Q&A with Amy

Q. Where did you grow up?
A. I was born in Redwood City, California. My family quickly moved to Colorado and then to New York before finally settling amidst cactus and rattlesnakes in Arizona when I was eight years old.  This was the family car—a 1966 Mustang.  I’m the youngest of six kids—four girls and two boys—which meant I always had to sit over the hump in the back seat of the car with no room for my legs.  I think that’s why I’m short. 🙂

Q. Where do you live now?
A. I live in Phoenix, Arizona.  It’s only a few miles from where I grew up and there’s still plenty of cactus and rattlesnakes. And, it’s really hot! Most of my novels take place in Arizona and I draw lots of inspiration from the desert. I married my college sweetheart, Jake, and we have two awesome kids who hate to be referred to as awesome.  We have an Australian Shepherd named Finn and a cat named Lola.

Q. What are your hobbies?
I like to be outdoors and active. I play on two tennis leagues, I golf, and I love to hike. When I get stuck on a book project, I go out in the desert for a walk and it always helps me to clear my head. My favorite way to relax is a hot bubble bath and a good book. As you might guess, I read a ton and also love to watch movies.

Q. Did you always want to be an author?
A. I did, although my writing career didn’t start off well.  I submitted my first story to be published when I was thirteen, and American Girl magazine sent me my first rejection letter.

I didn’t give up on writing in the following years, but I also knew that once I graduated from college I would need a job that could pay the bills.  I was lucky to discover a career as an advertising copywriter. I got to come up with ideas and write all sorts of things: TV commercials, radio spots, billboards, newspaper ads etc. Oh—and I got paid for it.

But I missed making up my own stories.

After lots of years as a copywriter, I went back to school and got my Masters in Fine Arts from ASU in 2004. That’s when I learned how to write plays for the stage. Writing plays led me to a publisher who wanted me to write Reader’s Theater scripts for kids.  So I did.  And that led me to writing short stories for teens.  And that gave me the confidence to try my hand at writing a full-length novel.

And here I am.

Q. What were you like as a teen?
A. I was a nerdy kid. I played in the marching band, tried out for every school play and competed on the track team. I loved to read and found it a great way to escape from…well, everything. I was lucky–I had wonderful friends and I loved being so involved at school. But there was also a part of me that wanted to popular and beautiful and all the things that I wasn’t. I really loved middle school and high school, but I also remember how hard it was. How insecure I felt. How much I wanted to fit in but also wanted to stand out. I think that’s why I write about teens going through the same thing.

Q. What were your favorite books growing up?
A. I loved Judy Blume, and especially Are you There God? It’s Me, Margaret.
James and the Giant Peach was the first book I remember reading and thinking, “I want to write a book like that.” Other favorites: The Lion, The Witch and The WardrobeThe Lord of the Rings, and Watership Down. 

Q. How do you write a book and how long does it take?
A. For me, it happens in a series of steps:

First, I come up with an idea I like.  I can come up with an idea in two days, or I can stew over one for many months.  Writing a book is such hard work that I want to be sure I love the idea before I invest so much time and effort.

Second, I research a little and sketch out a rough outline.  For OyMG, I attended a high school speech tournament and researched summer camps. For A Matter of Heart, I spoke to lots of swimmers, talked with a cardiologist and had an EKG done. When I wrote Die for You, I interviewed counselors and psychologists and did a ton of research on Pompeii. (Which totally fascinated me.)
During this phase, I’m also drafting some scenes and getting a feel for who the characters are. This is when I write a VERY rough draft of a book. That usually takes about 6 weeks.

Third, I revise.  This takes the longest–usually a few months. When I think I’ve got something good, I give it to my writing partner…who gives me notes for revision; I give it to my critique group…who gives me more notes for revision; I give it to my agent…who gives me more notes for revision; I give it to my editor…who gives me more notes for revision….  Well, you get the idea.

It can take me eight months to a year to finish a book, but every one is different. The first time I wrote Audition & Subtraction I forgot the plot. Oops!  So that one took a couple of years.  

Q. Where do you get your ideas?
A. All sorts of places. I tend to draw from my own life and often go back to the diaries I kept through the years. But ideas are floating around everywhere. Anything that inspires me to ask, “What if?”

Q. What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
A. First of all, don’t waste your time looking for short cuts—I’ve searched and there are none.  Don’t waste time preparing your acceptance speech for when you win a big award some day.  (Yeah, I’ve done that too.)  Don’t waste your time talking about wanting to write.

Instead—write. Being an author is hard work–that’s the truth. It takes a lot of time and a lot of persistence and it takes a thick skin because there’s lots of rejection.

So, here’s my advice.
Make writing a part of your daily life.  You don’t have to start with a novel. Keep a journal or a diary.  Keep a notebook of ideas.  Start a blog. Write a short story. Whatever works for you as long as you work on your writing.

Also, join writing groups and organizations that help support writers. For example, I’m a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrators. (Link below.) I’ve learned so much from attending workshops and conferences, and made friends and contacts that have helped me so much along the way.

Q. I’ve written a book.  What should I do next?
A. First of all, congratulate yourself!  Finishing a book is a huge accomplishment in and of itself.

Second, there’s an amazing amount of great information on the web about editing your book, polishing it, writing query letters and submitting it to agents and/or publishers.  In fact, much more than I can possibly share here.  Do a Google search for the topic that interests you the most.  You’ll turn up some great stuff.  Here are a few good places to start:

Query Tracker
Agent Query
Verla Kay’s Message Boards
Nathan Bransford

Q. Wait, I have a question you haven’t answered.
A. I can’t promise to answer every question, but I can try.  Just click on the CONTACT button and send me a email.