March 2014 Edit: Sing To The Wind has been renamed No Place To Fall, and will be out later this year. I can't wait!
As great as it is to interview fabulous authors who I'm already a big fan of, one thing I've grown to really enjoy this year is finding out about some of the great authors who've just signed their first publishing deals. I stumbled across some posts about a book called Sing To The Wind a few months ago, which sounded awesome, so I was thrilled when I managed to get an interview with author Jaye Robin Brown, who's recently signed with Harper Teen.
1. For those readers who haven't heard of Sing To The Wind, can you tell us a bit about it, and who you think it will appeal to?
Sing to the Wind is a contemporary YA set in the mountains of western North Carolina. The story's about a mountain girl who can flat out sing some bluegrass, the boys she likes, the town she’s dying to get away from, and the dysfunctional family that's putting roadblocks in the way of her emerging dreams.
Sounds brilliant, I can't wait to read it!
2. You were one of the winners of Ruth Lauren Steven and Michelle Krys's Christmas In July contest earlier this year. What made you enter the contest, and would you recommend similar contests to other authors looking for an agent?
That contest was amazing and such a catalyst for this moment. I can’t thank Ruth and Michelle enough for hosting it. I’d done blog contests in the past (other manuscripts) and met with mixed results. What I liked about Christmas In July was the winnowing would be done by Ruth and Michelle, and if you didn’t make it in, only you would know. I was utterly flabbergasted to see I’d been chosen and even more so to receive multiple requests to see the manuscript. As for if I’d recommend blog contests to agent hunters - I’d say it depends on the writer. It’s scary putting fragile words out there for the entire world to see. I’m not sure I would recommend it to beginning writers. You’ve got to have very thick skin to deal with some of the comments people make on some of the contests available on the blogosphere. But it’s also a way to get your work in front of agents who might be closed to queries and an instant way to get feedback on what’s working and what’s not. So if you’re not too terribly tender, and you’ve gotten your manuscript as far as you can take it, then I say go for it.
3. On a similar note, are there any tips you'd give to authors that you wish you'd known when you first started writing your book?
Hmmm, tips. First, read, read read. In your genre, out of your genre. Note which books you love and why. See what works, what you’re aiming for. Second, find great critique partners and be a great critique partner. Be open to criticism and praise. And lastly I guess is realize this is a business. You can have the prettiest sentences anyone has ever strung together but if the story doesn’t transport you, it will be hard to find a home for it. Publishers are in this business to bring books into the world, and to make money. Great stories sell. Story. It’s a word I think a lot about and really pay attention to when I write. Stories captivate.
Fabulous advice there - thank you!
4. The query letter you wrote for the Ruth Lauren Steven competition had me hooked at North Carolina - I love Southern fiction! What are your favourite novels set in the South?
Oh man. You’ve opened a can of worms, I’m a reader, first and foremost.
• Gone With The Wind
• To Kill A Mockingbird
• Breathing by Cheryl Herbsman (sweet summer YA romance set on the Carolina coast)
• Alabama Moon by Watt Key (fabulous voiced MG novel about the son of a survivalist)
• Fried Green Tomatoes and the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg
• The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
• All Over But the Shouting by Rick Bragg
• Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison
• Looking for Alaska by John Green (set in a southern boarding school)
• Carolina author Sharyn McCrumb - I like her mysteries and her historical stuff
• Anything by Rita Mae Brown
• And for an honorary southern book, The Beans of Egypt, Maine by Carolyn Chute.
Looking For Alaska is one of my favourites, and To Kill A Mockingbird is in my top five of all time. Will definitely check out some of the rest!
5. Your main character is a really talented singer. Did you have any special talents as a teenager?
I was an equestrian until the age of 15 when a hurricane blew through our neighborhood and knocked down all the fences at the farm where I kept my horse. After that, it became harder to get to the farm where we moved him and my parents made the decision to sell him. With more support, I might have gone into equestrian studies somewhere. (I do have horses now but just for pleasure) I also was medium good at art and never stopped making things. And I suppose, this writing thing might work out, too, though I’m a ways away from my teenage years.
6. What are you most looking forward to about being a published author?
Connecting with readers, introducing my characters to the world and watching them take on real lives of their own completely disconnected from me, stepping more fully into this amazing world of kidlit authors, and getting to talk books constantly (Like this! - thank you :0))
7. Is there anything about being a published author that you're dreading?
Nothing! I’m excited about it all.
8. I know that as well as being an author, you're a high school art teacher - do you discuss YA books with your students?
I talk books to my students ALL THE TIME. They loan books to me, I loan books to them. In fact, later this year as part of this special half-hour period we have, I’m hosting a YA book club. Not sure what our format will be but we’ll be talking all things young adult. My students are amazing people.
That's great! One of the reasons I miss teaching is that I used to love being able to share recommendations with some of my book-addicted students.
9. Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what's the soundtrack to Sing To The Wind? (With a name and a plot like that, I'm really hoping there is!)
I’m glad you asked! Actually I can’t listen to music while I write, but I did download stuff to listen to on my commute and there are lots of songs mentioned in the story. So I’ll tell you a few in order of appearance - be warned, it’s a bit eclectic, and Amber’s taste is decidedly Appalachian.
• Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash - Jackson
• James Taylor - Carolina
• Amazing Grace - Traditional
• Iris Dement - Pretty Saro
• All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies - Traditional
• Barbary Allen - Traditional (I love Emmy Rossum’s version from Songcatcher)
• False Lady - Traditional
• Little Feat - Dixie Chicken
• The House Carpenter (traditional ballad - I downloaded Hedy Silver’s version)
• Johnny Cash - Redemption Song
• Allison Krauss - I’ll Fly Away
I also regularly listen to two great radio stations near where I live - Amber could listen to them, too. One is WNCW in Spindale, NC - live streaming available, they play loads of Americana and Bluegrass. The other is WETS live from the campus of East TN State University. ETSU has a degree in bluegrass studies and is home to tons of great young musicians. The Carter Family Fold is also just up the mountain from there and is the old homeplace of the Carter Family (June Carter Cash), they have live music on a regular basis.
WOW! What a fantastic playlist. Johnny Cash and James Taylor are two of my favourite artists.
10. Have you got any plans for future books you can share with us?
I just scrapped 38k of another contemporary I’m working on, but I’m keeping the characters and the heart of it. It’s about grief, healing, popsicle trucks, and a hot artist. I also have a book I wrote earlier that I can’t trunk, a horse girl adventure that I’m about to age up from an upper MG to a YA. It was a lack of technology dystopian, but I’m going to change the setting to an alternate world to bypass dystopian overload. The setting is based on the Appalachian mountains and is loaded with quirky characters.
Both sound really interesting! Can't wait to read them, and, of course, Sing To The Wind!
Jaye Robin Brown has her own website and blog and can also be found on Twitter. Thanks for doing this interview, Jaye, and very best wishes for the future.