Happy Friday All!
Today we're happy to welcome author and all-around fabulous person, Sharon Biggs Waller, to the YA Misfits blog! Sharon's YA debut, A MAD, WICKED FOLLY, will be available from Viking in January, 2014 -
You can win a signed ARC, right here, right now! And after this interview, you'll probably want it yesterday.
Thanks for joining us today, Sharon! Tell us a little bit about A MAD, WICKED FOLLY and what inspired you to write it.
Thanks for having me!
A MAD, WICKED FOLLY is set in 1909 against the backdrop of the women’s suffrage movement in England. My main character, Victoria Darling, is an Edwardian teen who wants to become an artist but societal pressures hold her back.
I’ve always been inspired by women who take a stand, and suffragettes have intrigued me ever since I heard the Schoolhouse Rock cartoon Sufferin’ ‘til Suffrage in 1976 when I was ten. When I moved to England in 2000 I used to walk past Emmeline Pankhurst’s statue in Victoria Tower Gardens, near the Palace of Westminster. Pankhurst was one of the founders of the Women’s Social and Political Union, and fought for women’s suffrage. Whenever I’d pass by that statue I’d wonder what it would be like to be a teenager during that time. What if you wanted to be something that wasn’t accepted? What if you were told no simply because you were a girl? And so Vicky’s story began to emerge. I decided to make her an artist because I have a real affection for artists. My father is an artist and when my siblings and I were little we’d get dragged along to art studios and art museums. When I was about six my dad painted a portrait of me in my ballet tutu! I thought that was the neatest thing ever and I still have the painting. I know how passionate artists can be and I love the way they look at the world. I suppose we writers are the same, but artist are, of course, much more visual in their creativity and so they see things other people tend to miss. I wanted Vicky to have the ability to see past the mundane and to be able to imagine what her life could be.
Do you have a favorite line or excerpt you can share with us?
Vicky is passionate about drawing the nude figure, it’s like her thing, and I really wanted to understand why figure drawing is an important skill for an artist. So I talked to artists and read many books on the topic and along the way I realized that my own opinions of posing nude had changed. I mean, I never thought it was scandalous, but I hadn’t thought it all the way through before, what it meant for the model and the artist. When I was around ten I wandered into a life drawing class at a sculpture studio where my father studied and there was this naked man standing there posing, one of the art students. No one yelled at me or acted embarrassed; it was a normal part of art life to them so who cared? But it must have taken them awhile to get to that place—they were only human, after all. So I wanted to put Vicky through that process. This passage is when she disrobes for the first time:
No one spoke a word as I undressed, but I could hear the usual bustle of artists readying their easels and drawing boards—the rustling of paper and the scrape of pencils against knives. I slid my skirt and petticoats off, put them neatly to one side, turned around and sat down on the chair. I stared at my bare toes for the longest time, unable to find the nerve to look up. It was the first occasion in my life that male eyes had seen my unclothed body. I’d never cared what men thought of me before, but now, sitting in front of their steady gaze, I wondered how they regarded my breasts, my hips, my legs. I found I wanted them to see me as beautiful. In my own experience I’d looked at the men’s bodies in that way when they posed. I was human after all, and the model wasn’t a thing, a bowl of apples to be drawn.
Finally, I forced myself to lift my head. And I saw ten pairs of eyes looking back at me. I had no idea what the students were thinking because Monsieur’s students were professional and had learned to focus their minds on their work. They knew if they gave in to any urges—leering or making bawdy comments—Monsieur would dismiss them and they’d never be allowed back.
And so the artists regarded me frankly and then bent to their work. Only one of the newer artists, a boy about my age, gaped, his eyes out on stalks, jaw dangling. I could see his throat tighten when he swallowed. I met his gaze and raised my eyebrows. Startled, he knocked over his easel, his pencils and papers scattering over the floor, earning disgusted looks from the more experienced artists. He fumbled to gather up his things, his ears red.
WOW! I know I'm hooked! How long have you been writing and what made you decide to pursue publication?
I’ve been writing fiction since the early 90s. I was a horse trainer before that, which is fairly rough on your body, and I ended up having surgery on my shoulder. My orthopedic surgeon suggested I think about another career because eventually I’d have to have my shoulder done again. I’d always loved writing so I started thinking seriously about writing books for young readers. While I was getting my fiction chops I wrote for equine magazines. That led to me writing three non-fiction books and other subjects for various magazines. I wrote five “practice” novels before I found my agent, John M. Cusick, for FOLLY.
Tell us a little bit about your journey from writer to agented writer to published author – how did it happen?
I’m a really stubborn person, and when I started writing I made myself a promise that I wouldn’t give up, no matter what. No matter how many rejections—and there were a lot! When I was training horses seriously I took lessons, as many as I could afford. Everybody did. It’s how you got better. Dressage riders know you can’t advance without eyes on the ground, without advice from coaches. We even install mirrors in our arenas so we can check our positions and see how are horses are looking. So for me, writing was no different. Surely you need those eyes, surely you need a coach? No one hatched from an egg being a fully formed writer, after all. So I treated my writing education in the same way. I knew I needed to work on some skills so I sought out people to help. I worked with freelance editors Deborah Brodie and Sarah Cloots; plot whisperer, Martha Alderson; and I took a course on revision through Writers Digest and I went to lots of SCBWI conferences. I also read many, many books on writing. I’m kind of a sucker for writing manuals, especially anything by Donald Maass and James Scott Bell.
FOLLY took me three years to write and revise. It was a real challenge because there is so much historical detail in the story and I wanted to get it right. I had some interest in it and some agents requested the full manuscript, but no one was biting because historical novels weren’t selling. Vampires, werewolves, shapeshifters were, and I was advised to add in some dark element or paranormal thing to make it more sellable. I really didn’t want to change my manuscript to meet market trends—that really rubbed me the wrong way, but then something kind of amazing happened. Along came the TV series Downton Abbey, it was such a hit that publishers were scrambling to find Downton-like stories. A friend of mine had found an agent for her Edwardian novel through Twitter because of Downton Abbey, so I started looking a little closer at my Twitter feed. I followed John M. Cusick because I loved his debut YA, GIRL PARTS. I never thought he’d like FOLLY because he seemed really into sci-fi and fantasy so I didn’t query him, but I really admired him as an agent and writer. But then, a couple of weeks after my friend found her agent, I was up late scrolling through my Twitter feed and I saw that John had posted this: Attention Y.A. authors:
Sexy Historicals. You got'em. I want 'em. Gimme something to quell my Downton Abbey withdrawal.
I started punching my husband on the arm and pointing wordlessly at my iPad. When I stopped squealing, I tweeted back that I had one and John sent me the agency link. I sent the query and sample pages on Friday, he asked for the full on Monday, and signed me on Tuesday. I got to send rejection letters to several agents who were still considering FOLLY (very surreal!). I did one tiny revision and John sent the manuscript out on submission, which should be fun, but is its own kind of hell. The rejections still sting, even with an agent. And worse, there is this threat of your manuscript being “shopped out,” which means it didn’t find a home anywhere. But after three nail-biting months John sold FOLLY to Leila Sales at Viking/Penguin. Leila is amazing. She’s also a very fine author.
I love that you can quote John's tweet! Go Twitter! (By the way, you can follow Sharon on Twitter too - she's @sbiggswaller.)
What are your most unusual/interesting sources of inspiration when you write?
I really like to get out my workspace and either visit historical places (museums, art galleries, historical sites), take walks in the woods near my house, or watch costume dramas and documentaries. I also really like to look at paintings and old photographs. There was recently an exhibition on Impressionism and Fashion at the Chicago Art Institute. Some of the actual dresses in the paintings were exhibited alongside the works of art. That just blew me away, and I was humming with inspiration when I left.
Who are some of your favorite literary characters and what do you love about them?
I really love the characters in books from my childhood. I suppose it’s because they were so real to me then. You read stories differently when you are child. You just enter into that world and it feels real to you. There’s nothing like it as an adult. So I still love the characters who grabbed hold of life and weren’t afraid: Pippi Longstocking, Harriet the Spy, Flat Stanley, Meg Wallace, Trixie Belden, Sara Crewe, Heidi, and Ramona. Oh, and of course, Eloise!
And now some fun questions…
What is your favorite ice cream? Favorite cookie? Any food in particular you can’t live without?
Favorite ice cream? All of it. Ha! Actually if pressed I’d probably say Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food. I also love spumoni and cookies & cream. Not a fan of rum raisin although I’ll eat it if I have to. : )
Favorite cookie is chocolate chip, although only homemade. Ginger snaps are fab, too. I can’t live without cheese. Ain’t no way.
Who is your biggest literary crush and/or favorite literary couple?
Favorite literary couple has to be Jamie and Claire Fraser from the Outlander series. If you haven’t read it, read it! Now! Start with OUTLANDER. You will not regret it.
My biggest literary crush is Mr. Darcy. Okay? There I said it.
How do you plan to celebrate your book release?
Sounds awesome! Thanks again Sharon, and best of luck with FOLLY!
Ok Misfiteers - if you'd like to be in the running to win a signed ARC of Sharon's book, just leave a comment below! Be sure to include your Twitter handle and/or e-mail so we can notify if you win!
Welcome to the world of the fabulously wealthy in London, 1909, where dresses and houses are overwhelmingly opulent, social class means everything, and women are taught to be nothing more than wives and mothers. Into this world comes seventeen-year-old Victoria Darling, who wants only to be an artist—a nearly impossible dream for a girl.
After Vicky poses nude for her illicit art class, she is expelled from her French finishing school. Shamed and scandalized, her parents try to marry her off to the wealthy Edmund Carrick-Humphrey. But Vicky has other things on her mind: her clandestine application to the Royal College of Art; her participation in the suffragette movement; and her growing attraction to a working-class boy who may be her muse—or may be the love of her life. As the world of debutante balls, corsets, and high society obligations closes in around her, Vicky must figure out: just how much is she willing to sacrifice to pursue her dreams?