Lilia Shen Managing Editor
The young adult genre is currently one of the most thriving genres, with hugely successful authors like JK Rowling, Rick Riordan, Leigh Bardugo, Maggie Stiefvater, Marie Lu, and more. Elizabeth Tammi is both a new and old name in the YA world—she got her start in YA literature running her popular YA book blog, “The Extraordinary Worlds,” and is now on the rise as a YA author. A junior at Mercer University double majoring in journalism and creative writing, Elizabeth is celebrating her first steps into authorhood with her recently released YA fantasy debut novel, Outrun the Wind, which intertwines the stories of Greek hero Atalanta and Kahina, a huntress of Artemis. I had the opportunity to ask Elizabeth some questions about writing, publishing, and what it’s like being a student at the same time.
Hi Elizabeth! Thank you so much for doing this, by the way!
First and foremost, congratulations on your debut novel, Outrun the Wind, which came out last November! Can you tell us what the book is about and what inspired you to write it?
Thank you! In short, Outrun the Wind is a YA fantasy that offers a sapphic reimagining of the story of Atalanta from Greek mythology. I’ve loved mythology all my life, but something about Atalanta’s story seriously, deeply bothered me—I was enamored by her character, but hated the ending. I also had other questions about Greek mythology—what would it really be like to serve the goddess Artemis, and would it be a blessing or a curse to be one of Apollo’s oracles? These all sort of connected and culminated in my head, and Outrun the Wind offered me the chance to explore these issues.
I know you ended up going on a non-traditional route to publishing. Can you talk about your journey to your book deal?
It was certainly a bit unorthodox! I always knew I wanted to be traditionally published rather than self-published, which almost always means that a literary agent is required. However, I’d been lurking in the YA Twitter community for a while, and ended up finding out about a reputable contest called #PitMad, where at a designated time/day, you can pitch your book in a tweet—if an agent or editor favorites them, it’s basically an invitation to query them. It all boils down to the query, of course, but it can help to have this foot-in-the-door. My fantastic editor at Flux, Kelsy Thompson, ended up seeing my tweet and she loves mythology as much as I do. Over the course of about ten months following that #PitMad, I sent her a query, then a partial, then a full request, and eventually the acquisitions board made an offer. I had assistance from other authors and my university when reviewing the contract and making the decision, so I felt confident going into it and I had a really great debut experience. I ended up pitching Flux my next book by myself as well, and that comes out in December. Obviously, an agent is always recommended in traditional publishing, and I knew that my situation was an oddball even as it was happening. I lucked out by connecting directly with a really fabulous editor, but that is almost never the case—most authors at Flux are agented.
As a university-based literary journal, a big part of our community is made up of student writers who are also looking to get their work out there. What advice would you give to writers who are just starting out?
Consistency and persistence are the keys, at least as far as long-form fiction goes. Accept that first drafts won’t be incredible, and focus on finishing projects and fixing them later instead of chasing shiny new ideas. This differs between writers, but I’ve always found it more helpful to do a smaller amount of writing every day instead of a lot of writing once in a while—I need to stay in the headspace of the world and story.
“Focus on finishing projects and fixing them later instead of chasing shiny new ideas.”
The world of publishing can often be an intimidating place for new writers to navigate. Is there any technical advice you would give to new writers about getting publications, book deals, contracts, finding agents, etc.?
If you’re able to, find a couple critique partners to exchange work with—preferably not someone you know already. The close friends and family members that you live with are not going to be able to offer you objective feedback. Maggie Stiefvater has a really great matchmaking service online, which I totally recommend. Find a couple writers who tend to work on similar genres, and are at similar stages in their careers. Focus on finishing and honing a draft—remember that you can’t move forward in this industry if you don’t have a completed project. As hard as it can be to muddle through a draft, it’s also the one and only way to finish a project. You’ll learn a lot through the act of finishing alone. As far as seeking agents and deals, I’d recommend to keep tabs on the Twitter scene—a ton of agents and authors are active there, and even though I’m not super active on there, I feel like I can keep a ‘pulse’ on the industry through my timeline. If you’re able to, writing conferences and workshops are always a plus. Though they’re not necessary, I think they helped me absorb a lot of information about the industry. But again, there’s so much information online—if you’re looking for agents, be sure to check their websites before sending anything to see exactly what they want to accompany a query, and what types of stories they represent.
As a full-time student yourself at Mercer University, how do you balance your schoolwork and your writing? Any tips?
It’s not always pretty. This was definitely easier when I was a freshman writing Outrun the Wind, when my course load was lighter. Now, as a junior revising the dreaded second book, it’s been a heightened struggle—I’ve adopted more coffee and less sleep into my schedule, and I still feel behind. Honestly, I’m in survival mode when I’m on deadline, haha! As much as I enjoy writing and recognize how immensely fortunate I am to be working on a story that I know will be published, I don’t ever want any college student to feel like they need to get a book deal as soon as possible. It’s seriously not a race. At all. I don’t regret signing the book deals I’ve had while a college student whatsoever, but the stress that accompanies all that joy and excitement is no joke. To keep some semblance of balance, I try to designate nighttime for writing and writing alone—it keeps me motivated to make sure I can get all of my schoolwork, studying, and meetings out of the way during the daytime. Now, with that disclaimer aside, for any student hoping to get into writing more, I think it helps to make it a point to have a designated time for it, just as you would for a class or meeting. Get involved with your campus literary magazine or student newspaper if you can—you’ll probably get to connect with like-minded people.
What is your favorite part of writing? What do you do when you’re struggling to figure something out in your writing, aka the dreaded writer’s block?
I think the best part about writing is when I feel so immersed that I have to blink twice when I look away from the screen. Sometimes—definitely not always—I’m so inside of a scene or character, and that feeling is pure magic. Writing is making a world out of nothing, and that’s such a cool thing to attempt. As far as writer’s block, I try to get ahead of it by extensive outlining. I literally can’t and won’t write if I don’t know where a scene is going or how the story ends. That being said, I sometimes find myself stuck in certain situations or accidental plot-holes, which can be super daunting. I try to “zoom out” mentally as much as I can, and focus first on making things make sense before making things good.
“Writing is making a world out of nothing, and that’s such a cool thing to attempt.”
You’re also well-known for running a book blog called “The Extraordinary Worlds” on Tumblr since 2012, which is amazing! Has it been fun running this blog and having this community for seven years now?
Seven years…wow. Yeah, it’s been quite a journey! I first joined Tumblr in late middle school because I was uncontrollably excited for the impending release of The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan, and I wanted to connect with other readers to speculate and get hyped. For the first couple years, it was definitely all about the Heroes of Olympus series, but eventually it evolved into a platform that encompassed YA fiction as a whole. I posted book reviews, and even got to work with Penguin Random House on blog tours and ARC reviews. I also started getting seriously into writing in about 2014 or so, and gave updates on that front to my followers. I love the supportive community there, and getting to share what I’ve been working with along with what I’ve been reading and obsessing over. It’s a great outlet! It’s made my writing journey over the past few years extra special.
Something we like to ask all the writers we interview: what are you reading at the moment?
Well, I recently finished the highly-anticipated King of Scars by the inimitable Leigh Bardugo which I wholeheartedly adored. I’m currently reading Scythe by Neal Shusterman, which has such a cool concept. I’m totally hooked.
And finally, what can we expect from you in the near future?
On December 3 of this year, my sophomore novel The Weight of a Soul releases from Flux! This is another YA fantasy steeped in mythology, but this time Norse. I’m deep in revisions now, but ARCs should go out in late summer.