Welcome to the next installment of Get to Know!
As you all know, I belong to an online critique group called The Novel Workshop. One of my most dedicated and favorite critique partners is Alex Lidell. Like Cathy Bryant, Alex and I don’t write in the same genres, but that doesn’t bother us. I love that Alex makes me think and always challenges my thought patterns (and she keeps me from being too preachy!).
Alex was one of the top three finalists in the Amazon Breakout Novel Contest this year. Her YA fantasy, Service of the Crown, is one of my favorite reads! Although she didn’t win the Amazon contest, she did win over an agent, who in turn got her a contract with Dial Books for Young Readers (a Penguin imprint). I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am for her.
Welcome to Faith, Hope, and Suspense, Alex!
To start with, why don’t you tell us a little about yourself.
About me? I’m so much more used to talking about my characters. Okay. Let’s see… I am 29 years old and have been an avid Young Adult fantasy reader ever since my elementary school librarian stuck Tamora Pierce’s Alanna in my hands.
I was not a lit major in college or grad school. In fact, I tested out of freshman English, convinced my advisor to count fencing toward some other requirement (European history, I think) and tried to give my trusty cliff notes to my roommate, who WAS a lit major. She spent freshman year trying to explain to me that she really does want to read her assigned books because that is what lit majors do. I figured it was just one of her weird quirks, like running. (Note to self: Find her and tell her about SOC. She’s going to look at me cross-eyed.)
I actually learned to write at the Young Adult Novel Workshop, through a combination of getting and giving feedback. And I read a lot of writing books. SOC is my first novel, but I have revised it so much that by now it is nothing like what I originally typed up.
Can you give us a little blurb about Service of the Crown (SOC as we fondly refer to it as)?
A girl from a noble family struggles to become a fighter at the Crown's military academy, as she negotiates her best friend's use of drugs to control his healing magic, and the notorious past of her mysterious mentor.
Where did you get the idea for SOC?
When I graduated and moved away, I started to miss those 2am conversations you have in the dorm room. I needed some cool, opinionated people who’d come hang out in the middle of the night. So Savoy and Renee (my main characters) showed up. We started together on March 20, 2007 and are still going.
What was it like to make it as far as you did in the Amazon Breakout Novel Contest?
Weird. I had a year worth of rejections behind my belt and was only in the contest for the Publisher’s Weekly review, which all quarter-finalists received. After that, I was waiting to get cut already. I KNEW I wasn’t going to make the finals and I wanted to keep querying, which I could not do until I fell out from the contest. When the call came that I was one of the three YA finalists and was going to Seattle, I was in total shock. Leigh Feldman, my totally wonderful agent, contacted me about that time as well. It seems good things happen when I give up on waiting for them.
Now that you have a contract, you’ve begun the edits on SOC. What is the hardest part about working with an editor? The best part?
The hardest part was accepting that my favorite character can’t be the star of the show because of his age. The best part, is feeling that this is “for real”. Also, I can already see the editor’s comments making the book stronger.
I know there are certain parts of this story that you have to leave out or rework in ways you didn’t envision. How does it make you feel and how do you manage to push through these feelings to make the necessary changes?
It’s a challenge, a stimulating one. Sometimes, I get to re-visit my favorite scenes (which are fun) and write them from a different perspective. Sometimes it’s permission to do something I have never done, like adding romance. And sometimes it’s a puzzle: given tools X (ie. Renee’s POV) and limitations Y (ie. Her character’s abilities) accomplish goal Z (i.e. tell Savoy’s back story).
What has been the biggest surprise for you coming into this part of the publishing process?
My Agent’s favorite SOC character. Won’t tell you who she liked best, but will tell you that I just sat there and blinked at her. And then my editor said the same thing, but I was prepared and did not blink at her for quite that long. In practice, this means that as part of my editing, I am turning “up the volume” on some aspects of the novel and turning it “down” on others. This I expected. What I didn’t expect was which aspects would get turned which way. I have to say though, these guys (well, ladies) are right. The revisions are making the novel stronger.
If you could name the top three things that helped you to get where you are today as a writer, what would they be?
My crit partners. Starbucks. Character and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Work with reviewers but don’t ask questions you don’t actually want answers to or ask them of people whose opinion you don’t want to know. It annoys them and messes with you.
Do you have a favorite book/author?
Alanna by Tamora Pierce. I can’t say that it’s the best book I have ever read (in fact, I like some of Pierce’s Protector of the Small series better), but it’s the book that inspired me the most in the genre. And I recently read the Cain Mutiny which was awesome.
Anything else you would like to say to the readers?
That’s all I got, Rare – but if anyone has specific questions or comments or wants to talk about their writing, they can find me on twitter (@Airdale51) or Facebook (Alex Lidell). Thanks Rare.
Thank you, Alex, for joining us here today. You’ll have to come back when your novel is out to let us know where we can purchase it!