Monday, July 15, 2019

Interview with Hope Bolinger, author of BLAZE

You might remember Hope from this interview back in 2016, about her poem "Her Eyes Breathe Life" that was published in Dancing With The Pen II. I was thrilled when Hope contacted me to share news about the publication of her debut novel, BLAZE, this summer (IlluminateYA, an imprint of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas). Wow!

In the years since Dancing With The Pen II was published, Hope graduated from the professional writing program of Taylor University and become a literary agent at C.Y.L.E. More than 300 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her column "Hopes' Hacks," tips and tricks to avoid writer's block, reaches 2,700+ readers weekly.

I asked Hope if she would come on the blog to share her journey to publication and answer a few questions, and she generously agreed to do so.

Here is a summary of her debut novel:

If you can't stand the heat, don't walk into the fire.

Danny knew his sophomore year would be stressful . . . but he didn’t expect his school to burn down on the first day.

To make matters worse, he — and his three best friends —receive an email in their inboxes from the principal of their rival, King’s Academy, offering full-rides to attend the town's prestigious boarding school. Danny wants nothing to do with King’s Academy and says no. Of course his mother says yes. So off he goes to be bullied and picked on for not being part of the popular and rich "in crowd."

From day one at King’s, Danny encounters hazing, mocking insults from girls at the "popular and pretty" table, and cafeteria food that, for such a prestigious school, tastes as if it were purchased from a military surplus supply warehouse. If he survives, Danny will have to overcome his fears of failure, rejection, and loneliness—all while standing strong in his beliefs and walking into the fire.

What would you like readers to know about you as an introduction? 

Hi, everyone! I'm a 22-year-old literary agent and a soon-to-be-published novelist. More than 300 of my works have been featured in various publications from Writer's Digest to Crosswalk. I'm fresh out of college and am a bit of a pyromaniac and chocoholic.

Take us through your writing process when you were drafting your novel. 

Blaze was honestly a bit of a blur. That summer I was working four jobs and taking two college classes, was the maid of honor in my sister's wedding, and I was dealing with my parent's divorce that summer, but I wanted to get this book done in time to pitch it at the for the Maranatha Conference. You can't pitch a fiction project unless it's all complete. I wrote it in about 45 days. I tried to outline the book in 3 acts, 27 chapters (so 9 per act), and had a basic chapter outline. But, as usual, the characters had a little mind of their own and fought me the whole way through the writing process.

What do you enjoy most about writing? 

Everything. Some days are harder than others. Sometimes you just sit and 5,000 words flow from your fingertips, and others, you struggle to get 500. But I absolutely love all of it. You feel some sort of ecstasy. I've never been in love, but I have an inkling the sensation is familiar.

What was the journey to publication like for you? 

Oh, wow. What a question. I'll try to set up a timeline from when I started writing to now.

  • 2013 - I began writing novels around the age of 16. 
  • 2014 - I picked up a job at a magazine and tried to query to agents and publishers. 
  • 2015 - Frustrated with no results, I self-published my novel "Unmasked" my senior year of high school and joined the professional writing major at Taylor University to learn all about publishing. 
  • 2016 - I picked up a job at a newspaper and pitched to an agent at a conference. Although interested, he turned me down. I co-wrote a WWII Veteran's memoir, published by Taylor University Press. 
  • 2017 - I picked up jobs at publishing houses and working for that literary agent who turned me down. He referred me to another agent, and she picked me up. That summer, I wrote Blaze and pitched it at a conference in September. The publisher told me to send along my materials. 
  • Late 2017-Early 2018 - The book went through multiple rounds at pub board. They liked the concept but wanted a number of edits before they'd proceed with it. 
  • May 2018 - The publishing company offered a book contract. I started working as a literary agent. 
  • February 2019 - I graduated Taylor University summa cum laude. 
  •  June 2019 - My first traditionally published book, Blaze, came out. 
It's been a wild journey. I know 2013-2019 from just starting to getting published may or may not sound like a lot of time. I promise I was hard at work all those years, penning dozens of books. It just takes a long time. The industry is glacial.

What surprised you the most about the publishing process? 

I think platform surprised me. More and more publishers want you to have a social media presence. I grew my platform from 2K to almost 18K in a year for this book launch alone. Publishers want you to pick up most of the marketing work. You can't just get by with an excellent book nowadays. They just have too many authors submitting them manuscripts, so they can be a little picky and choose the ones they know will bring in business.

In addition to being an author yourself, you are also a successful literary agent. Do you have any advice for other writers who dream of being published? 

Of course. Do not ever give up. Almost every point on that timeline, I wanted to throw in the towel. My family and friends wouldn't let me. This industry is cutthroat, tough, and any author is an underdog, even if they've sold millions of copies. Keep writing anyway. You have something important to say, and the world needs to hear it.

Can you share a few of your favorite books or authors? 

Sure! Good ol' JK Rowling, C.S. Lewis, Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, and F. Scott Fitzgerald top my lists. I love the Classics.

What inspires you? 

So many things. As for book ideas, I usually think, "What situation would I never want to end up in?" And then I toss a character in it. I think a great deal of injustice and topics people don't want to address ignite a fire in my bones. The Blaze trilogy addresses anything from corrupt administrations, mental health, school shootings, and loads of other hard topics that we don't want to confront. I want us to tackle them head-on. If we don't, how can we ever formulate a solution to these problems?

What are you working on now? What’s next for you? 

Oh goodness, a dangerous question. So many things: I already have Book Two done, and as soon as my publisher gives me the green light, I'll start Book Three (already outlined). My agent also has three of my YA books, a couple of children's books, and a few other projects on query. I'm always working on something. On the non-author front, I need a job. I'm working seven part-time positions at the moment and have about six years of industry experience. Fun as that sounds, I'd love something a bit more consistent. I've applied to 150+ jobs, but no luck yet.

Anything else you’d like to add? 

If you like boarding school dramas and lots of fire, I'd love if you'd give Blaze a look. And please don't ever give up. The world can always use a little of you and your writing. It takes a lot of hard work and sleepless nights, but you'll get there. I promise.

Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us, Hope!

Connect with Hope at the following links:

Blaze Extras: