Author to Author + ARC Review: SHALLOW GRAVES by Kali Wallace

One of the best things about being a debut author has been getting to know some of the other amazing young adult authors publishing their books in 2016. I had the privilege of reading the ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) of Kali Wallace’s SHALLOW GRAVES, and she agreed to answer a few questions about her publishing experience.

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Summary:

Breezy remembers leaving the party, the warm, wet grass under her feet, her cheek still stinging from a slap to the face. But when she wakes up, scared and pulling dirt from her mouth, a year has passed and she can’t explain the necklace of bruises around her neck. She also can’t explain the man lying at her grave, dead from her touch.

Returning home seems impossible. Her parents and sisters have clearly grieved and struggled to move on, and Breezy can’t begin to answer their inevitable questions. Her heartbeat comes and goes, she doesn’t need to eat or drink, she can see the inky memories of murderers, and she can somehow pull on this dark guilt to kill them. Haunted by the happy memories from her life and disgusted by the half-dead creature she’s become, Breezy embarks on a reckless quest to find answers and a dangerous healing magic…but the cure is as dark and terrible as the disease.

Set in a gorgeous, terrifying world, Shallow Graves is a stunning novel about the heartbreaking trauma of a girl’s life cut short and her struggle to reconcile her humanity with the creature she’s become.

Find SHALLOW GRAVES on Goodreads

Pre-order now or find it on shelves Jan. 26, 2016

My Review:

I could not put this book down! It was entertaining from the first page to the last. The premise is so intriguing. From the first sentence, I was hooked by the story questions—and they emerged into more and more interesting questions as the story unfolded. I was immediately drawn in by the fantastic writing. Kali Wallace is an artful storyteller, and the queen of metaphors! But that is just icing on the cake of this enthralling tale.

Wallace builds a whole world of re-imagined creatures, with their own characteristics and mythos—all woven together with the over-arching mystery of the main character, Breezy. She is a well-drawn, witty and sympathetic character that I liked immediately—and loved by the end. The author writes such fantastic dialogue! I looked forward to the exchanges Breezy shared with a most interesting cast of characters.

I recommend this book—especially to fans of shows like Supernatural, Grimm, and anyone who enjoys suspense, mystery, and a bit of horror.

My review on Goodreads

Author to Author

(I throw a few questions at an author, and they throw one back at me.)

Jenny asked Kali:

 

What has been your favorite part of the publishing process (so far)?

I have two answers, one about writing and one about people.

The answer about writing is: edits and revisions! Is that a strange answer? Writers complain about edits and revisions all the time, because they are, indeed, a terrifying amount of work. But there is also something wonderful about having my story be picked apart and pieced back together into something stronger and better with the guidance of fantastic editors.

I love that even after I’ve pushed a story as far as I know how to push it, my agent and my editor can come along and say, “Oh, my sweet summer child, we are not done yet,” and open up ways to make it even better. It’s a fantastic feeling to look at the book in ARC form and compare it to the appallingly terrible first draft I finished way back when and see how much it has evolved and improved over time.

My second answer is a lot more squishy with feelings, because it’s all about the people I’ve met as I’ve been going through this process. Other writers are my favorite people in the world, and being a debut author means I get to connect with tons of them to commiserate and laugh and encourage, and I love it. It’s so much fun it ought to be illegal.

 

What advice do you have for writers?

Stop worrying about what you think other people want to read. Seriously. Just stop. STOP. Don’t do it. If you are trying to please an audience by reverse-engineering what’s popular or beloved in other books, readers are going to be able to tell, and they will not be impressed.

I see so many writers say things like, “I have this idea, but I don’t think anybody wants it,” or “I would write this, but that’s not what readers want,” or, worst of all, “I bet I could get published, if I wrote something like those other things,” and I just want to shake every single one of them. Write what you want to write instead. If you don’t, it shows and it’s never pretty. Readers are not idiots; they can tell when you’re trying to be something you’re not.

But they can also tell when you are being sincere, when a story really matters to you. So write the story that’s under your skin and in your guts and haunting the corners of your house and whispering in the back of your mind. If you don’t have that story yet, write until you find it. You will eventually.

 

Describe your book in five words:

Being undead is so overrated.

 

What inspired you to write your book?

This book is what happens when somebody who watched too much Supernatural back in the day, back when it was new and more importantly when it still had a kickin’ soundtrack, starts to think, “But what if all those monsters getting hunted don’t want to be monsters? What if they’re just people living in the best way they know how? What if they’ve got friends and family waiting for them to come home, always worrying that some crazy-ass humans with more weaponry than good sense are going to hunt them down?”

And of course once I started to think like that, I started feeling really bad for all those monsters who just wanted to be left alone in their monstrous lives, and the whole thing just kind of… grew from there, gathering up a whole bunch of other ideas about life and grief and trauma and being a teenage girl in the world. But it started with the monsters. Story ideas are like mushrooms. You don’t even know they’re waiting there in the dark for the right conditions, then suddenly your entire life is covered with suspicious squishy colonies that appeared overnight.

 

What was the biggest challenge you faced getting published?

Like many authors (most authors?), the first book I sold was definitely not the first book I tried to sell. My first novel was on submission for something like 10 months, with something like 30 editors saying, “Thanks, but no thanks,” or, “Wow, no, this is way too gross,” or not saying anything at all. It is very discouraging! There’s no sense in pretending that it’s not discouraging. Even if the editors are saying encouraging things and asking to see more, it still sucks.

But, well, there’s also no sense in doing anything with all that time but working harder, so when my agent and I realized this first book probably wasn’t going to get any traction, we started working on getting the second one into shape, and I was also working on writing a whole new manuscript.

I think it’s easy to get stuck in the rut of thinking, “They have to want THIS STORY or else nothing matters,” but loving your story and wanted to see it published is one thing, and being so precious about it you hang all of your hopes on it is another. It wasn’t easy, to get over that initial disappointment, but I think it became easier once I realized the only thing I could really do, because it was the only thing that was 100% within my control, was to keep writing more. And more and more and more.

 

Kali asked Jenny:

Without spoilers—what is your favorite scene in your book? Why?

One of my favorite scenes in FLASHFALL is actually a kissing scene, LOL! But I don’t love this scene simply for the romance—it’s a moment following an attack in a prison camp, when Dram sort of “talks” Orion down from an emotional cliff. Their world is utterly shaken, but they help remind each other what is constant.

It’s a scene with kissing, but it’s really about finding the light in dark times, and holding on to what is true—even when the rest of your world implodes.

The line at the end is my favorite. It would be spoiler-y for me to describe it, so I’ll just say that Orion realizes how strong she is. I think this is true in life—the tough things we go through can shatter us or strengthen us. Sometimes a bit of both.

Find FLASHFALL on Goodreads

 

Navigating the Revision Cave

Sometimes, when I’m deep in the Revision Cave, I run into walls that make me lose perspective. I focus so hard on the challenges presented by an edit, that I lose sight of what revision truly is: opportunity. The push that makes us look harder at something, until we scratch away the surface and reveal a character for who they really are. The nudge that compels us to make the hard cuts so other scenes shine brighter, and the pacing of the whole book improves.

Second round revisions and line edits for FLASHFALL

Second round revisions and line edits for FLASHFALL

When I was in third grade, an author spoke to us fledgling writers at a Young Authors Conference. He said, “writing is re-writing.” I honestly had no idea what he meant at the time. Fast forward many years, and many books later, and I believed that I had gained a good understanding of that old adage.

Young Authors' Conference, 8th grade

Young Authors’ Conference, 8th grade

But if editing my debut novel has taught me anything, it’s that I had NO IDEA how deeply I’d need to explore the depths of my creative abilities to revise again and again and again.

Sometimes, your editor (or agent or critique partner) may like your writing, but they push you to develop something ‘more.’ That is when you either bang your head against the wall, or you persevere, dig deep . . . and occasionally discover moments, or scenes, or elements that you didn’t know you had in you. The more that can take your story from good to great.

A little over a year until FLASHFALL releases, and it’s really coming together during these final rounds of edits. It’s a book I will be proud to see on the shelf. But it’s not the same book my agent sold last fall. It’s been shaped and stretched into a story more richly layered, visceral, and compelling than I realized it could be from the ‘early days’. The bones were there, but now parts of it feel three-dimensional and ‘alive’ in ways it didn’t before. That is the beauty of revision.

Writing is re-writing. And re-discovering. And re-imagining.

Embrace the act of revision as an opportunity to re-envision a scene, character, or plot point. Then, once you’ve re-envisioned, have the courage to write something new. Sometimes we hold on so tightly to what we’ve written, that we don’t allow for the possibility of what something can be.

For more about this, including some of the best creative advice I ever received, check out my post on Publishing Hub, Don’t Be Afraid To Break It.

And, if you’re curious about my process, here’s a peek . . .

Courage for Dreamers: (In which I get a Tattoo)

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It’s interesting, the things that give us courage. Sometimes it only takes a few words to remind us of what’s true, and we are suddenly braver than our fears.

Many things inspire me. I surround myself with images and quotes that serve as touchstones, helping me find my way on a path that can be lonely and doubt-filled at times. Going after your dreams can be terrifying. With every door that closes, you must decide whether or not to try again. You weigh the risks and ask yourself to count the cost of hurt and discouragement. How much is a dream—a difficult, unlikely dream—truly worth?

I could never have made it this far without the family and friends who’ve supported me and encouraged me to believe—to keep reaching. They helped me be brave when my doubts and fears seemed bigger than the possibilities. My book deals—and all that’s happened this past year, still seem surreal. I wanted to mark this time in a special way.

So I got a tattoo.

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C.S. Lewis is one of my favorite authors, and this is from his book, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Edmund, Lucy and Caspian sail into Darkness, and everyone is afraid. They can’t find their way, and their fears begin to materialize around them. A seagull circles the mast, and Lucy hears Aslan say, “Courage, dear heart.” They follow the gull back into the light. I have always loved this quote. These words hang near my computer and I’ve looked at them after reading countless rejection letters. I have felt like Lucy many times.

So now I wear them. On my writing hand—to remind me to write bravely. And also as a reminder of how far I’ve come. I hope to inspire other artists and dreamers.

Sometimes, all we need is the right voice—at just the right time.

Take risks, dream big. Never give up.

Courage, dear heart.

Edit Letters and Revision Caves

After months of waiting, I received my edit letter for FLASHFALL. Since then, I’ve been fully immersed in the Revision Cave. And since my book is about caving, this is more than a metaphor for me—I have literally been down some freakish caverns for the past few weeks!

 

My FLASHFALL manuscript in the midst of structural revisions. Sticky-note pile are completed edits!

My FLASHFALL manuscript in the midst of structural revisions. Sticky-notes in the pile are completed edits!

 

I’m currently a week from deadline, (and ironically I’m in my pajamas, messy hair in a bun, sitting beside a bag of chocolate—the author deadline cliché) but thought I’d post a glimpse of what this stage of the revision process looks like. (Ignore the piles of laundry and the fast food bags littering the cave–no judgment during deadline week.)

 

Every writer has a different process, and mine looks different depending on what stage of revisions I’m in. Since these are first round edits, they are more big idea, structural revisions. Some deal with plot points, shaping and pacing suggestions, and character and world-building development. My edit letter was seven pages long, and I took each one of Kate’s questions/thoughts and printed it on a card that then went on the Revision Board. This helps me keep my revision goals clear as I work through the manuscript and make sure to address each one.

 

My edit letter broken down and organized according to things I need to cut, add, develop, or change

My edit letter broken down and organized according to things I need to cut, add, develop, or change

 

At this stage, there is a lot of what my agent calls ‘the thinking part of writing.’ When you remove a character or scenes, you have to work through how you’re going to ‘re-connect the dots’ plot-wise and in terms of a character’s arc. I like to explore a lot of this on paper (on a printed manuscript and with tons of sticky-notes) before I alter the actual manuscript on my laptop. Some writers are already working in Track Changes (Microsoft Word) with their editors at this point. I have only experienced that with line edits, and this process works well for me.

 

After this, I’ll have a second round of revisions to make, followed by line edits, then eventually copyedits. During that time, I’ll probably start seeing some cover designs (EEEE!!) and I’ll continue to work steadily on BOOK TWO. More about all that as the process unfolds . . .

 

If any of you are in Revision Caves of your own, hang in there! It’s daunting at times, but I’ve found that if you take it note by note, it feels less overwhelming. When I started a few weeks ago, I had over 200 post-it notes stuck to my manuscript and Revision Board. I pulled the last one off yesterday. It was an incredible feeling. But honestly, the best feeling is reading over a new scene that wasn’t there before and feeling the magic in the words, and knowing you were pushed to write something better, with more depth than you had originally.

 

It’s all worth it. That’s my mantra during revisions. That, and–if you just finish one more you can have a piece of chocolate.

 

If you need some encouragement, come say ‘hi’ on Twitter. You don’t have to be alone in the Cave. I have lots of chocolate in my little corner over here, and I totally share.

 

Happy writing!

To see a video of me in this process, click here.

In which I went to NYC, met my editor, and EEEEEEE!!!

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Just after visiting Macmillan Publishing, Flatiron Building, NYC

 

Click here to watch the video

As I write this post, I’m in a boutique New York City hotel near 5th Avenue, perched on the twenty-first floor. Literally, I’m perched, like a heavily-layered pigeon at the edge of this historic building. It’s freezing out, but I have an adorable balcony with an (almost) view of Rockefeller Plaza, so I’m letting my toes go numb while I soak up this surreal moment.

 

There is something about a dream materializing that makes you feel anything’s possible, like there’s a sun glowing inside your body, and that a unicorn could prance down 57th street at any moment. None did, but I kept an eye out for them, just in case. I also kept an eye out for all French bakeries, but that’s another story. One that will probably evolve into mild regret, sweat pants, and extra gym hours.

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It was my birthday, so I may have eaten both cupcakes. And see, there’s that balcony I mentioned…

If you like pictures, come say ‘hi’ on Instagram. I promise, not everything is food. There’s also my dog.

 

Anyway . . . publishing. The dreams-come-true and unicorn possibilities and now-the-hard-work-really-begins part.

 

My first night in NYC, I met my editor, Kate Farrell, (the senior editor at Henry Holt). She’s a lot of fun, and it was so cool connecting with the person who feels so deeply connected to my book. And also there was a photo booth. With a really bright flash.

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Hanging out with my editor, Kate Farrell

Kate’s said that some BIG edits are coming my way. (That’s the hard-work-really-begins part I mentioned.) But it will only make FLASHFALL better, and more exciting, and memorable and sparkly. If you’re going to put in the blood, sweat, and tears writing, you might as well make it awesome, right? (Remind me of this later.)

 

No really, remind me—please.

 

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This is from my shirt that I got just before my trip. Whatever is in your heart to do . . . go after it, work hard, believe it’s possible.

 

I dreamed about meeting my editor in New York long, looong, before it seemed possible. For more about my journey to get an agent here, and getting a book deal here. I hope my publishing story inspires you–especially if you’re in that place where the voice of doubt is telling you to quit. I felt that way so many times. More about that here.

 

Maybe your dream isn’t meeting your publisher in New York City. Maybe it is. Either way, I hope there are unicorns in your future. Or at least the feeling that they are possible.

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