A Writer In The Spotlight – Alyssa Palombo

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Hello gentle reader,

I’m delighted to share with you another interview with a debut author! This week it’s Alyssa Palombo, whose Historical novel THE VIOLINIST OF VENICE comes out on 15th December 2015 from St. Martin’s Press.

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Author: Alyssa Palombo

Website: http://alyssapalombo.com

Twitter: @AlyssInWnderlnd

Location: Buffalo, NY

My interview (6th April 2015)

Did you always know you wanted to be a writer? When/How did you decide to be a writer?

I don’t remember ever making a conscious decision to be a writer – it just seems that I was always writing. When I was a kid I’d write short little stories just for fun, and when I was 12 I set out to write my first “novel” – I’d write a chapter at a time and give each new chapter to my family to read. Not sure if I still have that story somewhere – it would be both funny and cringe-inducing to read it again!

But all through middle school and high school I was writing stories and novels – often during class when my teachers thought I was taking notes, haha! So when it was time to pick a college, I decided on Canisius College, which was the only college in Buffalo with a formal creative writing program. Based on the teachers I had there and the amazing friends and fellow writers I met there, it was definitely the best choice I could have made.

Are you a full-time writer? When and where do you write?

Sadly not, though my ultimate goal is to become a full-time writer. At the moment I work both a full-time and a part-time job, which means writing time can occasionally be hard to come by. I try to write for a few hours on weeknights when I don’t have anywhere to be after work, and when I’m really rolling on a project I’ll bring my laptop to work and write on my lunch breaks. I usually get a lot of writing done on weekend days, as well.

As to where I write, I have a desk in my room with lots of pictures up around it. I had lots of pictures from Venice up when I was working on VIOLINIST to help get me in the zone 🙂 I like writing at home because I can just stay in my sweatpants to write, but sometimes I’ll shake it up and take my laptop to a coffee shop or bookstore.

What do you say to writers who want to be traditionally published one day?

I’m pretty new to the game myself, but here are a couple things I’ve learned along the way:

Get used to rejection, but also understand that rejection isn’t always personal – it generally isn’t, though it often feels that way. An agent or an editor might pass on something because they already have a similar book on their list, for example. Or they just may not be connecting with it that deeply. Reading is such a personal experience, and as such everyone reacts to a work differently. A rejection doesn’t necessarily mean that you wrote a bad book or that you’re not a good writer, just that you haven’t found the right fit for it.

Something else I would say, more about writing in general, is to find a writing routine that works for you. I used to feel guilty because I didn’t write every day, because pretty much everyone tells you that to be successful as a writer you need to write every day. What I found was that that didn’t work for me. If I work on a project for a whole string of days in a row, I start to get burned out, and need a day or two away to recharge and come back to it fresh. And, quite frankly, sometimes life happens and you’re just not going to get to your work in progress that day. That’s okay too.

So if you’re someone who can’t or doesn’t want to write every day, don’t. If you’re someone who needs to write at least a little but every day, then do that. Find what works for you and stick to it. If you’re serious about writing and being published, you will need to make a lot of time for yourself to write, and find some way of fitting it into your schedule, but do it however is best for you. Don’t feel bad that you don’t go about it the same way as everyone else!

The Violinist of Venice
To write THE VIOLINIST OF VENICE, where did you get your inspiration from?

The story of how I got the idea for THE VIOLINIST OF VENICE is kind of a crazy one, actually! I had this incredibly vivid dream one night that was essentially the first chapter of the book. I woke up somewhat puzzled – I really didn’t know all that much about Vivaldi, so why he was in a dream of mine I wasn’t quite sure – but the dream had been so powerful that I wasn’t able to forget it. Over the course of that day I came up with a very loose, hazy sort of outline of the plot in my head, and I started writing that night. I didn’t know at first what it was going to be – for a little while there I thought it might be a short story or a novella. Since the first draft ended up being almost 600 pages, that obviously was not the case 🙂 I really didn’t know much at all about Venice or Vivaldi when I started, but I wrote anyway because I couldn’t stop thinking about the story, and I did the research as I went.

Your book is a Historical novel set in 18th Century Venice: how did you go about researching this time period? Did you go to Venice?!

I did go to Venice! That was easily my favorite part of the research process. Venice is a great place to write about because it hasn’t changed all that much in the last few hundred years – it’s not like they can be putting up lots of new buildings, or paving new roads! By the time I went to Venice I had writteb two drafts of the novel, and despite reading about the city for a long time I knew I needed to see it for myself. There’s no place like it in the world, and so photographs and such can only take you so far.

Other than that, it was a lot of reading. I read lots of material specifically about 18th century Venice, of course; I read about the history of Venice from its founding to the present; I read about Venetian culture and government; I read about religion in Venice; I read about other well-known Venetian composers and artists. It was a lot of work, but when you’re researching something you love and are interested in it becomes fun!

Of course, there’s always things you can find out by doing a quick Google search – for instance, I needed to know when Easter fell in 1711, so I was able to look things like that up as I went.

Your book features the composer Vivaldi: how did you find the right balance between historical facts about his life and the needs of your story?

THE VIOLINIST OF VENICE is a “what if?” kind of story, so with that I had a lot of free rein. With that said, Vivaldi was a frustrating figure to research since not as much is known about him in comparison to say, Mozart or Beethoven. Part of that is because his music was mostly lost/forgotten shortly after his death, and was really only rediscovered when musicians and historians rediscovered J.S. Bach and realized the influence Vivaldi and his music had had on Bach.

The first half of the novel takes place over the course of the years 1710 and 1711, and naturally there happens to be very little information about what Vivaldi was up to during that time. That got frustrating at times, but at the same time that also gave me some freedom. I used certain events as a frame: the premiere of some of his works, the dates he worked as a music teacher and composer at the Pieta, etc. He’s a less present in the second half of the book, so I could have my (fictional) heroine’s life take whatever course I wanted.

I also listened to A LOT of Vivaldi’s music as I wrote: choral music, opera music, but mostly instrumental music – specifically for the violin. All of Vivaldi’s music that I describe in the book is real; I wanted to choose just the right piece for every scene.

Another form of research I did was to take violin lessons. I had never so much as touched a violin when I started writing this book – I’m a singer myself – so I knew I needed to learn something about the instrument. Turns out I am a terrible violinist, but the lessons were a lot of fun and it definitely did help me in writing the novel.

What are you working on now?

I just finished the first draft of another historical novel, which will be the second of my two book contract with St. Martin’s Press. I don’t want to say too much about it yet, but it takes place in Renaissance Florence, and it’s different from VIOLINIST in that almost my entire cast of characters are real historical figures. Some of the notable ones that make an appearance include Sandro Botticelli and Lorenzo de’ Medici.

What are your favourite books? (Any books you’d recommend?)

Lady of the Eternal City

There are so many! Right now I’m reading LADY OF THE ETERNAL CITY by Kate Quinn, and I’m completely obsessed and can’t wait to finish it. You can’t go wrong with any of Kate Quinn’s novels. But some of my all-time favorites are:

BITTER GREENS by Kate Forsyth
THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL by Philippa Gregory
THE WHITE QUEEN by Philippa Gregory
IN THE COMPANY OF THE COURTESAN by Sarah Dunant
GREEN DARKNESS by Anya Seton
BEL CANTO by Ann Patchett
THE SONG OF THE LIONESS series by Tamora Pierce

I better stop there before it becomes a super long list! 🙂 But in addition to the above, some I’ve read recently that I’d highly recommend are:

ARCANA by Jessica Leake
THE NIGHTINGALE by Kristin Hannah
THE DARKEST PART OF THE FOREST by Holly Black
WRITTEN IN THE STARS by Aisha Saeed
DUPLICITY by N.K. Traver
BELZHAR by Meg Wolitzer

As you can see, I read lots of historical fiction, and also lots of YA!

Thanks for the interview, Alyssa!

You can add THE VIOLINIST OF VENICE on Goodreads here.

A Writer in the Spotlight – Karina Sumner-Smith

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Hello gentle reader,

I’m delighted to share with you another interview with a YA author! This week it’s Karina Sumner-Smith, whose debut novel RADIANT comes out on 30th September 2014. It’s a YA Fantasy and the first book in the TOWERS trilogy.

Karina Sumner-Smith

Author: Karina Sumner-Smith

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Website: http://karinasumnersmith.com/

Book: RADIANT (published 30th September 2014 by Talos/Skyhorse)

Biography:

Karina Sumner-Smith is a fantasy author and freelance writer.

Prior to focusing on novel-length work, Karina published a range of fantasy, science fiction and horror short stories, including Nebula Award nominated story “An End to All Things,” and ultra short story “When the Zombies Win,” which appeared in two Best of the Year anthologies.

Though she still thinks of Toronto as her home, Karina now lives in a small, lakefront community in rural Ontario, Canada, where she may be found lost in a book, dancing in the kitchen, or planning her next great adventure.

My interview (9th September 2014)

Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

When I was little, I wanted to be a scientist just like my dad. Science, I knew, had something to do with test tubes, which were awfully fun to play with in the sandbox. Scientists got to do interesting things in a lab, and wear these white coats, and use cool equipment for experiments. Science, I decided, was awesome.

I was thirteen when I decided that my future was in science fiction and fantasy instead. That was the year that I fell into that true writing “flow state” for the first time – and also realized that writing stories was an actual career path. (At the time, the rather low income that one can generally expect as a writer seemed like so much money.)

When and where do you write?

There was a time when I wrote best at night. I was one of those people who’d be up at all hours typing by the glow of the computer screen, always telling myself that I’d go to bed when I finish just this next little bit.

Now, it’s all over the place! These days I work as a freelance writer, so I’m at my computer in my home office for most of the day, and I try to fit fiction in wherever I can. Some days that means that I’m up and writing before I’ve had my breakfast; others I don’t have a chance to get started on my day’s words until quite late. For all that I am a creature of habit and routine, there’s definitely something to be said for flexibility when it comes to writing.

What do you say to writers who want to be traditionally published one day?

Focus on your craft. I think that we writers can get too caught up in things like what’s hot in the market, agent wishlists, blogging and social media, and all the rest. The writing should always be the most important. Trends will come and go, the market will change, but there will always be a demand for great writing.

I truly believe that once you reach a certain level of skill, it’s not a matter of if you’ll be published, but when. If not this project, then another.

So read books on writing, and figure out which methods work best for you. Read widely, both inside and outside your genre. Study the works of authors you love. Develop a critical eye. Critique others’ work, and really focus on seeing not just the piece’s flaws but what makes it shine. Try freewriting. Practice, practice, practice.

After that? Settle in and get ready for the long haul. Sometimes the road to getting published – and all the roads that follow, for that matter – can be pretty bumpy. Fasten your seat belt and just try to enjoy the ride.

radiant 2
To write RADIANT, where did you get your inspiration from?

Radiant actually started as a short story that I wrote for the DAW anthology, Children of Magic. I’d been struggling for an idea that would fit the anthology’s theme, tossing around the idea of a girl who could see ghosts, maybe something about a magical, post-apocalyptic society … it was all a jumbled mess. But when I sat down to write, bam, Xhea arrived, as whole and vivid to me as if I’d been writing about her for years. I suddenly could barely type fast enough to keep up with the story as it unfolded.

The short story was 6,000 words – and there was so much about the characters and their world that I still wanted to understand. Since I don’t outline, the only way for me to know what happened to Xhea or to Shai was to keep writing. In that way, I think it’s not inspiration that keeps me going so much as curiosity. My brain is always asking, “What happens next?”

Your book features two strong female protagonists, but no romance I believe. Why did you make these choices for your story?

I don’t really feel that having the story focus on a strong friendship rather than a romance was a choice, to be honest – at least not a conscious one. For me, any story grows naturally from the characters, their problems, and their world. I could probably write a few thousand words on why there isn’t a romantic plotline for either Xhea or Shai in this book, but the simplest explanation is that there just isn’t room, emotionally, for a romantic entanglement.

This is especially true for Xhea. When the story begins, she’s so very closed down, so defensive – which shows in countless little quirks designed to keep people away from her, to keep herself safe. She learned the hard way that she can only rely on herself. And then the ghost, Shai, changes everything. This story isn’t about Xhea falling in love; it’s about her learning, slowly and hesitantly and painfully, to trust one other person. Given where she starts, that’s a huge emotional transformation for her.

I will say, though, that while I can enjoy a great romantic plot or subplot in novels that I read, I don’t like the idea that every story has to include romance or romantic elements. Romantic love can be so powerful and transforming – but it’s only one part of the spectrum of human emotion, and one way that characters can connect.

What are you working on now? (Is it Book 2?)

Right now I’m working with my editor to revise Book 2, Defiant, and am gearing up to start writing Book 3, Towers Fall. (It’s going to be a busy fall for me, for sure!)

I actually have to admit, finishing this series is a little daunting. These characters and this world have been with me, in my head and in my heart, for so many years that it’s strange to think that I’ll soon reach “The End”. Exciting, too, of course. I already have a couple of new projects waiting for my attention that I think are going to be really fun and different.

What are you reading right now?

Truthfully, right now I’m reading dog training books. I’m bringing a new puppy home soon (in a week, as I write this!), and want to be ready for the fluffy addition to the household.

But I’m actually really excited about some of the things on my to-read pile right now. Fighting for my attention are Cast in Flame by Michelle Sagara, The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley, Hidden by Benedict Jacka, and Broken Souls by Stephen Blackmoore. In YA, I’m really looking forward to reading Stefanie Gaither’s Falls the Shadow, which is supposed to be released later this month – but, of course, I’m impatient!

What are your favourite books? Any books you’d recommend?

I used to work part-time in a science fiction and fantasy bookstore – Bakka Phoenix Books in Toronto – so it’s really, really hard to recommend just one book. And I’d recommend different books for different people!

But let’s see … if you like fantasy or science fiction with a great romance, check out Archangel by Sharon Shinn or A Thousand Words for Stranger by Julie E. Czerneda. For dragons and adventure, you can’t go wrong with Naomi Novik’s His Majesty’s Dragon. For sweeping, emotional, history-inspired fantasy, go straight to Guy Gavriel Kay. For great YA, I always point to Megan Whalen Turner’s Attolia series that begins with The Thief, Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races, and Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone.

But if I were dragged away to a desert island, the book I’d take with me is Sunshine by Robin McKinley. I’ll need to buy a new copy soon; carefully though I treat my books, my copy has been read so often that it’s falling apart.

Thanks for the interview, Karina!

You can read the first chapter of RADIANT and pre-order your copy here.

A Writer in the Spotlight – April G. Tucholke

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Hello gentle reader,

I’m delighted to share with you another interview with a YA author! This week it’s April Tucholke, whose debut BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA is a great Gothic Mystery/Thriller/Romance. The sequel BETWEEN THE SPARK AND THE BURN is out now!

April Tucholke

Author: April G. Tucholke

Genre: Young Adult, Gothic, Fantasy

Website: http://apriltucholke.com/

Books: BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA (published 15th August 2013 by Dia)

BETWEEN THE SPARK AND THE BURN (published 14th August 2014 by Dial)

Biography:

April Genevieve Tucholke loves classic horror movies and coffee. She has lived in many places, including Scotland, and currently resides in Oregon with her husband Nate Pedersen. (Author Photo by Sung Park)

 

My interview (21st August 2014)

Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

Oh, I thought about it as a kid, but mainly because I was a big reader. I got a degree in creative writing when I was in my early twenties…but I don’t think I ever believed I’d actually finish writing a novel. And yet, here I am.

What do you say to writers who want to be published one day?

A. Read. Read everything. Every genre, the new books and the classics.
B. Give up watching TV for a year. Spend the time writing instead.
C. Pick up ten of your least favorite books…and then write down 5 things that each book did very well. This is an enlightening experience. Trust me. Figuring out what’s bad about a book you didn’t like? Easy. Figuring out what’s good about a book you didn’t like? Far more valuable.

Between the devil and the deep blue sea

To write BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA, where did you get your inspiration from?

A. From this true story out of Glasgow, Scotland: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/scotland/8574484.stm
B. From all the places I’ve lived, and all the gothic books I’ve read.

What are you working on now?

I organized a YA horror anthology that will be published by Penguin in fall, 2015 called Slasher Girls & Monster Boys.

I’m also working on a dark, twisting, voice-driven YA mystery that will be published by Penguin in early 2016.

Between the spark and the burn

Which authors inspire you now? Any books you’d recommend?

Susanna Clarke. I’ve read Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell three times. I’m in awe of authors who can write long books with epic world building. This is something I’ll never be able to do. George R.R. Martin, Scott Lynch, Diane Gabaldon, Connie Willis…

I’m drawn to dark, odd, beautifully written YA—books by Nova Ren Suma, Chris Howard, Laini Taylor, Melina Marchetta…

I’m inspired by the beautiful language in Zane Grey’s westerns. Truly. It—and I never use this word—transports me, into a world without the internet, and cell phones, and car alarms, and blasting music… Zane is marvelous.

Laura Ingalls Wilder. I’m the descendent of pioneers, and this is my history. I reread the series every year or so. The writing style is very simple and direct, but the stories aren’t. Laura and her family are often in serious danger, from wolves, from illness, from hunger…and yet the feeling I’m left with after reading is one of…peace.

Thanks for the interview, April!

A Writer in the Spotlight – Aimee L. Salter

This week again I was lucky enough to have a YA author give me an exclusive interview! The idea behind the “Writer in the Spotlight” feature is that authors are the best source of advice for us, would-be-published writers. So today’s interview is a bit different because Aimee L. Salter is not published yet. However she has an agent and she is awesome, so I couldn’t resist interviewing her any longer!

Author : Aimee L. Salter

Genre : Young Adult, Magical Realism

Location: New Zealand

Contact: Blog, Twitter

Bio: Hailing from the Pacific Northwest, but recently sighted in New Zealand, Aimee is a self-proclaimed coffee aficionado.  She channels the caffeine buzz to wrangle her young son and write books she hopes his high school girlfriend will read. She is represented byBrittany Howard of Corvisiero Literary. While waiting to see what the future holds, she is still writing, studying the craft, and learning more about the rapidly changing industry every day. Her (great) blog Seeking the Write Life shares the things she learned along the way.

My interview (13/11/2012)

On critiquing other writers’ manuscripts (Aimee is an awesome CP!):

Do you think it’s important for writers to have their work critiqued thoroughly and can you explain why?

Quite honestly, I think it’s the most important part of the writing process. Whether your critiques are “professional” (for a fee), or just feedback from experienced writers, what you’re gaining is a skilled reader’s point of view. You’re getting a heads up about where your manuscript is flawed before paying readers take a look. It isn’t fun, but it is very rewarding when you fix those problems and know your book is better for it.

See, whether you get a publishing contract, or self-publish, the end-point is a reader who doesn’t know you from Jack. They haven’t sat down and listened to you talk about your world. They haven’t had coffee with you while you ground your teeth over a tricky scene. They don’t love you and care about your personal success. They’re just looking for a good read. And if your book doesn’t provide that, they’ll move on.

The best kind of critique comes from a writer who has some technical skill, but is also an avid reader. They can assess your book from a reader’s point of view – but offer advice as a writer. They’ll highlight areas of your plot, characterisation or pacing that a reader may find distracting, implausible, or just plain boring.

If you can’t handle the idea of someone telling you your book isn’t perfect, then you want to think really carefully about whether or not you’re cut out for publishing. Regardless of how you publish, you’ll get feedback from readers. Personally, I feel being critiqued in the safety of the hands of another writer who’s helping me make my book better is a much better option than putting my book out there and having readers tell me they don’t like it.

Did you learn anything from critiquing other writers’ WIP?

I learn tons. And I really mean that. The other side of the critiquing coin is that because we’re all too close to our own books (and we know too much about the world and character thoughts / feelings / backstory) we can’t accurately gauge whether our writing is communicating the story we want to tell.

But when we’re reading other writer’s material, we don’t have that backstory to draw on. We don’t know all the little bits and pieces about the world that never make it into the book. We have to take it at its face value. And in that, we can see flaws.

When I’m critiquing I’m often in a position to identify a problem in the manuscript – be it a technical writing issue, an implausible plot, or an unlikeable character. Because I’m analyzing the text, I get to see not just what is wrong, but how the writer delivered that problem.

I can then look through my own writing for that kind of word choice, or plot development, or narration device. Because I’ve seen it in someone else’s work, it becomes easier to identify in my own.

What mistakes do you most often see in the MS you critique?

There are a lot of common themes in the flaws of unpublished manuscripts. I’ve covered some of them in this post. But lately the thing I’ve seen most often is a tendency to over-explain in the narration, or over-state.

Over-explaining is a result of a talented writer (who knows how to “show”), not trusting the reader to understand what they meant. So they quite rightly give all the right cues (body language, dialogue, etc).  But then they round off every paragraph (or sometimes every other sentence!) with a summary of what it all means.

When a writer is over-explaining you’ll get a lot of statements like “I realized he was angry.” Or “If such-and-such was true, then that meant I needed to do this-and-that.”

The solution is to look for any statements that are explaining the progress of the plot or characters and delete them. Just let the character see, hear, smell and (most importantly) react. Your goal is to depict real life. The explaining that’s required in narration is the focal character’s emotions and motivations – not their reaction to the events around them. Those should be shown as a matter of course.

The other common flaw, over-statement, is a result of a writer wanting the reader to understand the impact of something, but not being sure their depiction gets it across. I see it all the time when a heroine meets the hero and insta-love ensues. Suddenly an otherwise succinct manuscript is rife with purple prose describing how gorgeous the guy is, how stunned the heroine is, and how her entire body is consumed with desire / attraction / fear, etc.

My best advice to anyone who thinks they might be falling into that is to pick up a few traditionally published books in their genre and analyze what kind of descriptions are used when the hero / heroine meet (or whatever other gargantuan event occurs). Note that the author rarely (or barely) describes the narrator’s feelings. They focus instead on the stimulus. Be it the strong slant of his shoulders, or the quirk of his eyebrow, the page time is given to the things that create the feelings, not the feelings themselves.

 What are your pet peeves as a critical reader?

How much time do you have? Ha! Lately the thing that’s been bothering me is the “causing” sentence structure. You know the one: “He threw an arm out, causing me to stumble back against the wall.” or “The ripple of his muscles caused my heart to stutter.” While these kinds of statements might be true, they lack real finesse. I far, far prefer a solid stimulus structure: “He threw an arm out. I stumbled backwards, coming up hard against the wall.” or “I couldn’t take my eyes off the ripple of his muscles. My heart hammered against my ribs.”

On getting an agent:

Can you tell us “how you got your agent”?

If you want to go right back to 2009 when I first started trying to get published, I’ve been through well over 100 rejections, an agent who was great but didn’t work out, another thirty or so rejections, then wrote a new (different) book.

I revised my new book a dozen times (including getting eight or nine critiques to help guide my rewrites), wrote a query letter, queried about forty or fifty agents, attended an online writer’s conference, had just over a 30% hit rate on my queries for manuscript submissions. In the end I got offered an independent contract (from a digital-only, royalty paying publisher) and an offer of representation from Brittany Howard (my agent). When Brittany offered there were other agents looking at my full manuscript, but after talking to Brittany I knew we’d be a good fit and I withdrew the manuscript from the remaining agents.

Where are you now in your publishing journey?

Right now I’ve been through one, low-level round of edits for Brittany and am just waiting for her next, more detailed round of edits. Once I’ve completed those (and if I do a bang-up job), Brittany will start submitting my manuscript to editors.

As far as the editing process goes, the thing I like about editing with an agent is I’m confident about the changes. When someone critiques me, or if I were to pay an editor, I’d still be the one in control, so to speak.

When my agent asks for changes I know it’s because she believes those changes will make my book more commercially or technically sound. I’m confident about following her advice, and don’t need to second-guess whether or not I’m going to accidentally shoot myself in the foot.

I’m sure at some point in the future there will be moments when I’ll question advice from Brittany or an editor. But so far, I haven’t hit that. To me, it’s a relief to have someone else guiding the process. Someone with some knowledge of what editors want (Brittany has also worked as an Editor for an independent publisher), who can help me understand why changes are important, and where to focus my energy.

On your book:

What is the genre of your book and what is it about?

My book is currently titled LISTEN TO ME. It’s a YA magical realism (or a YA contemporary with a time-twist, depending on which day you ask). It’s about Stacy, an unpopular, bullied seventeen-year-old who can talk to her future, adult self when she looks in a mirror. Stacy’s dealing with unrequited love, bullying, and a mother who just wants her to be “normal”. The problem is, Stacy has learned that her future self has been lying. A lot. She has to figure out if she can trust her future self’s advice when it appears her future self has been steering her away from all the things she wants (specifically, a relationship with her popular best friend Mark, and popularity / acceptance from her peers). It was inspired by the www.dearteenme.com website, wherein authors write letters to their teenage selves. I love those letters!

When I read some early last year I got to wondering how my teenage self would feel about advice I would give her now if I could. What would happen if we sat down and talked? Would she listen to me? Or would she think I was boring? Would she look at me and think she didn’t want to be like me? Or would she trust my judgment? Needless to say I was inspired and started writing almost immediately. Stacy is a character very, very close to my heart.

Why did you choose to write for Young Adult readers?

I would say I didn’t really choose YA, it chose me. My entire life I’ve always been riveted by high school stories. I guess you could say I never grew out of them. I think it’s because high school was a very negative experience for me. I think I kept wanting to go back and do it differently – or imagine it differently, at least.

My books reflect a desire to rewrite history, to a certain degree. They aren’t “my” stories, but they definitely draw on the feelings, experiences and conflicts I encountered at that time in my life.

What do you think it was THE book that got you an agent? (=what made it special?)

I think LISTEN TO ME has two things going for it. It’s “high concept” (easy to explain in a sentence or two) and there isn’t anything else like it out there right now. It isn’t derivative of something that’s already popular. I know Brittany connected with the story on an emotional level, and that’s what I wanted from an agent. She and I feel the story deeply for different reasons, but she “gets it” like I do. I had several agents who rejected it, but also noted that they’d been moved emotionally by the character and the story. So… I guess it makes people feel. That was always my goal, so I’m excited to see if we can find an editor who feels the same.

On your blog:

You’ve got a successful author platform, what is your advice for writers who are just beginning to blog/tweet/etc ?

Successful blogging takes time, commitment and perseverance. If you don’t have a passion for it, don’t do it. If you do have a passion for it, get focused.My advice is twofold: Focus on what you have to offer other people (not just your own story, but something others can use to benefit themselves) and don’t give up if it doesn’t happen quickly.

On a practical level, use platforms like Twitter and Facebook to connect with people. They aren’t just signposts for your blogposts or your books. They are places to get to know people and let them get to know you. The more time you spend just communicating with people, the more loyal your following will be. And when they’re loyal, they’ll do your promotion for you so you don’t have to.

It took me two years to gain over 500 followers (I’m now just cresting 3000 genuine followers on Twitter, too).  I don’t think my numbers are anything “special”, but they’re solid enough now to create a sense of community. In order to do that I’ve committed time almost every day for two years to talk with people on twitter, comment on blogs, follow blogs / twitter, offer useful information on my blog, and answer emails, etc that people send to me.

It’s a lot of work. But it’s rewarding when you start getting some traction. So, just keep going!

Thanks Aimee!

Thanks for having me, Eve!

A Writer in the Spotlight – Anna Carey

This week again I was lucky enough to have a YA author give me an exclusive interview! The idea behind the “Writer in the Spotlight” feature is that published (and bestselling) authors are the best source of advice for us, would-be-published writers. Today’s interview is with the amazing Anna Carey. Between her busy schedule and emails lost in spam folders, there were times when I thought I would never get this interview, but Anna was SUPER kind and I’m very happy that you can read her answers to my questions today!

Author : Anna Carey

Genre : Young Adult, Dystopian, Contemporary

Location: Los Angeles, USA

Contact: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

Books : The Sloan Sisters series (2009), the Eve trilogy: Eve (2011), Once (2012), Rise (2013)

Bio: Anna Carey has been a gift wrapper, face painter, nanny, horrific cocktail waitress, sofa saleswoman and children’s book editor. She graduated from New York University and has an MFA in fiction from Brooklyn College. She currently lives in Los Angeles, where she can be found writing, reading, and doodling on the giant chalkboard in her kitchen.

My interview (08/11/2012)

On writing:

Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

I always knew I wanted to be a writer, though it took me nearly a decade to say those words out loud. Growing up I didn’t know any authors, had never been to a book talk or had a writer visit my school. That life seemed like an impossible dream.

When and where do you write?

As much as I try to keep a set schedule, this changes from book to book. My preference is to write at home, on my couch, in yoga pants. It usually takes me eight hours to get five solid hours of work done. I’ve gone through periods where things are different, where I work predominantly in coffee shops or only at night, but the eight hour rule has always proved true.

What do you say to people who want to be writers?

First off, read as much as you can. You learn so much about characters, story, and plot just from reading well crafted books. We’re lucky that there are so many books on writing out there (On Writing by Stephen King, The Faith of a Writer by Joyce Carol Oates, Burning Down the House by Charles Baxter). Add these to your reading list.

Secondly, write as much as you can and finish whatever you start. Strangely, this is the hardest part. Try not to get discouraged by unwieldy first drafts. Try not to judge. Once you finish there will be time to cut, add, rewrite and perfect. Until then…it’s impossible to revise a blank page.

Lastly: Find a few readers you trust. Share your work and learn how to listen to criticism. A useful comment feels like an arrow hitting it’s mark.

On the “Eve” trilogy:

To write these books, where did you get your inspiration from? Were you aware of the coming dystopian trend in YA literature when you wrote “Eve”?

Eve started with a question: What happens when you discover everything you learned is a lie? Would you have the courage to relearn your life?

Publishing is a slow industry. It can take over a year (sometimes two) for a book to go from finished manuscript to published work. That said, once you’re aware of a trend it’s generally too late to write with it. I’m like most of the authors who are writing dystopian now. When I started Eve dystopian wasn’t a huge trend. The first book of The Hunger Games was out, but it wasn’t what it is now. I wrote the story I was interested in, and fortunately the timing was right.

On reading:

Which authors inspire you now?

I just read The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith, which is creepy and magnificent. If I Stay by Gayle Forman is one of my favorite YA reads, my go-to “if you haven’t read this READ THIS”. Right now I’m on a bit of a Gillian Flynn kick. I finished Gone Girl and am now reading Sharp Objects, one of her earlier books.

Thanks, Anna, for an awesome interview!

Anna’s books are available from Amazon here.

A Writer in the Spotlight – Meagan Spooner

This week again I was lucky enough to have a YA author give me an exclusive interview! The idea behind the “Writer in the Spotlight” feature is that published (and bestselling) authors are the best source of advice for us, would-be-published writers. Today’s interview is with debut author Meagan Spooner. Her Dystopian novel, Skylark, is out now. Her science fiction novel, These Broken Stars (co-authored with Amie Kaufman), will be out in 2013.

Author : Meagan Spooner

Genre : Young Adult, Dystopian & Fantasy

Location: Northern Virginia

Contact: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

Books : Skylark (2012), These Broken Stars (2013)

Bio: Meagan Spooner grew up reading and writing every spare moment of the day, while dreaming about life as an archaeologist, a marine biologist, an astronaut. She graduated from Hamilton College in New York with a degree in playwriting, and has spent several years since then living in Australia. She’s traveled with her family all over the world to places like Egypt, South Africa, the Arctic, Greece, Antarctica, and the Galapagos, and there’s a bit of every trip in every story she writes.She currently lives and writes in Northern Virginia, but the siren call of travel is hard to resist, and there’s no telling how long she’ll stay there. In her spare time she plays guitar, plays video games, plays with her cat, and reads.

My interview (01/10/2012):

On writing:

Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

Yes. As long as I can remember, anyway. I was very young when I first decided I wanted to be an author–about four years old or so. I had one of those little-kid epiphanies where I suddenly realized that real people wrote the books I liked to read, and that blew my mind. You know how it is when you’re small, you never really think about where things come from. Well, when I realized that books were made by actual people, I decided that’s what I wanted to do some day. I’ve always had other aspirations along the way as well, but writing has been the only one I constantly aspired to.

When and where do you write?

Whenever I can/need to, and wherever I happen to be. I know that’s a boring answer, because people love to hear about the routine, but the truth is that once you start juggling deadlines for multiple books and series at every stage of the process, you can’t really afford to be precious about your routine. Ideally I like to write at my desk when I’m alone in my apartment, and that tends to be where I get the bulk of my work done. But I write on my netbook when I’m traveling, and I write by hand occasionally when I’ve got something flowing and no computer nearby. (This happens most often when I’m driving somewhere, and I end up having to pull over to the side of the road and write on napkins and receipts. Seriously.)

What do you say to people who want to be writers? How difficult is it to get published?

That’s kind of a tough question to answer because there are so many factors–it’s not just a level of difficulty on a scale from 1 to 10 that’s the same for everyone. Do you read a lot? Have you been writing for a long time? Do you pay attention to what other authors do and try to utilize those tools in your own writing? Are you talented? Do you work hard? Are you driven and dedicated? If the answer to most of those things is “yes,” then you’ve got a pretty good chance of being published. Yes, there’s luck involved–hitting the right agent/publisher with the right story at the right time–but most of it is hard work and being willing to improve yourself. You have to walk this incredibly fine line between being arrogant enough to keep thinking you can do it even when you get shot down over and over again, while also being humble enough to accept and incorporate criticism, and grow your craft.

 

On “Skylark”:

To write this book, where did you get your inspiration from? Were you aware of the coming dystopian trend in YA literature when you wrote it?

I wasn’t aware, no. I’d read THE HUNGER GAMES but wasn’t really paying attention to the YA market when I got the idea (which you can read more about here), because I wasn’t particularly driven to get published at that time. It was only after I had the idea for SKYLARK that I knew it was The Book, and I started keeping an eye on what was going on out there. The truth is, even then I had no particular view on the dystopian craze, because to me, SKYLARK isn’t really dystopian literature. There are elements that it shares with many dystopian stories, so it often gets called dystopian (even by me when I’m describing it simply) and shelved that way. But structurally it’s the Hero’s Journey, through and through–it’s fantasy, not science fiction.

Why did you choose to write for Young Adults?

Joss Whedon, one of my writing idols, often gets asked why he writes strong female characters. His response is “Because you’re still asking me that question.” Why write for young adults? Why NOT write for young adults? Why would anybody not want to write for young adults? For one thing, you won’t find a more riveted and dedicated audience anywhere. No one reads like kids and teenagers read, with such investment and heart.

But to me, being a teenager is all about having real choices for the first time in your life, and having to make those choices without necessarily knowing where they’ll lead you. And choice is what all good stories are really about, deep down. The choices protagonists make, and where those choices take them.

What are you working on now?

Everything. Okay, that’s not a helpful response, but that’s pretty much what it feels like. I’m revising book two of the SKYLARK trilogy, planning book three, doing copy edits on THESE BROKEN STARS, and writing the first draft of the second book in that series. And yes, all at the same time. If I had extra time, or if suddenly all my contracted work just vanished, I’d be working on a Beauty and the Beast retelling that I began way back when I first sent out query letters for SKYLARK. It was going to be my next project, in case SKYLARK (then called THE IRON WOOD) didn’t land me an agent. Two years later and I haven’t gotten to finish it yet! Someday. 😉

 

Reading advice:

Which authors inspire you now? Which YA books would recommend?

For dystopian fiction, I’d recommend THE GIVER by Lois Lowry. For science fiction, I’d recommend ENDER’S GAME by Orson Scott Card. For fantasy, I’d point you toward THE LAST UNICORN by Peter S. Beagle, or if you want a more recent book, GRACELING (and its companion novels) by Kristin Cashore.

As far as authors go, Tamora Pierce, Robin McKinley, Patricia C. Wrede, and Diana Wynne Jones have always been huge inspirations for me. I go back to them constantly whenever I lose sight of what I’m doing, or why I’m working so hard to do it.

Thanks, Meagan, for an awesome interview!

SKYLARK is available from Amazon here.

A Writer in the Spotlight – Susan Dennard

Something Strange and Deadly, a YA historical novel with zombies and a steampunk vibe, is out TODAY! And I have the pleasure to interview debut author Susan Dennard about the release and her writing process. As a reminder, the idea behind the “Writer in the Spotlight” feature is that published authors are the best source of advice for us, would-be-published writers.

Author : Susan Dennard

Genre : Young Adult, Fantasy

Location: Germany

Website: http://susandennard.com

Official Book Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bnQuHXPTUP0&feature=youtu.be

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4499623.Susan_Dennard

Twitter: www.twitter.com/stdennard

Books : Something Strange and Deadly series: Something Strange and Deadly (2012), A Darkness Strange and Lovely (2013) from Harper Teen.

My interview (22/07/2012):

On writing

Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

I can’t say that I ALWAYS knew. I didn’t start putting my daydreams onto paper until I was around 13 or so. After that, all my dreams of a becoming a marine biologist vanished in my obsession with writing (though I was a TERRIBLE writer). Of course, I was such a snotty teen, though, that I refused to be taught–I didn’t want to learn to write since I thought I was already amazing. Ha! Then, when I went off to school to major in creative writing, I got side-tracked by marine biology. Funny how those things work!

I still love science and the marine world. College and graduate school were amazing experiences. In fact, the only reason I returned to writing was because my husband and I would have to live apart if I pursued my PhD. So–rather than separate–I moved with him to Germany, started writing (and studying the craft of writing) full-time, and the rest is history! 😉

When and where do you write?

I write in my office everyday. Or…I do something writing-related everyday. I’m very strict about this. My rule is that if my husband is working, I ought to be too! So either I’m BICHOK-ing (butt-in-chair, hands-on-keyboard), revising, or working on “administrative stuff” (emails, blogging, self-promotion, etc.).

What do you say to people who want to be writers?

Do it! Sit down and write. That’s the only way to achieve your dreams–but make sure you dream big too! I think success is three-part: aiming high, working hard, and not giving up. It’s so EASY to let dreams slide away when things take a while or don’t work out as you’d hoped. But you CAN’T give up. My mantra before I was published and to this day is: “It’s not a race. You know what you want, Sooz, so just keep on plugging away until you get there.”

I want to share my stories with as many people as possible, and so that’s what I’m trying to do!

On Something Strange and Deadly

To write this book, where did you get your inspiration from? (How did you come up with a historical novel with zombies?!)

Well, the initial premise came from a dream. My brother was missing; I knew I’d do anything to save him; and the only people who could help  mewere a ragtag team of outcasts. I took that idea and fleshed it out. I knew I wanted a paranormal/creepy element, and I settled on ghosts and corpses after rummaging through what scared me most! It sounds so silly, but honestly, I scanned my shelves trying to pick out which books made my skin crawl. If I was scared, then surely I could transfer that fear onto the page–and nothing creeps me out more than ghouls and zombies!

The historical aspect–specifically 1876–came about because I knew I wanted a steampunk vibe (but not 100% steampunk). I adore 19th century literature and history, and after some preliminary research, I discovered the Centennial Exhibition (the first American World’s Fair). I thought, “Whoa! What a great place for walking corpses! What if…what if my team of outcasts are actually zombie-fighters brought in to protect the Exhibition?”

And that, my friends, is how Something Strange and Deadly came to be.

Why did you choose to write for young adults?

I’m not sure I ever consciously set out to write YA…I just knew I wanted to write a book that I would love. And of all the books I’ve read, the ones that stay with me the most are the books I enjoyed growing up and during my teen years. I knew I wanted to write THAT sort of book, and so…I did! 🙂

 What are you working on now?

Right now, I’m writing the third book in the Something Strange and Deadly series (so weird to work on it when book 1 isn’t even out yet!) as well as a novella set before the events in the trilogy. I’m also working on some other projects–Screechers, an epic fantasy in a desert world; an untitled space opera with author Sarah Maas (Throne of Glass, Bloomsbury 2012); and a fluffy, fun contemporary.

You can buy Something Strange and Deadly on Amazon here. And you can enter the Something Strange and Deadly Outbreak giveaway here.