Sixteener interviews are always sweeter in person! Kim Savage and Natalie C. Anderson had coffee recently in the small town near Boston that was the inspiration for the setting for Savage’s recent debut, AFTER THE WOODS (Farrer Straus and Giroux/Macmillan). They talked writing habits, the long and crazy road to publishing, MTV, and coffee… lots of coffee.
Once upon a time, Kim Savage worked as a business journalist, pitching stories along the lines of “When Murder Kills Property Values.” You can see where things were headed. Now, she writes young adult fiction, and her debut novel, AFTER THE WOODS, was released in March, 2016. Her second novel, BEAUTIFUL BROKEN GIRLS will come out in Spring 2017.
AFTER THE WOODS is a psychological thriller about two friends in the aftermath of an abduction, where one risked her life so the other could escape. Nearly one year later, a body is discovered in those same woods, and the girls are forced to face the truth about that day and their own sacrifices.
Natalie: So I drove through the Middlesex Fells – the infamous Woods of your book! – on the way over here. I love the Fells, but now, after reading the book, they’re going to forever be a little creepy. Okay, so tell us, where did the idea for AFTER THE WOODS come from?
Kim: Two places: Being a former journalist, I’m a news junkie and a few years back there were several high-profile stories about abductions. They really caught the public’s attention, and it got me thinking. Statistically, very few of these girls survive, (and not just girls; of course there are boys too, but mainly girls) and of those who do, I always wondered, what really happens when they come back? What’s the story we’re not hearing? What is it like trying to go back to your old life?
That’s where Julia, the main character started. And then I wondered, what if it was even worse than that? What if the only good thing about Julia’s abduction – the fact that she was taken while trying to save her best friend – didn’t happen exactly like she thought it did? What if there was more to the best friend’s story?
Natalie: And here we meet the complicated, difficult character, Liv, who has so many secrets. The book is from Julia’s perspective but her relationship with Liv is the real crux of the story. Did you start out knowing you wanted to explore a complex relationship between teenage girls?
Kim: I did. I don’t know if everyone had this moment as a teen, but I remember when my friends were the most important people in the world.
Kim: And so I wondered first of all, what sort of person would risk her life for her best friend? Who would Julia have to be? And then I wondered, why would Liv risk Julia’s life by putting her in that situation? What if Liv wasn’t just a straight-up bad person? Liv isn’t a good person necessarily, but she was brave enough to try and get out of a bad situation, and there’s some sympathy in that. She wanted freedom, which is another big theme of the book – what is it to be free? Not just physically, but personally.
Natalie: Tell us about your publishing journey. How did it all happen?
Kim: I met my agent, Sara Crowe, at an SCBWI retreat actually, where she used my anonymous query letter as an example of one she liked. I had been working on ATW for a couple of years at that point, and I asked if I could submit to her. I was submitting to other agents as well, but Sara was my top pick. So when others told me they were interested I went back to Sara and she offered representation. She’s been amazing! She knew just where to pitch ATW and sold it to FSG, which was great. They’re the perfect house for it. It was a preempt and a two book deal, so it was just all around incredible. The release was scheduled for 2015, and then it was pushed to 2016 –
Natalie: Which happens so often!
Kim: Yeah, it was a bummer at first, but then Sara helped me to see that it was really an opportunity to just write while no one was watching. And she was right! Writing the second book was so smooth and fast, and now I’m working on my third.
Natalie: Tell us about your technique. Are you a plotter or pantster?
Kim: Plotter, definitely. I need the structure. Especially when writing a thriller, I think you need all the pieces to be there. I use it to keep myself in line – I’m constantly attenuating the story. I use Scapple – I love it!
(K shows N her fancy Scapple plot chart)
Natalie: Wow, you’re so tech-savvy! I’m still in the Stone Age using paper note cards and a corkboard.
Kim: Well, I would do that if I didn’t have the handwriting of a serial killer. I can’t read it at all!
Natalie: Last question: How are things going with the launch?
Kim: It has just been so crazy and great! We had a launch party, and I’ve been doing lots of interviews – with NPR and MTV, social media stuff, other promo. I went to the Texas Book Fair recently, which was amazing. The readers were incredible, and I think that’s when I really got it, talking with them. That meaningful contact with readers is what it’s all about.
Things you need to write?
My touchstone book – a book I really love that is thematically similar but stylistically different, but gets me in the mood. For Beautiful Broken Girls, it was The Virgin Suicides, by Jeffrey Eugenides.
And coffee! I mainline it.
Music or silence?
Absolute silence! (ha, another thing I need!)
Weirdest job you’ve ever had?
A dietary aide at a hospital – the person who brings meals around. The job itself wasn’t weird, but you see some interesting stuff walking in on people in their hospital rooms – those gowns don’t stay put!
Cats or dogs?
Dogs! My dog is my writing partner.
I love history, so maybe somewhere like Machu Pichu.
Favorite treat when you accomplish a writing goal?
If it’s a big goal, a nice bag. Maybe that sounds terrible, but…
(Natalie: Nope! I hear you!)
Natalie C. Anderson is a writer and international development professional living in Boston, Massachusetts, but you can also often find her in Kenya and the mountains of North Carolina. She has spent the last decade working with NGOs and the UN on refugee relief and development, mainly in Africa. She was selected as the 2014-2015 Associates of the Boston Public Library Children’s Writer in Residence, where she wrote THE QUEEN OF SAINTS AND THIEVES, which will be published in Spring, 2017 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.