Last year, I came across a book called Break about a teenage boy who sets on out an implausible and painful mission to break every bone in his body. The reviews were excellent, and the storyline was nothing I’d ever heard of before, so I ran to the local bookstore and picked up one of three copies on the shelf. And then I devoured it in a day. The writing was taut, fierce, and unforgiving, and the characters heartbreaking and real. I was in love. Being the sort that I am, I emailed the author and extolled the virtues of her phenomenal talent, and an email friendship was born. Writer Hannah Moskowitz started her white-hot career before walking across the stage for her high school diploma, and as she traverses the rough waters known as university, she has three more wildly anticipated titles coming out in the next year. Watch her. She’s going to be huge.
Q: How old were you when you knew you wanted to be a writer?
A: I couldn’t ever decide if I wanted to be a world-famous writer or a world-famous singer. I finally figured out I wasn’t a good enough singer. I’m still waiting to hear that I’m not a good enough writer. I’m living in fear of that other shoe dropping, honestly.
Q: What did your first query letter look like? Good? Bad? Amazing piece of literature in itself?
A: Oh, God, it was horrible. It was two pages about how awesome I am, with a line or two about the book. I sent it to FSG.
Q: What did your query stats look like, i.e., how many partials/fulls went out before you hit the jackpot?
A: I queried something like four books before I found an agent, and some were more successful than others. I had about a 75 percent request rate for BREAK, though. That was my best query by far. But my first agent actually offered on a different book, even though we ended up subbing BREAK first.
Q: If you could be anything other than a writer, what would you be?
A: Can I go back to the singer thing?
Q: Do you have any weird processes/habits/quirks you undertake when you sit down to write? When do your best ideas come to you (i.e., some writers report that nighttime/in the shower/during sex/driving in traffic are fertile moments for them)?
A: Riding in a car, definitely. I spent my winter break with my family driving around cliffs in Spain, and I got a lot of thinking done then, probably because I had my eyes closed so often so I couldn’t look
down… Movie theaters always give me ideas. Sex, yeah. But mostly movie theaters.
No weird quirks that I can think of, though. I definitely don’t unplug or get in any kind of zone. I keep the music playing, or the TV on, or the conversation going. I switch between the word doc and whatever Internet tab I have open every 100 words or so. It’s a wonder I get anything done. I’m serious about editing–very, very serious–but I am not serious about actually writing. First drafts are so whatever or me. I clean it all up later.
Q: What is your process? Are you an outliner, or an E.L. Doctorow-type who writes only as far as the headlights illuminate the fog?
I need to know the end before I start, and I like to know a few bumps along the way as well. But once I have the last few lines, I can make the rest up as I go along. I make playlists for most books that function as outlines. The book I’m working on right now has a massive 30-song playlist.
Q: Your debut novel, BREAK, was kick-ass. Did you have or have you had folks shake their heads at you because of the graphic content? Has it ever been banned from a library? (Wouldn’t that be the coolest? Nothing jumpstarts sales like making the banned book list!)
A: Not that I know of, actually! Would be cool. The only outcry has been from people I don’t know. My parents…I mean, who do you think taught me to talk like that?
Q: You mention on your blog profile, “Publishing makes me frustrated and confused and indignant and I love every minute of it. At least most of the time.” Give us an insider’s example of what makes you frustrated/confused/indignant.
A: There’s so much stuff that’s kept secret for no real reason, and it’s frustrating. And authors learn from the higher-ups to be cagey, and then they get cagey with each other. There are so many opportunities in which authors could help each other, and as a general rule, we don’t. It’s disappointing. We get cliquey and secretive and weird. We should be holding hands, here. We need a union or something.
Q: You’ve written BREAK, INVINCIBLE SUMMER, and GONE, GONE, GONE, all YA titles. Your fourth title, ZOMBIE TAG, is a MG. How did you make the transition from writing with grit and a no-holds-barred approach to your characters to a softer, gentler style for younger readers? (Or did you?)
A: Ha ha, I wouldn’t call ZOMBIE TAG soft or gentle! But it’s definitely a much different voice. Wil is twelve, and my youngest YA narrators are 15, in GONE, GONE, GONE. And Wil is very much twelve. He’s firmly grounded there.
I read a LOT of MG to get my head in the right place. The first few pages were tricky, but once I was in his voice, I was there, and he’s a fun one to write. The MG I’m writing now has a narrator who’s a year older but way more mature than Wil is, and he’s harder, because he sounds more grown-up but I still need to keep it firmly MG, which is hard when it deals with edgier content than ZOMBIE TAG does. This one’s tricky. I find myself writing and crossing out “shit” quite often. It’s hard to write without cursing! What do people even say?
Q: What do you say to the snobbish, literati types, who think that what you write is somehow less impressive because it is for children? Do you read literary fiction?
A: I do. And it’s awesome. I love them. It’s a shame they don’t like me, but there’s not much I can do about it. But it’s the reason I don’t tell real-life people that I write. Not because I’m ashamed. Because I’m *not* ashamed, and I’m sick of having to defend it. So I just go to my English classes, soak up all the “literary fiction” techniques, and plug them into my children’s books.