Thursday, November 19, 2009

Seekerville Welcomes Lara Zielin

Tina, thanks so much for hosting me on your blog! It’s an honor to be here, and I’ll do my best to talk about some of the things I’ve learned writing YA—both good and bad.

DONUT DAYS was a labor of love for a long, long time. The first time I ever penned the book, I wrote it as chick-lit (back when chick-lit was a burgeoning book genre) and my protagonist was in her late-20s. The setting for the book was the same: the area outside a soon-to-open donut store in Minnesota, where excited fans of the franchise had assembled to be the first in line.

As first drafts often go, it wasn’t fabulous. I wasn’t in love with my protagonist, and something just wasn’t clicking with the manuscript. I don’t know at what point the light went off inside my head and I realized I should revamp the whole thing to be YA, but it did. I think subconsciously I’d been flirting with the idea for a while. I’d always read YA (even past my teenage years) and I often found it more enjoyable than so-called grownup books.

But finding my YA voice wasn’t easy. In fact, I’d say finding my voice, period, as a writer was a challenge and something I still struggle with to some degree. I wrote and re-wrote DONUT DAYS numerous times to get it right. I read other YA books voraciously and dissected them to try and figure out how plot, pacing, and character development worked. I made my close friend and writing partner, author Ellen Baker, read and re-read the novel to try and help me get it to the finish line. I submitted it a few times to agents and publishers but … no love. Eventually I tossed it in the recycle bin and there it sat for a while.

Ellen encouraged me to dig it out and try, try again. Which I eventually did after a few dramatic realizations.

I knew that one of the problems I was having with the book was not making my main character, Emma, believable. For example, I’d write that she and her family were hard-up for money, but then I’d have her wearing Mac lipstick. Which, how is girlfriend going to afford that if she has to work and save just to buy a pair of jeans from Old Navy?

Also, I was telling a LOT and not showing very much. For example, Emma was always saying how her parents never talked to her about anything and how they left her in the dark, but there weren’t any scenes that illustrated this.

I think that there’s a misperception that people fail at writing YA because they “talk down” or “preach” to teens in their writing, but I disagree. I think it’s more simple than that. I think I failed continually because I couldn’t put myself in the shoes of my main character convincingly. I wrote as if through a veil—almost like I was afraid to have her experience, think, or feel anything real. For that reason, my book was plot-heavy for a long, long time (This happened! Then that! Then another thing!) so that the hot-and-heavy action kept my main character from ever having to stop and actually have an emotion or an experience.

When I was able to empathize with Emma—to almost become her in a way—I had my breakthrough. Some authors have characters who reveal themselves almost in a vision. Me, not so much. I practically have to take my characters on myself. It’s kind of brutal—but it’s the only way I’ve been able to find success.

The process was a little bit easier for my next novel, PROMGATE, which comes out in summer 2011. Again, I had help, and also I’ve been reading YA novels more voraciously than ever, which is the best thing I can recommend for any aspiring YA writer. Reading good YA helps you write good YA.

I haven’t figured it all out by any means—I’m still growing and evolving a lot as a writer—but I love YA and want to keep at it as long as my publisher and agent will let me.

Seekerville Background Check on Lara:

Lara Zielin is
from a town in Wisconsin called Eau Claire. She likes cheese. She once swallowed a moth.

Be sure to check out Lara's video Editing Letter.

The other reason we invited Lara to Seekerville is because her favorite drink is Starbuck's grande, non-fat, no whip, pumpkin spice latte. (That and because she is hilarious. We like hilarious around here. Especially in writers.)

Lara will be giving away a copy of Donut Days (hardcover even),
to one lucky Seekerville visitor.

And, Seekerville will be giving away a five dollar Starbuck's card so you can buy a grande, non-fat, no whip, pumpkin spice latte.

Drawing will be held at 8pm MST and announced in the comments.


  1. Welcome Lara !
    you have a catching cover! i love the color:)
    It's always great knowing a new author for me !

  2. ooooh i've seen this book on a lot of YA book blogs and would love to read it!!!

  3. Lara,

    I'm so glad you found success with your book, and congratulations on your second one being released. Reaching the end of the rainbow is great isn't it?

    I also had a novel I had to put aside and one day hope to pick back up to fix. Sometimes you need to step out of the story (and in my case into another story for a while) in order to regain your objectivity and know how to fix the manuscript.

    BTW- my addy is

  4. Coffee's on!!!

    Gooooood Morning, Seeeeekervillians!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Great coffee. Fresh cream. Some pumpkin goodness latte' stuff brought by an amazingly cute female barista who looks like I WISH I looked in cute jeans and a bolero jacket.


    Anyway, Lara, welcome, welcome! How fun is this??? And you made great points about revisiting, retooling.

    I love how the YA market is opening up. I wonder why it ever was allowed to 'slip' in the first place? Like good farm management, it's important to breed your replacements, in this case future readers.


    Thanks for being with us today! I've got breakfast sandwich makings at the back table, please note the turkey motif on the tableware. Totally Mary's doing. Very Nebraska.

    Grab some food, try the coffee and let me know if we run low on anything!


  5. You know, I really love chick lit. I love the voice of the characters, their exploits, and the first person POV. So I was sad when writers shied away due to a saturated market.

    I need to start reading some YA. I've heard great things about some of the Christian YA authors like Jenny B. Jones and Shelly Adina. Plus Kristin Billerbeck, chick lit queen, has a YA book coming out next year, I think.

    So, Lara, I will have to hunt for your book because 1. I love a fresh voice and 2. I love trans fat-laden doughnuts. Not a coffee drinker, but love pumpkin spice donuts.

    Thanks for sharing and reminding us to dig deeper to create believable characters!

  6. Okay step aside. A very large tray of powdered donuts coming through. No grabbing, they leave obvious trails.


  7. Welcome to Seekerville, Lara! I love the insight that you had to put yourself in your heroine's shoes before you could write with effective emotion. Great advice!

    Your story is one of persistence, something we hear all the time here in Seekerville.

    Thanks for the breakfast sandwiches, Ruthy. And Tina for the powdered donuts. I think. It looks like it's snowing on my keyboard.


  8. Welcome Lara to Seekerville, Its always fun to have visitors. Thanks for sharing your journey.

    Love the sugar donuts Tina. Haven't had those in ages.

    I was going to write for YA once until my crit group said my "teens" dialogue sounded like two old ladies having coffee. LOL.

    It takes a special talent to write for YA. Congrats and keep it up because as Ruthy pointed out, our teens need great reads.

  9. LARA!!! Your Editing Letter video is a HOOT!! I absolutely loved it and had to show my husband too. You are TOO cute!!

    Welcome to Seekerville, and if your darling sense of humor is not enough to get me to read "Donut Days," I assure you that the title is ... donuts are my downfall! :)

    Thanks for a great blog!


  10. Hi, Lara. thanks for telling us your story. Awesome.

    Your book looks great, and I love the cover too! :-)

    Have a great day.

    lynnrush [at] cox [dot] net

  11. Hi Lara!
    I look foward to checking out your book! I love to read YA and the best part is my daughter is at a great age where she reads it too and then we chat about it for hours!

    A toast of starbucks coffee to your success! Shhh don't tell, but mine is Dunkin Dounuts hazlenut right now.


  12. Welcome, Lara.
    thanks for sharing your humor and love for YA.
    And Donuts? Well now, what a better way to start a day - reading and eating donuts ;-)

    It might just be me (no surprise there), but I always have to 'almost become' my characters to write them. Even this angelic-like being in my fantasy series (though my kids would object I could EVER 'almost become angelic), I have to mentally and emotionally 'feel' her so I can write her.

    That's one of the most amazing thigns about writing...and one of the reasons my husband gives me strange looks when I'm crying while writing a sad scene. I 'feel' the pain.

    Question: What are some of the top issues you've discovered that really relate to your YA readers? Things you've incorported in your book? "Wuv? Twu Wuv?" and what else? ;-)

  13. Wow, I'm glad to see all the YA readers on here, since I'm a YA writer. Didn't know I was, but apparently I am!

    Anywaaaayyy ... thanks for being here, Lara, and sharing your experiences! I kind of fell into the YA category without meaning to. It seems all my heroines are about 18 or 19 years old. Why? I think it's because I'm immature for a, ah-hem, thirty-something person. I'm still processing all the stuff teenagers are supposed to learn! Anyway, I love 18-yr-olds and I seem to be able to get into their mind-set pretty easily. Even my "adult" Christian romances have young heroines.

    And your cover looks quite yummy!

  14. Welcome, Lara! You sound like a fun person to be around. I'm really glad Tina snagged you to guestblog here. Your book sounds great.

    Definitely plan to pick it up.

    Thanks for joining us in Seekerville today.


  15. Lara - What a great story of persistence! Your characterization tips will help on my adult fiction wip's too. :-)

  16. Having grown up in NC, I thought, for the longest time, that only Kripy Kreme made doughnuts. Then I discovered sugar doughnuts, which always leave that interesting ring around your mouth if you're not careful.

    The book sounds delicious, too.


  17. Wuv and Twu Wuv?

    That sounds like The Princes Bride !!!

  18. Please entter me to win and please tell me where to order this book. I need a copy of this immediately for my friends birthday!

  19. OK, now please just enter me to win. I just ordered this from Amazon! Thank you!

  20. LOL, Jenny you are too funny. Yes, click on the handy dandy link that is highlighted in the word


    We did that specifically for you, dear.


    Made easy.

  21. I tried writing at work on my lunch hour. I brought my lap top. But do you know how embarrassing it is to read scenes aloud and act them out in the lunch room???

  22. Tina,
    Definitely, The Princes Bride...woohoo. I use that scene with the priest in my speech disorders class, just for fun.
    "mawwage, mawwage is what bwings us togever today." ;-)

    Actually, for YA fiction I don't think marriage is what's bringing us together...but maybe a little bit of romance ;-)

  23. Oh and Tina,
    you mean other people are paying attention to me when I read those scenes outloud during lunch? Go figure. ;-) Maybe that's what they're laughing about.

    By now my grad students are so used to me, they may not even notice ;-)

  24. Acccck....OK never mind. They aren't shipping books until January. It was a good plan! The book is just so perfect for a friend of mine. She had B/C and then went back to work to a boring job that she hated. About a year ago the B/C came back but she still continued to work. And then three months ago she chucked her job, bought a donut making machine and started going to fairs and festivals to sell donuts to make a living. Your book just seemed like the funniest gift. TMI! Sorry. But I'll order it for next year! Thanks!

  25. I've been reading some of my mom's CF books, but I've love to read some YA ones!
    vkc922 at cox dot net

  26. Are you sure Jenny. I just ordered it and it is going to arrive November 24.

  27. Hello Anonymousie VCK.

    Get your mom to post here so you can win the book!!

  28. Hi Laura:

    I think some of the world’s best literature can be found in ‘so-called’ children’s books. I regularly read Newbery Medal and Honor Books. Many of these youth books are as good as anything anyone is writing today. I strongly recommend writers read these books.

    I saw Twilight and it was so obviously YA that it raised some questions.

    Do the YA readers know when a book is YA written specifically for them?

    What is the most essential element in a YA book? 1) age of characters, 2) problems faced by the characters, 3) the writing style.

    Do all YAs have to be ‘sweet’ romances?

    Do you think you will write a paranormal YA?

    I am not sure if I’ve ever read a genre YA and would really like to read your book. Please enter me in the contest.


    Vmres at swbell dot net.

  29. Thanks for being on, Lara. I love it that we've got a YA author stopping in.

    Great blog

  30. Lara,

    Your book sounds wonderful. I'll definately look for in book stores. I write for younger children but love reading YA novels!

    Glad to hear you have a second book coming out.


    RRossZediker at yahoo dot com

  31. Hey all! Thanks so much for having me on Seekerville! After a morning of meetings, I promise I'll be commenting more throughout the day. As you probably all know, writing YA doesn't necessarily pay the bills alone! :)

  32. Vince, you had some really great questions. I'm not sure I'm qualified to answer all of them, but that's never stopped me from pretending to be an expert before. :) Let me take a stab:

    Do the YA readers know when a book is YA written specifically for them?

    Most of the time, it's pretty clear. It's marketed to teens, there's a teen section at the bookstore, it has donuts on the cover. Just kidding on that last one. But occasionally, there's a book that has major crossover where the lines are really blurred. THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHTTIME, for example. Or even THE BOOK THIEF. Also, some books that are marketed as YA I think shouldn't be. THE ASTONISHING LIFE OF OCTAVIAN NOTHING, for example. But even though things can sometimes get a little fuzzy, most YA books are very clearly YA.

    What is the most essential element in a YA book? 1) age of characters, 2) problems faced by the characters, 3) the writing style.

    I think the most essential element of a YA book is the most essential element of any book: A good story. That involves plot, pacing, character development, and that tough-to-nail-down thing we call voice. I think it's tough to do in any genre.

    Do all YAs have to be ‘sweet’ romances?
    Heck to the no! And most aren't, actually. There is a lot of edgy, compelling YA that takes on tough issues with little to no smooching.

    Do you think you will write a paranormal YA?
    I don't think so. I think the genre has jumped the shark, plus it's just not my cup of tea. What I'd love to know is: what's next? What will be hot in the next two years? Anyone have any guesses??

  33. Jenny, I loved your comment about your friend! OMG, a donut-making machine? Too funny. I want. Waaaant! *throws self down on floor.*

  34. What? Work meetings? I thought you meant meetings with your masseuse and your personal shopper!!!

  35. Lisa, I totally agree with you about chick-lit. I tried my hand at a romance recently, and my agent told me it was not as much romance as it was chick-lit. Then she told me to re-write it because chick-lit just wasn't viable in the marketplace anymore (for the masses, though there are certainly still a few writers that are successful at it). It made me so sad because 5-7 years ago, my little novel probably could have worked. Now, I really need to make it a straight-up romance. Which I'll do.

  36. I am home today and so in Lara's honor I just ate a maple glazed cream filled donut AND a lemon filled vanilla glazed.

    I often martyr myself for our really cool guests.

  37. Melanie, I completely understand what you're saying about your YA characters! Sometimes, younger characters just feel like the right thing to write. I wish you all the best on your YA books! Let us know how it goes!!

  38. Tina, I am eating carrots. I like your idea much more. Time to switch.

  39. I should tell you guys: I am making another video. I hope it's as well received as "Editing Letter." I'm cautiously hopeful because it has Snuggies in it. I'm just saying.

  40. Aaaa!! We have donuts in the kitchen at work! I'm not even kidding. So. Happy.

  41. Good Morning girls and guy!!!

    I sorry if I sound a bit "Left Behind" (LOL) this morning, but I am guessing that YA is books written for teenager or younger women? The cover of this book is awesome, I would love to read it!


  42. Let us know when the video is out.

    Snuggles must be the dog..I am hoping it is not the mailman.

  43. YA = Young Adult

    Morning Milissa!!

    Have a donut...warning, that one on the end..someone (RUTHY) put a finger in it to check for cream. EWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!

  44. Hi Melissa! It's good to remember that not everyone knows what the YA acronym stands for. I'm so glad you clarified!

    And on the clarifying note, my video will have Snuggies. You know, the blanket with sleeves? Like Liz Lemon wears when she works on her night cheese?

  45. Hi Lara, I love the book, and can't wait for the next one! What kind of response have you gotten from young adults who have read the book?

  46. Oh, sorry, lol, on the floor laughing...Snuggies. S N U G G I E S.

    Thanks. My keyboard is now toast.

  47. Hi Katie! Thanks for stopping by Seekerville.

    I have been really super happy with the response to DONUT DAYS from teenage readers on up to middle-aged men who have read it (and there have been a few!). The reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. I mean, Kirkus and Publishers Weekly liked it too, which is great, but if the average reader can't get behind it, then it's sort of all for not. Thankfully, the blog reviews and Amazon reviews have been super awesome. So far.

    Also, DONUT DAYS was selected to the 2010 Texas Lone Star reading list. It's really exciting because it means librarians and teachers all across Texas will be encouraged to have their students read my novel. Yay!

  48. Yes. Love Tina Fey. You two look alike even. (Kiss up for previous faux paus)

  49. Tina, now you must own one. That is your punishment. :P

  50. Donuts!!! Oh my achilles heel!
    Welcome Lara and thank you for the delightful treats this morning. As someone who has driven over an hour to get a dozen Krispy Kremes I must confess I can be a bit of an addict at times. Can't wait to read your book. Can't wait for the snuggies video!

  51. After you wipe the glaze off your fingers, tell us about Putnam Juvenile. (please and thank you)

  52. Hi Heather! I seriously think I gained 20 pounds writing this book. Donuts are my kryptonite!

  53. *wipes fingers* Okay, here's the 411 on Putnam. They're a division of Penguin, which is one of the publishers that's managed, so far, to endure the staggering downturn in the publishing world pretty well. It's good to feel like things are safe with them -- like they won't fire my editor tomorrow.

    My editor, speaking of, has been really cool about some major points with DONUT DAYS: like, my cover. She actually asked me what I thought about it, and I was able, through her, to provide input to the design team.

    They are still a big house, though. And like many authors, I sometimes feel like I'm just out here, doing my thing, and not getting much support because I'm a newbie starting out. But it's okay. I wouldn't have signed a second novel with them if it wasn't okay. I think some of it is par for the publishing course anyway.

    Oh, and also, I really was happy with the edits to DONUT DAYS even though my video might hint otherwise. Truly, though, the book was so much better after Putnam was done with it.

  54. Got my chocolate today!!! I love you Seekers! You are all wonderful, but Audra is my favorite Seeker today! LOL!

  55. What a fun post, and great comments!

    A video with a Snuggie in it? Possibly with a trail of powdered sugar down the front from all those yummy donuts?


  56. Audra is my favorite seeker too! Okay, I confess I don't know Audra ... but it seemed like the cool thing to say.

  57. Erica, I would eat donuts wearing anything. A Snuggie, a swimsuit, a dress. And I would totally have powdered sugar on the front of ALL of it! :)

  58. Stop. NO NO NO. I am your favorite Seeker. Audra is the cowgirl Seeker.

    I am the donut Seeker.

    I had a nap. All those donuts messed up my metabolism. Normally I run a marathon this time of day.

  59. Tina, you're right: the donut seeker IS my favorite seeker. For sure.

  60. Okay, Lara, now that we broke you in with sweet talk.

    Tell us a bit about Promgate and what you want to do next.

  61. Wow! Tina, busy commenting day for you, girl : P

    Hey Lara!!
    I am 17 years old, so probably in the YA catefory. However, I don't necessarily read all that much of it *looks away awkwardly* Sorry! My exceptions are when I see/hear about a YA book that I really want to read I'm liking the sounds of this one *points to your cover* Lol!

    I read a lot of different genres, but I've always been a step ahead of my age group in reading, I guess you could say! For example, in first grade, yes 1st grade, my teacher had me read 1 Magic Treehouse book(those were the big thing when I was in 1st grade) and then made me read The Wind in the Willows because she decided that I needed harder books : / I think that in the end, a.k.a. now, I'm thankful(or grateful, Cheryl!) that she did it, but at the time I HATED her for it! I was the odd one out! Lol...still am, it just so happens.

    Anyway, your book sounds great. You sound like a very cool person, I mean come on donuts!! I will definitely have to check out your book, it's always great for some of those books that you can just sit back, relax, and read(yeah right! Who has the time for that!?). I'm currently reading Beowulf for AP English 12 : S Then, we have to read Grendel directly following...ughhhhhh! Why is the teacher killing us!!!

    : )

    SORRY for the long post, but I'm unwinding after my loooooonnnnnggggggg (almost as long as that word!) day at school still. Loved your post, hope you can stop by more!!

  62. Hannah, you crack me up! Thanks for the loooong post. :) I think there is still great YA out there for teens whose reading level is pretty advanced. But I feel you -- when I was in high school, I read a lot of Steinbeck and John Irving. I still read them, in fact, I just add YA to my reading list too. :)

  63. Okay, so here's the deal with PROMGATE. It's loosely based on real-life events that took place when I was in high school. A pregnant, goth girl allegedly received enough votes to be queen in my high school, but the administration (of which my dad was a part: he was the principal) but a pretty, popular girl on the throne instead. The story blew up like gangbusters and my dad, if you can believe it, lost his job over it.

    I wrote PROMGATE in part to come to terms with what happened turning a really tumultuous time in my teenage life. I also think it's a darn good story.

    The slated release of the book is summer 2011, and I can't wait. My editor and I are working on revisions right now (see above: letter, editing).

    And beyond that ... I don't know. I'm hoping I can wrap my head around the romance I'm working on, and I have an idea for a kid's book. But no additional YA stories ... YET.

  64. Shh, Hannah. Tattle tale. I am home writing. This is all Lara's fault.

  65. Wow, that's no fluff book there Lara. Talk about getting your angst out into the pages.

    I look forward to Promgate.

  66. WOW! Promgate sounds really good, but also tough to write probably : / Sorry to hear all your trouble in high school...though don't we all have our own issues throughout hs? I know I have...

    Lol! I really am sorry about the post being so long! I read my first Albert Camus book last year and we're reading another this year! Lol...It's kinda crazy! Last year we also had to read Dr. Zhivago. THAT was interesting : D Over the summer, we had to read The Poisonwood Bible, which I actually enjoyed. I don't know, I feel like I'm rambling now, but that gives a lil taste of what we're reading in AP English 12 these days(and World Lit. last year).

    Another long(ish) one!

  67. Hi Lara,

    Love the name of your you can judge a book by its cover.

    Would love to read it.


  68. wow, I love Starbucks but don't know what a grande is. Pumpkin spice sounds delicious.

    Love donuts and really like the cover of your book. Congrats on the book and the evolving and growing. You are new to me.


  69. Hi Lara,
    You mentioned how you had to take on a character to make her paraphrase. That's how I feel as well. I actually have to take on my characters with their problems and pain. Between books, I need downtime. My emotions need to have a break before I'm ready to place myself into a new character. I never thought I could be so totally absorbed into a make-believe hero or heroine, yet I am. Amazing!

    So do you think of yourself as a high school teen? :)

    Thanks for being with us on Seekerville!

  70. First, many thanks to Lara for sharing donuts, her sense of humor and writing insights with us.

    We wish you continued success!!

    Winner of Donut Days, Lara Zielin's debut novel from Putnam Juvenile, is Heather Bernard and winner of the Starbucks card is Deborah.

    Email me at tina at tina russo dot com and I will get you hooked up.

    We'll also post the winners in the Weekend Edition.

  71. Lara, it was great to have you in Seekerville today. Donut Days sounds awesome and Promgate even better.

    Congrats on your publishing success, and wishing a long, donut-filled career in your future!

  72. I guess I missed the drawing, but I enjoyed the reading, and learning more about YA.

  73. Sounds like a neat book!! Please enter me:) Thanks!

  74. Lara,

    We need more great YA books! Our library is always looking for new authors, so I would love to check out your book!! Happy Thanksgiving!

  75. Ooops.
    Contact information for above message.