I had the fortune of hearing Tom Leveen speak at the Desert Dreams conference last month. Not only was his talk inspiring, but incredibly funny! Tom will also be at this year’s Comi Con in Phoenix (which starts today).

Tom’s new book, ZERO, is absolute must-read. If you liked his first book, PARTY, you should snatch this one up right away!

From Goodreads:
For aspiring artist Amanda Walsh, who only half-jokingly goes by the nickname Zero, the summer before college was supposed to be fun—plain and simple. Hanging out with her best friend Jenn, going to clubs, painting, and counting down the days until her escape. But when must-have scholarship money doesn’t materialize, and she has a falling out with Jenn that can only be described as majorly awkward, and Zero’s parents relationship goes from tense to relentless fighting, her prospects start looking as bleak and surreal as a painting by her idol Salvador Dali. Will life truly imitate art? Will her new, unexpected relationship with a punk skater boy who seems too good to be real and support from the unlikeliest of sources show Zero that she’s so much more than a name.

Here’s some more about Tom:

Is there anything you wish you’d been told as an aspiring writer, something you wished you learned sooner?

Yes! Your protagonist must WANT something so badly she will stop at nothing to obtain it. It sounds so simple, but I didn’t learn this until just a year or two before PARTY was published. What that “Want” is varies enormously depending on the story, of course; for ZERO—and Zero—it was getting into the SAIC art school; or stated simply, “be an artist.” But how do you, the reader, as well as the protagonist know for sure she’s obtained that? It’s better, I think, to make it concrete, something that can be answered Yes or No by the end of the book. Whether that happens in ZERO or not, I’ll let the reader decide… J

I’m running into this with my protagonist as we speak! I not only need to be thinking about what she wants, but what she wants to be.
ZERO had a very different title when it first started! Can you tell us more about how the story evolved?

Ha! Yeah. ZERO used to be called GOTHIC RAINBOW, which is the name of the band her boyfriend is in. I changed the title when I revised—excuse me, rewrote—the novel from third-person to first-person. Changing it to ZERO, since it was about her and from her point of view, made more sense. And Gothic Rainbow started striking me as a misleading title (Zero even makes fun of it in the first chapter).  This was all well and good until I spoke at a Romance Writers Association conference, and had about ten people come up and tell me GOTHIC RAINBOW is a better title! So you just never know. There is a certain accuracy to the original title, I think, but it just didn’t sound right to me by the time we were pitching the finished novel.

I was at that conference and heard much of the same thing–but I kind of like ZERO myself. Just goes to show that aspiring writers shouldn’t worry too much about titles!

Your other book, PARTY, has one of the best opening lines I’ve ever seen. Do you spend a lot of time tweaking sentences after you’ve drafted them? What is your usual revision process?

Thank you so much. I really love that line, too. (Historical sidebar, that chapter used to be in the middle of the book. My agent recommended moving it, and I fought her on it for awhile until I made the change just to show her how wrong she was. Oops. I honestly think had we not moved Beckett to chapter one, the book never would’ve sold.)

I don’t tweak sentences too much, but I wish I did; I tend to revise as I go now, which is a bad idea. Don’t do it. I need to break that habit. Having said that, though, I do tend to revise the novel’s first and last lines a lot. They’re kind of the most important, aren’t they? But usually those two lines come very early in the process. You feel it like a jolt of electricity: This is it, this is the best line to open the story. Such a great feeling!

 My revision is all over the place lately. I’m trying to settle down and do fresh, original writing in the morning and then revisions or editing in the afternoon, not necessarily on the project I worked on that morning. But my personal revisions, those I do before I give a manuscript to my agent, are different than the ones I do from my editors. When I get an editorial letter, I usually put all my energy into that project first and foremost; I’ve never missed a deadline and don’t want to start now.  

 I’ve discovered it’s best for me to write a first draft like it’s NaNoWriMo (in fact my third book with Random House began as a NaNo project, which I didn’t complete at the time). Just get it out. Forget all, and I mean *all* the writing tips and tricks and techniques and “On Writing” and “This is what Tom said in his dialogue seminar” (I never take my own advice for some reason) and just write the thing as quickly as possible. Otherwise you won’t *have* anything to revise.

Now that ZERO is out, what other projects are you working on?

I’ve got a lot of pots and pans boiling at the moment. My agent has two contemporary YA manuscripts right now that are I suppose “thrillers” in a way. Meanwhile I’m working hard on a middle-grade adventure story, one of several; and I’ve always got a couple of other YA contemporaries simmering. One, I swear, is looking to be another ZERO, in that it’ll take me 19 years to finish the damn thing. I think I’m on rewrite number five or six now. And when I say “rewrite,” I mean page one to the end. Now it’s a vendetta.

I can’t wait to see what you come up with! If you were stuck on a desert island with five books, what would they be?

Wow. Unfair!

Okay, here’s my best shot, subject to change if you ask me again tomorrow:
Speakby Laurie Halse Anderson

Maudie and Me and the Dirty Book by Betty Miles

More Adventures of the Great Brain by John D. Fitzgerald

The Long Walk by Stephen King

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare

Thank you, Karen! And thank you, Tom, not only for your speech at Desert Dreams, but for this awesome interview!

Both ZERO and PARTY are available for purchase. Go and get your copies!

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