Into YA with Erin Hahn
I know I'm not supposed to name favorites, but getting to interview Erin was such a wonderful treat! I absolutely adore her and her book, and I was so honored that she was willing to come on the blog.
I'm so happy I get to share her wisdom with all of you. I suggest that if you haven't heard about You'd Be Mine or know much about it, check out my review before continuing with this article, but make sure you come back because you don't want to miss this one, and if you'd like to purchase the book you can do so here.
1. Music plays a major role in the story considering they’re both country stars. You’ve even made a playlist of songs, which I’ll link below. Were you ever nervous about getting the sound and attitude of the music to translate to the reader, especially a reader who might be unfamiliar with the songs?
Oh my word, YES. First of all, I am very aware not everyone loves country music and even more to the point, not everyone understands the rich history of the industry. I remember at one point my copy editor flagged my MC, Annie’s singing “Fancy” by Reba McEntire. Annie, like me, feels strongly about educating her young fans on the classics of country… which includes Loretta, Reba, and of course Johnny and June. “Fancy” is an anthem for every little girl who was raised on country… but it’s, um, also, at its core, about a girl named Fancy whose mom encourages her at 16 to find a rich sugar daddy and escape her impoverished life. (Spoiler, she does. Spoiler, spoiler, the song is incredibly empowering) But of course, I worried how that would come across to my readers. In the end, I stuck to my gut and Annie still sings Fancy and I just hope readers will listen to the song themselves and decide what they think. I could always very easily imagine Annie Mathers or Clay Coolidge on stage, singing their hearts out, but making sure what I see in my brain makes its way onto the page and into the reader’s brain is tricky. It’s a lot of appealing to the senses and giving the reader a 4-D experience of being on the stage with the stars. I hope I pulled it off. :)
2. Was writing the original song lyrics difficult? HA! Yes. Do you have any tips for someone wondering how to add music to their novel as seamlessly as you did?
Oh my gosh, thank you for saying that! The truth is, I never planned on keeping the songs in. In fact, the first song I wrote, Coattails, was never supposed to be read AT ALL. I wrote it for me because Clay had just told off Annie and called her an “Internet sensation” and I was listening to a lot of Miranda Lambert and all in my feels. Even *I* was mad at Clay! So I wrote the song as a way for Annie to vent and I fully intended to remove it before I sent to my critique partners, but I forgot. Suddenly I had three messages that said, “OH MY GOD THIS SONG!!!”. I usually don’t like songs in books, and assumed everyone would make me take them out… but I just kept writing more and at every stage, people loved them so I kept them in. Maybe that’s the key? Write it just for you? I can tell you that I’ve got notebooks full of lyrics and poetry from the time I was a teen. Lyrics are a language I speak fluently, but I can’t carry a tune. Perhaps this is the compromise I get. :)
3. Clay has a split persona so much that he uses his middle name for his stage personality and his first, which few people use, to cultivate the person he wants to be. !!! The dynamic between the person he presents and the person he wants to be creates some delicious internal conflict. Do you think that his identity confusion came from being a teen or being in show business more? Is the “Clay” persona a product of who he thought he should be or was it who he genuinely was at one point in his life?
Goodness, this is an excellent observation. I think “Clay” stems from multiple factors. I think once those who called him “Jefferson” were gone, he wanted to close the door on that part of his life. Preserve it, somehow, just as it was. I also think his fame came along at that same moment, and he needed a stage persona; someone cocky and confident and carefree. Jefferson wasn’t any of those things, so he became Clay. I do think “Clay” was real for that first year or so of his career. He’d reimagined himself in a way that allowed him to survive, but just as with his crutches of alcohol and girls and whatever else, he can’t sustain Clay forever.
4. This is not a high school story as it takes place on the road with characters who are all eighteen and older. I absolutely love that the story is an Older YA story with college aged protagonists. What made you decide to write these characters as eighteen year olds? What do you think about the future of older protagonists in YA?
Well, there’s the obvious reason which is that it’s far easier to write the logistics of a summer tour if everyone is legally an adult. :) BUT, I write upper YA because I graduated high school at seventeen and so I was still “YA” aged while enduring some pretty “adult” things like moving away from home and going to college and having a serious relationship and so forth. For me, this is the reality (minus the whole country music super star thing). I think there is a gap between YA and Adult, where NA used to be and I think 16-22 yo’s are missing out on stories they can see themselves in. Those years are pivotal! I love that Wednesday Books is tackling Coming of Age stories and I’m thrilled that they are providing me a place to play. I think we’ll be seeing more and more of these stories come along in the next few years, if the positive response to "You’d Be Mine" is any indication!
5. Not only do you have a dual point of view novel, you also write from both the male and female prospective. Was their one voice that came easier? Were their voices always so distinct in your head or did you have to work to make them so different? Was writing from the male POV more difficult, and do you have tips for writers interested in doing this?
Clay and Annie were both super loud and clear as I wrote. I’m not a very precise outliner (read: I don’t outline) but I am a very particular playlist-builder and each of my POV’s has their own playlist that I refer back to each time I switch voices. It helps me to keep them straight in my head, but also provides me with all the emotional ammo I need for the scene. I actually *loved* writing Clay and I hope I pulled it off! I feel like it’s not so much writing “male” or “female” as writing “Clay” or “Annie” or whoever I am writing. I spend a lot of time learning everything I can about my character. Their hobbies, their favorite songs, their favorite words… everyone has quirks that make them unique. Yeah, Clay is a guy, but he’s also a farm boy, a country singer, a borderline alcoholic, a ladies man, a grandson, a brother of a marine, a son of a cancer victim, a teenager who took the GED… know what I mean? All of that makes his voice more than just being male. Annie lived in Michigan, but was born Nashville royalty, she’s an athlete whose best friend is a guy, she’s got a smokey soprano. She’s sassy and uses her twang as a weapon. She’s a church girl raised by her grandparents… all of that creates her voice more than her being a female.
6. You’d Be Mine is your first published novel. Do you have any advice for authors who are currently querying and for those who just signed their first book deal? Is there something you wish you’d known before jumping into thee process?
Well, I don’t know how much jumping in happened. :) "You’d Be Mine" is the 6th full length novel I’ve written. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon FOR SURE. My advice would be to write what you want, because publishing trends are already gone by the time you hear about them. I spent a long time trying to write the Next Big Thing and I never caught it. When I set out to write YBM, I was fed up with rejection and decided (pardon) “Fuck it, write what you want to read Hahn.” I mean. Come on. Whoever thought someone would buy a country music book? But *I* wanted to read something sweet and swoony and sassy so I decided to write it and fell head over heels in the process. I was actually just listening to my playlist the other day and had the thought, “I want to read this” before I remembered I could because I have the ARC on my shelf. :) I truly believe that made all the difference. Write what you’re passionate about, quirky as it may be. If you like bowling? Write a book about a couple of teens in rival bowling leagues. Make your readers want to bowl. I’d read the hell out of bowling meet-cute if it was passionately written.
Also, parental control yourself out of Good Reads and Netgalley after your ARCs go out. You’ll thank me later.
7. I know your book isn’t even out yet, but for the readers who will inevitably fall in love with your book and be desperate for more, do you have any projects that you can talk about?
So far, YOU’D BE MINE is still a standalone, although maybe one day… But for now, I have another YA contemporary romance coming out in 2020 from Wednesday Books. It’s called MORE THAN MAYBE and it’s the love story between the son of a former British punk rocker and a music blogger. A song that he writes about her accidentally goes viral and the two have to navigate their growing feelings on a national stage while also trying to save the dive bar they both work at. It’s the grungy alternative music story of my heart and I can’t wait for you all to meet Luke and Vada. :)