Meet the Writer – Tom Leveen

An author interview on the craft of writing.

Featured Writer: Tom Leveen

Book: manicpixiedreamgirl, Contemporary YA

manicpixiedreamgirl

In celebration of Tom’s latest book, and because I LOVE MY READERS :D I am giving away a signed copy of manicpixiedreamgirl! Read on, and enter for your chance!!

I said it when I read Party, Tom Leveen’s debut novel, and I’ll say it again: I will be very very shocked if we don’t see a TV or movie adaptation of his work sometime in the near future. While Party could easily be adapted into an MTV series (each of eleven chapters is told from a different character’s point-of-view, all on the same night – at a high school party), and Zero has an indie-film feel, manicpixiedreamgirl is like today’s version of a John Hughes film.

Yes. I just compared up-and-coming YA author Tom Leveen to the Martin Scorsese of 80’s teen angst.

And it’s apropos, considering, in Tom’s own description of himself freshman year, he had “that whole John Bender thing going,” or at least that’s the look he was going for at the time. But as all of us former freshmen know, the look you want to have is much further from the persona you actually project. We want to be badass, confident and sexy; when in actuality we are awkward, nerdy, and to most of the world, still “kids.”

In manicpixiedreamgirl‘s Tyler—loosely biographical—Tom captures these feelings to a T. Internally, the rush of what you wish was your reality, all the hopes, dreams, and feelings flowing like a fast-moving river; the image of yourself looking fabulous, walking up to your crush and reciting some impressive commentary on Whatever Is Relevant At The Time. But externally, you can barely look them in the eye, and what you really say—the still-puddle of one-syllable responses: “yup,” “nope,” “uh…” John Bender reduced to Brian Johnson.

I first introduced you to Tom in this guest post for Will Write for Coffee. When I met him, Tom had just released his first book, Party, and gave a presentation at our regional SCBWI conference. I had loaned out my copy of Party to a friend, and had stupidly forgotten my wallet in my other purse and wasn’t able to buy a copy at the conference. Being a geek, I like to have signed copies from authors I’ve met. I asked Tom if I could order a signed copy online. He did the absolute coolest thing right then and there—checked to make sure no one was looking, held his finger in a “shh,” and slipped me a copy from his messenger bag, which I then sheepishly brought to the autograph table about 10 minutes later. He’s been a rock star in my mind since.

Even better, after I’d asked him to do this interview, he was scheduled to appear at out local Indie, Changing Hands Bookstore, for the release of manicpixiedreamgirl. I dragged my 15-year-old son and his friend along, and listened to them complain all the way about how boring it would be. I had to bribe them with Jamba Juice just to go with me. (Really, five bucks for a fruit shake?) I forced my son to actually sit down with me during the presentation, rather than let him wander around the store wreaking havoc. What a heinous mother I am.

About two seconds into Tom’s presentation, my son and his friend were laughing hysterically, and I was laughing so hard I was crying. He is so animated and enthusiastic about what he does, and grateful for his ability to do it, it’s infectious. And by the time he’s done relating Tyler’s story to his own evolution, you are pretty much just as in love with his wife Joy as he is. Seriously, if your school or organization is thinking of an author visit – don’t even look anywhere else – Tom will entertain and motivate like none other. And if Tom isn’t enough, his son Toby will definitely do the trick.

It’s an honor and a privilege to introduce you.

My son is incapable of being in a photo without goofing off. My apologies, but he's 15. They're all like that.
My son is incapable of being in a photo without goofing off. My apologies, but he’s 15. They’re all like that.

Meet the Writer: Tom Leveen

On craft:

How old were you when you started writing?

I wrote my first story in second grade, so, about seven years old I think. My teacher made me rewrite it and read it aloud to the first graders. At first I thought I was being punished for something, but once I got up in front of the class, I knew I wanted to do this for the rest of my life: tell stories and be in front of an audience. So that’s worked out well.

Where do you write?

I write in an indie coffee shop not far from my house, and also in my home office.

When do you write?

New stuff—brand new, no revision-type stuff—I generally do in the mornings. I used to stay up all night and write, and I miss doing that, but having a toddler has that effect. I use afternoons and evenings to do editing or revision, as well as other business stuff. Like answering interview questions!

What helps you write—music, pictures, maps, journals, etc.—what gets you into that mindset?

A routine.

I recommend this to all writers. If you can get into a pattern, your brain starts to make associations. Like at my coffee shop, there’s a certain table and certain chair I always use, and within a few minutes of being there and getting set up, I can feel my brain (usually) start to click over to the job at hand, which is continuing that day’s story.

Beyond that, internet research helps me a lot. The more I dig into a topic and click around on websites, the more ideas I get. I do usually make playlists for my stories, too, but I don’t listen to music while I write anymore. Sometimes when I’m making copyedits, but that’s it.

What are some things that stand in your way? logistically as well as creatively?

See above!

No, really, the internet is without doubt the writer’s best friend, apart from time. But it’s also a curse, because man, you start off with just needing to know some quick obscure fact, like the capital of Guam, and then an hour’s gone by and you haven’t written a word. And by “you” I mean “me,” of course.

Creatively what makes me stumble is doubt coupled with certainty. For whatever reason, the stuff that I feel most excited about turns out to be my worst writing, and the stuff I’m sure sucks is inevitably what my agent picks up on and wants to read more of. So it gets very confusing in my head sometimes.

What do you do when you “hit a wall?”

It depends. I’ve gotten better at being honest with myself and how I’m feeling, be it physical or mental. There are some days like, “You know what? This ain’t gettin’ done. It’s just not happening.” When I feel like that, then I pack it in and do something else for the rest of the day, and try again tomorrow. Then there are other times I hit a wall, but I can still feel like the words are there, the story is there; I just have to figure it out. In those cases, a walk helps. Pacing around the house. Talking out loud. Anything to let my mind wander for a bit. Usually within ten to thirty minutes the dam breaks.

Beyond that, I will often just open a new story and start something new or work on something old. Let my subconscious figure it out.

calvin & hobbes Inspiration

 

Do you use an outline—do you know exactly how the arc will play out—or do you just let the story develop as you write? If so, how do you outline? (notecards, etc.)

Hm…good question. I guess both.

What tends to happen, lately, is I free write a first draft, or at least half a first draft, and then go back and give it an outline. Sometimes I’ll use the Hero’s Journey as a template, not necessarily point by point, but just to see if there is in fact, you know—a plot. (There isn’t always, especially in that first draft.) My outlines usually just consist of a Word doc with notes (often longer than the book itself, it turns out), and sometimes an Excel doc so I can move things around and keep the plot points, character names and locations, etc., organized.

In terms of the arc, I don’t usually know exactly how things will turn out, though on some stories, I discover the ending about halfway through the writing. Zero’s ending has been the same since the first draft in 1993. For manicpixiedreamgirl, I knew most of where I wanted it to end up. But with Party – which went through more drafts than the other two – I never did know for sure how to tie it up until just before we pitched it.

How do you draft/revise? (i.e. do you just get it out in one big “dump,” then revise, revise revise, or do you revise and edit as you go)

I try hard to get the first draft out all in one go. Usually what happens is I’ll do a bit of revision as go, though. If I stop to revise too much, the book never gets done. And there’s no point in revising a story that had no middle or end. I think I’ve gotten better about completing those first drafts. They are awful, but that’s what first drafts are for!

What are some tools that you use? (reference guides, manuals, websites—a favorite pen/notebook/computer)

Well, I use the internet pretty extensively for research, whether it’s just a quick fact check or more in-depth. I often use videos, too—documentaries, usually, or travelogues. I do all of my composing on my desktop and an obsolete netbook. Come to think of it, the desktop is obsolete too, but I can’t stomach the newer versions of Word. I want my old 2003 version, thanks.

Lately I’ve also appreciated using a handheld recorder or the sound recording option on my cell phone to speak quick notes or lines of dialogue before I forget them. That’s been hugely helpful.

Beyond that, I don’t really have anything special to use while writing. I don’t think…

Do you use critique groups? How did you find them?

I do not, at the moment, but I did before I was published.  I highly recommend the forums at www.absolutewrite.com, without whom I would never have gotten my first agent. No question.

I haven’t really had a formal critique group since college. I think there is value in them, but I also thing aspiring writers need to know what to look for—namely, people (or just one or two good beta readers) who will not only be honest, but know what to be honest about.

I’ve taken some creative writing classes that I really enjoyed attending, for instance, but in hindsight realized: I didn’t learn a damn thing! The feedback was nice and encouraging, and I made a few changes that helped the story…but a bunch of people saying “I liked this; I didn’t like this” is not the same as a knowledgeable person saying, “Your pacing is too slow in chapter two. Your secondary characters are flat and uninteresting. The plot is too convoluted. Cut chapter four entirely.” Things like that. Concrete ideas and suggestions that turn a decent book into a marketable book.

I don’t know how to find those. But if anyone in the group has published, that helps. But the real hard part is listening to criticism and knowing when the criticism is right. I always recommend checking local libraries and indie bookstores for groups.

Tom Leveen at AZ Indie fave, Changing Hands Bookstore
Tom Leveen at AZ Indie fave, Changing Hands Bookstore
On your current project:

What was your inspiration for this book?

Real life! Sort of.

I actually already had an outline of manicpixiedreamgirl that formed the spine of a one-man play I wrote and directed a few years out of high school, which itself was loosely based on real events. But manicpixiedreamgirl is not autobiographical; it’s just emotionally true to what I experienced.

What kind of research did you do for this book? And, were you surprised by something that you learned in your research?

I didn’t need to do much research with manicpixiedreamgirl, because it dealt with writing and theatre, two things I know a lot about. And since the story already had a framework from the play, there wasn’t much to look into.

On the other hand, for Sick (Oct. 1, 2013, Abrams/Amulet), I had to do a ton of medical research. Gross, disgusting medical research. I was surprised that my initial concept for the “zombies” in the novel (they are not undead, though the characters have a whole debate about that) was reasonably medically based, or at least could be.

How good did it feel to write that last line?

For manicpixiedreamgirl? Very good. Like closure. Much like Zero, this one had been with me a long time, and it was nice to put it to bed.

On the business of publishing:

How did you find your agent/editor?

I used AgentQuery.com and resources on AbsoluteWrite. I may have even used a print version of Writer’s Market, come to think of it. I built an Excel sheet with the agency’s name, agent’s name, when I submitted, and what if any response I got. I got picked up after about forty rejections by Andrea Brown Literary Agency, and I’ve been there ever since.

 

How has self-publishing shaped your career as a writer? / What is your opinion of self-publishing?

I haven’t yet done it, so I can’t speak with any authority. I will underline the “yet,” though, as I am already in the early stages of planning some self-published work.

My opinion of self-pub is this: One, it’s not going away. Two, to paraphrase Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park: “Writers can get so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

I’m less of a doomsayer about traditional publishing and agents than some of my best writer friends, but there’s no doubt the industry has changed and will continue to change. But I will also say that my most valuable instruction came from my agents and editors. I always recommend that writers give the traditional route a try first, if only for the experience of revision (and revision and revision and revision…) that goes into a good, marketable novel. Being able to write a good query and condense that novel into 200 words or less is a good skill to have for someone going the indie route.

I try to say this to every writing class I teach: Writing fiction is a business. And self-publishing is twice or more the work traditional publishing is because you’re doing it all alone. Yes, there are examples of big breakthroughs, but they are in the minority.

My friend Erin Jade Lange (author of Butter) recently said at a conference, “You have to love writing more than showers.” She’s dead right. You have to love this more than just about anything else on earth to make a real go of it. The man-hours it takes to really, truly put out a great novel is daunting. Or should be, if you’re think about it enough. Finishing up your NaNoWriMo book and plugging it into Smashwords on December 1 is not how to do it.

Sound advice to all the NaNos out there! 

What can you share with our readers about marketing? (i.e. what, if any, support did you have from your publisher? Costs involved? Things that worked best/weren’t worth it, etc.)

Ya know, this is my major weakness. I’m still learning. I think postcards are a great idea, I carry those around with me. Business cards are still useful. Having an online presence is essential, even if you don’t want one.

Really the biggest thing was making ARCs and e-galleys available to the book bloggers out there. That’s where a lot of interest gets generated.

But when it comes to MG and YA authors, there’s no beating getting yourself in front of students. You don’t need a gimmick or anything; just be yourself and talk about things that matter to you in a way that will matter to them. I think I sell about as many books based on my writing classes and presentations as I do what any journal has to say about the novel itself.

(As I stated above, I can attest to Tom’s presentation skills. Not only have I seen him talk about his books, but I’ve taken his “Say Words” writer’s workshop. He helps writers portray realistic teen dialogue. And, the class that Tom had been working with at Estella Mountain HS came all the way across town just to celebrate his book release. Think he speaks to kids? Yeah.) 

About You:

What is a trick that you’ve learned along the way that has made the writing process easier?

None that I am aware of…

Okay, no, just kidding. For me, (relative) silence and having a schedule. Those two things have helped more than anything else. Some authors call it “B.I.C.” which means, Butt In Chair. It means there’s no substitute for sitting down and writing. Now, I myself often stand while at my coffee shop, because they have these great, tall bar tables. But you get the drift. Even if the only time you can write is Thursday morning from five a.m. to seven a.m., then by cracky, that’s when you will write. And the more you do that, the easier it gets.

What writers inspire you?

The late John Bellairs (The Mummy, The Will, and The Crypt) influenced me a lot. So did early Stephen King stories and novels, and most of Robert Cormier’s books (The Chocolate War, etc.) I kind of want to be Laurie Halse Anderson when I grow up . . . or at least have the range of influence she does. I’d put A.S. King in there, too. These women are at the forefront of tangibly changing the lives of adolescents, and that’s what I want more than anything.

classic MG/YA books

Really the writers who inspire me are the writers who I’ve become friends with since this whole thing started. There’s a whole clutch of YA and MG writers here in the Phoenix and wider Arizona area, and they are truly awesome people. I learn – present tense – a lot from them.

What do you like to read for enjoyment?

Lately I have been reading a lot of nonfiction. It started when a good friend of mine recommended the popular book Born To Run. I really enjoyed that. Then she recommended another that I fell in love with Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. A third followed. So now anything she recommends to me, I will read.

Then I began reading up on Gandhi while doing research, and that led to a whole list of must-reads. So these days, if I’m not re-reading some middle-grade novel from the eighties that I grew up with (kind of like comfort food, only, in words), I’m reading one or more nonfiction books on any number of topics.

We all know that learning from our mistakes is part of the process of becoming who we are. As a writer, what’s one lesson you’ve learned that you would like to pass on to others?

Writing fiction is a business. Sorry to go all serious on you, but yeah – the instant you decide you want someone to pay you for writing fiction, you are a small business owner. Act like it.

I’m so glad you said that. I think more writers need to realize that being an author is WAY MORE  than writing a book.

What’s next for you?

Next is Sick (Abrams/Amulet), which releases October 1, 2013. After that is Random (Simon Pulse) in Summer 2014. I’m getting some side projects worked up, slowly. Mostly I just keep looking for places to present and to teach. It’s the best part of all this.

I can imagine. After seeing you speak several times, it shows that you really enjoy teaching others about writing, especially kids. 

Thank you so much, Tom! I hope everyone has learned more about what it takes to be a writer. Readers, see below for more of Tom’s books, and a chance to win a signed hardcover copy of manicpixiedreamgirl!

Tom’s Books:

Party

Party

Zero

zero

manicpixiedreamgirl

manicpixiedreamgirl

 

For a chance to win a signed hardcover copy of Tom’s newest book, manicpixiedreamgirl, leave a comment about the interview, below! Winner will be chosen at random in one week and notified by email!! Good Luck!

Tom’s website: www.tomleveen.com

Twitter: @tomleveen

Facebook: Tom Leveen

Another great interview with Tom: Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the NCTE

See Tom at Phoenix ComiCon! 

Phoenix New Times review of MPDG

Last but not least…

What’s the funniest thing you’ve seen online lately? 

The funniest thing was actually something I had to go back and look up not long ago: A piece from The Daily Show about the Navy SEALs who took out the pirates while on a boat.

daily show pirates

 

photo of Tom Leveen used by permission © John Groseclose www.photographybanned.com

Thanks for reading!

Heidi

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Free Publicity? No Way! (Ok, but you have to buy me shoes)

If you are a horse breeder or newly published author or some other type of quasi-professional needing free publicity, and would like your farm or book featured, please send your website and email address to: wcgypsy(at)me.com or use contact form below. You will be contacted when space becomes available. I am also interested in emerging artists, and would be happy to consider adding a “gallery” category to the blog.

If you have a strong dislike for swearing and brutal honesty, you probably won’t like my site.

Writers: If you have an idea for a guest post, please send me a brief pitch and a link to your blog so I can see what your writing is like. With your post, you will get a link back to your site, social media promotion for the week it is posted and I expect the same from you. We help each other out. wcgypsy(at)me.com Make sure your idea fits in my blog somehow. No religion-themed writing accepted.

Only those with a website or blog will be considered. (If all you have is a Facebook fan page, step up your game and get serious. Facebook is essential for social media, but it does not substitute for your own website. There are tons of free hosting platforms. I recommend WordPress.com or Tumblr. My site is run on a self-hosted WordPress.org platform which I don’t recommend unless you: 1. really know your computer shit, in which case you already know about wordpress.org; or, 2. you are completely crazy, like me.)

I do not do paid promotions, I recommend things that I personally like and do not hire out my opinion. Anything and everything on my site that links to another site is either because it is information that I myself find useful; or I am giving credit to a source; or I know the author or business owner PERSONALLY and by talking about their craft, service or linking to their business, I am giving them my personal support.

If you like what you read or would like to thank me for linking to you or talking about you, Please reciprocate by sending people to my site.

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(To share a link, right-click on the link, choose “copy” from the drop-down menu, open up a new email message, and in the body of the message, right-click again, choose “paste” from the drop-down menu, and a copy of the link should appear. Then put “Check out this awesome website!” in the subject line, and mail it to as many people as you know. You can also paste the link into your facebook status or tweet about it or PIN ALL THE THINGS!)

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oscar de la renta shoes

 

 

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Meet the Writer – Rhonda McCormack

An author interview on the craft of writing, and on the changing landscape of publishing.
Featured Writer: Rhonda McCormack
Book: Wildflowers, Ecotopian mystery YA  (more info below)
Buy it:
Intro, from Heidi:

I am very happy and proud to introduce you to my dear friend, Rhonda. The moment I met her, it was like flashing back to seventh grade, where you end up sitting next to someone at lunch just because they smiled at you and seemed nice and not bitchy (like those other girls) and you just become instant friends right then and there. Except it wasn’t seventh grade, it was my very first grown-up writing event, our regional SCBWI conference. But still, I have the feeling that had she been eating PB &J for lunch, she’d have been happy to split it with me. Since then, Rhonda has been one of my most trusted critique partners, and just one of the many friends I’ve made through SCBWI. I’m planning an upcoming post extolling the virtues of attending a conference for newbies, but for now you can read this from last year.

Rhonda’s stories are varied but they all have that magical quality that every author strives for:  a main character to whom everyone can relate. She speaks to the misunderstood, the ones trying to make a difference, and the ones hoping that someone will notice (or not!). She has one of the most dedicated work ethics I know, cranking out page after page, revising and editing to perfection. And usually, she’s working on a few projects all at once and – oh, in her spare time (ha ha) she is an accomplished painter.

 

So to say Rhonda is a good influence on me is an understatement. She’s the one who always pushes me to want to do better, a creative yin to my yang—or is it yang to my yin? At any rate, when you are a creative person, you soon realize that there are people in your life who are either vampires, those who suck out all of your creative energy and throw all sorts of negativity at you and make you feel bad; and then there are the sages and muses, those friends who inspire, support and help nurture the seeds of your creativity, and celebrate with you when it comes into bloom. I’ve gotten to that point in my life where I shut down the vampires and open up to the sages.

The latest inspiring thing that Rhonda has done is to jump head-first into the world of self-publishing. Now, hang, on a minute, don’t judge. Self-pubbing isn’t what it used to be. In fact, just 4 short years ago when I first started this writing journey, the only people who self published were (for the most part) amateur writers looking to get their life story in print to hand down to their grandchildren. You would also see a lot of erotica and science fiction. And the problem with these types of books wasn’t that the stories themselves were bad, but that they lacked the professionalism, the polish of a literary powerhouse team that you get when you have an agent, an editor, book designer and art director all working together to make the writer’s piece really stand out, and be the best it can be. Not to mention the dollars behind a traditional publishing house that would go into marketing the book once finished.

A lot of self-pubbed titles end up only being edited by the writer themselves, which we all know can be a HUGE mistake. The covers are done quickly with desktop software, and the end product ends up a bit…meh. Don’t ever believe the line “You can’t judge a book by its cover,” because that is exactly the first thing that every reader does. But as Rhonda describes below, the self-pubbers of today would be nowhere without the writers before us paving the way.

typesetting

The landscape of publishing is changing, and fast. Now, done right, self-publishing can be the impetus to a successful writing career. Take my friend Anne Tibbets for example. She started out with a short fantasy novella, pumped it up on Smashwords, Goodreads, dozens of book blogs, and got some recognition for herself. When she was ready to send out her next book, she already had readers waiting for it, continued her forward momentum of readership and good reviews, and when she was ready to send out her next project, it got signed with an agent. It’s all in how you present yourself, and it’s a LOT about self-marketing. Even if you get signed with a traditional publisher, you will be expected to do your own share of marketing. And hopefully you will have an awesome friend like me who will feature you on their blog :D

I am more than happy to be a cog in the marketing machine for Rhonda’s debut YA novel, Wildflowers, especially having had a front-seat-view to its evolution. Wildflowers is the first of three books (unrelated) that Rhonda will be releasing under her publishing house, Row Press. She is currently working on her fourth book, a contemporary dystopian fantasy.

There is a ton of information here, so grab a cup of coffee, and enjoy:
On craft:
  • How old were you when you started writing?

I was three when I started writing…in my head.  I made up elaborate stories that I play-acted out with blocks and dolls and imaginary friends.  Around age four I began to come up with tangible products.  I started with greeting cards.  They said things like: Get Well Soon.  And, You Are Neat.  Then, I wrote and illustratedThe Lonely Chrismas Tree, which was my first Indie published piece.

  • Where do you write?

Everywhere.  In notebooks and journals and on a computer.  On scraps of paper and in margins of books (ones I own, of course).  But mostly, I write from the inside.  Whole stories unfold in this crazy collaboration between my head and my heart.  And when it comes time to get large chunks of a novel down, I take those words I’ve written “inside” and put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard to move ideas around.

  • When do you write?

I left teaching to write full time and putting together a writing schedule has been an interesting evolution.  I’ve learned that, hands down, early morning is my favorite time to write.  If I’m really engrossed or challenged, I’ll stay hunched over a keyboard or notebook all day.  This tends to lead to a stiff body (and hence a stiff mind), so I make myself knock off early.  In the fall, I’ve noticed that I don’t mind starting in the late afternoon, as the day cools and the light changes.  Only with recent projects have I written into the evening hours.  I’m not a night owl, and I’m always impressed when I hear about writers who write after a long day of doing other things.

I think the Where and When Do You Write questions are important, and each writer must commit to understanding their creative voice’s preferences.  In knowing when and where our creative tap turns with ease and the words flow in steady rhythm, we make room for our art…and it responds in kind, making room for us.  There will be messy moments, where creative flow can be untimely, arrive unannounced, and require the entire world to stop in order for us to find a spot a get the words out.  If we honor all those moments the best we can and write where and when it feels good, our creative voice does seem to cooperate more on cue.

  • What helps you write—music, pictures, maps, journals, etc.—what gets you into that mindset?

Music and art definitely inspire me, and I find lots of interesting ideas come up when I’m traveling.  I dream many of my stories, or parts of them.  I also rely deeply on personal experience.  I was lucky enough to grow up in a time when kids had more freedom to roam, and my childhood moments include both wonderfully awful and awfully wonderful people, places, and things.  When it comes time to sit down and really do the work, though, I just need a clean work space, my imagination, and quiet.

  • What are some things that stand in your way? logistically as well as creatively?

For me, time and creativity seem to always be at odds with one another.  I just read Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn and am slowly learning that time is not my issue.  It’s the awareness that I bring to a project that makes the clock disappear.  Also, I tend to want to follow the rules, and for an artisan this can create some intense inner conflict.  Truly, the answer to this question is that I stand in my own way, both logistically and creatively.  Thanks for asking the question and making me nail down an answer.  I may have just had an Ah-ha moment.

  • What do you do when you “hit a wall?”

Creatively, I rarely hit a wall.  It’s the physical stuff—like hunger, needing rest or exercise, or feeling unwell—that brings me to a halt.  And being in the midst of a project I love can disconnect me from my physical needs.  When this happens, my reaction is to the work itself.  Meaning, I blame the work when I feel stuck or misguided, and I may even begin to loathe what I’m writing or painting.  When I get to this place, I know it’s my inner-critic playing this weird game of criticizing my ideas in order to protect the physical me.  We’re always told to dismiss, ignore, and shun the inner critic, when really it can send us important messages.  And if I get the message that I’ve hit the wall, I know I need to move.  I mean this literally and figuratively.  Getting away from the project, taking a walk and changing the scenery can make a big difference.  But sometimes I need to move to a new state-of-mind, or move my emotions with some journaling, or move my attention to other needs.

  • Do you use an outline—do you know exactly how the arc will play out—or do you just let the story develop as you write? If so, how do you outline? (notecards, etc.)

Outlining?  What’s that?  I kid, of course.  I know what outlining is, I just don’t do it in a traditional way.  As I’ve mentioned, I write in my head and have a strong ability to hold onto an entire storyline before anything gets written down.  But the written bits eventually end up in a pile, and like a puzzle, I begin to lay out and fit together the pieces of paper that have the ideas on them.  Spread out on the desk, I move the written parts down and begin to type up a somewhat structured piece.  Some people use a big bulletin board with index cards (old school is cool) or a software program like Scrivener, which I hear is pretty cool (too).

Here’s the funny thing about that structured-piece-serving-as-outline:  For me, it almost becomes irrelevant as I write because in their natural setting the characters take over the plot.  The characters’ stories just unwind themselves onto the page.  Still, there comes a time with almost every novel when I print out the entire work and physically cut it to pieces, and again, reassemble it like a puzzle.  I’m very tactile and visual, and I can “see” the story better this way.  I can feel the pacing, recognize the missteps and holes, and because this process is done early in the revision stage, it becomes more of an outline than that original, non-traditional one.  Big things happen at this point.  And it gives me a powerful second wind.

  • How do you draft/revise? (i.e. do you just get it out in one big “dump,” then revise, revise revise, or do you revise and edit as you go)

I’ll admit that I’ve taught myself a big lesson in regards to how I draft the initial manuscript.  I spent many years editing as I went along because…I’m a perfectionist.  The thing is, Anne Lamott was right about the beauty in allowing the original draft to be The Shitty First Draft.  Something happens in that SFD; all the tangents and bizarre ideas and general garbage are released and processed, but a momentum is also built, for the story, the characters, and amazing, random concepts can be revealed in that draft.  This idea of “dumping” is behind Julia Cameron’s prescription for morning pages in The Artist’s Way and the Propreoceptive Writing Method (Writing the Mind Alive by Linda Trichter Metcalf and Tobin Simon), but it can be extended to the first draft.  Without the SFD, which is essentially an information dump, editing had me caught in a cycle of distraction.  I was bound and restricted to catching every mistake and nuance, and I constantly wanted to go back and rewrite.  Or research.  It would take months to get a few chapters tightened up.  And to what end?  Most of those beginning chapters would need revision once I could see the scope of the entire story, which could only happen with A FULL, FINISHED DRAFT.  I (slowly) came to realize that my creative self is most happy when I make every minute valuable, and non-precision is the key…at least at first.  There’s plenty of time for perfection later in the process, but up front, I gotta write my SFD.

  • What are some tools that you use?

The Synonym Finder, Chicago Manual of Style, Woe Is I, Google, a dictionary, fresh air and space to think.

  • Do you use critique groups? How did you find them?

One-on-one or small group critique works best for me.  I’ve got a handful of trusted (honest, thoughtful, knowledgeable) people I turn to, including a professional editor who came from traditional publishing.  Critique groups can be found through local libraries, writing organizations, like SCBWI, and at conferences.  Critique is important and can be fun, though it may take a few tries to find out what format works best for you.  Ask around, sit in on meetings, and then go for it.  Trading one chapter to start and building up until you and your partner(s) know you’re a good fit.  I’ll mention that self-critique is valuable, too.  Reading work out loud is one of the best ways to catch grammar AND content issues.

On your current project:
  • What was your inspiration for this book?

Wildflowers was inspired by a dream.  In fact, I dreamt many parts of chapters 21 and 23.  As more of the story revealed itself to me, I was inspired by those who survived and helped during and after Hurricane Katrina, by the environmental awareness movement, by the desert.  Also, years ago, I had written a picture book that I thought would make an adventurous scene in a novel, and the brother and sister team in that story became a natural fit for the characters in the young adult novel.  Grown-up, of course.  From there, I was inspired by all the people (kids and adults) I’ve met who adapt and grow, and in spite of tough times or choices, find and live their truth.

  • Wildflowers is described as an “Ecotopian” mystery. Can you elaborate on that?

Dystopian is a popular genre these days, and it describes a fictional place where the population lives in fear and feels dehumanized, often by the rules of an larger authority, class, or government.  Think Hunger Games.  When I first began submitting Wildflowers, I knew labeling it dystopian wouldn’t capture the hybrid elements of the book.  It’s a mix of the environmental disaster, futuristic, coming of age, and mystery genres.  So I came up with the term “ecotopian”.  After adding the “mystery” tag, I received positive feedback about the label from editors and agents, who felt it was an accurate representation of the work. The Lawrence, Kansas Library recently put out a great flow chart to show the diversity in dystopian titles. Click the picture to see it:

  • What kind of research did you do for this book? And, were you surprised by something that you learned in your research?

I researched environmental disasters and technologies relating to earth, air, and water.  I also researched horticulture, desert plants, maps of the West, dystopian and, what I call ecotopian novels.  What surprised me was how I had to keep reminding myself that the book was fiction.  At times, with the data I’d collected, it felt like I had to include every possibility of what could happen with natural disasters and climate change.  In order to maintain the entertainment value of the story, it became more important to be mostly-accurate.  I took inspiration from how the environment works.  It’s a big cycle, where one thing is connected to another in such a way that it becomes a whole.  Interestingly, this same thing came up with the mystery elements and how they influenced character development.  It shouldn’t have, but it surprised me how much writing I had to do to have the characters evolve with the clues and discoveries.  This was the only way to create one whole unit of story.  In fiction, we ask the reader for space to suspend belief, but in exchange, we must deliver on our promise to describe a believable moment in time.

  • This is one of the most beautiful covers I’ve seen, especially for a self published title. Can you describe how it came to be?

Thank you!  As an artist, I wanted to be involved with the entire creation of the book.  I use collage in most of my large pieces, and I just had a gut feeling that that same technique would work for the cover.  Once I put together the first sample to send to my graphic designer and critique partners, I knew it was “right”.  It took me a few hours to resource and create a design for the front, spine, and back.  Using my own photographs of local desert wildflowers and piecing together many photos of family members to get the silhouettes at the right maturity level, I finally got a working copy.  It took several weeks and lots of back and forth with the designer (thanks Firehed) to get the colors, textures, layout, and fonts correct.  For my first go at it, I feel good about the results.  To see how far it came, here’s the initial sample created for the front:

On the business of publishing:
  • How has self-publishing shaped your career as a writer? OR What is your opinion of self-publishing?

It’s an amazing time for publishing of all kinds, and I think there’s room for everyone.  For me, dedication to craft is the most important tool to take with you into the self-publishing world.  The stigma attached to self-publishing has always been about one question:  Is it well-crafted?  In the beginning, when folks had a vision to see their words in print, but were turned down in the traditional publishing marketplace, few knew (or accepted) the value of critique, editing, formatting, or design.  There was a level of professionalism missing from many of the self-published titles.  But here’s the thing, why squash creative expression?  In fact, those not-so-professional books paved the way for more knowledge, better printing options, and on the backs of the early self-publishing pioneers, the self-publishing marketplace was carried and made into the Indie market of today.  Independent or Indie publishing is when one or more author-publishers self-publish a title, and it’s become like the Indie film community.  It’s become a place for unique voices, ideas, artistic expression, niche topics, and man, there’s a lot of freedom out here. With that comes some responsibility, I think.

Indie authors need to look at their work like art and take time to polish all aspects of the work, learning from mistakes and honoring the time it takes to present a beautiful, fun, value-added product.  The exciting thing is, we’re seeing traditionally published authors creating projects just for this market, and we’re seeing Indie authors who are willing to cross over and publish traditionally.  It’s a craft bonanza, and writers, illustrators, and even industry professionals are feeling empowered by the creative possibilities.  It’s likely we’ll see many twists and turns in both marketplaces, but what we know for sure is that The Big Six are jumping in the game by putting their smaller acquisitions and out-of-print titles for sale in the eBook market, and there are many new, boutique publishing houses and agencies offering to support and work with Indie authors whose titles are print-on-demand (POD) and/or eBooks.  I’ve also heard that there’s a green movement to create less hard-cover and mass produced books in the future.  Instead, most new releases would be POD.  The draw is financial as well as environmental for the big, traditional houses.  Whatever the case, it’s a fascinating time to be a writer…and a reader.

  • What can you share with our readers about marketing?

Over and over again, I’ve heard the same thing about marketing, and now that I’m embarking on a marketing tour of my own, I believe it to be true.  All that matters is word of mouth.  Do anything and everything to generate talk about your book and you’ll know you’ve done all you could.

  • Can you tell us the story behind your publishing name, Row Press?

Leaving the path toward traditional publishing happened quickly for me, but I still had mixed emotions about self-publishing and all things Indie.  And it hadn’t occurred to me that I may want to designate myself as an author-publisher, and not just an author.  I learned about this from Kris Tualla’s book Becoming an Authorpreneur, and for me, it was simply a way to honor the entire creative endeavor.  When it came time to name my new, little press, I remembered a moment with a vintage friend in Seattle.  We were out at a flea market and came upon this amazing vendor who sold parts and bits from bigger mechanisms and products.  Watch faces, game pieces, and…type writer keys.  When we found the keys labeled “Row” and “Storm”, my friend scooped them up as inspirational reminders.  “When things get stormy, just keep rowing,” she said.  A year or so later, when the waters in my life had gotten a bit rough, she sent me those keys to cheer me on.  Since then, I’ve learned the importance of keeping my creative boat afloat.

  • What other social media tools have you used to help the reader experience Wildflowers?

Social media is a complex entity, and my advice for anyone is to use only those outlets that call to you creatively.  I’ve picked Twitter, Pinterest, and iTunes to do some world building with Wildflowers.  Twitter isn’t about mass self-promotion, but it is a fun way to share information that speaks to my interests as an author and artist as well as supports the themes and topics in my books.  As for Pinterest, I love it as a place to do some visual storytelling.  I love what others do with their boards, and I find Pinterest to be artistic in a way that other sites haven’t mastered.  As an author, I can create a whole new view into my novels there.  I also wanted to create a soundtrack for my books, so I turned to iTunes as the place to share the songs that inspire certain scenes or the feelings in a scene.  I don’t write with music playing, but it does provide inspiration when I’m brainstorming concepts.  I guess my goal is to give the reader a complete experience. (links below)

About You:
  • What is a trick that you’ve learned along the way that has made the writing process easier?

No tricks.  Just be dedicated to the craft and follow the unique spirit of your story.

  • What writers inspire you?

Marilynne Robinson with Housekeeping.  Kathi Appelt with The Underneath.  Lois Lowry with Anastasia Krupnik.  Lane Smith with It’s a Book.  There’s more…so many more.

  • We all know that learning from our mistakes is part of the process of becoming who we are. As a writer, what’s one lesson you’ve learned that you would like to pass on to others?

Deserves repeating: Just be dedicated to the craft and follow the unique spirit of your story.

  • What’s next for you?

I’m releasing Roll, a young adult novel (for any aged reader), in the first quarter of 2013, and I’m collaborating on a non-fiction wellness/inspirational title that will be traditionally published.  It’s due out in Fall 2013 or Winter 2014.

And…

  • What’s the funniest thing you’ve seen or heard online lately?

Voice mail accident hilarious: http://www.funnieststuff.net/viewmovie.php?id=2998

  • Thanks, Rhonda! That really was funny!
Find Rhonda online:

Wildflowers:

In the three years since Keifer and Abi Michaels were evacuated from their desert home, the world has been ever-changing, and they don’t agree on the details of the past.  But when Keifer uncovers a confusing family secret, Abi is his only ally.  Now, they must sneak into the Restricted Zone and navigate a maze of clues in order to unravel the truth.  The journey will transform them…and the entire western landscape.

Thanks for reading! Please feel free to comment below.

Meet the Writer – Anna Questerly

An author interview on the craft of writing.

Featured Writer: Anna Questerly

Books: The Minstrel’s Tale I, II, and III

Young adult historical fiction

Buy Anna’s books:

Intro, from Heidi:

I first met Anna at her bookstore, Dog Eared Pages Used Books in Phoenix. It is right next to the kitchen for the caterers where I work, and of course when I see a bookstore I have to go in and check it out. Let me just tell you, if you are ever in the north Phoenix area, and are in need of something to read, you HAVE to go into this store.

Dog Eared Pages has that magical quality of looking very small on the outside, but when you walk in – look out! You could seriously get lost in here. And if you do, that’s OK, because you will have PLENTY to read while you wait for the search parties. The atmosphere is complete with shelves and stacks of books that twist and turn and reach up to the ceiling. There are weekly discussion groups and writer events as well.

When we got to talking and Anna told me about her first book, The Minstrel’s Tale, I picked up a copy. I’m a huge fan of historical fiction, and Anna’s book does not disappoint. Her characters take you on quite an adventure, weaving the tale of a contemporary American teen with fairy  tales, folklore, and little-known facts of 14th-century British monarchy.

On craft:

How old were you when you started writing? 

I attempted to write since I was about twelve years old. However, I was forty-six by the time I actually finished a story.

Where do you write? 

I have a huge dining room table that I’ve taken over as a writing desk. It’s completely covered with manuscripts in different stages of editing, timelines, character sketches, maps, research material.

When do you write? 

I get up early and write for a couple hours in the morning. Then I get two days off a week to work on my writing. Most of my editing and rewrites get done on those days.

What helps you write—music, pictures, maps, journals, etc.—what gets you into that mindset?

My magic book. My journal, is how I tap into the creativity, resolve plot issues, and develop characters. I write in it every day, yet I never reread it.

What are some things that stand in your way? logistically as well as creatively?

What do you do when you “hit a wall?” 

On days I just don’t want to write or can’t figure out where to go, I promise myself that if I just write 250 words, I’ll call it a day. I think taking the pressure off helps, because on those days I almost always manage to get over 1000 words done and have a good idea where I’m going from there.

Do you use an outline—do you know exactly how the arc will play out—or do you just let the story develop as you write? If so, how do you outline? (notecards, etc.) 

I do a bit of both. Like a roadtrip, I want to know where I’m eventually going, but I like to leave the way open for fun adventures and fortuitous discoveries. I always know my endings before I begin, but leave the path open to get there. It’s more fun that way, since I want to know what’s going to happen next.

How do you draft/revise? (i.e. do you just get it out in one big “dump,” then revise, revise revise, or do you revise and edit as you go)

I write my draft first and then revise– forever it seems

What are some tools that you use? (reference guides, manuals, websites—a favorite pen/notebook/computer)

I write historical fiction, so I use a lot of reference books, maps, andbiographies.

Do you use critique groups?

How did you find them? Yes, my critique partners have improved my writing immeasurably. I found them through writer’s groups at my bookstore, Dog-Eared Pages in Phoenix.

On your current project:

What kind of research did you do for this book? And, were you surprised by something that you learned in your research?

I was surprised how much 14th century politics resembles our current political/economical problems. For example; the Peasants Revolt in Britain was similar(although bloodier) to the Occupy Wall Street movement.

How good did it feel to write that last line? 

Bittersweet. I am so happy to have finished, but I’m going to miss those characters.

On the business of publishing:

How did you find your agent/editor? 

Great question; I actually had to make my own editor. My daughter edits for a living and has been so helpful with my books. I trust her more than anyone else I can think of and probably wouldn’t have dared publish without her help.

How has self-publishing shaped your career as a writer? OR What is your opinion of self-publishing? 

I love the ease of self-publishing. The more I learned of traditional publishing and the problems authors have with their rights, royalties, and marketing, the more certain I am self-publishing was for me. It’s more important than ever to have good editing when you go it alone.

What can you share with our readers about marketing? (i.e. what, if any, support did you have from your publisher? Costs involved? Things that worked best/weren’t worth it, etc.) 

The Kindle program that allows me to be paid for books borrowed has been great. I’d recommend it to any author.

About You:

What is a trick that you’ve learned along the way that has made the writing process easier? 

I can’t remember where I read it, but it’s one of my favorite lines. If you get a button chair (butt-in-chair), you can write.

What writers inspire you? 

Tolkien, Twain, Dr. Seuss, Steven King, JK Rowling and so many more

What do you like to read for enjoyment?

Historical fiction, fantasy, horror, sci-fi (pure escapism)

We all know that learning from our mistakes is part of the process of becoming who we are. As a writer, what’s one lesson you’ve learned that you would like to pass on to others? 

How to handle a critique. This was a huge lesson for me. One of my readers pointed out that I had a character in the story I hadn’t introduced. I argued and showed her where I had introduced him in the previous chapter. I was ready to discount her suggestion, thinking she hadn’t read it correctly. While I was discussing it with another writer, he said to me, “Maybe you didn’t make the character memorable enough.” This was a big wake up call. If something isn’t clear to the reader, you can’t blame the reader. As the author it’s my job to make things clear to my readers.

What’s next for you? 

Another series. This one will be present day. If Nancy Drew and Indiana Jones had a daughter wouldn’t that be a blast? That’s my main character for the new series.

While reading Kris Tualla’s book, Becoming and Authorpreneur; Navigating a 21st-Century Career in Publishing, I was pleasantly surprised to see her refer to you in her chapter on the importance of “branding.” It must be an honor to be referred to by other authors!

It is a wonderful feeling to be referred to by other authors. It’s always an honor to be recognized by one’s peers and Kris Tualla is an amazing author so it was special.

Here are the books:

 

The Minstrel’s Tale

Amos Questerly, a wandering minstrel in fourteenth century Europe, takes on a mysterious young apprentice. But his new protégé, Richard, carries a deadly secret. A secret someone is willing to kill for.

To reach safety they must earn their way to England by telling exciting stories of magical swords, princesses and dragons, while danger follows on their heels.

By the time Amos learns Richard’s secret, it’s clear even England may not be safe. The two, trapped in an adventure as thrilling as any of the Minstrel’s tales, must follow a perilous path that leads straight to the royal palace.

 

 

The Minstrel’s Tale II

The Minstrel’s Tale continues…

A boy with the power of a king.

A wandering minstrel bound by an oath.

A secret that unites them.

When Minstrel Amos Questerly’s ten-year-old apprentice, Richard, ascends the throne of England, Amos soon finds himself entangled in royal affairs.

Determined to return to his wandering ways, the minstrel instead finds himself drawn further into the king’s inner circle where powerful enemies conspire and scheme for control.

The country at war, the treasury low, and the young king’s first decision triggers the roiling anger of England’s peasantry to erupt, and plunges London into a revolt that shakes the foundations of a nation.

The Minstrel’s Tale III

The Questerly saga continues…

King Richard II, once a friend — now a powerful enemy, refuses to release Minstrel Amos Questerly from the impregnable Tower of London.

A daring plan to rescue Amos leads to more exciting adventures and incredible dangers in this thrilling conclusion to the Minstrel’s Tale.

Anna can be found online:

Thanks for taking us on 3 amazing adventures, Anna!

 

Meet the Writer – Virginia Nosky

An author interview on the craft of writing.
Featured Writer: Virginia Nosky
Books: The Fall from Paradise Valley; Blue Turquoise, White Shell; Ring of Fire; Pima Road; Kachina
Coming Soon: To a Certain Degree; White River
Buy Virginia’s books:
Intro, from Heidi:

Virginia is an award-winning author, and one of my earliest cheerleaders from my beginning days at the library critique group. I have to say, she intimidated me at first, being one of those no-nonsense types who would put a huge “X” over an unnecessary paragraph, scratch corrections over my manuscripts, and has a take-no-prisoners attitude when it comes to punctuation and grammatical errors.

I learned a great deal from Virginia. She gives amazing feedback, and I knew I was getting better at this writing thing when I started to see that she drew a star in areas of my work. That was a sign that she liked what I wrote. And if I got a star on the front page—whoa! Look out! A star from Virginia is like a nod of approval from the Queen.

If any of you are interested in writing romance, take a cue from Virginia. This lady may look polite and proper, but, man can she steam up some pages! And she writes a hundred times better than E.L.James, so if 50 Shades of Grey left you wanting more, pick up a copy of one of Virginia’s books—you won’t be disappointed!

Virginia Nosky:
On craft:

How old were you when you began to write?

All mixed up in my mind are these little plays my sister and I would put together with neighbor kids.  There was very little written down, but these little dramas were full-blown affairs, with beginnings, middle and ends.  They were also fully costumed with whatever our fevered imaginations could come up with.  I remember playing a Maria Montez role—she was a popular sultry movie star—always, it seemed, in harem type costume.  I wore my mother’s tin measuring cups as my bra, over my nonexistent chest. There was a little woods beside our house and once we even built a little fire in a clearing—to dance around. We had a lot of freedom back then.  My point is that I spent a great deal of my play time in a world of glamour and exotic situations.  My imagination was engaged constantly in other worlds.  Making up stuff has always been with me, and I can’t really remember when I started writing it down.  I majored in Communication at Ohio State, worked in broadcasting and advertising. Writing is just there, in my life.

Where do you write?

When my sons went off to college, my husband took one of their bedrooms for an office, and I took the other one. It didn’t happen suddenly…we just sort of moved their stuff out…like squatters.

What helps to inspire you?  Music, maps, journals.

I have never liked background music.  Total quiet is best, but I can tune out ambient household noise when I really get into something.  Sometimes I would like to screech at interruptions by my sweet family…but I don’t.  I can’t come out with “Do you realize I’m trying to get this woman in bed with the guy and now, NOW”…etc.  But that scene will be different for the interruption.  That’s true of any artist whose train of thought is broken.  The piece will change. You can only hope it will be as good or better.

What stands in your way?  Logistically/creatively?

Not much.  A busy schedule is the most disruptive. Or some kind of emergency that requires your attention. It’s hard to be creative when you’re troubled about something.

What do you do when you hit a wall?

Just going back to reread what I’ve already written just gets everything going.  The worst thing is to get into a corner, where something doesn’t work. But I find those insomniac hours at night can come up with some amazing solutions.  “Sleeping on it” is really good advice.

Do you outline? Know how the story will develop?

Outline? No. Never. I know how the story begins, how it will end, and there is usually a dramatic scene somewhere in the middle that triggered the whole idea. That’s not to say the story will end like you thought.  Stories develop lives of their own, and sometimes the end will be different than you started out.  A character will assert herself or himself. But it’s important to know where you’re going when you start out.  For that matter the beginning might change a bit.  The best advice I ever read was from Tony Hillerman. Don’t spend so much time polishing and polishing the beginning. You’ll make some changes when you’ve finished.  He said when he started out, he did that.  He wrote the most perfect first chapter in the universe.  It was lapidary in its brilliance and it still nestled unread in a dusty drawer.  That has stayed with me and saved a lot of grief.

How do you revise and edit?

I edit as I go. I get ideas as I go along and work with them. Then when the book is finished I go back and do it some more. And, as I mentioned, if I’m stalled, it’s a good way to get going again.

Do you have any special tools?

I work on a desk top and I have an extensive library.  I have books on birds, astronomy, flowers, history, physics, geography, wildlife, minerals, weather, sports, games, food, wine, native plants, survival, Native American healing.  I have maps and word books:  Roget’s, Word Menu, Synonyms, Reverse Dictionary.  I have several grammar books:  The Chicago Book of Style; the Oxford Book of Grammar; Strunk & White. I have a French Dictionary, and Spanish, Italian, a Japanese, Navajo, Portuguese.  I have books of quotations. One book I love is the Book of Everything.  Everything has a name and this book has every screw, spark plug, beam, anchor, sail, knot…well, you name it. And it’s there. I have dozens of books on writing. Then I’ve collected a number of books on Arizona Indian culture, mostly Navajo. If I don’t have an answer in those books, Google is my friend.

Do you belong to a critique group?

Yes.  I belonged for years to the Scottsdale Writers Group at Mustang Library.  That’s where I met you.  And many lovely people.  My most valuable group is an offshoot of that.  There are five of us and we read much longer excerpts from each other.  Take them home and write serious criticism.  I love them. Every serious writer needs readers to bounce their work off of. We all write different things, but that isn’t a problem, and sometimes it’s invaluable.

What kind of research do you do?

A lot.  One thing leads to another. You read that something happened.  Then you find you have to know why it happened.  I’m working on a sequel to Blue Turquoise, White Shell called White River.  But in writing about an important incident in the Navajo history, it took place during the Civil War.  And I had to get into that, which I hadn’t meant to. That’s the trouble with history.  Nothing happens in a vacuum.

Did something surprise you? 

Not really. Particularly with White River. Oh, fascinating details crop up, but I had immersed myself so much in the first book, I pretty much knew what was going to happen.

How does it feel to write the last line?

With Kachina, my first book, there was a huge surge of pride that I had done it. But I face the last line now with a sense of uncertainty. Is this the right ending?  Also a sense of regret.  You do get into the lives of your characters and you can’t stop thinking about them. But you do have to send that baby out into the world.  A book isn’t truly finished until somebody reads it. I always sense that it’s the same with an artist.  When to lay down the brush.

On the business of publishing:

How did you find an agent?

I don’t have one now.  But it was endless queries, endless sending out mss. Two of my books I’ve used a Canadian publisher that I met at a conference.  Conferences are a great place to meet editors and agents. They’re sort of obligated to look at a little bit of your stuff.

Has self-publishing shaped your career?

I’ve had all my books come out with traditional publishers.  I don’t have a problem with self-publishing and I’ve thought about using it to publish my poetry and short stories.  These have been in anthologies, but I may get to it one of these days as the rights devolve to me. One has all that nice control when you do it all yourself.

What can you share about marketing?  What didn’t work?

It’s ongoing, it’s time-consuming and most writers hate it.  I do.  But publishers don’t do it anymore.  Oh, maybe if you’re ever so famous. I’ve tried a bunch of stuff, even hired a publicist, but it was pretty much a waste of money. I have a great gal who helps me with computer things and we’ve become great friends.  But it’s just getting your name and work in front of the public on and on and on.  Speaking to groups is great, and you can hope that the more you write the more your name will become familiar. All the social media is a must.

About You:

Tricks to make writing easier.

It’s not supposed to be easy, but it’s fun most of the time.  When you get a good scene going, you soar.

What writers inspire you? 

Updike, because he notices the smallest things.  Maybe all the good writers do.  Don Delillo, Pat Conroy, T.C.Boyle, Chrisopher Moore, Richard Russo, Barabara Kingsolver. David Sedaris is hilarious, Christopher Buckley. Tony Hillerman, Elmore Leonard so simple…well, on and on.

What do you read for enjoyment?

All of the above.  I’m really all over the map in what I read.  I sort of lean to literary, but well- written trash is fun, too.

What’s next for you?

As I mentioned above, White River has gone off to the publisher.  It will probably be out the first of the year.  I’ve done some short stories, and have put together some contest work. I’m relaxing doing a little romance that’s been around in my drawer for awhile.

Where can we find you?  

My website is www.virginianosky.com.  I have a trailer on YouTube for The Fall From Paradise Valley. I just did a long interview on web radio with Al Cole, a broadcaster out of Boston. All my books are on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, ChampagneBooks.com/store. Some of them are in libraries around town, but they can always be ordered.  Poisoned Pen book store has several.

Thanks Virginia!

For those of you in the Phoenix area, Virginia will be giving a  Workshop:
“Writing Romantic Scenes” for the  Scottsdale Society of Womens Writers on October 31, 5:30-7:30, at the Chaparral Suites Resort in Scottsdale.

Blue Turquoise, White Shell is a contemporary multicultural romance mixed with historical fiction. It has won three First Place Glyph Awards from the Arizona Book Publishing Association.

When a privileged east-coast Med school student agrees to work on the Navajo reservation in exchange for getting her Harvard education paid in full, the last thing she expects is to fall for the tribe’s newest congressional  Golden Boy, Nicholas Nakai. But what is in her secretive grandfather’s past that makes him send Lily to the Rez? You’ll have to read to find out!

Meet the Writer – Deborah J. Ledford

An author interview on the craft of writing.

Featured Writer: Deborah J. Ledford
Books: Snare, Staccato (more info below)
Buy Deborah’s books:
Intro, from Heidi:

I met Deb on my 36th birthday. I had been writing furiously, collecting odd thoughts, dialogue and ideas in various notebooks, and had absolutely no idea what to do with any of it. It was the first time in my life I ever looked at writing as something fun to do instead of a chore, like all of those school book reports. Plus it was about the only thing keeping me sane.

At that time, I was coming out of a pretty deep depression, and my therapist (brilliant woman that she is) suggested writing. Just writing. All those ideas floating around in my head, bumping into all the other things that I needed to do, cluttering up the joint—get them out of your head and down on paper! Best advice I ever got.

But what to do with these notebooks, now half-filled with half-formed ideas? I looked at my local library flyer and noticed an open writer’s group, and the meeting happened to be scheduled on my birthday. I went, as my present to myself. I haven’t looked back since.

Deborah J. Ledford, affectionately known as Deb by our ramshackle gang of misfit writers, was the moderator then, and for several years she shuffled our papers around the table, monitored everyone’s allotted time, and made thousands of edit notes.

I learned some of my most valuable writing lessons from Deb, and for that I will be forever grateful:

Get rid of all those WASes and JUSTs!

Just yesterday, I browsed the new releases at Barnes & Noble and picked up a title that I’d been hearing so much buzz about: Chris Colfer’s The Land of Stories. It looked promising, and had an impressive imprint (Little, Brown), but after I counted at least 7 “was”es on the first page, I had to put it back. Too bad this promising young talent didn’t have Deb to edit his book! It does look like a fun read for middle-grade kids though.

I’m honored to have helped Deb edit her two books, Staccato and Snare, and to host her here on my blog. Enjoy the interview! And take notes.

Deb Ledford:
On Craft:
  • How old were you when you started writing?

I can’t really remember not writing. I was a shy girl and always had my nose buried in a book, or a pen in my hand. I began to express myself through artwork, starting out painting oil on canvas, scratchboard and pen and ink. My love for movies and rockin’ dialogue is what got me interested in writing screenplays, which then led to novels and short stories (after Hollywood broke my heart).

  • Where do you write?

At my dining room table. I need a lot of space to spread out my research materials and other items that keep me motivated. I’ve found that a room with 4 walls, facing a wall does not work creatively for me. The space is wide open and the window where I sit looks out on the front yard.

  • When do you write?

My most creative time is in the late afternoon to very late at night. My background is in technical theatre as a professional scenic artist therefore I usually didn’t begin working until after 10:00 PM. I start my day with emails (so many!), then edit other writers’ pages. I find that I need to take a break and begin to switch gears to my own work. Then I’ll read the previous day’s writing and go from there.

  • What helps you write—music, pictures, maps, journals, etc.—what gets you into that mindset?

Music, all the time I’m at the keyboard. The songs or artist depend on the scene as well as the characters I’m working on. If it’s a climax I’ll go with a rock group like The Killers, Within Temptation, Muse, and Evanescence. When I’m working on a Native American location I prefer Robbie Robertson and Robert Mirabal. But I’m hooked on contemporary Broadway Musicals and always have a soundtrack going. My current favorite is Next to Normal, Spring Awakening and Book of Mormon.

  •  What are some things that stand in your way? Logistically as well as creatively?

The lack of time to write. This year I’m the current President of the Sisters in Crime Desert Sleuths Chapter which is the Arizona chapter of an international writers organization, and also the lead editor for the 4th anthology, SoWest: Desert Justice, written by member of our group. These tasks take quite a lot of my time, but I’m honored and thrilled to be associated with so many professionals. Our main goal is to be supportive of one another.

  • What do you do when you “hit a wall?”

I try to avoid this! But what works for me is to read what I’ve already written. That usually kick starts me, or at least gives me ideas of what else needs to be implemented.

  •  How do you draft/revise? (i.e. do you just get it out in one big “dump,” then revise, revise revise, or do you revise and edit as you go)

I write chapter by chapter. Not always consistent with chapters’ timeline. During the “first draft” I focus on one chapter per day. Pound out the highlights, then print it out and make notes on the hardcopy, go back and flesh out those elements, print out again, repeat over and over until I’m quite happy with the chapter. I prefer this method as the version tends to be more of a seventh draft, which is much easier for me to deal with when it comes time to “final” edits of the entire manuscript.

I tend to write front to back, but absolutely have to know the first 5 chapters, 2-3 climax points and the ending before I know I’m ready to dive full-force into a new project. It’s also crucial to know the 3-4 lead characters inside and out—complete biography details and most importantly their psychological drive which helps me with their motivation. I need to know that I love the concept and characters because I’ll be living with them for months on end. This process is somewhat the same for writing short stories. I work out 90% of the piece in my head and through notes before I sit down at the keyboard to compose a draft.

  • What are some tools that you use? (reference guides, manuals, websites—a favorite pen/notebook/computer)

I’m also a professional content editor, so I need to stay up on current Industry Standards for formatting and what is “acceptable” when approaching agents and editors. I rely on the Chicago Manual of Style and A Pocket Style Manual by Diana Hacker. PublishersMarketplace.com is the best site for researching agents and editors. I work on an Acer laptop, but hook it up to a full-size keyboard and large monitor.

  • Do you use critique groups? How did you find them?

Until fairly recently I was the moderator of the Scottsdale Writers Group through the public library. I met loads of excellent writers at this group (including you, Heidi!) and am still in touch with them. I’m a current member of a small intense group with four other highly motivated professional writers. Their advice and support is invaluable and I couldn’t do this without them. I highly advise any dedicated writer who intends to submit their work for publication to find a critique group. After reading our own words for the 100th time, we don’t see the problems anymore. Objective, fresh eyes are crucial when polishing your work.

On your current project:
  • What was your inspiration for this book?

I always wanted to be a rock star, which is where the idea for SNARE originated. Sounds a bit silly, but that’s what is fascinating about being a writer—we can do whatever we want. I was a screenwriter and filmmaker in my previous profession and so was able to be creative on many levels. However no other medium, other than writing, can one be not only the writer but also the casting director, location scout, composer, director, editor, costume designer…essentially everything. Which is why research is so important.

  • What kind of research did you do for this book? And, were you surprised by something that you learned in your research?

So much research for STACCATO and SNARE. The first book focused on two world-class pianists and finding the proper classical pieces was instrumental in showing their world. SNARE was much different as the location and mind-set of the Taos Pueblo Indians is what I needed to convey. Once I decided on the Tribe to focus on I came into contact with the communications director on the Taos Pueblo in New Mexico. Floyd “Mountain Walking Cane” Gomez read every word of the manuscript as I composed each draft. He either approved scenes, characters and elements, or told me flat out “No, you cannot use this.” (He told me this a lot!) Elements Floyd wasn’t sure about were cleared by the Taos Pueblo Tribal Council.

  • How good did it feel to write that last line?

I always get a little down when I finish a novel—not that it’s ever truly finished. I allow myself a few days to grieve, then start thinking about the next project which is usually a new short story to keep me sharp.

On the business of publishing:
  • How did you find your agent/editor?

I was very fortunate that my publisher found me. I submitted STACCATO for “The Next Great Crime Writer” competition sponsored by CourtTV (now TruTV) which was featured on Gather.com. STACCATO finished 6th in the first round of more than 350 entries and was in the top ten for the semi-final round. Fortunately for me my publisher found out about this contest and was looking for talent.

  • How has self-publishing shaped your career as a writer? / What is your opinion of self-publishing?

I’m actually not self-published. My publisher, Second Wind Publishing, is a small independent publisher. This has been a good fit for me as I have very specific ideas regarding the overall “look” of my books. Second Wind has allowed me to provide input and final approval of the formatting and cover design for SNARE and STACCATO. Traditional publishers have their own staff to provide these elements. Quite a few of my writer friends have decided to go the self-publishing route—and I highly considered doing so for the third book of my Steven Hawk/Inola Walela series, but I decided to finish the trilogy with Second Wind. I do plan to write novellas in the future featuring characters from my books, as well as fleshing out some of my favorite published, award-winning short stories. I will self-publish these.

  • What can you share with our readers about marketing? (i.e. what, if any, support did you have from your publisher? Costs involved? Things that worked best/weren’t worth it, etc.)

It’s never too early to start establishing yourself on the Internet. A website or blog is crucial—somewhere agents/editors can start their legwork on researching you. Yes, you will be vetted, especially when it comes time to a representative requesting your work. It takes loads of time establishing “friends” and followers on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads, but I highly beginning this process even as you’re writing your first novel. Agents and prospective publishes need to be certain you are capable of promoting your work and the Internet is step one in being recognized.

I’m with an independent publisher and a majority of the PR and market falls on my shoulders. This is happening more and more, even with big traditional publishing houses. Unfortunately time away from the keyboard, but the Internet truly is the only way to keep your name out there. Name recognition is huge, especially when you are about to release something new and want to get the word out. Do not over-promote. Blatant Self-Promotion (BSP) is a no-no.

However, I do not advise spending too much time marketing online. Stick to your main goal: writing. The more you have written the better your chances of succeeding will be. I spent hundreds, if not thousands of hours promoting my debut novel, STACCATO and don’t believe this benefited me much. I scaled my hours online way back with SNARE.

Be supportive of other writers, and find other avenues (rather than Facebook, Twitter, etc) where potential readers may be found. I’m still trying to figure out where to find readers so please give a shout out if any of you out there could provide clues to accomplishing this.

About You:
  • What is a trick that you’ve learned along the way that has made the writing process easier?

Stay focused. When I’m working on the first draft of a novel I push for 2,000 words per day. Sometimes this takes a few hours, other times eight. This helps me stay in the head of my characters and on top of what needs to happen next.

  • What do you like to read for enjoyment?

Literary fiction continues to be my “candy” and I read everything by Michael Cunningham, Pat Conroy, James Irving, Ann-Marie MacDonald and Isabel Allende. Due to the need to be current with crime fiction I now follow everything by John Hart, Cara Black, Karin Slaughter, Lisa Gardner and Gregg Hurwitz. I also love the British mystery novelist Kate Atkinson, who is quite literary with her lyrical prose. My favorite book continues to be Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. Up-and-coming author favorites are historical mysteries by Rebecca Cantrell and Kelli Stanley.

  • We all know that learning from our mistakes is part of the process of becoming who we are. As a writer, what’s one lesson you’ve learned that you would like to pass on to others?

Don’t be shy! I lost out for years because I was so timid, preferring to stay on the periphery and watch rather than put myself out there. Go to writers conferences and approach published authors. Essentially hang out at the bar, which is where agents, editors and authors hang out. If you’re a fan of someone approach them.

If you’re a crime writer, join Sisters in Crime (SinC). I’ve met so many big named authors by merely stating, “I’m also a member of Sisters in Crime.” Unlike so many organizations you don’t need to be a published author to join. I research who will be attending the conferences and make a point of seeking out authors I know, or want to know. Establishing these relationships are crucial when you reach the point where you are, or about to be published. Willing authors will provide back cover blurbs, which looks great to your publisher and potential readers. I’m also convinced that my relationship with SinC members is what led to becoming The Hillerman Sky Award Finalist for my latest thriller, SNARE.

Also: read, read, read. Not only the genre you write. Debut novels are a great resource in discovering what agents and editors are currently publishing.

  • What’s next for you?

Just about to submit Book Three of the Steven Hawk/Inola Walela series to my publisher. CRESCENDO wraps up the series—which is a bit sad. But I’m excited to move on and am about 10,000 words into the first book of a new mystery series. This one will be set entirely in the Taos, N.M. area and will feature a Native American female city cop and a different cast of characters. Also a Young Adult traditional mystery about a boy and girl who set off on their own to solve a rash of arsons in their small Oregon town. Another exciting project is Book Two of Rubicon Ranch. As with the first book, Rubicon Ranch: Riley’s Story, this is a collaboration with other Second Wind authors.

What’s the funniest thing you’ve seen online lately? (we’ll take a link or image if you’ve got it)

I absolutely love The Red Pen of Doom blog by the brilliant Guy Bergstrom—especially his “Evil Cat” posts. Favorite video is the dog talking about bacon, and the Mishka the Husky saying “I love you.”

Favorite Visual:

 

  • Where can we find you on the Internet?

My personal website is: www.DeborahJLedford.com

You can find all of my books and short stories at my Amazon Author’s Central page.

Personal Facebook Page

STACCATO and SNARE Book Page on Facebook

Twitter: @djledford

Goodreads

One rock star sensation. Two men want her dead. Three others will risk everything to keep her safe. Who will be caught in a trap?

Native American pop singer Katina Salvo embarks on her first live concert appearance. There’s one problem: someone wants to kill her.

Katina and her bodyguard, Deputy Steven Hawk, are attacked during her performance, leaving her to wonder—could the assailant be a dangerous man from her youth? Or her estranged father recently released from prison?

Performed against the backdrop of the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, and the mysterious Taos Pueblo Indian reservation, SNARE pays homage to Tony Hillerman Native American mysteries and Lisa Gardner thriller novels.

Please feel free to comment or leave questions below. Thanks for stopping by!

– Heidi

Meet the Writer – Anne Tibbets

An author interview on the craft of writing.
Featured Writer: Anne Tibbets
Book: Shut Up, contemporary YA fiction (more info below)
Buy it:
Intro, from Heidi:

As a new writer, one of the best how-to-be-a-writer sources I found is a fabulous series of author interviews by Steve Bertrand from WGN radio in Chicago. The podcast, Meet the Writers, is sponsored by Barnes & Noble and is available as a free download on iTunes.  There is a hefty archive and if you are curious about the art of writing, I highly recommend a listen.

Inspired by Steve, and by my writer friends who are newly published, I thought I’d offer a “New Author” interview platform. Most of the authors that get on Steve’s show have already done pretty well for themselves, but what about the newbies? The writers that have been dog-earing copies of The Writer’s Market, attending conferences, furiously editing and revising, and telling their critique partners, “I owe you one”?

And then, after all of the hard work, time, and countless pots of coffee, these writers finally nab that agent or editor. Something clicked! They got a YES! How exciting!!! Now the real work begins. They have to sell. This is quite possibly the hardest part, and why, if you know anyone who’s ever written a book, you should buy a copy, if only to be supportive.

Because I see firsthand how tough it is to get started, and because there are still so many of us trying to reach that first step into publication, I want to give my friends the opportunity to tell their stories. I’m being selfish, too, because this is also a way for me to learn all of their secrets…Muah ha ha ha!!

So, for our very first Meet the New Writer, I’d like to introduce you to my friend Anne Tibbets. If you are a regular reader, you’ve heard me mention her before (we go back). She’s an amazing writer, and—take note—has done an amazing job of using blogging, book bloggers, and social media to self-market her books.

Anne Tibbets:
On craft:
  • How old were you when you started writing?

I started writing professionally in my twenties, although my earliest memory of writing was back in elementary school.  After I had graduated college with a degree in Theater, which is pretty useless in the “real world,” I decided I had done enough starving in college and had no desire to be a “starving artist,” so I moved to Los Angeles with the intent on becoming a screenwriter.  From what I’d heard, they actually made money.  I took odd jobs as secretaries and assistants, even a Page on The Price is Right at one point, and read books on screenwriting, took classes at UCLA Extension, and wrote and wrote and wrote.  Nothing I wrote on spec sold.  Not a one.  Eventually, after years of working in “the biz” I was hired as a writer’s assistant on a syndicated action hour and through the contacts I made there I sold a few scripts.  Soon thereafter I had children, and with their arrival I put my screenwriting career on permanent hold and after suffering through the first few years of toddler-hood, I tried my hat at writing children’s books, and through a lot of trial and error, eventually settled on Young Adult.

  • Where do you write?

I have a desk in a downstairs bedroom in my house that we have deemed “The Office.”  I’ve tried writing elsewhere but it doesn’t work well.  I am determined to learn how to write while in public.  But, it takes practice.

  • When do you write?

I do the bulk of my writing during the months of September through June while my kids are in school.  From 9 am until I can’t take it anymore, or 2:45 pm, whichever comes first.  During the summer months I work when the kids are at day camp and even hire a babysitter once a week to give me just a few hours of writing time, but they aren’t in camp every week so it’s very sporadic – I find if I don’t write, however, I go batty.  Summer is a very cranky time for me.

  • What helps you write – music, pictures, maps, journals, etc, – what gets you into that mindset?

I wish I had a magic formula that works every time that would put me into the mindset to write, but I don’t.  I have Attention Deficit Disorder so the moment I find one thing that works I tend to get bored of it pretty quickly, so I’m forever trying new ways to creatively stimulate my mind.  I read a lot.  Almost constantly.  I listen to various kinds of music and will search for a “theme song” for each of the books I write. I find it helps to keep me grounded in the emotional tone of the piece.

For Fantasy books I create maps and write out battle plans using chess pieces to signify characters so I can keep track of where they are during the battle, and I blog quite a bit about the process, as I am always trying to learn from my numerous mistakes.  I’ve tried just about everything, but the #1 thing that keeps me focused is coffee.  Lots of coffee, with flavored creamer and about a bucket full of sugar.

  • What are some things that stand in your way? Logistically as well as creatively?

This is going to sound horrible, so I apologize in advance to my offspring, but my kids are my #1 obstacle to writing.  They sap my energy, they try my patience, they interrupt me every 6 minutes (I actually timed it one summer), and they demand my attention – it’s their job and they’re doing a bang up job of it.  However, if I didn’t have my kids I can’t say I would feel as powerfully as I do about my work, so it balances out.  A lack of time is my primary nemesis, and my secondary nemesis is my own distracted self.  I lack focus at times and this bites me in the butt constantly.

  • What do you do when you “hit a wall?”

There are many writers out there that insist that in order to be at your peak you must write every day, even if it’s only a few words.  In my mind, writing every day is a recipe for burnout.  When I hit a wall, I take a few days off.  Sometimes, I’ll even take a week off.  I live life, I catch up on housework, I pay attention to my family, I regroup – and then, in a week or few days (depending), I start to feel recharged and I’m ready to go back to writing.  It works for me.  Forcing myself to write when I am so over it only leads to crappy writing and a lot of revision later, so it’s really best for me just to walk away and come back when I’m ready.

  • Do you use an outline – do you know exactly how the arc will play out – or do you just let the story develop as you write? If so, how do you outline?  (notecards, etc.)

I always outline.  Always.  If I didn’t, I would have a hard time keeping on track, and that’s the truth.  I rather admire writers who can just sit down and let the story unfold but I need more focus than that to keep me grounded.  I usually use bullet points – this happens, then this happens, then this happens – I keep track of plot and character arcs.  But it occurs quite a few times while I’m writing that I realize there’s a “hole” in the outline where something is supposed to happen and there isn’t enough build up to it, or as I’m writing I realize it needs to go in a different direction, or that the character is supposed to be a nervous wreck by now and she’s only slightly bothered.  In that case, I’ll go back to the outline and rework it to see if the change fits with my original intention.  If it doesn’t, then I tend to stick to the outline.  It’s my lifeline, but it’s bendable.

  • How do you draft/revise? (ie. Do you just get it out in one big “dump,” then revise, revise, revise, or do you revise and edit as you go?)

I’ve tried this both ways.  I’ve dumped an entire book out in one draft, and spent the next year revising it.  Others I have written a scene, revised, written another scene, revised both scenes, and then on and on.  I have yet to determine a solid structure with this.  It honestly depends on how it’s flowing.  First thing I do when I have time to write is I will try to work on new scenes, but if I find I’m stuck with the “dumping” process I’ll spend my writing time revising what I’ve got.  That’s just how I roll.

  • What are some tools that you use? (reference guides, manuals, websites – a favorite pen/notebook/computer?)

On my desk sit my favorite computer, an old Mac laptop that overheats if I don’t use my cooling tray, my thesaurus, a dictionary, and a “word” book that lists every word in the English language.  (Psst, there are times when I’m like – “What’s that word, it starts with a ‘ste’…?” and I have to look it up!).  I Google a lot, I search the internet, I watch video clips on YouTube and I cruise book stores and Amazon.com for reference material.  And lately I’ve been trying a recording of a waterfall turned up so loud I can’t hear anything else, but the jury is still out on that particular tool.

  • Do you use critique groups? How did you find them?

I have two YA writer buddies that are kind enough to read my work, when they have time. They give awesome notes, and I try to do the same for them.  Although that is technically a “Writers Group,” we are not organized, have no regular meeting times, or “rules,” so we don’t call ourselves a “group.”  We meet socially every now and then to shoot the breeze, and attend writer’s events together.  We met through SCBWI, which, if you are a children’s writer, you MUST join, it’s completely invaluable.

On your current project:
  • What was your inspiration for this book?

Shut Up came to me while I was working on a YA Fantasy.  There was a crisis in my family and it called to mind several unpleasant memories that I had buried in the back of my brain from my childhood.  They haunted me for days.  In an effort to purge them, I wrote them down and put them away, but my mind would not let them go.  So I wrote down a few more, then a few more, then a whole lot of them.  Then I realized I had the outline of a book, but the memories by themselves were not solid enough to be an entire book, so I tweaked, twisted, warped and fictionalized it, and from that I ended up with the manuscript for Shut Up.

  • What kind of research did you do for this book? And, were you surprised by something that you learned in your research?

Since Shut Up was based on my childhood, there wasn’t much in the way of research that I had to do.  I was there, and I knew most of what happened.  What I didn’t know, I would call my mother and ask her about.  However, after I had changed the book significantly I came to realize the characters had lives of their own and the main character was deeply depressed and suicidal, so I researched childhood depression, the treatment of it, and how the symptoms manifested.  If I was surprised by anything it was the fact that even though my mother knew I was writing a book about my childhood, she still answered my questions.

  • How did it feel to write that last line?

I had a horrible time working on this book.  I wish I could say it wasn’t, but the subject matter of depression, is well, depressing.  I’d work for three weeks, stop a few weeks, and work again.  My emotions were all over the place and I often needed alone time to remind myself that I wasn’t Mary, the main character.  So, when I wrote that last line on the last revision on that last day, I cried with relief.

On the business of publishing:
  • How did you find your agent/editor?

I found my agent the old fashioned way.  I wrote a book and I researched agents, and then I queried her.  She did not respond right away, but several months later, at which point she sent me a list of her notes on my manuscript and an offer of representation.  I loved her notes so much, and we got along so well on the phone, I accepted.  I am lucky to have her, her name is Bree Ogden and she’s at D4EO Literary, and she’s an absolute doll.

  • Has self-publishing shaped your career as a writer?  What is your opinion of self-publishing?

This is a double-edged sword.  I know that if I hadn’t published Shut Up and my YA Fantasy The Beast Call with Premier Digital Publishing, which is in essence, a company that assists authors with self-publication, those books never would have gotten published at all otherwise, given that I had broken so many industry rules.  So, I wouldn’t have a career at all if I hadn’t done that.  However, getting the recognition in self-publishing is very, very difficult, especially now that anyone can self-publish.

The market is flooded with tons of manuscripts and no matter how good, or bad, no one can voice an opinion about your work if they don’t even know it’s there.  Self-publishing isn’t hard, it’s getting the word out that’s hard.  And despite my 2,000+ followers on Facebook, and my 1,200+ followers on Twitter and my 13,000 hits on my blog – my sales figures continue to barely exist.  So, I’m a little bitter sweet when it comes to self-publishing, at the moment. As of now, I have not made back my investment, but there are a number of self-published authors who have.

  • What can you share with our readers about marketing?  (ie. What, if any, support did you have from your publisher? Costs involved? Things that worked best/weren’t worth it, etc.)

When I published The Beast Call and later Shut Up with Premier Digital Publishing, the most marketing support I received was a blog post on the publisher website announcing the book release, and a Tweet.  That was all.  Every expense, every free copy sent to bloggers and reviewers, my PR firm, my press release, my blog hops, my giveaways, my advertisements on Facebook, JacketFlap and GoodReads, I paid for completely myself.  For a small digital and Print-on-Demand publisher, this is not abnormal.

The best things that worked (for me) were the blog hops.  If you are an author and you are invited to participate in a blog hop – do!  Make the time.  GoodReads ads are also cheap and effective, whereas Facebook ads will get you ‘Liked’ but does not generate sales.   Twitter is fun but not an effective marketing tool unless you are attempting to drum up attention amongst the book blogging community.  The only thing I haven’t tried is purchasing print ads in newspapers and magazines, and only because it is very expensive.

About You:
  • What is a trick that you’ve learned along the way that has made the writing process easier?

There’s a trick to make it easier?  Ha!  When you figure it out will you tell me?  The only “trick” I can think of is to write something you love.  If you are only writing a certain story because you think it will be popular and sell lots of books then you will get creatively blocked and have a hard time writing the book.  Write a story you love, and it flows easier.  At least, it does for me.

  • What writers inspire you?

This is going to sound smug and a little stuck up, but my answer is, “not many.”  I’m not the kind of person who buys into the ‘celebrity’ aspect of the business.  Yes, I loved the Harry Potter series and I think J.K. Rowling is an awesome writer, and would I like to sit with her and have a conversation about process, absolutely!  But, would I ask for her autograph and take my picture with her?  Probably not.  It seems like an awful invasion of her personal space and she’s just a human being, like the rest of us.  I positively LOVED The Book Thief, but if I met Markus Zusak, I don’t think I’d turn to jelly.  I love his work, not him.

So, I guess what my answer is, the books I find inspiring are Persuasion by Jane Austen, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, and The Dark Elf Trilogy by R.A. Salvatore.  If I can’t find a good book to read, I revert back to these, because they are just so incredibly crafted, I aspire to write something half as good.

  • What do you like to read for enjoyment?

I go on genre benders.  For a while, I was reading only Sci-Fi, then I moved on to Historical Mysteries, then I would hit all the YA Dystopians, and then move on to High Fantasy. I read almost anything, although I must admit, I don’t find biographies or military books that interesting.

  • We all know learning from our mistakes is part of the process of becoming who we are as a writer.  What’s one lesson you’ve learned that you would like to pass on to others?

I have been fortunate enough to have received this advice before it could have backfired on me, so I’m passing it along to you in the hopes it will prevent a great catastrophe in yours.  The advice: Don’t respond to reviews.  A good one, or a bad one.  Say no more than ‘thank you’ (unless you are personally friends with the reviewer, and even then I don’t advise it). Don’t do it.  You’ll want to.  Believe me.  But it does nothing but fuel bad publicity and creates terrible author backlash, and no matter if the reviewer was unprofessional, totally missed the plot of your book, or was just a raving a-hole, the one who comes out dirty on the other end is ALWAYS the author.

There are a group of penguins in the movie ‘Madagascar’ who are trying to escape the zoo, but they must make the appearance before the zoo crowd and when they do, the Captain penguin always tells his crew, “Smile and wave, boys.  Smile and wave.” And I expect the same from you.  “Smile, and wave.”  So zip your lip, I mean it!

  • What’s next for you?

I have a Social Sci-Fi awaiting approval from my agent and will soon be submitted to traditional publishing editors.  I hope to have news within six months.  We will see.  In the meantime I am working on a YA Horror and having a great time scaring my own pants off.

  • and finally…What’s the funniest thing you’ve seen online lately?

SHUT UP
Mary’s older sister, Gwen, has royally screwed up her life. Not only is Gwen pregnant at seventeen, but she’s also decided to marry The Creep who knocked her up.
Now Mary is powerless to stop her family from imploding. Her parents are freaking out, and to top it off The Creep has a gross fascination with Mary while Gwen enjoys teasing her to tears for sport.
Despite her brother’s advice to shut up, Mary can’t keep her trap closed and manages to piss off Mom so much it comes to blows.
Mary doesn’t know what to do, and all her attempts to get help are rejected. When she finally plans her escape, she fails to consider how it could destroy them all.

Anne Tibbets Online:
Bree Ogden:

Fell free to keep the conversation going in the comment box below. Thanks for reading.