New Voices: Francesca Flores & June Hur Share Inspiration & Advice

By Stephani Martinell Eaton

Welcome to YA debut authors Francesca Flores and June Hur! Today they will share their journeys to publication. I found inspiration in how each came to her subject and crafted her protagonist.

Francesca Flores

Please describe your pre-publication craft apprenticeship. How did you take your writing from a beginner level to publishable?

I got a lot of practice with drafting, completing my first manuscript at 18 (that one came to me in a dream!), and then writing somewhere around 15 manuscripts between 2010-2017.

Sharing them in online writing communities, especially Wattpad, was really helpful since I made writing friends and got feedback. I often had a long commute to go downtown for work and would draft on Google Docs on my phone, getting a lot of words out that way.

Over those years, I learned how to get words onto the page and got used to my own style of writing. I hadn’t learned how to revise, but at the time, publishing was just a “maybe one day” option in the back of my mind, and all I wanted was to just get my ideas out.

In January 2017, I started drafting Diamond City (Wednesday Books, 2020) and it ended up being very emotional and drawn from different experiences in my life.

Around that time, my writer friends were getting more serious about publication, so I decided to try it, too. I finished drafting in March and began querying in June. I got three agent offers and signed with my agent, Peter Knapp.

Then the fun part started: edit letters! It was hard to shift gears like that since drafting was my strong suit, but I learned a lot over nearly a year of revising and rewriting with my agent’s guidance before going on submission.

We sold quite quickly to Eileen Rothschild at Wednesday Books. I’m really glad it took that long to revise before going on submission because it taught me how to revise and how to be patient with my book. I know there are a lot of writers like me who just want to get all their ideas out, and they might be made to feel inferior or like they’re doing something wrong just because they’re not spending ages revising every project before moving on. But I think it’s just a different path to the same thing and there’s no “right” way to follow a dream of publication.

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

One difficulty was how to get readers to empathize with an assassin. The most important part of that was creating a backdrop of a world where violence and brutality are expected, and everyone is cutthroat. The people of Aina’s world operate on a different moral compass than we do.

Once readers learn what that moral compass is, then it’s easier to look at Aina and see someone to root for, especially with her experiences growing up with poverty and homelessness in an unforgiving world where you have to make tough decisions to survive.

Artwork of Aina Solís protagonist of Diamond City by Asayris

I think another important aspect of it was to not shy away from her flaws. Aina has a lot of flaws, and I hope that makes her seem more human to readers, even with her twisted sense of morals. It would be very hard to feel empathy for a brutal assassin who is also a Mary Sue.

Another difficulty was writing the main relationship in the book, which was abusive and manipulative in many ways. It pretty much became the most important aspect of the book for me to get right, and something I examined and questioned every time I revised, even up through copy edits.

I wanted to illustrate how someone could get into a relationship like this, what makes them stay, how easy it is to convince yourself it’s what you deserve, and most importantly—the moments when you start to realize you deserve better.

As a member of a community underrepresented in youth literature, what did your perspective bring to your story?

As someone who is biracial, my social circles have naturally always been racially diverse. The cast of Diamond City is almost entirely POC and all of the characters are different ethnicities. It wasn’t something I had to “try” to do because that’s how my friend groups are, which I think is a common experience for people who grow up in multiracial environments.

Also, being half-Latina and having studied a lot of Latin American history, I was able to incorporate some lessons and events from history into my book in very subtle ways. I’m also bisexual, and it was important to me to write a bisexual character who just lives her life in the book without trying to validate herself to anyone or “prove” her queerness somehow.

What advice do you have for beginning children’s-YA writers?

One great piece of advice I saw while revising book one was to pick one or two aspects of your book that won’t change, whether it’s a relationship, a theme, whatever. You can tweak them as needed, but they’re not getting cut. Everything else is fair game to change.

That helped me a lot while revising, and my own advice (drawn from that), is to not ignore advice/constructive critiques just because it means you would have to do a lot of work.

I’ve seen many writers ignore advice from critiques, stating they want to “keep the integrity of their work,” when really it’s just that they’re feeling overwhelmed by how much work the suggested edits would require and so they decide to not do them at all.

There are some occasions where you get advice that isn’t good for your book, but if it’s a critique from someone you trust, who knows what they’re talking about, and just wants to help you make your book the best it can be, then those are great.

And they’re suggestions, not commands—they’re prompts that steer you into a stronger way of writing the story. You can always go back to the previous version if you want, but you won’t know for sure which way is better until you try out the suggestions.

I rewrote Diamond City about five or six times in the year that I edited with my agent before going on submission, and each time the book got stronger; I have 200,000 deleted words from all those drafts. Cutting a favorite scene doesn’t mean you’re deleting a part of your heart. It means you’re making room for the real heart of your story to shine, which is why you have those one-to-two aspects of your book that you won’t cut or drastically change, to help ground you every time you receive notes and help you see what’s actually important.

Francesca with writing friends

My other bit of major craft advice is, when you first start revising a draft, to focus on big picture things. It can tempting, when you’re exhausted and wanting to reach the finish line, to focus on sentence structure, grammar, typos, and lots of little things like that, but if the big picture things aren’t as strong as they can be, then the smaller stuff doesn’t even matter.

I’ll overlook typos when reading a book if the characters, themes and plot are captivating. But a boring, ineffective story where I have no investment in the characters won’t hold me there with just pretty prose or impeccable grammar.

My suggestions for what to focus on in big picture edits are: if the character’s drive and desires pull the story all the way along, if the character grows as a person in tandem to the plot, if the plot challenges the character to grow, and making sure the character has agency in decisions and isn’t just reactive. This puts a focus on character while also solving plot issues along the way because you can see which plot elements are actually doing anything for the story/character/theme and which aren’t, and you can see which themes are really central to the story.

What craft books were most useful to you and how?

The first one I read was Cheryl B. Klein’s The Magic Words (W. W. Norton, 2016). That’s a great beginner one. And then I really loved Lisa Cron’s Wired for Story (Ten Speed, 2012). It changed the way I think about storytelling and having a character move within a story, and I remember so many lessons from it.

Another one was Donald Maass’s The Emotional Craft of Fiction (Writer’s Digest, 2016), which really helps you dive into deeper layers of a character’s emotions and find ways to show that on the page.

June Hur

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

The inspiration for The Silence of Bones (Feiwel & Friends, 2020)  first began with my interest in the Confucian-based moralistic naewoebŏp (a law that prohibited free contact between men and women) that dominated Joseon Korea.

It resulted in intense gender segregation, and while researching further into this, I came across the group of women called ‘damo.’ I’d heard of these female police officers before, thanks to a K-Drama called ‘Damo,’ but I’d had no idea they were actual historical figures.

These women were servants who worked for the police bureau, and they were in charge of female victims, culprits and corpses.

Damos were apparently the first female police force to ever have actual arresting power in all of world history. But this damo position wasn’t formed because women were respected. The reason for a damos existence was rooted in gender segregation.

Damos were needed in the police bureau because of the strict Confucian rule that forbid contact between men with women. So basically, male officers had limited access with women in general, which made investigating nearly impossible for them. That’s why they needed these damo women to do the work they couldn’t do.

But despite the deeply patriarchal reason for the existence of ‘damo’, these women were able to subvert their role and prove how capable they were.

I was so intrigued by damos that it inspired the bulk of my novel, and that’s why I made the heroine of The Silence of Bones a sixteen-year-old damo.

Seol and Inspector Han. Illustration by Alexis Castellanos

What advice do you have for beginning children’s-YA writers?

Don’t put your life on hold for the sake of getting published. Don’t hold so tightly onto your dream of publication that you neglect your relationships with others and your mental/physical health. Do be kind to yourself. Do have hobbies and goals outside of writing.

Life will only get busier once you get published, and there will always be a new milestone to achieve, so it’s very important to have that discipline early on—the ability to have a healthy work-life balance.

As a member of a community underrepresented in youth literature, what did your perspective bring to your story?

Historical Korea is rarely explored in YA literature, so as a Korean-Canadian, I grew up knowing almost nothing about Korea’s past. I thought Korean history was irrelevant to me.

Then, when I began researching about Korea for my book, I ended up being deeply surprised, shaken to the core, to find that so much of who I am is rooted in Korea’s past.

By studying the past, I learned more about myself and realized that I’m not as disconnected from Korea as I imagined myself to be. And so, in the end, the act of writing a Korean historical fiction became my way of reclaiming my roots. This connection allowed me to write about Korea’s past in a way that made a rarely explored history/country feel home-like and familiar to readers.

Cynsational Notes

Francesca Flores is a writer, traveler and linguist. Raised in Pittsburgh, she read every fantasy book she could get her hands on and started writing her own stories at a young age. She began writing Diamond City while working as a corporate travel manager.

When she’s not writing or reading, Francesca enjoys traveling, dancing ballet and jazz, practicing trapeze and contortion, and visiting parks and trails around San Francisco, where she currently resides.

June Hur (‘Hur’ as in ‘her’) was born in South Korea and raised in Canada, except for the time when she moved back to Korea and attended high school there. Most of her work is inspired by her journey through life as an individual, a dreamer, and a Christian, with all its confusions, doubts, absurdities and magnificence.

She studied History and Literature at the University of Toronto, and currently works for the public library. She lives in Toronto with her husband and daughter.

Stephani Martinell Eaton holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts where she won the Candlewick Picture Book Award and the Marion Dane Bauer Award for middle grade fiction.