Elissa Hoole writes thoughtful and lyrical YA. She lives with her family in Minnesota.
Elissa Hoole’s debut novel, KISS THE MORNING STAR, grew from her love of Kerouac and was inspired by a road trip out West. It was chosen for the Rainbow Booklist at ALA in 2013. Her subsequent novels, SOMETIMES NEVER, SOMETIMES ALWAYS and THE MEMORY JAR, were both published by Flux Llewellyn and have received strong reviews for their lyricism and insight.
She still suffers from acute wanderlust from time to time, but road trips now involve a mini-van and her two children. Elissa and her family live in northern Minnesota where she teaches middle school English, writes and acts.
When and how did you start writing?
I’ve been writing since I was a kid — my first novel attempt, when I was about nine, involved a girl who wanted a horse. Go figure. By the time I was in junior high school, I was writing much more sophisticated…um…angsty rhyming poetry. Which of course I had abandoned by high school as I adopted a more experimental style — mostly written in tiny handwriting on graph paper while I was supposed to be doing calculus.
In college I took my first writing fiction course, where my (amazing) professor gave my first 'literary' short story a B! and I was so appalled and angry I completely revised it and got an A to spite him. That was also the semester I got my first rejection, from the campus literary magazine. I wrote more shorts in the years to come and racked up a nice collection of rejections, but I always struggled with the brevity of the form. To this day, my revisions are often akin to hacking at a jungle with a machete!
I started my first novel in 2000, and except for a few periods of time when I had newborns and such, I’ve been writing them ever since.
Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?
As a kid (and, well, now) I would read anything that you put in front of my face. I loved Anne Shirley and Laura Ingalls Wilder and Jo March and Mary Lennox and Harriet M. Welsch, but I also pored over old biology and astronomy textbooks that my dad would pick up for me at garage sales and heavy Dickens tomes I found in the basement and raggedy stacks of silly paperbacks from the school book orders.
At some point in my childhood I ran out of books and sneaked my way into my dad’s old books, where I discovered a lot of interesting things at the hands of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., John Irving, and Tom Robbins. I admit that I stole most of those books. How else was I going to reread the sexy bits?
Can you talk us through the writing of your latest book? What were the key moments?
KISS THE MORNING STAR can be traced back to a little character sketch in my journal years ago about the daughter of a minister who tries to sneak books about Buddhism out of the library of her small town without her dad finding out. Which is sort of funny because nothing of that story remains in the current novel except the dad’s name — Pastor Jake Marshal l — and the appearance of a little bit of Kerouac material.
I guess I’d have to say that the key moments in this book were:
a) When my first beta readers told me that the story began like fifteen thousand words after I started it,
b) When two agents told me that the story really needed to be told in first person, and
c) When I realized that the ending I had written (which involved a bunch of unlikely events including a creepy, creepy guy named Owen who still freaks me out) was not actually what I wanted to have happen to my dharma girls.
I love this book, partially because so much of the actual geography of their trip is based on an amazing summer that my husband and I spent road tripping and backpacking (yes, with Kerouac in our packs), but mostly because Anna and Kat have become so close to my heart. I don’t know that I’ve ever liked my own characters more.
Was it hard to get an agent? Can you talk us through the process?
It was hard in that I got a lot of rejections, and it took me querying three novels before I found Sarah, but along the way, each time I was ready to give up, I would get just enough forward progress to keep it up. Form rejections became one shiny personalized rejection. The second novel got a partial request and at last a full request (never mind that the agent seemed to disappear off the face of the planet after that…)
When my phone rang three days before Christmas, the last thing on my mind was my novel, but there was Sarah, calling me from London (at midnight her time!), telling me that she had enjoyed my book so much that she had to call. When I later had to make a choice between agent offers, that call swayed me — her enthusiasm for my book was so impressive, even as she very honestly told me that it needed a lot of work.
Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time? Where do you look for inspiration?
Being a mom and a teacher and such, I have to be pretty flexible about when and where I write. I write on the couch, mainly, though a painful bout with a pinched nerve in my neck is forcing me to rethink that now. I write to the sound of specially chosen music (KISS THE MORNING STAR’s playlist includes a lot of Ani diFranco and the Kerouac tribute CD, Kicks Joy Darkness) and the sound of small children fighting. I write in the front seat of the car on road trips and perched on the edge of the sandbox. Mostly, though, I write at night, after everyone else is in bed, with a cup of cold coffee beside me. I think I’ll plead the fifth about that whole time organization thing, though…
Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?
Flock to other writers, but screen them for drama. Writers can be the only people who understand what you’re going through, but they can also be needy or competitive, so choose with care. I couldn’t do anything that I’ve done without the support, camaraderie, encouragement, and occasional kicks in the pants from my writing friends. They celebrate my good moments and help me brainstorm my way through the walls. Ask questions, read their books, learn from them. Find beta readers who will tell you the truth when they read your work — not only the good parts, but all of it with kindness and a sincere wish for your success. Be wary of people who give hard and fast rules about writing, but don’t be afraid to give some of their methods a chance.
And mostly, keep writing, even when you fail. Even when you succeed.
Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you've developed as an author?
I guess probably the biggest thing I’ve learned about writing books is the value of the revision process. Sometimes big, scary revisions. Sometimes revisions that, initially, I don’t like. Sometimes revisions seem overwhelming, and sometimes they seem like a lot of work, and sometimes I wonder why the hell I’m so slow that it takes me this many tries to get it right, but every revision that I’ve done carefully and thoughtfully has improved my book.
I wish I could say that I have finally mastered plotting or (ack!) outlining or writing query letters or dynamic characterization or pitch-perfect dialogue or schmoozing with publishing people, but alas. I’ll just have to take comfort in the idea that all things can be fixed in revisions. (Well, except the schmoozing part. That may require a cocktail.)
Which favorite authors would you invite to a dinner party? What fictional character do you wish you'd invented?
I’m so bad at this question. As much as I love reading books, I’m sort of struck dumb at the thought of gathering my favorite authors together in a room. Would Thoreau mingle well? Would the English poets get too cliquey or insist that everyone speak in iambic pentameter? Would I need to seat them according to genre, or time period? Maybe I could develop a lovely epistolary relationship with some of my favorite authors instead? I know I’d love to exchange bashful letters with Kerouac and Burroughs, though I’ve already written a poem for Ferlinghetti and sent it to him, so I’m not sure where we’d go from there.
I think I wish I could have written Ponyboy Curtis. Also Salamanca Tree Hiddle, but she would make me cry so much.