1. I noticed in both Shot Through the Heart and Last Stand that you write the POV from a teen male perspective quite well. What kind of studying or research did you have to do in order to catch the way teen boys think?
When I was a teen, I spent a lot of time hanging out with guys. It gave me a good sense of their perspective on everything from school events to relationships.
Though technology has changed since then and affected the day-to-day lives of teens in many ways, the emotions teens experience haven’t changed. Incorporating those core emotions into the male POV whenever possible is the key to making a character true to life–far more than using of-the-moment slang or dropping the latest piece of technology into a character’s hands.
That being said, I still spend a great deal of time around teens. I coach baseball and softball, and I opt to sit behind teens whenever I’m at sporting events or the movies.
I listen to what they’re saying and how they’re saying it, and I watch their body language. Having all that in mind as I write helps me keep characters believable, whether they’re male or female.
2. It’s clear that this is a book that’ll be a winner with teens. Tell us a little about Shot Through the Heart.
Thanks, Sonya! Shot Through the Heart is a meld of several ideas I’ve had floating around in my head. First, I’ve always wanted to write a romance where the main characters have known each other forever.
What happens when friends fall for each other? Is it always a good thing? Second, I’m intrigued by the idea of taboo relationships–for instance, dating your best friend’s sibling or a friend’s ex. What makes those relationships either succeed or fail?
Then, when I read about a local high school’s longstanding, unofficial water gun tournament–which is a very big deal and a point of senior pride–I discovered I had a great framework within which to explore those relationships and have a lot of fun with them.
3. What led you to write YA and what is it about the genre that appeals to you?
Teenagers are at a point in their lives when they’re discovering who they are and what they truly want. They’re given a certain amount of responsibility and control over their lives, but not as much as they’d often like.
At the same time, they’re learning about love, often with unpredictable results. Writing about all those experiences is fun for me. There’s a lot of conflict to explore.
4. As an award winning writer and the author of multiple YA novels, you obviously know what it takes to write for the teen market. What do you think are the most important features needed in a YA novel?
First and foremost, never talk or write down to teens. Teenagers are as savvy as any adult reader. Second, no matter who your target audience may be, creating believable characters with believable emotions is what will engage readers. Strive for emotional truth in each scene and each story you write and readers will want more.
5. Many authors mention struggling with an inner critic. Has this ever been your struggle and if so, how did you overcome it?
An inner critic is a wonderful thing when you’re editing your manuscript; it’s not so great when you’re initially getting words down on paper. When faced with a blank page, I tell myself, “This is a first draft. Write whatever. You can always fix it later.”
Every few chapters, I go back and edit so my inner critic is satisfied. Then when I finish a story, I set the manuscript aside and take a few days to clean my desk, answer e-mail, and tackle non-writing tasks.
It helps me clear my head and look at the manuscript with fresh eyes. At that point, I let my inner critic go to town.
6. What was your best/worst day as a writer?
My best day was when I sold my first book. I’d met the editor previously and knew in my gut that we’d work well together, so I was thrilled when she called and said she wanted the book. Turned out I was right and we work very well together.
I’ve had several “worst” days as a writer. However, the beauty of this career is that when things go south–an editor retires, a contract isn’t what you’d expected, books get lost en route to an event, etc.–there’s no death knell sounding.
As long as I don’t quit, I’m still in the game. That’s not true in other professions, which means my “worst” days aren’t all that bad.
7. What do you use from your teenage self in your novels? Experiences etc.
I prefer not to use specific situations, though there is a locker room scene involving flying underwear in Scary Beautiful that actually happened to a friend of mine (so if anyone read that scene and wondered if it’s possible, the horrifying answer is yes.)
8. What are your future hopes for your writing career?
I want to keep writing, period. As long as I can physically sit at a computer and readers enjoy my books enough to keep buying them, I’ll be here.
That being said, I constantly try to improve myself as a writer. I listen to writing workshops on my iPod while I walk the dog, I read everything I can, and I stay in touch with other writers. I also work hard to keep myself in shape. The healthier I am, the better my brain works, and the better writer I am.
9. What is it that you wish people knew about your life as a writer?
It’s not an easy career. It takes old-fashioned hard work. The most hilarious question I get from readers (and I’ve had this question multiple times!) is, “When are they going to make another of your books?”
I want to explain that there is no “they” and that a book isn’t something one can “make” in the same sense you’d build a bike.
Instead, I respond by saying that I’m writing as fast as I can and that I’m grateful they’ve enjoyed my stories enough to want another.
You can read more about Niki on her website at http://www.nikiburnham.com/