NiFtY Author: Elizabeth Kolodziej

Gods, witches, werewolves, and…vampires! Timed just right for Halloween weekend, I give you a NiFtY Interview with Elizabeth Kolodziej, author of Vampyre Kisses.

BH: What’s your one-paragraph pitch for your novel, Vampyre Kisses?

EK: Vampyre Kisses is an enthralling story about a young woman, Faith, who meets a 400-year-old vampire named Trent. It isn’t long before Faith learns that she herself is a witch with a long family history. After finding out that Trent is a vampire along with being a terrific kisser he helps her find a way to take control of her powers. Soon powerful gems are stolen from the werewolf royalty and vampire master and they must be found. The reader will take a journey through a new kind of universe that is full of gods, vampires, witches and werewolves.

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

EK: Well, I did try to go the traditional route, but I didn’t have any agents that wanted to take my story on. After awhile I decided to self publish my book. I truly believe that the book is great and with good marketing on my part I can get a wide range of people interested in it. I have readers all over the USA along with readers in the UK, Spain, and India. But I would warn anyone thinking of self-publishing that it is not easy. It takes you putting in your own money, lots of time, and being very open minded to do well.

BH: Okay, your bio saying that you’re a “young fiction writer” begs the rather rude question: how old are you? “Young” could be twelve or eighty-five, depending on perspective.

EK: hehe. I haven’t gotten this question yet! To be honest, I am a little over 90. Haha. J/K. Actually I am 25, which is young. I don’t care what anyone says!

BH: How long have you been writing fiction?

EK: I don’t remember the exact age I began, but I have been writing since I was around 8. I would read books on whales and then write research papers on them. I did this for fun; yes I was a nerd and still am. I wrote a few short stories when I was around 10 that were fiction. When I was 13 I began my first book but I never completed it though I was pretty much at the end of it.

I have always been the imaginative type though. I like to make up fantasies in my head. It actually really helps my writing because I can see the character in my head and the gestures that they make.

BH: I read on your website that Vampyre Kisses is the first in a planned series. How many books do you have planned? Have you outlined them all, or do you have a more general vision of the series?

EK: Right now I am almost half way through the second book. It is going to be called something like Lupine Secrets or Lupine Seductions. I haven’t decided yet. This book is outlines. For the third book I have an idea of what I want to do but nothing on paper yet. I think I could get a good five books or more out of this series. I have many ideas going on in my head when it comes to these characters.

BH: Faith is described as a girl who is mostly content but craves excitement. What sets her apart from the average young woman?

EK: Faith is a young adult in her early twenties and truthfully, I wanted Faith to be not average but just a regular person with a working job and dreams. When she finds out that she is a witch is when she starts having to learn and grow up quickly. What may make her unique is how she easily embraces the supernatural world she is thrust into. I find that it is easy for her because a part of her as been searching for where she belongs, for her witch side to be let out. I really hope that is apparent to readers in the book.

BH: The model wearing the Vampyre Kisses T-Shirt on your website is obviously not you. Any clues to the mystery man’s identity?

EK: I guess I can let that cat out of the bag. The mystery man is my muse. He is the one who would comfort me during my most depressing writers block and help me by letting me bounce ideas off of him. My number one cheerleader and someone who without, this book might not be written the way that is.

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

EK: I would say one of my favs is the book, Book in a Month by Victoria Lynn Schmidt. I am very big on organization and this book offered me this. That book or The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell. I think that book is just fantastic in what it can teach you with such few words.

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

EK: The best advice I ever got was from my professors at George Mason University who told me that to write a good book one must read many books, even the ones you don’t think you’ll like. This proved to be very correct. Even reading Milton’s Paradise Lost, which was the most difficult thing ever, really showed me other ways to make descriptions and connect with my own characters.

BH: Thank you, Elizabeth, for answering my questions and sharing your book, as well as your thoughts on the writing life!

Want more? You can visit Elizabeth on her website, as well as Facebook and Twitter (see below)…and if you’d like some vampire along with your Halloween, websites where you can purchase Vampyre Kisses are listed below as well.

Publisher’s Website: http://bit.ly/9aYtXo

Barnes and Noble: http://bit.ly/dpJsLC

Amazon: http://amzn.to/byci6O

Kindle: http://amzn.to/bMzSKN

Facebook.com/kweenkitten

Twitter.com/ejkolodziej

NiFtY Author: Matt Coonfield

I have a very special NiFtY Author Interview for you today, featuring one of my favorite people in the world: my little brother. He hasn’t always been my favorite person. There was this time once when we were playing Legos and he was obviously wrong about something, and we weren’t very good friends right then…but I digress.

Here’s his interview. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll throw tomatoes and have to clean off your computer screen. Good luck with that.

BH: What’s your one-paragraph pitch for your work-in-progress?

MC: I don’t want to give away too much. I am actually quite paranoid. The short version is a young man named Ray starts a civil war in the ghost world in an odd and adventurous way.

BH: What was the biggest challenge in finishing your first draft?

MC: Honestly my biggest challenge has always been me. I am a big lazy hurdle that I just can’t jump. I don’t like to write when it is hard, when I have to grind it out. Generally I only like to write when it is flowing. Anyone who writes knows what I am talking about. When you can churn out twenty pages a day and the only reason you stop is fear of carpal tunnel. When your thoughts are practically jumping on to the paper for you. That is when I like to write. When this doesn’t happen I start a new book. Oddly I have never finished one until now.

BH: Can you compare Ray, the main character in your work-in-progress, to anyone you know in real life?

MC: I guess parts of him are me of course or parts of me if that makes sense. I’m not schizo or anything but I like to pretend I am Jared from The Pretender. I have hidden Matt compartments that I draw from and one of them happens to be a teenage ghost-hunting ghost, conveniently enough.

BH: I understand you’re working closely with somebody else on this project. What is his role in your project?

MC: As I mentioned earlier I am notoriously lazy when it comes to writing. My partner’s name is Don and he is basically my dentist. That is to say he pulls teeth. We have only been working together a short time and I am considering buying another cell phone and not giving him the number. Other than that he does all the things I hate: paperwork, typing, forms, queries. Once he offered to paint my garage if I promised to write more.

BH: What is your experience like, working with another person? What are the pros and cons of this arrangement?

MC: Well Don can be quite persistent sometimes calling me four or five times a day. I had to get used to it at first but we’ve come to an understanding now. He has given me 100 percent artistic say so, which was a condition when we first started, but even then sometimes he feels adamant about something and I hate to put my foot down too much. There is one scene in particular in the book that he wrote and it makes me leery but I have let it go so far.

BH: One of the things about your writing that impresses me is all the crazy ideas you come up with—ideas that you can make work. Where do you get your ideas and inspiration?

MC: Well… My faith is definitely an inspiration to me. Really I don’t think I could write without the Bible. Not that my stories are Christian but the right and wrongs for me come straight from the source. After that I steal them. I guess it sounds weird to say that right after my Jesus plug but it is honestly what happens. I always read things, good and bad, and I can see the improvements that need to happen. I see a tweak that if the author had seen could have changed his whole piece for the better. When I find those tweaks early enough in a book or combine them with other tweaks I get really excited about what I can do with it and when I get excited….

BH: What is your writing schedule like?

MC:  I try to fit it in between reading and Pokemon but too often I am forced to combine two of the three to make up for time.

BH: How has your writing changed—either the scheduling or the experience itself—after becoming a father?

MC: My scheduling has definitely become more intense. The very reason I had agreed to work with my coauthor in the first place is money. I need it. I can’t sell a book if I don’t finish one so I brought on Don to help me finish my books. The experience hasn’t changed in the least, I just have a deeper well to draw from.

BH: What does your writing workspace look like?

MC: My writing workspace looks suspiciously like the cab of a Nissan Frontier. Much to the chagrin of my typist most of my good ideas come when I should be paying attention to the road. This makes for some very peculiar handwriting and possibly the next unfinished series. We all know how well it worked out for the Canterbury Tales. Don’t judge me.

BH: Just remind me to avoid the road when inspiration hits. What is your favorite book on the craft of writing?

MC: A notebook.

Beth and Matt Read Catching Fire

BH: You told me recently that Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games is not your favorite book, but it made it into your “top ten.” What is your Top Ten?

MC: The Bible, X-Men, Dracula, Death in the Long Grass, The Night the Bear Ate Goomba, Yvain, Harry Potter, Hunger Games, The Great Divorce, God’s Grandeur.

BH: Twilight didn’t make it into your Top Ten, but we both admit we enjoyed it. What, exactly, is so compelling about that Twilight series? Why are these books so popular, in your opinion?

MC: Stephenie did something real special and it took her like a whole month. She tapped into something that was important to young women and made it interesting to young men. She took elements of comic books (which is why it translated so well to graphic novel), Fabio, and Mythology and made it her own. She didn’t follow rules, and she didn’t heed the pressure to omit her beliefs, i.e. her morals. I don’t think it was the best writing in the world but I loved it and I respect what she did… except for the huge let down in the end. That pissed me off but since the plot was ripped off another story what can you say?

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

MC: Write down what you are feeling now matter how silly it sounds. It will make sense to everyone.

BH: Why do you want to be published?

MC: I would like to be superficial and say it is to finance my laziness but the truth is I want to be able to talk about it with someone, someone who liked what I wrote and who wants to talk with me about it.

BH: Who is your real-life writing role model? [Hint: the answer should be someone you grew up with. Who maybe lived down the hall from you. She had a pink room for a few years. And a cat named Apricot.]

MC: C.S. Lewis, Stan Lee, and Patrick F. McManus. I hate to admit but my sister’s love for all things academic never made sense to me as a child. I get it now and all those years may have rubbed off on me a bit.

BH: Eh, that’s practically saying that your sister taught you everything you know. Any words or advice to other writers for keeping the hope alive?

MC: Give up. The market is closed. You can’t do it.

BH: Hmm. Yep, that’s my brother.

Thanks, Matt, for the fun interview!

Script-Side Friday

Short version: still revising Savage Autumn. I feel kinda like Mr. Mutant-Potato Head up there.

Long version….

Either I talk about my writing too much, or I don’t have much of a life otherwise (probably both), but the first words out of my friends’ mouths (after the generic hellos how are yous are out of the way) are: “How’s the writing going?”

I know I get all animated when I talk about writing. My writing, or anybody else’s, or the publishing world in general. It’s fascinating to me. And I’m not always good about pretending the same level of interest in anything else. There is probably a personality disorder out there to describe this.

Anyway. Long intro. Moving on. What’s going on with my manuscript?

For awhile there it was in mortal peril. I joined a critique group that had one member hating on my manuscript. Her points were fantastic and helpful, actually, but the delivery could have used some work. She’s not in the group anymore, but I needed about a week to nurse my ego and think about the characters and manuscript. Her comments, and the feedback from other group members, has inspired some rewrites and revisions.

Two other current critique partners have swapped manuscripts with me, and their comments have also been crucial. The whole experience reinforces that whole “writing is not a solitary effort” mumbo jumbo that you read at the beginning of acknowledgments pages (I read those. I really do).

Many of these writer friends have read more than one version of the same scene. All of them have been  spectacular in putting up with my indecisiveness, my questions, and my sometimes bitchy sensitivity.

Because Savage Autumn is nowhere near publication, and I read acknowledgments pages all the time, here is an toast to my critique partners and writing group friends:

Thank you to Seven, Jo, Pam, Seth, Robin, Helen, Mark, Jeri, Kary, Pat, Margaret, Cheryl, Theresa, and Colleen. And another thank you to my friends and family who have read the manuscript in its parts or entirety – whether you’ve given me feedback or not. Finally, thank you to the friends and family who haven’t read the manuscript but continually ask me how it’s going.

Total, abrupt subject change….

Update on next-door dogs: Yappy #3 lingers. Barks. Lingers.

Barks.

Not My Daughter, You Bitch! (Swearing in YA Lit)

So I’m jumping on this subject bandwagon pretty late. I spoke with literary agent Mary Kole about this issue at a conference in April, and apparently it was a popular topic, because she wrote a blog about it. Because so many people feel strongly about this issue, I figure I may as well use my platform and voice my opinion. This is my website, after all. What would it be without a spewing forth of Beth’s Opinions?

When I think of “bad” words in young adult literature, so many things come to mind. There’s the famous line from the last Harry Potter book (see title above) that shocked Potter fans. In this case I think the word was so shocking because the series started out as a middle-grade series, and then matured along with the characters. Who would even imagine reading the word “bitch” in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone? Another reason for the shock factor: Rowling’s books had so little profanity in even the later books, and this says something for her skill as a writer. Voldemort didn’t need to drop an F-bomb to cement his villainy because he was so evidently evil in reputation and action. Ron used the word “bloody” on occasion, but this barely registered with American readers. Uncle Vernon said something about “effing owls” once. So the “bitch” in the final book was so unexpected. It didn’t really fit. I can see why Mrs. Weasley would be driven to use it, but if I’d written the book, I’d be super-rich and would have invested some time in finding an alternative.

I don’t have a single problem with profanity in young adult literature. I wouldn’t necessarily let f-bombs explode all over the place in my own manuscript, but they didn’t stop me from reading Lisa McMann’s Wake series. Cursing sounds pretty natural amongst the young adult set. Not all of them, mind you. (Although I admit surprise to some of the things I saw on former students’ facebook posts. Not all are as innocent as they seem. Frightening for me, as a mother.)

My own manuscript had exactly four f-words for awhile, and they didn’t bother me spaced out and spoken by college-aged characters. When I did some snipping (okay, I lopped off the first 50 pages) and had to move some conversations around, all of a sudden three of those f-words appeared in the first chapter.

Not the sort of set-up I had in mind. I don’t expect every book to have universal appeal, but I knew that three f-words in the first chapter would turn a lot of people (parents especially, who often buy the books) off. With some ideas from a critique partner I was able to change two of them. The other one is just too natural to the character speaking, I am convinced no other word will do.

And that’s when a swear word belongs in your manuscript. When it’s true to the character and no other word will do.

Keeping Ahead of Trends in YA Lit

Weekend Writing Special

You’ve finished the first draft of your young adult manuscript. It’s new! It’s got a great hook! Nobody has done anything like this before! It’s a reality-television-show-to-the-death featuring vampire-esque aliens. You imagine literary agents begging, no, clamoring, for your manuscript. Your idea is The Newest Thing.

Until, a few weeks later as you’re hard at work on revisions, all of a sudden everyone has done this. And their books are being published Right Now. That author of Twilight (whose name I keep forgetting) does a horror reality television show novel. Suzanne Collins has something with alien-vampires. J. K. Rowling creates a Harry Potter spin-off featuring vampires who run a television series about aliens.

My personal experience with this is not nearly as extreme or ridiculous. I had this idea for a future, post-apocalyptic setting for a novel, and I dove (dived?) right in. Minutes later, I read The Hunger Games. Then The Forest of Hands and Teeth. Then, while reading Publishers Lunch from Publishers Marketplace, I found two other post-apocalyptic YA trilogies due out in a year. How can I compete with that?

I can’t. Not as far as the general idea goes. No one can. In a lot of ways, we are all tuned into the collective unconscious. We read many of the same books, watch the same movies and television shows, hear the same news stories, and on and on. My hook has to be more than “post-apocalyptic” etcetera and so forth. An intriguing story idea can do a lot…

…but an awesome character does so much more.

An author friend of mine was worried about this a few months ago, as was I. We’d just finished revisions on our manuscripts (we thought) and we were ready to embark on our new projects. “I’m thinking vampires,” she said. “But it’s been done, you know?”

I did know. I wrote one. And then I told her something I should pay attention to myself: if the characters are memorable and compelling, it doesn’t matter what the setting is, or what creatures they are. Vampires, werewolves, telepathic fairy-kin, selkies, were-amoebas. After all, we’ve read contemporary fiction featuring regular old humans for…hmmm…just about forever. Humans? Regular people? In a regular setting? How boring…not. Most of Sarah Dessen’s books feature teenage girls in the same little town in North Carolina. I’ve read every single one of them because her characters are fabulous.

So it’s not just another vampire book, or another post-apocalyptic zombie book, or another (sigh) werewolf book. It’s a real story featuring a compelling character who deals with an intriguing, gripping conflict. You don’t need to keep ahead of trends, or even worry about them, if you’re writing what you love and focusing on your own unique characters.

First Sentences in YA Lit

Here are 30 first sentences. Do you know the books they go to? If you know what I’ve been reading lately you’ll have an advantage, but I threw a few old favorites in just to keep you guessing. Um, obviously if the suspense is killing you it’s easy enough to find the answers online (which is why this isn’t a contest, just an excuse to use the information from my first-line notebook). I’ll post the authors & book titles on Monday.

The interesting part of this exercise is the discovery that some first lines are definite hooks. I know which ones I think are amazing, and I know which ones, well, aren’t. And there are a few that are not winning first sentences, but if you stick around for the rest of the paragraph–Wow (I’m thinking specifically of #17 when I write this).

Take a guess if you feel like it, or just enjoy!

1. We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.

2. It was a dark and stormy night.

3. I remember lying in the snow, a small red spot of warm going cold, surrounded by wolves.

4. When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.

5. I don’t believe in ghosts.

6. The tree woman choked on poison, the slow sap of her blood burning.

7. Chauncey was with a farmer’s daughter on the grassy banks of the Loire River when the storm rolled in, and having let his gelding wander in the meadow, was left to his own two feet to carry him back to the chateau.

8. Blood fills my mouth.

9. In these dungeons the darkness was complete, but Katsa had a map in her mind.

10. Her parents were going to kill her for this.

11. Just when I thought my day couldn’t get any worse I saw the dead guy standing next to my locker.

12. On the day Claire became a member of the Glass House, somebody stole her laundry.

13. Mommy forgot to warn the new babysitter about the basement.

14. Janie Hannagan’s math book slips from her fingers.

15. Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.

16. “Please tell me that’s not going to be part of my birthday dinner this evening.”

17. There were only two kinds of people in our town.

18. Around midnight, her eyes at last took shape.

19. Torrential rain was pouring the afternoon Rebecca Brown arrived in New Orleans.

20. Dad had Uncle Eddie round, so naturally they had to come and see what I was up to.

21. It didn’t take Phoebe long to figure out Jeremy wasn’t coming back for her.

22. “Guess who?”

23. Someone was looking at me, a disturbing sensation if you’re dead. 

24. Some things start before other things.

25. Flames shot high, turning the night lurid with carnival light.

26. Everyone’s seen my mother naked. 

27. Jason was going to Brain Camp. 

28. I’d never given much thought to how I would die – though I’d had reason enough in the last few months – but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this.

29. My mother used to tell me about the ocean. 

30. There are these bizarre people who actually like physical education class.

Author Friends: I’d love to read your first sentences, too! Post them below.

Black Magic Sanction by Kim Harrison

The first book of Kim Harrison’s I read was Every Which Way But Dead. And I was blown away. Like Kelley Armstrong, Kim Harrison was one of the first women in the horror genre to actually get my attention. Yeah, Laurell K. Hamilton got my attention too, but the first book of hers I picked up was Cerulean Sins, and it got my attention more in the way a train wreck gets a person’s attention. Or, perhaps more accurately, in the way unexpected and distasteful pornography gets a person’s attention.

Kim Harrison made urban fantasy cool. Her world is so real, from the descriptions of all the Inderlanders (nonhumans) mingling with the humans, to the church her main character, Rachel, lives in, to the very idioms used by her characters. It’s such a thoroughly written setting that I feel like I could live there. Black Magic Sanction keeps the world alive. The characters, the creatures, everything is there.

***weak spoiler here…close your eyes, D-Chan***

Holy. Elf. Can you believe she makes herself pixy-sized and gets to see the inside of Jenks’s house/stump? I would read the whole book again just for that one description. This is where Harrison absolutely impresses me, because I never would have even explored the idea of going inside the pixy stump. I mean, Rachel is a human (well, a witch, but human-sized. You know what I mean), and way too big. But in this novel she has to get inside, for reasons I won’t divulge, and wow.

***spoiler over…you can open your eyes now***

The only problem I had with Black Magic Sanction was the issue most longer series get into: too many characters. There are so many memorable people in Rachel’s world, and that mirrors life exactly, because we all interact with many people on a daily or weekly basis (unless we are introverts who finally get our wishes and just get to stay home for a few days. Without toddlers. But I digress). This is where literature should not mirror life, and Black Magic Sanction could have benefited from a smaller cast of characters.

I keep waiting to read a Kim Harrison book in which Rachel has simply gone too far in her journey, where she’s hit the limit of her character growth and there’s nowhere else for Harrison to take her (again, not trying to rip on LKH, but see what Anita Blake is doing? If you do, you’ll understand why I get a little skittish once a series gets past book 5 or 6).

That hasn’t happened yet. Rachel is still learning and growing, and I’m thrilled to watch it all happen.

For Kim Harrison’s blog, click here. For her website, click here.