Writers on Writing: Interview with Author Natasha Sinel
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Several weeks ago at the amazing Society for Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrator’s annual conference in LA, I had the pleasure of meeting author Natasha Sinel.
Her debut book, The Fix (Sky Pony Press, September 1, 2015) follows two good-hearted teenagers coming to terms with the cards they were dealt. It’s also about the fixes we rely on to cope with our most shameful secrets and the hope and fear that comes with meeting someone who challenges us to come clean.
I just bought a copy of The Fix (it’s now on my short To Be Read List*), but in the mean time Sinel was gracious enough to share her thoughts about being a debut author and about writing.
EZ: What was your career before writing young adult fiction, and when did you decide to make a switch (if you did indeed make a switch)? And do you write full or part time now?
NS: I have a background in business—corporate strategy and marketing. After I got my MBA, I worked in business development at Showtime Networks. It was during the Internet bubble, so it was pretty exciting to strategize about “new media,” how the company could grow, figure out new content distribution channels. I remember my first project was researching satellite radio, which was in its pre-launch stage. My second project was looking into this new company called TiVo, which made a digital video recorder. I’m proud to say that we recognized how revolutionary the concept was, and I was an early adopter on that—1999!
Around when my first child was born, I decided that commuting into New York wasn’t right for me anymore, so I turned back to writing, which I’d done for fun since I was little. I took a writing class in Manhattan (an hour drive) to get me out of the house, and that’s where I met my first group of talented people writing for the YA audience. My instructor encouraged me to take my writing more seriously, finish my manuscript, and query agents. So I did that, and here I am. I write full-time, though with three boys who are 10, 8, and 6, full-time is relative.
EZ: What for you is the best part of writing a YA novel?
NS: The best part of writing in general is when things click—when you’ve been struggling with a plot or a character and then you figure it out and the writing flows and there is nothing like it and suddenly you are alive.
The best part of writing for young adults, specifically, is exploring the very real feelings that happen to us during high school. Things matter. They’re big. We don’t know yet what it’s like to wake up and say “so, this is it?” Teenagers are just beginning their journey toward independence, figuring out who they are, what’s important to them, how they feel about themselves. And they’re seeing that adults are actually just people—and that’s scary as hell.
EZ: What is the most challenging aspect for you when it comes to writing a novel?
NS: First drafting is really hard for me. It’s when you have to get real about this perfect new idea you’ve been dreaming of. Turning an idea into a 300-page novel is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. When the drafting starts to get hard, I get tempted by new ideas or I begin to think that I should go back and re-do what I’ve already written. But the reality is, I could keep doing that forever. The key is to finish the first draft, and then go back to the beginning. And when I get tempted by the new ideas, I write them down in a notebook and move on.
EZ: Any advice for those who wish to write fiction/books/YA books who are just getting started or who have another career?
NS: I have so much advice, but none of it is anything new! For those just getting started, commit to finishing. Anyone can start writing a novel. It’s the finishing that’s the hard part. Find critique groups/partners. Revise. The revision should take longer than the first drafting. Read books on craft. Go to conferences. Don’t worry about the publishing part until the novel is perfected. Then do your research on querying, and be thorough. Follow the rules. Don’t expect it to happen quickly. If it does, you’ll be pleasantly surprised, but if it doesn’t, you’ll know it’s normal. If you’ve got a day job (as most writers do), block out time to write—an hour here or there—and protect it at all costs. Oh, and one of the most important things—READ. Read everything, but mostly books in your genre. Read the acknowledgments in the books you like. You’ll learn craft by osmosis, and, without even realizing it, you’ll get to know the business and its players.
EZ: Are you currently working on any other books?
NS: Yes! I have a completed novel that I hope to revise and get out on submission to editors. And I have a first draft of a novel *almost* finished that I hope to complete in the next few weeks for my agent. This goal is very ambitious because of the concurrent release of The Fix!
EZ: Where/how do you like to write?
NS: My preference is in my office at my ergonomically correct desk and exercise ball to sit on to protect my neck and shoulders. But it’s rare for me to have a long enough period of time to get set up, so I usually end up writing on the fly—at my kitchen table while the kids play Xbox or in the car or wherever I am. I write on my laptop, but I always carry around a notebook to jot down ideas. And I tell Siri my ideas while I’m driving.
EZ: What have you recently read or are you reading now?
NS: I’ve been so lucky to have been part of the Fearless Fifteeners, a group of 2015 YA/MG debut authors. One of the perks is that I get to read ARCs (advance reader copies) of my fellow 15ers’ books! I’m definitely partial to realistic contemporary YA, so some of my recent favorites have been Underneath Everything by Marcy Beller Paul (releases in October), None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio and The Distance Between Lost and Found by Kathryn Holmes. I also have a soft spot for two of my publisher-siblings’ books, Pandemic by Yvonne Ventresca and The Lost Marble Notebook of Forgotten Girl and Random Boy by Marie Jaskulka.
And I’m a HUGE fan of anything by Carrie Mesrobian—she writes the most amazing boy voice, and I’m so looking forward to her new book Cut Both Ways, which released on the same day as The Fix. Also, Sara Zarr, Brandy Colbert, Corey Ann Haydu, Christa Desir, Stephanie Kuehn, A.S. King, Jandy Nelson and Andrew Smith. I could go on and on and on.
EZ: Which books/authors have had the most influence on you as a writer/as a fan?
NS: In addition to Judy Blume, whose books made me want to become a writer in the first place, I can think of two authors who inspired a-ha moments for me. One was Ann Brashares. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants was one of the first books classified as young adult that I could remember reading since Judy Blume’s Forever. At the time I thought I was writing an adult book about a sixteen-year-old, but Traveling Pants made me realize that the manuscript I was working on was actually YA.
The other author who has inspired me is Sara Zarr. I’d been on a kick of reading the YA National Book Award winners and honor books, and that’s how I found Story of a Girl, which left its mark on me. It made me open my eyes and realize that I wanted to go deeper into my writing, my characters, my story, but that I’d been afraid. Because of Sara Zarr, I found a bit of courage to do it.
A reader of The Fix recently commented to me: “The writing reminds me of Sara Zarr’s Story of a Girl with a story reminiscent of Brandy Colbert’s Pointe.” To me, there is no greater compliment.
Natasha Sinel writes YA fiction from her home on a dirt road in Northern Westchester, NY. She drives her kids around all afternoon but in her head, she’s still in high school and hopes no one near her can read minds. You can find her on Twitter or Facebook and learn more about her and her work on her website. The Fix can be purchased at Amazon and wherever books are sold.
*Since posting this interview with Sinel, I read and really enjoyed The Fix. The book moved me, is well written and has compelling characters, and gives hope to anyone struggling to find their voice/be their true self/share their secrets with themselves and others. While it covers tough topics that may be uncomfortable for some, it does so in a non-gratuitous and authentic way. A well done debut book that is sure to resonate with many teens.
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