Monday, April 20, 2015

H. Schussman's Interview With A.J. Cattapan

H. Schussman's Interview With A.J. Cattapan

Heidi:
First, Amy, tell us a little about yourself and your upcoming release.
Amy:
I'm a middle school English teacher who lives and works in the Chicago area and writes under the name A.J. Cattapan. I like to use my initials as a nod to some of my favorite authors, such as J.K. Rowling and L.M. Montgomery. I've always enjoyed writing but didn't get serious about trying to get published until ten years ago. After years of "small successes," such as short stories and magazine articles, I'm finally getting my first novel published!

My debut novel is a young adult story called Angelhood about a teenaged guardian angel who needs to watch over a suicidal fourteen-year-old girl. It's a little like "It's a Wonderful Life," except my poor guardian angel Nanette not only doesn't have her wings yet, she also doesn't have a tangible voice or body. That makes it pretty hard for her to communicate with the girl she's supposed to watch over! Plus, Nanette is haunted by memories of her own tragic death and is not sure she could convince anyone that life is worth living.

Heidi:
What genre do you write?
Amy:
I've tried my hand at a number of genres, particularly at the middle grade and young adult level. I've written everything from contemporary to sci-fi to mystery, but my debut novel is a young adult supernatural story.

Heidi:
When did you start writing?
Amy:
I guess back in the third grade because I have evidence of it! I have one of those sheets of paper for practicing your cursive, and on it I wrote a story about a girl named Amy (using my own name was really original, huh?) who grew up and married a boy whose name was exactly the same as one of my classmates! Good thing I've gotten better at naming my characters a bit more creatively!

Heidi:
What are you working on now?
Amy:
I have two projects that need revision: a spiritual travel memoir and a middle grade mystery. Plus, I've got another Chicken Soup for the Soul entry I'm hoping to get published. My first Chicken Soup for the Soul entry appeared in their From Lemons to Lemonade edition.

Heidi:
Who is your favorite character in your stories? 
Amy:
I don't have a favorite, but I do enjoy the way some of them surprise me from time to time. There's a mentor guardian angel that pops up in Angelhood  that I wasn't planning on writing, but when I got to that particular scene, she just showed up as she was. I don't want to spoil anything, so I can't say much. Let's just say I didn't expect her to be quite the way she ended up.

Heidi:
Do you see yourself in any of your characters?
Amy:
Yes. All of them actually. My main character Nanette was a theater geek in high school, and so was I. In fact, I did community theater and one professional acting gig in my twenties. Her little sister is a ballerina. I studied ballet for two years. Nanette becomes a guardian angel who watches over a suicidal girl named Vera who writes poetry a la Emily Dickinson. I wrote some poetry when I was in high school and college, but I think Vera's poetry is better than mine. At least, I hope so! And since I'm an English teacher in real life, I'm sure some of my teaching style seeped its way into that of Vera's English teacher, Ms. Kitchin.

Heidi:
Where do you write? Describe your workspace?
Amy:
Sometimes I write at home sitting on my couch, but often I'll take my laptop and go to a coffee shop or a library. I need "white noise" in the background, and I need to be somewhere where I'm not going to be tempted to take care of a load of laundry or answer the phone. Coffee shops (or tea shops) are helpful because my writing seems to run well on chai lattes.

Heidi:
Who are your all-time favorite authors?
Amy:
If I could write young adult literature like J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter) or L.M. Montgomery (Anne of Green Gables) in which characters are so beloved that people fall in love with them and really want to know what happens to them, I'd be a very happy author.

Heidi:
Did you find writing a query letter a challenge? If so, how did you overcome it? Do you think there was a key phrase or idea in your query letter?
Amy:
Writing a query letter was a challenge at first. I think I've just kept getting better and better at it. It's almost easier for me to write a query letter for someone else's book than it is for me to write my own. One thing that helped me a lot was reading other people's query letters. Literary agent Janet Reid has an awesome blog in which people submit their query letters and then she explains why they do or don't work. If they don't work, they are welcome to resubmit. For anyone struggling with a query letter, I highly recommend reading through her archives. She really boils it down to the basics: 1) Tell who your main character is, 2) Tell what your main character needs to do, and 3) Explain what horrible thing will happen if your main character does not succeed.

Heidi:
What advice do you have for a writer aspiring to be published?
Amy:
First, don't give up. Second, realize you're in this for the long haul. It's taken me ten years to get to a published novel, but I'm seeing all that hard work pay off. It takes time to learn the craft of writing, and it takes even more time to learn the business of writing. See every step you take as getting one step closer to your goal. In the end, I'm really happy it's taken me this long to get here. It's given me time to learn so much that I can apply as my book launches. If my first novel manuscript had sold, I wouldn't have been ready to handle all the social media demands necessary for promotion, and I wouldn't have had all the wonderful contacts with writers who can help me promote it.

Also, join writers' groups. If it wasn't for my three writing groups, I wouldn't have gotten Angelhood published.  From the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators, I learned a lot about the craft of writing and the publishing business in general. From the American Christian Fiction Writers, I found critique partners who helped me revise Angelhood. From the Mystery Writers of America, I found my publisher, Vinspire! Without any of those three, I don't think this book would have found a publishing home. Also, I now have lots of writing connections, which are paying off as I start to promote my book.

Heidi:
Would you like to acknowledge someone for their help/assistance/faith in you/etc?
Amy:
Definitely my critique partners through ACFW! Their help and support has been amazing. And also, Dawn, our editor-in-chief at Vinspire, for being willing to take a chance on a young adult book that tackles the difficult topic of teen suicide from a hopeful Christian perspective without sugar-coating any of the nitty-gritty details.

I'm also blessed to have a wonderful team of friends who are helping me put together my launch parties and my blog tour.

Heidi:
When is Angelhood available and how can we learn more about it?
Amy:
Angelhood releases on April 30, 2015. I'll be having a launch party on Facebook that day. Follow me on Facebook to hear all the details. We'll be holding lots of games and giving away lots of prizes. So come check it out! You can also visit my website for more info.


Here's where you can find me online . . .


5 comments:

  1. Thanks for the interview! It was fun! Here is the link for the Facebook party for anyone who wants to attend. All are welcome! We'll be giving away a variety of gift cards, plus copies of my book and other YA books. http://tinyurl.com/AngelhoodFacebookParty

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  2. Great job A.J.! Hope you have fun with your Facebook party. I'm not sure I can attend yet...it's my birthday :)

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  3. Lovely interview Amy and Heidi.

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  4. Great interview! Thank you for letting us get to know Amy better.

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  5. Isn't it fun to learn about other authors? I'm especially fascinated by their descriptions of the work-space...I don't know why, but I think it's interesting to read about where other writers tap out their stories.

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