Author Interview: Elizabeth Scott on Stealing Heaven

Elizabeth Scott on Elizabeth Scott: “I grew up in a very rural area of Southern Virginia. My parents were both high school teachers, and yes, I had them both as teachers when I was in high school. And no, it wasn’t traumatic–I knew I was going to have them as teachers from the time I was very young, so I just took it as a given. I feel terrible when people say, ‘Oh, you must have stories!’ and all I have is that my mother moved me for talking the first week of classes.

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

I had no idea I wanted to write until I was twenty-seven and wrote a short story at work one day because I had nothing to do and was bored out of my mind. I still remember being surprised by how much fun writing was.

I was lucky enough to meet a group of people who read some of my earliest work and didn’t laugh–in fact, they encouraged me to write more!

Five years later, after a lot of nudging from my friends, I sent out a few short stories and they got published. By then, I’d also started writing my first three young adult novels, and after they were done, I–well, I did precisely nothing for months. But then I stumbled across an agent blog, and the agent was talking about email queries and I thought “Hey, why not?” I figured I’d get the rejection, tell my friends, “Look! I tried!” and that would be it.

The agent ended up signing me–which was an amazing surprise and quite a shock–and two months later, Stealing Heaven (HarperCollins, 2008) sold.

I’ve been very lucky, not just in my friends, but in how publication happened for me, and believe me, I know it — I still can’t quite believe it’s all real!

Could you please update us on your back list, highlighting as you see fit?

Sure! Right now I have two other novels out.

Bloom (Simon Pulse), my first young adult novel, was published in April 2007 and was a Borders Original Voices pick and a YALSA popular paperback as well.

Earlier this year, in March, Perfect You (Simon Pulse) was released. It’s a story that took me a long time to write, but I’m glad I stuck with it. It’s about Kate, who is dealing with family problems, boy problems, and a best friend who is no longer speaking to her.

There are lots of stories out there about teen girls who have to deal with extraordinary problems, but when I wrote Perfect You, I wanted to write about problems we all face, the things we all have to deal with. Life–even for “regular” people–is never easy, never simple. It’s complicated because we’re all complicated.

Congratulations on the publication of Stealing Heaven (HarperCollins, 2008)! Could you fill us in on the story?

Stealing Heaven is about a girl named Danielle, who travels around the country with her mother, robbing houses. They focus on stealing antique silver. (For real!)

But when they travel to a small coastal town, Danielle starts to really question what she and her mother do, and tries to decide what kind of life she wants.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

I got the idea for the story because I wanted to write a book about a mother-daughter thief team, and I wanted the daughter to not want to be a thief.

The only problem was, what could they steal? I didn’t want them robbing banks or anything like that, and after reading an article about someone who’d tried to steal antique silver, I thought “huh.” It was just such an unusual thing to steal, and the more I thought about it, the more it felt like it was the right thing for my two thieves to chase after.

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

A looong time! I wrote the book in 2004, sold it to HarperCollins in June 2005, and it was published at the end of May 2008.

As far as major events go, besides selling it and seeing it in stores (which=huge thrill!), I’d say the most major event came after I finished the first draft.

Originally, I had two subplots in the story that I thought were amazing. You can probably guess what happened. Early readers who were kind enough to look at that very first draft pointed out that my beloved subplots made no sense. At all!

I was sure that couldn’t be, so I went back and looked at the story again.

You can guess what I saw–those beloved subplots? Terrible. And removing them made the book so much stronger.

I learned a lot about writing when I was working on Stealing Heaven, but the most important thing I learned was that more than anything else, I have to be true to the story.

Just because I want something in the story doesn’t mean it should be there, and I have to trust the story–and let it be the way it wants to be.

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

Well, the subplot situation was definitely a challenge. Other than that, I think the major thing was revising. Stealing Heaven is actually the second young adult novel I ever wrote, and it’s the novel where I learned that one revision isn’t so not enough. (Not for me, anyway!)

So, can you personally break into a house and get away with the goods?

Ha! No, but I can tell you that there is a very popular and very cheap brand of locks out there that I will now never buy because they are pathetically easy for a burglar to get past.

What about the young adult audience appeals to you?

Everything. I love the intelligence and intensity of teen readers. I love how honest they are about what they like and what they don’t in. There simply aren’t better and more passionate readers out there.

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

Buy a grammar book and actually read it! Also, when you’re writing something and there’s a tiny voice inside you saying, “Nope, this isn’t right for the story,” listen to it.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

Hang out with my husband and dog, read, watch television. Catch up on all the cleaning I swore I’d “get around to” when I was in the midst of whatever project frenzy I was just in.

How do you balance your life as a writer with the responsibilities (speaking, promotion, etc.) of being an author?

It’s hard, but for me, the best part of writing is the actual writing part of things, so I try to always set aside at least a little bit of time for that.

What can your fans look forward to next?

This September, my next book, Living Dead Girl (Simon Pulse) will be released. It’s very different from my other novels–more intense and much darker. It’s about a girl called Alice who was kidnapped when she was ten and has spent the last five years living with her kidnapper.

And in 2009, I have two novels coming out–Something, Maybe (Simon Pulse) in March, and Love You Hate You Miss You (HaperCollins) in June.