Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Apocalype Now: An Interview with Kat Zhang, Author of WHAT'S LEFT OF ME.

Congratulations to Kat Zhang, whose haunting debut WHAT'S LEFT OF ME is out today from Harper Teen! NYT Bestselling author Lauren DeStefano calls the book "a shockingly unique story that redefines what it means to be human."

Kat was kind enough to sit down with Lucky 13er Amie Kaufman for a chat about —among other topics—her debut, first drafts and writing a dual point of view.

First, a bit about WHAT'S LEFT OF ME:

Eva and Addie started out the same way as everyone else--two souls woven together in one body, taking turns controlling their movements as they learned how to walk, how to sing, how to dance. But as they grew, so did the worried whispers. Why aren't they settling? Why isn't one of them fading? The doctors ran tests, the neighbors shied away, and their parents begged for more time. Finally Addie was pronounced healthy and Eva was declared gone. Except, she wasn't... 

For the past three years, Eva has clung to the remnants of her life. Only Addie knows she's still there, trapped inside their body. Then one day, they discover there may be a way for Eva to move again. The risks are unimaginable-hybrids are considered a threat to society, so if they are caught, Addie and Eva will be locked away with the others. And yet...for a chance to smile, to twirl, to speak, Eva will do anything.
1. What's Left of Me is a book about two souls living in one body--what were the challenges you encountered when writing to write from this unique, dual point of view?

I think the two biggest challenges were 1) figuring out how this concept would work in a "real world"--what would be the personal and social ramifications? and 2) dealing with the technical level of writing about two people in one body! (Is it "I"? or "We"? or "She"?)

It's not often that one has to struggle with correct pronoun use and such for a body inhabited by two people! These considerations meant that even some of the most mundane scenes took a lot of thinking through.

2. Crazy overachiever that you are, you've been busy combining college with writing and revising your trilogy in your copious (haha!) spare time. Do you feel being at college while you've worked on the books has changed or informed your experience?

Haha ;) I actually wrote a post about this! In short, though, I think it's done both. Working on books has certainly changed my college experience, anyway ;) But yes, from the end of high school to the end of college, you take al these classes--you're introduced to all these new ideas an concepts. And you're also, of course, growing up, really being on your own for the first time. All these things definitely affect what you write.

3. What's Left of Me has been compared to His Dark Materials and Never Let Me Go -- that's some weighty company! In particular, your prose and the deep thinking in the book really left a mark on me. Do your drafts start out messy and gain depth and detail through your revisions, or do you have most of it in the page early on? And, as an extension of that question, how formed are your ideas when you begin?

Thank you! I've always been so flattered by those comparisons :)

Oh yes, my drafts are so messy. I always compare drafting to...I don't know, making fabric. You're just making all this fabric, and it doesn't really have much shape, and most of the time it looks nothing like what you want your finished product to be. Revision is when you take that fabric (first draft) and cut it up and sew pieces of it together, and discard other pieces of it, and sometimes you have to tear it all apart and re-sew it, or even add more fabric...

My ideas tend to be very nebulous when I first start writing, but I always hit a point during the first draft (usually say 20 pages in?) when I stop free-writing and really sit down and think, "Okay where is this going?"

4. Before you go, any advice you can offer to aspiring writers?

1. Finish that first draft! Don't underestimate how difficult this might be, or how big of a difference it makes in how you look at writing.

2. Research the industry, but don't *obsess* over the industry.

3. Keep writing! No matter what! :)

4. Make writer friends! SO important. They will keep you sane.

Thanks for having me, Amie! 

Kat Zhang is an avid traveler, and after a childhood spent living in one book after another, she now builds stories for other people to visit. An English major at Vanderbilt University, she spends her free time performing Spoken Word poetry, raiding local bookstores, and plotting where to travel next. She is represented by Emmanuelle Morgen of Stonesong. You can read about her travels, literary and otherwise, on her website or check her out on Twitter.

This interview was conducted by Lucky13s member Amie Kaufman, whose YA sci-fi novel THESE BROKEN STARS will be released Fall 2013 from Disney*Hyperion. The interview is part of an ongoing series of interviews with The Apocalypsies -- YA, MG, and children's book authors debuting in 2012.


  1. Great advice Kat to us aspiring authors. Congrats on your book. It's so awesome. Hope you have a happy debut day!

  2. Such great advice, Kat. The book sounds fantastic! Will definitely pick it up!