At school, my fellow Antipodean Sara Hantz was the girl most likely to get sent to the principal’s office for disrupting class. Now she’s the girl most likely to create a stir when her debut YA novel, The Second Virginity of Suzy Green (Flux), storms the bookshelves on September 1.
In between writing her next book, running a motel in beautiful New Zealand and vetting potential pool boys, Sara sat down to answer a few burning questions.
Tell us about your protagonist, Suzy Green.
Suzy is a typical fun-loving teen, whose life spirals out of control after the tragic death of her sister, Rosie, for which she blames herself. After one major incident she comes to her senses and decides, misguidedly, to emulate high achieving Rosie so she can ease the pain of her parents’ loss. When she starts her new school she reinvents herself, including joining the virginity club (for which she isn’t qualified), which has some amusing and poignant consequences.
What inspired the plot?
This is a tricky question because there wasn’t any one thing that inspired me. I had a title in mind, which I loved – Virgin on the Ridiculous – and I wanted to write something around that (as you can see it’s not the title I ended up with, but that’s okay because I love the new title even more). I remember brainstorming with one of my crit partners and she told me about virginity clubs and I researched them on the net and came up with the idea of someone lying about being a virgin so they could join. And the rest of the story sort of evolved through my planning.
Describe your writing process.
Little and often. I have a very low attention span and am easily distracted. So, I open my manuscript up first thing in the morning and dip in and out of it during the day. Some times I get more done than others, depending on how busy the motel is and how sidetracked I get on the internet.
I’d love to know more about your Call story.
I’d been writing chick-lit and hen-lit for a couple of years, when in November 2005 I decided to try a teen-lit. After writing three chapters I did what you’re not meant to do and started to send it to agents, to test the water. Ooops!!! That’ll teach me. The story seemed to hit the right nerve because straightaway five agents asked for the full manuscript and six for partials. I sent the partials and said to those requesting the full that it still needed some tweaking (aka writing) and I’d send when ready. In only a few days one of the agents had read the partial and asked for the full.
I managed to finish the full by January and send to all those who requested it… most of them asked for it by email which was an added bonus… and 10 days later the agent I mentioned above phoned and offered representation. I said yes pretty much straight away. By February I’d done some revisions for my agent and she sent it out to lots of publishers. Andrew, the editor from Flux, phoned asking if I’d be prepared to do some revisions. I said yes (obviously!!!) and he sent me a very detailed letter. I did them. He was happy and then asked me to do some more, saying if they were okay he’d take it to the Acquisitions Committee. He took it to the committee and they offered me a contract. The actual ‘call’ was staged. First, my agent emailed asking for me to let her know a time I’d be available for a chat on the phone. So I sort of knew they’d offered. So I didn’t scream or burst into tears because I’d already prepared myself.
How has your life changed since you signed that first contract with Flux?
Well, now I get up at midday, have a long soak in a bath full of bubbles, then my chef will prepare a light lunch and I’ll go to my office and write. I’ll write for maybe an hour and then go for a massage, after which I’ll sunbathe by the pool reading. The pool-boy will be on hand at all times to pander to my every need… no, not those sort of needs!! I mean peeling grapes and dropping them gently into my mouth.
What??? You don’t believe me. Okay… Not a lot has changed, except I have both an agent and editor to work with, and when given a deadline I must meet it. It’s also great to have such fabulous editorial input. My books are a thousand times better than they were originally because of their help.
What do you know about publishing now that you wish someone had told you earlier?
That publishing moves at a snail’s pace. Two days in publishing time is like two weeks for the rest of us. I’m slowly learning to be patient… but it’s very hard for someone who’s made impatience an art form.
Your book debuts in September – how are you going to celebrate its release?
Being stuck in NZ I won’t be able to stalk all the high street stores looking for it, and placing it to its best advantage. So, I guess I’ll be with my family drinking a toast to its success. I’m hoping to enlist friends in the US to go on a hunt for it and send me photos.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a book called Dating The Megan Russell Way, which is about a teenage girl who sells psychic dating advice to pay off a huge debt.
What’s the best part about being a writer?
Being able to make things up! I spent many years in academia, having to research and write papers on some very dry and boring issues. Writing is like a breath of fresh air. Oh yes, and being able to wear track pants every day. Now that really is heaven!
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors who might be struggling with agent/editor rejections?
Hang on in there. Very often rejections don’t mean you have no talent, just that your manuscript isn’t right for them at that particular time. I believe there’s an element of luck involved in all sales. Take The Second Virginity of Suzy Green as an example. It landed on the editor’s desk just as he was thinking about broadening their offering to include books set overseas from a different culture. Right place, right time!
Great answers, Sara. Thanks so much!