Some days you pick up a book and you know it’s going to be special. The story, the characters, literally everything about it is like a breath of fresh air. That’s how I felt after reading UPSIDE DOWN, Lia Riley’s debut novel in her OFF THE MAP series. From the first chapters I became a huge fan of Bran and Talia, and I knew instantly after I turned the last page I wanted to ask Lia to share her writing journey.
What I love most about this interview is Lia’s passion for New Adult, and how she relies on her CPs to help her through certain rough patches in her writing. It proves that with a solid manuscript, a good sounding board, and reliable writing friends you can produce an amazing book!
Many thanks to Lia for sharing her writing odyssey today…
What inspires you to write New Adult fiction?
Great question! I really feel like I “found” my voice in New Adult. My own New Adult years (and choices) shaped my life in profound ways and it’s been cathartic to go back and wrestle with some of those situations. This is a period when idealism and cynicism do battle, hearts are won and lost, we take risks and struggle with our identity and place in the world. I’m not sure how to say this without sounding all pretentious and grandiose, but New Adult has taught me that I’m far more of a character-driven writer and that’s a lesson that will impact all my future writing.
How many completed manuscripts did you query before one garnered interest?
I got my agent with my first completed manuscript, a historical romance. However, that book took me nearly two years (and many, many complete rewrites) before I began the query process.
I love that UPSIDE DOWN takes place in Australia. How did you know you wanted it to be the setting for your book?
Well, first and foremost, I love Australians. I mean that quite literally. I married one–the perfect souvenir from my own Down Under travels! Generally speaking, Australians excel at dry wit and have one heck of an anti-authoritarian streak. To me, nothing is sexier than a sense of humor, and when the guy making the jokes has a hot accent and cheeky grin? Heck yes!
Secondly, to say that Australia’s landscape is dramatic is an understatement. The continent’s isolation has spawned animal, plant and human diversity that are like nowhere else on the planet. Even a brief wander into the wilderness yields a bone-deep sense that you are in an ancient place.
This is a country of extremes. When it’s hot, it’s boiling. When animals are poisonous, it means they can kill you with one bite. When there’s a storm rolling in from the Southern Ocean? Those waves are going to be huge. When you fall in love in such a place, buckle up–the ride’s going to be intense.
My agent and I chatted about New Adult last June and I shared my surprise there were so few study-abroad stories. She suggested I try one. So I did. I named my H/H Violet and Dylan, and developed a whole backstory. Luckily, Talia and Bran intervened, looked over what I was doing and said DUDE, GET OUT OF THE WAY. Turns out they were way smarter than me.
I cobbled together a synopsis and three chapters and my agent freaked, in a good way. In early August, she rang with the news Grand Central/Forever wanted to offer. I was visiting my parents in Michigan and after the call jumped into the lake with all my clothes on.
This isn’t my personal story fictionalized, but I have visited almost all the book settings. Also, I have struggled with OCD/Anxiety since a kid and Talia faces similar challenges.
Did your query for UPSIDE DOWN come easily or did it go through many drafts?
I wrote the synopsis for Upside Down in 3-4 days and the initial draft in around six weeks. I then edited the book for about eight weeks. This seems more or less the way I roll now, write fast, edit slow!
Did you have critique partners for UPSIDE DOWN? If so, how critical were they to your writing process?
Yes, I had critique partners for Upside Down but wrote much of the book in a bubble. For Sideswiped (Book #2 in the Off the Map series) and Inside Out (Book #3), I became heavily reliant on two critique partners who were invested in the characters and the story. When I got stuck in the second and third books, they threw me lifelines and helped pull me to psychological safety. They are my everything! At this point, I tend to write in “acts” (Act 1, 2 and 3–like a play) and edit each Act before moving forward. My CP’s read while I move onto the next part. Although, with this newest manuscript, I’ve gone underground and they might not see it until I’m done (giggles evilly).
How many agents did you query for UPSIDE DOWN? Did you receive immediate responses, or did you have to wait a while for replies?
I didn’t query for Upside Down. In January 2013, I started to seriously shop a historical romance, the first book I’d ever written. Within a few weeks, I had quite a few full requests, and soon multiple offers. From the start of serious querying to signing with Emily Sylvan Kim at Prospect Agency, the process took four weeks. I submitted to around twenty-five agents, had twelve full requests and four offers.
Can you give a short summary of your call with your agent, Emily Sylvan Kim? How did you know she was a good fit for you?
Emily and I have a fabulous relationship (I heart her so much) and we’ve laughed over the strange start to our relationship. I was querying the historical romance, and received multiple offers of representation. I’d made a decision on another agent about an hour before Emily called, at the 11th hour. She had only read the first 40% of the manuscript and was walking to a meeting in New York. We spoke on the phone for about ten minutes (at least fifty minutes shorter than I’d talked to any other agent). She was like “this is a total impulse offer.” That night, I decided to sleep on it, and who I felt best about in the morning, would be my choice. I woke, thought “Emily” and the rest is history. Yay impulses! Important factors that played into my decision were 1) She was kind and forthright 2) She had a relationship with houses I wanted to work with 3) She represented authors that I admire/fangirl over. I’m so glad I went with my gut.
Was there ever a time you thought about giving up on your writing dream? If so, what motivated you to keep writing?
When I first started, writing didn’t feel “real.” I’d sit at the computer and do a lot of negative self-talk. I’d tried NaNaWriMo a few times and never gotten very far. Self-doubt whispered, “Why will this time be any different?”. At first, my goal wasn’t publication, but “write a shitty ass first draft.” And I did. I was so happy and proud of myself when I finished. Then I did a read through and thought “holy monkey, girlfriend, you have some WORK to do.” During the next year, I joined RWA, met writer friends, went to an RWA National Conference and became hooked. There are still days when I feel like a fraud. Writing can be sucky, lonely, frustrating work. However, even at it’s worse, it’s the absolute best. I’m an addict at this point.
If You Never Get Lost, You’ll Never Be Found
Twenty-one-year-old Natalia Stolfi is saying good-bye to the past-and turning her life upside down with a trip to the land down under. For the next six months, she’ll act like a carefree exchange student, not a girl sinking under the weight of painful memories. Everything is going according to plan until she meets a brooding surfer with hypnotic green eyes and the troubling ability to see straight through her act.
Bran Lockhart is having the worst year on record. After the girl of his dreams turned into a nightmare, he moved back home to Melbourne to piece his life together. Yet no amount of disappointment could blind him to the pretty California girl who gets past all his defenses. He’s never wanted anyone the way he wants Talia. But when Bran gets a stark reminder of why he stopped believing in love, he and Talia must decide if what they have is once in a lifetime . . . or if they were meant to live a world apart.
And here’s the latest release in Lia’s OFF THE MAP series:
It was only meant to last the summer . . .
Talia Stolfi has seen more than her share of loss in her twenty-one years. But then fate brought her Bran Lockhart, and her dark world was suddenly and spectacularly illuminated. So if being with Bran means leaving her colorless NorCal life for rugged and wild Australia, then that’s what she’ll do. But as much as Talia longs to give herself over completely to a new beginning, the fears of her past are still lurking in the shadows.
Bran Lockhart knows that living without the beautiful girl who stole his heart will be torment, so he’ll take whatever time with her he can. But even though she has packed up her life in California and is back in his arms for the time being, she can’t stay forever. And the remaining time they have together is ticking by way too fast. Though fate seems determined to tear them apart, they won’t give up without a fight—because while time may have limits, their love is infinite.
Also available via Amazon.
Lia Riley writes offbeat New Adult Romance. After studying at the University of Montana-Missoula, she scoured the world armed only with a backpack, overconfidence and a terrible sense of direction. She counts shooting vodka with a Ukranian mechanic in Antarctica, sipping yerba mate with gauchos in Chile and swilling XXXX with stationhands in Outback Australia among her accomplishments.
When not torturing heroes (because c’mon, who doesn’t love a good tortured hero?), Lia herds unruly chickens, camps, beach combs, daydreams about as-of-yet unwritten books, wades through a mile-high TBR pile and schemes yet another trip. She and her family live mostly in Northern California. For more on Lia, check out her website, or follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or Pinterest.