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Author Tales: Abby McDonald

Abby McDonald is the author for this Thursday's Author Tales. Abby is the author of Sophomore Switch, which was released March 10, 2009. You can learn more about Sophomore Switch at the book's website!

Can you tell us a little bit more about Sophomore Switch?

The book follows two college sophomores who trade places for a semester abroad. Emily is a type-A Oxford student (trying to escape a bad breakup), and Tasha is a Californian party girl (fleeing the scandal from 'the hot-tub incident'), so you can imagine what kind of trouble it causes when they arrive in each other's worlds!

What kind of real life experiences from your stay in Oxford did you relay in Sophomore Switch?

Well, it was a lot of fun building the world that I experienced there:all the amazing old buildings, cobbled streets, and dusty libraries.Oxford can be a magical place (especially the buildings they used for the Harry Potter movie!), but I also used some of the less-fun elements: the class and privilege issues, the incredible academic pressure, and the archaic traditions that made Tasha feel like such an outsider. My time there had both highs and lows, and I think that comes across in Tasha's experiences.

How is writing a novel different from journalism? How is it the same? Which do you like better?

Hmmm, one of the differences is time: my deadlines in journalism have always been one, two weeks at most, whereas I can (thankfully) take months over my books. Also when I'm writing an article, I use my own 'voice' and arguments, but in my YA, I'm taking on a character's voice in first person, so I think much more about their way of thinking/speaking, and all their quirks.

I enjoy both ways of doing things for different reasons: with my journalism, (which I don't have so much time for anymore!) I'm conveying my own opinions, talking about a specific topic... almost trying to convince the reader I'm right. For fiction, the challenge is creating a version of reality that will completely captivate my reader. I love the creativity of that, and how much fun it is to invent these characters.

What is a typical writing day for you?

Ack. There really is no typical day! Because I'm on two different contracts (I also write adult novels), there's always something new to handle: I could be doing copy-edits on one book, outlining for another, or writing those dreaded first drafts. Plus, now that I have one book on shelves, and another coming in Fall, there's all kinds of promo activities in the mix too. But, I will say that I like to work in blocks of time: I'll do 2 or 3 solid hours of writing in the morning, and then use the afternoon for research, or promo stuff, or even a nap :) Then, I'll often do another few hours later at night,sometimes until midnight or 1am. Of course, when I have a deadline,all bets are off.

What was your road to publication like?

Long, and bumpy! I started out writing adult novels, kind of chick-lit stuff. I finished my first book when I was 19, and got an agent, but it never went further than that. After graduating, I decided to try my hand at YA as well, and started an Oxford-based idea. That didn't sell, but it planted the seeds for Sophomore Switch... But this was the book that was meant to work out, because once I had the proposal for Sophomore Switch together, everything happened unbelievably fast:I had agent offers within the week, signed with Rosemary (Stimola),and then she turned around and sold it to Candlewick over the weekend!So, on the one hand, Sophomore Switch's road to publication was done in 3 weeks, but it was about 5 years in the making, from when I first seriously started writing.

Who are some of your favorite YA authors?

I'm reading YA pretty much exclusively right now :) I love E Lockhart,Polly Shulman, Siobhan Vivian, Maureen Johnson... Oh, and Michele Jaffe: I read her 'Bad Kitty' on a long train ride and kept laughing out loud!

Did you consciously choose to write for Young Adults?

Yes! I had some friends who were writing YA, and they suggested I give it a try while my adult stuff was still hitting a brick wall. The YA market in the US is amazing, much more diverse that what I'd seen in the UK, and it was a lot of fun reading around and realizing how much potential there was.

Who are some of the musical artists you've interviewed? Who was your favorite?

I've interviewed a bunch of people: Marilyn Manson, Sheryl Crow,Maroon 5, LeAnn Rimes, as well as less well-known indie and Britishacts. Maroon 5 were my first big job-- we hung out backstage drinking champagne in the middle of the afternoon, and I felt so wide-eyed and star-struck! That faded pretty soon: you get kind of jaded after awhile. My favorites would have to be the Kings of Leon. We talked about John Hughes movies and country music the whole time, and they were lovely, really cool guys.

Are you working on any novels now? Can you tell us a little bit about it?

I'm busy writing the follow-up to Sophomore Switch, called BOYS, BEARS& A SERIOUS PAIR OF HIKING BOOTS. It's not a sequel! The book is about Jenna, a 'Green Teen' environmentalist who jumps at the chance to spend the summer in the wilds of Western Canada. But, she finds that life in Stillwater BC (population, 622 and once grouchy moose) isn't anything like she expected, and she winds up using an old survival manual to keep her social life alive.

What do you want readers to take away from Sophomore Switch? Is there a lesson to be learned?

I guess the main thing that the characters learn is that it's good to shake things up sometimes, to give yourself a chance to try different things and be a different person. Also, there are some feminist themes running through the book, to do with social and media pressures around sex and hook-up culture, and I'd love for my readers to go away thinking about feminism as something relevant and important in their lives.

Thanks Abby! Abby was nice enough to donate a copy of Sophomore Switch for a giveaway! If you'd like to be entered to win, leave a comment on this post. Contest open to U.S. residents only. Deadline is April 9, 2009! Good luck!

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Author Tales: Abby McDonald + novel