Amy Spalding is the talented author of four YA novels, The Reece Malcolm List, Ink Is Thicker Than Water, Kissing Ted Callahan (and Other Guys), and her latest, The New Guy (and Other Senior Year Distractions). Amy joined Sixteen to Read author Marisa Reichardt to talk about her debut experience, getting from Book 1 to Book 4, and how her love of musical theatre helps shapes her stories.
Marisa: Hi Amy! Thank you so much for stopping by to chat. Because Sixteen to Read is a group of debut authors, we’d love to know more about the beginning of your writing career. Can you think back to your querying process and tell us what it was like for you? How about your first call from your agent, Kate Testerman?
Amy: I was terrified of the querying process since I had spent about six months leading up to querying researching it. I kept seeing tiny percentages of partials and fulls actually requested, so I figured I was signing myself up for a hopeless venture. I am very delicate and thin-skinned so I was not in any way looking forward to the deluge of rejections I pictured zapping themselves toward me. Then I began the process and, very quickly, received my first rejection, and I realized 1) I was fine, and 2) the process worked! And then, not too many days later, I received a partial request from my top agent pick, Kate Testerman! I couldn’t believe it.
To save time, I won’t go through every detail, but the short version is that I ended up revising my manuscript based on notes from another agent, and it prolonged the process a bit. Luckily it must have gone well, because I was offered representation! I was in shock but my call with Kate went extremely well, and I knew nearly right away she was definitely the agent for me. She was friendly and I assumed we’d get along well, but more importantly she knew the business, had connections, and had smart notes on the manuscript. Sometimes, honestly, I still can’t believe it.
Marisa: Do you have a day job or are you a full-time author?
Amy: I have a day job. I am a big believer in the day job! It has health insurance! And different things work for different people, but for me, it is very important to leave my apartment every day and have to put on clothes that aren’t t-shirts and sweatpants and talk to people who are not my pets. Sometimes I hear people worry aloud that you’re not a “real writer” if you still have a dayjob, but “real writers” come in all varieties.
Marisa: You are involved in improvisational comedy in Los Angeles. Have you found ways that improv has influenced your writing?
Amy: Absolutely! I think improv helps you get better at making decisions and justifying them, because that’s what all improv scenes are. You’re literally making things up and then justifying them with your subsequent moves. I think it makes you more open to changing scenes as you write them, v. how you initially pictured them. I also think improv teaches you to start as late in a scene as possible and to get out on a high note, which hopefully can make you tighten your writing more and learn to self-edit more on the page. I think it teaches you just how creative you can be out of nowhere, which means with writing when you actually have time to think you can bring even MORE to it.
Marisa: Music tends to play a big role in everything you write. Do you have a musical background? Band? Theater?
Amy: I played piano and sang in choir when I was a kid and teen, and play around with the guitar a little. I really wanted to get into musical theater but growing up I felt like, unless you were societal-conventionally BEAUTIFUL or had one of those voices that STOPPED TRAFFIC you might as well never try. And since that wasn’t me I just didn’t. In recent years I’ve really regretted not putting myself out there more, which is something I really discovered doing improv, because I love being on stage. This is one reason I had a one-woman cabaret show last year, to let myself live that dream for one night! So even though this wasn’t exactly my background, I have so much love and enthusiasm for it, I love writing characters who’re living it.
Marisa: Can you share your writing routine? And has it changed over the years as your writing career has developed?
Amy: I’m not sure I really have a routine. Or if I do, it changes day by day, even minute by minute. I’ve outlined, I’ve written as I’ve gone, I’ve ended up with first drafts so messy I have to fix them before even a friend sees them, and I’ve written first drafts that go almost untouched straight to my agent. I write during pieces of free time, and I also write when I’ve carved out chunks of my day specifically for it. I think I expected my process to really get fine-tuned the more books I’ve written, but each book is its own thing, and I sort of have to find my way to each one anew.
Marisa: Does one of your books have a very special place in your author heart? If so, why?
Amy: The Reece Malcolm List was a book that was a part of my life for many years before its publication, because in many ways it was the book that taught me how to write a book. I’m so glad it ended up being my debut novel because I wanted it to have this really special place in my life.
Marisa: Do you have any advice to those going the traditional publishing route?
Amy: Be patient; this business takes forever. (Except when your copy edits are due.) This is a marathon, not a sprint, but since running is HORRIBLE, let’s say it’s a marathon of eating nachos, not a sprint of eating nachos. Don’t worry about how long it’s taking everyone else; focus on your own path. You’ll get there.
Marisa: Your fourth novel just hit shelves. Can you talk about similarities and differences between putting Book 1 out into the world versus Book 4?
Amy: Putting out Book 4 is way more chill. I recommend it! I still care deeply about this book and about it finding readers, but I’ve done this before! I know I can come out alive! So it’s much easier now in so many ways. But, again, each book is its own thing! So I still have my own very specific wishes and dreams about readers loving Jules and Alex and this story, the way I’ve wanted this for the characters in all of my books. And when I hear from readers, it still means as much each and every single time. It’s like the newness of that refuses to wear off.
Marisa: We’d love to hear more about your newest release THE NEW GUY (AND OTHER SENIOR YEAR DISTRACTIONS). What should our readers know about this next amazing book of yours?
Amy: My main character Jules has been described as “a teenage Leslie Knope” and “a nice Paris Geller” which I think tells you what you need to know about her. But also! Cute dogs! A former boyband member! Descriptions of donuts! And of course lots of kissing.
Lightning Round Questions:
- Your favorite time to write? WHENEVER I CAN! When it’s flowing easily, that is my favorite time.
- Favorite place to write? WHEREVER I CAN! (Sense a theme?) I write a lot on my couch but I’m also in favor of coffeeshops and lunchbreaks at my desk.
- Favorite writing snack? I can’t really snack while I write so I’m usually drinking water or chai.
- Last book you read? Robin Talley’s wonderful What We Left Behind.
- Favorite book? BOOK? SINGULAR???? Fun Home, Middlesex, A Summer to Die, A Little Life, Borrowed Time, Tell the Wolves I’m Home, The Secret History, Wild, the Betsy-Tacy series, When You Reach Me.
- If you could live in a fictional world, what world would it be? Well, not the Hunger Games world because I’d get killed immediately trying to snag a Diet Coke at the Cornucopia.
- If you could be a character from a book for a day, who would you be? Lola from Lola & the Boy Next Door if only just for the outfits and wigs!!
Thank you so much for stopping by, Amy! It was great to get your perspective! Be sure to look for Amy’s latest book, The New Guy (and Other Senior Year Distractions), available wherever books are sold!