Interview by KC Karr
Congratulations on signing with your agent!
Hannah, what about Marisa’s bio convinced you to sub to her?
Thank you for the kind wishes! At the time I submitted to #WM, I had just lost my first published book deal. I was reeling. I didn’t think I had the strength or the stamina to start from square one.
Then I read Marisa’s bio, and I saw she’d gone through something similar and triumphed in a blaze of glory. I was floored. Marisa had a strength about her that I didn’t see in myself. Her resilience, enthusiasm, and attention to craft yanked me straight out of mourning.
Marisa, what made you fall in love with Sweetblood?
The MS Hannah subbed was actually different to the one we ended up working on together. She subbed a kick-ass MG that, after losing the publishing deal, had left her deflated. But in those pages was another character that needed her own story at the YA level. Gilly is a tough, but damaged heroine who is so different to any characters I’ve come across in a long time, I knew I had to meet her. Hannah took a vampire trope and turned it on its head, and I’m a sucker for vampires at the best of times (ha ha ha).
Hannah, looking back, what was your favorite part of the #WriteMentor experience?
The people. Far none. I not only connected with beta readers and critique partners—I met writers who became lifelong friends. I wouldn’t be anywhere close to where I am without them. They coached me line by line, talked me down from hysterical meltdowns, and challenged me to develop my craftsmanship. The folks in the #WM community are the most gracious, giving people I’ve ever met.
I don’t feel like I’ve achieved anything. I feel like my team boosted me past the goal line.
Marisa, tell us what it was like working with Hannah.
Hannah was such a joy to work with. She took everything I had to say on board and never complained. Mostly. Snarf. Sometimes she’d have a meltdown and we’d brainstorm ideas and have a back and forth until she felt comfortable with the direction we were taking the novel. And writing something entirely from scratch during the process was great as we got to work with a blank canvas. She’d give me chapters as we’d go, and I’d suggest which areas needed work and give her exercises to help drill into her weaknesses, all which she tackled with grace and positivity.
Hannah, what was the most surprising part of the #WriteMentor experience?
How cool the people were. Honestly! I know I keep harping on this, but I had no idea Marisa would go through, chapter by chapter, as I wrote an entire book. The other #WM mentees surrounded me with love and support, editing, critiquing, and helping me prepare for submission. This team invested hours of their own time to help me reach my goal. I’m so thankful to be a part of this family.
Hannah, the revision process is only three months and can be intense. Tell us about your revisions and how you dealt with constructive criticism from Marisa.What advice do you have for future mentees?
I have to be painfully honest. My experience wasn’t like most mentees. I didn’t end up submitting the book I queried. We wrote a completely new one.
So here’s me, moving halfway across the world from France to Savannah, Georgia, trying to wrap up a novel in a genre I’ve never written before. It was the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, but Marisa was with me every step of the way. Chapter drafts, rewrites, outlines, character arcs—she gave me feedback on everything. Her guidance made it possible to put such a massive project together in such a short amount of time, but there was also a point where I had to let go of my own pride.
I’m not naturally gracious. I’ve had to learn how to take criticism. There was a point (I remember very distinctly—it was in the airport.) where I had to decide: Am I doing this to get better, or am I doing this for validation?
The answer made all the difference. I’ve never looked at feedback the same, and I am infinitely better because of it. My advice to future mentees is to question your motivations each and every day. I know I have to.
Hannah, after #WriteMentor, you signed with Lynnette Novak of The Seymour Agency. Give us all the details of “The Call.”
Let’s set the scene: I was sitting in a rental apartment wearing a pair of fake eyebrows while a life-sized Deadpool mannequin leered over my shoulder.
Antiheroes aside, I had just taken another call that didn’t end the way I’d hoped, so I was super nervous. Like, pee my pants nervous. But as soon as I got on the phone with Lynnette, I knew it was a perfect partnership within ten minutes of our conversation.
She started her introduction by discussing my author career goals, then immediately dove into how much she loved the book. I was floored. My crippling self-doubt kept telling me it was too good to be true, so I piped up with parts of the book I thought needed work. (Awkwardly shirking compliments is always a failsafe defense method.)
Lynnette wasn’t having any of it. She stopped me dead in my tracks and asked, “Will you let me talk for a second about how much I love this book?”
I started laughing. I couldn’t help it. Her insightfulness and expertise were exactly what I needed. Lynnette is an unparalleled professional, a razor-sharp editor, and a tireless champion for the work she represents. I’m so honored to be a part of her team.
What does your writing process look like?
Hannah: Ha, ha, ha. (Syllables. Not laughter.)
I write fast. I write often. I write whenever I have a waking moment to spare. SWEETBLOOD took me a bit under ninety days, then I turned around and wrote SKIN AND BONES in twenty. The SWEETBLOOD rewrite set a new record—80k in fourteen days.
I’m naturally a fast worker, but in order to keep quality up with quantity, I create full, excruciatingly-detailed outlines by hand.
I believe significant amounts of my brain have since oozed out my ears, but as Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “Quantity has a quality all its own.”
Marisa: Well. It’s absolutely changed over the years. When I’m planning a new book, I let the idea circle in my head for a couple of weeks before I write anything down. Usually either a plot or character will come to me and I pull at the threads for a while. I spend another couple of weeks making notes, giving a general outline and getting to know my character. After that I spend some time on a spreadsheet planning out each scene. This is never set in stone, and things always change, but I love to have a guide to follow and it allows me to get down a heavy word count. For instance, in my latest WIP, I’ve recently discovered my MC has mild depression, which I didn’t know until I started writing! Hannah and I are very similar with our productivity. I can write up to 10k a day, but sit more comfortable between 3-5 and will often write a first draft in a few weeks. I don’t get hung up on the quality and let the creativity take over.
What fictional character would you like to spend a day with?
Honestly? Edward Cullen. Give me 24-hours with that sparkly nincompoop.
Firstly, we’d discuss how stalking your partner is not romantic, how it is NEVER okay to take away someone’s decision because you don’t think she’s making the right one, and how breaking into a seventeen-year-old’s bedroom to watch her sleep is both illegal and creepy.
Then we’d sit down and hash out a five-year life plan. I mean, the poor kid’s lived for a century and all he can do is go back to high school? He needs guidance.
Marisa: So many! But I think I’d go for Hannibal Lecter. The criminal mind has always fascinated me. I studied psychology at university with the view to get into criminal profiling (Didn’t quite go to plan) and once tried to get work experience at Britain’s most notorious criminal mental asylum. I’d love to sit there like Jodi Foster did in Silence of the Lambs and pick apart his brain.
What fictional world would you most like to live in?
The Shire from The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Pre-Saruman, of course. I would love to live in a world where I can settle in a hole, eat six meals a day, while away my evenings with a pipe and/or pint, and have virtually no expectations put upon me beyond the radical fireworks at my eleventy-first birthday party.
I’m also 5’11” (180 cm), so I would SLAY at hobbit basketball. Plus, I’d love to see Isengard.
Marisa: OMG, Hannah – you went for REALLY hard questions! Fictional World…I’d like to think I was brave and kick-ass and could survive in something life Divergent or the Hunger Games, but in reality I’d need something soft and sweet that would be so boring that it probably wouldn’t even make a book! Westworld would be awesome – I’ve always been fascinated by AI, and it might be the topic of my latest book…
What is your favorite book (or series). Why?
THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman. *Squee!* I could pontificate for a whole article (http://evalangston.com/2018/05/13/the-graveyard-book/), but it’s the purest paradigm of children’s literature since THE JUNGLE BOOK. Here’s a perfect example of why stories must be beautiful, honest, scary, and maybe even sad.
Why? Life is beautiful, honest, scary, and sad.
Marisa: I’d choose either The Hunger Games of Phillip Pullman’s Dark Materials Trilogy. Both of them pulled me so far into the story that I forgot to even think about the writing. That’s true genius. Those rare books where you want to be in the world, be the hero, make it your real life.
Where does your inspiration come from?
Childhood trauma. 100%. Looking back, my real life is far stranger than my fiction. Between being raised in the boondocks by a combat medic, serving as a naval warfare officer, living as an expat, and taking my current position at America’s most actively haunted mansion, I don’t have to stretch my imagination very far.
Do you find that as frightening as I do?
Marisa: I actually don’t even know. Most of my book ideas come to me in a flash with a fleshed out plot just waiting for me. I’ve always been drawn to the dark and twisted. When I graduated from Nancy Drew, at age 10, I jumped straight into Dean Koontz, who remains my favourite author of all time. He is a master of pace, tension and character and I get completely swept away by his novels. I also love horror movies. Not bloody, slasher ones, more of the creepy spine tinglers like A Quite Place. I think I’ve read and watched so much of this genre over the years that it’s now just how I think and what I’m most comfortable writing. I don’t enjoy long, meandering, contemplative novels, but prefer to get right into action. The more supernatural and mysterious, the better.
And like Hannah said, childhood experiences. I was shot at, my brother’s best friend was murdered, and I became obsessed at age 7 about a girl on the news who’d been abducted. I had huge abandonment issues and all of this leaks into my novels.
HANNAH KATES is a young adult and middle grade author—but also a professional troublemaker. After graduating from the world’s premier military institute, she got out of war games and into the world of children’s literature, which she considers to be significantly more fun. An avid explorer, she’s chalked up all sorts of misadventures—from being shanghaied by the French Foreign Legion to accidentally being locked inside a medieval Montenegrin castle. As a wanderer, songwriter, and collector of stories, you can find her skulking around cemeteries or giving tours in America’s most haunted manor.
Marisa Noelle always has a story or two screaming to get out, but it wasn’t until she completed a few courses, including the acclaimed Curtis Brown Writing for Children, that she nabbed an agent here or there and her books began to get noticed.
Her debut, a YA sci-fi, comes out with WritePlan publishing late next summer. She has been long and short listed in a handful of competitions and was proud to be part of the UK WriteMentor program in its inception year.
She lives in the UK with her husband and three sons.