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Author & Editor Teams: Editing a Contemporary Novel with Kate Farrell

Ever been curious about editor/author relationships? Editor Kate Farrell teamed up with Heather Demetrios, author of Something RealI'll Meet You There, and Bad Romance, to answer some burning questions about putting the finishing touches on realistic stories and avoiding some of the most common pitfalls contemporary authors face. And if you missed Kate's questions for Heather on Friday, catch up here.

bad romance coverHeather Demetrios (HD): What is the most rewarding part of editing contemporary YA? 

Kate Farrell (KF): The most rewarding part for me is getting to do it at all. I mean, I get paid to find books that I love, then work with the authors on making them as good as they can possibly be. Even though I’ve been at it for a pretty long time, sometimes I can’t believe this is a legit job. I really lucked out. And contemporary YA is my happy place. I love how Heather describes the “tumult and potential and hope and despair” of being young. It’s so true! I still feel so closely connected to the intensity of feelings of my teen years, and finding an author like Heather who can put those feelings on the page the way she does—that just feeds my soul. I do read adult books about middle-aged people and their troubled marriages and all that, and I can enjoy them and discuss them with other adults, but I never feel them the way I do a book like Bad Romance. I want books that make my heart swell, and that’s what I get to work on every day.

HD: What is the most challenging part of editing contemporary YA?

Sometimes it can be challenging when editing contemporary YA to make sure things really feel contemporary. Many of the authors that I work with are drawing on their own memories of being a teen when they write, and that’s a great thing. I think emotional authenticity is everything. But being a teen today is different from being one even ten years ago, in large part because of technology. So writers (and editors!) of contemporary YA need to tread this difficult line of deciding how much technology to include in their characters’ lives. Heather, you seem to do this very easily, but it can be tricky.

HD: What advice do you have for writers interested in writing contemporary YA? 

KF: I’d say read. Read everything! Yes, read contemporary YA, but read all kinds of other stuff too. Read widely and voraciously. Read everything that interests you. I’d worry that if you are focusing too intently on reading contemporary YA, when that’s what you want to write, you might get caught up in comparing yourself to other writers, or thinking too much about what is succeeding in the marketplace right now. Don’t think about any of that. And beyond reading, go out in the world and soak up art of all kinds. Mess around on the internet, following the trails of your interest wherever they may lead. You want to write the book that only you could write (and I want to read it!), so indulge yourself in all the things you love. Then write something. And keep at it, even if what you write is garbage. You’ll get better if you work at it.

HD: Can you describe the editing process?

KF: The editing process is different for every book. I think that’s one of the pleasures of being an editor actually. I adjust myself to each of my authors, finding the methods that will (I hope) work best for that person. For Bad Romance, as Heather has described, we went from working on a memoir to working on a novel, which was very freeing in terms of thinking about story structure and character arcs. But teasing those out was a delicate process because at its heart Bad Romance was an intensely personal story for Heather. I was very aware of that in each back and forth we had. Heather worked her ass (can I say ass?) off and she takes feedback on board in a way that is an editor’s dream. 

HD: Kate, I know you were a total badass as a teen (don’t deny it—I’ve seen pictures!). Describe a perfect night as Teen Kate.

KF: Ha ha! Well, I grew up in LA, in the eighties. I was really into punk rock, through which I met some truly wonderful friends. We’d all pile into the VW bus driven by my friend’s older brother and go see shows. That was the best. My friends had a zine they put out, so sometimes they’d interview the bands we went to see. Everyone was taking photos and making art and writing and that was really inspiring to me. I’d mostly been focused on hoping I looked cool and that guys thought I was cute before that, so it was a great improvement to have my horizons widened that way.

HD: If you weren’t an editor, what would you be?

KF: My fantasy alternative career is to be a perfumer. I’m kind of obsessed with perfume, and I always have been if I think about it. I remember every perfume that I’ve ever worn, and all the perfumes other people wore. And I love reading about perfume too. For anyone out there who might be similarly inclined, you have to subscribe to The Dry Down, a newsletter by Helena Fitzgerald and Rachel Syme. The writing is SO GOOD. I’d love to make a Bad Romance inspired perfume. Dark, dangerous, sexy, with some decay at the center of it, but an ultimately triumphant finish. That would be a good one.

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