Monday, August 2, 2010

Author Interview with Anastasia Hopcus

To kick off the month of August, I'm starting off with my interview with Anastasia Hopcus author of the recently released Shadow Hills.

Hi Anastasia, tell us about yourself.

I live in Austin Texas and have lived there almost all my life, but I spent a few years in Los Angeles. I love to read, especially Young Adult paranormal, and I also spend a lot of time watching TV series on DVD. I'm a huge Buffy fan, but most recently I've been hooked on 30 Rock and The Office. Doing Sing Star karaoke with my friends is definitely one of my top ten favorite things to do.

Tell us your summary of Shadow Hills.

My novel, Shadow Hills, is a Young Adult mystery with a paranormal twist. After the death of her sister, my main character, Phe, has been having cryptic dreams, much like the ones her sister had before she died. Phe decides to go to Devenish Prep, the boarding school in Shadow Hills, Massachusetts that her sister mentioned in her last diary entry. But Phe soon realizes that the secrets of Shadow Hills are even darker than her own.

What inspired the story?

I saw a 60 Minutes episode on a gifted savant, and it started me thinking about what it would be like if an entire group of people possessed unusual intelligence and abilities. And this made me wonder about what an outsider would do if they stumbled across a group like this.

Was there ever a time when you felt like giving up? Why didn’t you?

I felt that way more than once. But the time when I felt the lowest was after I’d had several requests for my manuscript from good agents. This was, of course, very exciting, but in the end none of them offered representation. The let down felt even harsher because of how hopeful I’d been. But the absolute worst part was the vague responses that left me not knowing what was wrong about the book. Then I got a pretty blunt letter from one agent detailing the problems he had with my manuscript. I saw where he was coming from and that most of his criticisms were correct. But I also saw that it would take a great deal of revision to make Shadow Hills work. I was on the verge of just giving up and maybe starting something new. But then that particular agent happened to come to Austin, and he said he’d like to have coffee and discuss my writing. Though he was not interested in Shadow Hills, we had a great conversation about writing and he told me how much potential he saw in me. This really meant a lot, especially coming from an experienced agent like him. I went home energized and tackled the revision. Within a couple of months I had a manuscript that I was pleased with, and I sent Shadow Hills out again. And almost immediately my wonderful agent Meredith Kaffel called to say that she was interested in it.

What have you learned about promoting books in your publication journey? What worked well for you?

I learned so much that it would be hard to describe it all here. I was very fortunate to have a great group of fellow debut authors, the Tenners, who really believe in helping each other out. They introduced me to several bloggers, and of course the book blogging community is really at the core of promoting your books online. The bloggers are amazing people who are willing to do so much for books and authors. I can hardly believe how generous they are with their time. For me, getting advance reading copies to as many bloggers as I could was the most important part of promoting my book. I used bookmarks a lot; I thought they were the most efficient use of my promotional money, which was limited. The beautiful trailer of Shadow Hills that Vania of VLC made was another key element.

What was a waste?

I didn't really feel that anything I did was a waste. I think this is mostly because of the Tenners. The group of authors who had already debuted, told the authors still waiting what they had found the most and the least successful.

What are you working on next?

I'm not officially talking about that, but I will say that I'm spending a lot of time considering what might happen next at Devenish Prep. I have some intriguing questions to explore concerning Phe and Zach and their relationship, as well as their friends…and enemies.

What is your perfect writing situation?

I can’t be productive if I’m distracted so I like to have someplace quiet to write. I now have an office, but I often work on the couch in my living room---or even sitting on my bed with my laptop, just so long as there's no one around.

Do you have any pearls of wisdom for aspiring authors?

I'm afraid my answer here is always the same. You need to be persistent. You need to read a lot and analyze what you read. And, most importantly, you have to write.

What is your favorite book of all time?

I don't think I could choose one favorite book. I love too many. When I was a teen, my favorites were Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas and the Weetzie Bat series by Francesca Lia Block. I also liked The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I also enjoy funny amateur mysteries---Anne George's Southern Sisters series, for instance, is my favorite. More recently I have loved Shade by Jeri Smith-Ready and Shadowed Summer by Saundra Mitchell. (I’m seeing a title theme here: Shade, Shadowed Summer, Shadow Hills. I guess I must really like the dark and the letter S.)

What upcoming releases are you dying to get your hands on?

I have my hands on it, but I haven't had the time to read it yet---Beautiful Darkness by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. (Here I am again with loving the dark.) I managed to snag an ARC at BEA but I promised myself I wouldn’t start reading it until I finished all my work for the Shadow Hills debut. I knew as soon as I opened BD, I would be sucked in and utterly unable to get out. Unfortunately the work never really seems to come to an end. ;) Which is why Beautiful Darkness is still calling to me from my nightstand.

Tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.

Well, not many people know that I once got Trent Reznor's autograph. Nine Inch Nails was in Austin for a concert, and while my mother wouldn't let me go because I was too young, my best friend Katy and I happened to be staying at the Driskill Hotel in downtown Austin with my parents that weekend. It was right around Halloween, and there had been this cool Halloween party at the hotel the night before. We had seen several really exquisitely detailed costumes, including that really tall Grim Reaper from Scrooged (I loved that movie as a little kid). Anyway, the next morning as my mom and Katy and I were standing in the lobby waiting for my dad to check out, Trent Reznor came out of the elevator. I said excitedly, "Trent Reznor!" And if you've ever heard me speak, you know that I have a voice that could be heard all across the hotel lobby. He froze and gave us this sheepish little smile and nodded, knowing he'd been caught.
But I didn't realize it was really him. I thought it was a partygoer from the night before, still in costume as Trent Reznor. He was even wearing the same leather jacket he wore in the "Closer" video. So I just said his name as a kind of “Oh, I know what that costume is” remark. He stood there for a second, and when I didn’t say anything else, he started out of the lobby, looking a little puzzled. My mom asked me why I hadn't gone over to ask for his autograph, and that's when Katy and I realized that it was really him. So we took off running and caught up to him outside on the sidewalk. He was very nice and gave us both his autograph and we even got to meet his sweet golden retriever. Unfortunately, years later, my dad found this scrap of paper inside the fireproof safe that he and my mom kept important documents in. And of course my dad, who likes everything neat and clean, didn’t recognize that the scribble there was one of my most cherished possessions (which is why I put it in the safe in the first place) and he threw the autograph away. It’s still a little painful for me to even write out that part of the story, though I’ve (mostly) forgiven my dad.

Thanks Anastasia for taking the time to answer my questions!
For more on Anastasia you can visit her on her website or on her blog. And be sure to check out Shadow Hills! It's on my 2010 Debut Author Challenge list and I can't wait to read it!
Happy Monday everyone!


Melissa said...

This is a great interview! I always like your interviews Renae and this author sounds really interesting. I really want to read Shadow HIlls and I'm a bit in love with her cover.

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

Great interview, Renae. Looking forward to reading SHADOW HILLS now. :)

Adventures in Children's Publishing said...

Yay, I was looking forward to this interview! I just finished Shadow Hills and loved it. I loved that Anastasia made the character Phe proactive. It was so intriguing to read, as she pursued answers toward her goal. Anastasia's twists were great and I was unsure about the nature of many of the characters right up until the end. The book definitely opened itself up to another book and I can't wait!

Thanks Renae for posting this and thanks Anastasia for the interview!


Anonymous said...

Great interview. I'll check to see if Shadow Hills is on my wish list.