Author interview: Becca Fitzpatrick

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(Regular reader numbering in the Ones, if you haven’t noticed it yet, my blog went through a snafu that resulted in all the posts from October 2013 onwards to vanish into the ether. So I’m just uploading all of these transcripts without any garnishing because I barely remember what I wrote back then.)

RONREADS (RR): Is this your first time in the Philippines?

BECCA FITZPATRICK (BF): It is. First time in Asia, first time in the Philippines.

RR: How did this visit come about?

BF: National Book Store invited me to come out, and I think it was just a couple of months ago. I was so excited to come because for years now, on Twitter, I’ve had my Filipino fans asking me to come over. When National Book Store invited me, I was so excited. I didn’t have to think about it, I just had to come because of my fans. I wanted to see them.

RR: What are you looking forward to seeing here in the country?

BF: The beaches, obviously (laughs). I’ve heard the water is gorgeous, and that it’s beautiful, pure sand. Just a bit of exploring around. I think that’s the best way to get a feel for a culture. You have to go explore.

RR: I read online that “Hush, Hush” came about because your husband enrolled you in a writing class. Is that true?

BF: It’s true (laughs). For my 24th birthday, I had asked him to enroll me in a Japanese cooking class. He didn’t do that (laughs). He decided to go to the writing class because I kept a journal and I was always writing in my journal. He thought I would really enjoy the writing class.

He put me in that and I was really mad at first (laughs). Everyone else had degrees in Literature or English. They’d been writing for years and I didn’t feel qualified. I felt absolutely intimidated. But I’m glad now that he put me in that class because I wouldn’t have been able to do all of this if it weren’t for that class.

RR: So you never had any interest in writing before, aside from writing journals?

BF: When I was little, I remember watching the movie “Romancing the Stone”, and so I wanted to be a romance writer because I wanted to be like the writer in the movie, fly into Colombia and be rescued by a handsome guy. I remember thinking that as a little girl, and I remember writing plays and little stories. But I don’t think I really considered it seriously until that class my husband sent me on.

RR: What made you take up Health rather than going to writing?

BF: I didn’t think that it was a possibility. I never really thought that it would be a career. I just thought that it was something people did for fun and I was thinking that I had to go to school for something that would give me a job in the future. I remember wanting to be a spy in college (laughs), and I wanted to work in the CIA but it never happened. I applied, they just didn’t call me (laughs).

RR: I didn’t know you could apply. I just thought it was like “Alias” where they just approach you.

BF: I think they might, sometimes, but I applied online.

RR: Was writing something that the family pursued?

BF: No, but we were all big readers, and I think that if you love reading, it’s kind of a natural step to get into writing. In order to be a good writer, you need to be a good reader.

RR: How did “Hush, Hush” come up in that writing class? Was it something you were thinking of even before, or did it just happen?

BF: It happened during the class. My teacher asked us to write a scene showing humiliation, and so the first scene that I actually wrote in “Hush, Hush” was something that happened to me in high school. It’s the scene where Nora’s in Biology and her teacher asks her to name the characteristics she wants in a potential mate, and she’s so embarrassed and everyone was laughing, and it happened in front of a cute boy like Patch. It happened to me in high school. It was ripped right from my life.

RR: Even “Call me Patch. I mean it. Call me.”?

BF: Not that (laughs). But there was a cute boy who was telling me “C’mon Becca, tell us what you want in a man.” It was mortifying! That was the first scene that I wrote and it just came from there.

RR: From that writing class and that first scene, how long did it take for you to finish writing “Hush, Hush”?

BF: I don’t think it was finished during the class. But the other students were like, after the class is over, we should form a critique group and share our stories with each other. We’re all published now, either magazines or publishing. It took me five years of rewriting “Hush, Hush”, over and over, and sending it out to publishers, before I got an offer. I received over a hundred rejection letters for the book.

RR: Did that include hunting for an agent? Could you talk about your publication story.

BF: I decided that I wanted a literary agent, so I was sending the book to agents. That took five years. When I finally got an agent, she had me rewrite the book one more time for her, and then she submitted it to publishers, and right away we were getting offers for the book. I wanted someone in my corner who could negotiate for me.

RR: When you finally that Simon and Schuster was going to get “Hush, Hush”, what was that feeling like? What was that phone call like?

BF: I can’t even describe the feeling. I remember my agent telling me and I was so much in shock. It didn’t sink in for another couple of days. But I felt really validated because I’ve been working on this book for five years, and to finally, finally have someone want it, it kinda showed me that all that hard work was worth it.

RR: Did you have to rewrite it again?

BF: It wasn’t a major change. It was small edits. Expand on this scene, change the ending. I think I was able to do the editing in about three to four weeks.

RR: How did the ending change?

BF: They wanted a sequel, so we had to pull out some things to make a big enough story for the second book. It was mainly changes in Nora’s father. I wish I could remember exactly.

RR: So it was supposed to be just a standalone novel?

BF: That was my intent. It was just the one book, and my publisher wanted another book. When I finished the second book, I wanted to write one more. And then by the third, I decided I wanted a fourth one. So if I ever write a series again, I will decide beforehand what happens in every book (laughs). It’s hard writing that way.

RR: At which point in the books did you think that you had more story to tell?

BF: I was enjoying myself and I didn’t want to stop working with those characters yet, so I kept going. The decision usually came when I was at the end.

RR: What was the call like when you got the news that you were on the New York Times bestseller list?

BF: It was crazy. I was in the car, I was taking a trip. I was driving from Nevada to Utah. I was heading into Wyoming and I remember getting the call that I had made the list. I was screaming and just blown away that it actually happened to my book.  It received so much rejection, that’s the thing.

RR: Did you know when you were writing it that the story was going to be special, that it would go places? Or was it a surprise to you that so many people related to it?

BF: It was a surprise to me. I don’t think I even considered hitting the bestseller lists. It was a surprise. I had these rejections for years and years and years, and I just thought that they’re going to publish it and that was it. I didn’t expect it to do well, but I hoped it would reach at least a few people.

RR: If you look on Goodreads, reaction from readers when it comes to the series is divided. When they love it, they really love it. When they hate it, they really hate it.

BF: Yeah (laughs). 

RR: How do you deal with that, especially with social media, where readers sometimes feel free to tell you what they think?

BF: The book did  get some bad reviews, and my confidence was shot completely. I don’t read reviews anymore. Now I just write the book, that’s my job. Readers can read the book, critique it, evaluate it, and that’s their job. But it’s not my business to know that or their reactions.

I did have a friend who told me when “Hush, Hush” came out that if you only have positive reviews for your book, not enough people have read it, and I think that’s so right. If you’ve got five five-star reviews, then that might just be friends and family. Thousand of people reading a book is definitely good. And of course you’re going to have bad reviews.

RR: Did that affect your writing in any way, hearing this divided opinion on the book?

BF: Absolutely. I was very nervous writing the second book, and when I gave it to my editor, she wanted the whole thing rewritten. It was a mess. That really affected my confidence. I was really shaky at that point and I didn’t know if I could do it. I had to rewrite “Crescendo” and that was the hardest thing I ever had to deal with and I never wanted to do something that hard again. So then I started to regain back that confidence.

RR: I hear that the series has been optioned to be a movie?

BF: It’s very exciting. They have a screenplay and that’s what they have right now.

RR: How involved are you in the process of making the movie?

BF: Not at all (laughs). I think I’m responsible for the book, and now that they’re making the movie, that’s their vision and I don’t want to be involved. But I do want to visit the set.

RR: “Black Ice” is an entirely different thing. It’s not paranormal at all. Was that a conscious decision on your part to distance yourself from this past series?

BF: The first version of “Black Ice” was actually paranormal. When my editor read it, she actually wanted me to eliminate all of those paranormal elements. At that point it became a straight, realistic story.

“Black Ice”, like “Hush, Hush”, is based on something that happened to me. Over my spring break, my family went climbing up a mountain, and I got sick and was alone and I was watching this really scary movie about a guy who abducts a woman and takes her to his cabin in the woods. That kind of played into my decision to write “Black Ice”.

RR: How often do you draw on your personal experiences to write your books?

BF: All the time. I kept a journal growing up and I would reread those and find things that happened to me and incorporate those into my story.

RR: A lot of the authors I’ve talked to really hate the revising part of the process. Is that the same for you?

BF: Yeah. The first draft is my favorite thing to do because I’m so free. I can just write and I don’t have to think about whether my editors like it or not. Definitely, the editing is so hard.

RR: How long does it usually take you to incorporate your editor’s changes?

BF: I have two months for the first round, and each successive round gets smaller and smaller because the changes also become lighter and lighter. It usually takes six to eight months to write the first draft, and then another six to eight months to edit the book.

RR: What’s your writing process?

BF: When I’m actually writing, I like peace and quiet. But I go running and that’s when I plot. I put on my iPhone and I go on a long run listening to music and I figure out what’s going to happen in the story. Then I come home and I write in peace and quiet.

RR: What’s the most gratifying reaction you’ve gotten from a fan?

BF: Probably when I’ve had fans who have told me that “Hush, Hush” is the first book they read the entire way through, that it ignited in them the love for reading. That’s really exciting to hear. When people tell me they don’t like to read, I just tell them they haven’t found the right book.  

RR: What was the right book for you?

BF: It was “The Witches” by Roald Dahl. When I was a little girl, I remember reading that and thinking that anything was possible.

RR: What advice would you give to young writers who want to do this as a career?

BF: I would say that if you can, join critique groups, either at your local bookstore or online. Find someone and share your story with people whom you trust will give good feedback. I felt like I learned more from reading my critique partners’ work than I did from their feedback on my own stories, because when I read their stories, I can see what works and doesn’t work. That was really valuable. Also, when you start looking for publishers, you’ll have people who know what you’re going through and can cheer you on. You need persistence and you should know that you will get rejection. That’s part of the landscape. It’s going to happen. And read as much as you can, in every genre possible. Not just the genre you’re writing in, because I learned so much about how to structure a story from historicals, from other genres.

RR: What made you keep going despite the many rejections you got?

BF: My critique group. We were all writing and we were all submitting to different publishers. Knowing that there were other people who were going through what I was going through made it manageable. I would cry, it would be hard, but we kept each other up and striving for that goal.

RR: What was the reaction on Twitter when you finally announced you were coming here?

BF: They were so excited and so thankful. They understand that it’s a long flight and that I’m taking time out from writing to come, so I’m really glad that they’re appreciative.

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