Kay Cassidy is the author of teen fiction she wishes was based on her real life. Her debut novel, The Cinderella Society, is the story of a secret girl power society where makeover fantasies become reality … until the Cindys must battle the Wickeds for high school supremacy and more. The Cinderella Society won the 2008 Romance Writers of America® Golden Heart® award in the Young Adult category and will be a Spring 2010 hardcover release from Egmont USA.
Kay is a former cheerleader and sorority girl, an M.B.A. and a member of Mensa. She thinks it’s hilarious when people are surprised to discover those things aren’t mutually exclusive. When not writing, Kay enjoys tennis, yoga, movies and reading. Her latest hobby/obsession is digital scrapbooking, which she loves to do while watching Nascar races (Go Jimmie Johnson!) or NFL games (Go Bills! Go Colts!).
I met Kay online in our Golden Heart Yahoo! group. It didn’t take long to realize how bright, capable and talented she is. And generous. She’s done a great deal to help her Pixie pals, sharing her knowledge and expertise, and we’re all grateful.
I know you’ll enjoy your time hanging out with Kay, hearing about her journey to publication and finding out that cheerleaders don’t have the corner on cool. And here she is . . .
•Kay, like me, you didn’t start writing romantic fiction until you had some life experiences behind you. What led you to bid the frenzied corporate world farewell and say hello to your new life as a full-time writer of YA fiction?
I actually read very little fiction in my 20s. I was a corporate girl through and through, so everything I read had a business bent to it. It wasn’t until I was midway through grad school getting my M.B.A. that I hit a wall with non-fiction. I couldn’t stand the thought of picking up one more book about business.
I come from a family of avid readers, and I knew my mom was a big Nora Roberts fan. So I picked up a couple of Nora books … which led to some other romances … which led to other fiction … and I was hooked again. I’d always thought about being a writer (who hasn’t, right?) but never thought I had the talent for it. I was a business major, after all, not an English major.
Unfortunately, I graduated with my M.B.A. in May of 2001. The start date for my wonderful consulting job ended up getting postponed because the economy was beginning to slow down. In summer 2001, the firm went through a reorganization and all offers were withdrawn as part of the restructuring. They planned to bring us in later that year after their fall recruiting season instead. (I know … downsize and then recruit? Only in big business, by gosh!)
And then September 11th happened. No one was hiring in the aftermath, of course, and here I was with a newly minted M.B.A. and no job. Not even my wonderful old job that I’d had to leave when I went back to school full-time.
After a few months of researching the job market, it became apparent that things weren’t going to open up anytime soon. I decided that if I was ever going to get serious about writing, now was the time. So, I did some research on what it takes to be a good writer, discovered RWA® and its amazing educational programs, started writing and never looked back.
Writing YA came along a few years later. I hadn’t really found my niche in romance, and a friend and I got to talking about YA. I picked up Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries and Ann Brashares’ The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants to see what modern YA was all about. I was hooked from the word go. I knew that’s what I wanted to be writing. So, I shifted my focus and discovered my YA voice almost immediately. It’s been a perfect fit for me and something I have an absolute blast writing.
•You finaled in the Golden Heart in March and went on to win top honors in the Young Adult category in August. What was it like to hear your name called during the Awards Ceremony at RWA Nationals, and how did it feel to stand up on the stage with some 1,500 pairs of eyes trained on you?
It was wild! I’d been saying since I got the finalist call there was no way I was going to win. Sometimes you just get a feeling about these things. And it was nice, because I wasn’t nervous at all. I was able to thoroughly enjoy the conference.
So, when they called my name at the awards ceremony, I was completely stunned. A friend described me as looking shell-shocked, and I have to think that’s pretty accurate. It’s certainly how I felt.
Because I’m PlannerGirl, I’d prepared some thank you comments. Thank goodness! I got a bit emotional when thanking my family, but it was mostly a blur. I kept reminding myself to breathe and to not fall down when I had to walk to and from the stage. Which is hysterical since I was a professional corporate trainer in my former life. I talked in front of groups for a living! But it’s one thing when you’re teaching a workshop and quite another when you’re being honored for something that represents years of your hard work. So I cut myself some slack. <g>
•Less than three weeks after you nabbed that new necklace, you sold your GH winning story. Multiple publishers duked it out for the rights to your baby, and Egmont won by offering you a two-book contract in hardcover as part of their launch year list. Sounds like a fairy tale. But what’s the back story? Was your journey to publication a magic carpet ride, or were there twists, turns and trials along the way?
There were so many twists and turns that it would take an entire post just to list them all! LOL. One of the things I was most surprised about was the way the editors kept my agent abreast of where things were in the process. About half of the editors my agent submitted to liked the book enough to pitch it to their editorial committees.
So, The Call for me didn’t come completely out of the blue like it sometimes does for authors. For several weeks after submission it was a series of editors taking it to editorial, passing around for additional reads, taking to acquisitions. It seemed like the minute one said they were moving it up one more rung on the ladder, another had taken it as far as he or she could go and had to pass. One step forward, one step back.
Because I was getting a front row seat to watch how often editors aren’t able to get acquisition approval, I never let myself get too excited about any of the progress reports. Except for one.
The very first editor to start The Cinderella Society through the process championed the book for two months. I really thought they were going to bite. But in the end, the acquisitions committee decided to pass. That one hurt because it was the first time I’d let myself get my hopes up. I’d just won the Golden Heart and had all this great buzz around the book and then whammo. The one I really thought would bite, didn’t.
Thank goodness my manuscript was still out with some wonderful editors who were very enthusiastic about it. So, I kept the faith despite the little voice in my head that said, “If Editor Q can’t get approval after two months of hard work, what makes you think someone else will?”
•Must have been nerve-racking to know you were so close and have to sit back and watch the publishing pros do their thing. But at long last you got The Call. What ran through your mind when your agent spilled the news? Did you put your years of leading cheers to good use as you whooped, hollered and carried on, or did you take things in stride?
Ha! I knew those cheers would come in handy again someday. <g>
The funny thing is that the editor who ultimately passed, passed on a Monday. So just as my inner critic was saying maybe the Golden Heart would be all she wrote for this story’s future, my agent called. We had an offer from another publisher the very next day.
Naturally, I was completely caught off guard when I got The Call. I don’t think it really started to sink in until there were multiple offers on the table and I fully understood what was happening. My agent was fabulous during that time—fielding my bazillion questions, negotiating with editors like a champ—and I remember feeling equal parts overwhelmed and ecstatic.
The giddiness finally hit after I accepted the offer from Egmont. For about a week, I’d break into joyful bursts of laughter and do little dances around my office in celebration. (Okay, fine, I’m still doing them.) To know that I get to write The Cinderella Society series for a top-notch publisher like Egmont, with its fabulous team and amazing plans for the series, is truly a dream come true.
•You’ve said ideas for stories come to you from anything and everything—dreams, commercials, even fortune cookies. Where did you get the idea for The Cinderella Society?
I read an article several years ago about a high school sorority. Having been in a sorority in college, I was intrigued by the idea and wondered how they made that work. As I thought more about it, I thought about how cool it would’ve been if I’d been in one in high school. And if I had, what I would’ve wanted it to be like.
As the idea took hold, I realized I would’ve wanted it to be a secret society where makeover fantasies became reality. Because who wouldn’t love the ultimate life makeover in high school? That became the hook I built the story on.
The larger, most secret part of the society came later as I started building the story of how The Cinderella Society came to be. I realized it was much, much bigger than Jess could possibly imagine. That’s when I knew I was on to something really different and special, something that I knew I’d be happy writing about for many years to come. I absolutely adore the society and can’t wait to let readers in on all the juicy secrets!
•Since you were a cheerleader from junior high all the way into college, does that mean you were one of the hip ’n’ happenin’ crowd who had friends aplenty and plenty of fun with your friends? Or did you have bad hair days, do battle with zits and wonder if you’d have a date for Prom like the rest of us?
LOL. Why, of course I never had a pimple or a bad date or a HHD (hideous hair day)! I never said something embarrassing just as my crush was walking by. And I never, EVER, had a note I passed in class read aloud in front of the very same teacher I’d just said was boring me to sleep. Just to use a random example. (Sorry, Mr. Lovell!)
In reality, I had all of that and more. Dates that went awry, parties I wasn’t invited to (which was sometimes a good thing), frequently developing crushes on the wrong guy when the right guy was standing right next to me. I’ve definitely been there and done that.
I can remember having friends over during my Junior year homecoming instead of going to the dance because none of us had dates. We cheered at the homecoming game and then spent Saturday night laughing and watching SNL in my family room while other people went to the dance. In fact, several of my fellow cheerleaders and I used to jokingly refer to ourselves as The Dateless Wonders. Finding the right guy at the right time is hard!
Yes, I was a cheerleader, got good grades, had great friends to share my high school days with. But I always felt like I was on the outskirts of popularity, never quite cool enough to hang with the real cool kids. Sometimes looking good on paper (Cheerleader–check! Advanced classes–check!) isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
I think that sense of never feeling like they’re quite “enough” is something most girls can relate to. And that’s definitely a challenge that plays out in The Cinderella Society as Jess gets deeper into her ultimate life makeover and discovers the secret force behind her exclusive society. Sometimes “enough” isn’t what you thought it was in the beginning.
•Your high school memories must be vivid for you to bring such life to your YA stories, but times change. How do you keep current on the trends, talk and trials of teens today? Do you slink undercover onto high school campuses, eavesdrop at the popular fast food hangouts or pump your nieces and nephews for info?
I’m pretty active in the community, so I interact with kids on a regular basis. What I’ve discovered is that teens today are, on the whole, more mature than I was at that age. But the stresses of growing up are essentially the same: juggling school, extracurriculars, friends, romance, jobs. Things like dealing with cliques, trying to battle peer pressure, asserting your independence when you’re on the brink of becoming an adult but still bogged down by school and house rules … those challenges are timeless.
So, mostly it’s about tapping into the universal experiences of being a teen. I haven’t experienced the same things Jess does in the book, but I’ve definitely felt the emotions she feels. It’s just like writing in any genre in that respect. Science fiction writers have never lived on Planet Zargon 5 and battled a lizard prince for power. (I’m guessing.) And historical writers haven’t been a duchess in 18th century England trying to rebuild her family’s name after a scandal. (Unless it’s a past life thing, I suppose.) But the feelings those characters experience are universal. As a writer, it’s all about tapping into those emotions to find the heart of the story.
•You have the luxury of writing full-time, thanks to your supportive husband. How do you structure your day? Have you had to make adjustments now that you’ve sold and have deadlines to meet? And how long does it take you to complete a manuscript?
Ah, the million dollar question. I wish I had a definite structure to my day! I just sold and am awaiting the final contract, so we haven’t delved into my editorial revisions yet. And since I’m writing a series for Egmont, I need to know exactly what happens in the final version of book one before I can finalize the plotting for book two.
In preparation for what’s to come, however, I’ve had to become very protective of my time. I volunteer in RWA and in the community, so the sale has forced me to reevaluate what’s most important. All of my RWA duties will be wrapped up by next spring, so I’ll be stepping out of volunteer mode for a bit to focus on the series debut in spring 2010.
I’m also a big marketing girl (that’s the M.B.A. in me), so I’m thrilled to be gearing up for the super cool marketing stuff we have planned. (Keep watching www.kaycassidy.com for more info!)
I’m a huge plotter, so that drives my writing process more than anything. With The Cinderella Society, I came up with the concept 4-1/2 years before it sold. Over that time, it morphed and changed until it was barely recognizable from the original, much smaller story idea. I tried to write it at two different points along the way, but it never felt quite right. (It was also during this time that I discovered I have to plot every scene in advance to avoid writing a bunch of witty, fluffy stuff that has no point whatsoever.)
The biggest struggle for me was confidence. The Cinderella Society was such a huge concept with such a broad platform beyond just a single novel that I kept telling myself I wasn’t ready yet. I didn’t think I had the skills to do it justice. And while that may have been true in the beginning, I realized later that kind of thinking can also become an easy excuse.
There comes a point in every writer’s life where the improvements stop coming in leaps and bounds and start coming in more incremental bits. When I could recognize that in my own work, I knew it was time to take a leap of faith.
Ultimately, I scrapped everything I had about the story and decided to “Go Big or Go Home,” and to really make this story the huge series I knew it needed to be to do justice to the concept the way I envisioned it. I fleshed out an extensive history for the society, plotted every scene of the new, MUCH bigger book, and wrote the entire story in 25 days. And then fainted. LOL.
What I discovered in writing the larger version of The Cinderella Society was that I tend to work best in bursts once I start writing a new project. I use the detailed scene outlines to help me plow through a first draft and then take a month or two away to give me objectivity about it. So, I’ll write like the wind … take some time away from it to catch up on real life (or work on a different story) … plow through the major story edits … take more time away … then go back and polish to make it shine.
The total length of time differs for every story, but I can comfortably write two to three books a year now that I understand how my writing process works. It takes some juggling and good time management skills, but that’s just part of the business for any author.
•Makeovers is a big theme in The Cinderella Society. If you could go back in time and give your writing career a makeover, what would you change or do differently? Or has everything pretty much come together just as you planned?
You know, it’s so tempting to want to go back and change things. But I’m a big believer that everything happens for a reason. So, while I would’ve liked to have been more disciplined in my writing early on, I also know that I’ve grown a lot in the almost seven years since I started writing. Part of that is having a very strong understanding of why I write what I write.
I want the heroines in my books to be role models for teens. Heroines who struggle with the same issues, make the same kinds of mistakes we’ve all made (often on a much grander, more mortifying scale!), and still manage to come out on top through their own inner strengths. I think girls today are stronger than any generation in history. They deserve heroines who are too.
So, I’m fine with how things worked out in my career because it led me to where I am today. And that feels pretty darn good!
•And now a question just for fun. If your fairy godmother waved her magic wand and offered to whisk you anywhere in the world you wanted to go—all expenses paid—what place would you choose? What three items would you just have to take with you? And what fictional character come-to-life would you pick to be your traveling companion?
Ooo … fun! I traveled a ton when I was younger (I’d been to eight countries by the time I was 20), so I enjoy seeing new places. I’m not a huge fan of long, extended traveling anymore—I like the comforts of my own bed!—but I would love to visit Australia and New Zealand, especially now that I have writing buddies there. I may try to make the Aussie RWA conference at some point. I would also love to visit Great Britain, Ireland and Scotland and make a trip to Norway and Sweden. I’m a big proponent of green living and Scandinavians do so much of that just as a way of life. I would love to experience that kind of living first hand.
But let’s see … if I had to choose just one place, I would probably choose Hawaii because it’s one of the few U.S. states I haven’t visited yet. Plus, I’m very drawn to waterfront locales. Either that or taking a trip to Alaska. My friend, YA author Wendy Toliver, went there and the pictures are amazing. It’s renewed my interest in taking the Alaskan cruise I’ve always dreamed about.
I’d have to have my iPod, my digital camera and a shiny new notebook/pen set.
Naturally, I’d want to have my husband with me. But if I had to go with a fictional character, that would be an easy choice: Dr. Isabel Favor from Breathing Room by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. My favorite heroine of all time from my favorite book of all time. (It also has my favorite hero of all time, Ren Gage!)
It’s been great having you as my guest, Kay. And now, in closing, is there a final comment you’d like to make or a question you’d like to ask?
Thanks so much for having me, Keli! I’ve had such a great time. Our teen years are instrumental in shaping who we are as adults (frightening, isn’t it?), so I’d love to ask your blog readers this:
If you could go back in time and give your teen self one piece of advice, what would it be?
In fact, I’ll even give away a copy of Tera Lynn Childs’ fabulous YA debut, Oh. My. Gods., to one lucky commenter. Oh. My. Gods. is about a cross country running phenom who finds herself uprooted from L.A. to the Greek isles just before the start of her Senior year to attend an exclusive private academy … for descendants of the Greek gods. The book was recently optioned for film on behalf of one of today’s hottest young stars, so it’s definitely a series to watch. (Look for the sequel, Goddess Boot Camp, coming June 2009!)
Leave a Comment for Kay
Kay’s Drawing Details
Kay will choose the winner of Tera’s debut novel. Oh, My. Gods., the evening of 10/16 from all those who left her a comment up to that point.
Congratulations to Shelley Shepard Gray, winner of Tera’s book, Oh. My. Gods.
Pixie Drawing Details
If you don’t see a comment form below, please use the link by the post title.
All those who leave a comment for Kay between now and October 31 will be entered in a drawing for one of three cool Pixie totes featuring Tink, the most famous Pixie of all Pixie’s.
Here’s how the drawing works. Between now and the end of October, I’ll be featuring interviews with six of my fellow Golden Heart finalists. After flinging truckloads of cyber Pixie dust for one another’s sales, submissions, revisions and the like, we dubbed ourselves the Pixie Chicks.
In honor of the fact that it’s Pixie Central here at Romance Writers on the Journey the rest of the month, I found Pixie prizes. These are the best prizes I’ve ever featured on the blog, imho. They are sturdy canvas bags about sixteen inches square, exclusive of the handles.
Congratulations to the winners of the Pixie totes: AJ, Darcy Burke and Sue Mason.