Sunny San Diego is where Kiersten White writes, but in her eyes Romania, where she recently took a trip, is "absolutely beautiful." While a historical fantasy novel may eventually materialize from her visit, she didn't go there for vampire research. Still, the destination was perfect for celebrating the success of Paranormalcy (HarperTeen) with her husband of eight years.
Paranormalcy tells the story of Evie, who at 16 has been "bagging and tagging" paranormals (including vampires) for the International Paranormal Containment Agency for eight years, and in the meantime dreaming of what "normal" life is like. The book hit the New York Times bestseller list the week after publication.
Now 27, White was a stay-at-home mom with two small children when she began writing in earnest. Her first manuscript was "a disastrously boring middle-grade project that will never, thankfully, see the light of day," but the switch to YA occurred shortly thereafter. Having spent much of her own teen years reading classic literature, White discovered after college that "YA lit is just plain more fun." Magic had always appealed to her (she happily references Le Morte d'Arthur), and the YA genre gave her scope to play.
Her next full-length manuscript was Flash, with which she began querying YA agents in 2008. After 44 letters, it caught the eye of Michelle Wolfson of Wolfson Literary Agency. While that story was making the rounds with publishers (it remains unsold), White got started on Paranormalcy. She says the novel took her only about a month to write; she worked during naptime or after her kids were in bed. White then spent several months polishing the manuscript before sending it to Wolfson, who sold it within a month to Erica Sussman at HarperTeen in a pre-empt in August 2009.
Sussman turned out to be the ideal fit as an editor. Says White, "I really enjoy her edits—she gets my stories. Her comments are ‘I like X, how can we bring it out more?' They're never negative."
The success of her first published book hasn't changed White's sense of what YA is about: fun comes first. But she also emphasizes that she writes for teens because she remembers "what it felt like to be there." Magical beings from folklore are a natural fit for her, she says, since "these creatures are essentially personifications of adolescent problems," and give her the freedom to explore YA issues in a dramatic, imaginative way.
Despite the new level of attention that has come with publication, White's sense of herself is still that of a full-time mother and wife who also writes. "There are a lot more expectations now, a lot more responsibility" on the writing side, she admits, but aside from finally getting a place with its own washer/dryer hookup, her daily life hasn't changed too much. Some routines have changed, though: instead of writing around the children's schedules, White goes to the library now to get dedicated quiet time for work.
Writing still happens at home, too. White blogs daily, and with nearly 1,500 followers, she has an enthusiastic and interactive fan base. "Being accessible is important to me," she affirms, "and I feel it contributed to the success of Paranormalcy."
In addition to starting the third and final installment of Evie's adventures, White recently took some time to contribute to a steampunk anthology Corsets & Clockwork, due out from Running Press. "It was too fun to pass up—but it gave me fits!" White says with a laugh. "Steampunk and short stories are so different from the other things I've written." Above all, though, she's looking forward to reader reaction to the follow-up to Paranormalcy, titled Supernaturally and scheduled for fall 2011. "Evie gets the opportunity to have everything she ever wanted—and finds out it's not all that it's cracked up to be."