I’m pleased to welcome debut author D. J. McCune, author of Death and Co, published by Hot Key Books this May, to talk about her big break into the publishing world.
1) I would love to know a little about your writing journey. What did you do before writing books?
I always loved writing stories even as a kid but it’s only in the last three years I started to get serious about it. Jobwise I was a TEFL teacher in Japan, a chalet girl in Switzerland, a residential social worker in a children’s home and a teacher. Working abroad helps you get ideas for books and learn more about what makes people tick – plus most of my working life has been spent with teenagers so it’s natural that I write about and for them. I’m able to observe them on a daily basis!
2) Your debut book, Death & Co. has just been published. How did you spend publication day?
It was a really strange day – the day that everything happens and nothing happens. I spent most of the afternoon mooching about, not really settling to anything but enjoying the congratulations – including a beautiful bunch of flowers from my publisher Hot Key. I have lots of publicity type events over the next few weeks but publication day itself was quiet – the calm before the storm!
3) How does it feel to finally have your name on a book?
It’s brilliant! Only someone who’s a lifelong book lover can understand what it feels like to see your name on a gorgeous book cover. It’s a long journey – in fact I call my blog Notebook to Novel because when I started it I was an unpublished writer and it charts the ups and downs of getting from the scribble stage to the finished book.
4) Death & Co. is the first book in the series. How many will be in the series altogether?
There will be at least 3. Hot Key acquired it as a trilogy but in my head there were always more books. There are so many characters and I find the Luman world so fascinating I could just write and write about it! J
5) Can you tell us a little bit about the book for my readers who have yet to set eyes on such a delight?
Death & Co is about Adam Mortson, a 15 year old boy who longs for a normal life – but can’t have it. He’s from a family of Lumen, humans who guide the souls of the dead into the afterlife. The book is really about Adam’s struggle to balance the demands of two very different worlds – the Luman world and his life at school where he hangs out with his geeky mates and struggles to pass exams and get his first girlfriend. He’s trying to live two lives at once without feeling totally comfortable in either the Luman world or the ‘normal’ world. Most people can identify with that at some point in their lives – feeling like you’re playing a game where you don’t actually know the rules! Adam isn’t a conventional teen / YA hero – he’s more of a geeky anti-hero than a slick romantic lead – but he has his own charm.
6) Where did you get your inspiration from for it?
Odd as it sounds – I was writing an email to a friend! I had a rotten cold and started writing, ‘I feel like death.’ Somehow this didn’t seem strong enough to convey my suffering so I wrote, ‘I feel like death’s ailing granny.’ When I wrote those words I felt a kind of mental PING; something around the idea of death having a family. I started writing Death & Co. there and then – and the rest is history J
7) How long did it take you to write?
I’m very much a ‘fits and starts’ writer by nature – I wrote for a couple of months, then took a few months off, then started writing again to finish the book. I’m not always the most disciplined person and I was working full time – plus I was pregnant and renovating a house! I used to sit and write in rare quiet moments – lunchtime at work, late at night; whenever I could squeeze it in really.
8) What was your first reaction when you found out your book was to be published?
Satisfaction – and huge excitement obviously. I’d had a good feeling about the book but it’s different to anything else I’ve read so it was always going to be a gamble for publishers (and publishers are notoriously risk averse!) My lovely agent Gillie Russell had a good vibe from Hot Key Books – she just felt that Emily Thomas my editor ‘got’ the book right from the start – and she was right.
9) Were you given any good writing advice that you would like to share with my readers?
Less advice and more what I’ve picked up along the way. Follow the idea wherever it takes you. Don’t edit at the start – jut get it down (every time I get stuck writing it’s because I’m trying to be too clever and get it all down pat first time). Let your characters lead the way. Write as often as you can. And if you’re serious about being a writer – persevere. If you quit at the first hurdle you’ll never see your name on a book cover.
10) Did you find it easy to get an agent?
Actually yes – but there was a bit of serendipity in the whole thing. I attended a writing class in the town where I live and my tutor Bernie McGill was impressed with some writing I showed her. She asked her agency if they could recommend a good agent for teen fiction – and by a quirk of fate they had just taken on my agent Gillie Russell. I sent her a sample… and the rest is history. (If you read my blog you’ll see this took place over a period of months, not overnight. Agents really are busy, busy people – plus I broke all the rules by sending my sample chapters before I had finished the book!)
11) Who is the one person that cheered you on and supported you through your writing?
It’s really tough picking only one person. Bernie and Gillie were both heroes but picking one with a gun to my head I would have to say my husband Colm. He’s a journalist and academic and he understands how tough it is to work on massive projects and put yourself out there with your work under scrutiny. He was always supportive, even when I was writing during dinner or late at night, usually singing along (badly) to my music playlist…
12) What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on the sequel to Death & Co. – part 2 of the trilogy. I’m really enjoying getting to know the characters more – and revealing a whole lot more about the Luman world. Book 1 was just the tip of the iceberg. Book 2 gives a lot more insight into the quirks of Luman life, especially for the female characters – but you’ll also get to read about Coming of Age for male Lumen – and it’s pretty painful! It’s also nice to see Adam getting slightly better at the whole romance thing. Let’s face it – he can’t get any worse.
Adam is a Luman, and it runs in the family. Escorting the dead from life into light, Adam must act as guide to those taken before their time. As his older brothers fall into their fate however, Adam clings to his life as a normal kid - one who likes girls, hates the Head and has a pile of homework to get through by Monday morning. When Adam gets a terrible premonition he realises that he must make a devastating choice, risking his life, his family and his destiny
To find out more about D.J. McCune:
There are two comps running through Movellas at the minute, one creative writing (on afterlife theme) and a brilliant one for graphic artists - looking for the official Death & Co artist (prize is a MacBook Air with complete Adobe Creative suite!!!). All details on the FB page