Welcome to the four hundred and ninetieth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with YA novelist Saskia E. Akyil. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Saskia. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Saskia: My name is Saskia Akyil. My name won’t help you figure out much about me – I’m American with a distinctly non-American first name (which my parents heard at a cocktail party) and my last name is Turkish because my husband is Turkish. As if that’s not confusing enough, I live with my family in southern Germany.
Morgen: Perfect for writing, I’d say, dipping into various cultures. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Saskia: That’s a question I’m asking myself right now! In fact, it’s the topic of a blog post I wrote not long ago. My first book is a YA/coming-of-age fiction crossover. It was a book I had in me and it chose its own genre. I’m working on two new books now, and while one is a sequel and will therefore be YA, I’m trying to figure out what the other one should be. At the moment, I’m leaning towards trying to write intelligent YA in which the main characters are girls who have real-world adventures.
Morgen: “intelligent YA” I love that. What have you had published to-date?
Saskia: So far, I’ve only published one novel, Secrets of a Summer Village. Before that, I published lots of articles in academic journals and a chapter in an academic book, none of which would be very interesting to you unless you’re an ESL teacher.
Morgen: With a Mexican lodger I’d be interested. You’re self-published, what led to you going your own way?
Saskia: I did query many agents. The very first one asked to see the full manuscript immediately. Lots of agents ended up requesting partial and full manuscripts, but I don’t think they felt they could sell it. This was right at the height of the paranormal vampire trend, and I don’t know how much room there was for a book about a human who only knows other humans.
Morgen: Oh dear. That’s pretty much all I write. Is your book available as an eBook? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Saskia: My book is available both in paper and electronic formats. I don’t have an e-reader, and I don’t want to sit at my computer reading, either, so I still just read on paper. In fact, I just received a book light as a gift, and I find it very exciting to clip it onto my paper book so that I can read when I’m supposed to be sleeping. It just wouldn’t be the same holding on to a Kindle. I do completely understand the draw of e-readers, especially for people who travel. Perhaps I’ll end up getting one in the future, but for now I much prefer real paper books. For the record, I prefer paper letters over e-mail, too!
Morgen: I can probably count on one hand the amount of people who’ve said they’ve stopped or are going to stop reading paper books, favouring eBooks. Although I’m sure eBooks will take over (Amazon already sells more of them than pBooks) I do think they’ll live happily side-by-side, albeit mostly online. If your book were to be made into a film, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Saskia: Most authors dream of having their books made into films, even though the books tend to be better than the films that are made of them! I do think that my book would work well as a film. I would want the leading actors to be mostly Turkish, like the characters in the book. Only Turkish actors could get the accents and feelings right for the Turkish characters.
Morgen: I can’t think of any offhand but if we investigated we’d probably be surprised that we know a few. Did you have any say in the title / cover of your book? How important do you think they are?
Saskia: Since I’m self-published, I had a say in both… I did go through two other titles before choosing Secrets of a Summer Village, though. In the end, I did a poll of my friends on Facebook. Their choice was unanimous. As for the cover, I made it myself, out of paper in a technique called quilling. The cover was featured on this blog about paper art: http://www.allthingspaper.net/2011/10/two-new-books-for-young-readers.html.
Morgen: It’s delightful. What are you working on at the moment?
Saskia: I’m working on the sequel to Secrets of a Summer Village because many readers have asked for it. I’m also currently researching a YA novel about a young Mexican girl who goes to high school in the United States.
Morgen: Ah ha, well if you need any advice on Mexico just let me know. Do you manage to write every day?
Saskia: I don’t manage to write every day. I know that a lot of writers find it important to do so, and I do love writing, but I don’t want it to be my entire life or I fear I won’t have anything to write about. I have lots of other interesting things going on in my life, and I also have the day-to-day of taking care of a family (a husband, two small children, and lots of visitors). That said, I do try to spend some time each day doing something related to my already-published book or to writing (a huge amount of time goes into marketing and PR).
Morgen: Doesn’t it just. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Saskia: Book one practically wrote itself. No plotting, no planning. Books two and three are being much more thoughtfully plotted beforehand.
Morgen: Sequels are bound to need more work for consistency and so on. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Saskia: I don’t have a method for creating my characters, but I am trying to work on that and be more deliberate about it now that I’ve made a conscious decision to be a writer. I find names very important, however. The main character of my first book needed to have a fairly common American name. I also wanted to use the name of someone who was a close friend – I was worried that if I picked a random name, I’d then meet someone with that name that I didn’t like and the name would be ruined for me. I named the protagonist of my first book after my cousin Rachel, with whom I’m very close. Most of the other characters are Turkish, and so of course they have Turkish names, but I felt I had to choose names that could be pronounced in English without too much butchering. That was extremely hard to do, because Turkish has a vowel-lengthening silent “g”, “c” is pronounced like our “j”, an “i” without a dot that has a sound that simply doesn’t exist in English… and amazingly, there are not too many names that don’t have any of these letters.
Morgen: It’s funny. Since I’ve had my lodger and have been helping her with her English it’s made me think more about the language… and how hard it is! Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Saskia: I write first, edit later. My husband usually reads each chapter as I write it and gives very helpful feedback. He is a very direct person, which is incredibly useful. If he just said “that’s super, sweetie!” even when it wasn’t, it would be useless. One needs direct opinions as a writer. I can’t say that I always take his advice, but I couldn’t ask for a better editor!
Morgen: That’s the trouble, normally, with friends and family… although my mother is very direct and my brother a superb (tough) editor. Do you have to do much research?
Saskia: For book one and its sequel, little research is required because they take place in locations I know well, and in cultures I’m very familiar with. The other book requires quite a lot of research. Which is another reason I can’t write every day – research is part of the process of producing a book. I was actually thinking the other day about how much time I am spending doing research for this new book and I realize it may be one of the reasons writers are attracted to science fiction, alternate universes, non-humans, created cultures and invented languages – they are making something from scratch and cannot be questioned on its accuracy. So perhaps one day I’ll get tired of researching the real world and will just create one of my own. I suppose that the simple act of reading novels is also research, especially if you’re a writer. I find myself analyzing the writing style and format of the stories as I read. It is incredibly hard for me to read a book and not think about the writing style and word choice…. You can’t take the writer out of me!
Morgen: It’s interesting you say that about science fiction as, apart from the fact that I don’t read it, I’ve always been daunted by writing it as I’m no scientist. That said, the only science-fiction piece (and one of the shortest) I wrote for my Story a Day May 2011 was mystery novelist William Doonan’s favourite! What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person?
Saskia: Secrets is written in third person, with some first-person thoughts from the protagonist. The new book I’m writing is in the first person right now. I’m not sure how that’s going to work, but at the moment it’s fun to write.
Morgen: That’s the main thing. If it’s fun to write it’ll (hopefully) be fun to read. Do you write any poetry, non-fiction or short stories?
Saskia: Occasionally. I wrote a children’s book, which is rhyming. It’s not yet published. I’m working on the illustrations before querying it.
Morgen: Ooh, good luck and perhaps you could do me a guest blog on the querying experience? Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Saskia: Lots. I can’t imagine that there are any authors who haven’t had any rejections. You just move on and search for acceptance. When the rejections or bad reviews are fair, it’s easy to take. When you feel like they are unfair, you brew for a while and then you just have to move on or quit writing because rejection does not end, no matter how famous or talented a writer you are.
Morgen: I have had a handful say they’ve had no rejections but that’s usually because they’ve written very little, submitted just as much or self-published. Do you enter competitions? Are there any you could recommend?
Saskia: I entered the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. It is fabulous. I made it past round one, but not into the quarter finals. I hope that book two is ready for entry next year.
Morgen: Fingers crossed (although they’re still crossed from earlier). What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Saskia: I don’t have any advice that hasn’t already been given. But don’t spend your life saying “I have always wanted to write a book” without doing anything about it. If you want to write, write.
Morgen: Absolutely. Some people are daunted by the prospect but when writing fiction you never know what’s going to come out. 300 words a day is 100,000 in a year, which sounds much less daunting. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Saskia: If you want to win the lottery, you have to buy a ticket.
Morgen: If you want to edit, you need to write. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Saskia: I cook and so I also do a lot of grocery shopping. I love reading recipes. I do a lot of laundry. Fascinating stuff, I know. I am a member of a club here in Munich called the Munich International Women’s club, and at the moment I’m a co-coordinator for speakers. Once a month, we have a large meeting and we usually have someone come and give us an interesting lecture. Since I’ve not got a job at the moment, it’s really nice to have that intellectual stimulation. I have lectured myself a few times, about hearing loss and deafness, a topic that has followed me from my previous life as a teacher.
Morgen: Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Saskia: I’m on Facebook, Goodreads, and Twitter. I really like Facebook and Goodreads, though the jury is still out on Twitter. I just don’t think I’m very good at using it.
Morgen: I’m the same with Goodreads. I’ve had some harsh (and some great) reviews on Goodreads so I should use it more but all I’ve been doing is accepting friend requests. I have 390 so a resource I’m clearly not utilising. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Saskia: I have a blog about writing, which can be found at http://saskiaeakyil.blogspot.com. I don’t talk about myself much on it, though, unless it relates to writing.
Morgen: I’m the same, although I have very little else to talk about.
Saskia: I also have an author page on Facebook (search for Saskia E. Akyil) and one on Goodreads. My blog entries also feed into the Goodreads page. I’m also on Twitter, Saskia E. Akyil.
Morgen: Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Saskia: No, but I’d like to thank you for the opportunity to be a guest poster on your lovely site!
Morgen: Oh, you’re very welcome. Thank you, Saskia.
I then invited Saskia to tell us more about her book: Secrets of a Summer Village
When she doesn’t get a place in a Mexican study abroad program, Rachel anticipates another summer behind the counter of a coffee shop until an unexpected opportunity to spend a month with a family in Turkey drastically changes the course of her summer. This intercultural coming-of-age novel is full of exotic tastes, summer heat, promises, and love. In a summer village on the western coast of Turkey, you’ll meet Rachel, who doesn’t know what she wants; Aylin, who doesn’t know if she wants the one who wants her; and Leyla, who knows who she wants, but doesn’t know if she’ll get him. Love and romance are secret pleasures in the summer village, which only make them more exciting.
Can coffee grounds tell your future? Will fate bring you to your soul mate thousands of miles from home? Would the evil eye dare stop two souls on their paths to each other? Travel with Rachel on her journey far from the comforts of home, to a place that will captivate her and leave her changed forever.
Secrets of a Summer Village is a novel in which modern, middle-class Turkish culture is seen through the eyes of an American teenager. In the 91,075-word novel, Rachel learns that many aspects of Turkish culture are different than her own, but that family, friendship, and love are universal.
Saskia E. Akyil lives in southern Germany with her husband and two young children. She enjoys cooking, writing, reading, tennis, listening to public radio, spending time with family and friends, and gardening. She wishes she could say she liked to exercise and clean the house. Saskia speaks five languages relatively well, none of them perfectly, and once upon a time spoke two more, which she’s mostly forgotten. She used to be an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher, but is taking a break from that while her children are small and intense.
Update December 2012: I’ve just completed the manuscript for my second book, and I’m currently querying it to agents. Here’s the pitch:
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