How They Got Here: 2009 Debut Author Sarah MacLean

This is the first in a year-long series of blog interviews I’ll be hosting with my fellow 2009 Debut Authors, called "How They Got Here." 

It should be an especially helpful series for teens who write, teachers, and anyone who wants to write for kids.  2009 debut authors will be dropping by to talk about how their writing in school shaped the authors they are today, what teachers can do to make a difference, how they revise, and how they found their agents and editors.  (You’ll even be able to read some successful query letters!)  If you know a teacher or two who might be interested, please share the link!

Today…Sarah MacLean, author of THE SEASON!

Seventeen-year-old Lady Alexandra Stafford doesn’t fit into the world of Regency London — she’s strong-willed, sharp-tongued, and she absolutely loathes dress fittings. Unfortunately, her mother has been waiting for years for Alex to be old enough to take part in the social whirlwind of a London Season so she can be married off to someone safe, respectable, wealthy, and almost certainly boring. But Alex is much more interested in adventure than romance.

Between sumptuous balls, lavish dinner parties and country weekends, Alex, along with her two best friends, Ella and Vivi, manages to get entangled in her biggest scrape yet. When the Earl of Blackmoor is killed in a puzzling accident, Alex decides to help his son, the brooding and devilishly handsome Gavin, uncover the truth. It’s a mystery brimming with espionage, murder, and suspicion. As she and Gavin grow closer, will Alex’s heart be stolen in the process?

Romance and danger fill the air, as this year’s Season begins!

Welcome, Sarah!  Please tell us about the first thing you ever wrote that made you think maybe you were a writer.

I’ve wanted to be a romance novelist for as long as I can remember.  When I was 13, I wrote a romance short story for my 7th Grade English class.  I don’t remember much about it, but I do remember the heroine was named Chantel.  My teacher, who was a man, posted it on the bulletin board outside his room, and it became a big gossipy thing in my school because the hero and heroine French kissed.  That’s when I knew I might actually pull this crazy career off someday. 

What books did you love when you were a kid?

I cut my teeth on Roald Dahl (James and the Giant Peach was my favorite book for AGES), Judy Blume, Ann M. Martin and the Sweet Valley High Books.  And then I found Jane Austen, and never looked back.

Is there a particular teacher or librarian who was a mentor for you in your reading and writing life?

There isn’t one…there are dozens.  I was so very lucky to have a collection of incredible teachers and librarians who encouraged my crazy ideas and were willing to go along for the ride.  Off the top of my head: Ms. Brear (4th Grade); Mr. Sullivan (6th Grade); Mr. Slattery (8th Grade Geography who never once complained when I spent every free moment in his class with a romance novel in my hand); Mrs. Moylan (who made history come alive for me in high school); Ms. Nolette, Mr. Boudreau and Mrs. Deriso (who did the same for literature). And Ms. Long (my high school librarian who is still there…and still a big fan). And that’s all before college! 

Moving on to the here and now, most writers admit that making time to write can sometimes be a challenge.  When and where do you write?   Do you have any special rituals?  Music?  Food & beverages?

I have a day job (like most writers), so things are particularly challenging in my world. 

The short answer is, I write whenever I can. I’m on a really tight schedule for my next books, with one due every 6 months for the next year and a half, so I can’t really afford to have a ritual. Mainly, I write on the subway, waiting in restaurants for friends, at the laundromat, and at my dining room table while my husband watches The West Wing. 

When I am at home, though, my writing almost always involves classical music.  Mozart was really popular in the Regency, so I listen to a lot of that…and Johann Strauss, Jr.’s waltzes always get me in a ballroom-scene-kind-of-mood.

Do you have a favorite strategy for revision?

Trust your gut and slash and burn. If I second guess a sentence or word, it gets cut or rewritten. No questions asked.

What’s your best advice for young writers?

Writing is not a talent.  It’s a skill.  Write every single day and you’ll eventually be a pro.

What’s special about your debut novel?

I hope that Alex and her friends are what’s special about it.  My goal going into it was to create a world and a group of characters who were fun and feisty and, most importantly, good friends to each other.  I hope I accomplished that.  

What were the best and worst parts of writing it?

I’ve said it before…writing The Season was the most fun I’ve ever had.  In my life.  Meeting these characters, spending time with them, enjoying them, it was all so fun.  It wasn’t so fun being on deadline.  And it’s not so fun waiting for reviews and reader response.  But the writing was SO FUN!

How did you find your agent and/or editor?

My editor found me, actually…she knew I was thinking about a Regency novel and suggested I try one for YA. I actually didn’t have an agent for it…but I now have one–best thing I ever did.

Would you like to share part or all of your successful query letter with blog readers?

Again, it was slightly different for me…but here’s the first paragraph of the query I sent for an agent…after the purchase of The Season.

Lavish ballgowns, extravagant parties, juicy romance and a fair share of adventure fill my young adult regency romance series–which follows three best friends as they navigate their first London Season during the spring and summer of 1815. The first of these books, The Season, has already been purchased by Orchard Books, an imprint of Scholastic, and is set for publication in March of 2009.  I am writing to you with a somewhat strange query; I was unrepresented for The Season  and would like to avoid being so for the next book!

The Regency World of Sarah MacLean. 
Be there…or be talked about.

So…would you rather be there than be talked about?  You can pick up THE SEASON at your local independent bookseller, order it through one of my favorite indies, Flying Pig Bookstore (they ship!), or find an indie near you by checking out IndieBound!

Up next in the "How They Got Here" Debut 2009 series…Erin Dionne, author of MODELS DON’T EAT CHOCOLATE COOKIES, will be stopping by on Wednesday, February 11th.

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