For December review round-ups I’m going to do something a little different by highlighting a few reviews of the same book, and getting some thoughts from the author. This week we’re going to look at DEFY THE STARS by Stephanie Parent. First pop into On Books, Book Overdose and Clear Eyes Full Shelves for just three of the many recent reviews of DEFY THE STARS. Now here’s where I confess I was scheduled to read Stephanie’s book this week, but my Kobo eReader died (to be fair, it was involuntary manslaughter by me, dropping it). So I haven’t read it! But I’ve read a ton of reviews of it and it’s been getting a lot of praise so I’m super excited to take a look once I either fix or replace my Kobo.
Here’s a description: Julia and Reed might have graduated high school without ever speaking to each other…until, during a class discussion of Romeo and Juliet, Julia scoffs at the play’s theme of love at first sight, and Reed responds by arguing that feelings don’t always have to make sense. Julia tries to shake off Reed’s comment and forget about this boy who hangs with the stoner crowd—and who happens to have breathtaking blue eyes—but fate seems to bring the two together again and again. After they share an impulsive, passionate kiss, neither one can deny the chemistry between them. Yet as Julia gets closer to Reed, she also finds herself drawn into his dark world of drugs and violence. Then a horrific tragedy forces Julia’s and Reed’s families even farther apart…and Julia must decide whether she’s willing to give up everything for love.
Now let’s hear what Stephanie has to say DEFY THE STARS:
Why did you decide to write in verse?
I’ve always really loved free verse novels, and since I had written a previous novel in verse and also took a number of poetry classes in grad school, I felt fairly comfortable with the form. I hoped the verse would help me stand out in the crowded YA market, and I also thought it was the best way to tell this story. It was particularly helpful in allowing me to convey Julia’s stream-of-consciousness thoughts and to portray the link between her dreams and waking life, and it was also a fun way to describe music. And the verse seemed especially appropriate for a retelling of Shakespeare, since he writes in blank verse and is so poetic himself. Obviously I can only aspire to and not match Shakespeare’s transcendent language!
What are the special challenges of indie publishing a verse novel?
Oh, I’ve been dying to answer this question for a while! First, let me mention that my agent is still holding back print rights to DtS in case a publisher is interested, so DtS is an ebook exclusive for now. Knowing that ebooks aren’t the ideal format for verse novels, you might wonder why I chose to self-publish…well, I’ve written three novels, and the early feedback I received on DtS was more encouraging than any of my previous work. Despite that, having been on submission before, I wasn’t too surprised when the rejections started rolling in for DtS, and it became clear that most publishers didn’t want to risk taking on a verse novel from an unknown author right now. Most of the rejections focused on the book’s (non-) commercialism rather than the quality, so, to put it bluntly, I didn’t want to wait any longer when so many writers are finding success with the indie route!
That said, formatting DtS for kindle was very, very difficult! It took about twenty formatting drafts, a lot of trial and error, and a lot of compromise on my part. Being the control freak I am, it was hard for me to give up my longer lines and change the line breaks I’d spent so much time agonizing over, but I needed to in order to make the book aesthetically pleasing on the small kindle screen. While I may not have been able to keep everything exactly the way I wanted, I was able to replicate many of the shapes and patterns I’d created, and I think on the whole the book translates well. At least this way I was able to retain total control over the formatting process, and while there’s no print version yet, I’m happy with the compromises I’ve made.
After releasing the book, the challenge has been the same one I imagine most traditionally published verse authors face—a lot of readers are afraid to try verse novels. There’s this misconception that verse novels are as complex and confusing as T.S. Eliot or, well, Shakespeare…but the truth is that while you can spend a lot of time examining the nuances of verse novels, you can also read them quickly and still follow the plot and characters. Verse novels are stories, just like any novel, but the format can be one more barrier to getting readers to pick your novel from among the many, many great books out there.
How have you gone about getting the word out about Defy the Stars?
Luckily, I’ve spent a lot of time reading book blogs over the past few years, so I had a good idea of which bloggers would be willing to review verse and indies. I basically just sent out a ton of review requests, joined twitter, started a blog, started interacting more on goodreads, held contests and eventually a blog tour, the works! One of the best parts of the experience has been talking to all the bloggers, authors and readers I’ve been cyber-stalking for years. I held off on participating too much in social networking in the past, because I convinced myself it would be too much of a time-waster…but now I can spend hours on twitter and just tell myself I’m “building my platform”!
Who are your verse novel inspirations?
The first verse novel I ever remember reading was Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse, which broke my heart. Later I discovered Sonya Sones and Ellen Hopkins, both of whom influenced me hugely, but in different ways. I love the elegance, simplicity and charm of Sones’ books, and Ellen Hopkins’ work has definitely inspired my experimentation with form. There’s also a verse novel called Dead on Town Line by Leslie Connor that I’m continually blown away…it tells such a complete and moving story in less than 10000 words.
What are you working on now?
After being told time and again that verse doesn’t sell, and knowing how hard it is to format for ebooks, I’ve actually moved away from verse for now, though I’m sure I’ll return to it at some point! (I also hope that as ereaders evolve and the formatting kinks get worked out, formatting verse novels will become easier and more exact.) I’m about halfway through a historical YA novel, retelling a very famous story from a new perspective, which I can’t say too much about right now. I’m also hoping to start a fun New Adult romance very soon—I’m actively commissioning ideas/requests from readers, so if there’s something you want to see in New Adult, feel free to comment below!
Mercutio or Tybalt?
Mercutio…you’ll have to read Defy the Stars to find out why!
Franco Zefferelli or Baz Luhrmann?
Luhrmann, for Leo DiCaprio’s epic “then I defy you, stars,” scene that gave me the perfect title!
Thanks Stephanie! You’ve given us all some great insight into verse novels as eBooks that I haven’t thought of before. I look forward to the day I can read your books in print (which I prefer). And good luck with the new project. It sounds terrific.
DEFY THE STARS was released on eBook in July 2012.