KC: Like me, I believe you're a bit of a sucker for romance. What is it about the romance genre that most attracts you either as a reader or as a writer?
KVA: It might be that I was born on Valentine's Day, but I am a sucker for not just the romance genre but romantic plot lines in any book. I may be the only person who read the Harry Potter books waiting for Hermione and Ron to finally get together. As a reader and as a writer, I'm drawn to happily ever after. Falling in love is an awesome feeling and I love reliving it through books.
KC: One distinctive thing about writing romance is that it can be a more "structured" format than some other genres: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl in the end. Do you find these structural expectations liberating or confining?
KVA: I find them extremely liberating. The hardest part of writing for me is narrowing ideas down, so anything that helps with that is good. I really enjoyed the craft book, Story Structure Architect, for that very reason. It has a variety of structural guidelines for all genres.
KC: Your debut romance novel, The Boy Next Door, revolves around figure skating partners who fall for each other in real life. I know you're a skater yourself. How important is it to incorporate your own passions into what you write?
KVA: I recently wrote an article on this for Romance Writers Report. I find it very important because I think it's hard to write a character who is passionate about something unless the writer knows a lot about the subject and enjoys it as well. Think about people you meet at a party, the way they light up when you bring up one of their favorite topics? As writers, we want our characters lit up. (Also, this is a fantastic excuse for getting new hobbies – it's novel research! Most recently I've justified archery lessons this way.)
KC: How long did it take you to write the novel and what were the main challenges for you?
KVA: I spent five years writing The Boy Next Door and my biggest challenge was learning how to write. All my life, I'd been preparing to be an elementary school teacher, not a novelist. I'd always loved books but never thought I could write one, partly because of an unfortunate incident in high school in which an English teacher read our entire class's short stories aloud. It was quickly apparent that I'd written a novella instead of a short story and that the rest of my class had to suffer through the entire class period it took her to read it. The winning story was so good, and I thought I could never write something like that. It was actually figure skating that gave me the courage to get back into writing, because I was terrible when I first started skating. I was wobbly and chicken and moved at the speed of a slug, but I was determined. I kept practicing and I eventually made it to not just one national championship but three. My skating journey inspired me to start this skating novel. Fortunately, it turns out that writing is a lot like figure skating. You're going to fall on your face sometimes, but keep working at it and you'll get there.
KC: You published with Swoon Reads which was a bit of an experimental model. How did you find the experience?
KVA: For those who don't know, Swoon Reads is a crowd-sourced imprint for YA romance. Writers post full manuscripts on the site and readers and other writers rate and comment on them. The editors monitor the site activity, not only the ratings but especially the comments. I was originally a bit nervous about posting but obviously ended up being really glad that I did! The part I liked that best about Swoon Reads, however, was that even before they announced the first list winners, I was happy with my experience. I received some great feedback about my novel, so I knew that even if my story wasn't chosen I would have some ideas for revising it and either resubmitting it, querying agents, or even self-publishing.
KC: What are you working on now?
KVA: I like to have several projects going at once and am working on a couple of companion novels for The Boy Next Door as well as a fantasy novel about elves to mix things up.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us, Katie. Looking forward to the next book in the series!!