Thursday, February 26, 2015

Guestopia: Interview with Rachael Craw, author of Spark!

Today, YAtopia has been joined by YA author Rachael Craw. Without wasting any time, let's get straight to it. 

Hello Rachael, thank you so much for joining us. 

Is this your first published book?

What’s it called?

Which genre?
Sci-fi premise with a pinch of Thriller/Contemporary and Romance 

Which age group?
YA, 14+ 

Is it a series or standalone?
First in a series. Stray is scheduled for release September 2015, Shield in 2016 

Are you an agented author?
Yes, with Chris and Barbara Else

Which publisher snapped up your book?
Walker Books Australia

How involved have you been in the whole publishing process of your book?
Walker Books Australia are an incredible team who really know their business and have a reputation for producing beautiful, high quality work. I was/am such a clueless newbie, so I was pretty thrilled to partner with them and follow their lead especially because they are so invested in Spark and it's success.

Do you have another job?
Nope, I am very blessed to be able to write full time (thanks to an extremely forbearing husband) before I started writing full time I was a High School English Teacher 

Did you receive many, if any, rejections prior?
My agents submitted the manuscript to one publisher before Walker who gave me a pretty fabulous rejection. They told me they loved my writing and would like to see anything else I produced in the future but weren't looking for sci-fi/genetic experimentation storyline at that time.

What created/what were you doing or watching when the first idea for this book sneaked up on you?
Hmmm, I just had my 3rd baby, so I was doing lots of night feeding and in a state of zombied confusion, so who knows. I just remember the unction to write hit me pretty hard, like a physical ache.  

How long did you plot/plan until you started writing it?
I knew I wanted to write YA, have a 17 year old female protagonist, a high school setting, and a fantastical element that gave my character superhuman abilities. I was quite keen to use a sci-fi premise to create that fantastical element but I didn't have a BIG idea. I sat on my bed one night and prayed for an idea and went to sleep and had the dream that became the prologue of the story. I was running through a forest at night with incredible speed, reflexes, strength etc then I was gripped by a terrible sense of urgency and I knew there was someone out in the dark who was in great danger. I had to reach this person before someone else - the killer - did. When I woke up I took it on faith that I had my idea and my brain had a party asking questions like: where did I get my strength/speed/reflexes from? why was someone trying to kill the person in the woods? how did I know they were in danger? why was it my responsibility? etc etc.

I'm a pantser, so once I knew the general gist of what the story was about, I just felt my way towards the end like walking through that forest blindfolded.

Once you started, did the story flow naturally or did you have to step in and wrestle it into submission?
Mostly it flowed but EVERY day I would sit at my laptop and have that moment of dread: what if I can't think of anything! 

How many drafts did you write before you let someone read it? Who was that someone?
I have a bestie in Christchurch named Audra who read every single word I wrote for Spark. Multiple versions, multiple re-writes. She was the ultimate cheerleader, devoured everything and was always demanding: MORE PAGES, PLEASE! Very motivating. BUT, Audra would admit it herself she had no ability to critique, she just loved everything. Ha! So I had professional assessor tell me the hard truth.

Did you employ an editor/proofreader or did you have a critique partner/beta readers before you started querying?
I went through TFS and Barbara Else did my first 2-3 assessments, then I had a year of mentoring with Chris (I like to think of them as good cop/bad cop) and then they offered to represent me as agents. They were completely amazing to work with. Lots of hard work, but totally invaluable.

Roughly how many drafts did it take before you sent the manuscript off into the real world?
I sent my first completed draft to TFS 

How many drafts until it was published?
Probably 4 or 5 while working on it with Chris and Barbara, then another re-write with my editor through Walker Books. 

Has the book changed dramatically since the first draft?
Yes, It was 150,000+ words when I first sent it to TFS (poor Barbara, what a waffling great nightmare) and was approx. 94,000 when it went to print. We dropped the first 4 chapters, cut 2 characters (the main character's father and another potential love interest). I changed the title from Borders, to By the Border River, to The Keeper, to Spark. I changed the roles from Keeper, Seeker, Trigger to Shield, Stray, Spark. And tons of little bits and pieces all over the show,

Are there any parts you’d like to change even now?
I am NEVER satisfied, I would edit myself into the grave. Handing the manuscript over is excruciating.

What part of writing do you find the easiest?

What part do you find hardest?
Having perspective.

Do you push through writing barriers or walk away?
Push, push, push. Like birthing a watermelon.

Eew! How many projects do you have on the go at the same time?
Just the trilogy. It consumes all of my brain cells, I have no room in my head for ANYTHING else. Sometimes I worry there is nothing else, that it's destroyed neurons that will never be replaced.

Do you think you’re born with the talent to write or do you think it can be learned?
I believe I was born with  a love of words, even from a very young age I would be captivated by the sound of an interesting or beautiful word but I believe the craft is learned.

How many future novels do you have planned?
I have just finished Stray (bk2) and sent that to my publisher and this year will be ALL about Shield (bk3) beyond that I have no plans but I have an unction to write some magical realism so who knows...

Do you write other things, such as short stories, articles, blogs, etc?
Before Spark I wrote scripts for amateur theatre, and screenplays that I never submitted to anyone and tons of cringe worthy poetry. I have no stamina for blogging. 140 characters on Twitter is just the right pace for me.

What’s the highlight of being published so far?
Random email through my website from kids who are beside themselves about Spark. It NEVER gets old.

Give me five writing tips that work for you.
1. Know what your character wants the most and deny them that thing
2. Drama is created by giving your characters opposing scripts (Sol Stein)
3. put your fingers on the keyboard and make them move up and down even when they don't want to
4. create problems for your characters, BIG ones that you have no solution for and trust that the solution will come
5. get your work professionally assessed. I don't regret any of the money I spent learning my craft. Its an investment.

And one that doesn't.
Hmmm, I don't think I've been given any advice that hasn't worked for me in some way.  

Can you give us a clue or secret about the next book?
'Spark' is like a superhero origins story where Evie must come to terms with her destiny and calling, her life interrupted by the synthetic gene in her DNA. 'Stray' (bk2) is a darker, moral dilemma story where Evie is torn between the people she loves, her duty and 'doing the right thing'. It takes you behind the scenes of the Affinity Project, the secret organisation responsible for the genetic experiment. When Evie chooses to help a Stray she defies everything the Affinity Project stands for and suffers the devastating consequences.

What question have you always wanted to be asked but never have? What would the answer be?
Occasionally, reviewers comment or wonder why I didn't set Spark in New Zealand but no-one has ever asked me why I didn't or they assume I set it in the States as a cunning marketing ploy. I'm afraid I didn't give it as much thought as that. I simply set Spark in the states because the premise of the story 'felt' very American. The original gene-experiment occurs in the early 70's and the Affinity Project's agenda was to create super-soldiers for hire, for military, political, corporate espionage. It didn't feel practical/feasible/believable to me to set that in New Zealand, makes it rather difficult to quickly deploy one's agents into the field at such a distance. But to be totally honest, I came to that conclusion very quickly and made no effort at all to try and come up with a justification for setting it in NZ, so perhaps that was lazy of me. I was completely comfortable with the American setting, to me it was just the kind of comic-book madness you'd expect!

If you haven't read Spark yet then WHY NOT? You must, it's absolutely brilliant. Find out more about Rachael and her books here:

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