Friday, April 20, 2012

Chatting with YA Author Brigid Kemmerer

I’ve never met agent sister Brigid Kemmerer in person, but after interviewing her for The Paper Wait, I feel like I’ve had a virtual cup of coffee with her! Brigid is the author of the Elemental series. The first book Storm is due out Tuesday, April 24th. If that’s too long a wait for you, the awesome prequel, Elemental, is available for download NOW. Last week she took time out of her busy schedule to chat with me about craft.  

Four brothers who can control the elements – how cool is that! How did you get the idea for the Elemental Series?

The first novel I wrote in high school was about four vampire brothers, named Michael, Nicholas, Gabriel, and Christopher. It was a silly story, but I still have most of it on paper. In my twenties, when I really began to take writing seriously, I wrote a few books but was unable to find a literary agent or a publisher. I couldn’t get those four brothers out of my head – but I didn’t want to do vampires again. I started tossing around ideas that would work with the number four. Four horsemen of the apocalypse. Four leaf clovers. Four, four, four. The four elements of earth, air, fire, and water seemed to work best—and I had a lot of ideas how I could make it fun. What teenagers wouldn’t want to be able to control the elements?

Did you originally set out to write a series or is that something that came after you began writing?

I love discovering new series, so I wrote the book with the hope that I’d be able to write more—and luckily Kensington chose to buy three! Storm is out on April 24, Spark will be released on August 24, and Spirit is scheduled for early next summer. When I originally started the series, I planned on having the books follow Becca’s point of view all the way through, much like Bella in Twilight or Katniss in The Hunger Games. I’d even written half of Storm entirely from Becca’s point of view. But then I realized I was selling the brothers short, that they should each get a chance to tell their story. I went back and rewrote the first half of Storm to include Chris’s side of things, and it just developed organically from there.

In regards to the prequel, Elemental, I actually wrote that after Storm was completely finished, and I was halfway through Spark. There’s a lot of reference to an event five years before the events in Storm, and the short story came together easily.

What inspires you to write – do you start with characters or plot?

Characters! Wait. And plot! No, seriously. I think one of the greatest writing mistakes is starting with a scenario instead of a plot. (I used to do that all the time, and my books ended up long and rambling.) Starting with a scenario is easy: it’s like coming home and saying to your spouse, “I stopped off at the grocery store, but armed men jumped out of the freezer aisle.”

Instant conflict, instant excitement. But if you don’t start the story knowing what those armed men want, and how the story is going to ultimately resolve itself, you’ll spend 400 pages floundering around trying to figure out your plot. That’s what I had to make myself do with Storm. I knew what the ultimate conflict was going to be, and I kept my eye on the ball the whole time. That’s when I finally sold a novel.

What have you learned on your road to publication?

Wow. So many things that it’s hard to think of them all. There’s definitely a learning curve to this whole process.

Top two:

1) Keep your eyes on your own paper. Someone else said this to me, and it’s so true. It’s very easy to get wrapped up in what everyone else is doing, and it’s human nature. There’s always someone with a bigger deal, a bigger book, a bigger fan base.

2) Once you’re a published author, you’re more than just you. Everything you say online is a reflection of your brand—and it’s permanent. That’s not to say you can’t use profanity or talk about risqué topics, but I have to remember that it’s not just a handful of people reading my posts anymore. There are teenagers and teachers and librarians and editors and readers and writers and whole lists of people I don’t even know. I made a flippant comment to a friend on Facebook that was totally misinterpreted by someone I’ve never even met. Now that Facebook has the news feed on the right hand side (and now that non-friends can subscribe to your updates), Facebook is every bit as public as Twitter. I love social media (please follow me @BrigidKemmerer! I love new friends!), but I always have to remind myself how things might come across.

That’s a really great point, and I think one easily forgotten. How long did it take you to get to this stage of your writing career?

It took a long time. I once read a John Grisham (I think) interview where the interviewer said, “How does it feel to be an overnight success?” And he responded, “It’s only overnight to you. For me, it took ten years.”

I wrote in high school, but it wasn’t until I was in my late twenties that I finally got it into my head to research publication and find an agent. Even then, my first book never got picked up. I had a paranormal romance about the son of Apollo running a music store in downtown Baltimore called A Wicked Little Rhythm, which landed me an agent in August 2009. I was over the moon, thinking it would sell right away. It didn’t. By March of 2010, I’d started Storm, and it sold in February 2011. Writing is not a “get rich quick” scheme.

Haha – so true! How do you juggle your family/work responsibilities with writing time? Do you have a specific routine? Word count?

My husband would read this question and laugh hysterically. I have a family and a full time job on top of this writing gig. I write in the middle of the night sometimes, or early in the morning. I’m not good at catching a random hour here or there—I need a solid block of time to get anything productive done. If I only have a half hour, I’ll back-edit. I don’t write draft after draft, I constantly revise, so when I get to the end, it’s done. I also keep an open file where I add notes (i.e., “Go back and add foreshadowing about …”), then cross them out once they’ve been done. I also keep a timeline in the same file and add notes where I need to make changes. This was especially helpful while writing Spark, because I have numerous house fires, and it started getting hard to keep track of what day things happened.

For word count goals, I’ve been trying to write 7,000 words a week. But that doesn’t always happen, and I’m okay with that.

Do you think it’s important for an author to work with an agent?

My agent gives great editorial advice, and when my first agented novel didn’t sell, she really helped me get Storm to a saleable place. She also had several publishers interested, which turned into an auction, and I ended up with a much better deal than the first offer. People harp on that 15% sometimes, but I think having the right agent is worth every penny.

What part of the writing process do you like the best?

There’s a great quote: “I don’t like writing. I like having written.” That says it all right there. I love telling stories. I don’t mind revisions at all, because the story is done.

I love that quote! Any books from childhood that particularly inspired you to be a writer?

I loved Christopher Pike and L. J. Smith when I was a kid. Christopher Pike had a great book called Master of Murder about a teenager who was secretly a bestselling YA author, and all his friends at school were shocked it was him. I loved that one. All his books are great. He wasn’t afraid to be edgy and dark.

Any advice for aspiring authors?

Keep writing! Don’t give up! I know, I know, it sounds trite. When I go back and read the first novel I started submitting to agents, I want to change my name and enter the witness protection program. I cringe and think, “You sent that out???” But it’s true. I think writers should beta read for strangers on the internet as much as they can, because it helps you develop a keen eye for editing. I learned so much from reading other people’s writing.

A very heartfelt thanks, Brigid! Good luck with the Elemental series and beyond!!


  1. Congratulations, Brigid! Sounds as though you worked hard to earn this success.
    I especially liked your answer about scenario vs. plot. Yes, setting up a situation is easy, but fleshing out the reasons for the action is so much harder. As Vonnegut famously said, "Every character has to want something, even if it's only a drink of water."

  2. Brigid - I can't wait to read each book!

    And your points on plot are a great reminder to us all to begin with a complete idea, not just a scenario.


  3. Wow! Great interview! Thanks Brigid and Robin!

    Brigid, your series sounds really interesting! Looking forward to reading it!

  4. Great interview! Thanks for the advice and encouragement Brigid -- it's very welcome. I really appreciate the scenario versus 'plot/what a character wants' approach. I have gotten stuck in scenario spinning without heading towards a real finish line. You remind me that I have to and can fix it.

    Congratulations and good luck with the series! I look forward to reading it.

  5. Great interview. Thanks for sharing. I think this series is one to find and read!

    Linda A.

  6. I've re-read this post a few times because this interview is so helpful and encouraging. I love the 'overnight success' quote!
    It is always useful for me to understand other writer's work process, including word count goals, agenting, and the dedication required in managing writing and other responsibilities.
    I also appreciate your honesty, Brigid, in sharing your cringing realization about the quality of early efforts. It's so true! Critique groups are a must.

    Thanks again and wishing you the best of luck with the series.

  7. Also loved the social media advice -- how published authors have to deal with a different following on social media. The Onion has a great piece right now about how no one is eligible to run for President in 2040 because of what they are putting on Facebook today. You never know who is reading about you online!