Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Wednesday Debut Interview: Everything that Makes You by Moriah McStay

Welcome to this week's WEDNESDAY DEBUT INTERVIEW!

Today, we're talking with Moriah McStay about her YA contemporary debut, Everything that Makes You, which debuted March 17 from HarperCollins.

Tell us a bit about yourself, Moriah. What do you like to do when you're not writing?

Outside of writing and family, I don’t have as much time as I’d like for other things. I try to exercise every day—either the gym or walking my dogs or yoga. I’m a certified yoga teacher, and I teach aerial yoga a few times a month. I spend so many hours in my head, that coffee or lunch with friends is critical to my sanity, as least a few times a week. I read a ton and travel all that I can manage.

Tell us about Everything that Makes You. What made this an important story for you to tell?
ETMY is the story of Fiona—and Fi—Doyle. Same girl, two different stories. Fiona’s face is scarred, after a freak accident when she was little. Fi was never in the accident. In two parallel story lines, ETMY follows them both, looking at how their lives are the same, different and where they overlap. It’s not a paranormal book; there’s no magic. It’s two, equally plausible options about what a girl’s life would be like, based on different circumstances.

I’d thought about writing this book years before I actually did. When I was little, I was in an accident that left me blind in one eye. You can’t notice much now, but at the time it felt significant. People could tell. I got lots of questions, couldn’t play sports, had to wear big glasses. Later on—in high school and college—I began to wonder which parts of my personality were shaped by the accident. If it never happened, who would I be? And what about my brother and sister? My parents? How did the accident effect their lives? What about everyone else’s individual experiences? What about my friend whose father died when she was young? Or the classmate with cancer? How did those events change them?

There are so many “what ifs”--we all have them. It’s an interesting question to explore, I think.

How long has this process taken for you, from the time that you began the first draft of this book until the date of its publication?
The drafting and revisions took about eight or ten months—but I had the idea for almost fifteen years. I probably worked on it most of 2012. I signed with my agent Steven Chudney in November 2012. He sold the book in March 2013. Two full years later, it’s in book stores. The other day, I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in ages. When I told her the book comes out March 17th, she said, “Wow! That was fast!” I replied, “We really need to go out more often."

What do you love most about writing? What do you struggle with most?
I struggle most with balance. Since I’m writing full-time now, I have to consciously make myself go out into the world. It’s great to have so much time to write, but if I spend ALL the time writing, I feel creatively drained. Yoga and exercise helps, but this year, I’m trying to be better about seeking out different things. Art shows, new restaurants, even driving different routes to the grocery store. Anything to get my synapses to fire in new ways!

Every writer experiences some rejection and setbacks along the way. How did you learn to cope with them and move on?
I wrote two complete manuscripts before I found an agent for ETMY. Ugh, they were terrible--I can’t believe I let actual, real people read them—but the process was critical. I learned necessary lessons, and I’m a better writer for it. Sometimes I go back to those earlier ideas, when I’m working on setting or character.

I submitted both manuscripts to agents. The process is LONG, so I started new projects while waiting. I did the same while submitting ETMY, and that bare-bones effort was the spring board for my second novel, which I’m revising now. I’d say this "Keep Writing" coping mechanism was the most helpful for me. Throw yourself into something new. Not only will it keep you too busy to refresh your inbox 80 million times a day, but if bad news comes in, you’ll be excited and focused on a new project. It helps takes out some of the sting.

How did you find your publisher? What makes them a good fit for you and your book?
My agent Steven Chudney was in charge of the submission process, so he gets the credit for my awesome placement with Katherine Tegen Books. I love the depth and breath of HarperCollins--not just with range of things they publish but their long history, too. As a newbie, I feel respected and supported. The experience has been great.

Also, my editor Jill Davis is a godsend. I’m such a better writer now, because of her. She’s my own, personal MFA program.

Was there anything that surprised you about the publishing process?
The time frame can be surprising, and everything that happens behind the scenes. There are so many elements beyond me coming up with the idea and then writing down the words. ETMY feels like a joint effort now, and it's much stronger because of it.

After signing a contract with a publisher, what comes next for a debut author? What have you been doing in these months between then and now?
Social media is a biggie. I wasn’t very involved on Twitter or the blogosphere prior to my contract. My debut groups—Fearless Fifteeners and Class 2k15—have been a great resource. I’m trying to work out the balance between promoting ETMY and revising my second novel.

I remember seeing your cover around the web -- it's definitely eye-catching! How much say did you have in it? What do you hope it will tell readers about your story?
Isn’t is great? I feel like I lucked out with this. It’s not what I envisioned at all—I actually didn’t want a girl on the cover. But Erin Fitzsimmons—the art director at HarperCollins who designed it—did such a fantastic job. She gets all the credit. The hand lettering of the lyrics on Fiona’s side of the face is all her work. She ripped out a moleskine page and worked on that, to make it the most authentic.

Tell us about your title. Was EVERYTHING THAT MAKES YOU the first title you had in mind? If not, how did its change come about?
The original title was Progressions of Fate. So horrible, right? I didn’t even like it, then. When my agent said, “We’ll probably have to change it,” I was like, “Yes! Please! Come up with something better!”

My editor Jill Davis and I tried out so many titles, some better than others, but none exactly right. She sent me an email one weekend. The subject line was EVERYTHING THAT MAKES YOU!!!! It’s a line in the book, and she’d just read it while revising. Once we had the title, I wrote one of the later songs to go with it.

What's next for you after this debut? What are you working on now?
I’m revising my second book for Katherine Tegen. It’s been a long road—very normal for a sophomore novel, I’m told—but I’m pleased with the direction the book’s taken. I’m not sure when it’ll release, but it will be another standalone, contemporary YA.

How does it feel to have your book out in the hands of readers? Do you have any events planned that you'd like to tell people about?
So crazy! HarperCollins has gotten lots of ARCs in the hands of bloggers and readers. I love the unsolicited love—the emails, tweets and reviews--I get from people I don’t know. It’s surreal seeing conversation threads of people talking about your book, like it’s a real thing.

My book launch is March 17 at Booksellers of Laurelwood, an awesome Indie bookstore in Memphis. I’ll be in Jackson, MS March 31 for some school visits, all organized through Lemuria Books. We’re still fine-tuning the other events, but I’ll announce them on my website as they get nailed down.

Is there any other advice you'd like to pass on to others pursuing publication?
For me, it was getting involved in social media. I hadn’t done much of it before my contract. I got on board with the Fearless Fifteeners early on—Jasmine Warga and I are in charge of the ARC tours—and that network had been invaluable. Similarly, I’m a member of Class 2k15. I can’t recommend this type of networking enough. Not only can you bounce ideas off of people in your same boat, but you’ve got a supportive group behind you, when your turn to pub comes.

And, just for fun, what's one song that you think relates well to EVERYTHING THAT MAKES YOU, and why?
“We Made a Mountain” by the Mynabirds. While I’m sure it’s not the original intent of the song, it seems like something Fiona and Fi would share with the other, if they could. It makes me teary every time I hear it.

Thanks so much for the interview, and congrats on your debut!

1 comment:

  1. What a unique story idea! It really massages my brain. It's like quantum physics: this happened - and it didn't happen . . . what are the two different roads? And what a good interview. I enjoyed Moriah's comments about being a full time writer and how that impacts everything. So true. It's hard to get away from the keyboard, once you have that commitment - but so necessary.


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