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.
AND NOW...THE GIVEAWAY:
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!