Quick confession here – I’ve always wanted to have the talent to draw. My oldest brother can pick up a pen and doodle something that is absolutely stunning. Me? I pick up a pen, and I’m lucky if what I draw even looks like a stick figure. Today’s featured writer, Francesca (Chessie) Zappia is not only a writer but an artist. I find this fascinating for many reasons, but probably the most dominant being that I think it would be cool to illustrate your characters on a blank piece of paper. This to me would be the ultimate way to really “see” what my characters look like, and have them become not just words on the page, but colorful beings. During the interview, as you will read below, I asked Chessie about her drawings, and while she admits they help her visualize the characters, she also feels bad about what she does to them later.
Many thanks to Chessie for sharing her writing journey. Be sure to check out her artwork here: http://www.francescazappia.com/p/artwork.html
When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
I think I was around seven or eight–it was when I read my first Harry Potter book. After I finished it, I realized that an actual person had written it. For some reason I had the strange idea that all books had always existed since the beginning of time. I’d always liked thinking up stories and drawing them, but that was the first time I realized that I could make stories with words, too, and make people fall in love with them the way I’d fallen in love with Harry Potter.
I love your artwork. When you draw your characters, and see them come alive on the page, does it help you connect to them better as a writer?
Thank you! I never really thought about it, but I guess it does! When you’re drawing a character, you have to know what pose to put them in, what their expression will be like, what sort of clothes they wear, how they do their hair–little things like that, that you may not necessarily describe all the time in the story, but they help you get a better grasp on the character’s personality and motivation. (It also makes me feel bad for what I do to them later.) I know a lot of people who wish they could translate their ideas into drawings and get frustrated when they can’t, so I feel incredibly lucky to have that skill.
How many manuscripts had you completed prior to ASK AGAIN LATER?
Wellll, that’s a bit of a hard question to answer. When you first start writing, most of what you write is for practice. I think a lot of writers write multiple manuscripts before they find the one that finally gets them an agent/book deal/etc. I mainly wrote two books–one was ASK AGAIN LATER and the other was the beginning of a YA sci-fi trilogy. I rewrote them from the ground up multiple times. To me it feels like dozens of manuscripts, but in reality, I guess it was only two.
If you had preliminary rejections, how did you deal with that process and continue to write?
I’ve been querying since I was fourteen or fifteen, so I’ve had my share of rejections. It’s hard to get rejections, no matter what form they come in, but for me I guess the writing itself was the way I dealt with it. If agents didn’t like my current book, I would write them another book they would like. But it always had to be the book I wanted to write–not what I thought they wanted to read.
Did you have critique partners that helped you polish ASK AGAIN LATER? If so, how did that affect your writing process?
I did! It was one of the first manuscripts I ever handed over to my critique partners, and the help they gave me in shaping it was unbelievable. They’re amazing because they each look at a different part of the story. With all the manuscripts I’ve churned out since then, I feel like I’m more open to trying new things and writing the way I want, because I know if it doesn’t work, my critique partners will slap me over the head and tell me to get my act together.
How long did it take you to write the query for ASK AGAIN LATER? Did it go through many drafts?
The original query took me probably a few days, but I was constantly revising it while I queried. It went through so many drafts it makes me kind of sick to think about it. Needless to say, I am not the best at query writing.
How many agents did you query for ASK AGAIN LATER?
72. But that’s not including those I sent submissions to after contest requests.
Did you receive instantaneous response or did you have to wait for requests/rejections?
All the times I’ve queried, it’s been pretty much a wait for requests/rejections. Sometimes I only had to wait a few days. Some of the queries I waited months on. Most were rejections; the requests were just as spread out. I got one request a week after I queried an agent, and I got another two months after I sent the initial query. It definitely wasn’t one of those “I sent out queries and everyone loved it!” situations, haha.
Can you tell us what your “call” was like with your agent, Louise Fury? How did you know she was a good fit for you?
Our call actually got delayed one or two times before it finally happened, thanks to a plane ride and a very unfortunately-timed illness. Which just meant I got to teeter on the edge of a heart attack for an extra two days. But as soon as I got on the phone with Louise, I knew she was perfect. She’d gotten just about everyone at L. Perkins Agency to read my book, and the overwhelming support they had for it blew me away. We talked about my vision for the book and her ideas for revision, and by the end of the call–which lasted about forty minutes to an hour, if I remember right–I knew she was right for me. She’s so professional and so dedicated to her job, but also so passionate about the books she takes on.
If you met a struggling writer at a book signing and they told you they were about to give up on their dream of publication, what would you say to encourage them to keep writing?
I’d tell them to keep at it, no matter how bad they think they are or how many rejections they get. All writers think their work is horrible at some point. All writers get rejections. But the more you write, the better you get. And the better you get, the more likely you are to attract the perfect agent or publisher. The only way you will for sure never reach that dream of publication is if you quit.
Francesca is 20, majors in Computer Science the University of Indianapolis, and prefers the name Chessie. She writes books about pirates, aliens, crazy people, ghosts, skysurfing, nightmare hunters, underwater prisons, and any other thing that catches her attention. Her debut novel, ASK AGAIN LATER, is a YA contemporary coming from Greenwillow/HarperCollins in Fall 2014. She’s represented by Louise Fury of L. Perkins Agency. You can find her on Twitter and on her blog.