New Voice: Léna Roy on Edges

Léna Roy is the first-time author of Edges (FSG, 2010)(author blog). From the promotional copy:

After his mother dies and his father begins drinking again, Luke decides to leave New York City. Though he’s just sixteen, he finds a job and friends in fantastic, otherworldly Moab, Utah—the last place his family was happy together.

Back in New York, eighteen-year-old Ava finally admits she has a drinking problem. But life doesn’t automatically get easier when she joins Alcoholics Anonymous.

When circumstances—or fate—bring Ava to Moab as well, she and Luke both must figure out how to heal their families and themselves.

How did you discover and get to know your protagonist? How about your secondary characters? Your antagonist?

My protagonist, Luke, was based on a 16-year-old boy I knew fleetingly when I first moved to Moab, Utah, to start an outpatient program for adolescents in the juvenile court system. I was staying at the youth hostel, and he was “living” there, in a tent.

He moved on after a few days, but I always wondered what his story was. I had an image of him “settling down” at the hostel, moving into a trailer and hanging a painting, making himself at home. In my imagination, he was running away from an alcoholic father and the death of his mother. Someday I would write his story.

And then years later, this character, Luke, figuratively tapped me on the shoulder and whispered his story to me. Why not tell the story from the point of view of both father and son?

But then Ava appeared at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting where Frank was trying to get sober in New York City, and that was that. This was a very exciting moment for me – the joy, the rush of creating. Ava herself was telling me that she had to be part of the story.

I think I had to work on Ava’s character harder than anyone’s. I had to spend a lot of time listening to her. How do you “show” the very slow process of recovery in a book that spans a week?

My first draft ended up having nine different points of view, from both the adult and teen perspectives. It helped that I knew everybody’s storyline when I simplified it to just Ava and Luke. Cin’s character was at first inspired by a real person, but then developed into something different. (She stole the storyline in my first draft!) Hal, the schizophrenic, is very much based on a real person. Everybody else I discovered through using my inner ear and practicing the craft of writing.

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?

It is indeed daunting! I have been incredibly proactive, but then again, there are always people out there doing more, so I feel that I’m not doing enough! But that’s my ego and insecurities talking, which are not so interesting, because I am so incredibly grateful for the world that has opened up for me through having an online presence.

I started blogging about a year ago at the insistence of my agent [Léna’s Lit Life]. I was skeptical at first – don’t you have to offer something fantastic to get readers? What do I have to offer that isn’t offered by other writers? I must admit that I have fallen in love with it.

I can’t say how much it has done marketing-wise, but it has gotten me to write every day, and to share myself in an authentic way. It has helped me to discover my voice as a writer, Léna Roy, without hiding behind my characters.

I have developed a small following, and it thrills me to build a relationship with my readers. I write about the joys and frustrations of the publication process, writing, parenting, spirituality as well as stories of my grandmother, Madeleine L’Engle.

I am also a passionate writing teacher – I lead workshops for kids, tweens and teens through Writopia, so I write about that and my work with Girls Write Now.

I started using Facebook a year and a half ago, and in early November, I created a page for just Edges. That has been really fun!

I’ve been making a soundtrack and posting photos that I love of Southeastern Utah. I have only just started to appreciate Twitter due to author Katie Davis, marketing genius, who was kindly able to explain it to me. I am creating both an online and live writing community.

I lament that I hadn’t started Twitter earlier, because it is a really great way to meet and talk to people. I have done a few guest blogs (and I feel like I should do more). I have slowly been putting together my own tour of readings and workshops. I have been hosting Open Mic events at my local Borders for kids aged 8-18 – mostly comprised of my students, but opening it up for the community at-large. I want my students to get used to putting themselves out there, to learn how to read in front of an audience, and to answer questions. (I still get so nervous!)

My advice to other authors just starting out (and myself) is to focus on building community, to have fun with Twitter and other social marketing, rather than “selling” books. Start a support group of other writers.

Rebecca Stead and I started a group a year a half ago in N.Y.C. where we meet for lunch once a month. I moved to Northern Westchester over the summer and have slowly started to build community out here, too.

It only feels like a chore when my insecurities get the better of me and I feel like there’s no point, or that I’m not getting any “real” writing done.

Author and friend Deborah Heiligman goes into her “bubble” every day to write, where she is not distracted by anything, so that she can work. Then she can have fun with social media! She is my inspiration. Judy Blundell and I live about a mile away from each other and often meet at the library for Internet-free working time, to support each other.

I also love the notion of supporting each other as writers and promoting each other’s work. The YA community is so incredibly generous. There’s more than enough room for all of us!