Pen Friends ~ I am so pumped to introduce you to YA Debut author, Kimberly Gabriel, author of EVERY STOLEN BREATH, (Blink/Harper Collins), friend, and fellow PitchWars Alum! Her cover reveal was on March 27th and we LOVE it. It’s breathtaking, and her writing journey is even better! Please read below!
SP: Hi Kimberly! Thanks for joining us! Congrats on the sale of your upcoming book to Blink/Harper Collins! But before we dive into all the book stuff, can you please tell us a bit of who are you and how long have you have been writing?
I’ve been writing off and on for as long as I can remember. For a short time in college, I majored in Creative Writing, but after taking my one and only Creative Writing class, I switched majors. The professor who taught the class was an arrogant guy who delivered harsh and public critiques, while I was a sensitive freshman, who hoped for glowing praise only. Thankfully, I’ve developed thicker skin since then. I ended up majoring in English Literature and English Education, went into teaching, and took a break from writing. Then about ten years ago, I got an idea for a book. I spent years writing it and making all the “first-book mistakes.” The result was a 100,000 word YA paranormal with eight characters and eight (yes, eight) POVs. When I queried it, however, it got some attention from agents—enough that I decided to write a second manuscript, which became EVERY STOLEN BREATH. My path to publication was a long and bumpy one, but the silver lining is that I had many opportunities to learn from my mistakes, and I’m really thankful for them.
SP: Your debut, Every Stolen Breath, is a YA Thriller–fast paced, intense, and even inspired by a real event!
Here is a blurb:
The Swarm is unrecognizable, untraceable, and unpredictable—random attacks on the streets of Chicago by a mob of crazed teens that leaves death in its wake. It’s been two years since the last attack, but Lia Finch has found clues that reveal the Swarm is ready to claim a new victim.
Lia is the only one still pursuing her father’s killers, two years after attorney Richard Finch’s murder by the Swarm. Devastated and desperate for answers, Lia will do anything to uncover the reasons behind his death and to stop someone else from being struck down. But due to debilitating asthma and PTSD that leaves her with a tenuous hold on reality, Lia is the last person to mount a crusade on her own.
After a close encounter with the Swarm puts Lia on their radar, she teams up with a teen hacker, a reporter, and a mysterious stranger who knows firsthand how the mob works. Together, they work to uncover the master puppeteer behind the group. Though if Lia and her network don’t stop the person pulling the strings—and fast—Lia may end up the next target.
Inspired by the real-life “flash mob” violence that has plagued Chicago since 2011, Every Stolen Breath by debut author Kimberly Gabriel is a fast-paced and immersive thriller that shows just how hard one girl will fight back, knowing any breath might be her last.
SP: Can you tell us a bit more about how you came up with this idea and developed it?
KG: In 2011, a series of “flash-mob” attacks broke out around Chicago near where I lived. I remember reading stories where dozens of teenagers would suddenly emerge from the crowd and descend on one tourist to mug and attack. The stories terrified me so much that I eventually took that concept, made it worse, added elements of mystery and romance to it, and turned it into the basis of EVERY STOLEN BREATH.
SP: What was the hardest part about writing Every Stolen Breath?
In the early stages it was finding Lia’s voice. I knew the story I wanted to tell, but it took me a while to discover Lia and her unique perspective on the world and everything happening around her. Once I found her voice, my WIP started to finally feel like a real story. Eventually Lia turned into someone so distinct in my mind, I almost forget how hard it was to make her stand out in those first drafts.
SP: Do you usually read thrillers? What is your favorite genre to read?
KG: YES! I love thrillers and really anything packed with tension in all shapes and sizes. These last few years, writers have been turning out really fantastic YA thrillers, so there has been no shortage of great reading. But every now and again, I love to read fantasy. Six of Crows, Crooked Kingdom, and really anything written by Leigh Bardugo mark my all time favorites.
SP: How did you know you wanted to write YA?
KG: I teach seventh graders, who are avid YA readers. I also spend most of my day immersed in the young adult world, which makes writing YA a no-brainer. But aside from that, I’m drawn to YA because there is a beautiful naiveté and optimism that underlies most YA character arcs. No matter how awful the MC’s life or world is, there is a hope and possibility for things to get better. Young adults are just starting their journey; they are on the cusp of figuring out who they want to be and how they are going to be themselves consistently. I love writing about that time of self-discovery, especially when faced with the terrible conflicts created by YA authors.
SP: You were a PitchWars Mentee in 2016–which helped land you an agent. What came before that? How many books had you written? Had you queried long? What compelled you to apply for PitchWars
KG: EVERY STOLEN BREATH was my second manuscript. Like I mentioned, my first manuscript was a disaster. I probably poured 300,000 words total into that book revising it and rewriting it until I finally trunked it. For my first manuscript, I probably queried 60 or so agents, and I ended up with 8 requests. Several of those agents bumped up their partial requests to full requests. It was enough attention that I felt compelled to write another manuscript. I wrote EVERY STOLEN BREATH and then applied to PitchWars in 2016 on a bit of whim. Luckily, I was chosen by mentor Dawn Ius. The Pitch Wars contest and community became game-changers for me that led to an agent and editor. I queried EVERY STOLEN BREATH a little before and then also after the contest, and ended up with close to 30 requests and multiple offers of representation.
SP: Agent Question: How did you know your agent was the right agent? Which qualities did you want most in an agent?
KG: I adore my agent, and in many ways, I got really, really lucky. Because ultimately, when you’re querying, you’re just looking for a “yes.” Even though I researched every agent I queried, it’s still hard to know what they are really like beyond their profile. When you talk to an agent on the phone, you’re able to get a better handle on who they are. Luckily, I had multiple offers, so I was able to get a feel for different personalities and styles through those calls. When I spoke with Jenny for the first time, the conversation was incredibly easy. We chatted for over an hour, and I loved her revision ideas for my manuscript—they were really smart and fit so well with my vision for my story. (She has a wicked smart editorial eye!) She also talked about my writing career, instead of focusing on this one manuscript. Hearing that she was invested in me as a writer was big for me, and I really liked her submission strategy. Once I started working with her, it didn’t take long to realize she was the perfect agent for me.
SP: At the SP, we are always curious about two things: Was submission to publishers hard or easy for you and how did that go? And HOW did you celebrate when you got the news that your book was going to be published?
KG: It was painful—partly because there was no next step or second chances. Subbing to publishers felt more final than querying agents, so those rejections stung worse. My saving grace was that Blink showed interest in the very beginning. Even though it took months before they offered a contract, I knew in the back of my head they were a possibility, which definitely helped my sanity. That also meant I did a lot of celebrating. Dawn Ius, my PitchWars mentor, told me to celebrate every step along the way, and so I did. Every time I heard I made it past another milestone with Blink, I celebrated with a glass of really great wine—my vice of choice.
SP: Mom Writer question: How do you balance your writing and mom life? What does your day look like?
KG: Balance is something I struggle with everyday. I wake up early and write in the mornings for an hour or two before work. I teach middle school kids during the day, and then I come home to my three children. I try to read at night after they go to bed. My husband travels, so sometimes it’s just me in the evenings. Because life is crazy and full, there are two bits of advice I’ve learned along the way that I lean on. First, I try to stay in the moment. When I’m writing, I’m not thinking about work or my kids. Likewise, when I’m with my kids, which is always the most important part of my day, I’m giving them my full attention. Second, I recognize that it’s all a juggling act, and sometimes I drop the ball. The more I juggle, the more likely it is that something will slip. I’ve learned to be okay with that. I’ve had to let go of my type-A, perfectionism, but it’s a healthier way to live.
SP: Any new projects in the works?
KG: Yes! I’m working on a new thriller that begins with a dead girl, a gamer, and a bus stop bench. And from there it spirals out of control with secrets, revenge, social media, regret, denial, and, of course, murder. Set in Chicago, this one has a slight paranormal twist to it, which I’m excited about.
SP: Now to lighten things up:
Favorite fictional crush?
Jest from Heartless.
Best recent read?
The Window by Amelia Brunskill.
Favorite childhood book?
I used to love Lurlene McDaniel books like Six Months to Live, I Want to Live—the more heart-wrenching the better.
Fav drink/food while writing?
Ice water with extra ice to chew when I get stuck.
Fav getaway spot?
Anywhere with water and a beach.
Or were you talking about writing? If so,
The library is my go-to for writing, and I get very territorial over my lucky chair. 😉
SP: Pen & Book Friends ~ Every stolen breath is available for preorder now!
Also be sure to add her book to your Goodreads list & connect to Kimberly on Instagram & Twitter
Signing off, Nova, YA Author of soon coming film, Calculated