Chilling right?!?! And here is the wonderful, amazing, and brilliant author who brought Pretty Girl-13 to life, Liz Coley.
Liz, what made you decide to write Pretty Girl-13?
I call it the collision of a title, a character, and a question. The first element was the character. Ever since I found out that a person I thought I knew well was a reintegrated personality, I had the goal of writing a story featuring a protagonist with dissociative identity disorder. Second was the question. I read a lot. Among the articles floating around in my brain was one from 2006 about new techniques in neurobiology whereby individual neurons could be modified with light sensitive switches to turn them on and off. I also read about the military attempting to modify combat memories to treat post-traumatic stress. And finally, I read about scientists zeroing in on the precise locations of memories in our brains. All of which led to the question—if you had the option to remember or forget the worst things that had ever happened to you, what should you choose? And finally, for unknown reasons, an image popped into my head of a book cover with the title PG-13 (if you own the hardcover, look under the wrap). In my imagination that became an acronym for Pretty Girl-13, which sounded to me like the designation of an alternate personality in a person experiencing dissociative identity disorder. The rest was just doing the research and writing!
Pretty Girl-13 is dark, creepy, twisted, and phenomenal. How did you do that? How many drafts before you got it right?
I’ve never written anything this unremittingly dark before, and I found it emotionally exhausting to write the entire first draft during November 2009 for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Consider that Draft One. I wrote a more intense, expanded end involving the return to the scene of the crime to create Draft Two. That’s the version that went to my agent at the beginning of March 2010. Based on feedback from my agent, I wrote Draft Three before the summer, which put more emotion into Angie’s voice (she had a more flattened and angry affect in earlier drafts) and tweaked a few more detailed scenes, like her return to school. There were a few final polishes to create Draft Four, which went on submission to my editor in June 2011 and resulted in the sale. After the manuscript was under contract, I did a final draft based on my editorial letter, and that was it, except for the proofreading and copy-editing process. Five?
Five drafts. Wow. Many of us write ONE draft and think it’s done. I’ll talk more in a few days about taking time to look at the BIG picture—and more importantly, HOW to do it.
When did you decide your book was ready to send off to agents? Tell me about your query process.
I already had my agent at the time I wrote Pretty Girl-13, so I’ll answer this question for my unpublished manuscript Tor Maddox: Unleashed (AKA Under the Radar AKA Sixty Million Best Friends). I wrote Unleashed during NaNoWriMo 2006 and revised it over the course of the next year, running it through a number of first, second, and third readers, and finally deciding there was nothing more I needed to change. I spent October 2007 researching agents online and (in the days of snail mail submissions) assembling 42 submission packets to all of their different specifications. Since I did a huge mailing all at once, everyone received the same query letter, which I had worked on and polished for days. Out of 42, I had two requests for partials and two requests for fulls. One of the fulls led quickly to my relationship with Nancy Coffey Literary and Media Representation in early November 2007, just in time to start another story.
When Pretty Girl-13 came out, did friends, family, and random people in your life treat you any differently? How did they react to the dark nature of the book?
My mother-in-law thought it was the best thing I’d written to date (she’s my most faithful fan). My sons thought the book was good but said it was a bit weird to think that I had written it. My daughter thought I was a rock star, as did her friends. I told my Mom I didn’t think she would like it, so she held off reading for a long time and then we had only a ninety second conversation about it. Really nothing changed in terms of how I was treated by people who knew me. However, there is one thing to be said for having any published work, and that is that you are magically the most interesting person in the conversation when you are introduced to new people.
So Liz, do you constantly check your stats and reviews? How do you respond to negative reviews?
Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa. Experienced authors warn us not to because really nothing good can come of hearing yourself highly praised (paralyzed by expectations) or trashed (paralyzed by humiliation). I hope that after I get this first book under my belt I will be disciplined enough to ignore stats and reviews. At the moment, though, I can’t help myself from checking. I’m so bad I even use Google translate to read the foreign ones. Having read some bad reviews and controlled the natural instinct to fire back an explanation, I have reached A Very Important Conclusion: Every person reads a different book, no matter that the words are the same.
You and I met in NY at the SCBWI 2012. Are you still a member of SCBWI? What has SCBWI done for you? Do you attend many local and national events? What was your favorite?
I’m still a member of SCBWI and very loyal in spirit to the organization. The Northern Ohio SCBWI is a fabulous regional program, and I attend the annual meeting almost every year. Last year when I participated in the Publication Celebration for the first time, I gave a stirring speech mentioning all the great things SCBWI had meant to me since I joined in 2005 as a wide-eyed wannabe. In brief, SCBWI helped me learn my craft through conferences, network with a support group, connect with mentors, and pitch directly to editors. Every SCBWI conference I’ve attended has recharged my batteries and kept me going forward in this crazy business.
You self-pubbed your first book, Out of Xibalba. What happened to your sales after Pretty Girl-13 came out?
Yeah, well…. Let me just say there has been no coattails effect. Zilch. Out of Xibalba remains a sleeper and a really good deal on Kindle. I’m still glad I self-published it, though, as the story, the Mayan culture, and the characters are very dear to my heart.
How much time do you spend on social media? Your Website lizcoley.com is AWESOME. Who maintains it?
I spend a lot more time on email than on social media. I find Facebook and Twitter can become black holes that eat time, never to be returned. I wish there were a way to automate screening for useful or high priority information. If there is, please tell me! I use them less than daily. I developed my own website twice then had a designer, Denise Biondo, take it to the next level. I do most of the simple content maintenance myself, but if something needs to be encoded, Biondo Studios takes care of that for me.
Inquiring minds want to know, what are you working on next?
I have four projects in the works. There are two complete manuscripts out on submission, one another dark psychological novel (regret is the nightmare that never lets go) and one a romance (what if you are with the right person for the wrong reason). I’m also trying to finish two partial manuscripts, one an awkward romance, and one about the relationship between a girl and her grandma.
What advice do you have to fellow writers who are still in the trenches?
In the trenches? Keep digging away. We’ve all worked hard in that pit with our word shovels. The deeper you go, the darker you might feel, so you’ll need to bring your own light in the form of writing friends and mentors to brighten your mood. Also. Be sure to reinforce the strength of your walls with fresh air and exercise and coffee and chocolate to avoid collapse of will.
Any last words, tidbits, or morsels for us to chew on?
Above all, never give up, never surrender. Hit your head against the wall until the wall gives up. There are so many of us scratching our heads and saying, Wow! That happened. I did it.
Liz, thank you, thank you, thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. Anyone who wants to learn more about Liz Coley, check out her website, lizcoley.com .
Come back tomorrow for my review of Pretty Girl-13.
Thanks for sharing with us,Liz! Great advice. Looking forward to checking out your book (and future books!).