Thursday, February 6, 2014

Interview with Young Adult Author Heather Demetrios (A Clovis, CA Graduate)

Like all authors, the story of how Heather Demetrios achieved her dream of publication is an interesting one. Heather, who went to Clovis High and graduated here in the Central Valley of California (woohoo!) in 2001, has traveled the world, taught English in South Korea, lived in Ukraine, and is getting her MFA in writing for Children and Young Adults this summer from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Heather released her debut Young Adult novel, Something Real, on February 4th, 2014, just this past Tuesday. I had the pleasure of interviewing Heather this week here on Writing Belle. Read it and enjoy getting to know this blossoming writer! 

Thanks so much for visiting Writing Belle today. Please introduce yourself to my readers! 

I’m a YA author originally from Los Angeles, but I went to high school in Clovis, CA and now live in Brooklyn. I write both contemporary fiction and fantasy.

When did you start writing? What led you down this path? 

I’ve been writing ever since I can remember. When I was a little girl, I wrote stories and poems and I have a bookshelf full of journals. I didn’t start writing seriously, though, until I moved abroad. While teaching English in South Korea, I started working on my first novel, a middle-grade that is now in a drawer. 

I had fallen in love with children’s lit all over again and though I played around with adult stuff, I decided that I wanted my focus to be on writing for teens (and adults like myself who love YA). I have a theatre degree and was a director for a while in LA (my husband and I had a theatre company for a few years), so I’ve always been interested in telling stories—I just had to find the way that worked best for me.

Your Young Adult novel, Something Real (Henry Holt & Co. 17.99), was released this Tuesday! Congratulations. What is it about? 

It’s about a girl who’s on a Jon and Kate Plus 8 kind of reality show and she’s dying to get off it. But it’s also about those things from adolescence we can all relate to: trying to figure out who you are, learning to assert yourself, discovering independence, and making tough choices. And romance. There’s always gotta be some romance.

You graduated from Clovis High in 2001. I live in Reedley. I love the Central Valley. How has living here influenced your writing? 

Both of my Macmillan books are set in the Central Valley (the second book is a YA contemporary that comes out next winter). I keep coming back to the Valley for my writing because that’s where I went to high school, so I associate it with coming-of-age. It’s also a place where you can have a small town feel that isn’t in the South. It allows me to tell intimate stories.

I'll be honest. I love watching a couple of TLC's reality shows like '19 Kids and Counting,' but some of the shows out there are pretty wild (and painful) to see. What's your take on reality TV, since it served as the inspiration for your novel? 

Reality TV is something I’ve just never gotten into. There are a couple of reasons: for one, I was living in the Ukraine when Survivor came out, so I missed that first love affair America had with reality TV. I always felt like I was on the outside looking in when it came to this phenomenon. 

As a former actor, I also was never drawn to it because I was most interested in fiction and telling stories through an artistic medium. I know a lot of people love reality TV and I can see why it’s so fascinating, I really can. Ultimately, though, I have to say that I really have a problem with kids being on reality TV. Soapbox time: I question whether kids on TV can have willful knowledge of what they’re signing up for, even if they tell their parents they want to do it. I can’t imagine how it is a healthy way for a child to grow up and I worry about how this will affect their lives down the road. 

Obviously every family makes the choices they think are best for their particular situation and dynamic. I’m not a child psychologist or social worker, but I can’t see how having an Orwellian childhood is the best thing for someone. I also think there might be some violations in terms of labor practices. These kids should all be in a union that is watching out for them and making sure they are—as individuals—getting paid for the work they do and ensuring that they are not working more hours than is legal. Because, make no mistake, kids on reality TV have full-time jobs, whether they know it or not.

Tell me a little bit about your journey to becoming a published author. How did you get from point A to point B? 

More like Point A to Point Z! It’s a very long process that requires the ability to keep your dream alive despite lots of setbacks and rejections. I’ve been very fortunate in that I have a really supportive husband and I don’t have children yet. This means I had a lot of time to work on my craft, to learn the business, and to write a whole lot of words. 

Now I’m a full-time writer, but I only quit my day job after I had five books under contract (none of them had been published yet when I quit my job—Something Real is my debut novel). Everyone’s story is different, but for me, the ball really started to roll in winter 2012. I received a PEN award for Something Real, had an editorial internship at Candlewick, and had done quite a bit of networking through my master’s program (I will be getting my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults this July from Vermont College of Fine Arts). So it all came together—I knew I had the book and so I was able to get an agent and things sort of flew from there on.

So many people dream of becoming published authors. What is your advice to young writers who aspire to reach this goal? 

Do the work. Do it every day. It will be bad, but know it will get better. You have to read a TON and work on your craft. Not only do you need an original idea, it needs to be executed very, very well. Yes, there are those books that are successful that are not all that good from a craft perspective, but there are a lot of factors that are taken into consideration when a publisher chooses a book. 

Be the best writer you can be and don’t give up. You’ll probably have to make some tough choices—I rarely go out, I worked part time for a long time (which meant less money and other sacrifices) and I made myself write every day, no matter what. Then when you’re ready, go in swinging.  

Okay, here's a fun question. What do you do with your downtime, just for fun? 

Downtime? What downtime? No, but seriously, I don’t have much of that, especially since I’m still in school and authors have to take care of so much of their own marketing now. I have a fantasy trilogy coming out from HarperCollins and the first book, Exquisite Captive, is out this October, so the deadlines are piling up. 

I try to sit down and watch a TV show each night with my husband after he gets home from work (we’re really into Breaking Bad right now). Reading is my biggest love and I get to kill two birds when I do it, since I have so much reading for my MFA. I’ve lived in NYC since August, so I try to go out once on the weekend because I live in the most amazing city on Earth, so it’d be a shame if I spent it in my office all the time.

Thank you so much for your time. I hope you have nothing but epic success in your writing endeavors. 

About the Author 
Heather Demetrios, originally from Los Angeles, now lives in Brooklyn and various imaginary locales. She is the recipient of a PEN New England Discovery Award for her debut YA novel about reality TV “stardom,”SOMETHING REAL (Macmillan/Henry Holt), and is the author of the upcoming EXQUISITE CAPTIVE, a smoldering fantasy about jinn in Los Angeles (#1 in the DARK CARAVAN fantasy trilogy from HarperCollins/Balzer+Bray), both out in 2014. She is currently working on her second novel for Macmillan, a love story about a young combat veteran and a girl trapped in their small town, both struggling to escape the war at home. When she’s not hanging out with her characters, Heather is working on her MFA in writing for children and young adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts.
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Get fictional - it's fun! Thanks for stopping by, and I hope to see you again soon!