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Thursday, March 04, 2010

Story Secrets: SPLIT by Swati Avasthi + Giveaway!

Would you believe I met Swati Avasthi, 2010 debut author of SPLIT, in the elevator at a writing conference? (See how to win a copy below!) Here's how it went down:

Me (spotting Swati and realizing I have to figure out how to put on my red Indian sari, given to me by husband's relatives, for the Red Party that eve): You're Indian! You can help me! Will you help me?

Swati: Uh, sure.

After that, we were fast friends. Then later, after the red sari incident:

Me: So what do you write?

Swati: I'm working on a YA novel...about this guy Jace, who arrives at the doorstep of his estranged brother Christian with a re-landscaped face (courtesy of his father’s fist) and a secret.

Me: Hmm, that sounds exactly like something this agent I know would like...

Next thing I knew, Swati had signed with that agent and gotten a 2-book deal with Knopf (go, Swati!). So I'm very excited to now welcome her to share Story Secrets for her debut novel, SPLIT, on shelves now! (Btw, catch more YA Story Secrets here.)


16-year-old Jace Witherspoon arrives at the doorstep of his estranged brother Christian with a re-landscaped face (courtesy of his father’s fist) and a secret. He tries to move on -- new friends, new school, new job -- but all his changes can’t make him forget what he left behind: his mother, who is still trapped with his dad. Split is about what happens after. After you have gotten out, how do you begin to live again?

Swati: Split grew out my experiences when I coordinated a domestic violence legal clinic in Chicago. In the three years I worked there, I saw thousands of abuse victims. Women, men, and their children sought civil orders of protection at the clinic. And I listened their stories. Once, as a woman relayed a particularly brutal incident while her two children sat beside her, I asked if she'd like an intern to look after the children. She said, no, they had seen it anyway.

I went home that night thinking, What would it be like to be a witness? What would that do to a child? And, I was conflicted about the woman I was supposed to help -- their mother. Was she responsible? What was her duty to her children and to herself? I knew that I was falling into the trap of victim blaming, but couldn't find my way out. Eventually, I gave this problem to my character, Jace, to see what he could make of the conundrum.

What's your secret to calling the Muse?

A cup of Starbucks coffee and a good playlist. At least, that's what keeps my fingers on the keyboard on a daily basis.

Everyone wants to know: what is your writing process like? How long did it take for SPLIT to land on the shelves?
From start to submission: 26 months. From start to publication: 3 years and 9 months, and it only took two months from the time I wrote the query letter to my agent to the auction. Knopf has been wonderful to work with; I couldn't have asked for better. They put a lot of work and time into their books to make sure they're published just right.

I went through an embarrassing number of drafts: 8. I solicit a lot of feedback from my colleagues so each time I get feedback, I revise the entire manuscript. I'm so happy that I drafted and redrafted though, digging deeper each time. By the end of the process, I felt as though I had nothing left to offer the book. It's lovely to feel as though, to borrow a sports metaphor, I left it all on the field.

Any secrets you're willing to share?
Oh, I hate to disappoint, but I think I'll have to plead the 5th on that one. I need to keep Jace's secret.

Well, let's see... how about this: I have a theater background. So, when I work on character creation, I will go for a little method acting and pretend that I am my protagonist while doing my daily work: washing dishes, doing errands, that sort of thing. Once I went grocery shopping as Jace. I came home with Oreos and Fritos and all sorts of junk food. My kids were so grateful.


Thanks for stopping by with your story Secrets, Swati!

While we were doing this interview, Swati confessed that she named a character in her second book after me. Does she talk to random people in elevators, I asked? Is she crushed by one? Regardless, I am speechless with the coolness of it and am thrilled to see SPLIT go out into the world.

Swati's publisher has graciously offered to give THREE copies of SPLIT away - all you have to do for chance to win is comment below on a) why you'd really love to read SPLIT, b) your strangest elevator story, or c) a story of how you made a bad choice but turned it around for good.

Please include a way to contact you! You have until 5pm PST on Monday to post. Comment away, and check out the trailer!


  1. SPLIT sounds really good. I love how you're able to start conversations with people, Holly. You make it look so easy.

    Strangest elevator experience...picture a date with future husband, a nice dinner out in Boston, elevator ride to parking garage. Elevator door closes, PLUNGES down a couple floors and groans to halt at our stop. We are not calm--I scream. We keep pressing buttons and it takes FOREVER until the elevator door opens. We're very shaken up, holding on to each other for dear life. A few people are waiting for the elevator and snicker when we approach. We tried to warn them but they only giggled and got on the elevator. It didn't occur to us until later that they were imagining naughty things.

  2. I would love to read this because I don't read many raw or emotional books, but this one really catches my attention.

    findjessyhere at gmail dot com

  3. Great interview. Thanks, Holly and Swati.

    I would love to read SPLIT because Swati is an agent-sister and I think we call our muse in the same way.

    Elevator story...takes me back to childhood. I was a small town girl (living in a town without elevators) so when visiting a big city and staying a 20-something story hotel, the fun was in riding the elevators: pushing ALL (and I mean all) the buttons; jumping as soon as the elevator made its move up or down; and riding the service elevator and ending up in the hotel kitchen (woops). :)

  4. Split sounds like a great story especially because it is such a hard subject. Also I hope that it brings awareness to domestic violence. I would love to read it!

  5. Sounds like a very moving read with a strong message. I've been waiting for it a while :)


    entrelibros_blog at htomail dot com
    (enter me only if it's international)

  6. Thanks for the contest! I would love to read Split simply because it sounds awesome. It's just the type of book that I love to read. I love your story of how you two met! And the interview was great too!


  7. I had a few weird elevator experiences while I was in Vegas on my honeymoon. In Vegas, you have to take elevators everywhere. I'm sure that stairs exist, but I never saw any! Probably the most disturbing elevator experience on this trip was when I rode in an elevator with a man passed out on the floor. People came in and went, but no one checked to see if he was passed out or dead. As I was getting off, I saw him move one of his feet a little, so I think he was alive, but I'm still not exactly sure. And, this was at 8am as I was headed for some much-needed coffee. I guess maybe he needed some too!


  8. I recently had the opportunity to host a guest post were Swati talked about the inspiration behind SPLIT...it simply blew me away.

    hefollowedme AT gmail DOT com

  9. All of these stories are fantastic - I'm glad SPLIT is striking a chord.

    Elevators in Vegas are always suspicious, I think!

    Vivian, that's so funny - I usually think of myself as somewhat shy and don't always start conversations well. I tell you, with Swati it was meant to be! But then I grew up watching my mom, who could start a conversation with anyone, anywhere, about anything. I'm hoping some of that will rub off, especially in the next few months... ;)

  10. I loved doing this interview! Thanks, Holly! And meeting you in the elevator remains one of the highlights of that fabulous conference.

    Thanks all! So excited that the book will be in the hands of such involved readers! --Swati

  11. This book looks like a new and fresh idea that I will def. add to my TBR pile!!

    kpic724 (at) gmail (dot) com

  12. Holly, you're so awesome! You are almost set to enjoy your first success and here you are helping others reach theirs. I'm sure Swati will remember that elevator ride the rest of her life. Amazing.

    I would love to read Split. Your interview made me feel very confident in Swati's ability to tell an accurate, engrossing tale. I do hope that it brings about more awareness.

    Also...LOVE the cover art!

    I grew up in a small town and have lived in small towns most of my life. Not many elevators. But, I do have a cute one to share. We went to Chicago for a family vacation in 2007. My son Max, who was 2 at the time was fascinated with all the elevators we got to go on and was obsessed with pressing the buttons. Imagine the look on his face when we got in to the elevator at the Hancock Center! Heaven!

  13. I'd love to read Split because I'm so curious about Jace's secret!! *curious* Must. Know. Must. Know.

    Strangest elevator story - I went to my Mom's office because she promised that we'd go to the mall. Her office was in the 5th floor. And she was a workaholic (no doubt about that), so we left the office late. Like 2 hours later after the end of office hours. We got in the elevator. The door kept opening to every floor but nobody was there. The building was almost deserted because it was already evening. It was a little creepy. 'Cause it meant 'someone' was pushing the elevator buttons on all floors.

    (Only include me if this is international. If it's not, it's okay! I'm happy to share!)



  14. This is a book I'm dying to get my hands on! I love your opening story, and I'm so impressed with how Swati handled such an important concept, from idea to novel.

  15. I'd love to read Split because the premise sounds like something right up my alley.


  16. I would love to read Split because the premise sounds good and I don't normally read books like this.

    Weird elevator story....hmmm. I don't have any. Elevator experiences are just pretty average for me.

    Bad decisions? I can't think of any at the moment. Maybe, I'm too much of a good girl lol.

    Thanks for the contest!
    -Kelly H.

  17. Fab interview!

    Ermm. once when I was in an elevator, quite a few years ago this was, I sort of pretended I had severe claustrophobia, and started screaming and pushed this lady..yeah..it was really quiet embarassing..I don't know why it happened..then as I was coming out, I left my shoe inside and..well, you don't want to know the rest!! :D

  18. That was a great interview! I would like to read Split because I've never read a book about a teen with an abusive father and how he moves on, and I think that makes it very interesting.


  19. I was in an elevator during a mild earthquake in Mexico City, It was scary but wild at the same time.

    I would love to read Split, it sounds like an amazing story.

    Hey, do you guys ship to Germany? ;)

    good luck

  20. I'd like to read Split because it will take me out of my comfort zone - it's not a fluffy, cute story - and it's good to do that sometimes when reading.

    Also, the cover totally rocks!

    my email:
    lchslibrary @ gmail . com

  21. Thanks for the comments, everyone! We have until 5pm today...

    It would be very scary to be in an elevator during an earthquake, Nancy!

  22. I'd love to read this book because I've too met Swati, and she is currently my mentor through Minneapolis' Loft Literary Center. Her take on writing and this story is intriguing and I'm captivated; finally, a boy book that trumps all. :-)

    As for making a choice - oh, how about trying to once upon a time impress a crush, breaking my leg in the process (yay snowboarding!)? I used that time to write, and it literally saved my muse.

    Thanks so much for doing this contest, Holly!