Author Interview: Lisa Schroeder on I Heart You, You Haunt Me

Lisa Schroeder, a native Oregonian, is an expert juggler of all things, including kids, work, writing, cooking, and cleaning. But when her arms get tired, you’ll probably find her curled up in a corner with a cup of tea and a good book.

She’s the author of the picture book, Baby Can’t Sleep, illustrated by Viviana Garofoli (Sterling, 2005) the young adult novel, I Heart You, You Haunt Me (Simon Pulse, 2008), and two forthcoming books, Little Chimp’s Big Day (Sterling, 2010) and Far From You (Simon Pulse, 2009).

Visit Lisa’s Little Corner of the Internet, check out her MySpace page, and learn more about the Class of 2k8! See also the 2k8 blog and visit The Class of 2k8 at MySpace!

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

Lots of stumbles, like most writers. I started out writing picture books, and around the 100th rejection (on various books), I received an offer from Sterling on my picture book, Baby Can’t Sleep.

For the first few years that I was seriously writing and submitting, I didn’t think I’d ever write a novel, even though I’ve always loved reading novels for kids and teens.

But then the picture book market took a nose dive, and I was ready to challenge myself and try something new, so I decided I’d never know unless I tried.

I ended up writing three mid-grade novels over the course of a couple of years, none of them published. I see those books as my schooling. With each one, I learned things about novel writing, the publishing industry, and a lot about myself as a writer. I still hope I can publish a mid-grade novel someday, because I have such strong memories of reading books at that age.

I Heart You, You Haunt Me was the book that landed me an agent and became my first published novel.

Congratulations on the release of I Heart You, You Haunt Me (Simon Pulse, 2008)! Could you tell us a little about this new title?

It’s a novel-in-verse about a fifteen-year-old girl, Ava, whose boyfriend dies and comes back to live in her house as a ghost. More than a ghost story, however, I believe it’s a story of love, loss, healing, and hope.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

I had a dream about a girl whose boyfriend died but loved her so much, he didn’t want to leave her. I got up the next morning and started writing. It was an amazing thing. I wish it’d happen more often!

I’ve always loved verse novels but hadn’t ever tried writing one. When I sat down to write, that’s how it came out. I think the verse created a special atmosphere for the story.

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

Let’s see, I had a first draft finished in like six weeks. That was in the spring of 2006. I was so excited about the book, and the story came really easily, which was a real gift. After that, I spent some time revising, had some trusted writer friends read it and give me comments.

By the fall, I felt it was ready to go out. I queried a couple of agents, and had some, uh, interesting responses. One agent told me flat out that with such a low word count, I didn’t have a novel, I had a novella. Another one told me he wouldn’t know a great verse novel from a lousy one, so he definitely wasn’t the agent for me.

I kept querying, mostly getting rejections, so I decided to try a couple of well-known editors. I had two requests really quickly, which gave me a new hope.

I tried a couple of more agents, and mentioned I had some requests from editors in my letters. I had a quick response from Sara Crowe (agent interview), asking for the full manuscript. A couple of weeks later, she offered representation. I was thrilled!

I did some revisions for her, then she sent it out in November of ’06. We got some rejections, and one revision request, wanting me to make the story darker and scarier. I thought about it a long time, but ultimately, I decided that wasn’t the story I wanted to tell. I have to thank that particular editor, however, because she gave me some other suggestions that resonated with me, so I incorporated them into the story and they really improved my manuscript!

In March, 2007, we received an offer from Simon Pulse. A few weeks later, I had an editorial letter, with a due date fast approaching. They were working toward a publication date of January 2008, so we had to work quickly. The editorial letter was fantastic, though. I could tell my editor really got my book, and all of his suggestions made the book much stronger.

I’m excited to share that a couple of weeks ago, I sold another novel-in-verse to my editor at Pulse, tentatively titled Far From You. It’s slated for publication some time in 2009!

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

The actual writing of the book came pretty easily for me. I’d get up in the morning, eager to write, grudgingly go to work, and then when I got home, I’d race to the computer to get back to the story. That had never happened to me before. It was awesome!

I was a little worried about the believability of the ghost. I did some research–reading message boards and watching ghost specials on TV and just hoped that I wasn’t doing anything too far fetched.

In general, a verse novel is challenging because it should be poetic, but it also needs to be accessible. It’s a fine line at times, and I’d often find myself asking, is this poetic enough, and if not, how can I make it more poetic? Some dialogue is necessary of course, and that’s when it can be particularly difficult.

If you could go back and talk to yourself when you were beginning writer, what advice would you offer?

I would probably tell her to stop worrying so much about publication and instead, worry about writing the best book possible. I think when you’re first starting out, you’re hungry for validation of some kind. But sending books out too early is one of the worst things you can do.

I would also tell her to not be afraid to try new genres, new formats, new stories, because that’s how you learn and grow as a writer.

Mostly, I would tell her what I’ve told myself all along. Keep working hard. Keep writing. Keep believing. It does pay off. It really does!