New Voice: Elisa Ludwig on Pretty Crooked

By Cynthia Leitich Smith

Elisa Ludwig is the first-time author of Pretty Crooked (Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins, 2012). From the promotional copy:

Willa’s secret plan seems all too simple: take from the rich kids at Valley Prep and give to the poor ones.

Yet Willa’s turn as Robin Hood at her ultra-exclusive high school is anything but. Bilking her “friends”—known to everyone as the Glitterati—without them suspecting a thing is far from easy. Learning how to pick pockets and break into lockers is as difficult as she’d thought it’d be. Delivering care packages to the scholarship girls, who are ostracized just for being from the “wrong” side of town, is way more fun than she’d expected.

The complication Willa didn’t expect, though, is Aidan Murphy, Valley Prep’s most notorious (and gorgeous) ace-degenerate. His mere existence is distracting Willa from what matters most to her: evening the social playing field between the haves and have-nots. There’s no time for crushes and flirting with boys, especially conceited and obnoxious trust-funders like Aidan.

But when the cops start investigating the string of thefts at Valley Prep and the Glitterati begin to seek revenge, could Aidan wind up being the person that Willa trusts most?

What were you like as a young reader, and how did that influence the book that you’re debuting this year?

I was a voracious reader and especially enjoyed anything quirky or a little suspenseful or scary.

Probably all of those books got mashed up somehow into a first person teen voice that I use in most of my writing, though of course it changes with the character.

I also, at one point, got really into Sweet Valley High (I remember sleeping over at my best friend’s house and we would lie on her matching twin beds and read one or two of those a night, and they were like candy.)

SVH is probably the most obvious influence on the world of Paradise Valley, which is very stratified and clear-cut and easy to digest. And, hopefully, fun.

How do you psyche yourself up to write, to keep writing, and to do the revision necessary to bring your manuscript to a competitive level? What, for you, are the special challenges in achieving this goal? What techniques have worked best and why?

The discipline and the “psyching up” didn’t come naturally to me—I had to develop them over a matter of years. I just finally realized that these darn things don’t write themselves, and that if I was serious about this as a career then I simply had to accept the fact that I need to put in the time.

Elisa’s work space.

I genuinely love revising, so often the first draft is the hardest part. I could revise infinitely! My instincts are getting a little bit better about what brings a manuscript to a “competitive level,” but I’m still learning so much from my fabulous agent and editor.

For me, the biggest challenge of professional author-hood is my day job, which is freelance writing, which means that I log a lot of time in front of the screen. Sometimes, I feel like I’m overusing those muscles.

To balance it all, I often work on my novels on a laptop in a separate space, away from my office desk. I also try to set small definable goals every day, as it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer size and scope of a manuscript when I might only have a free hour or two to work on it.

Looking back, are you surprised to debut in 2012, or did that seem inevitable? How long was your journey, what were the significant events, and how did you keep the faith?

I guess publishing in general seemed inevitable in that I was committed to try until it happened!

Did I know it would be 2012? No.

Elisa, the summer before college.

My journey really began as an undergraduate, which is when I first got the nutty idea that I wanted to be a writer as a real life, paying job. I studied with some wonderful teachers in college and graduate school, who encouraged me just enough along the way to keep me believing. Then I got a job and I was busy establishing myself as an adult (i.e., paying the bills), and I put it aside.

In 2004, I applied for some residencies and took a couple of months off to focus on fiction again. Once I made that investment and spent time with artists who took themselves seriously, I realized this was still my dream.

The next big milestone was when I took a summer class with Julia Glass, and she suggested I think about YA fiction. That was the best advice I ever got, and I found my agent about a year and a half after that.

There have been lots of ups and downs, and it wasn’t easy, but at a certain point I knew I was close enough in terms of the work I’d put in, and that luck was the thing that would usher me past the final threshold. So I just held out for the luck! 

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?

I’m not gonna lie: I work a lot of weekends and nights. I always worked full time, and I will continue to do so. I do work from home for my day job, though, so that saves some time in terms of commuting, and I also have flexibility in terms of hours. I often get up early (6 a.m.) and get some fiction writing in before the other deadlines beckon.

Now that someone is waiting for my manuscript on the other end, it certainly helps move things along. So that’s my advice: Treat it like it’s a job. Take it seriously. Set deadlines and meet them. Someone is waiting for your book—whether they know it yet or not!—and only you can write it.

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?

I’m definitely making this up as I go along, though practically every idea I had came from the proud tradition of kid lit authors who’ve gone before me. Online, I’m tweeting, blogging (more on group blogs than on my own), Facebooking, Google Plustificating and generally trying build relationships.

The Apocalypsies has been an outrageously amazing resource—not only for tons of ideas about promotion and networking, but also as a truly supportive atmosphere with lovely, lovely people who really do care about one another. I feel so lucky to now be part of this group and I’ve made some wonderful friends.

In real life, I’m trying to get to know local authors better and attend some events, book signings and conferences, making as much swag as my budget allows and talking my book up. I’m also hooking up with some schools, libraries and bookstores to set up events.

I realized early on that it can get overwhelming, so I’m trying to focus on the parts I like most—making my trailer, for instance, was a blast. I’m sort of shy naturally, so promotion doesn’t come easily, but I am actually enjoying the whole journey from a creative standpoint.

For instance, I was excited to come up with the idea for a purse hanger key chain that says “Hang on to Your Purse” over the Pretty Crooked cover image. It’s also just very neat to wake up and see that every day it ramps up a bit more—more requests, more mentions online, new firsts, etc.

Before I was published, I really didn’t participate in the writing community, so I’m definitely trying to make up for lost time. My advice to others is to plug in to the network early and not wait until you have a book deal and focus on what’s fun about the process. 

Cynsational Notes

Find Elisa at The Nightstand, Sleuths, Spies and Alibis, and Pots & Pens.

4 thoughts on “New Voice: Elisa Ludwig on Pretty Crooked

  1. Oh gosh! I LOVE this premise! I can't wait to grab this book. And like Elisa, I love revisions too. The first draft is the hard part for me as well. I relax more when I revise.

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