First up - my friend, K.M. Walton.
I’ve made quite a few online friends during my writing journey, but nothing beats putting a face to those little blog icons. I had the pleasure of meeting K.M. Walton or Kate, at an SCBWI conference in NYC a few years ago. Her photo was on her website, and once I got to the hotel (and headed to the bar, of course) I recognized her curly locks from a distance and went up and introduced myself. Her debut novel, Cracked, is available in January from Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. She is represented by Sarah LaPolla of Curtis Brown, Ltd.
Hi Kate, thanks for accepting the first ever Debut Details. (I had to come up with some kind of alliterative name for this. Isn’t that what bloggers do?)
When did you start writing with the goal of being published?
I wrote my first picture book back in 1993. It was horrendous. I queried it anyway and actually got a request from Harper Collins. They politely declined after reading and so began my quest towards publication. I took many long pauses in between queries and wrote a few more picture book manuscripts along the way.
Was Cracked the first novel you submitted to agents?
I didn’t write my first novel until spring of 2008, and I started querying it in spring of 2008. Yep, not lying. I obviously queried too soon because I racked up quite a few rejections (close to 150). I wrote a second novel, then a third, and then I wrote Cracked.
Are you a pantster or an obsessive plot outliner?
A mixture of both – but leaning towards pantster. I do a stream of consciousness list before I start writing a new book—bullet pointed lists of character details and plot points. Then I let it stew a while. After it’s just about boiling over, I start writing. That’s where my love of the pantster mentality takes over and I just write and see where the story takes me. Many, many times surprising plot points emerge out of the blue. That’s my favorite part of the process.
Do you still teach Language Arts? Or are you now in the enviable position of telling people you are a full-time novelist?
After twelve amazing years in the classroom I left teaching to pursue a new career of coaching teachers on their instructional practice. Then the budget cuts came and that was the end of that two year career. Luckily, I am able to write full time now, and I live each day realizing how blessed I am to do so.
How many agents did you query for Cracked?
What was your first response when you got The Call?
I tried my best to enter the call prepared (I knew Sarah was calling since we had corresponded a few times about her requested revision of Cracked) but I know I came off as a bumbling idiot. I was just so damn nervous because I had wanted that moment for 2.4 years – dreamt about it – salivated about it – yearned for it. And here it was. I was blown-away excited.
How long was it between signing with your agent and getting a deal?
Just two and a half months. Sarah LaPolla is my hero. (That is amazing!)
How much did the book change with your agent’s input?
Sarah has a brilliant editorial mind (I tell her that frequently) and the revisions she suggested made the novel that much stronger.
What about your editor?
Annette Pollert is a genius. She guided my writing to levels I didn’t realize it was capable of. I learned ridiculous amounts about the craft from her line edits. Her attention to detail is remarkable and left me feeling so lucky to have her in my corner for Cracked. I will never ever be able to thank her enough for the work she put into my novel.
Do you mind sharing the query that got you signed?
Not at all:
Dear Ms. LaPolla:
I am an active member of #YALitChat and read today that you are now an agent with Curtis Brown Ltd. Congratulations on your new job! Now on to my query…
CRACKED is a contemporary young adult novel, complete at 47,200 words.
Sixteen year old Victor knows he’s weak. He’s got the most self-absorbed parents alive. His life sucks. Then his dog dies.
Sixteen year old Bull knows he’s angry. He’s sick of taking the drunken beatings from his grandfather. His life sucks too. And he likes to take out his anger on Victor.
**(I removed five key sentences that would give the novel away and my agent and editor would kill me.. BUT, when writing your query, tell the agent key things – don’t be coy – let them know your story)**
Buried underneath their weakness and bravado are two sixteen-year-old boys. If they don’t realize how broken the other is and how similar their pain is, they may not survive.
Fans of THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART TIME INDIAN and GOING BOVINE with their heartbreaking hilarity will enjoy a similar style in CRACKED. This manuscript recently won a national writing contest organized by Sourcebooks Inc. and judged by Dan Ehrenhaft.
I’m a member of SCBWI and have a long and lively background teaching middle school language arts.
According to your online submission guidelines, please find the first chapter and full synopsis below. Thank you for your time and consideration.
~ Kate Walton
(That's quite an honor winning the contest with Sourcebooks, folks!)
You’ve got a family with kids. How do you find time to write? Do you do it every day? What is your writing schedule like?
When I’m writing a first draft my husband does an excellent job of keeping my boys occupied and out of the house as much as possible (I’ve written the majority of my books while working full time). Now that I’m able to write full time, I will have the luxury of an empty house when my boys go to school. I am pretty excited by that scenario.
So many of us are out in the trenches, waiting to get signed, speculating and wondering in a very obsessive manner what it must be like to have an agent and actually have a book coming out. What is something you’ve learned now that you’re on the “inside?”
I have definitely learned why publishing is such a slow business. I can remember getting aggravated with slow agent responses back when I was querying, but now that I’m on the other side I understand why. At the risk of stating the obvious – publishing involves a tremendous amount of reading – reading takes a tremendous amount of time. I’m not sure why I failed to make that connection before I had an agent, but I did. I know the waiting is torturous, believe me, I’ve lived it, but patience goes a long way and can make the waiting less painful. My advice, start a new project once you start querying.
You’re a member of the Apocalypsies, a group of authors whose books debut in 2012. How important is it to you to have some sort of online presence, or to be involved in a group like this?
I have worked for three years to build up my online presence. I think it’s important to be involved in as many online ventures as you can handle. But never let the online stuff take the place of your writing. It is always about the writing. Having a gazillion blog followers isn’t going to land you an agent or get you a legitimate book deal—only your writing can do that for you. I guess the key is finding your own personal balance. I think I’ve done that. And The Apocalypsies rock and rule and are tremendously supportive.
Cracked takes a look at some heavy themes like bullying and teen suicide. What drew you to this subject?
I dedicated the core principals of my teaching career on anti-bullying. I never shied away from facing and addressing bullying – I believed it was my job, as the adult, to discuss and address bullying – every single time it reared its head. I held lunch meetings with the bully and the victim countless times, conducted whole class and small group meetings – whatever it took. I wanted the kids to see each other for the human beings they were…not the labels they attached to each other. Adults that turn the other way or expect the kids to “work it out on their own” baffle me. They’re kids – they need to be taught and many times, re-taught, how to either be kind/tolerant or how to handle situations when they are the victim. It doesn’t just happen on its own. Sorry, I’m a bit passionate about the subject.
(No need to apologize. We need more adults like you who can bring this into the public consciousness!)
Do you plan on delving into other genres with subsequent books? Fantasy? Paranormal? Mystery? What are you working on now?
I have a picture book series out on submission right now, and in addition to two other completed contemporary YAs, I also wrote a MG sci-fi. I’m about to dive into a shiny new contemporary YA idea that came to me this past week. I already did my bullet pointed lists last night, and I think I’m ready to get writing.
What is the one TV show you cannot miss?
LOST was my never-miss-show. I don’t think it will ever be topped. I do love Survivor and have never missed a season yet.
Last great book you read?
Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante (It’s an adult mystery novel written from the point of view of a sixty five year old dementia patient—a retired hand surgeon—whose best friend turns up murdered…with her four fingers surgically removed. And the MC can’t stay in the present long enough to remember anything. It is written magnificently and one hell of a read.)
Thanks, Kate, for participating in the first Debut Details!
NO, thank you, Ron, for even wanting to interview me.
Of course, and I'll be telling everyone to pick up Cracked, when it streets January 3rd. (I always wanted to say "streets" or "drops." Can I hang with the cool kids now?)