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Interview with YA author Deborah Kerbel

I met Deborah Kerbel through the Toronto Area MG/YA Author Group, which was founded by Claudia Osmond via Twitter. Deborah’s a cheerful, witty and dedicated YA writer who is the author of several books for young people including Girl on the Other Side, which was nominated for the  Canadian Library Association Young Adult Book Award. Her newest book, Lure, is due out from Dundurn Press this September.

You can find out more about Deborah Kerbel and her work at Meanwhile, Deborah was kind enough to answer some questions for me…

Q – How long have you been writing? 

A – Not very long in the grand scheme of things. I really started writing creatively about 10 years ago. But my father is an author as well, so ink has probably been flowing steadily through my blood since birth. 

Q – How did you make your first sale? 

A – My first sale was huge! I was just starting out as a writer and my agent sold my (as yet un-written) series of four MG novels to a European book-club publisher with plans to translate the series into three different languages and a first print run of 40,000 copies for each book.

Exciting, huh?

Well, as it turned out, not so much. By the time I finished writing the final book in the series, the publisher was encountering financial difficulties and was shutting down their book clubs. In the end, only the first book in the series saw publication (in Germany). The other three books never saw the light of day. But still, I think of it was a hugely valuable experience – basically I got paid to write my first 4 practice novels.

Q – What is your typical writing day like?

A – My typical day is a crazy patchwork of small writing spurts. I’m the mother of two little kids so I really have to write whenever I can grab some quiet time. Half an hour here, an hour there – I take the time wherever I can find it (and there’s never enough). Lately, nights have been very productive for me – after my kids are in bed, the house gets quiet and I can hear myself think.  

Q – How much research did you have to do for Mackenzie, Lost and Found, which is set in the Middle East?

A – This book needed a LOT of research since it was completely set in a part of the world I had never seen. Luckily for me, I have a good friend who, like Mackenzie, had moved to Israel as a teenager. She was my main source of information. We went through her photo albums and I grilled her for details – from everything to the feel of the air in Tel Aviv, to sneaking into the hotel pools, to the smell of the markets in the souk. She was a fabulous resource.

And then when I was in the editing stage of the manuscript, I was given the opportunity to visit Israel and travel to most of the places that are in my book (Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Tiberias) which helped me put the final pieces of the research together and allowed me to really personalize the story to my own experience.

Q – How much outlining do you do?

A – I like to outline – it’s my nature to know where I’m headed before I walk out the door. But the amount of outlining I end up doing definitely depends on the book I’m writing. My next YA novel, Lure, was outlined from start to finish – chapter by chapter – before I wrote a word. But I don’t always work that way – for Girl on the Other Side, I had no outline, no plot, and not much of a premise – just two strong characters with very distinct voices. I let them loose on the page and they took the lead and surprised me with the story. I love it when that happens – it’s truly the magic of writing!

Q – How much time do you spend promoting your books?

A -Some days, not enough – other days, too much. It all depends on where I am in the writing process and if I have a new book coming out. Last spring, I spent weeks organizing a Canada/U.S. blog tour’ to promote Mackenzie, Lost and Found. Although it sucked away lots of valuable writing time, it was fun and it got the word out about me and my book which is the most important thing. As Cory Doctorow has said, the biggest problem for writers is obscurity.  

Q – How useful have you found online social networks like Twitter? 

A – Well, let me put it this way – if it weren’t for Twitter, I wouldn’t be doing this interview. Twitter and Facebook have been incredibly useful for learning about this industry, getting to know other people in the business, and of course, promoting my work.  

There’s a huge community of editors, agents, writers, publishers, and book reviewers who are putting themselves out there on a daily basis and I really believe that it’s a mistake not to make use of this kind of accessibility (especially for people who are starting out it this business). Writing is probably the most solitary profession in the world and so the need to stay connected to your colleagues and peers is vital.  

Q – What are your current/upcoming projects?

A – My next YA novel, Lure, is scheduled for release in September, 2010 and it’s a giant departure from anything I’ve written before.  Lure is a ghost story set partly in the present day and partly in the late 1800s and it’s based on a real haunted house near where I live. 

I also have another YA manuscript that I’ve just finished called Bye-Bye, Evil Eye and — I don’t even know the right way to describe it – it’s kind of a paranomalish mystery, comedy, romance about the Evil Eye. LOL – did that make any sense?  

And in between novels, I love to play around with writing picture books. My kids are still at that magical stage, so new book ideas for their age group come to me literally by the hour. Hopefully, I’ll get one of them published soon.

For more insights from book creators, see my Inkygirl Interview Archives and Advice For Young Writers And Illustrators From Book Creators.