Today I’m interviewing the fantastic A. J. Pine, whose debut novel If Only releases from Entangled Embrace on March 24th. If you aren’t already, be sure to follow her on all her social media accounts below. I met her through twitter, and I have to say, she’s an amazing person to call friend.
What inspired you to write your first book?
First and foremost—reading. The power of a good book is a magical thing, and I’d always wondered if I had it in me to recreate what books did for me. To be more specific, I would not have written my first book without my critique partner, Lex. I had written my chapter one and then sat on it for a year. When I found out Lex was writing too, I suggested we trade. And just like that, we started trading pages every two weeks—like the rawest of the raw first draft pages—and it took off from there. Her critique mixed with margin love notes was always the best to wake up to on a Saturday morning after our Friday swaps.
Do you have a specific writing style?
I’ve written three books, and all are first-person pov from the female perspective. I’m branching out a bit on book four right now. Still first-person, but it’s pov, guy and girl. I have another book idea on the back burner that I started in third-person. I’ve found my comfort zone but definitely want to change it up as I go.
How did you come up with the title?
My March NA debut is titled IF ONLY. I guess there are a lot of “If only this…” type moments in the book, things that if they could have gone another way, the characters could have avoided a lot of angst. But where would be the fun in that? You can’t have a happily ever after on page one, so I torture my characters a lot. They have to earn their happiness. *Insert maniacal laugh*
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
IF ONLY is NA contemporary romance, so the love story is a big part of it. For a long time my mc, Jordan, thinks she has to live a certain way in order to be happy, but that way isn’t her way. For the first half of her college career, she has lived vicariously through others, and the book gives her a chance to figure out how to take charge of her own happiness, not just in love but in where she wants her life to go beyond college.
How much of the book is realistic?
All of it? Haha. I mean, I made it up, but it could happen.
Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Hmmm, how much do I divulge here? Jordan spends her junior year of college abroad in Scotland. I may have done the exact same thing. While everyone and everything in the book is complete fiction (okay, maybe I did sign up for a Shakespearean comedy class because I saw a certain guy’s name on the roster), I definitely drew from my experience to come up with Jordan’s. But the book is all hers.
What books have most influenced your life most?
Different books influence me in different ways, but I pay homage to three of my favorite classic pieces of literature in If Only. The Great Gatsby is the novel I read in high school that knocked the wind out of me, that showed me how books could gut me emotionally. So I made that book something special for one of my characters. I fell in love with British Literature in college, so I used two of my favs as frameworks for the story—E.M. Forster’s A Room With a View and Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
Honestly—my critique partners. I learn from them every time I read their work and every time they read mine.
What book are you reading now?
Ooh, this one’s fun. I’m reading Pride and Prejudice because I’m teaching it. I’m reading Stina Lindenblatt’s new adult novel, Tell Me When, on my phone. When I’m in the car, I’m listening to Kresley Cole’s young adult fantasy, Poison Princess. And I’m always in the middle of beta reading or cp-ing a manuscript for a writer friend. I may have time management issues.
What are your current projects?
I’m working on If Only’s sequel right now. Well, I will when I finish this interview.
Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
Just one? Ok, a lot of people fall under this one—the fabulous writing community I’ve found on Twitter.
Do you see writing as a career?
YES. I mean, I hope so! A lot of good happened for me and this whole writing journey in 2013. I sure as hell hope it grows from here. But even if writing isn’t paying the bills, it’s something I won’t stop doing. I can’t. I’m absolutely my happiest when I’m drafting. Yes, that ugly, shitty, crappy first draft—that’s my FAVORITE thing to do, which means I write for me first. It fills a space that would be empty and sad and probably overflowing with chocolate covered espresso beans without it.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
More kilts. Because Scotland.
Can you share a little of your current work with us?
So, I’m still waiting on approval for my back cover blurb. As soon as that’s in, I’ll maybe update you all in the comments section. Right now I’ll just say that If Only follows Jordan Brooks, a twenty-year-old girl from Illinois, on her year abroad at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. Jordan’s a planner, the type of girl that is careful with everything, but all careful has gotten her is two years of being single and living vicariously through her roommate. So, planner that she is, Jordan sets out to act against her normal instinct, to throw caution to the wind and just have fun on this experience that comes with an expiration date. She’s done waiting for love and ready to have fun. So of COURSE she meets the perfect guy, another American studying abroad. The only part that’s not perfect? He came to Aberdeen with his girlfriend from home.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Confidence. It doesn’t matter what stage of the game you are in—agented/unagented, published/not published. I’m speaking for myself, of course, and pub date isn’t until March, but ugh. When I send pages to my CPs, I always preface the email with, “I hope it doesn’t suck. I’m gonna go vom.” I tone down the melodrama with my agent and editors, but it’s still there internally. Haha.
Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Eeek. I don’t want to pick favorites in my own category. But I read a LOT of YA too and fangirl hard for so many writers. I mean, I want to write subtle, lyrical fantasy like Maggie Stiefvater or knock me on my ass urban fantasy like Laini Taylor. Melina Marchetta’s Jellicoe Road was pretty much life-changing in the gorgeous way it unfolded to tell one of the best stories of love I’ve ever read. I’d be honored if my book gave at least one reader the type of book hangover I had after finishing Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl. I’d love to create contemporary romance like Gayle Forman, books that make me sob and fill my heart. Or to capture the giddiness and angst of falling in love with the wrong person at the wrong time like Stephanie Perkins does with Anna and Lola (hint…If Only deals with this issue). Every book I love fills my soul as a reader and mentors me as a writer.
Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
Um…I want to. I hope I pulled off enough Scotland from my memory (and Google). But I have a YA mythology-based fantasy idea that just needs to be set in Paris, which means I need to go to Paris, right? I’ve never been!
Who designed the cover?
Jessica Cantor from Entangled Embrace.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Drafting, for me, is the easiest part. Editing has been fantastic because the book has grown so much, but it’s also the biggest challenge. Working in new ideas, deepening character development, getting rid of a chapter or adding another—all on a deadline—it’s all arse-kickingly difficult, but I also love the pressure of a due date. Makes it a lot harder to procrastinate.
Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
That I am not a pantser. The first book I wrote, a YA dystopian that is all snuggled in a folder on my laptop, was 100% pantsed. I still love the story but know that if I ever want to pull it out of storage and try to publish it that I will have to do some major editing for pacing (among other things). Now I use beat-sheeting, and omg where has this amazing tool been all my life? *pets Save The Cat book*
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Find yourself some loving, trusted, honest critique partners with the same dirty sense of humor you have. I can’t write without mine.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I hope it doesn’t suck. I’m gonna go vom. Wait! No! Not that! I meant to say THANK YOU. You are the reason I get to keep doing what I love. I hope you find something to love in Scotland, in Jordan’s story, in falling in love when she falls in love, in watching her heart break and slowly piece itself back together. I’m just beyond grateful that I get to share this with more than the five to seven people who’ve already read it. Oh, and mom and dad (and all other blood relatives), if you could forget that you know me when you read the sex scenes, that would be fantastic.
Do you have a favorite line one of your characters says in your book?
“Pussy lightweight!” Hahaha! And that’s all I’m going to tell you about that!
Is your book out for submission or has it been purchased by a publisher?
If Only is slated for release with Entangled’s Embrace line on March 24th!
What’s all your social media links to share with readers? Twitter, FB Fanpage, website
Facebook: AJ Pine-Author
Tumblr: http://www.tumblr.com/blog/ajpine (No laughing at my lack of tumblring skills)
Entangled Author Page
Who is your agent?
Courtney Miller-Callihan of Sanford J. Greenburger Associates.
How did you meet your agent?
Twitter! She favorite my #PitMad pitch, and the rest is history. Well, ok, it didn’t happen that fast, but about ten weeks after she favorite the pitch, we lived happily ever after.
What’s your agent phone call story?
I kind of love this story. I got the email from Courtney asking if she could call me while I was sitting in Cheers in Boston. I was out of town for a conference (I’m from Chicago), and when Courtney called I was in a hotel room (the wrong one and I ended up moving rooms while on the phone with her…don’t ask), everything still in my suitcase, which meant no laptop and no notes as far as what to ask/say when you are having THE call. Courtney was fabulous. She answered every question I thought to ask and many I should have asked but was too nervous to come up with. She was personable, funny, professional—everything I’d already seen from her on Twitter. And she loved my book and my writing. Plus, after we hung up and I remembered a hundred more questions, she fielded my emails for the next several days. I had no doubts when I officially accepted her offer, and I’m so excited to see what 2014 brings now that we are working together.