Congratulations to Marianna Baer on her latest release, The Inconceivable Life of Quinn, published by Amulet/Abrams Books and launching april 4th. Marianna is a member of the '08 Cliffhangers and a resident of Brooklyn (the most unoriginal place for someone in children's publishing to live!) Her first book, FROST, was published by Balzer & Bray/HarperCollins in 2011. When not writing, she edits and develops novels for the YA and adult markets.
Qunn Cutler is beyond shocked when the doctor says she's pregnant. She's sixteen, the daughter of a prominent politician, and -- far more important -- she's never had sex. At least, not that she can remember.
Is she repressing a traumatic memory? Was she drugged? Before Quinn can solve this deeply troubling mystery, her story becomes public. Rumors spread, jeopardizing her reputation, her relationship with a boyfriend she adores, and her father's campaign for Congress. Religious fanatics gather at the Cutlers' house, believing Quinn is a virgin, pregnant with the next messiah.
As the chaos grows, Quinn's search for answers uncovers a trail of lies and family secrets -- strange, possibly supernatural ones. And despite what seems logical and scientific, Quinn can't help but believe the truth about her pregnancy isn't an ugly one. Might she, in fact, be a virgin?
In this thoughtful and heartfelt book, Marianna Baer dives deep into Quinn's world, the pregnancy that can't be possible, and the choices and secrets that for who Quinn Cutler really is.
What was the spark that ignited this book?
Years ago, I used to see this teenage girl training cross-country in the park near my apartment. Something about her intrigued me--a sense of innocence combined with a seriousness and intensity that suggested (to a writer's mind, at least!) that she was dealing with heavy burdens. Around that same time, I came across a painting of the Virgin Mary by Caravaggio at the Met, and… WHOA. It was the girl from the park! Right there, in this painting from 1602! I was blown away by the resemblance. And, as I looked at the painting, I wondered: what would happen if a girl in present day Park Slope believed she was a pregnant virgin? Once that question popped into my head, I knew it was a book I wanted to write.
What was the most difficult element to cut/change during the revision process and why?
Quick fact: I have a Word file titled "Deleted Scenes" for this book that is 64,675 words long. And that is only one of THREE files of deleted material! But, believe it or not, none of that cutting was nearly as difficult as some of the other changes I made. Among the hardest: In early drafts, Quinn's boyfriend, Jesse, wasn't her boyfriend -- he was her platonic best friend. She had no romantic interest in him whatsoever. At some point it became clear, though, that he needed to be her boyfriend to strengthen the plot. Problem was, since Quinn had no romantic interest in him, neither did I! When I tried to write scenes where she was attracted to him, I felt like I was making her kiss her brother. I struggled with it for a long time. Amazingly, the way I finally cracked it was ridiculously simple. I changed his name from Jesse to Jeremy. That one simple switch freed up my brain to re-envision their relationship. Now I can't imagine him NOT being her boyfriend! (I changed his name back to Jesse, eventually, because he never stopped being Jesse deep down.)
Tell us about how you sold this book. What was it like when you found out?
The backstory of selling this book is a long one. But I'm going to focus on the best/most important moment here, and you'll see why.
September of 2015 followed a very difficult year in my life. My agent (the miraculous Sara Crowe at Pippin Properties) had recently sent out QUINN, but because I wasn't in the best place emotionally, I didn't have high hopes. Anyway, I was at a retreat that I go to every September with a group of incredible VCFA grads. (The yearly re-set of my creative energy/well-being.) We had just finished dinner on the final night of the retreat and I did a quick email check. It was a Sunday night, so I wasn't expecting anything important. But there was an email from Sara. It said that Maggie Lehrman at Abrams loved/wanted QUINN. Now, not only was this INCREDIBLE news, but Maggie is a VCFA grad! She was in a class that I GA'd for and we had stayed in touch after, seeing each other occasionally in our mutual Brooklyn 'hood. I have immense respect for her writing (THE COST OF ALL THINGS, Balzer & Bray, 2015), and the books she's edited for Abrams, and I had no idea that Sara was submitting to her! So, here I was at the retreat, surrounded by a group of the most loving, supportive VCFA friends ever, and I found out that the light at the end of a long, dark tunnel was Maggie! The moment couldn't have been more perfect.* (Especially since there was a hot tub warming up outside!)
*For those new to publishing, I don't mean to insinuate that this moment was when I knew the book had sold. Maggie had to get other people to read it and approve the acquisition, Sara and I talked to editors at other houses, etc. Rarely is anything in publishing as quick as one email!
What nugget of craft advice has been especially helpful to you?
(This advice applies to revision, not early drafting.) It's common wisdom that concrete, specific details are crucial. And yes, that's true. But what I didn't fully get early on was that the details also need to be purposeful and only used where necessary. That sounds so obvious! But I used to flesh out a scene with description willy-nilly. I thought the more detailed it was the better. Now, when I'm revising, I ask myself, "Do we really need to know what color her dress is in this scene? And if so, why is it yellow? What is that signaling to the reader?" I don't mean to suggest that everything has to be deeply meaningful or symbolic -- not at all. But there is a difference between a girl who wears a bright yellow dress and a girl who wears a khaki dress. And yellow has a strong association with sunshine for most readers. You need to be aware of the small clues you're planting.
Who were your advisors at VCFA?
Cynthia Leitich Smith, Brent Hartinger, Sharon Darrow, and Tim Wynne-Jones. I hear their voices in my head every time I write.
How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?
How did VCFA not affect my writing life?! It changed everything. But the one thing I'll mention here is the importance of the friends and community it gave me. I'm in touch with VCFA friends on a daily basis. Their support, advice, and camaraderie are the foundation of my ability to navigate this tough career without losing my mind. (Or, more accurately, they help me find my mind when I lose it.)
Contact marianna at: http://mariannabaer.com, @mariannabaer at Twitter and Marianna Baer on Facebook.