Author Interview: Rosemary Clement-Moore on Prom Dates from Hell

Rosemary Clement-Moore on Rosemary Clement-Moore: “Rosemary Clement-Moore is the author of smart, funny supernatural mystery novels. The first in a series about a psychic girl detective, Prom Dates From Hell, is available now from Random House/Delacorte Press (2006), and the second, Hell Week, comes out this summer. Her eclectic resume includes jobs as a telephone operator, Chuck E. Cheese costumed character, ranch hand, dog groomer, wedding singer, hair model, actress, stage-hand, director, and playwright. She now writes full time, which allows her to work in her pajamas and break every afternoon to play Guitar Hero.” Note: Rosemary is a graduate of Texas Christian University and makes her home in Arlington, Texas. Visit Rosemary’s LJ and MySpace page!

Could you tell us about your path to publication, any sprints or stumbles along the way?

I was a voracious reader as a kid, and I can’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t scribbling stories or writing plays. How I ended up with a master’s degree in science is a long story. I worked at various jobs–a real odd mix, actually–and wrote as a “hobby.” I scribbled stories and started a lot of novels, but when I came to actually following through and finished a book length project…let’s just say I had commitment issues.

Plus, I had a creative outlet because I worked in a theatre. Writing and directing taught me a lot about storytelling, pacing, and dialogue. But it also filled that need to tell a story, and sidetracked me from the work of writing a novel.

Anyway. I quit my job to take care of my dad while he was ill, and after he passed away, I decided to get back on the writing track. I joined a writers’ group and started to think like a professional writer. I gave myself to the end of the summer to write as my full-time job, and by Labor Day I had a manuscript. Then the book sold by Thanksgiving.

So I guess you can say I had a lot of training, and stretching, and finding my stride. Then when I finally got my rear end on the track, it was definitely a sprint.

Was there anything during your apprenticeship that you felt was especially helpful? Was there anything you wish you’d skipped?

I don’t regret any of the time I spent “sidetracked” from my goal. Education is never wasted, and I used those science degrees all the time. I worked with teens, so that gave me an ear for the YA voice. There’s huge crossover of writing and acting skills, only with writing you don’t have to stay on a diet. And the whole time I was always writing, always reading, and building skills I would use to (eventually!) write my novels.

Sometimes I think if I’d gotten my rear in gear earlier, imagine where I could be by now. Maybe I’d be one of those people published at 19 or 20. But maybe not. The sum of my experiences–not just the unfinished books, or the plays or the short stories, but the schooling and the years I lived on a ranch, and the time I spent caring for my dad–made me the person who was finally able to finish a novel at all.

Congratulations on the publication of Prom Dates from Hell (Delacorte, 2007)! Where did you get the initial idea for this book?

I had been chewing on what I love in books and movies, particularly the idea that all this mundane stuff that happens all the time (like the ridiculous excesses of the prom) can have a supernatural origin or resonance. My subconscious must have been working on that, because I woke up with in the middle of the night with the first scene in my head, and scribbled down about five pages of the first chapter. Only, I did it without my glasses, so in the morning, I couldn’t read much of what I’d written. Fortunately, I remembered enough to reconstruct it. I still have those scribbles, and the first paragraph, as published, is nearly verbatim to what I scrawled in the dark that night.

What was the timeline from spark to publication, and what were the major events along the way?

That was the spark. I had only recently joined an excellent critique group and had planned to read something from one of my many started novels. But I read the first chapter of the middle-of-the-night book instead. After the meeting, this ferocious woman came up to me and said that if I didn’t finish that book she was going to kick my butt. I was terrified of her.

The woman was Candace Havens, author of grown up chick lit fantasy novels, and she has become one of my dearest friends. She’s not really at all scary, but I did need a kick in the pants. I had to stop thinking like a hobbyist and apply the drive I’d put into any other “real” job (I’d had enough of them!) into writing. I finished the book in six weeks, took another six weeks to revise it, and sent my first query letter out the first of September.

I conducted my agent search like a tactical campaign, and by the beginning of October, I had representation from a stellar agent who’d been at the top of my list. She asked me for a few minor revisions, and I stayed up for three days straight knocking those out. The manuscript went out, garnered a couple of quick rejections, and then a couple (!!) of offers. It sold by the middle of November. (Which shows the major advantage of having an agent: good or bad, it can make things go more quickly.)

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life?

I was working on my “vintage” iBook–the first clamshell ones, with the colored edges. It was already old and cranky, but in the course of writing the book, the “i,” the “e,” and the delete key stopped working. Which was a problem, because the book was in first person.

I hooked up an external keyboard and kept going. Whenever the document would get too big, the computer would crash, so I had to start each chapter in a new document, and I could never have more than two open at a time. When I started the revision, the trackpad gave up the ghost, so I had to attach a mouse, too. Then I had to take all those things off to back up my files, because the computer only had one USB port, and I needed that for the external floppy disc drive. (A flash drive wouldn’t fit in the port.) It was a challenge to even find floppy discs anymore!

What was it like to be a debut author in 2007? What moments stood out?

Seeing the book on the shelf is surreal. Sometimes I’ll run across it unexpectedly, and I think: Hmmm, that cover looks really familiar. Oh yeah! It’s mine!

Even better is when you catch someone actually buying the book. I was in the café at Barnes and Noble and a girl was going to the counter with her mother, book in hand, to buy it when they got their snack. I asked if she would like me to sign it for her, and she didn’t believe I was the author. She squinted at the jacket photo, peered at me, then squealed, “Oh my gosh! You really wrote this book!” I felt like such a celebrity.

Are you doing anything special to promote your work?

I wish I was better at publicity. I’d like to do a new website for the paperback release of Prom Dates From Hell. It’s got a brand new cover, which I love, and a series title. Maggie Quinn: Girl versus Evil. The second book, Hell Week, comes out in August 08.

What do you love about the writing process and why?

I love getting to be anyone I want for the length of the book. Journalist, astronaut, archaeologist. It’s the ultimate role-playing game, or like getting to perform every role in a play. And I adore doing research. The weirder the subject, the better. Perfect for someone who couldn’t decide what to study in school.

What about do you wish you could skip and why?

I hate all the second guessing that I do when it comes to the nitty-gritty details of the plot. I like mapping out the destination, but not really the right turn left turn stuff. Should this section go this way or that way? What’s the best order in which to reveal this information? Should I have that fight scene in chapter 15 or after the chase scene?

How about publishing? What do you love about it? What do you abhor? And again, in both cases, why?

One thing I have to reconcile is the fact that there is so much that you, as the author, cannot control. Marketing, distribution, competition, trends and fads… The only thing that is totally in your hands is the product. You write good books, and hope that the rest takes care of itself.

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

Keep three journals:

One to record your thoughts and senses and emotions as you go through different experiences; these are things you’ll want to bring into your writing, to give it authenticity and depth.

Two, keep a writing journal, where you experiment with different styles or voices. Do writing exercises often, either with prompts (like an assignment to write a certain way) or just free writing (writing whatever comes to your mind for 10-20 minutes without stopping).

And last, keep an idea journal, where you record random things that strike you as interesting. It may be observations about the couple you see leaving each other in the airport, or snatches of dialogue you think are funny or touching. “What if?” questions, and intriguing trivia that you run across. These things can spark all kinds of story ideas.

Inspiration doesn’t come from the blue; it comes from all the things you experience and store in your head, without realizing it. A journal gives you a way to flip back through and access those things.

And when you’re ready to get serious about writing for publication, remember that you have to start working like a professional, even if you haven’t sold anything yet. That means writing every day, and holding yourself accountable for your product. Find a support group–it’s easier that way.

How about those interested in writing for the young adult audience in particular?

An authentic voice is one of the most critical things in a YA book. You have to really get into character as a teen and write from that place, not from the perspective of an adult writing what you think a teen would sound like. Find your inner teen; remember what it was like to feel like you had your whole life, endless possibilities, in front of you. Fads and slang will change, but certain things never will. Find those things and ground your viewpoint there.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Thank you for interviewing me in your blog. One thing I do love about publishing and authors is the support and camaraderie of awesome folks like yourself!