Friday, August 8, 2014

Keepin' It Real Event: Interview: Paula Stokes

I'm so excited to be a part of this event, which is hosted by Eli and Kaitlin, who are among my favorite bloggers and people (Eli and I were co-hosting the #BBFandomWars event before we had to cancel it until next year, if you recall). I knew as soon as Kaitlin told me about the event that I wanted to be a part of it because I love contemporary YA.

Anyhow, I'm excited to be hosting Paula Stokes, author of The Art of Lainey, which I loved! Note: This is basically the first author interview I've ever really done, so my questions are a bit lame. Sorry! ;P

J: We’ll start off simply and with a question I’m 99% sure you’ve been asked before. For people that don’t know about The Art of Lainey, tell us a little bit about it.

P: It's the story of Lainey, a popular soccer star whose perfect life comes crashing down when her not-so-perfect boyfriend dumps her with no explanation. Never one to accept defeat, Lainey decides to win back her boyfriend with the help of her friend Bianca and some age-old strategies from Sun Tzu's The Art of War. The closer Lainey gets to achieving her goal, the more she realizes that victory might not be the best thing for her. But how do you give up the perfect life to embrace the unknown, especially if you're scared of change?

What inspired you to write Lainey/what sparked the idea?

The book was sparked by one of my own breakups, but everything about the story is fictionalized, i.e. I am not Lainey is not me. Basically I was living this charmed existence with a great job and a fancy book deal (for Venom) and a guy I was crazy about. And then he just split without warning or reason. Like Lainey, I wanted him back. Like Lainey, I eventually realized there were other things that mattered a lot more to me. The book is also a love story to the city of St. Louis and to the alternative music that keeps me sane.

Did you know from the beginning that you wanted to use/incorporate The Art of War or was it something that came after the spark/inspiration?

It came later after I had to change the plot of the book to keep it from being too much like Easy A. The idea of fake dating and using sneaky strategies to manipulate exes was there from the beginning, but I incorporated The Art of War after the story was partially written.

How was writing Lainey different from writing Venom in terms of writing under your own name rather than under a pseudonym?

I wrote LAINEY and VENOM at the same time, the main difference being that VENOM was a collaborative project with Paper Lantern Lit so much of the original idea was theirs and they retain the copyright. Working with PLL was a fantastic way to strengthen my craft and learn about the publishing industry. I also think I gained the confidence to write my own twisty mysteries (LIARS, INC.; VICARIOUS) after doing the VENOM trilogy. Before I worked to plot out a mystery with PLL, the whole idea of clues and foreshadowing and red herrings, etc. all seemed really intimidating.

If you were to use a book to guide you toward a goal of yours, which book would it be?

Um...I'm not sure what you mean. I've got some military survival guide manuals that guide me toward my goal of not being killed first in the zombie apocalypse :D

What’s the most extreme thing you’ve done to try to win back an ex (if anything)?

Nothing major comes to mind. Probably stupid stuff like writing long letters about why I missed them or convincing them to hang out as "just friends" afterward because I was "totally cool" with everything that went down. I think it's worth noting that of the three guys who totally broke my heart, two of them eventually came back around on their own and wanted to get back together. Sadly for them, I was over them before they realized their mistakes >:)

I know you’re a huge proponent of reader reviews, whether positive or not. Do you ever read the more negative reviews? If so, how do you deal with the criticism? How great has the impact of reader reviews been on your books, both Lainey and the books in the Venom series?

It depends on my mood honestly. I read all the reviews at first but the one-star ones are often someone who hates my premise or hates my writing style and so not going to prove very helpful since all of my premises are different and I'm not changing a writing style that has sold 9 books to major publishers. There were negative reviews of VENOM that really came down hard on the anachronisms, and because of them I did spend more editing each book, checking word derivations and historical facts. I even had one of the critics of VENOM read STARLING for historical accuracy.

Occasionally I'll hop onto Goodreads and read all the reviews, but for the most part it doesn't affect how I work, aside from making me more aware of off-the-cuff remarks I write without thinking. I essentially wrote LAINEY to be super sex-positive and not at all slut shaming, but some reviewers were offended by some of the language between the coffee shop workers, which was meant jokingly but might have been read as serious insults.

I did weigh a lot of comments in LIARS, INC like "Oh, is someone going to take this the wrong way?" during final edits, but then I kept what I had for the most part because you can't please everyone. Reviewers, collectively, hate everything. People who come to your book with an agenda are always going to find something to hold up as "evidence" even if it's totally not what you meant. The best plan is to write what *I* am proud of and that's always going to be what best serves the story, offensive or not.

Besides Liars, Inc, what are your current projects (if you can tell us about them)? I know you have a couple of books coming out soon, all of which I’m excited for!

After the LAINEY novella INFINITE REPEAT and LIARS, INC. comes VICARIOUS, which is the book that scares me in a good way. It was so challenging to write because main character Winter is Korean and suffers from PTSD, two things where I can't draw from my personal experience. Winter is fluent in English after several years of study and living in the US, but she's still an EFL speaker so the prose is more formal on purpose, which was hard for me since my own voice is so slang-heavy. I also have a sequel to VICARIOUS for Tor Teen and two more romantic contemporaries sold to Harper. Everything is higher concept than The Art of Lainey so I'm hopeful some of the projects will sell well, as the main complaint with LAINEY was that it's too predictable or just not special enough to stand out.

In my downtime I'm toying with an NA book, an adult book, a paranormal YA I might self-pub, and a non-fiction proposal. I'd love to feel like I can do the full-time writing thing and the way to have a shot at that is to always keep moving forward.

Speed Round!

Tea, coffee, or water?
Coffee! (What is this water you speak of?)

Ice cream or cupcakes?

Morning or night?
Morning, as long as we're talking one in the morning, which is when I'm usually finishing up my writing work. So yeah, night :D

Stand alones or series?
Stand alones where I fall madly in love with the characters and dream up companion novels that might or might not ever get published. *cough The Tao of Micah* *cough Killers, Inc.*

Bookmarks or buttons (in terms of swag)?
Bookmarks, because they're much cheaper to send internationally. Also I'm always afraid TSA is going to steal my backpack buttons when I go through airport security.

Writing by hand or typing?
Typing, though (shameless confession) I never learned how to type so I do what the Koreans call "eagle typing." I just use my talon fingers :)
Thank you so much to Paula for the awesome answers! I do hope you'll check out The Art of Lainey, Venom, Infinite Repeat, and Paula's upcoming books (I'm especially excited for Vicarious). 

The Art of Lainey by Paula Stokes
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: May 20th, 2014
Soccer star Lainey Mitchell is gearing up to spend an epic summer with her amazing boyfriend, Jason, when he suddenly breaks up with her—no reasons, no warning, and in public no less! Lainey is more than crushed, but with help from her friend Bianca, she resolves to do whatever it takes to get Jason back.

And that’s when the girls stumble across a copy of The Art of War. With just one glance, they’re sure they can use the book to lure Jason back into Lainey’s arms. So Lainey channels her inner warlord, recruiting spies to gather intel and persuading her coworker Micah to pose as her new boyfriend to make Jason jealous. After a few “dates”, it looks like her plan is going to work! But now her relationship with Micah is starting to feel like more than just a game.

What’s a girl to do when what she wants is totally different from what she needs? How do you figure out the person you’re meant to be with, if you’re still figuring out the person you’re meant to be?


Infinite Repeat by Paula Stokes
Publisher: HarperTeen Impulse
Release Date: August 5th, 2014
Seventeen-year-old Micah Foster is looking forward to the return of his girlfriend, Amber, who's been away in Los Angeles recording an EP with her band. But when Amber returns home on the anniversary of Micah's dad's death, something feels different and Micah pushes her away.

Over the next week, as Micah tries to repair his relationship with Amber, he relives the events of the past few years and recognizes a pattern. His friends and family are right--he self-destructs every April, right around the time his dad died, hurting people he cares about in the process. Will Amber be this year's casualty? Or can Micah escape his past in time to fix his present?

And be sure to check out the rest of this event!

Jaye Robin Brown

Jennifer Mathieu

Kim Culbertson

Bethany Crandell

Huntley Fitzpatrick

Lauren Oliver

Kate Hattemer

Kevin Emerson

Lauren Morrill

Janet Gurtler

Philip Siegel

Jennifer Echols

Amy Zhang

Paula Stokes

Courtney C. Stevens

Nikki Godwin


  1. Love the interview. I can't wait to read it. Sounds like one of those revenge stories we all know and love, just gone contemporary. And kudos to you Paula for writing two books at the same time!!!

  2. Great interview! It surprises me how Art of War wasn't incorporated from the beginning :D

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  4. LOL eagle typing! I had no idea that there was a name for it. I'm usually typing like that but hey I got really good at it :D Anyhow great interview and thanks for sharing :)

    1. I'm also really good at "eagle typing." Like 50+ words a minute. I keep telling myself I should learn to type proper because then I could probably type 100 words a minute. But then I'm too lazy to take those two steps back in order to move forward :-)

  5. I'm especially excited for Vicarious too! It sounds so interesting. I've only read The Art of Lainey so far (amazing book!) but I'm so excited for the rest of Paula's books. I think I'd even read her adult book. :)

    Thank you so much for being a part of this event, Jessica!

  6. Man was I full of myself when I answered these questions :-) I wish I could work on all of those projects at once, but mostly I max out at working on 2 books in a day and maybe jotting down some notes for a 3rd one. But someday I will write ALL THE BOOKS. (Or have a nervous breakdown trying.) Probably that second thing :-)

  7. My goodness, I HAVE to read The Art of Lainey. I have been wanting to for such a long time, but I really need to, no more of my procrastination! And Vicarious sounds completely amazing too. I haven't a clue how to type either. I use this random conglomeration of fingers. When I was in elementary school, we had a typing class, but I totally cheated when no one was watching. Great interview!!

  8. I love Paula Stokes, she is so fun and sweet! I have The Art of Lainey on my TBR shelf, and I hope to get to it soon! This just makes me that much more excited to read it! Thanks for the interview!

  9. This is an awesome interview! Paula seems so fun. I loved Lainey and NEED to get Infinite Repeat ASAP. I'm very excited for Liars, INC, too. :)

  10. This was a great interview. She seems so awesome! I need to read her book asap.

  11. I read The Art of Lainey and really enjoyed it, will need to read Infinite Repeat and check out her upcoming books and the Venom trilogy! I love how she's honest about her reviews and her being part of a book publishing company! Great interview! :) I'm also an "eagle typer" and never learned how to type but I'm still fairly fast :)

  12. I love The Art of Lainey and Infinite Repeat. I am really looking forward to reading Liars, INC. when it comes out.
    I learned some new stuff from this interview. I didn't realize that The Art of War wasn't always part of the story.
    Or that she prefers cupcakes to ice cream. I love buttons for swag, but I never considered having to try and go through security with them. Bookmarks are pretty awesome too.
    I like that reading the reviews doesn't affect how she works and writes.
    I am really looking forward to all of these WIP.
    Great interview!

  13. I've read Paula's Venom and The Art of Lainey, but it's so funny to me how drastically different they are to me :D Venom was one of the first historical fiction books that actually got me into that genre. And The Art of Lainey was perfectionnnn. Micah <33
    It's really interesting to see how real life incidents inspire people to write books. I love reading the backgrounds to stories and how they came to be!

  14. I really enjoyed how Paula incorporated the Art of War into the story and turned the brutish/heartless ideas into effect with such a non-violent project, getting back a boyfriend. Lol, I should probably get a military survival guide too! Wow, you have a wonderful and positive attitude towards reviews :) I think it's really cool that you read them both positive and negative ones. Lovely interview!

  15. *SQUISHES* to all of you for your lovely comments :-)


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