Name: Sonia Hartl
Author of: Have a Little Faith in Me (Coming from Page Street, Fall 2019)
From: Grand Rapids, MI
Can you tell me about the first piece you remember writing?
The first thing I wrote was a book about penguins in the first grade for a school project, but I began writing more frequently in junior high, mostly poetry and short ghost stories.
When did you first realize you wanted to pursue writing as a profession?
It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I started out majoring in creative writing in college and had a huge stash of poetry and short stories I’d written over the years. I didn’t write my first novel until 2005 though (I was 25) because a lot of fear and self-doubt kept me back. My first novel started as a short story, but it begged to be longer, and one day I just sat down and forced myself to try.
Is there anyone who went out of their way to help or advise you during your journey to become a published author?
So many people. The writing community is amazingly supportive and helpful to newer writers just starting to find their way. Dannie Morin picked my manuscript for Pitch Wars in 2013 and changed everything for me. She taught me so much about plot, character arcs, organic dialogue, evocative narrative, all the things I needed to take my writing to the next level. I also met my long-time CP Jen Hawkins on the Pitch Wars Twitter feed while we were both hopefuls and she has been a constant source of support and wisdom over the years. And my agent Rebecca Podos is the best. She’s always encouraged me while pushing my writing to the next level, she’s truly my partner in this business in every sense of the word.
Do you exclusively write contemporary YA (young adult) or have you written in other genres?
I mostly write contemporary YA, but I’ve written in a few other genres and categories. My first manuscript was an adult dystopian, my second a YA ghost story, my third a NA romantic suspense, fourth and fifth were YA contemporary, sixth was a YA mystery, and seventh was HAVE A LITTLE FAITH IN ME, which is a YA contemporary.
What is your schedule like when you’re writing a book? Is it difficult to achieve a work, life, write balance?
When I’m drafting I try to squeeze at least two hours of writing time in a night, and if I’m really into what I’m drafting, I’ll write up to ten hours a day on the weekend. The work, life, write balance is tricky, but I’m fortunate to work at a job that gives me a reasonable amount of vacation and my family is really supportive. Most of my writing time is crammed into the two hours I have free at the end of the night though, usually from ten to midnight.
How long does it generally take you to write a first draft? How long do you spend on revisions?
That varies so widely from manuscript to manuscript. I had one take six months to draft and a year and a half to revise, and I had another that took a week to draft and two weeks to revise. Both of those are the exceptions though. I’d say average, it takes me about one to two months to draft and about two to three months to revise.
Can you describe the preparation/research you do for each book?
It definitely depends on how knowledgeable I am about the story I’m going to tell. I’m a big fan of immersive settings that tend to have their own set of rules and norms, so that requires a certain amount of research to write well. I’ve done everything from spending hours reading blogs on certain subjects, to hiring experts to read over my manuscripts for accuracy.
Do you have any quirky writing habits (the things you’d never want anyone to know)?
I don’t know if this is quirky or not, but I have dozens of first chapters for different stories in my Dropbox. I’ll sometimes write five first chapters for five different premises before I find one I want to progress to chapter two with.
Have you ever done a literary pilgrimage—or any interesting research—for your novels? If not, do you have a research destination bucket list?
No, but I’d love to have an excuse to visit Ireland or Italy. I did set one manuscript on a remote island off the coast of Boston, and I’ve been to Boston, but I’m not sure if that counts. I’d really love to visit a small town with a quirky festival that the whole town puts their hearts into and write a story based on that.
Inspiration comes in many forms. Can you recall the exact moment of inspiration for each of your projects?
A lot of my inspiration comes from things I’m feeling strongly about at a particular time. I tend to create stories based around settings I’m curious about or obsessed with researching, and pair them with themes I’m passionate about diving into and subverting. I wouldn’t say there is an exact moment I’m hit with inspiration, but it’s more a slow growing interest that I need to write when I get to the point where I can’t stop thinking about it
Do you have a specific genre you prefer to read? What are your favorites?
I mostly read YA contemporary, because that’s what I write, but I’m also a huge fan of YA thrillers/mysteries. I also occasionally enjoy contemporary fantasy, romance, and sci-fi, and historical. I’ll read across all genres and categories, as long as it’s a good story and can hold my attention.
Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find or know the real inspiration for?
Absolutely. I think all writers do.
Are your characters inspired—in part or whole—by people in your real life?
No, all my characters exist solely in my head.
Name one book you think is entirely underappreciated.
LUCKY FEW by Kathryn Ormsbee is so criminally underappreciated. It was such a fun, warm contemporary, and it’s one of those books that just makes you feel happy while reading it.
Name one book that was a guilty pleasure.
I’d say maybe any book in Nora Roberts’ trilogies, but I don’t feel guilty about it, lol.
Be honest: Do you Google yourself?
Not right now, there probably isn’t much to Google, but I might after my book is released. Just out of curiosity.
As a writer, which animal would you choose as your mascot/avatar/patronus?
Probably a penguin, for no other reason than I really like them.
Is there one thing you think you, as a writer, should be better at, but secretly struggle with?
Pacing. I’m constantly second-guessing and doubting my plot points and if they have enough impact to keep the reader turning the pages.
What is one word of advice you’d give to an aspiring writer?
Keep going. It feels like the climb is so uphill and the odds are so long, but if you keep going, keep learning, and improving your craft, you will get where you need to be in your own time.
What is one word of advice you’d give to a newly published author?
I’m in the same boat, but maybe try to enjoy the ride. There is a lot about publishing that is completely out of our hands, so try to enjoy the things you can control.
In what ways do you “pay it forward” to help other aspiring writers?
I would say the biggest way is being a Pitch Wars mentor. I’ve been a mentor since 2015, and it is absolutely the most rewarding way to give back to the writing community. As a former mentee, I know how much it meant to me to be given the opportunity to learn from someone who was a few steps ahead of me on the journey. Being able to do that for someone else means the world to me.
Would you like to find out more about Sonia?
Have a Little Faith in Me
(Coming Fall 2019 from Page Street)
When CeCe’s born-again boyfriend dumps her after they have sex, she follows him to Jesus camp to win him back, though she knows nothing about Christianity. But when he shows up with a new girlfriend—a True Believer—she must face the truth about her feelings, and about the night she lost her virginity. Publication is set for fall 2019
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