Today I’ve got a fun interview lined up with one of 2016’s debut authors, the very lovely Laurie Elizabeth Flynn. Her debut novel, Firsts, is coming out on January 5th (so not long to go!) and I’ll be posting my review of it very soon so make sure you stop by to see what I thought. Laurie kindly answered a few questions I had about Firsts, so stay tuned to find out all about her research for Firsts, her musical influences and which novels she recommends we read in 2016.
1. Hi Laurie, and welcome to Writing from the Tub! In case any readers haven’t heard about Firsts, can you tell me a little bit about it?
Hi Carly! Thanks so much for having me on Writing from the Tub! Firsts is the story of Mercedes, a seventeen-year-old high school senior offering her virgin classmates the chance to get their awkward first times over with. All she asks in return is that they give their girlfriends the perfect first time—the kind Mercedes never had herself. But when Mercedes’s perfect system falls apart, she has to find a way to salvage her reputation and figure out where her heart belongs in the process.
2. Talk me through an average day when you’re working on a novel. Do you have a set number of words you try to write per day or do you set yourself different targets?
I strive to write before going to work at my day job every morning. After making a huge pot of coffee, I get started. I try to write 1,000- 2,000 words per day when I’m drafting, but I often reach higher word counts once the story takes on a mind of its own. If I’m floundering, I try to set a more concrete goal, like finishing the first draft by a certain date. I motivate myself with the sticker system—when I achieve my daily goal, I put a shiny little star on my calendar. It may sound cheesy, but it works well!
3. What was the most interesting thing you researched for Firsts?
Oh, that’s a great question! Since Mercedes is a chemistry superstar, I had to look up different high school chemistry lessons and experiments. Since I was most definitely not a chemistry superstar in high school, the research was both interesting for me and a confusing blast from the past. It helps that my father-in-law is a retired chemistry teacher and was able to correct my terminology and give me pointers.
4. Some writers take great inspiration from music while they’re writing whereas some see it as a distraction. Do you listen to music while you’re writing? If so, which artists/bands do you like to listen to for inspiration?
I love this question! I have an on-off relationship with music while I’m writing. Sometimes it motivates me, other times it distracts me. I love listening to movie soundtracks, since they don’t have any words I end up singing (badly) along to. The American Beauty soundtrack is my favorite, no matter what project I’m working on. When I was writing Firsts, I listened to the song “Lover I Don’t Have to Love” by Bright Eyes on repeat.
5. Can you tell me a bit about your journey with Firsts? When did you first come up with the idea and what were the timescales involved between the first draft and the novel being accepted for publication?
I came up with the idea for Firsts while I was drafting an entirely different project—a NA contemporary. The idea struck me and started to take shape in my head, and I told myself that I’d explore it once I was finished with the NA contemporary. So I did. It started as a project I could just experiment and have fun with, and ended up being something that meant so much more to me. It took me three weeks to write Firsts, then it was accepted in Pitch Wars, and I signed with my agent, Kathleen Rushall, in April 2014. We accepted the offer of publication in October 2014. So things definitely didn’t happen overnight for me, but I wouldn’t trade my journey for anything.
6. How important do you think social media is for today’s writer? Do you think it can be a hindrance as well as a help?
I think social media is important, but I also think it’s important not to force yourself to be everywhere and do everything. I’m a firm believer that you should connect with people on the social media you like and not spread yourself too thin trying to be on every platform, because at that point, it stops being fun and starts feeling like a chore. I love social media, but I also tend to get distracted by it sometimes when I should be writing. (Twitter, I’m looking at you!)
7. Is naming characters important to you? What processes do you go through to come up with names for your characters?
To be honest, I don’t usually put a ton of thought into character names, because my characters usually end up naming themselves. Names pop into my head at random times and suddenly fit, even if it’s a project I haven’t started drafting yet. When I got the idea for Firsts, the name Mercedes came along with it, and as I started writing, I found myself putting names on the page that fit other characters. Once, for a previous project, I tried consciously giving characters names I liked, and it felt forced and weird. So now I stick to letting them tell me what they want to be called.
8. What did you hope to accomplish by writing Firsts? Do you think you have accomplished what you set out to do?
When I started writing Firsts, I wasn’t sure what I was trying to say. But as I wrote, I realized I knew exactly what I wanted and needed this story to say. I wanted to explore, expose, and hopefully eviscerate the double standards that teenage girls are forced to live with—the double standards that lead to rumors and slut-shaming and reputations. I wanted to turn the tables on that with Firsts by writing a protagonist who has sex with multiple partners, knows what she likes in bed, and doesn’t slut-shame herself. I can honestly say that if this book makes one person feel less alone and like things are going to be okay—I think I accomplished what I set out and hoped to do.
9. Do you think your teenage years have influenced you as a writer? If so, how?
Yes, definitely! I think no matter how many years have passed since high school, none of us forget that time in our life—how vulnerable, confused, lonely, misunderstood, awkward, uncomfortable in our own skin we felt. There’s nothing quite as intense as the happy and sad I experienced in those years. My teenage years were definitely not the best years of my life. I hated how I looked and never knew the right thing to say, but it was also a time filled with hope and possibility and friendship and learning about myself. The concept of “the future” filled me with both excitement and fear, and I channel the landslide of emotions I felt then to make my writing real.
10. Which books do you think we should be looking out for in 2016?
Oh, too many to name! I’m part of a group of authors with books coming out in 2016 called Sixteen to Read (http://sixteentoread.com), and I highly recommend all the books in this group. I’m honored to be included among these incredible debuts. Also, my critique partner, Emily Martin, wrote a YA contemporary called THE YEAR WE FELL APART that is all kinds of emotional and swoony and amazing. And right now I’m reading THE WAY I USED TO BE by Amber Smith, whose talent has totally blown me away.
11. Aside from writing, how do you like to spend your free time?
Reading! There’s nothing I love more than losing myself in the pages of a book. I also enjoy taking long walks in the woods with my husband and dog, doing hot yoga, and thrift store shopping.
12. Thank you so much for your time, Laurie. Before you go, could you tell me about any projects you have in the pipeline we can look out for?
I wrote another YA contemporary after finishing Firsts, which centers around Fiona, whose best friend disappears after an end-of-summer blowout party — a party at which Fiona did something that will have deeper consequences than she ever imagined. It’s all about the weight of a secret, and Fiona’s realization that secrets are the most valuable form of currency. I also have a few other YA contemporaries in the pipeline—I strive to always be drafting one project and revising another at any given time because both make me happy in different ways.
Thank you so much for having me on your site, Carly! It has been a pleasure to answer these questions. I hope everyone enjoys reading Firsts!
Author biography: Laurie Elizabeth Flynn writes contemporary fiction for young adults. Her debut, FIRSTS, will be published by Thomas Dunne Books/St Martin’s Press on January 5, 2016.
Laurie went to school for Journalism, where the most important thing she learned was that she would rather write made-up stories than report the news. She also worked as a model, a job that took her overseas to Tokyo, Athens, and Paris. Laurie now lives in London, Ontario with her husband Steve, who is very understanding when she would rather spend time with the people in her head. Laurie can mostly be found writing happily at her desk, with the world’s most spoiled Chihuahua on her lap. Laurie drinks way too much coffee, snorts when she laughs, and times herself when she does crossword puzzles. Laurie is represented by the amazing Kathleen Rushall of the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency.