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: Mike Orenduff

Joining us today is NiFtY (Not Famous…Yet) author Mike Orenduff, creator of the Pot Thief mystery series. His first book, The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras, won the Epic eBook Award for 2010, and The Pot Thief Who Studied Ptolemy is up for the award this year…we’ll know soon if it wins!

BH: What’s your one-paragraph pitch for the latest novel in your Pot Thief mystery series, The Pot Thief Who Studied Escoffier?

MO:  Against his better judgment, Hubie agrees to design, throw, and fire chargers for a soon-to-open Austrian restaurant in Santa Fe. The $20,000 fee probably had something to do with his decision. But when one of the workers winds up dead in the back of Hubie’s old Bronco, he wants to take his edelweiss design home and not come back. His entry into the high stakes game of upscale dining turns even more dangerous when the coroner discovers that the poison that killed the cook was one of Hubie’s glazing compounds.

BH: When you wrote the first novel, The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras, did you plan to create a series mystery?

MO: Yes. Mystery readers love series. I know because I’m a fan myself, and there is nothing worse than finding a mystery you love then discovering there are no more books from that author to read.

BH: I agree! Do you have a “series bible,” or some sort of record of facts so that you can keep details straight among (and within) the different novels?

MO: I do, and it comes in handy. I had Hubie twenty pounds heavier in Escoffier than he was in Pythagoras until I looked in the “bible” and saw my mistake. If I hadn’t caught it, maybe I could have just claimed he gained weight?

BH: Hubert Schuze is a thief, but he is also the protagonist, so you want the reader to like him and maybe even identify with him. How did you go about making him into a sympathetic character?

MO:  I try to make his rationalizations of what he does interesting and funny. And I show the good side of his character in other ways. Except for comic books, protagonists have flaws.

BH: Can you tell us about your path to your first publishing contract?

MO:  Long and winding, but then that is probably true of most writers. I tried querying those publishers who were accepting queries. I also queried agents, which are about as difficult to get as publishers. I finally found an agent who was excited about my work and signed on. Then she suggested I enter contests to get my name out there. I won the Dark Oak contest with The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras. The prize was a publication contract. I hope the judges who selected my work are pleased that the book has since won the “Eppie” for the best eBook Mystery of the Year and the New Mexico Book of the Year.

BH: What does your workspace look like? Do you collect antique pots?

MO: If I posted a picture of my workspace, my wife might file for divorce. It is a mess on one wall of the kitchen, and I am under orders to relocate. Except for those on the New York Times Best Seller List, writers don’t make enough money to collect antique pots.

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

MO: I have never read a book on writing. I have nothing against them, and I imagine there are some that people find helpful. I prefer to observe the craft rather than read about it.

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

MO: My dissertation advisor, Dr. Harold Lee, told me not to fret about the opening of a book because you’ll never get started if you keep trying to make the start perfect. “Just start writing,” he said, “and keep writing until you finish the last chapter. Then go back to the first chapter and throw it out.” And that’s exactly what I do.

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

MO: If you have a passion for writing, that should be enough to keep you going. And if you keep going, you keep alive the possibility of that break we all dream about.

BH: Thank you, Mike, for sharing your insights into your writing and your books with us today, and best of luck with the EPIC Award! For more about Mike Orenduff, you can visit his website by clicking here!

NiFtY Author: Elaine Cantrell

Today’s NiFtY (Not Famous…Yet) Author is Elaine Cantrell, an award-winning romance novelist. Join us as we learn a little about her life and her writing.

BH: Tell us a little about your latest book, Return Engagement.

EC: I’d love to!  Return Engagement is the book I wanted to write for a long time before I actually sat down at the computer to do it.  I thought about my characters so long and so hard that I once called my husband Richard (the hero in Return Engagement) which he didn’t like too much.

The book is centered around the idea ‘what might have been.”  I think most people have looked back in their lives and wondered how things would be different if they had made different choices; I know I have.  Richard and Elizabeth met when he was seventeen and she was twenty two.  They fell in love, but Richard’s father the powerful senator Henry Lovinggood broke them up.  He didn’t think Elizabeth was good enough for Richard whom the senator plans to make the president one day.

Ten years after their breakup Richard and Elizabeth meet by accident on a California beach and find that their feelings for each other haven’t changed.  When they decide to rekindle their relationship, they find that Senator Lovinggood isn’t their only problem.  There are others who wish them deadly harm.

BH:  Ooh. Sounds good! You’ve published six books, am I right? Are they all romances? Which one is your favorite?

EC: Yes, they’re all romances, and my favorite one is always the one I’m working on at the moment.  If I had to pick just one I’d pick Return Engagement, mostly because I love that Richard so much.  I also like the book about Elizabeth Lane’s cousin Nikki.  That book The Best Selling Toy Of The Season is set at Christmas time and is available at http://www.midnightshowcase.com.

That’s an interesting thing too.  My husband couldn’t stand Richard, and I’ve gotten some reviews where the reviewer praised the book and called it a page turner, saying how filled with conflict and clever plot twists it was.  The reviewer then went on to say that she didn’t like the characters.  I guess I don’t understand that.  If she couldn’t put the book down because she had to know what happened next, why didn’t she like my characters?

Romantic Times Magazine liked the book just fine, though.  They gave the book a 4.5 which means it’s a keeper, and they said, “This touching story is beautifully written and explores the emotions involved when two people who love each other are influenced by outside forces and their own doubts.  Each character is fully developed, and the plot is filled with interesting twists.”

BH: You’re the first romance writer I’ve interviewed. What are some of the joys of writing romance? Are there any aspects of the genre that you don’t like?

EC: The joys are the same as for any other genre I think.  Authors get to create worlds of their own choosing, and things always turn out the way you think they should.  The negative part is that sometimes the characters are stereotypical and flat.  Hmm.  That’s probably why that reviewer didn’t like my characters.  I made them into real people who have warts and make mistakes.  They’re anything but stereotypical.

BH: Which of your characters would you say is the most like you?

EC: I give most of my characters the personality traits I’d like to have myself, so none of them are necessarily like me.  The one I’m most like is Betsy McLaughlin my heroine in A New Leaf.  A New Leaf was the winner of the 2003 Timeless Love contest which thrilled my heart more than you can imagine.  Betsy’s an ordinary girl who makes some life-changing mistakes, but instead of whining about things she does the best she can with the hand she’s been dealt.  I’d like to think that describes me too.

BH: What other literary projects do you have in the works? Can you tell us about a work-in-progress?

EC: My work-in-progress is a sci fi/ fantasy novel which is untitled at the moment.  I’ve had to lay it aside for the moment because I’d doing edits for a new book that’s coming out in June of 2011.  The book is tentatively titled Jilted!, and it’ll be published by Lachesis Publishing.

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

EC:  It all started when my son wrote a book.  I was so overwhelmed with pride!  I’d always wanted to write a book, but I didn’t think I could.  I decided to give it a try when he told me that he had always made up stories in his head to amuse himself, and he thought he might as well write them down.  Glory be!  I had always done that too.  I wrote that book in record time, but nobody liked it.  My husband didn’t want the hero to be crippled, and my friend said that my heroine who was a good girl wasn’t as interesting as a bad girl would be.

So, I started another book, A New Leaf.  At the last minute I submitted the book to a small publisher who sponsored the Timeless Love contest.  The prize was publication of your book.  To my great and utter surprise, I won the contest, and A New Leaf was published the following year.

BH: Sounds like a dream come true! What does your workspace look like?

EC: Right now I’m sitting in my living room and writing on my laptop because the computer in my study crashed and died.  My husband bought me a new computer for Christmas so we’re going to redo the study and put in a glass table that stretches from one end of the room to the other.  Then my husband and I will both put our computers on the desk and sit side by side.  We’ll cover the wall behind us in bookshelves and leave space for a TV.

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

EC: I’m ashamed to say that I don’t have one.  I could use the help as much as anyone, but there aren’t enough hours in the day as it is.  If I do read one, Stephen King has something out which my son says is very good.

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

EC: Don’t give up.  I think the major difference between published and unpublished authors is that the published authors didn’t give up.

BH: Thank you, Elaine, for answering my questions and sharing your thoughts and your books with us!

Want more of Elaine Cantrell? Visit her website here, and her blog here. Also, here’s her Facebook page, and a link to buy Return Engagement.

Beth’s Book of Pretty Girls by Beth

This is my 100th blog post, so let’s celebrate with an extra-special book review. This book is currently out of print, so I spoke with the publisher and she told me she didn’t mind my posting the book in its entirety on my website.

As I am the author of the book, I agreed to be interviewed by an anonymous, sympathetic interviewer who we will all agree to pretend is not me. Suspension of disbelief, people!

ASI (Anonymous, Sympathetic Interviewer): Beth, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Tell us about your book, “Beth’s Book of Pretty Girls (Written by Beth).”

Beth: It’s the product of an afternoon spent at my grandparents’ house. As a young girl, I was inspired by beautiful, strong women wearing sagging tube dresses. Cats and flowers figured largely into my fantasies as well, as you can see from the first page of the book. (shown below)

ASI: Could you tell us a little bit about the “NO” and arrow pointing to the cover image’s…skirt?

Beth: Well, as I was illustrating the cover, I realized my readers would most likely appreciate a non-example of what my book was about (i.e. an ugly girl). However, the title clearly says “…Pretty Girls” so I needed to succinctly indicate that the cover girl is indeed not pretty. [Truth: I was trying to draw a pretty girl, failed, but had already written out the title. As I was creating this masterpiece in ink, there was nothing to do but make sure the audience knew that I knew that the ugly girl on the cover was a mistake.]

ASI: I’m not sure how to put this delicately, but I notice there is a large number of typographical errors in this story.

Beth: Yes, my editors worked only part-time, and only when requested. For example, I recall asking for the spelling of “girls” for the cover page. At the time of writing, I couldn’t be bothered to ask for the spelling on subsequent pages, nor did I think to refer to the cover. Perhaps the cover had already gone into production and was unavailable; the details are fuzzy on this.

ASI: How old were you when this book was published?

Beth: I think I was five. Possibly six, although I’m pretty sure I knew how to spell “girl” by the time I reached first grade.

ASI: Have people likened your child genius-ness to other young authors such as Christopher Paolini and Hannah Moskowitz?

Beth: Not yet, but I think with the recent publicity of this book, “Beth’s Book of Pretty Girls (Written by Beth),” they will soon.

ASI: Even though you’re, um…no longer young?

Beth: I thought you were supposed to be a sympathetic interviewer?

ASI: Right. Tell us about page 2 of your book.

Beth: I didn’t want to limit my audience by focusing only on flower princesses. By adding the castle princess to the story, I feel I really moved out of a niche market and into a wider audience.

ASI: Any comments on those Edward Scissorhands-ian fingers?

Beth: Hands are difficult to draw. I was on a deadline. And long, pointy fingernails were all the rage in 1986.

ASI: Do you think the waistline of this figure sets up unreasonable body shape expectations for young girls?

Beth: I suppose you could ask the same question of Barbie and every single Disney princess. I think everyone should instead focus on her poofy sleeves.

ASI: The paper medium you utilized for this project is very unique.

Beth: Yes, printing costs were up, so I made do with scratch paper from a library’s card catalog. (Click here for a Wikipedia entry on what a card catalog is, you young whipper-snappers who’ve never heard of such a thing.) My maternal grandmother worked in a library for some years and kept us in good supply of scratch paper.

ASI: With the third page of your book, you really branched out.

Beth: Not wanting to limit my audience to princess-admirers, I included a rock-n-roll girl…complete with side ponytail and sticky-up bangs.

ASI: That’s amazing artwork. She’s wearing a sort of Disney Peter Pan dress.

Beth: That’s her cool mid-80s grunge rock dress.

ASI: Wasn’t grunge a 90s thing?

Beth: What’s the point of this interview exactly? I thought it was me, and my book.

ASI: Moving on to the last page of your book, we can see how you really experimented with textual and rhythmic forms.

Beth: I’m especially proud of my use of repetition as a literary device.

ASI: Let’s type out the text here to make sure all of our readers can catch it:

Pritty (girls) are very very Pritty.

Handsome boy’s are very very Handsome.

do you need a doll or do you Need a Boll.

two frot’s are moore fun then one [note: “frot’s” should be “fruits”]

Beth: I should confess that the last line was borrowed. From a commercial slogan, if I remember correctly.

ASI: Well, almost as amazing as the intelligence, insight, and industriousness of this book is the fact that you have remained the owner of the sole copy in existence for all these years.

Beth: I expect to start getting bids for the original any day now.

ASI: Well, folks, this is the only place you’ll find Beth’s Book of Pretty Girls (Written by Beth). Thanks for stopping by, Beth, and indulging my questions.

Beth: (gracefully, modestly, and looking ten pounds lighter) Any time. I’m happy to be here.