Amanda Foody’s debut novel, DAUGHTER OF THE BURNING CITY, releases on August 15, 2017 from HarlequinTeen. We’re delighted to feature this interview with her on Writer’s Block Party. Read on to learn more about Amanda’s writing journey, advice, and, most importantly, her characters’ Hogwarts houses.
- So first of all, why don’t you introduce yourself to the Writer’s Block Party audience? Pretend I don’t know anything about you. Tell us about you as a writer and your debut, DAUGHTER OF THE BURNING CITY!
(Christine, for the record, knows probably everything about me.)I’m a recent college grad who lives in Philadelphia, PA. By day, I do the grad student/intern life. I’m a tax accountant at a Fortune 500 trying to finish my masters and pass all my CPA exams. By night, I write YA fantasy novels and spend a lot of time on Booktube, Bookstagram, and Booktwitter (Shocking: I really like books). My other interests include all girly pursuits, binge-watching TV shows, and angst-y piano playing.
My debut novel, DAUGHTER OF THE BURNING CITY, is a weird combination of a murder mystery and big fantasy story. It takes place in a massive carnival of debauchery, where Sorina, an illusion-worker, has created a family of illusions–essentially imaginary friends brought to life–and, together, they make up the cast of the carnival’s freak show. When one of her illusions is murdered, Sorina must track down who is killing them, why, and–most importantly–how they’re killing those who do not exist.
- When you found out that DAUGHTER OF THE BURNING CITY would be published, how did you react? Where were you? Who was your first call? I always think it’s so sweet to hear peoples’ stories after the fact, since publishing demands that you keep big news a secret for weeks, often months, before telling everyone!
It was January 2016 (so roughly this exact time of year), and I was napping. My agent called me, woke me up, and told me we had an offer on DAUGHTER. My first reaction was definitely relief. I had previously submitted a book to publishers before, and I was more than bracing myself for another host of rejections. But finally someone had said yes! The first person I called was my mom. Then after that, my family and closest friends. Keeping the news a secret was terrible! I desperately wanted to throw some kind of party, but I wasn’t allowed to announce until a few weeks after my college graduation.
- What elements of DAUGHTER OF THE BURNING CITY are you the proudest of? What do you think you learned about yourself as a writer while working on it?
I’m proudest of the twists. I had set out to write it with a lot of twists, and I think I succeeded. I also adore the setting of the Gomorrah Festival. This story made me realize how deeply I loved micro-settings, which are the kinds of small settings that become a character itself within the story because the whole world of the story takes place there (think Hogwarts or The Night Circus). I also learned that I have a thing for characters who don’t mind walking on the darker side…
- Every writer’s journey is different, but yours started very young. Do you have any advice specifically for teenage authors who are looking to be taken seriously in the industry?
If you want to know what I was like as a sixteen-year-old, picture the opening scene of Rachel Berry from Glee, running on a treadmill toward a picture of a Tony taped on the wall in front of her. That was essentially me, but that Tony would have been a published version of my books. I took myself incredibly seriously because I knew that even if I was five, ten, thirty years older, the odds would still be stacked against me. Writing is a hard industry.But I also learned early on that not everyone around you will take you seriously. It doesn’t mean they won’t support you, but there will always be a degree of disbelief about you achieving something until you finally pull it off. Endless well-intentioned adults told me I should start small by writing short stories. I didn’t read short stories. I read books, and I wanted to write books. I figured that the more ambitious projects I tackled, the more I would learn. I didn’t feel legitimized until I entered the industry somewhat officially when I was 18 after signing with my first literary agent, and even afterwards (and still, sometimes), I just felt so young and silly. People are always telling me to slow down.So ultimately, the only person who needs to take you seriously is yourself. Read books about the craft of writing. If you can, take creative writing classes. Read voraciously and pay attention to the styles of the authors you love. Join communities. Connect to other writers (even if they’re older than you!). Set strategic but achievable goals. Lose the idea that anyone is a natural-born story-teller and learn what good writing looks like. And, of course, don’t give up.
- In addition to writing your own fabulous novels, you were also a mentor in Brenda Drake’s Pitch Wars this year, a contest where agented and published authors choose an unagented author to work with for two months before presenting their revised manuscript to agents. (Full disclosure: I was Amanda’s mentee, so I am a tad biased, but she did a wonderful job helping me revise my manuscript). Can you talk a bit about that experience, why you chose to do it, and what was rewarding and insightful about the process, now that Pitch Wars 2016 is done?
I wanted to mentor in Pitchwars because I was a mentee back in 2012, and those sort of contests were what introduced me to the online writing community. Christine was all right (Ha!). Actually, Christine’s book blew me away because, not only is she a great writer, but it’s just so fun. I always forget that, at the end of the day, fun is what truly brings a book alive for a reader. So my greatest reward was definitely working with Christine on her angst-y characters (I now bother her with my own) and connecting with a bunch of other writers in the PitchWars community.
(Interviewer’s note: I swear I didn’t bribe her to say those nice things about me. Also, Amanda has a slightly twisted sense of fun. And yes, this is reflected in her debut.)
- Do you prefer drafting or revising? Why? How have you adjusted your approach to revisions now that you are under contract?
Revising! Always! For me, my favorite part about writing is watching the story come to life, and that’s hard to do when I’m in the thick of it. I’d rather opt for a more aerial view and take in how all the pieces are fitting together. I’m definitely more of a big picture kind of gal.My approaches for revisions haven’t changed much. The only difference is that I confirm all of my changes and strategies with my editor ahead of time.
- Every writer’s brainstorming process is different (mine, for example, involves alternately lying facedown on my bed and scribbling in a notebook). Describe yours.
I am really visual, so I like to have something to look at whenever possible. My favorite tools for building my stories include Pinterest, Excel, and my giant whiteboard. Usually, brainstorm-ing comes in two waves. First is finding the heart of the story. Second is constructing the entire plot.For finding the heart of the story, I usually start with a concept. For DAUGHTER, that was murdering illusions as well as the carnival setting. The biggest element I had to figure out before diving into it was the answer to these questions: Who? Why? How? I’d say it took me about two months for those ideas to click.Once I knew that, the plot came together very quickly. I use the Save the Cat method for outlining, and I just fill in chapters and scenes into an Excel sheet with all sorts of special formatting, then I watch everything come together. The whole process only takes me a few hours. Once I finish, I write a chapter outline. Then I either stow the project away or get to work.
- I personally love looking at the Pinterest boards and playlists behind an author’s book. Is there any visual or musical inspiration for DAUGHTER OF THE BURNING CITY that you’d like to share?
Yes! DAUGHTER has a Pinterest board and a book playlist on 8tracks and Spotify. Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/akfoody/sorina-gomorrah/
Spotify username: akfoody
- What role do critique partners play in your writing process?
I usually send my critique partners finished copies of a draft and collect their notes all at once. Then I compile everything in a huge document and identify where the greatest problems seem to lie. I also rely on them for general support.
- Okay, this question is just for fun: what Hogwarts houses would your main cast of DAUGHTER be in, and why?
Sorina would be a Gryffindor, because she definitely has a reckless, daring sort of attitude. Luca, the character who helps Sorina search throughout the Gomorrah Festival for the killer, would be a Ravenclaw. He’s definitely a brain. And Nicoleta, Sorina’s older sister, is secretly a Gryffindor even though you think she’s a Hufflepuff.