Today we're talking to Heather Demetrios about her YA novel Something Real (Macmillan/Henry Holt, Feb. 2014). Here's a bit about it:
There's nothing real about reality TV.
Seventeen-year-old Bonnie™ Baker has grown up on TV—she and her twelve siblings are the stars of one-time hit reality show Baker’s Dozen. Since the show’s cancellation and the scandal surrounding it, Bonnie™ has tried to live a normal life, under the radar and out of the spotlight. But it’s about to fall apart…because Baker’s Dozen is going back on the air. Bonnie™’s mom and the show’s producers won’t let her quit and soon the life she has so carefully built for herself, with real friends (and maybe even a real boyfriend), is in danger of being destroyed by the show. Bonnie™ needs to do something drastic if her life is ever going to be her own—even if it means being more exposed than ever before.
Welcome, Heather! We're thrilled you could join us. Congratulations on your launch! So tell us . . .
Who was your favorite character to write and why?
Benny was my favorite character to write because he pretty much announced himself. He wasn’t a character I had to do any homework on—he just is. I showed up, he showed up and the combination of those two things is what you see on the page. I would love to just hang out with him sometime. He’s got a beautiful heart and is fiercely loyal. He also cracks me up.
Tell us about how you sold this book. What was it like when you found out? Do you have an agent? Were there a lot of revisions along the way?
After I got the 2012 Susan P. Bloom PEN Discovery Award for the book (then called Streaming) I submitted to a couple of carefully selected agents. I was an editorial intern at Candlewick at the time (this was just before I started at VCFA). They suggested Brenda Bowen from Sanford J. Greenburger, who’d been on my radar for quite some time. She was an editor and publisher for over twenty years before becoming an agent and worked on some of my favorite books. When she said she wanted to represent me, I just about died. She is an amazing person to have in my corner. She knows the business inside and out, yes, but the best thing is her eye. She vets all of my work and has such a great understanding of how to bring out the best in my stories and characters. Plus, she’s a hustler. I love that woman. She had me revise the ending—it was a little too tied up—and then we sent it out. We sold it in a pre-empt to Macmillan/Henry Holt a few weeks before my first VCFA residency in a two-book deal (the second book is a totally unrelated YA). I really felt like my editor, Kate Farrell, got the book right away, so I was excited to work with her.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever Googled as research for your writing?
My second book from Holt is another realism called I'll Meet You There (Winter 2014). It features a young Marine who lost a leg in Afghanistan and has to return to his small hometown. I had to google two things that were definitely outside my comfort zone: how to put on a prosthetic limb (awesome videos are out there!) and how people who have lost legs have sex (I wasn’t sure if they preferred to keep the limb on or take it off…and, no, this leg of the research—pun intended—did not include videos).
What nugget of craft advice has been especially helpful to you?
Amanda Jenkins did a lecture a few residencies ago about missed moments. She pointed out times in which an author didn’t go deep or far enough with a particular scene, glossing over the uncomfortable bits. She also talked, in another lecture I believe, about having a “niggling feeling.” That’s basically the voice inside you that’s telling you something isn’t right. Both of these concepts are things I’ve really taken to heart and have helped me immensely in my own work. I love the way she looks at the work of writing. She’s been enormously influential. I had a special workshop with her and we worked on Exquisite Captive, which is the first in my YA fantasy trilogy from HarperCollins/Balzer+Bray (coming out Oct. 2014). Her way of asking questions to get to true, gut reactions about plot was also very helpful.
What is your favorite VCFA memory?
My first residency—July 2012—I was walking back up the hill from the Three Penny with several of my classmates (the Allies in Wonderland…we graduate this July!) [Woo hoo! :)]. We decided it’d be a good idea to lay down on the sidewalk about halfway up the hill and stargaze. This would not be the first time we would do this over the course of our time at VCFA. So we’re lying there, feeling giddy that we’re pursuing our dream and bonding with these newest kindred spirits when we see a shooting star. It was a magical moment, utterly divine. It felt like the universe was saying yes. It was a benediction and the start of something wonderful. I love the Allies. We’re an incredibly close class and, for me, they are absolutely the best part of VCFA.
Who were your advisors at VCFA?
I’ve had Rita Williams Garcia, Coe Booth, Amanda Jenkins, and am finishing up with Amy King. I’m a lucky lady. Each of these women has given so much and I’ll be forever grateful.
Thanks so much for stopping by!
When she's not traipsing around the world or visiting imaginary places, Heather lives in Brooklyn with her husband. Something Real won the 2012 Susan P. Bloom PEN New England Discovery Award and her next novel, Exquisite Captive, the first in a YA fantasy trilogy about jinn, comes out from HarperCollins/Balzer+Bray in October 2014.