NiFtY Author Oksana Marafioti

Today’s a special weekend post, an interview with Oksana Marafioti, author of the recently-released memoir, American Gypsy. I met Oksana through my awesome, brand-new literary agent, Brandi Bowles, because Brandi also represents Oksana. Oksana’s book sounds so good,  I had to introduce her here. First, though, a description from the book, cribbed off Amazon (there’s more, so click the link for a full description):

Fifteen-year-old Oksana Marafioti is a Gypsy. This means touring with the family band from the Mongolian deserts to the Siberian tundra. It means getting your hair cut in “the Lioness.” It also means enduring sneering racism from every segment of Soviet society. Her father is determined that his girls lead a better, freer life. In America! Also, he wants to play guitar with B. B. King. And cure cancer with his personal magnetism. All of this he confides to the woman at the American embassy, who inexplicably allows the family entry. Soon they are living on the sketchier side of Hollywood. 

BH: What is it about your book that you think will grab readers most?

OM: I think, maybe, the promise of the Romani culture revealed. Despite a Gypsy’s popularity in literature and media, most know very little about us, and what they do know is often distorted by stereotypes.

BH: Which parts of your book gave you the most joy to write?
OM: All the funny parts. It’s liberating to examine your life with a sense of humor. I also loved writing the romantic bits. When I wrote about meeting Cruz, the boy I fell for in high school, I relived that moment as if we were standing there, our eyes locked. Gave me that fizzy feeling all over again.
BH: You originally queried our agent with a fiction project, is that right? What made you decide to write your memoir, and was it easier or harder for you than writing fiction?
OM: I always toyed with the idea of writing about my family, but I didn’t seriously consider it until meeting Brandi. Her interest and enthusiasm was contagious, and I soon found myself writing for hours, researching multiple generations, quite unexpectedly fascinated with a story I thought I knew so well. For me, a memoir was easier because I was so close to the characters. And I knew the ending, so it was much easier to plot the story and see how it should develop.

BH: Is there any feeling or message you’d like readers to take away from your story?

OM: My most earnest message is that family is important, no matter who you are and where you come from. Family is the fountain of youth, the holy grail, the ultimate wonder of the world. We are all bruised by our pasts, but anger and cynicism are poisons passed on, by example, to our children. If we, as children, suffered abuse, we, as adults, have a chance to save another from it. Our culture may dictate rules and traditions, but never who’s worthy of love. And weather we admit it or not, every one of us yearns for one thing, and one thing only: To be accepted. So when we look into the eyes of a stranger who may not speak our language or know our way of life, before we make a judgment against them, we must always remember to see in those same eyes a mother, a father, a sister, a brother, sons and daughters, loved ones. Family and tolerance are the essential ingredients of happiness.

BH: What’s the most helpful writing advice you’ve received?

OM: Figure out the ending, first! If you have it, your characters will gravitate to it and your story will unravel.

Thank you, Oksana, for telling us about your book and your writing! I’m eager to get my hands on American Gypsy!
For more Oksana, you can follow her on Twitter here, and visit her website here.

NiFtY Author Talia Vance

Today we have a special guest – debut author Talia Vance. Not only is she a prolific writer (two books coming out within the year, AND one more under contract!), but I also count her as a friend.

BH: Welcome, Talia! You have not one, but TWO books coming out between now and next spring. Can you tell us a little about them?

TV: SILVER is a dark romance based on Celtic mythology.  Brianna Paxton accidentally binds her soul to the one guy it might kill her to love. SPIES & PREJUDICE is about a teenage private investigator, Berry Fields, who sets out to discover the truth behind her mother’s death and ends up questioning everything she thinks she knows about love and the one boy she is determined to hate.

BH: What were some of the joys of writing Silver?

TV: I loved discovering the characters’ secrets as I wrote (and there were some big ones), I loved those moments when they said the exact right line of dialogue, and I especially loved that I finished a book.

BH: We all have favorite minor characters in our own books, those characters we wish could have more page time. Who’s your favorite minor character in Silver?

TV: I am going to cheat here, because there are two characters I wanted to give more time to:  Joe is the conscience of the story, a voice of reason among chaos.  His past is full of violence and loss, but he’s always so calm and stoic.  I know what’s made him the way he is, but I often wonder what it would take to make him break. Someday he may get his own book, just so I can find out.

Portia barely makes an appearance in SILVER, but she definitely has her own story.  In early drafts, she began to take over the second half of the book, and I had to cut out her entire story from the final version.  All that background wasn’t for nothing, however.  She gets quite a bit more page time in GOLD. [note for the audience – GOLD is Book 2.]

BH: Switching from fantasy to contemporary is something I’m doing now with my own work-in-progress. Were there any challenges involved with your switch, and how did you overcome them?

TV:  The biggest challenge was switching from Brianna’s voice, which is more introspective and emotional, to Berry’s voice, which is more brash and confident.  Both stories take place in contemporary Southern California, but their worlds and challenges are very different.  One thing that helped me make the switch was having a separate playlist of songs that fit the mood and tone of each book.  I listen to the playlist while I’m writing and revising, and it helps puts me in the “head” of the character and the story.

BH: What does your workspace look like?

TV: I work on a couch with a laptop.  This picture is a pretty accurate depiction of how I write, complete with the lapdog lying across my legs.

BH: What is your favorite book on the craft of writing?

TV:  I am a fan of James Scott Bell’s Plot and Structure.  Plotting is something that I tend to do organically.  Which usually means I have to figure out the structure and plan the plot in revisions.  Plot and Structure is a great book for reminding me what a story should look like in its purest form.

BH: What is the best writing advice anyone has given you?

TV:  Put everything you have on the page.  Don’t save your best stuff for another book.  Put it in this one.  You’ll come up with new stuff later.  Make this book count.

BH: Talia, thanks so much for sharing about your books and writing! I can’t wait to hold the published copies of Silver and Spies & Prejudice in my hands!

For more on Talia, including some brilliant blog posts on writing, you can visit her at the YA Muses blog by clicking here.

NiFtY Author Stephen Brayton

Stephen Brayton is the author of mystery novels Night Shadows and Beta. He also rocks the taekwondo scene.

BH: Stephen, thanks for visiting us today! What’s your one-paragraph pitch for your latest book, Beta?

SB: There’s this time traveling guy who flits around the universe in a British police call box. Usually he has a beautiful companion…wait, that’s the premise of one of my favorite TV shows. Let me try again.

Private Investigator Mallory Petersen, a fourth degree black belt with her own taekwondo school in Des Moines, Iowa, splits her time between teaching martial arts and her often inane cases. When she accepts a case to find Cheryl McGee’s kidnapped eight year old daughter, Mallory is pulled into the dark underworld of child pornography. The trail soon leads to the Quad Cities, where Mallory partners with an officer from the Special Case Squad. Mallory discovers that there’s more to the girl’s disappearance than her client let on. Adult readers will find grave issues tempered by humorous scenes.

BH: I notice one of your previous books, Night Shadows, is only available in eBook form, and I have some writer friends currently exploring publishing their manuscripts as eBooks. Can you tell us what influenced your decision to publish Night Shadows as an eBook?

SB: What influenced me? Two huge guys in black suits who slammed me against the wall, wrenched my arms behind my back, and told in calm but raspy voice that if I didn’t do as they asked, then bad things were going to happen to my collection of Batman comic books. Well, what else was I supposed to do?

Actually both books are eBooks. When I contracted with Echelon Press, they mentioned all new authors start with eBook format.

BH: You’re involved in Taekwondo – you’ve even got your own academy (click here to visit that site). How does your martial arts experience relate to your writing…or do you try to keep the two separate?

SB: Do you want to know about my experience getting knocked out at a tournament or the time I took on five guys one night outside a local bar? Oops, sorry I was dreaming there for a second. Actually I did get knocked out once, but I don’t think I suffered too many after effects. I’m sorry, what was the question? My favorite ice cream?

In Beta, I have Mallory Petersen use a lot of the skills I’ve practiced over the years. The challenge was to come up with different techniques she can use so the reader isn’t always getting the same front kick or punch. So I had to devise various scenarios where she can show off.

BH: What are you currently working on? Can you share any details?

SB: Does working on my tan count? You probably don’t care about the details. Oh, you mean writing projects.

I’ve started on a few different stories. I’m stalled in the sequel to Night Shadows trying to determine the direction of the story. The next Petersen story is finished so I’m gathering ideas for the third book. I’m also working on a thriller with a woman who uses Army Ranger skills to survive in the woods after being attacked by four men. I’ve also started (and don’t let it be passed around too much else my reputation will be totally shot. Lol) a romance. I’m hoping to collaborate with another author on this one.

BH: Which of your characters do you think is the most like you, and why?

SB: Mallory. Yes, she’s a woman, better looking, and way more talented, but she has a cool sense of humor, is intelligent, caring, and dedicated to her jobs.

BH: What does your workspace look like?

SB: Surprisingly, or maybe not so much, I do very little writing at home. I usually wait until I go to work. Since I work the graveyard shift, I rarely see anybody and I have a lot of free hours. So I’ll sit behind the desk or out in the lobby with either a notepad or the laptop. It’s quiet except when I turn on the classical music station and I’m usually not distracted by too much activity.

BH: What is your favorite book on the craft of writing?

SB: Any Dr. Seuss book. Especially Green Eggs and Ham. Awesome book.

Seriously, I tap into Todd Stone’s Novelist Boot Camp. It’s helped tremendously when I go through the editing phase.

BH: What is the best writing advice anyone has given you?

SB:  “Take a hike, loser, you bother me.” Oh, wait, that was what the last girl said when I asked her to dinner.  Then she proceeded to…well, we won’t get into that right now.

I think my Dad has helped me a lot. He encouraged me to keep up the writing. Also, when I’ve needed assistance, he’s told me I can pay him back “When I’m a rich and famous author.” Words like those that have kept me persevering.

BH: Stephen, thanks for visiting today! Everyone else, for more information on Stephen and his books, check out his website here, and his blog here. You can buy Night Shadows by going here. He’s also on Facebook and Twitter.

Note for weekend commenters: I’m out of town until Sunday evening, and won’t be able to moderate comments until then. This means if you’re a first-time commenter, your comment won’t show up until Sunday or Monday. Thanks for your patience!

NiFtY Author Erin Bow

Erin Bow first grabbed my attention when someone handed me a copy of Plain Kate (click here to read my review). I picked it up and could not stop. Her writing is so beautiful and…. oh, sorry. I just woke up from a fangirl swoon. Here’s our interview! Check out her pole-dancing writing studio! Exclamation points are a side-effect of fangirl-dom!

BH: You have been BUSY since I last visited your website. What are all these projects you have going? Wait, that would take forever. Could you choose one new project to describe in a paragraph for us here?

EB: Hmm, it’s hard to pick!  I guess most of my time is going into the first draft of my third novel, a dystopian for young adults called Children of Peace.  Here’s the pitch:

A world battered by climate shift and war turns to an ancient method of keeping peace: the exchange of hostages.   The Children of Peace – sons and daughters of kings and presidents and generals – are raised together in small, isolated schools called Prefectures.  Under the tutelage of gentle, monkish artificial intelligences, they learn history and political theory, and are taught to gracefully accept what may well be their fate: to die if their countries declare war.

Greta Gustafsen Stuart, Duchess of Halifax and Crown Princess of the Pan-Polar Confederation, is the pride of Prefecture Four.  Learned and disciplined, Greta is proud of her role in keeping the global peace — even though, with her country controlling two-thirds of the world’s most war-worthy resource — water —  she has little chance of reaching adulthood alive.

BH: Okay, yeah, I want to read it. You probably don’t need a beta reader, but if you do… Moving on. Tell us a little about your path to publication.

EB: Oh, dear.  The story of my path to publication makes people hate me, because I got so lucky.

I put a lot of research into agents, and landed the first one I queried, the one at the very tippy top of my list.  She worked with me for a couple of years on Plain Kate (it took some time, but in my defense I had two babies in there) and then sent it out to this amazing list of editors, seven of them, I think.  I not only got an offer right away, I got a bunch of offers (told you my agent was amazing), which ended up in an auction.  I was and still am thrilled to be with Arthur Levine, of Arthur A. Levine Books at Scholastic.  He’s a genius editor and a great cheerleader for the books he loves.

BH: I wouldn’t say your story makes me hate you. Much.

It has been months since I read Plain Kate, and I still keep going back to it when I want some inspiration for creating a great setting and mood combination. Did that mood come naturally to the writing of the book, or did you have to work at it? Please tell me you had to work at it.

EB: That mood comes courtesy of this 800-page volume of Russian fairytales I read just before starting Plain Kate.  I soaked them in and they took me over, and the mood just came tumbling out.

But of course there’s work.  A pet peeve of mine is historical fantasies where the world seems just a few inches deep, like a stage set.  Pretty: but not workable.  I think to really get a setting to work you have to know really nitty-gritty practical things.  What the people eat, and where they get it?  What do the tools of their trade look like?  What are they afraid of when the lights go out?  A good fantasy world needs an economy, an ecology, and a mythology.

Some of the things I needed to know for Plain Kate:  How do you polish a carving without sand paper?  How do you catch a chicken?   Keep your feet dry in rainy weather?  The research was truly endless, and I still feel as if it’s thin in places.

BH: You write both fiction and poetry, and some pretty great personal essays, too. How do you balance your different projects and the different parts of your brain that you get to tap into?

EB:  I try to set aside blocks of time.  Sometimes I, say, edit one book in the mornings and draft another in the afternoons.  Sometimes I give myself three weeks or a month to finish such and such a chunk, and do little else.  I try really hard not to switch back and forth between things.  Starting is always the hardest part, and starting over and over again is frustration and a waste of energy.  (And I do it all the time.  I have the attention span of a goldfish that’s off its meds.)

I also try to keep writing business out of my office: I do submissions and interviews and blogs and things  after the kids go to bed.  My office is dedicated to the writing part of writing.  I don’t have a phone or wifi.  (Recently some wifi has started leaking in.  I’m considering copper mesh.  See: goldfish, meds.)  When I’m in my office, I write.  When I’m not, I don’t.

BH: What does your workspace look like?

EB: I rented an office half a year ago – and with the exception of marrying my husband, it is the best choice I ever made.  The space is somewhat .. unusual. (Note: if the photos aren’t visible, you can click here to see Erin’s Office on Flickr.)

(Click on the images to make them bigger; enlarging them here was making them too blurry.)

People think I’m kidding when I say I work in a pole dancing studio, but I’m not.  My office is their spare room.  It can only be reached by crossing the dance floor — check those poles!  It’s cheap because I can’t use it at night, when the dance floor is, um, busy.  And it’s fun because when I need to clear my head I can swing around a little.


I furnished my office with a  hodgepodge of things that were either free or cheap – but it doesn’t feel makeshift.  It feels cozy and practical, like a yurt.  In this picture you can see the little loveseat (curbsourced) for curling up, a chair (Salvation army, recovered) handy for pulling up to the loveseat for coffee with friends, and of course a big desk (Goodwill) with lots of room for bulletin boards. You can see the picture boards here for Sorrow’s Knot (upper left) and Children of Peace (lower right).

My office is a highly ritualized space – and I refuse to feel silly about that.  I often find one needs to coax oneself closer to inspiration, the way a church coaxes one closer to God.  So my office is furnished with ritual objects and relics.


Here, you can see the objarka my editor sent me when bidding on Plain Kate, beside Plain Kate’s NYT review; a doorway shrine; a hand-cast pewter cat given by a good friend and some fiddly stones; the timer of short naps and the glass bird of holding when you want to start over; the tin angel celebrating the finish of my second novel, Sorrow’s Knot; the wall of things that mean stuff to me, including the porcelain birds that were my great grandmother’s, a map of Tenochtitlan, a bundle of grass from the monastery where I wrote my first book of poetry, a 1942 advertisement for a Waterman “Commando” fountain pen, and a reproduction of the original cover of A Room of One’s Own.

BH: Your office has inspired me. I am now working on converting our converted garage guest room into my writing studio. Must find a great big pole.

What is your favorite book on the craft of writing?

EB: Mary Oliver’s Rules for the Dance, on meter in poetry.  It is basic – you don’t have to go into being able to scan, which is good, because I have dreadful trouble with scanning.  But it is also bottomlessly good, and I could read it over and over, just to soak it up.  I read that book, and Heaney’s Beowulf, and somehow decided that what the world really needed was a children’s version of Sir Gawaine and the Green Knight in 200 rhymed quatrains, beginning with a beheading and turning on an illicit kiss.  I can’t imagine why I can’t get that published.

BH: (I have difficulty with scanning, too. Glad to hear I’m not alone in this.) What is the best writing advice anyone has given you?

EB: Ribe Tuchus – keep your butt in the chair.  Sit still.

My biggest enemy, as you’ve probably guessed by now, is inertia: the reistance to starting.  But if I promise myself I’ll just Ribe Tuchus for ten minutes, keep my hand moving across the page – often that’s all it takes to stop hating myself and wanting to get a job in a bank.

Every day I have to figure that out again.  (Goldfish.)  Ribe Tuchus, Ribe Tuchus, Ribe Tuchus.

BH: Thank you, Erin, for taking the time! For more on Erin and her writing, you can visit her (very awesome website) at erinbow.com She’s also on twitter as @erinbowbooks

NiFtY Author Heidi Ayarbe AND GIVEAWAY!

Heidi Ayarbe is the author of three young adult novels: Freeze Frame, Compromised, and Compulsion. I can say with authority that Compromised and Compulsion are both awesome, and Freeze Frame is on my To Read list. Compulsion just came out on Tuesday, and it’s freaking great, and at the end of this interview you can comment for a chance to win an advance reader’s copy of Compulsion.

BH: What’s your one-paragraph pitch for Compulsion?

HA: Compulsion happens over a period of five days in the life of Jake Martin. Jake’s the star of the soccer team, ready to lead his high school team to their third state championship in a row this Saturday. This Saturday means everything because this Saturday, if he plays perfect, he will be released him from the spiders – the numbers – and the other obsessions that rule his life. Saturday, the primes converge and Jake believes that if he does everything right, Saturday will be the day Jake gets to be normal. He’s tired of hiding, tired of living with OCD.

BH: What compelled you (haha) to write Compulsion?

HA: I had a few panic attacks a few years ago. I don’t know why – out of the blue – I became literally panicked over small spaces and being closed in. I figured out how to keep from panicking in elevators and on airplanes, buses and closed-in spaces – some tricks to keep me okay. Each attack lasted just a few minutes but felt like an eternity. I got to thinking about people who live with anxiety – the real deal – every day and how that feeling never goes away. I wanted to write that story because I’m aware that over 40 million people are diagnosed with some kind of anxiety disorder … But I can bet that so many of those 40 million feel pretty alone. I hope Compulsion, somehow, can reach out to those who suffer – give them a voice.

BH: I read Compromised, loved it, and reviewed it awhile back. (HA: Thank you!) How was your experience different when writing the two different books? How was it the same?

HA: Every book is so different. But, I think, there’s nothing as daunting and terrifying as a second novel. (Compromised was my second novel). Once I wrote Freeze Frame, my first novel, revised it, and gone through the grueling process from getting an agent through to copy edits, it felt so … done. And then I was given the chance to write a second novel, Compromised, and everything changed. There were expectations and deadlines – different ones – and reviews to compare to FF reviews. And THE DREADED FIRST DRAFT. I’d totally forgotten how abysmal my first drafts ARE (and continue to be). So seeing Compromised through the published-eye lens was ghastly! All I saw was drivel, having forgotten that I’d get a chance to make it work. I didn’t really enjoy the process as much because I was horrified. So Compulsion was pure joy. I knew I could do it. I made it through novel #2 (which I happen to love, but it was really tough) and Compulsion’s first draft, as expected, was a mess, but I got the structure down and a chance to make it into a novel I love. So, BIG difference in perspective. Same process.

BH: Is it hard to write from a male perspective? Do you have any tips for authors who wish to write from the perspective of the opposite sex?

HA: I think it’s the same tip for writing anything: OBSERVATION. Take the time to watch how people act in public, at restaurants. Watch out for clichés! Writing is about creating believable characters. So watch how males talk compared to females. Listen to them. Think of a male reacting to something and how would a female react to it (typically), then switch it up and give the male the “cliché” female reaction but make it a real guy thing. It’s mostly about creating wonderful, believable people and making them people we can relate to.

BH: What does your workspace look like?

HA: Cramped, overflowing with papers, books, receipts from milk I purchased years ago and other useless things … MESSY!

BH: What is your favorite book on the craft of writing?

HA: I LOVE Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. It makes me feel reassured that I’m not alone in my neurosis and insecurities and fear of failure and more. What I LOVE most is how she says, SPILL IT OUT ON THE PAGE, EVERY PAGE, EVERY NOVEL. I love that advice.  See below!

BH: What is the best writing advice anyone has given you?

HA: See above … though technically she didn’t give it to me personally. But GREAT advice.

BH: Thank you for the interview, Heidi, and thanks for the great reads!

And didn’t I say something about a contest? A big thank you to Heidi for making it possible. So, the rules are simple. The giveaway is limited to the continental United States (sorry, overseas people…unless you have an address here you’d like the book shipped to!). To enter, leave a comment at the end of this post. (Email address required to comment, but your email address isn’t published or shared with anyone, ever!)

If you tweet about the contest & share this link, you can get an extra entry (limit one extra). Just comment with the link to your tweet so I can verify that everything’s on the up & up.

The winner will be picked out of a hat at random. Well, his or her name will be picked out of a hat…not the winner in person, which would be too strange.

Deadline: Next Thursday, 5/12/2011, 11:59 p.m. PST. Winner announced sometime on Friday.

For more on Heidi and her books, check out the sites below:

Heidi’s Website:  www.heidiayarbe.com

HarperCollins Website: www.harperteen.com

Heidi’s blog: http://heidiayarbe.blogspot.com/

IndieBound Link to COMPULSION: http://www.indiebound.org/hybrid?filter0=compulsion+by+heidi+ayarbe&x=0&y=0

NiFtY Author Ebony Joy Wilkins

Ebony Joy Wilkins is the author of Sellout, a young adult novel featuring an African American girl who undergoes the aching process of finding herself. It’s fantastic. You should go read it. In the meantime, learn a little bit more about Ebony and her writing.

March 9, 2011

BH: For those in our studio audience who have not read my review of your book, can you tell us a little bit about Sellout?

EJW: Sellout is the story of an African American teenage girl, NaTasha Jennings, who gets caught between two worlds: the white world she’s grown up in and the black world her grandmother wants her to embrace and experience for her own good. NaTasha gets herself into an embarrassing situation at home and flees to Harlem with her Grandmother Tilly for a few weeks to hide from her problems. Unfortunately for NaTasha there is a whole new set of problems waiting for her when she starts life with Tilly. Sellout is the story of a summer that will change the way NaTasha views her world forever.

BH: NaTasha endures some pretty intense bullying from her peers when she goes to Harlem . I thought this was horrible, naturally, but then started thinking about what NaTasha essentially puts herself through by trying to blend in with her all-white community in the suburbs. Which was the most difficult for you to write about from an emotional standpoint, and from a writing craft standpoint?

EJW: NaTasha is almost living a lie, by trying to fit into her world rather than leaving her stamp on it, like so many others feel they have to do. It was difficult for me to take a step back and allow NaTasha to navigate her own experience as an outsider, both at home and in an unfamiliar setting, without stepping in to rescue her. It was important for her to carve her own paths and I tried to remove myself in order for her to do so. This story is loosely based on my own experience, combined with stories of friends’ experiences, but reliving the feelings through NaTasha’s eyes was at times painful.

BH: Your next book is told from the point-of-view of a teenage boy. Is it hard to write from a male perspective? Do you have any tips for authors who wish to write from the perspective of the opposite sex?

EJW: I have three brothers and a host of male cousins and friends whose personalities I have stolen bits and pieces from to combine into one character, Jamal, who I love writing about so far. I started by developing a character plot at the suggestion of a former professor of mine, Sarah Weeks, and wrote down as much about Jamal as I could. At this point, I feel like I know him personally, what he thinks about and how he will react in most situations. When I sit down at my writing space, usually a comfy chair in my living room instead of my office desk, I put myself into his head as much as possible. At times it is a struggle to remove myself from his interactions with the other characters, but I feel it is going well so far. I guess we’ll see once I am ready to submit the story for publication.

BH: Tell us a little about your path to publication.

EJW: I completed an MFA in creative writing for children from New School University and Sellout started as my thesis project in the program. I worked and re-worked the story over many times, with great feedback from authors like Daphne Grab, Lisa Greenwald, Lara Saguisag, and Siobhan Vivian, who were in class with me. When I felt ready to submit, I sent the manuscript to David Levithan at Scholastic, who was a former professor of mine, and he expressed an interest in Sellout and said it was ready. In class we learned about the importance of having agent representation, and at the referral of Daphne, I found my agent Alyssa Eisner Henkin, and the rest is history!

BH: What does your workspace look like?

EJW: This is a photo of my official writing space, but I find I get more writing done in a comfy chair or lounging on a pile of pillows in my living room with the TV on mute in the background. At my desk space I have two bookcases filled with books on my to-read list, inspirational quotes, photos of family and friends who are super supportive of me, a 1960s-something typewriter that was gifted to me by my friend Claire, and all of my files that I probably don’t need to file anymore. The photo on the wall is of the NYC skyline, a.k.a. the concrete jungle where dreams are made of (Jay-Z).

BH: What are you reading now?

EJW: I read more YA lit than anything and recently finished The Hunger Games series, which honestly makes me want to bury my head in the sand –amazing storytelling! I also read my first graphic novel, Children of the Sea, which was a really interesting introduction into those types of stories. I just started The Neighborhood: Tiptoeing into poverty and finding hope by my friend, and former colleague, Leslie Alig Collins. I also am juggling many research texts, like The Handbook of Research on children’s and young adult literature, since I am back in school working on a PhD in education. My dream is to be teaching writing courses and writing full-time some day soon.

Ebony's 1960 Futura Typewriter

EJW: 1. Words don’t appear on the page on their own –WRITE! 2. There is no writer’s block, just excuses we put in the way of our own path 3. Write about what you know.

BH: Any words of advice to aspiring writers for keeping the hope alive?

EJW: 1. Completing a manuscript is the hardest part. Most writers come up with a lot of ideas, but ‘finishing’ and following through with a story is the key. You will have to revise a lot during and after, but if you don’t have anything to revise…keep going! 2. Put your work out there (contests, submissions, critique groups, etc.) for others to see. You can get feedback that will help push you along in the right direction. 3. Everyone has an opinion and you can’t please everyone. So, spend your time wisely and make sure you love your work first. 4. Get connected with other writers!

BH: Thank you so much, Ebony, for sharing your books and your advice on writing. I look forward to reading your next book!

For hands-down one of the best author websites I’ve seen, visit Ebony’s by clicking here.

Also, Ebony welcomes emails! – ebony@ebonyjoywilkins.com

NiFtY Author Caragh O’Brien

A few weeks ago, I read this excellent book. The first couple of chapters, though, were pure torture, and not for the reasons you might think. The eerie coincidences between the first chapter of this book, Birthmarked, and the first chapter of my own manuscript were so similar it was sickening. (To read my review, click here.)

After I got over my nausea, I really got into the story. Caragh O’Brien has crafted an excellent tale, and in the interview below, she’ll tell us a little about it, and a little about her writing in general.

Interview with Caragh M. O’Brien March 3, 2011

BH: We have a really exciting sequel to look forward to in November, but in the meantime, can you tell us a little bit about Birthmarked here (for those in our audience who haven’t already read my review)?

COB:  Sure.  Let me first say thanks, Beth, for inviting me by.  Your review made me laugh so much when I first read it.  I was completely drawn to your honesty and the awful coincidences between our books.  Birthmarked is the story of Gaia, a teen midwife who is compelled to “advance” babies into a privileged society within a walled city.  In a dystopian future after climate change, Gaia’s society is divided by the wall into haves and have-nots.  Justice is uncompromising, and Gaia spends much of the book trying to save her parents from the Enclave.  It’s a pretty dark, twisted, fun book.

BH: Tell us a little about your path to publication.

COB:  Starting when?  Ha.  The short version is that I wrote a lot, quit to become a teacher, started writing again because I couldn’t help it, and then wrote Birthmarked while I was on a leave of absence from teaching.  I sent out forty-five email queries to agents, received four offers of representation, and ended up with Kirby Kim of William Morris Endeavor.  He sent out the book, and a month later we had three offers.  The best was a three-book deal with Nancy Mercado at Roaring Brook, and I was delighted.

BH: When you wrote Birthmarked, did you plan to create a series?

COB:  No.  I thought Birthmarked was a stand-alone.  When Nan offered me a three-book deal, I discovered it was a trilogy.

BH: Your blog post about Birthmarked being translated and published in Spain is truly inspiring (click here to read it)—even more amazing is that you got to meet Eva Rubio, the woman whose blog and Facebook page started the fire. What can other writers learn from your experience here?

COB: It was such an unusual situation, and I was so fortunate to meet Eva and her friends in Salamanca.  It isn’t the sort of thing I could have ever prepared for.  I suppose it helped that I sometimes do a Google search for my book, and when reviews turn up in other languages, I’m willing to push that translate button to see what’s there.  As you know, I’ll sometimes write to express my thanks to a blogger who posts an outstanding review, and that follows for overseas bloggers, too.  I am genuinely grateful for the kind reviews Birthmarked has received.

BH: What other project ideas do you hope to pursue after the Birthmarked series is finished? (Um, not too many details please…although, what are the chances we’d have another duplicate Agnes birth scene?)

COB:  We are doomed to write identical books no matter what we do, Beth.  I’m pondering three different ideas, all YA, but they’re inchoate at this stage.  I need to finish up a solid draft of Book 3 before I can let my mind go play in a new place.

BH: What does your workspace look like?

Gerbils!

COB:  I have a MacBook on my lap.  Sometimes I sit on the plaid couch in the library where I can see the gerbils, and sometimes I sit on the brown couch in the living room where I can see the slope of the yard.

BH: What is your favorite book on the craft of writing?

COB:  I learned from Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. Other than that, I read a lot of fiction so really everything is a lesson in craft.

BH: What is the best writing advice anyone has given you?

COB:  I’ve been thinking about this lately, actually.  The most important writing advice I received was from Ed Epping, an Art teacher at Williams college, when he told me “Paint only what is interesting to you.”  It freed me.  It redefined what art was supposed to be.  I never again had to waste time on what I thought was unimportant, or if I did, I understood it was an assignment for someone else, not for me.  I can still do boring work for others if I must, but there’s no room for it in my own writing, ever.  On a practical writing level, this means I skip any sentence, paragraph, scene or book that doesn’t interest me.

Thanks again, Beth, for having me by, and good luck with your own writing.

BH: Caragh, thanks for visiting, and for laughing at the sad coincidences between our books. Now that I’m not throwing up about it anymore, I can laugh with you!

To visit Caragh’s website, click here. To check out Birthmarked on Amazon, click here.