teen writer interview: vee

Teen writer interviews are a recurring feature on my blog, in which I invite some very talented teens who are seriously pursuing publication over for a spotlight. They're the authors of the future!

Name/Alias: Vahini, but I prefer to go by Vee and most people around the blogosphere know me as “Ink”.

choco: Don't you mean INKCREDIBLE?! Tehe.

Age: Seventeen

Blog: Ramblings of a Writer

Any other social networks/places where you want people to find you: I should really get a Facebook just so I can have something here.

Can your share a few excerpts from your manuscript The Colors of Sky?

These are a few of my favorite snips:

“I sit by the lake, feet getting kissed by the water, palms getting kissed by Dante and the moon.”

“His voice is a whisper. His words drop into the hot chocolate, floating for a second before getting lost in the rich velvet folds.

Treasures of my memory, only.”

“If I could swirl my brush through sunlight, I could paint light over my mother. Illuminate her; make sense of the vague shadows she’s wrapped herself in.

But I can’t dip my paintbrush in sunlight. Just like I can’t find heaven, can’t play artist with lakes and skies and nights. Because the world is not my canvas and it wasn’t meant to be.”
choco: those are just beautiful :)

You’re currently querying The Colors of Sky, and you’ve got some pretty jaw-dropping query stats! Could you share them? What’s the querying process been like for you?

Well, I actually just landed an agent but…


Querying was pretty hectic. It was actually one of the most amazingly hectic things I’ve ever done.

My query stats look impressive – 16 fulls and 14 partials, total – but you have to keep in mind that I queried over a hundred people. And you have to keep in mind that one of those fulls was requested after an agent read my blog (aspiring writers, get a blog. 1) The blogosphere is so friendly and full of useful information. 2) People really do read your blog, no matter how much you think they don’t) and another came via the Miss Snark’s First Victim Secret Agent contest – which is awesome. If you’re about to query, you should definitely try and enter.

Anyway, back to the beginning. I started querying Skylar’s Story in early January, and as I’ve already said it was hectic for me. I sent out queries, got requests, sent out the requested material. And waited. And bit my nails. And then made myself a cup of tea. And then drank the tea. Finally, I realized that staring at my inbox was not going to produce a response.

I think I got my first response to a full about a week after I sent it: An almost-form rejection with a compliment tacked to the bottom. I was discouraged, but I had six other fulls out there at that point, so I shrugged it off.

The next day I got another rejection, but it wasn’t an outright rejection. It was a revision request. Not too bad, I figured. I agreed with the changes, so I started to make them.

By the time I was done making them I’d gotten another revision request, a send-me-your-next-book, and an I-like-this-but-don’t-love-this. I also got told that my voice was too young, and my voice was too old and my dialogue was too thematic from people who I felt didn’t *get* my manuscript.

I used the feedback from the people whom I did feel got the manuscript, who had given me largely positive rejections with some pretty detailed feedback, and kept whacking the manuscript into shape. Then I got yet another detailed revision request – which made pretty similar points to the other two – so I just fixed everything up and sent the manuscript to betas who loved it.

So I sent it on to the agents who’d requested revisions.

Both the agents I sent the revised manuscript to offered. In that next week I emailed around and told everyone what my deadline was, and I’d appreciate it if they got back to me. I had another offer in three days’ time, a few more rejections, and a couple of “I’m-loving-this-but-I’m-not-sure-if-I-can-get-back-to-you-on-times”. I considered extending my deadline but, ultimately decided against it.

I’d made my decision based on gut feeling about two days after getting those first offers, and even though I spent the better part of the next week agonizing over it, I think there was a part of me that always knew who I was going to go with in the end.

So I signed with Ammi-Joan Paquette at Erin Murphy Literary Agency and we’re currently polishing up Skylar’s Story, which has had a title change to The Colors of Sky, so we can submit it to editors.

Colors play a big part in The Colors of Sky. Can you tell us a bit about your penchant for colors?

I love colors. I don’t know why, but I do.

When I was a kid I used to love painting, and I suppose that’s a part of it. I just think that color is what makes our world beautiful, all of these totally different shades melting into each other. I just love color, basically – I’ve already said that, but I don’t think it can hurt to restate it.

Color does play a big role in my book. The book is, really, about how the other relationships we have with people are really all we have to define ourselves by and they can be beautiful, and blissful or they can be fraught with tension. But either way, that’s what we have in this world, ultimately. We have “human connections” with each other.

With the colors, what I was trying to do was demonstrate on some level, that when you deny yourself those natural human connections (as Sky does) your world feels kind of washed out. And then when you build up those human connections (as Sky does) color sort of shoots back into your world, and suddenly everything is beautiful – but not perfect -- again.

The colors are, I suppose – especially for Ravi the love interest – a way for me to demonstrate the mental outlook of the characters.

And I have no idea if that makes any sense and I’m sorry to all your blog-readers if I just went totally nerdy on everyone, haha :)

choco: It totally made sense :D

Creepy-as-heck (but oh so sparkly) half-unicorn, quarter leprechaun, quarter human stalker guy tries to watch Skylar as she sleeps and tell her what to do all the time (in a possible ploy to eat her later on in). WHAT DOES SKY DO?

1. Skylar thinks, and says out loud, “I must be totally crazy. Seriously, this quarter-leprechaun, quarter-human must be a figment of my imagination.”
2. Skylar says, “Oh, I’m talking to myself. Isn’t that the first sign of insanity…Maybe seeing creepy stalker leprechaun-unicorn humans is the second.”
3. Skylar decides that, hey, okay, ASSUMING that this is real and the stalker guy isn’t just an indication of her overwhelming crazy, she’s going to GET HIM THE HELL AWAY FROM HER.
4. Also, she’s totally going to steal his pot of gold before she does that.
5. She goes to her uncle Greg
6. If that doesn’t pan out, she calls the freaking cops. BECAUSE HE’S CREEPY, man.
7. She paints unicorn-human-stalker guy in all his creepy sparkly glory. Years from now, this will be considered a masterpiece, and the world will think she was high. But no, it really happened.
8. Unless she was crazy, after all…

choco: Bwhahahaha!

I’ve heard that you drew a bit of inspiration for The Colors of Sky from your own life. Can you tell us a little about that?

Well, it really was just a very little bit. I mean, my mum is most-definitely-certainly not a drug addict. Or a jail bird. Nor did she burn my house to the ground leaving me permanently scarred and abandoned at the age of six.

To be clear.

Um. So yeah, the inspiration that comes from my real life is basically just places. I’ve been to a lot of the places in the book. For instance, there’s this awesome scene in an art gallery where the characters are getting all romantic (because I’m a geek, and art galleries and poetry are just total turn ons in my mind, shut up) and I’ve been to that art gallery. I’ve been to that weird post-modern section and made fun of blob shaped things and what-not.

I’ve also lit fireworks in my grandparents’ backyard. Well, not me personally, but other members of my family. I’m Hindu (well, I’m really agnostic – I HATE saying that, it’s such a freaking buzz word, but I can’t think of anything else to call it – but I was brought up as a Hindu) and that’s how we celebrate Diwali – The Festival of Lights.

Also, for any Aussies out there: NO this was not done in Sydney. Yes, it would have been totally TERRIBLE for me to light fireworks anywhere in Australia, because that would inevitably lead to a bushfire, which would inevitably lead to people dying. I grew up in South Africa. This is where the firework-lighting took place.

What inspired you to begin writing in the first place? When did you get serious about it? And what keeps you sticking with it when writing is being a big meanie?

I don’t know what inspired me to start writing in the first place. Really, I don’t. When I was fourteen-ish, I used to say that writing was my therapy (and now I’m thinking: therapy for what, fourteen-year-old self?!! You had – still have, for that matter – such a rosy life!). And then I realized it wasn’t therapy, it was just this thing that would always be a part of me.

It wasn’t like I made a conscious decision to be a writer, like all the good things in life, it just sorta happened.

I suppose I got serious at around fifteen. I’m not sure why. But I think it had something to do with an over-inflated ego and a couple of NaNoWriMo successes. I had a lot to learn at that stage.

As for the reason I keep sticking with it…Well, it’s pretty simple. I don’t have a totally healthy relationship with writing at this stage of my life. It’s like this: I write or I go slightly insane. So I write, even when it feels like pulling teeth.

Since writers are known to have quirks, what are some of yours?

I dislike square tables (seriously, they encourage you to think inside the square, when you’re supposed to be thinking outside the square, you know?)

Can you describe your writing style?

It really depends on the project, but I guess it’s voice-heavy and imagery-heavy. You should get a little bit of an idea of what it’s like from reading the snippets of The Colors of Sky I’ve posted.

I like to think I’m simultaneously dark, and uplifting. I’m probably being wishful in that thinking, haha.

What’s your ultimate writing dream and where do you see yourself in ten years time writing-wise? Personally, I just want to be able to buy a crumbling castle.

We’re totally getting that castle together. Getting a castle has actually for-real been my goal since I was fourteen or fifteen. I remember watching all these architecture shows about people who were renovating them, and how you could make it a viable investment by turning it into a hotel…

But anyways, my ultimate WRITING dream. Well, I’d love to have something published, but more than that I’d love to connect with people. I want to make you laugh, cry, smile, whatever. Basically: let me entertain you. And hopefully enlighten you at the same time, haha.

What’s your writing process? (and no modesty here, I KNOW you write super fast.)

I do write pretty fast. I guess it’s something to do with my whole unhealthy relationship with writing (I’m working on making it healthier at the moment, though). Basically, I get an idea and I just let it sit for a while. It’s in my mind, it bubbles away and after a little while I’ll jot something down in my moleskine (because I’m a writer cliché). After I jot something down little snippets of story tend to just come to me for the rest of that day, and they all wind up in the moleskine. Then I look at those words for a while and piece a basic story together around them. I suppose this is my form of plotting.

After that, I just write. I think a lot of writing is what writers like to call BIC – Butt in Chair. You just have to sit down and do it, there’s no magical process or anything – at least not for me.

Drafts usually get done in under a month, and revisions take me a fortnight before I send the manuscript to beta readers. Then making those changes takes around four days (I know, that’s a really specific amount of time, but it’s totally true).

Besides writing, what’s your favorite hobby?

Reading. Oh my God. I don’t even know if that counts as non-writing, haha.

If it doesn’t, I like debating but in an oh-this-scares-the-shit-out-of-me-so-it’s-perversely-fun kind of way.

I also like hanging out with my friends, of course, and I sing pretty much constantly (this means it sucks to live in the same house as me, because I invariably sound like a strangled cat. Yep, my poor family).

What’s the most important thing in your writing? (A gripping plot? Humor? Beautiful descriptions? Great dialogue? Great voice? Awesome characters?) What do you strive to perfect?

As much as I love ALL of those things, I don’t think it’s any of them that’s the most important to me. What’s most important to me are the little ideas that underpin a lot of scenes.

What I mean by that is that after examining all my favorite books I came to the conclusion that the stuff that connected with me the most was story, yes, but there were all these little bits of ideas wrapped up inside the story.

For instance, some kids can be skateboarding or something, but at the same time there’s this idea coming through a scene that you fall and you get up and then you fall again and you get up again etc, and that scene is an idea as well as an event. It’s persistence, not just skateboarding, you know?

I’m not at all sure if I articulated that properly, but suffice it to say that Ideas in books, my own and other people’s, make me happy-dance on the inside :)

What’s it like being a teen who’s trying to break into an industry that isn’t exactly teen-friendly?

I don’t think the industry isn’t teen-friendly, to be honest. I think due to the success of a couple of teen writers (S.E Hinton, guys), people aren’t all that skeptical about teenagers being able to make it.

That said, being a teen trying to break into what is primarily an adult industry is pretty scary. I had – have, still to an extent – all these worries about people either judging my writing badly because of my age, or worse, people publishing my writing BECAUSE of my age. I mean, I want to get by on good writing, not my age. Those two things made me exclude my age from my queries.

I think it may have been a bit of a shock when my agent found out I was seventeen, but really, it wasn’t that big of a deal. My parents just co-signed the contract and that was that. But at least I knew that it was my writing that had got me there, and not people being impressed by my relatively young age.

Some Favorites:

Food: Chocolate – do you even have to ask?
Band/Song: Muse, Narrow Stairs by Death Cab, Hide and Seek by Imogen Heap (at the moment, my favorite song changes all the time)
Weather: Rain on a sunny day. I love-love-love the smell when rain hits hot tarmac. It’s amazing – seriously, breathe deeply next time you get caught in a sun shower.
Movie: Matilda – I wish it were something cooler, but it isn’t.

What authors have influenced your writing style the most and why?

Oscar Wilde, because he’s amazing and reading The Picture of Dorian Gray taught me not to be afraid of imagery. Before that, I was so afraid I was going to bog down my pacing and annoy my readers.

Chuck Pahlaniuk. All I can say is: His voice, dear God, his voice.

Melina Marchetta, because she made me love YA with her book Looking for Alibrandi, and because her prose is simply amazing in Jellicoe Road. She writes real, flawed characters and I want to be able to do that.

John Green. You know that thing I was saying about Ideas in writing? John Green’s books feel like that to me. All these little ideas (for instance the paper towns in Paper Towns, that was a very cool idea) kind of make every single one his books something amazing and to be savored, for me.

I hear you’re working on something new. How’s that project going?

Well, my new project The Gnome is Watching, is going pretty well. I’ve finished up the first draft and it’s currently getting sent out to beta readers (one of which will hopefully be you :)).

choco: *keels over from excitement*

And lastly, the MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION OF YOUR LIFE: a garden gnome comes to life (huh?) and *SURPRISE* is dying for some reading material that will live up to the cool glasses he wears. What five of your favorite books do you lend him and why?

Fight Club by Chuck Pahlaniuk. Reasons why? Well, I think I’ve already mentioned “His voice, dear God, his voice”. Beyond that, though, there’s the face that this book is such a subversive look at current generations. It’s just amazing.

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta. It’s so delicately constructed, with all these pretty lines and amazing words but the narrative is still so strong. It’s absolutely, totally compelling.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. It has the most amazingly cool characters (in a really flawed way) that will definitely live up to the cool glasses this gnome is wearing.

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. I love Jane Austen, she’s my favorite author and we share a birthday (which is pretty freaking cool, if you ask me :)). Pride and Prejudice is awesome. It’s just…Amazing characters, sparkling dialogue, social commentary, and a good bad-boy romance all rolled up into one awesomesauce novel.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan. Because these two guys writing a book together? Wow. Oh my God. They’re both incredibly-amazingly-awesome and when they get together their awesome multiplies and then they’re incredibly-amazingly-awesome squared. And that’s my kinda geeky explanation for why I’d give the garden gnome Will Grayson, Will Grayson, haha.

Those are pretty awesome choices :)

And that concludes the interview. Thanks Vee for letting me interview you! Who else is blown away by her writing and great taste in books? I know I am!

And readers, don't forget to check out her awesome blog over at Ramblings of a Writer.