Amber Vaughn is a good girl. She sings solos at church, babysits her nephew after school, and spends every Friday night hanging out at her best friend Devon’s house. It’s only when Amber goes exploring in the woods near her home, singing camp songs with the hikers she meets on the Appalachian Trail, that she feels free—and when the bigger world feels just a little bit more in reach.
When Amber learns about an audition at the North Carolina School of the Arts, she decides that her dream—to sing on bigger stages—could also be her ticket to a new life. Devon’s older (and unavailable) brother, Will, helps Amber prepare for her one chance to try out for the hypercompetitive arts school. But the more time Will and Amber spend together, the more complicated their relationship becomes . . . and Amber starts to wonder if she’s such a good girl, after all.
Then, in an afternoon, the bottom drops out of her family’s world—and Amber is faced with an impossible choice between her promise as an artist and the people she loves. Amber always thought she knew what a good girl would do. But between “right” and “wrong,” there’s a whole world of possibilities.
Tell us a little about your writer's journey so far:
Hmmm. Condensed version. Write. Write poetry. Write journal entries. Stop writing. Start writing. Write a MG novel. Stop writing. Start writing. Take some classes. Join SCBWI. Make writer friends. Write. Query. Get rejected. Query. Again. Query. Get an agent. Lose an agent. Query. Get a new agent. Get a book deal! Write. Write. Write. Write.
My story is as typical and atypical as everyone else’s I think, but the biggest three things that have helped me have been finding a community of writers online (I live rurally), taking classes with Joy Neaves of the Great Smokies Writing Program through UNC-Asheville, and the discipline to always be working on something. Writing and community keep me sane.
Love it! I don't live in a rural community but I still prefer online writing groups because it fits in better with my life. Worth investigating for any writer! Okay, let's hear your Twitter Pitch!
Amber Vaughn dreams of leaving her small NC town & singing on bigger stages but her dysfunctional family keeps getting in her way.
What inspired you to write this book? How is it a book only you could write?
This book was a collision of ideas and inspiration. Amber’s voice ringing in my head on a drive into work, an overheard story about a party cabin near the Appalachian Trail, a chance encounter with a young band of bluegrass pickers and the movie, Songcatcher. I knew I wanted to write a story about this place in a way that showed all of its sides, but also showed how teenagers are kind of universal, no matter where you’re from. I think because I’m from outside the area, I was able to look at things a bit subjectively and write the story without judgment. It would be hard for me to write about my own small community in Alabama, but I could write about my adopted town with ease (though the town in No Place To Fall is fictional, it’s definitely an amalgamation of all the nearby communities.) Something about knowing the characters’ emotions, but having some emotional distance from the place helped to make a setting both nuanced and fair.
See, as a NC transplant myself, this just makes me want to read it even more! What's your favorite thing about writing?
The best part is the moment you really find the heart of your story and suddenly you’re waking up bright eyed at 5 am because you want to get back into the world you’ve created. That’s magic.
What's your least favorite thing?
The murky middles of first drafts. I’m primarily a pantser working within a very loose framework of a plot. First drafts are about discovery for me, so the middles tend to be these loose what-the-hell sort of things. Thank goodness for revision.
I’m both mystified by and deeply admiring of pantsers for this exact reason. Now it's time to brag a little--What do you love most about your book?
I love my characters. They’re why I write. Some people are about mood or theme or plot, for me it’s always the people. And I love these people. I also love the richness of the setting. The Appalachian mountains are my adopted home and like so many people who’ve moved in before me, they have a way of getting in to your bones. I hope NO PLACE TO FALL conveys that power.
Who was your favorite character to write? Why?
I really loved writing Sammy Crowder (and yes, his last name is a nod to Boyd in the spectacular television show, Justified), Amber’s brother-in-law. He’s such a self-righteous, egomaniacal, delusional prick. I had to work so hard NOT to make him a caricature of every villain through the history of time. But he’s just a kind of guy I’ve known and despised my whole life. So it was fun to skewer him on the page. He deserved everything he got, let me tell you.
Hehe, what’s that saying about writers exacting revenge by putting you in their novels? What has surprised you most about publishing post-agent?
I don’t mean this to sound ungrateful because I know how shiny this side looks when you’re standing on the pre-pub’d side of the fence, but it’s still hard. You still get rejected, even after a book deal. It’s taken me three tries to find the right story for the second book in my contract. In some ways the self-doubt is bigger than it was before I had a contract because now my stakes seem higher. That surprised me. I thought it was going to be cake once I had that contract!
I’m glad you brought that up because I think it’s something we don’t talk enough about—it’s tough to talk about for a lot of reasons, but it’s something new writers definitely need to know!
Okay, now a little about you. (And yes, I stole these questions from In the Actor's Studio with James Lipton.)
What is your favorite word?
Indubitably (you have to say it in a Mary Poppins sort of accent)
Yes! What is your least favorite word?
Moist. Because every time I say it my students give me grief.
*shudder* it’s my least favorite, too. What turns you on?
Laughter, Honesty, Fantastic storytelling.
What turns you off?
Stupidity, Bigotry, Snakes.
What sound or noise do you love?
Horses sneezing and my dogs snoring
What sound or noise do you hate?
What profession, other than your own, would you most like to attempt?
I wish I could honestly say attorney, brain surgeon, rocket scientist, something that has the bank to go with it. But I’m going to say pastry chef. Because I love to bake and I love sweets and I think it would be amazing to be the person who provides the desserts. That or barista, as long as someone else was actually taking the drink orders. I’d like to draw cool things in the foam.
I was a barista in college and it’s still one of my favorite jobs ever. Great writer job, too! If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear G-d say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
“Took you long enough.”
Finally, what's the one question you've always wanted to answer in an interview? (And of course, you have to answer it!)
Is there a woman you strive to emulate?
Why yes, Jaye Robin Brown, I’m so glad you asked this question. Because you see, I often ask the question WWBD?
Yes, WWBD. What would Beato do? Beatrice Wood, American potter? You know her?
Hmmm, yes perhaps.
Anyway, she was this remarkable woman. Marcel Duchamp’s lover. A Dada-ist in her own right. An artist, a dancer, a writer, and she had an excellent life philosophy. Work hard and be happy. Chocolates and young men were her self-proclaimed secret to longevity. And she lived to be over a hundred, beautiful and gracious until the end. She is my role model in how to be. And if you out there don’t know Beato, I recommend her biography titled “I Shock Myself.”
Thanks so much for hosting me, Dannie!
My pleasure, Jro! Wishing you all the booksales come December! Speaking of which, have you guys added NO PLACE TO FALL to Goodreads yet? What are you waiting for?? Preorder links are below!
Jaye Robin Brown, or Jro to her friends, lives and writes in the mountains north of Asheville, North Carolina. She is fond of horses, dogs, the absurd and the ironic. When not writing, you can find her in the art room of the high school. NO PLACE TO FALL is her debut novel.