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Reading has always been a huge part of my life. And so, it’s natural that I gravitate towards people who share that interest with me. One of my good friends, Natasja Eby, is a regular participant in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and just recently self-published her second novel, Knockout Girl (I’m 11 chapters in, loving the characters and the story and no, I’m not just saying that because she dedicated the book to me!).
As I was reading Knockout Girl, I was thinking to myself that it must be challenging to write a novel, and even more challenging to do it while juggling a job, two (lovely) children, and to manage every aspect of it as Natasja self-publishes her books. Instead of just having the conversation about it with her one-on-one, I thought to myself “this would make an interesting interview!” And, not only do you get to hear from Natasja about her writing journey, but there’s something exciting to share: an exclusive look at the cover of her next novel!
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Joshua Terry: Your first two books, My Best Friend’s Brother/The Summer I Turned Into a Girl and Knockout Girl are both focused on characters in their teens. Do you find it easy to get in the minds of teenagers and to write about their experiences? And while it wasn’t really that long ago we were teens, do you talk to people in that age group now about their experiences to help shape your characters?
Natasja Eby: First of all—it feels like a LONG time ago that I was a teenager. I try, as much as possible, to keep my dialogue current without getting too crazy. But I think a lot of the themes that I write about - like bullying, finding yourself, first loves, coming-of-age, and meaningful friendships—will always be relevant to teenagers. I do get a lot of opportunities to interact with teenagers and I’ve found that those are things that don’t change a lot. It also helps to read what’s popular in Young Adult (YA) fiction, especially among those younger groups (because adults enjoy YA, too!). As for your original question—Yes. I love getting into the heads of my characters. It’s my favourite part of writing.
One of the things that must be tough with self-publishing is having people you know edit your stories, and then putting it out in the wider world for anyone to read and react to. How do you handle criticism?
Oh, boy, how do I even put this? Having friends and family read your work is nice because, if you’re like me, you have a great support system and people to always tell you how wonderful you are. But on the other hand, if you’re like me and your skin is about as thick as parchment paper, then opening yourself up to the world can be really tough! For me, finding great critique partners (who always happen to be writers) has been the best thing for my writing. I’m learning to develop a tough skin through gentle, but necessary criticism and so far it’s working.
What made you decide to pursue the self-publishing route? It must be challenging, as I imagine you have to handle all aspects of publication. What has the process taught you about writing and the publishing world more broadly?
I did try the traditional route for a while, but with no luck. That was years ago and I know a lot more now then I did then. I think I might be more successful if I tried again. But at the same time, I kind of love self-publishing because you have a lot more control over everything. Of course, this also means all of the onus is on you to get it all done. What I’ve learned about self-publishing is that it’s really a misnomer. I’ve never truly published by myself, because I’ve had a lot of help from highly qualified friends and family. Those that don’t have that end up paying for services like copy editing and book design, for example. And that’s not even to mention how much is involved in marketing. Self-publishing is an adventure and I’m loving it so far, but man is it hard work!
I know that you have a busy life; work keeps all of us busy, you’re a mom to two young kids… I’m just one person and I can barely find time to do anything! How do you find the time and energy to write after doing so much?
I get this question a lot, especially from people that I know who spend their free time doing things like crafting, quilting, sewing, painting... playing dodgeball. The thing is that for me, writing is my hobby, my passion, and another job all rolled into one. It is the thing I spend all my extra time on, after working and taking care of my family. When I say “I’m really busy,” it probably means I’m working on a book, whether that’s writing or editing one. I’ve also learned how to write quickly in short amounts of time and that certainly helps a lot. Also, I should mention I get interrupted a lot. I am literally writing this while being begged for snacks every other minute.
Tell me a little bit about your process. How do you start to shape a story? Do you develop a plot first and build characters around it? Or vice-versa?
Characters first! I’m huge on characters, so if I think of good ones, then I let them lead the story. If they’re well-rounded enough, then they’ll be pretty good story-tellers. I almost never have a plot in mind until my characters start doing things. And yes, I know how neurotic that makes me sound.
Tough question… I’m sure you love ALL your characters, but who is your all-time favourite?
Okay, until recently, I didn’t have a good answer for this. I just want to start by saying that I love Elli and Julian and I hope everyone who reads Knockout Girl will also love them. But the actual answer is hard to say without getting too into spoilers. But there’s someone in that book who just grew and grew on me until I basically fell in love. And I truly enjoyed pulling him out of the darkness of his past and giving him a really bright future. I just can’t say much more than that right now.
What would be your one piece of advice for anyone looking to become an author?
WRITE. Seriously, I talk to a lot of people who say they “would love to be a writer” or want to be an author someday, but don’t know how to start. And the only way to start is to just write. And yes, it’ll be ugly and messy and you’ll feel like you can’t get it right. Just keep doing it anyway.
What can we expect next from you? I know you’re working on a sequel to Knockout Girl, is that what you’re anticipating publishing next? Or is there something completely different on the horizon?
Okay, here’s the most exciting news: my sequel to Knockout Girl is currently being edited and beta read and I’m hoping to publish it early next year. It’s called Standup Guy, and for anyone who is a fan of Julian, you should know that he’ll be sharing the narration with Elli in this one. And I’m giving you the very first look at the cover!
A Sneak Peek at Standup Guy
If you'd like to follow Natasja's work, you can visit her website, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page or follow her on Instagram: @NatasjaEby. And, if you would like your own copy of any of Natasja's novels, just search for her on Amazon (hard copies and e-books are available). Be sure to also follow Natasja's Goodreads page as well, for updates on her books.