Wednesday, April 16, 2014

LILY IN THE SHADOWS by E.M. Castellan

I stumbled across E.M. Castellan's website, and I loved the premise of her books, particularly LILY IN THE SHADOWS.

Title: Lily In The Shadows

Genre: YA Historical Fantasy

Status: Complete at 71,000 words

Pitch: 1862: When dark magic throws London into chaos and puts her job at risk, a flower girl with no time for nonsense investigates children’s disappearances and terrorist attacks before society collapses and she loses everything.

Interview Questions:

Your website bio states that you are repped by Erin Niumata of Folio Literary Management. How did you find Erin as your agent, and what do you like most about her?

Erin is actually the one who found me! I was querying LILY and I took part in a Twitter Pitch Party (#PitchMas) in July 2013. Erin requested my query and first chapters, then later on she asked for the full manuscript. My querying process was quite lengthy but successful in the end, since Erin offered representation in January this year. What I’ve liked most about her so far is how much she believes in LILY’s potential. It’s always hard to judge the quality of one’s own writing and it’s incredibly uplifting to have someone as experienced as Erin believe in it.

I'm glad you found an agent that's such a good fit for you and your work! And I love the premise of LILY IN THE SHADOWS. Where did you get the idea from and what do you want readers to take away when they're finished?

Although I love Steampunk literature, it has glamorized the Victorian era, with heroines in beautiful dresses, innovative gentlemen, steam-powered inventions and afternoon teas. I wrote LILY because I wanted to write the story of an obscure 19th Century flower girl, with no special power or talent, who tries to save the city of London from chaos and magical destruction. Lily lives in Whitechapel, she is partly deaf and she has no hope of ever marrying a king and becoming a princess in a fairy tale. But to me, it doesn’t mean her story shouldn’t be told. Every girl matters and her actions can change the world, even in the shadows.

A great lesson for all girls! You also write at There And Draft Again – A Fellowship of Fantasy Writers. What has this taught you and what are the advantages to joining a "fellowship" of writers?

My goal when bringing together this “fellowship” was to connect with other unpublished Fantasy writers. The idea behind this project was to record our roads to publication, whether we chose to self-publish (like Mara, Rachel or Kathi) or to follow the traditional route (like Jessy, Kate, Raewyn and me). We post twice a week and we share our writing tips, reading recommendations or advice to use social media. It’s allowed us to meet other writers online and to build a little community within the big writing community.

Those communities are so important--and vital. You mentioned that you work at a full time job. How do you balance writing with day-to-day tasks, and if you have any recommendations for writers juggling full-time jobs?

Juggling is the right word here! It sometimes feels like I’m ALWAYS busy. I work an average of 55 hours a week at my day job, and I fit writing in when I can: mostly in the evening and on Sundays. I usually manage to set aside one hour for writing on weekdays, and on Sundays at least half a day. I try to make the most of the time I have to write: I put on music, tune out all distractions, and I write. I don’t have a set word count per day, but I try to work on my manuscript a little bit every day: my goal is to go to bed knowing I’ve made some progress on my Work In Progress, even small.

Sounds like a great process! What do you know now about the writing business that you wish you'd known sooner?

I wish I had known about the online writing community sooner. I’ve been writing for years, but I only started my blog in March 2012, and joined Twitter a few months later. The support - and helpful advice - I have found online has been amazing, and I wish I had taken advantage of it earlier. Writing can be a lonely business, I can only advise everyone to reach out and connect with other writers.

To find out more about EM Castellan, click the links below:

EM Castellan
YA Fantasy writer, worlds builder & insatiable reader
http://emcastellan.com/
http://twitter.com/EMCastellan
http://pinterest.com/emcastellan/
http://emcastellan.tumblr.com/

http://www.facebook.com/EMCastellan

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

This week, find me on Operation Awesome

I am now splitting my time between this blog, and contributing to a blog called Operation Awesome. This week, I was there on Monday, relating writing to improvisational theater.

Feel free to have a look, and I'll likely be posting something new here next week.




Wednesday, March 26, 2014

BECOMING JOSEPHINE by Heather Webb

I was fortunate enough to see Heather speak on a conference panel, and she was super insightful. Her debut novel, BECOMING JOSEPHINE, is now available:

Rose Tascher sails from her Martinique plantation to Paris to trade her Creole black magic culture for love and adventure. She arrives exultant to follow her dreams of attending Court with Alexandre, her elegant aristocrat and soldier husband. But Alexandre dashes her hopes and abandons her amid the tumult of the French Revolution.

Through her savoir faire, Rose secures her footing in high society, reveling in handsome men and glitzy balls—until the heads of her friends begin to roll.

After narrowly escaping death in the blood-drenched cells of Les Carmes prison, she reinvents herself as Josephine, a socialite of status and power. Yet her youth is fading, and Josephine must choose between a precarious independence and the love of an awkward suitor. Little does she know, he would become the most powerful man of his century-Napoleon Bonaparte.


Here are Heather's answers to my questions:

Your website bio states that you taught and coached high school students before becoming a historical novelist. What brought this change, and can you tell us more about your journey toward publication? 

I did! I loved teaching very much, which is probably why I enjoy working with other writers so much as well. I still teach publishing and craft classes at a local community college to keep my feet wet, so to speak. But I resigned from teaching high school French initially to stay home with my one-year- old. I had another baby soon after, so in spite of my love for my job, I loved my babies more. My husband and I made a lot of financial sacrifices so I could stay home with the kids. Soon after, my brain got to whirring. I had always longed to write books so being at home was the perfect time to take a chance on the whole idea!

As for publication, I worked on my novel off and on for two-and-a-half years and went through two rounds of querying before I met my agent. We hooked up at a conference, actually, and I signed with her about five weeks later. From there, I worked on revisions with my agent's notes for about six weeks and we went out on submission. The book was on submission for about five weeks before it sold. So in many ways, I'm blessed. So many authors toil and struggle and I think something clicked for me that I attribute to the universe (and a shitload of hard work and research!).

Definitely goes to show what a shitload of hard work and research can do! Your debut novel, BECOMING JOSEPHINE, just released. Congratulations! Where did the idea come from and what do you want readers to take away when they're finished?

Thank you! Sometimes I still can't believe it. Every time someone posts a picture of my book in their hands or on the shelves, I get the most insanely wonderful melty feeling inside.

The idea for this novel came to me in two parts. I taught a unit about the French Revolution in my high school French classes for several years, which sparked my interest in the time period. Yet despite my teaching, I knew little about Josephine and I “discovered” her later. Ultimately she was a minor player in a sea of France’s most famous and infamous people during the Revolution—at least until Robespierre fell and the Directoire took over the government.

When I began to feel the pull to writing a book, I had a dream about Josephine. Strange, but true. From the very first biography I read, I was hooked. Her vivid childhood home, her adaptable nature and courageous spirit had me enthralled. Her rich life story set to the backdrop of the chaotic Revolution and the opulent Napoleonic Empire cinched the deal.

The message I would like readers to grasp—this is tricky because a book, film, or piece of art, means something different to each person based on their own emotional lens and life experiences—is that there is hope in beginning anew, not just loss. Also, true contentedness comes with forgiveness and generosity.

Hope is a wonderful and important theme-- and it definitely comes across in the novel.
You also do freelance editing. How do you balance this with your writing load, and what do you recommend to writers wanting to try editing?


I don't recommend editing to all writers. I think it's a very specific skill. Just because you're a wonderful writer in your own voice and you have a good command of the language, doesn't mean you are able to channel someone else's voice or style. Also, it's not easy money if you do it well. I work very hard on the novels I edit and treat them as if I would my own. I spend a lot of time mulling over the story arc and the characters, how to make the craft stronger, tone and sensual detailing, etc. If a writer is willing to put in that kind of effort AND has the necessary skill, by all means, give it a shot. I've seen a lot of writers become "editors" that have no business doing it. Unfortunately, most of those editors think the feedback they're giving is sufficient. Like any other job, not all workers are created equal, so I would encourage writes in search of feedback to really look into the editors they're hiring. In terms of writers becoming editors, I would say they should try it on for size, do a bit of training, and push their own craft to become better before they jump in. It's a bit like running your own business and not everyone is cut out for that sort of commitment and drive.

In terms of balance, it's really tough. I just came off of a dry spell of editing so I could polish my latest manuscript to get it to my editor. But I'm back at it and working on several manuscripts at the moment. I think utilizing a calendar and blocking off chunks of time for both editing and your own writing is paramount to keeping it all fluid and moving in the right direction.

Excellent advice. Your second novel, RODIN'S LOVER will release in 2015. How is it different from BECOMING JOSEPHINE, and what do you love most about it?

My critique partners have told me that it's clear my voice is present and vibrant in RODIN'S LOVER, so I'm quite relieved to hear that, but yes, it's a very different book from BECOMING JOSEPHINE. For one, it's one hundred years later in history so the fashions, the way people talk, the societal expectations are vastly different. The politics have changed quite a bit, plus there's this whole thing of switching from royal historical fiction to highlighting the lives of artists. It was a very challenging novel to write because of the mental illness that arises and a couple of other controversial issues that I don't want to mention now (spoilers!). But I grew significantly as a writer while crafting it. As for what I loved most about RODIN'S LOVER? Ahh, it's a beautiful, tragic story full of romance and heartache, with characters yearning to create and achieve, and to become whole. I think my favorite piece was writing the scenes in which the artists are in the midst of working on a sketch or sculpture. It was great fun for me to burrow into their minds and see what it would be like to spend time in an artist's body. I didn't find it vastly different from being a writer at times.

That sounds amazing, and I can't wait to read it! What are other current projects you're working on?

I can't tell you what I'm working on now or I'll have to kill you. Ha ha! No really, I can't say much for now, but it's also set during the Belle Epoque, so 1880s Paris, and it will focus on the themes of possession, finding strength within to be who we are, and the changing concept of what it means to be beautiful. It will also have a gothic feel to it. I'm really, really looking forward to writing this book! It's something I'm so utterly excited about, I can't wait to talk about it!

To snag a copy of BECOMING JOSEPHINE, click on the link below!


Bio:

Heather Webb is the author of historical novels BECOMING JOSEPHINE and the forthcoming RODIN’S LOVER (Plume/Penguin 2015).  A freelance editor and blogger, she spends oodles of time helping writers hone their skills—something she adores. Find her twittering @msheatherwebb or contributing to her favorite award-winning sites WriterUnboxed.com and RomanceUniversity.org.


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

THE ROVING TREE by Elsie Augustave

THE ROVING TREE by Elsie Augustave provides a unique glimpse into immigrant experience, epitomizing the struggle between two very different worlds. It has been reviewed in multiple publications, including Kirkus and The New York Times.

From Goodreads
The central character, Iris Odys, is the offspring of Hagathe, a Haitian maid, and a French-educated mulatto father, Brahami, who cares little about his child. Hagathe, who had always dreamed of a better life for her child, is presented with the perfect opportunity when Iris is five years old. Adopted by a white American couple, Iris is transported from her tiny remote Haitian village, Monn Neg, to an American suburb.

The Roving Tree illuminates how imperfectly assimilated adoptees struggle to remember their original voices and recapture their personal histories and cultural legacy. Set between two worlds—suburban America and Haiti under Papa Doc's repressive regime—the novel offers a unique literary glimpse into the deeply entrenched class discrimination and political repression of Haiti during the Duvalier era, along with the subtle but nonetheless dangerous effects of American racism.

Here are Elsie's answers to some of my questions: 

Your website bio states that you were born in Haiti and studied foreign language and literature at Howard University. Did this influence your writing, and can you tell us more about your journey toward publication?

The years I spent studying literature at Howard University exposed me to works by African and Caribbean writers that nourished my desire to return to Haiti and to travel to Africa. Those writers also made me realize, through their writings, that the human experience is limitless. Most of all, it was during those graduate school years that my interest in my native country peeked, and I began to pay closer attention to the socio-political dynamics of Haiti as well as traditional beliefs. When I decided to write a novel, those earlier interests and experiences guided me, and I couldn’t help but address them as I tried to understand the atavistic nature of African beliefs. It took a long time for the book to reach completion since I was only able to work on it sporadically. After years of determination, hard work, and patience, THE ROVING TREE was presented to Akashic Books and its Open Lens imprint, and the book got published.    

Those are really rich themes to explore, and I loved THE ROVING TREE's premise. Where did the idea come from, and what do you want readers to take away when they're finished?

My own wanderlust has a lot to do with the title. But I don’t think it was really a choice. During the early stages of the novel, I woke up in the middle of the night with the words The Roving Tree pounding in my head. I got out of bed to write them down and decided that would be the title of the book. I subsequently constructed the story around the title. It is my hope that the reader will engage in Haiti’s popular culture, the recurring conflicts of class and color, and in a life where power, oppression and corruption dominate the lives of characters.  

I'm sure we will! Currently, you teach French and Spanish at the Stuyvesant School in New York City. How do you balance writing and teaching, and what do you find most rewarding about both careers?

Finding that balance is one of the most challenging things I’ve had to do, and that partly explains why it took a long time to finish the novel. It is also the reason why I was only able to write mostly during my summer vacations. But I find teaching rewarding when students acknowledge that they have learned from me or when I can watch their progress grow. Recently, while presenting the novel at the University of Arizona, a man came up to have me sign his copy of THE ROVING TREE. Then he told me that I taught him French years ago at Stuyvesant High School. He is now a young professor of Archaeology, who uses French to research articles that he writes. That brought a smile of happiness to my face. Likewise, I’m also happy when I hear that THE ROVING TREE has touched lives.

I'm glad you got a chance to reconnect with that student. And I wish I'd known you were at the University of Arizona--it would have been great to meet you.
If you were stuck on a desert island with four books, what would they be?

That’s a tough question to answer, but I guess I have to narrow down my choices and say that would like to have One hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Márquez, Maryse Condé’s Segu, Masters of the Dew by Jacques Roumain, and The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. It’s a good blend of the cultures and literary styles that I am fond of.

I love One Hundred Years of Solitude and The Poisonwood Bible--and Segu also looks worth a try. What are some of your current projects?

I am currently working on a second novel and have plans for a memoir.  

Sounds fantastic. Thanks, Elsie!

To get your own copy of THE ROVING TREE, click the link below:





Wednesday, March 12, 2014

DONNA OF THE DEAD by Alison Kemper

I'm so excited to feature my critique partner, Alison Kemper, and her debut, DONNA OF THE DEAD! I had the fortune to read DONNA in earlier stages, and can't wait to get my hands on the rest. Alison offers a great voice, page-turning scenes, and she's also a librarian!

Donna Pierce might hear voices, but that doesn’t mean she’s crazy. Probably.

The voices do serve their purpose, though—whenever Donna hears them, she knows she’s in danger. So when they start yelling at the top of their proverbial lungs, it’s no surprise she and her best friend, Deke, end up narrowly escaping a zombie horde. Alone without their families, they take refuge at their high school with the super-helpful nerds, the bossy class president, and—best of all?—Liam, hottie extraordinaire and Donna’s long-time crush. When Liam is around, it’s easy to forget about the moaning zombies, her dad’s plight to reach them, and how weird Deke is suddenly acting toward her.

But as the teens’ numbers dwindle and their escape plans fall apart, Donna has to listen to the secrets those voices in her head have been hiding. It seems not all the zombies are shuffling idiots, and the half-undead aren’t really down with kids like Donna…


Here are Alison's answers to some of my questions!

You work as a librarian as well as writing full-time. How do you balance both careers, and can you tell us more about your journey toward becoming a writer?

I'd probably go nuts if I didn't do both! People think librarians sit quietly at a desk all day, but in reality (and I'm sure Karen will second this) librarians spend a ton of time interacting with the public and teaching workshops. It's very much an extrovert's job. After I've run my mouth all day, I love to go home and enjoy the solitude of writing. It's something fun I get to do, not ever something I HAVE to do. It's a good balance for me. 

I definitely second that! And I'm glad you've found a balance that works.

I've always loved the premise of DONNA OF THE DEAD. Where did the idea come from and what do you want readers to take away when they're finished reading?

Thank you very much for saying that! I've always loved stories that manage to be funny and scary at the same time. Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland are two of my favorite movies. DONNA OF THE DEAD was the very first novel I ever wrote, so I wanted a genre I felt comfortable with.  

You've definitely captured the humor! And it's heartening to know that first novels can sell. 
I love the design of your website. What inspired it, and what advice do you have for writers building an online platform?

Really? That makes me happy because I had no idea what I was doing. :) My advice for writers building a platform is to learn how to use ALL the different forms of social media ASAP. A friend talked me into joining Instagram last year, and it took me a couple months to figure it out. But when EntangledTeen ran an Instagram contest last week, I was able to jump right in and participate. I was grateful I didn't have to suffer through a learning curve. Tumblr is a different matter. My current Tumblr account is hilarious because I'm just pressing random buttons and trying to figure things out.   

I feel that way about Tumblr too! I'm sure we'll figure it out eventually.
I loved your recent guest post on YA Highway, entitled "Selling Your Novel." You gave great advice about setting a novel apart. What other tips do you have for people wanting to make their stories pop?

Don't be afraid to take risks in your writing. I knew my main character might come off as a jerk at the start of the story, and that I ran the risk of readers finding her unlikeable. But I also knew that made the heroine stand out among the Mary Sues. Fortunately, I found an agent and editor who appreciate Donna's voice, and didn't want me to sweeten her up. :)  

Good! And I'm glad, because I like Donna exactly the way she is! What are some of your current projects?

There will be two companion novels to DONNA OF THE DEAD. Same time frame, same virus, different characters. Those will keep me busy for a while!

Can I also mention that I've been fortunate enough to read some of your fiction? I suspect that in the very near future we'll turn the tables and I'll get to interview you about your debut!

Thanks, Alison! Now I'm all a-blushy. :)

To get DONNA OF THE DEAD for yourself, click on the link below:


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

AT ANY PRICE, by Brenna Aubrey

I first heard about Brenna when she took a brave stand and decided to turn down a three-book print deal in favor of self-publishing. You can read more about her decision here. 

I was also intrigued by her book, AT ANY PRICE, because of its awesome premise: 

Achievement Unlocked: Geek Virgin

When Mia Strong, proud geek-girl and popular gaming blogger, auctions off her virginity online, she knows she'll make waves. But what she will not be making is a love connection. Her rules are set in stone: One night. No further contact.

It's a desperate step, but it's the only way she can go to medical school and pay her mother's mounting hospital bills.

Difficulty Level: Millionaire CEO

Adam Drake, the enigmatic auction winner, is a software prodigy who made his first million at seventeen. Now, in his mid-twenties, he's sexy, driven and--as CEO of his own gaming company--he's used to making the rules. Before Mia knows what's happening, he's found the loophole in the rules of her auction. Every stipulation she's made to protect her heart gets tossed by the wayside.

She can't tell if he's playing her...or if he's playing for keeps.


Brenna was also kind enough to answer some interview questions:

In a recent blog post, you said that you drafted a book in 12 days (!). Before that, how long had you been writing, and can you tell us more about your journey toward publication?

I've been writing pretty much constantly since about 1995 when I started on an epic fantasy story which then became a series of books. For the first 15 years it was mostly a hobby--something I did for my own enjoyment--for myself and my family and friends to read. I never considered professionally publishing because I'd always had the impression that it was next to impossible to break into the business and so I never even tried. In 2010, I joined the Romance Writers of America and that changed everything because I learned that it wasn't impossible and my craft and business knowledge increased by leaps and bounds.  In 2012, I signed with an agent and began shopping my Historical Romance manuscript which was not acquired. During the time I was on submission with that book, I sat down, did all the pre-planning for and then the fastdrafting for AT ANY PRICE. The fastdraft was finished in 12 days and then it took another 2 months of polishing, fixing and using notes from critique partner and beta readers to get it into ship shape.


I greatly admire your speed, and love the premise of AT ANY PRICE. Where did the idea come from, and what do you want readers to take away when they're done reading it?

The premise, which is about a college student who decides to auction off her virginity online for financial reasons, actually was something I discussed with my critique partner, Kate McKinley.  At the time, we were both writing historical (Regency) romance and she came up with the idea to have a historical heroine auction her virginity.  One day I was thinking about her premise as I was puttering around the house and it smacked me between the eyes–that would make an wonderful hook for a contemporary story. I actually suggested it to her, first, that she write it as a contemporary but she told me I should do it with her blessing. I couldn’t put down the idea…The more I thought about it, the more things gelled.  I started to think about who this woman was and ask questions about her: Why would she do this?  So I came up with the idea of the Virgin's Manifesto.

Mia is brilliant and only in college by grace of her scholarship. She's worked single-mindedly during her premed program to earn a perfect grade point average.  She’s a scientist.  She’s logical.  So for me it was important that she make the auction extremely logical.  Everything, in her mind, is perfectly reasoned out.  And so she takes the examples, throughout history, of where a woman’s virginity has been used as a bargaining chip by men and she makes this about those ideals: that she is choosing to profit from her own purity.  In a way, she’s fooling herself because of her various hang-ups and issues but how she deals with that self-discovery is at least as important as the other things the book is about.


Yet another reason why good critique partners are so invaluable! What have you learned  about self-publishing so far?

I've learned that self-publishing is HARD work and it's not for everyone. I've also learned that it's exciting to be in the driver's seat and make choices and have the freedom to experiment, whether it's with price points or branding or whatever. It's also a little scary and there is always more to learn. The best thing I've learned is that the Indie community of authors is a fabulous, awesome bunch of people who love to share and support each other.


Excellent insight! What is a "non-compete clause," and why should writers know about it?

A non-complete clause is a contract tool used by publishing companies that prevents an author from publishing with another house or even self-publishing while under contract with the house in question in the same genre or under the same name. This is based on the belief that readers will buy some books from an author but not others, for whatever reason, and that authors will "compete" against each other for reader revenue.  Some authors have more restrictive clauses than others. And some authors are forced to take on a pen name in order to get around an NC clause.


Definitely something to be aware of! What are some of your current projects?

I'm currently at work finishing the first trilogy for GAMING THE SYSTEM.  There will be two more books in Adam and Mia's story. I have another novel planned this year that centers around a secondary character in the GAMING THE SYSTEM series. I also have a couple smaller surprises up my sleeve for readers. :)  But yeah, it's going to be a full year of writing! I'm excited.
 

To get your hands on AT ANY PRICE, click on the link below:


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Going Dark until March

Nothing like a nasty chest cold to remind me to dial back. February has been nuts with writerly stuff, and it's the most hectic month (along with October) for the day job.

So, see you in March. Meanwhile, I have a date with a tissue box...