Interview with “The Last Sister” author Courtney McKinney-Whitaker (Part 1)

courtneypic_1You know how people claim to have success in meeting their spouses online? Well, I have great success meeting my writing buddies online.

I met Courtney through a great website called Corsets, Cutlasses and Candlesticks, a fun and engaging blog by a group of authors of kickass YA and MG historical fiction. Courtney was a guest blogger; I was (am) a constant commenter there; through that common interest, we followed each other on Twitter… I’m not saying it was an instant friendship, but yeah, we’ve bonded. She loves Alan Rickman, so we are friends for life.

I am excited and honored to be part of the launch of Courtney’s debut YA historical novel, “The Last Sister.” You can read my review on yesterday’s blog, and today, I’m going to post a portion of an interview I did with Courtney via email. A portion, because it’s long.

Now, Courtney and I are both writers. We’re both thinkers. And we have a lot in common. If you check out her posts on her blog, and my comments in response, you’ll see that they do go on. For a while. So what could have been a neat and tidy little interview that I wrapped up in under 800 words expanded into something bigger with some pretty interesting things going on. Courtney said “go ahead and cut it,” but I thought I would rather share more of it than less.

Today, since I’ve spent so much time setting this thing up, I’ll keep the interview short and focus just on the writing process questions. The rest of the week we’ll get into the historical and creative stuff. Come back for it! It’s awesome!

How long did it take you to write this novel, from initial idea to manuscript submitted to an agent or editor? Can you tell us a little about that journey?

I blogged about the total revision this story went through, from dystopian to historical fiction, back in May at Corsets, Cutlasses, and Candlesticks, so check out that post if you’re interested in what that process was like, what I did, and why I did it. I started writing the initial dystopian story in October 2010, because dystopian was really popular then, and I mainly wanted to prove to myself that I could finish a whole novel. I got the word that dystopian was overplayed and started revising the story, which I still really liked, into historical fiction in February 2012…and got the word that historical fiction is really hard to publish in the YA market—frankly, ball gowns seem to be a must, and there’s not much room for those on the frontier. I liked my story, so I decided to go with a smaller regional press instead of spending years banging on doors I could already tell weren’t going to open. It seemed like the right fit. Young Palmetto, a new children’s and YA imprint of the University of South Carolina Press, accepted the book in July 2013, and it has an October 2014 release date, so in total, 4 years, if you count both manuscripts, which I do because I never would have found the second story without going through the first one.

And Young Palmetto did a beautiful job with the finished product!

What was the hardest part of the process of taking your book from idea to manuscript to published book? What was the easiest part? What was the best part?

The hardest part of writing, for me—and I hope this changes someday, but I have a feeling it probably won’t—is getting out of my own way. I have serious confidence issues, which I’m not proud of, but there it is. I spend too much time thinking, “Am I wasting my time? Will anyone ever read this? Does everyone secretly think I’m an idiot?” And now, with social media, I spend too much time reading what everyone else (readers, editors, agents, other writers, librarians) thinks about writing, and that psyches me out, too, because of course they all have conflicting opinions. I need to learn to shut out the other voices, at least in the drafting stages.

I know this probably sounds weird, but the easiest part for me is being disciplined. I still procrastinate too much, but overall I don’t struggle with making myself do the work. I set goals, I modify them as necessary, I meet them.

The best part is getting to live somewhere else for a while, getting to time travel without the risk of catching smallpox. Writing a book, especially in the early stages, is like having my own secret world that I get to live in for as long as I’m working. That’s how I handle the “Will anybody ever read this?” question. I know my life would be so much poorer if I’d never lived in this story, if I’d never known these characters. I feel that way about that first dystopian novel I wrote, too. The work itself is worth it: it makes my life so much less boring.

I agree with so much of what you say here, Courtney. I think we all have to listen to what other people say, use what works and ignore everything else. That, and pretend. I did that every day when I was a lawyer. People thought I was so calm and confident; they had no idea what was really going on inside of me!

Please join Courtney and me tomorrow to talk about writing historical fiction, doing research, and what’s under all those skirts…

Courtney McKinney-Whitaker grew up in Greenville, SC and now lives in Peoria, IL with her husband, young daughter, dog/officemate/boss, and cat, where she is very good about working out and eating well and very bad about procrastinating and watching too much TV. Unable to stick to one genre like a good girl, Courtney just finished a young adult fairy tale based loosely on the Black Death and is considering returning to historical fiction with a companion to The Last Sister. As a writer who spends most of her workday alone, she loves (is desperate) to connect with other people: check out her website, her Goodreads page, or her Facebook page, or follow her on Twitter @courtneymckwhit.


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3 Responses to Interview with “The Last Sister” author Courtney McKinney-Whitaker (Part 1)

  1. courtneymck says:

    Hurray for long interviews! We are dangerous when no one gives us a word count…The funny thing is that my first drafts are always quite short, and then I go from there…

  2. Pingback: Interview with “The Last Sister” author Courtney McKinney-Whitaker (Part 2) | A Writer's Notepad

  3. Pingback: Interview with “The Last Sister” author Courtney McKinney-Whitaker (Part 3) | A Writer's Notepad

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