Swanky Seventeen Rebecca Christiansen recently chatted with Ashley Herring Blake about her new contemporary YA, SUFFER LOVE (HMH Books for Young Readers, May 3, 2016).
Hadley St. Clair’s life changed the day she came home to a front door covered in slips of paper, each of them revealing the ugly truth about her father. Now as her family falls apart in the wake of his year-long affair, Hadley wants everyone-her dad most of all-to leave her alone.
Then she meets Sam Bennett, a cute new boy who inexplicably “feels like home” to Hadley. Hadley and Sam’s connection is undeniable, but Sam has a secret about his family that could ruin everything.
Ashley Herring Blake used to write songs and now she writes poems and books. She likes coffee, her boys, gloomy music, anything with pumpkin in it, stuff hued in Tiffany blue, scarves, and walks. She lives in the best city in the world, also known as Nashville, TN, with her witty husband and two boisterous little boys. Previous jobs include songwriter and performer (though she made about enough money to cover the gas to the gigs), substitute teacher, barista, ABA therapist, special education teacher in a private school for kids with autism, and the hardest job in the world, mommyhood. That last one is still happening, along with lots of word making.
Rebecca: When and how did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Ashley: As a kid, I was a voracious reader, but not a huge writer. I wrote little stories here and there, but mostly, I planned on being a teacher or a marine biologist or Disney singer. Yes, a Disney singer. As I got older, I started writing poetry and this continued into adulthood. I dreamed of writing fiction, and tried a few short stores geared toward adults, but wow, were they awful. I didn’t really start considering writing as a career until I fell in love with kid lit. I wrote middle grade at first, but then, around the time my mother died, I got really into YA. I found something in those books that just made me feel, even if it was sadness and loss. And, in the wake of losing my mom, I wanted to really try for that dream and see what happened.
Rebecca: Was SUFFER LOVE the first manuscript you queried, or did another manuscript see agents’ inboxes first?
Ashley: The first YA I wrote was a fantasy and I queried a few agents with it. It did not go well. After that, I played around with a paranormal that I never ended up querying, but writing that book, as well as reading more extensively, helped me realize that contemporary was really where my heart was. SUFFER LOVE was the first contemporary I wrote. For me, it took me a while and a lot of experimenting.
Rebecca: How did you find your agent?
Ashley: In the querying trenches! I enlisted the help of the fabulous Miranda Kenneally to help me craft a good query and she totally delivered. I think writing a query is harder than writing the actual book because you have to condense all of these huge feels into about 300 words. So yeah, I needed help. I’d say I queried about 25-30 agents and had multiple full requests. I had just had a pretty huge disappointment with an agent I really loved—she requested an R & R, which totally made the book better, but then ended up passing. But, that also ended up working in my favor because the next day, I queried Rebecca Podos. A week later, she was my agent and I have not regretted that decision for one second. She is my dream agent in every way.
Rebecca: SUFFER LOVE is a complicated web of relationships and emotions. What was the hardest part about writing it?
Ashley: I think the hardest part was Hadley. Sam, for whatever reason, came very easily to me, but Hadley was harder to pin down. She was angry, she was hurt, she was being slut-shamed, she was being lied to—she was just a mess! But, messy characters usually end up being my favorite, so there’s that.
Big sister, little sister, in the middle, or the one and only?
Little sister. I have a brother who’s four and a half years old than me.
Music to write by?
Depends on the book. Also, I don’t always write to music. A lot of times, I write to silence or I use Noisli, which is like a sounds playlist app. But, Agnes Obel and Fleurie are some favorites.
Books you loved as a teen?
Sweet Valley High, Judy Blume, Mary Downing Hahn, The Babysitter’s Club, Anne of Green Gables, and Jane Austen.
Do you write entirely via computer, or do you do any writing longhand?
I write everything on my computer, even notes for a new book. Literally nothing is handwritten.
Favorite snack or drink to have on hand as you write?
COFFEE. Food wise, I don’t have a consistent snack, but baked goods always help the angst.
Do you write every day?
When I’m drafting, yes. When I’m addressing editorial or CP notes, yes. But I absolutely believe in taking breaks and refilling the well, so I usually do that in between drafts and when I’m still ruminating on a new story that’s not quite ready to be written.
Rebecca Christiansen tried to study creative writing at university, but kept skipping classes to write YA novels in the library, so she decided to pursue that instead. She loves boy bands, diet soda, and suffers from incurable wanderlust. Rebecca lives with her boyfriend in a house packed full of books in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Her first novel, MAYBE IN PARIS, debuts with Sky Pony Press in spring 2017.
Keira Braidwood lands in Paris with her autistic brother, Levi, and high hopes. Levi has just survived a suicide attempt and months in the psych ward—he’s ready for a dose of the wider world. Unlike their helicopter mom and the doctors who hover over Levi, Keira doesn’t think Levi’s certifiable. He’s just . . . quirky. Always has been.
Those quirks quickly begin to spoil the trip. Keira wants to traipse all over Europe; Levi barely wants to leave their grubby hotel room. She wants to dine on the world’s cuisine; he only wants fast food. Levi is one giant temper tantrum, and Keira’s ready to pull out her own hair.
She finally finds the adventure she craves in Gable, a hot Scottish bass player, but while Keira flirts in the Paris Catacombs, Levi’s mental health breaks. He disappears from their hotel room and Keira realizes, too late, that her brother is sicker than she was willing to believe. To bring him home safe, Keira must tear down the wall that Levi’s sickness and her own guilt have built between them.