New Voice: Daniel & Dina Nayeri on Another Pan & Another Faust

Daniel and Dina Nayeri are the debut co-authors of the Another series (Candlewick, 2009-2010). From the promotional copy of Another Pan (2010):

An ancient Egyptian spell is turning the tony Marlowe School into a sinister underworld. Will all hell break loose?

A darkness continues to haunt the Marlowe School, and this time, someone is plotting payback.

Wendy Darling, a headstrong junior, and her brother, John, a thirteen-year-old genius with a chip on his shoulder, struggle with being from the poorest family at the posh New York academy, where their father is a professor of ancient civilizations.

Wendy’s new boyfriend, socialite golden-boy Connor Wirth, offers a solid step up in popularity, yet ambitious Wendy and John still find themselves longing for something more.

When the Book of Gates, a mysterious tome of fabled origins, appears at Marlowe along with Peter, a dashing new resident adviser with a murky past, the Darlings are swept into a captivating world of “Lost Boys,” old-world secrets, and forbidden places.

The book opens the door to a hidden labyrinthine underworld where Egyptian myths long thought impossible become frighteningly real. Suddenly, Peter, Wendy, and John find themselves captive in the lair of an age-old darkness, trying to escape the clutches of an ancient and beautiful child-thief who refuses to let go.

Could you describe both your pre-and-post contract revision process? What did you learn along the way? How did you feel at each stage? What advice do you have for other writers on the subject of revision?

Dina: I’ve only been writing professionally for a few years, but during that time I’ve worked on novels both alone and with my brother. In both contexts, I had to learn how very important it is not to be attached to any of your writing. The number of times we have edited our own work, or each other’s–both before and after the contract–has been staggering.

At first, of course, I was daunted by the sheer volume of edits from so many different sources (my co-author, readers, editors, my agent). But now it’s reassuring to know how many chances you get to make your novel better.

With each novel, the revision process has been different. With Another Faust (Candlewick, 2009), we sold the novel after a certain number of private revisions (just between Daniel and I) and then our editor gave us a list of very high-level changes, followed by two-three rounds of smaller changes.

But the editing process for Another Pan was completely different. Because we had sold the novel to Candlewick before a word of it was written, our editor didn’t really know that she would like it at all before we submitted something to her. With Another Faust, at least she had read it before deciding to become involved. Not so with our second book, which was contracted in advance.

I’m sure this was even more nerve-wracking for our editor given that our series is not one ongoing story consisting of several sequels. So each story can be completely different!

Candlewick showed a lot of faith in signing us in advance to do a series of retellings, each of which might be in a completely different voice and structure, and might center on a whole slew of new characters.

Naturally, editing Another Pan took a few more rounds for this very reason. In the first draft, it was a lot more action-adventure oriented, with huge Anubite warriors attacking the school and little scorpions pouring out of the underworld into the classrooms. It was darn cool stuff, but we cut it because we wanted more of the mystery and suspense of a villain that was harder to see or identify. Our editor suggested that for older audiences, this is more sophisticated and fun! We agreed, so we rewrote a big portion of the novel. Then, after that first round, the editing process progressed pretty much the same as before.

Since there are two of us, it’s also often a struggle to figure out how to divide edits. Dividing up the writing (as opposed to editing) is easier, because we can just make a detailed outline over several weeks and then assign chapters, then edit each other’s to smooth the voice.

But at some point we need to go through the entire book with a fine-toothed comb and make it really cohesive. That means we need to take turns with the manuscript, which can be touchy because it means one of us has full control over it for several weeks while the other is completely out of the loop. For me, this is a good way to deal with my control issues and a good excuse to get on with the rest of my life!

The best piece of advice I’d give to other writers about revisions actually comes from my own individual writing. Before selling a book, you should give it to at least ten readers across two-to-three rounds. You should make sure the readers are in your target audience, but vary within that demographic (e.g., both male and female).

In the first round, they will all likely respond with the same questions and complaints so that you know exactly what edits need to be done. By the third round, there might be less overlap.

When you get to a round of edits when all your readers are nitpicking about small stuff, disagreeing with each other, and discussing themes instead of giving you edits, you know you’re done and ready to submit (to your editor, who will then edit it again)!

How have you approached the task of promoting your debut book? What online or real-space efforts are you making? Where did you get your ideas? To whom did you turn for support? Are you enjoying the process, or does it feel like a chore? What advice do you have on this front for your fellow debut authors and for those in the years to come?

Dina: I came to writing from the business world, so I know a bit about marketing, but I have to say that I was still shocked by how much of an online presence some authors have these days. Some authors are just so good at this aspect of a writer’s life, keeping up amazing blogs, tweeting every day and keeping in touch with fans online. But I’m just not that good at all that. I left the business world because I wanted to avoid the business stuff.

One day, I was talking to an amazing fellow YA author who keeps a really excellent blog, and she started complaining that “I became a writer so that I could write novels, not tweet about them!” And I finally understood that every author has complaints about being pulled away from their main work.

Yes, Daniel and I found ourselves having a lot of fun on Facebook, Twitter and all the usual online places where we could chat with our audience and joke around with them (that was the best: talking to individual readers). But after some time, we had to get back to our lives offline. We both had our own novels in progress, plus the series, and at some point you have to shut off the Internet and work!

So in the end, we did a lot of things online (we have a kick-butt website, where we hosted a very successful writing contest last year!), but my advice to a new author would be not to beat yourself up trying to do everything! Everyone has a different style in that regard.

I think my favorite part of the Another Faust promotion process was the book tour. Daniel and I did a monumental tour: a full 30 days, four-to-five events a day, sometimes including two packed auditoriums a day!

In total, we spoke to 4,000 students across seven states that month, which was amazing (we have a blog post on our site about it).

We met students from so many different backgrounds, different types of schools, interests, future plans. It was enormous fun.

And we got to do a crazy road trip together, which led to a lot of sibling spats, but was fun and something I had always wanted to do with my brother.

Let me tell you, Daniel is one larger than life personality, so when you’re on a road trip, sometimes you find yourself having the funniest day of your life, laughing uncontrollably from the pit of your gut for hours, and sometimes, you find yourself pulling the emergency breaks in the middle of I-95, hoping to get out of the car!

Respect to Daniel for putting up with me, too, by the way. But I loved the moments when, after bickering for a while, something would happen that would demonstrate all the DNA we share.

My favorite “we are so related” story was a conversation we had at 6 a.m. one morning before a long drive to a school visit. Daniel had just knocked on the door of my room to pick me up for the day’s trip. He was groggy and sleepy and a little grumpy.

I was holding a cup of coffee I had just bought from the café around the corner, so I offered him some.

He said, “No thanks.”

So I said, “Why not? You need coffee.”

Daniel: “I won’t like it.”

Dina: “How do you know?”

Daniel: “I just know, okay? Leave me alone!”

Dina (now becoming stubborn): “You’re just going to say no without trying it? Just try it!”

Daniel: “Dina. I promise you that I will not like your coffee. Geez!”

Dina: “Why not?”

Daniel (irate now): “Because I like my coffee sickening sweet. So sweet, any normal person will want to spit it out. So sweet it will taste like a cup full of liquid aspartame. So sweet you’ll want to puke. Okay? Got it?”

Dina (crosses arms and smiles knowingly): “Taste it.”

Daniel (sighs): “Fine.” and he takes the cup.

He tastes the coffee, looks up with a giant smile and says, “Okay…. That’s pretty sweet.”

This year, we decided to do a shorter tour to save our sanity (and because we actually both got ill after the last one). It will be two weeks across three states (New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut), and we will be visiting mostly schools.

After the large variety of events we did last year, we discovered that we absolutely love offering free talks to schools. Sometimes we visit schools that have never been able to afford an author visit before, and it’s so gratifying to be a first for them.

We’re both psyched about getting back on the road this year, meeting our readers, and telling them a bit about the life of an author: which at least for me, includes a lot less Twitter this year.

When and where do you write? Why does that time and space work for you?

Daniel: Well, my typical day has writing happening at various times. I work full time, so my own writing happens around that.

I usually wake up at 7 a.m. and stumble to the coffee machine. I highly recommend a coffee machine that you can program like an alarm clock. Once I’ve poured tons of white sugar, some flavored syrup, a little cocoa mix and cream, I’m good to go.

I live in Astoria, so my apartment could fit in most people’s entryway. I walk the fifteen feet to my “office,” and plop down. I write for two hours at my desk.

There are framed comic books on the walls, tons of books threatening to topple on my head, and our cat, Kitten-Bear, sleeping in my In box. She helps manage my work.

That’s pretty much it. I work to music, but I have one song play on repeat. So over the course of a project, I’ll hear the same song hundreds of times (novels usually get three songs). For me, it helps get to the same place tonally. I stop hearing it after a while. And I’m terrible at finding good music, so it could just be laziness.

For Another Pan, I think I was listening to “That’s What You Get,” by Paramore.

When I’m done writing, I have 12 minutes to get ready and jump on the subway to get to work. As you can tell, my grooming situation is minimalist (to be generous). It helps that I have short hair and zero sense of shame.

On Saturdays, I have the full day dedicated to writing in a café. I usually work around for five-to-six hours, then adjourn to my place for burritos and video gaming. Sunday afternoons, I put in another three hours of writing.

That’s the ideal week for me. In reality, I miss some mornings (for example, this morning), when I have a late night.

As someone with a full-time day job, how do you manage to also carve out time to write and build a publishing career? What advice do you have for other writers trying to do the same?

Daniel: Well, I think for someone with a full-time gig, writing and building a career in publishing has to become even more of a focus. The simple truth is that no one is going to help you carve out the time. If you don’t prioritize it, then it won’t work.

Nobody is saying that you can write “on the side.” It’s a full-time job. If you have a different job, then consider yourself one of those lucky individuals holding down two jobs, and make sacrifices accordingly. I don’t do cocaine or Redbull, so I end up sending out my laundry, order out more than I’d like to, and cutting back on activities (like exercise or shaving).

For the Another series, of course, it’s not just me. Sometimes, I’ll miss a deadline because things are crazy, and Dina will send a nice email: “Helloooo? Bueller? Bueller?”

I know I’m in trouble when the Buellers come out. Obviously, I try to get my butt in gear. It’s great to have those internal deadlines, and if you’re lucky, someone to enforce them.

My full-time job is as an editor for Clarion Books an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. I acquire picture books, middle grade fiction, and YA novels as well as graphic novels.

Some people say they prefer not to have creative jobs, because they’ll sit down to write and they’ll be mentally drained. I can understand that. I wouldn’t get a single page written if I tried to do it after work. But then, I’ve also worked construction and in restaurants…being exhausted physically is just as prohibitive to writing. So, it was about the same for me.

My evenings are usually reserved for grabbing drinks with colleagues, and most often, nachos and Netflix night.

Cynsational Screening Room

“Another Faust” Writing Session (Dina and Daniel Nayeri):

Another Faust book trailer from Candlewick Press: