Thursday, February 13, 2014

International Best-Selling YA Author Cantrell on Writing a Sequel

Julie Cantrell
I met award-winning young adult author Julie Cantrell while writing for Southern Literary Review when she was managing editor. Since then, Cantrell has received two Christy Awards (Debut Novel of the Year and Book of the Year) for her novel Into the Free, as well as the Mississippi Library Association Fiction Award. The novel is also one of five finalists for the University of Mississippi community reads selection.

The story also became a New York Times and USA Today bestseller, and an international bestseller, thanks to its Dutch readers. After strong reader support, the sequel, When Mountains Move, has hit shelves. Here, Cantrell describes how she conceived of and developed the new novel.

How did the idea for the new novel arise?
When the debut novel, Into the Free, went through edits, we cut a lot from the ending. I always wanted to tell more of Millie’s story, and I’m grateful the publisher gave me an entire second book to explore the next phase of her life. I’ve enjoyed seeing what happened next for Millie, and I hope readers will, too.

In what ways did writing this latest novel differ from writing your first one?
When I wrote the first book, I never intended to show it to anyone. So I was completely free to write without any fears or limitations. It was a beautiful creative experience. Of course, we went through major edits with it, but the original draft was born without those concerns.
With the sequel, I had a tight deadline and the added pressure of following the debut novel without letting down those readers. When I found myself worrying about reader expectations, future reviews, marketing plans, etc., I would try to take a step back and remind myself to enter that artistic space again, as I had with the first one, and to leave the rest of the details out of my mind frame. It was easier some days than others, but I did try not to let any of those concerns affect the process of putting the story on the page.
What advice would you give to aspiring novelists?
Try to write without ever thinking about who might read it, how they might react, or whether the book will be successful in terms of sales figures, reviews, etc. Write as if no one will ever read it. I believe that may be the only way to dig down deep enough to write with raw honesty, and that applies to fiction, too. I mean, even if you aren’t writing about your life or the way you see the world, you still have to be able to write honestly about the character’s life (lives), without worrying that you might offend someone or break a conventional social rule, etc. That’s the beauty of any form of art … you can bypass all the norms we live by in the real world, and just let your brain have some fun.
For more on Julie and her work, visit Julie Cantrell, as well as Into the Free and When Mountains Move.

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