I first encountered Keris Stainton many years ago in the blogosphere, where we tended to visit several of the same blogs. I knew Keris was writing a young adult novel and was delighted when I read that she’d been published. Her novel, Della Says: OMG! was published last year and Keris’ second novel Jessie ♥ NYC is due out in July this year. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be as much fun to read as Della Says:OMG!
Della Says:OMG! is a story of first love and betrayal but instead of being heavy it’s written with a remarkably vibrant voice and in a style that is so contemporary, witty, and freshly teen that I constantly thought the book must have been written by an eloquent teenager.
"Della’s over the moon when she kisses her long-standing crush at a party – but then she discovers her diary has disappeared...When scans of embarrassing pages are sent to her mobile and appear on Facebook, Della’s distraught – how can she enjoy her first proper romance when someone, somewhere, knows all her deepest, darkest secrets?"
I’m delighted to welcome Keris Stainton to Absolute Vanilla.
Keris, you spent several years on your journey to publication, what was that like and what was it like to when you landed your first contract?
It wasn't too bad. Really. The hardest thing was finding the right book, I think. I had a lot of false starts with adult books and that was frustrating, but once I started writing YA it all fell into place relatively quickly. Getting my first contract was amazing, of course. I still remember getting the phone call from my agent and dancing and squeeing around my office!
Although it was Della Says: OMG! that landed you your first deal I know you have a number of abandoned manuscripts lying around. What do you think it was about Della Says:OMG! that found success for you?
It wasn't actually Della that got me my deal. I got the deal with a book called FORGET ME NOT and then Orchard asked me to write something different, which turned out to be Della.
What was the inspiration for Della Says:OMG! and how did the initial idea develop for you?
Della was originally going to have three POVs - Della's, Maddy's and Jamie's. I wanted to look at three important stages in a teen girls love life: first love, first sex and first heartbreak. But after I wrote about 15,000 words, it was obvious that Della's story was the strongest and so I rewrote it. After that it came pretty easily, although I still didn't know who'd taken Della's diary until I was almost at the end of the book!
You have created in Della a particularly strong teen voice and for me, it is one of the key things makes the novel particularly appealing. Was it easy for you to find Della’s voice or was it something you had to work at?
Thank you so much! Honestly, it came easily. I think the reason I struggled with adult books for so long is that I think and write like a teenager!
One of the key elements of Della Says: OMG! is betrayal, yet you also deal with some other pretty big, and important, issues including first love, teenage desire, and first sexual experience. Not many authors are brave enough to tackle these issues and there is often controversy surrounding the subject. How important is it, do you think, to write about these aspects of being a teen? And how did you decide on the manner in which to handle what is potentially, particularly for parents and publishers, a high risk element – I think, in this instance of how other writers like Melvin Burgess (Doing It) and William Nicholson (Rich and Mad) have approached the subject of teen sexuality.
I think it's an incredibly important thing to write about. I went to see Melvin Burgess and William Nicholson at Waterstone's just before Della came out and they were saying that society's become so sexualised, but it's not something that's really addressed in books all that often. I think it's actually addressed in books aimed at girls a lot more than it is in books aimed at boys, but still not quite as much as it probably should be. Particularly in a positive way. It was really important to me that Della's first sexual experience was a good one. Because, you know, sometimes it is! All teen sex doesn't have to lead to pregnancy, STDs or angst and regret. The one thing I do think is almost entirely missing from teen fiction aimed at girls, is female masturbation. There are only a few novels that even mention it at all and that's just baffling to me because it's such an important part of female sexuality and something that you discover - and often struggle with - as a teen.
How important do you feel it is for authors of children’s and YA novels to have “messages”, however subliminal, in their novels? I refer to the following comment made on the Book Lantern blog recently: “I believe strongly in the power of subliminal messaging in YA books. Whether you believe in messages or not, the fact remains that as an author, you have a responsibility towards your readers to make sure you aren’t sending the wrong signals.”
It's funny, my immediate reaction to that was "Hell no!" but I do actually agree to a certain extent. The phrase "subliminal messaging" suggests brainwashing to me, but I do agree it's important not to send the wrong signals. For example, I'd never have a character talk negatively about her weight (or anyone else's) and there are certain words I'd avoid even though teens use them ("retard" is the main one that springs to mind or using "gay" to mean crap). The argument is that books should reflect reality, but I'd rather reflect positive aspects than perpetuate negative or damaging stereotypes or behaviours.
The very nature of Della Says:OMG! is very contemporary – you refer to texting, IM and Facebook in the novel. Again, how important was it to you to have these aspects in the novel – and does it any way hinge on your own experience of being digitally connected via social media?
Social media was part of the original inspiration for Della's plot. My diary went missing when I was a teen and back then (in olden times…) the worry was people reading it out at school whereas nowadays it could be shared all over the world in moments. But, yes, you're right - social media is such a big part of my life, it seemed completely natural to include it in the book.
You have used social media very successfully to get your name into the marketplace; you’re on Facebook, you’re prolific on Twitter and you’ve been blogging for years. Can you tell us how you’ve been so successful marketing yourself in this way and what social media means to you? Are there any tips you can share with other writers?
Well when I started blogging it wasn't about marketing because I didn't have anything to market. I started blogging just as a way of writing every day. It turned out to be the best thing I ever did: I met some amazing people, made great friends, and actually got quite a few writing opportunities. Twitter is the same really - like blogging, but in miniature - and I did it before I had anything to promote. My top tip would be not to do it simply for self-promotion. You need to engage with people. Chat, make friends. Someone recently described Twitter as an ongoing cocktail party you can pop in and out of and that is dead on. I know some people join Twitter and get disheartened because they "can't keep up". There's no way you can keep up. Just follow people who interest you, tweet things you find entertaining or informative and don't be afraid to chat, even to people you don't know.
Your presence on Twitter recently led you to an interview on the Vanessa Feltz show, which I know wasn’t a great experience for you. What did you learn from that sort of exposure and are there any cautions you’d offer other writers?
It did actually turn out to be a brilliant experience for me personally, but basically I was naive. It was the first time I'd been asked to do anything like that and I ignored my first instinct (which was that it would be a stitch-up) and then was too open with Vanessa when she was asking me questions before the interview. My best advice would be not to think "Woo-hoo! Telly!" and book your train ticket, but to make sure you're fully appraised of what you're going there to do. And read Jane Wenham-Jones's book Wanna Be A Writer We've Heard Of because she's been on TV loads of times and can give much better advice than I can.
Who would you say have been your greatest influences in your development as a writer and who or what really taught you to hone your craft?
Oh dear "hone your craft" makes me giggle because I really don't feel like I have a craft to hone. I really just feel like I sit down and write stories, the way I've done since I was about 13. Back then I was writing about meeting George Michael and then having him and Andrew Ridgeley fighting over me (*blush*), now I just write the same kind of thing, but with - I hope - a bit more realism. The greatest influence in my development as a writer is almost certainly NaNoWriMo. I had never finished a novel before doing NaNo for the first time in 2004. I wrote Forget Me Not during NaNo and I wrote Jessie during NaNo (and in between I wrote a few other books that may or may not see the light of day). Writing 50,000 words in 30 days seems daunting and you may think you'll just have 50k of crap at the end of it, but it almost seems like magic. You have to ignore your inner editor and push yourself on past the point you'd normally stop and that seems to be when the good stuff comes through. I love it. Anne Lamott's Bird By Bird was also a big influence, not least for permission to write a "shitty first draft", and last year I read Russell T Davies's The Writer's Tale, which is specifically about writing Doctor Who, but is completely brilliant about writing in general. So funny, clever and reassuring - I didn't want it to end. Actually, I've just thought of something that does come under "hone your craft" and that's Holly Lisle's One-Pass Manuscript Revision. Even while I'm writing the shitty first draft I comfort myself that Holly Lisle's method will make it all okay.
What motivates you to write and do you find you ever experience writer’s block?
I have to write. I don't feel like I've really understood or experienced something unless I write about it. As for fiction… I'm not really sure. I want to say it's fun - and it really is when it's going well - but I whine and flail and kick up such a fuss before I actually get on and do it that I'm not sure what the motivation is! Maybe it's just that I love books so much and once I realised I could write them, I just had to get on and do it. I'm not sure I believe in writer's block. I totally understand what writers mean by it, but I think it's Anne Lamott who says that when writers feel "blocked" they're actually empty and need to go and fill themselves up with things that inspire them.
Some writers say all novels are autobiographical in some way, others deny this – to what extent would you say there is some of you in your novels?
Do some writers deny that? Blimey. I'd say all writing is autobiographical, if only in that everything you write is written through the prism of your own experiences and influences. I don't think there's anything overtly autobiographical in any of my novels, but there's definitely a lot of "me" in them. If that makes any sense at all…
You are represented by Alice Williams of the David Higham Agency; how does being agented make a difference in your life?
I guess at first it feels like it legitimises you as a writer, you know? I felt more like a "proper" writer because I had an agent. Now I see Alice more as an advocate for me and my writing. Writing is my job, after all, and Alice is obviously much better at the business side of things than I am. Also, she's lovely and she doesn't mind when I moan on at her down the phone. Well, if she does mind, she doesn't say.
Jessie ♥ NYC will be out in July 2011 – can you tell us a little about it?
It's my 'love letter to New York' book. I'm obsessed with the place and had to set a book there. It's about Jessie who goes over there for the summer following a break up, Finn who thinks he's in love with his best friend's girlfriend, and fate, which brings them together.
And finally, what next for Keris Stainton?
Er… I don't know yet. I've just started writing a new book as part of Kaz Mahoney's Spring into Summer 50k in 50 days challenge (couldn't even wait for NaNoWriMo this year) and there are a couple of other things in the pipeline, but they're secret at the moment.
Many thanks to Keris for this interview!
Thank you so much. I really enjoyed it (even though the questions were HARD!)
To find out more about Keris Stainton and her books:
Visit her webpage
Join her fanpage on Facebook
Follow her on Twitter
Read her blog
And buy her books at Amazon