Merry Wanderer of the Night + weekend

Author Interview: Alexandra Bracken

Today I have an interview with up and coming author Alexandra Bracken. Her novel, Brightly Woven, debuts March 23. The short description of the novel from her website is, "Sydelle Mirabil is living proof that, with a single drop of rain, a life can be changed forever. Tucked away in the farthest reaches of the kingdom, her dusty village has suffered under the weight of a strangely persistent drought. That is, of course, until a wizard wanders into town and brings the rain with him." I haven't read her novel yet, though I plan to, so many of you might be wondering why I chose to interview her. Bracken is unique in that she was working on publishing her novel while she was still in college. She signed with an agent on her 21st birthday and after spending her senior year revising the novel her dream is finally coming true next week. How did she do it you might ask, and I think the work diligence pretty much sums up Bracken's story. I won't just leave it at that though, as follows you can read her answers to my questions about how she balanced school and writing and what path (or paths) she took to get there.

Where did you go to school, when did you graduate, and what did you go?
I went to the College of William and Mary, graduated last Spring, and majored in History and English

Did you start as an English major? What made you decide to become an English major?
When I was applying for schools, I focused on the Virginia area, mostly because I knew I wanted to study Early American History and I would freeze my butt off if I went to school in New England. I had always loved English, but my dad had convinced me to major in History and Government because he wanted me to be a lawyer. BIG mistake. I took one Government class and realized how stupid it was for me NOT to major in English--AKA the subject I really loved.

What were your plans for after graduation? How have those plans been fulfilled or how have they been different than you expected?
Originally, I was going the pre-law route (I'm sure you've all noticed that when you say you're an English major, most people assume that you want to be A) a lawyer or B) a teacher)... but I realized, in the middle of taking the LSAT unfortunately, that being a lawyer would make me MISERABLE, and spent all of the summer between Junior and Senior year moping around without a life plan. My next idea was to work in PR/Communications (which I definitely recommend), but I ended up getting a scholarship to attend the Columbia Publishing Institute and decided to take it. I now work as an editorial assistant in children's publishing. Looking back, it seems like a natural choice since being an author had given me a lot of insight into the business.I'm not sure if it's what I want to be doing forever, but I'm happy to be employed and doing something I enjoy!

What made you decide to take on writing a novel while in college?
I first tried my hand at writing a novel my freshman year--I always say that NaNoWriMo made me very brave, and it's true. I thought I would just give it a go, and ended up getting hooked on the process.

Were you planning to publish this all along?
No... I tried to be very realistic about it and not get my hopes up, but secretly I was hoping I'd be able to sell something before I graduated.

How did you balance school and writing?
I get asked this all the time, and I'm still not sure what the right answer is. I was very disciplined and made a lot of social sacrifices on the weekends. You really do have to find a schedule that works, though. The first three years of college were incredibly reading and writing intensive (I was once assigned 2000 pages of reading a week in my Sophomore year. Not. Fun.), but that helped me write. Knowing that I only had an hour here or two hours there meant that I used that little time for writing and writing alone. When i was working on revisions with my agent, I gave myself a deadline to finish the first round before finals that May. Starting in March, I woke up at 6 AM every day and wrote until I had class at 1 PM, and when I was done with homework at night, I'd be back to revising. I tried getting up at 5 AM and squeezing in an hour of work out time, but... uh... I quickly decided an extra hour of sleep was more important than getting my fitness on.

What advice would you give college students who want to write seriously in college? What advice would you give those who want to publish? What steps should they take?
The advice that I always give to high schoolers and college students that ask me this question is this: While you're in school, focus on being a writer before you focus on being a published author. I really miss the days I had before I was published, when I could write whatever I wanted regardless of how crappy it was and I didn't have to worry about another person's judgment. I can't reinforce this enough, being published in college is like having a full-time job, and one that isn't always fun. It's an incredible amount of stress and pressure to put on yourself, when you're already anxious about exams/papers/what-have-you. Not everyone will have a negative experience, but I would also add that a good portion of my friends thought that I had graduated a semester early because I was so deep in my revision hole that I only surfaced for food and class. School is such a unique and wonderful time, but you don't get to experience it when you're by yourself writing. There are a zillion and a half elements in Brightly Woven that I picked up from the classes I was taking at the time. Be a sponge and absorb as much as possible from your classes and friends. Make sure you're taking advantage of all that college life has to offer, and if you happen to write something that you feel is ready to be seen by the world, go for it! Revise it seriously, submit it to agents, and learn from the feedback you get. Make sure that when you're writing you are happy and excited, because the minute you start feeling stressed out or depressed, it often means that your life has become unbalanced, and you need to step away and refocus.

What advice would you give to English majors about how to make the English major work for them after school?
Okay guys, here's a secret: what matters in the job world isn't necessarily what you majored in, but the internships and work experiences that you have. My current boss didn't hire me because I was an English major (though I'm sure that helped)--she claimed it was because I talked about coordinating our Student Assembly's Thanksgiving airport shuttle rides. So don't discount any work experience you have, regardless of how small or insignificant you think it is. I would also recommend networking with alums in the career field of your choice, and seeking out speciality programs like the Columbia Publishing Course, which often feed you directly into jobs. Besides the fact that companies are always looking for good writers (seriously--critical writing does not tend to be a strength of most business majors), so be sure to always play that up. Plus, you've spent how many years analyzing and forming your own arguments, right? That's another skill you have in the bag.

Alexandra's novel, Brightly Woven, comes out March 23. You can read a longer synopsis if you follow the Brightly Woven link.

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Author Interview: Alexandra Bracken + weekend