Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Author: Kelly Braffet Interview and Giveaway!

I'd like to welcome Kelly Braffet to the blog today to celebrate her newest book, Save Yourself from Crown Publishing, a division of Random House. Be sure to stick around until the end to get the chance to win a copy!

Welcome to Books à la Mode, Kelly! Let's get this interview started.

Will you please share a brief bio with us?

Kelly Braffet is the author of the novel Save Yourself, which was released August 6 from Crown Publishing. Her previous works include the novels Josie and Jack and Last Seen Leaving, and her writing has been published in The Fairy Tale Review, Post Road, and several anthologies. She attended Sarah Lawrence College and Columbia University and currently lives in upstate New York with her husband, the author Owen King. Her likes include caramel, soft furry things, and things with stripes. Her dislikes include snow days, passion fruit, and having her blood pressure taken. (Seriously, when they put the cuff on your arm, and it gets all tight, and you just know that deep inside your muscles there are veins and arteries going, “Hey, where's our blood, we need that for living?” That is super, super creepy.)

Spot on! So glad to have you here with us today! Readers, here's a little bit about Save Yourself, which has been described to be as addictive as Breaking Bad, with some of Gillian Flynn's mysterious flair...
Patrick Cusimano is in a bad way. His father is in jail, he works the midnight shift at a grubby convenience store, and his brother's girlfriend, Caro, has taken their friendship to an uncomfortable new level. On top of all that, he can't quite shake the attentions of Layla Elshere, a goth teenager who befriends Patrick for reasons he doesn't understand and doesn't fully trust. The temptations these two women offer are pushing him to his breaking point.

Meanwhile, Layla's little sister, Verna, is suffering through her first year of high school. She's become a prime target for her cruel classmates, not just because of her strange name and her fundamentalist parents: Layla's bad-girl rep proves to be too huge a shadow for Verna, so she falls in with her sister's circle of outcasts and misfits whose world is far darker than she ever imagined.

Kelly Braffet's characters, indelibly portrayed and richly varied, are all on their own twisted paths to finding peace. The result is a novel of unnerving power-darkly compelling, addictively written, and shockingly honest.
Can you describe Save Yourself in six words?

Dark, beery, frustrated, passionate, scared, tense. Although those words probably describe the characters as much as they do the book.

"Beery," huh? Trying to imagine what that reads like and for some strange reason, I have a quite distinct idea! What was the inspiration for Save Yourself?

Desperation. I promised a friend a short story for an anthology, and the deadline came closer and closer until I basically had to shut myself in my office for a weekend and figure something out. The anthology didn't end up happening—or not with me in it, anyway—but Patrick and Mike and Caro did, and they kind of stuck in my head.

But inspiration is sort of like a sitcom neighbor who just sort of drops by at random times with no warning. At one point, I had most of the plot in mind but was having trouble getting anybody's feet to move—Patrick's in particular. I felt like there was something about him that I just didn't know. Then, one day, I was driving down a highway and passed a youngish guy in a black T-shirt and jeans walking by the side of the road. It was one of those ten million degree days, where nobody wants to walk anywhere, and the highway itself was a completely unsafe place to walk, there was barely even a shoulder. I looked at that guy, and I thought, That's Patrick. He doesn't drive anymore. And that was it. That was the thing I didn't know. He needed a reason not to drive, so he hit the deer, and once he hit the deer, the book came alive.

The origins might have been a bit understated, but I love how you found your Patrick—and the story revolving around him! Readers, click "Read more" to learn how Kelly got her foot in the door with a Big Six publisher, gain insight on the character Kelly had most difficulty writing, and discover how SHE deals with negative reviews. You also don't want to miss the great giveaway at the end—you get the chance to be one of the first people to read the book!

How did you get your foot in the door with your agent and publisher? Tell us your call story!

I have to admit, I kind of cheated—at least, it feels like cheating when I hear other writers talk about years of being rejected by agents. I went to the Columbia University MFA program with the writer Lauren Grodstein, and we became good friends. In addition to being a fantastic writer and one of the best dinner party hostesses in the world, she's also pretty much the world's best networker—which was handy for me, because I'm a terrible networker. When I go to parties, I remember the appetizers, not the people. If you're a smoked salmon canapé or a tiny cube of cheese, you and I will be best, best friends by the end of the night, but if you're a person, I will probably forget your name, and then spill something on you. I apologize in advance.

Anyway, by the time we'd finished the program, Lauren had signed on with Julie Barer. So Julie and I got to know each other socially, and when I was ready to look for representation for my first novel, Josie and Jack, I asked her if she had any interest. Fortunately for me, she did. She's an amazing reader and a fantastic champion of her clients' work. (Incidentally, Julie is the other best dinner party hostess in the world. I also rely on her for fashion advice, because I'm just as terrible at clothes as I am at parties.)

You and I are one and the same! People suck, food is much much more memorable... ;) Which character from Save Yourself was most difficult to write?

The toughest by far were my femme fatale, Layla, and her teenaged pseudo-Manson, Justinian. Neither of them ever gets a chance to tell their own story—in fact, Justinian isn't actually in that much of the book—but their psychological influence over the other characters in Save Yourself is massive, and their relationship to each other is incredibly complex. For the book to have any chance at all of working, I had to know everything about them, including what they did and felt and said when they were alone together, which, since the reader never actually sees them alone together, meant that I wrote and revised a ton of scenes that aren't in the book and were never intended to be. But having those scenes simmering away in my head was vital if their roles in the book were going to work.

The character that was easiest, for some reason, was Caro. With Patrick and Verna, I was constantly aware of balancing their strong moments and their weak moments, their bravado and vulnerability, but Caro almost seemed to step right out onto the page, fully formed. I'm always annoyed when writers talk about writing like they're Delphi oracles, and storytelling is some sort of divine gift they've been granted—it's not, it's hard work—but Caro really did just sort of materialize. Maybe it was all that time I spent hovering over the volcanic gas vent in my backyard.

It's a rare gift for an author to know her characters before they're even brought to life—you struck gold with Caro. How do you react to a negative or harsh review to your books?

Send flowers to the reviewer, of course. Doesn’t everybody?

I'm kidding, obviously. Negative reviews are tough. I try to think of books as if they're food: not everything is to everybody's taste. Often, when I get a negative review, it's pretty clear that the reviewer just isn't my reader, and probably won't ever be. That doesn't bother me. As long as they're reasonably smart and fair—and by "fair," I mean that they accept the book on its own terms, and don't start off by, oh, I don't know, categorically stating in the first paragraph that all thrillers are junk and therefore my book is too—I have no problem with them. I do always read them; I've generally found that they're never as scary on the page or screen as they are in my head.

That's a really systematic and reasonable approach to negative reviews. It probably is scarier to think about the type of negative reviews you could receive, rather than to actually receive one.

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Now for some randomness...

Favorite kind of chocolate? Dark, milk, white, coffee-flavored, the kind with nuts or berries inside?? Milk and white (I'm a blasphemer). Preferably with caramel inside, although coconut and cream fillings are also permitted. Cherries are the only acceptable fruit, and they must be bright red and drowned in goo. Peanut butter is okay, but the inclusion of any other form of nut is punishable by death.

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What's the most interesting comment you have ever received about your books?

One reviewer of my first book said that my books made him want to take a bath in tomato juice. Which actually made me really happy, although I'm not sure that's how he meant it.

That's got to be a compliment, right? Before we conclude our interview, let us know where we can find you on the web?

It was a pleasure getting to know you today, Kelly! Thank you so much for joining us, and best of luck with your future endeavors.


Books à la Mode is giving away a print copy of Save Yourself—yay!! To enter, leave a comment in response to Kelly's question:
You have just developed the power to be instantly and seamlessly transported to the book-universe of your choice. Where do you go? Don't forget to include your email address or Twitter handle in your comment so I know who to contact when you win. Don't make me track you down!!!!
Please make your comment MEANINGFUL. Comments solely consisting of stock responses or irrelevant fluff like "Thanks for the giveaway!" will not be considered for entry. Kelly and I really want to hear your thoughts! :)

Don't forget the entry eligibility terms and conditions!
Sponsored wholly by the tour publicist and publisher—a huge thank you to TLC Book Tours and Crown Publishing!
Giveaway ends September 4th at 11.59 PM (your time).
Open to US and Canada residents only—sorry, rest of the world! Check out my sidebar for currently running giveaways that are open internationally.
Void where prohibited.
Winners have 48 hours to claim their prize once they are chosen, or else their winnings will be forfeited.
Although I do randomly select winners, I am in no way responsible for prizes, nor for shipping and handling.
As a reminder, you do not have to follow my blog to enter, though it is always very much appreciated ❤
Good luck!