Q&A with Lisa A. Koosis and Kara Bietz

AW Teen, Albert Whitman’s young adult imprint, has two great teen novels publishing this fall.

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In Resurrecting Sunshine  by Lisa A. Koosis, Adam is given the opportunity to bring his girlfriend and bandmate, Sunshine, back from the dead using cloning and memory implantation techniques.

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In Until I Break by Kara Bietz, star athlete Sam is the victim of bullying. When gunshots echo through the halls of Broadmeadow High School, whose finger is on the trigger?

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Lisa and Kara had a chance to sit down with one another to talk about being debut authors.

 

Kara Bietz: Hello, Lisa! It’s so nice to meet you. Congratulations on your upcoming release!

Lisa A. Koosis: Hi Kara! Congratulations to you, too. Your book has been on my radar for a while now, so it’s great meeting you. I’m looking forward to chatting.

Kara Bietz: Why children’s books? Was it a conscious decision or something that just kind of happened?

Lisa A. Koosis: I actually started out writing short stories and then, after that, books for adults. I’d never considered writing for children or teens. Then I won the grand prize in Family Circle’s annual short story contest. Part of the prize package was a certificate for an online writing course. I wanted to take a course taught by an editor and the one I chose was YA Novel Writing, taught by Kendra Levin of Viking. Very quickly, I fell in love with writing for teens. I think it’s an age group I strongly identify with. How about you? Have you always written for children?

Kara Bietz: What a great story! I love that it happened that way and you ultimately fell in love with it. I’ve been writing stories for a REALLY. LONG. TIME. And they’ve always been about teens or tweens. When I began writing seriously, writing with an eye toward publication, my stories tended to have main characters around sixteen or seventeen years old.

Lisa A. Koosis: It’s interesting how you’ve always gravitated toward a pretty specific age range.

Kara Bietz: I guess it’s always been in me to write for teens, though I never really consciously made that decision, if that makes sense.

The premise for Resurrecting Sunshine is so unique; how did you come up with the idea?

Lisa A. Koosis: Thank you! Resurrecting Sunshine actually started out its life as a short story. I wanted to write something where the main character, the person that everyone else revolved around, never appeared “onscreen.” But the short story never really worked, no matter how many ways I tried, so I filed it away. A few years later, I was looking for an idea for a book, and that “off-screen” character popped back into my head and I ended up writing the book.

Kara Bietz: Was Sunshine your off-screen character?

Lisa A. Koosis: Yes! I had a picture in my mind of a girl in a yellow dress standing barefoot on a stage. That girl became Sunshine.

So school violence (and bullying) are such timely and important topics these days, of course, but was there something specific that inspired Until I Break?

Kara Bietz: The idea grew from one of those “what if” games with my husband that kind of got out of control! In all honesty, it grew from a very small incidence of bullying that involved my own son, who was only eleven or twelve at the time. I let the idea of a bully story tumble around in my head for a long time before I started writing. At first, I was thinking I may even write the story from the bully’s point of view, but that didn’t quite work out the way I thought it would. Best laid plans, right? It turned into a mystery/suspenseful kind of story as I continued to revise and reimagine my original idea.

Lisa A. Koosis: I’m always amazed at how ideas can take on a life of their own and how far a story can stray from that original spark of an idea. Did the changes that happened to your story ever surprise you?

Kara Bietz: They did, actually! I had a lot of trouble writing some of the scenes because they felt very raw. After they were written and I was rereading, I was thinking: “holy cow what did I do to these poor characters!” Sometimes it’s very obvious that the characters are in charge and we, as writers, are just along for the ride.

What was the hardest part of writing Resurrecting Sunshine?

Lisa A. Koosis: Oh that’s a tough one! I wrote Sunshine in sort of a blur. Only days before I set pen to paper, I’d separated from my husband of fifteen years. My life was in complete turmoil, but I was determined to participate in my favorite annual event, National Novel Writing Month. And I think as hard as it was, writing this particular story during that time was somehow right because I understood Adam a little better, and I understood the choices he made after experiencing such a life-changing loss.

Kara Bietz: I’m a big believer that every story you’re called to create serves some kind of purpose in your own life, too. While we are largely writing for readers, writing can be pretty therapeutic, too.

Lisa A. Koosis: I agree. I think some of our most authentic writing comes from how we connect with our own work.

I know you mentioned that you’ve been writing stories for a long time (me too!) so is this your first book-length work?

Kara Bietz: No. I wish I were that lucky! I have several “shelf” novels that will never see the light of day—at least not without some major revision! This is the fourth book-length novel I have finished, but the first to be published. I think my critique partners way back when helped me realize when I had something that might be ready for publication. Do you connect with other authors in any way?

Lisa A. Koosis: I’m lucky in that where I live, we have a vibrant writing community. Most of my closest local friends are writers, and we have a local chapter of the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) that meets regularly. But I do connect pretty extensively with other writers online. My critique partners live in Canada, New Jersey, and Tennessee. I love that the internet has given us the ability to connect so easily as writers. I don’t know where I’d be without that community. Some days my critique partners are my lifeline.

Have you connected with many other writers in person or online? Is it something you’ve done for a while, or only recently, as a debut author?

Kara Bietz: I still keep in touch with my writing “family” in Atlanta, even though I now live in Houston. We try to get together at least once a year or so. My agent has a private Facebook group for her clients, and we all connect daily. They’ve been a great, supportive community to be a part of. I also attend monthly SCBWI meetings here in Houston, too. So not all of my interactions with other humans are online!

What kinds of things did you like to read as a child or a teen? If you could only read one book for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Lisa A. Koosis:
 As a child, my weakness was stories about animals (dogs mostly, but also cats and horses). But when I reached my teen years, I fell in love with science fiction and horror. I devoured all of the Writers of the Future anthologies and promised myself that one day I would have a story published in them (which never actually happened, though not for lack of trying). If I could only read one book for the rest of my life it would probably be either Stephen King’s Pet Sematary (ironic considering my love of animals) or Piers Anthony’s Rings of Ice, which is a great little apocalyptic tale. And this is such a great question. I’d love to hear your choices, too.

Kara Bietz:
 Pet Sematary! Aaaaaah!!!! I loved this book as a teen—it was probably my favorite. Misery was a close second. I remember reading it through one eye because it freaked me out so much! As a teen I read lots of horror. Almost all Stephen King, though I’d throw in a John Saul novel here and there for variety. As a child, I loved Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary, and any kind of series I could get my hands on. My very favorite book as a child was Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great by Judy Blume and I’m happy to say that it still stands up today ;). If I could only read one book for the rest of my life, I think I’d choose Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak.

Lisa A. Koosis:
 John Saul was another of my favorites as a teenager! And Speak— now there’s a book that every teenager should read.

So now, as an adult, what books do you like to read?

Kara Bietz:
 I find myself reading a lot of contemporary YA. It’s what I’m drawn to in the library and in the bookstore. I’m still a big mystery/thriller fan, but I tend to lean toward YA mystery these days. How about you?

Lisa A. Koosis:
 I find myself reading all over the map lately: from adult horror to YA contemporary. I think some of that has to do with my days as a bookseller when a customer was equally as likely to sell me a book as I was to sell them a book, and I read things I never would have picked out on my own. But it’s funny because as a teen I read primarily adult books, and now I find myself reading more and more YA. I think some of it speaks to the amazing range of YA that’s out there today.

Kara Bietz:
 Isn’t it awesome? You could almost get lost in the YA shelves if you tried really hard.

Are you working on any other writing projects right now?

Lisa A. Koosis:
 Yes, I have been working on several writing projects, trying to find just the right one. Sometimes, for me, it’s a matter of playing with a few ideas before I settle on the right one. How about you, Kara?

Kara Bietz:
 I am the same way! I have a few different projects in different stages of “done-ness.” I have one that’s basically a finished draft, another that I’m working through the first draft now, one that I’m plotting, and one that is just an idea I like to take out and look at every so often! Being this close to publication, it’s been hard to concentrate on much of anything for an extended amount of time!

What has been the most exciting part of this journey to publication for you?

Lisa A. Koosis: I know exactly what you mean. [At the date of this conversation] I’m just about two weeks away from my launch and it’s become impossible to focus. The whole journey to publication has been amazing, and it’s hard to pick the most exciting part. But several months ago I had the opportunity to participate in a local teen book festival. I only had a single ARC at the time that I’d brought to read from. At one point, one of the teens I’d been talking with picked up my ARC and started reading…and reading…and reading. I sat there talking to her sister while she read the first few chapters of my book, and I could see from her face that she was completely lost in it. It was easily one of the best moments so far.

Have any moments stood out for you? What’s been the scariest thing for you about the journey to publication?

Kara Bietz:
 I think the first time I saw the cover was the biggest “OMG this is real” moment I’ve had so far. Every step in the process has been exciting and something to be celebrated for sure, but seeing the cover was like the moment that it became very, very real. Getting my ARCs in the mail, holding that book in my hands with my name on the cover—that was another moment I won’t soon forget. I think the entire journey has been scary! At every step, I find myself thinking “well this is new” and taking a deep breath! Thankfully it’s been more exciting/scary than horrifying/scary. More like a roller coaster than a haunted house!

Lisa A. Koosis:
 A roller coaster for sure—and now we’re both counting down to our official launch.

Kara Bietz:Are you doing a launch event of some sort?

Lisa A. Koosis: I’ll be doing an event at my local Barnes & Noble (which I worked at many years ago). It’s thrilling and absolutely terrifying all at the same time. I know your launch is a little further out, but do you have anything special planned?

Kara Bietz:
 I have a launch party scheduled for early November at a little indie bookstore I love here in Houston, Blue Willow Books. I’m really excited about it.

It was so lovely meeting you and getting to chat! Congratulations on your release; I can’t wait to get my hands on Resurrecting Sunshine!

Lisa A. Koosis: Thank you! I had a great time chatting and getting to know you, and I’m so excited for Until I Break! Congratulations to you, too!

 

 

Thanks, Kara and Lisa! To find out more about their books, Until I Break and Resurrecting Sunshine, check out AW Teen.

 

 

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Q&A with Lisa A. Koosis and Kara Bietz