PJ Sharon is the author of several independently published, contemporary young adult novels, including Molly finalist, HEAVEN IS FOR HEROES, FAB Five finalist ON THIN ICE, and SAVAGE CINDERELLA, Golden Palm and Sheila finalist.
On the road to publication, PJ decided that indie-publishing was the best fit for her books. They fall outside the norm for YA fiction in that they are geared toward 16-22 year old readers, a market considered risky with traditional publishers. Hers, however, aren’t your average high school stories. Instead, they are portraits of the real life issues of older teens and their struggles with family, friends, and the guys they fall for. Although the themes are mature, evoking plenty of drama and teen angst, PJ writes with a positive outlook and promises a hopefully ever after end to all of her books.
Tell us about your new book.
WANING MOON is Book One in THE CHRONICLES OF LILY CARMICHAEL. The trilogy is about sixteen-year-old lily Carmichael, living in the year 2057. She is the first generation of genetically engineered children bred to survive the plagues that wipe out three quarters of the Earth’s population. Her genetic modification not only makes her resistant to the plague, but gives her the ability to heal quickly and an intuitive ability to heal others—everyone except her uncle and her brother. Their blood ties make them immune to each other’s abilities. Her thirteen-year-old brother, Zephron, has the opposite capability which is to take life with just a touch. Their mother died during Zeph’s birth and their father was killed by a government agency called the Industry, an organization trying to capture these EVO kids. Sam raises Lily and Zeph as his own, determined to keep them hidden in the Northeast hills, but when a young drifter named Will falls into a trap on their property and Lily decides to heal him, their secret is bound to get out.
Where did the germ of the story come from? How did you first know you were going to write this story?
There is so much concern today about where our world is heading. People live in fear of what will happen if our economy collapses or we have a climactic event that changes the landscape of our planet. Kids and teens especially, are both terrified and fascinated by dystopian stories of post-apocalyptic survival, making books like The Hunger Games or television shows like Revolution part of the new pop culture. I live in a small remote town with neighbors who love living in the woods as much as my husband and I do. We often get together and talk about current events and contemplate our survival strategies. We aren’t quite as bad as the Doomsday Preppers, but we do try to prepare for whatever the future holds. Humans are the most adaptable creatures on the planet, and in keeping with my “hopefully ever after” philosophy, I wanted to show how we might survive if life as we know it took a turn for the worse. As for how I knew I was going to write this story, it’s always about the characters not leaving me alone until I put their story on the page. If I don’t listen, it gets very crowded in my head.
Did this book come to you easily, or did you have to wrestle it to the ground once or twice? Did you ever give up on it?
I struggled with this book more than my others. Partly because it is so different from my contemporary stories, but also because it is the first book in a trilogy and I’m not a true plotter, so I had to be very careful about where the story line went, making sure I planned properly for the next two books. It was also challenging because I was in the midst of promoting my other books and had very little time to write—a frustrating place to be for a writer. The story came in fits and starts and finding my creativity to imagine a future world was a big challenge.
Do you have a writing process you could share with readers, a way you like to proceed when you’re writing a book? (Some authors say they write the first draft out in long-hand, on yellow legal pads, with a special, sacred pen, after throwing salt over their shoulders and repeating an incantation…while others say they write the first draft in a two-week-long fever and then spend the next two years revising. Others don’t even begin until they know the whole story).
Hahaha, I’m not nearly as interesting as that. I write the story my characters tell me to write and I don’t stop until their story is on the page. I let the first draft flow as organically as possible and then go back at the end and revise the heck out of it. I do have critique partners who help a lot with plot holes and character details that always seem to keep me on track. I typically write a chapter at a time and then go back over it before proceeding to the next chapter. Kind of a two steps forward and one step back approach.
Are you a “pantser” (writing by the seat of your pants, discovering the story as you go along), or do you have the entire plot outlined before you begin? Or something in between?
I’m a pantser by nature, but I’ve learned the value of planning judiciously. If I plotted the whole story out, there wouldn’t be much point in writing it, but I do like to understand my characters before I get going. I want to know what their goal, motivation, and conflict are, what they are most afraid of, what their fatal flaw is, and what they will have to sacrifice or learn to get what they want in the end. Also, if I know the major turning points in the story, it gives me a direction to write toward. Whatever happens in between is up to the characters and boy do they take me to some interesting places.
What’s your favorite, and least favorite, part of the writing process? One writer describes the “sticky phase,” when everything you see and hear seems destined to slip into your novel somehow. Does that happen to you? Do you love the first draft, or prefer the last revision?
My most favorite part is the beginning. I can sit down and write the first fifty to a hundred pages of a story and be so excited about the journey, I forget to eat, drink and sleep. But then I get toward the sagging middle. That place where there are lots of words getting onto the page and the story seems to be going nowhere. I hate that part! I’ve learned to step back and reassess my character’s goals at that point and check in with my pacing of the story. It’s usually the time where I need to blow something up or get the characters kissing. Although I don’t have everything slipping into the book, I’ve been known to hear another author’s voice and fear I’m writing a lot like someone else. As far as first drafts or revision, I consider myself a reformed first draft addict. I wrote four full length manuscripts and kept moving on after the first draft because I didn’t know how to revise. Once I learned the art of revision through some very good workshops, I found that I loved the process of refining my work to make it shine. It always feels like a monumental task to revise after that first draft, but the work is always worth it.
Readers tend to think that everything authors write is autobiographical. How do you handle those sorts of questions—people assuming that everything in your book really happened to you?
I say that all of my characters are me and none of them are me. How’s that for ambiguity? I have written stories where my characters have gone through things that I myself have experienced, but it’s not my story. And I can honestly say that no, I’ve never been a kidnap victim, nor have I lived in a dystopian world of the future. Although I’m writing fiction, I can’t help but draw from my own experience. It’s kind of an alternate universe that I create where I get to imagine, what if that event had happened this way, or what if I’d known someone like this in my life? How would things have been different? Especially in writing for the YA market—it’s like I get a virtual do-over in a completely new world.
Do you procrastinate? What’s your favorite mode of procrastination when you’re supposed to be writing?
Housecleaning. If I’m avoiding writing for some reason, I feel justified cleaning the house since it’s a necessity and it still feels like I’m working. My house is usually very clean during that “sagging middle” stage of the process.
What about being a writer has made you truly happy?
Exploring my creativity in a way that gives me joy and brings joy to others is the ultimate reason I write. There are moments when a line or a paragraph comes together in poetic perfection that just makes me giddy. And I love those aha moments when a character learns something really valuable that I ask myself, where did that come from? I learn something new about myself every day when I’m writing.
What do you tell people who want to be writers, too?
I tell them that it isn’t as easy or as glamorous as they imagine, but if they have stories to tell, they shouldn’t let anything stand in their way.