his ears and tugged him toward unconsciousness.
“You bitch…” The last thing he felt, other than stupid, was his knees turn to jelly right before his legs dropped him to the floor. He should have seen that coming.

Where can we find you? 

Twitter: @Tangynt


Thank you very much!
-- Becca
Twitter: @cavalcar


  1. Great interview, CP!

  2. Always good to learn more about you! Great interview!

    1. I try to trickle it around in stages.

  3. I really like your excerpt from COVETED. It piqued my interest.

  4. I cannot wait for Coveted to be picked up!! Looove that book! <3

    1. ^_^ Thank you! I can't wait for more from the Steel Horizon saga!

  5. Love this idea. Looking forward to reading these posts! And best of luck, L.L., on your journey through submissions!!

    1. Isn't this just grand? Rebecca put a lot of thought into her questions.

    2. YAY, I'm glad you liked the questions. You were great to interview, of course. I love, love, love the excerpt, too.

  6. Still have three days to comment for a chance to win a query and first five pages critique!

    The winner will be chosen on Thursday, the 6th!

  7. Okay! A day late with winner announcement. Dannie Morin, Gwen Cole and Kimberly Wheaton! So I chose three winners. Fine by me.

    I need email adresses...I maybe should have said this beforehand...