I’m deviating today from my standard rambling format. Allow me to introduce my critique partner and YA author extraordinaire, Cara Bertrand. Cara’s first book, Lost In Thought is now available from Luminis Books.
-In Lost in Thought sixteen-year-old Lainey Young discovers that the visions of deaths she’s been having all her life are the result of being a Sententia. Can you start by telling us a little more about Lainey and the Sententia?
Sure! Lainey has had an unusual upbringing. Besides that little problem you mentioned–visions of how people died or are going to die–she’s spent her remembered life traveling constantly with her artist Godmother after the death of her parents when she was young. As much as she loves this lifestyle, she feels separate from the ‘typical’ teenage experience and socially awkward because of it. Northbrook thrusts her into a world that’s truly foreign to her and she’s surprised to find out how much she likes it.
The Sententia, Lainey learns, are the people just like her: the secret society of the psychically gifted. Lainey is a Diviner, whose ability allows her to read into the future or past. Others are Lumen, with their cognitive gifts, Sensors, different from Lainey in that they sense things about the now, Heralds, whose gifts project onto others. To learn more about them all, you’ll have to read the book!
-Lainey is given a legacy scholarship at Northbrook Academy, an exclusive boarding school that harbors more than a couple Sententia. I loved your descriptions of the campus. If it were real I’d seriously consider re enrolling high school. Is there a real world inspiration for Northbrook? What is the appeal of boarding schools in YA?
There actually IS a ‘real’ Northbrook! Or, at least, there used to be. My husband’s race team races at a track just down the road in New Hampshire, and my favorite part of every drive is passing the—beautiful—school campus. I always said, “If I ever write a book, the school will look like this…” just jokingly. But when I finally did decide to write a book, the setting was already waiting for me. The campus is actually, well, not abandoned, but has not been in use for many years. It was formerly part of the prestigious (andstill-running) Northfield-Mount Herman school. In the story, I borrow the basic layout of the campus, but beyond that, it’s all fictional.
Boarding schools are popular in YA for one very big reason: lack of parents. No one wants parents to be a big part of a YA story, and boarding schools make it easy to eliminate them! 🙂 It’s more than that, though. There’s the prestige, and the mystique, of them, the independence, the roommates and dorms. All good stuff for a writer to play with.
-Where did the inspiration for the Sententia series come from?
Well, as I mentioned, the school was part of it. The next inspiration was meeting ‘Carter’ in real life. He was, for a summer, a cashier at my local liquor store, uniquely handsome and no more than eighteen or nineteen. The first time I saw him, my first thought was, “He must have been really popular with the girls in high school.” When I got home later, I wrote what I called a “character sketch” but was really a scene where a boy meets a girl in a bookstore. I didn’t know anything about them, but I knew what he looked like and where and how they met! After that, I spent days and nights day dreaming and traveling down rabbit holes on the internet…from there the Sententia were born!
-How long have you been writing? When did you decide to peruse a career in writing?
Heh. Well, Lost in Thought was really my first foray into creative writing, not counting a semester elective of it in high school and a single short story I once composed in anafternoon. But I feel like I’ve been training for it my whole life. I’ve been an avid reader since hiding books under my pillow to read by the light of my nightlight, I studied literature and literacy in college, and briefly taught it to teenagers. As a kid I always thought being an author would be cool, but it was the kind of thing that seemed like a dream, not something I’d ever do. So I didn’t. I didn’t write until 2010, when my husband asked me why I’d never written a book, and I realized I didn’t know. So then I wrote one.
It was making the 2011 ABNA finals that made me realize that maybe I could do more than just write—I could be a writer. I’ve been working on it ever since.
That is oddly similar to my own experience. I never thought I’d be a writer until I sat down one day started writing a book.
-We met through the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award message boards. Lost In Thought was a finalist in 2011. Can you tell us a little about your ABNA experience?
Life-changing. It really was. Entering the contest was what I used to get myself to finish Lost in Thought—I work well under deadlines. I had no expectations, zero, zip, none. I didn’t tell anyone I’d entered, and at that point still only three people even knew I’d written a book. I started lurking around the ABNA boards, (but I didn’t really become a regular poster until the following year). I cried every time I saw my name on the new list for the next round of the contest, and when I made it to the semifinals, I had a nice running joke that I was going to miss the call to finalists—because I’d be in labor. I was nine months pregnant by then, and the traditional call day was my due date! In a way, I ended up being right. My daughter came a little early, and spent a week in the hospital, which is where I was, taking a nap with my phone off, when the finalist call came. Best voicemail ever! My mom came back to my room and found me crying over my phone and was like, “I knew you’d make the finals!” before I even told her.
After that, the rest of the experience was a whirlwind. They were so accommodating to us, letting us fly in and leave a day later, working to get us on the optimal flight (because we had to bring a 5-week old!). The contest was different then, in 2011, than it is now. All six finalists went to the awards ceremony and four of us went home as runners-up. Obviously, I was one of the non-winners, and of course that was disappointing—who doesn’t want or hope to win?—but it wasn’t unexpected. I called the winners the day the finalists were announced and I read all the excerpts. It was still an amazing time, though. Everyone was wonderful, the people from Amazon, Createspace, and Penguin, and of course the other authors. We were all nervous though. It was in the months afterwards that any of us really became friends.
I realize now, probably none of that is what you were asking. 🙂 So. What does happen to a finalist who doesn’t win? She gets back to work. The phrase FINALIST opens doors but it wasn’t a promise of anything. I got an agent, rather quickly and by a bit of luck. I spent months revising Lost in Thought. I cut thousands, nearly an entire short novel’s worth, of words. My agent helped me hone it and encouraged me, throughout a long, strange path, not to give up on it. And ultimately, we found it a home withLuminis Books, a small press capable of big things. As I type, Lost in Thought is face out in Barnes & Noble stores across the country. One of my imprint-mates, Laurie Gray’sMaybe I Will is currently a top 25 finalist for YALSA’s 2014 Teens’ Top Ten List!
-As your critique partner I got to read and early version of Second Thoughts, book two in the series. I felt like such a cool kid getting to see it before the public at large. I’ve enjoyed seeing it evolve into its final version. Has there ever been any feedback–from me or anyone else–that felt like it came from left field?
I wish I had something funny to share, but the answer to this is really no. I have GREAT critique partners. 🙂 After learning to work with them—because, as you know, it’s kind of like dating…there’s a first date trial, a getting-to-know-you phase, a hey-I-think-we’re-really-working phase, and eventually you slide into a comfortable relationship—I’ve recognized that when I have an initial negative reaction to a comment it’s usually because it’s right and I hate having been wrong. And that some suggestions might not be what I want to do at that moment in the text, but they might have over-arching merit I shouldn’t ignore. I don’t always take my CPs’ advice, but I consider it all. A good friend, also a writer, once said to me that all writers had to learn to distinguish between: a) input that helps you get closer to your vision for the piece, b) input that’s well-meaning, but that doesn’t really fit with that vision, and c) input that’s not really well-meaning in the first place. Having great CPs eliminates c) and makes the balance of comments weigh heavily in a)’s favor. 🙂
The abc rule is really good. I’ll have to remember that.
-Lost In Thought was previously independently published. How did the deal with Luminis Books come about? How does the Luminis release differ from the previous one? What drew you to Luminis?
I touched on this briefly, but yes, part of the long, strange path that Lost in Thought took was a brief stop as a self-published book. After a really great submission period that still ended in no publishing deal, I was ready to shelve The Sententia. And I did, for a while. When my agent came to me with an opportunity to take part in a trial of a new book recommendation service (Libboo.com—check them out), she, and my husband, finally convinced me that Lost in Thought didn’t have to sit under my bed. So, I did it, I published it and mostly just let it be.
At the time, I was busy writing another book. When that book went on sub, my agent suggested (again) we submit to Luminis, which I’d been hesitant to do. I had a thing in my head that a small press wasn’t for me, that I might as well self-pub, and my agent, who’s super smart and patient with me, convinced me that we should just submit, see what happened, and I didn’t have to decide anything right away. So, we did. Except they really wanted to see Lost in Thought, more than my other book, and ultimately, that’s what they offered for. I was still hesitant, but my agent set up a call for us, let me talk to them and hear in their own words who they were and what they brought to the table—which was basically everything a big publisher did—and sometimes a little bit more. I thought it over for a week, and it was a tough decision, in part because I had released Lost in Thought so I had some readers, and they were going to have to wait…a long time for a sequel. But, in the end, I went for it, and it’s been a great decision.
The re-release of Lost in Thought is not considerably different from my release. It’s a little shorter, as I worked to tighten up language and scenes even more, and a few names—one major—have changed. The storyline is the same. We kept the cover art and have been working with a designer friend of mine for the new art. The cover ofSecond Thoughts is awesome! I can’t wait to share it!
-What are your plans for the future of the series? Book two was clearly not the end.
There will be two more books in the series! It’s not a trilogy. I don’t know what a four-book-logy is called. Quadrology? 🙂 Lainey and Carter have a long road and some serious travels before their stories are done. Heartache and sacrifice await! That’s about all I think I can say without giving away secrets…
-What other projects do you have in the works?
“In the works” is a broad term…I don’t have a lot of time to actually work on anything but the project under contract, but I have other things flitting around in my brain that I’d been working on before and will return to. First up will be a YA contemporary that I’ve done the most work on. After that I have a bunch of things competing for my attention…another contemporary, two speculative, and—gasp!—an adult book I so want to write but am not sure I’m ready for. Maybe by the time I finish all these other things 😉
And lastly, thank YOU for the interview! I hope I didn’t bore everyone!
More about about Cara and the Sententia series can be found here: