Sweet Sixteener Meg Kassell recently spoke to Fearless Fifteener N.K. Traver about their debut YA cyberthriller novel, DUPLICITY, pitched as Breaking Bad meets The Matrix (March 17, 2015 from Macmillan/Thomas Dunne Books).
As a freshman at the University of Colorado, N.K. Traver decided to pursue Information Technology because classmates said “no one could make a living” with an English degree. It wasn’t too many years later Traver realized it didn’t matter what the job paid—nothing would ever be as fulfilling as writing. Programmer by day, writer by night, it was only a matter of time before the two overlapped.
About DUPLICITY: In private, seventeen-year-old Brandon hacks bank accounts just for the thrill of it. In public, he looks like any other tattooed bad boy with a fast car and devil-may-care attitude. He should know: he’s worked hard to maintain that façade. With inattentive parents who move constantly from city to city, he’s learned not to get tangled up in things like friends and relationships. So he’ll just keep living like a machine, all gears and wires.
Then two things shatter his carefully-built image: Emma, the kind, stubborn girl who insists on looking beneath the surface – and the small matter of a mirror reflection that starts moving by itself. Not only does Brandon’s reflection have a mind of its own, but it seems to be grooming him for something – washing the dye from his hair, yanking out his piercings, swapping his black shirts for … pastels. Then it tells him: it thinks it can live his life better, and it’s preparing to trade places.
And when it pulls Brandon through the looking-glass, not only will he need all his ill-gotten hacking skills to escape, but he’s going to have to face some hard truths about who he’s become. Otherwise he’ll be stuck in a digital hell until he’s old and gray, and no one will even know he’s gone.
Meg: How long have you wanted to be a writer? Is DUPLICITY the first book you submitted for publication?
N.K. Though I’ve been writing bits and pieces of stories since I was in elementary school, I didn’t know I wanted to be an author until about four years ago, when I was thinking about how much I’d written and how I could have finished a novel in all that time. I finally sat down to write a book.
DUPLICITY is the first book my agent and I submitted for publication, but the third I’ve ever written. My very first book was submitted to over eighty agents and went through about as many rewrites, and somehow I managed to write its sequel in that time too. But once I realized that was my learning book – it wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t enough to break out, either – I sat down to finish a side project I’d started, and that was DUPLICITY.
Meg: What was your submission process like? Was it an instant connection with editors, or a slow burn?
N.K. The submission process for DUPLICITY was mercifully quick. We were on sub for about two months, with a few “no’s” up front, until my fantastic editor, Nicole Sohl, pulled it from her reading pile and made an offer within a week.
Meg: When did you begin seeking publication?
N.K. About three and a half years ago, shortly after I finished my very first book. It was disastrous. I knew little about the process and thought “editing” meant going through and perfecting the grammar. As the rejections rolled in, I realized publication was going to take some serious work – and publication classes, and critique partners, and really big edits. But I was more than happy to put in that work.
Lightning Round Questions:
Favorite writing snack?
Oddest job you ever had?
Spider feeder (I worked at the State Park one summer).
Big brother, little sister, in the middle, or one and only?
Oldest of three.
Music to write by?
What were you reading when you were sixteen?
HARRY POTTER by J.K. Rowling.
Robot revolution or zombie apocalypse?
About the Interviewer:
A New Jersey native, Meg Kassel graduated with a BFA from Parson’s School of Design in New York City and worked for years as a graphic designer. She now lives in Maine with her husband and daughter, and is busy at work on her next novel. She is represented by Sara Crowe of the Harvey Klinger agency.