Elizabeth Maria Naranjo is a petite woman with long, black hair that today she's pulled back, save for a few wisps that frame her face. She's personable, but not bubbly, and passionate without being overbearing. She alternates between sips of water and coffee and she is, as she'll later admit, understandably nervous -- this is her first face-to-face interview to promote her first book, The Fourth Wall.
The 235-page piece follows a young girl, Marin, who adopts lucid dreaming (a dream in which one is keenly aware he or she is actively dreaming) as a way to escape reality after her mother's death. She creates a safe haven, devoid of memory and sadness, but the dream becomes a nightmare, and something inside of it doesn't want her to wake up.
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Wyoming-born Naranjo had written short stories and what she describes as "bad poetry" for years before trying her hand at penning a novel. After three years of writing, re-writing, and editing, the author and mother of two brings her debut to Changing Hands Bookstore on Tuesday, July 8, for a reading and signing for readers of all ages. We caught up with the Tempe resident in a brightly lit Starbucks across from the independent bookseller to talk about the young-adult genre and how to write a novel with a toddler in tow.
What was the inspiration for The Fourth Wall? I've always been fascinated by the process of lucid dreaming. As a child I could lucid dream and I knew that I wanted to write a book about a young girl who uses lucid dreaming as a means of escape after her mother dies. I really wanted to incorporate a paranormal element.
Did your children have any effect on what you chose to write about or the audience you sought out? Gabriel just turned 7, and Abigail just turned 12. I definitely wanted to write a novel that she could read -- but it's funny, I didn't go into it thinking that I was writing a young-adult novel, I thought I was just writing a novel. I've learned so much since then! It's good to know your audience before you start [laughs]. That's definitely the group I'm targeting.
How would you describe the differences in writing a young-adult novel versus a fiction novel? When did you notice your approach changed? I was writing from a young girl's point of view and everything that mattered to her really has to do with that demographic and that age range. So many adults now read young-adult novels, so I think that it still could appeal to adults.
There have been a lot of articles and conversations, particularly on the Internet, about adults reading young-adult novels -- whether they should or shouldn't read them, and there are very strong opinions on either side. That is so funny. Yeah, I read that Slate article.
Which side of the fence do you fall on in that debate? I actually just thought it was funny. I wasn't offended by it; it's kind of a ridiculous point of view. People should be able to read what they want to read. Plus, I love young-adult and I'm definitely not ashamed of it -- especially with [books like] the Harry Potter series.
As a little girl I read lots of Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary, and then moved pretty quickly to Stephen King -- my favorite author growing up -- and Ray Bradbury and Edgar Allen Poe. And as an adult the list is just way too long, although I love Karen Russell and Vanessa Veselka. And J.K. Rowling, of course.
You know, I understand that it's fun to hate on the Twilight series or whatever, but these books got kids reading. And that's created a surge in the young adult genre. Kids are really, really passionate readers, and so are the adults that are reading young adult novels. We're not just talking about adults that never grew up, we're talking about groups that are extremely passionate about books.
You decided to go with an independent publisher. How was that process for you? For about a year I submitted the novel to agents and collected about 21 rejections. And then I read a blog post from an author, and her book sounded really great -- it was a young adult novel -- and she was very enthusiastic about her publisher, a small press out of Utah. I thought, "Well, her book sounds interesting." I downloaded it and started reading it and I was really impressed. I did a little more research on the publisher (WiDo Publishing), they've been around since 2007 and published almost 50 books, so I submitted to them -- and that was only the second time I submitted straight to a publisher, skipping the agent. They liked it, and two months later I signed a contract.
And this upcoming appearance at Changing Hands is your first publicity stop? Yeah, this is the big one. It's exciting. I love Changing Hands Bookstore, it was kind of a no-brainer. I have a little bit of a history with them, I guess. Two years ago they were doing Pitchapalooza and I pitched this novel, The Fourth Wall. It was right after I'd written the first draft of it, I'd probably been writing for five months. It's funny because not everybody that wanted to pitch could. They drew names out of a basket or whatever, and I think 25 people got their chance. I gave a 60-second pitch and I could tell that they liked it, but then at the end they were having a difficult time choosing between two pitches. They left the room for a little while and came back ... and then they called someone else's name. But then they called my name as a runner-up. They said, "We don't normally do this," and I got some prizes and got to share the stage. It gave me a boost of confidence about the book because I could tell I had a good idea.
What's next for you? Are you working on another novel? I am. I'm working on research for the next novel. It's going to be another [young adult novel]. It's about a 12-year-old boy who runs away with his best friend on a search to find his best friend's father who's a volcanologist and went missing in the field. So it's also kind of paranormal. I really like writing from a male point of view. It feels really natural to me, I don't know. In fact, The Fourth Wall has a male point of view in it -- the father. It will be interesting to see how that goes over. "Can't have an adult point of view in a young-adult novel!" This novel, coming up in August it will have been a three-year project.
Do you attribute that to the writing process and being a mom, with everything that entails? It's time consuming. And especially back then because my youngest was in preschool and he only went three days a week, two hours a day. I would use that time to write, and in that time I got a book written in five months. But the finished product, it takes a lot of time to edit. It should. I can't even imagine if someone had taken me up on that first draft. It's changed a lot since even a year ago.
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Has that editing process changed how you're approaching this new book? Absolutely. I've learned so much. I've learned to nail the beginnings. I was writing about a girl who is very introverted [and] I was pretty indulgent with those first chapters and just expected that readers would read through it. And that's a tough position to expect readers to get through. You really have to hook readers in the beginning.
Naranjo's signing and launch party starts at 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 8, at Changing Hands Bookstore, 6428 South McClintock Drive in Tempe. Admission to the event is free and copies of The Fourth Wall ($15.95) will be available for purchase. Visit www.changinghands.com for details.
Editor's note: This post has been modified from its original version to reflect that the book signing event takes place on July 8, not July 7.