Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Wednesday Debut Interview: WITHOUT BORDERS by Amanda Heger

Today's Wednesday Debut Interview features Amanda Heger, who's talking to us about her debut YA novel, WITHOUT BORDERS!

First off, tell us a bit about yourself!
Hey, Operation Awesome! I’m a book-loving, dog-owning, Sour Patch-eating author from the Midwest. I have a massive girl crush on Amy Poehler, and one of my life goals is to adopt a pig and name it Ron Swineson.
That is a fabulous name for a pig! So, tell us about your book. What's your elevator pitch for WITHOUT BORDERS?
In a last-ditch attempt to pad her medical school resume, Annie London travels to rural Nicaragua to volunteer with a medical brigade. But over the course of her four-week stay, she gets a lot more than she bargained for—including a blossoming romance with the doctor in charge of the trip.
Have you ever been to Central America? How much of your own experiences are echoed in Annie's?
I have! Without Borders is set in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region of Nicaragua, a place that’s very near to my heart. In college, I spent a summer there as a volunteer with a public health organization. I taught sex ed in local schools, organized classes on domestic violence, and traveled with a medical brigade. It was an experience that changed my life in a few big ways and a hundred little ones. A lot of the day-to-day experiences I had there are echoed in Annie’s journey, but the romance is very much a fictional one. There were no butterfly-inducing kisses with sexy doctors in the real life version of this story. (Sadly.)
I’ve also traveled to other parts of Latin America, including Costa Rica, Mexico, Peru, and Brazil. But those trips didn’t really influence my story beyond a general love of travel.
Let's talk a bit about your publishing journey. How long as this process taken for you, from the first draft until publication date?
Oh, the waiting. And the waiting. And the waiting. It never ends. I wrote the first words of Without Borders in February of 2013. The book comes out in April of 2016. If you’re bad at math (like me) that’s more than three years of writing and editing and finger-crossing and crazy-making.
Every writer experiences some rejection and setbacks along the way. How did you learn to cope with them and move on?
Kind of.
The real answer is that I’m still learning to deal with it. I’d be a lying-liar-who-lies if I said rejections and setbacks don’t bother me anymore. But having good author friends in my corner—people who have been through this mess we call publishing and understand the frustrations—has helped so much. They cheer me on when things go well and talk me down from the ledge when I feel like publishing is conspiring to ruin my life.
What makes Diversion Publishing and your editor(s) there a good fit for you and your book?
Diversion was willing to take a chance on me and my out-of-the-box stories. When other publishers said they didn’t think readers would buy a book set in Nicaragua, Diversion said they’d find a way. When I said “Oh, and by the way book two is going to be about a fake late night talk show because I’m obsessed with Craig Ferguson,” my editor said “works for me.”  And when I completely changed course on book three and decided to write a same-sex romance, no one batted an eye. They give me the freedom to write the stories I want to write, which is basically an author’s dream.
Tell us about your cover. How much say did you have in it? What do you want it to tell potential readers?
My cover came about in a really cool way. I was browsing a stock photo website for something unrelated and came across a photo that really captured the tone and mood of Without Borders. I sent a link to the art director with a note that said something like “I may be way overstepping here, but what do you think about using this on the cover?” A few months later, the cover showed up in my inbox using the photo I’d suggested. (But made better with magic and Photoshop.)
Covers can say so much about what a book is or isn’t. I hope this one says tells readers Without Borders is a romance with a strong sense of setting. I also hope its gorgeousness hypnotizes them into buying the book. (You are getting sleepy. Really sleepy. You want to buy Without Borders. Is it working?)
Totally works. It makes me want to buy this book and go read it on some picaresque hike somewhere. Was WITHOUT BORDERS the original title you had in mind for this book?
Hahahaha. No.
For a long time, I called the manuscript “that thing” because I couldn’t come up with a title. One day, a friend jokingly called it Playing Doctor and that stuck for a little while. When I started to query, I knew I needed a different name, because the book isn’t nearly as hot as Playing Doctor implies. I eventually settled on Thirty Días because the book took place over Annie’s 30 days in Nicaragua, with each day as a separate chapter. Once I signed with my agent, we went back to the drawing board because neither of us were crazy about the title. We were brainstorming one night and she said “We need something that calls up images of Doctors Without Borders.” And I said, “How about just Without Borders?”
Boom. Teamwork, guys. Teamwork.
Can you tell us about some of the things you been working on between signing a contract for this novel and its release? What about the post-book-deal process been most surprising for you?
We sold Without Borders as the first of three books, but I’d never planned on spinning it into a series. So as soon as we sold the book, I started working on book two. It’s been written and edited, so now it’s just waiting to become a “real book.” (Insert Pinocchio voice here.) Book two is a standalone, starring a secondary character from Without Borders. It’s called Semi-Scripted and will be out in the fall. Now I’m working on the final book in the series, which is tentatively scheduled for release in the first half of 2017.
Something that’s really surprised me is how different everyone’s publishing process is. Some publishers give their authors a ton of input on the covers, some get none. Some editors do two or three or four rounds of edits, some do one. Some publishers do first pass pages, some send the book to print directly after copy edits. There is no one accepted process to get a book on the shelf.
How does it feel to finally have your book out in the hands of readers? Do you have any events planned you want people to know about?
It’s surreal. Completely and freakishly surreal. The first time I saw a copy of it on someone else’s Kindle, I cried. When strangers started leaving thoughtful reviews on Goodreads, I cried. Basically, there’s been a lot of crying going on here.
As I write this, events are still being planned and finalized. But as they come together, I’ll be sure to update my website and Facebook pages.
Is there any other advice you'd like to pass on to others pursuing publication? Anything you would have done differently?
Find your people. The critique partners and beta readers who get your stories. The friends who will listen to you whine about getting shot down at acquisitions. The ones who will send you random gifs of Zach Morris when you’re having a crappy day. They’ll make this journey a hundred times more bearable. Sometimes they’ll even make it fun.
If I had a time machine, I’d go back to 1992 and tell my fifth-grade self to rethink that whole pink polka-dotted overalls look. Then I’d fast forward to 2013 and 2014 and tell my Without Borders-writing self to trust my gut. When I first started writing, I tried to take every bit of advice and incorporate every suggestion. Yeah, maybe that version of the story had no passive voice or adverbs or whatever. But it also had no voice. Since then I’ve learned to trust myself and let my voice shine through—even if that means it’s flawed and has more “to be” verbs than some prefer. My stories are better for it.
And, just for fun, which other YA hero/heroine from a different book/series would your main character Annie most like to go on vacation with?
Cath from Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl. I think they’d bond over what it means to leave an ill parent behind to pursue their own dreams. And Cath is just a kickass character all around.

Thank you so much for your participation in this Wednesday Debut Interview!

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