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.

NiFtY Author Yvonne Prinz

Joining us today is Yvonne Prinz, author of young adult books The Vinyl Princess and All You Get Is Me (reviewed here and here on my blog). As a reader, I loved the instant connection I had with Allie and Roar, the main characters in each book, and as a writer I was thrilled at how well Yvonne created their voices and told their stories. Anyway, no more blather, let’s hear from Yvonne herself!

BH: Your latest book, All You Get Is Me, is getting glowing reviews online. What seems to be the element people like most about the book?

YP: I’m surprised but it seems that most readers seem to like the romance aspect of the book the best. If you had told me that while I was writing it, I’d have laughed out loud but Forest and Roar have become readers’ favorite summer romance.

BH: Your first book, The Vinyl Princess, was also a huge success. What do you think makes Allie so appealing? I need to learn your secret, and so do a lot of other authors out there!

YP: Well, I wouldn’t call it a huge success but it seems to have taken on a life of its own. I think readers are drawn to Allie’s work life, her weird comfort zone, and her honesty about who she is in the world. Also, falling for the wrong guy is always an appealing topic because we’ve all done it.  I don’t know that I have a secret. I think getting the voice right is paramount in creating characters but I probably heard that from a publisher. Here’s a tip but it’s not a secret: If you fall in love with your own characters I think you’re probably on the right track.

BH: I absolutely loved the setting for All You Get Is Me. I kinda want to move to that organic farm. Is the farm based on someplace you know? Is there really a monastery nearby? Can you give us a map with driving directions, as well as real estate information?

YP: The farm is in a fictional town. I plucked bits from several locations in Northern California. The Monastery is in Marin County (outside San Francisco) and the farm is in a place sort of like Brentwood CA’s farm community (East of the City) but it’s much smaller. I’m pretty sure you can get a house there for a song as the developers grossly overestimated the amount of development that could be sustained and there’s a lot of new houses sitting empty. As for old, lovely farmhouses, I think you need to head to the Sebastopol and environs area.  I sort of based the house on some great old farms I’ve seen in that area.

BH: Are you working on something new at the moment, and if so, can you share anything about it?

YP: I’ve just finished a thriller that takes place in a Northern California seaside hamlet. It’s foggy and gloomy and a girl named Georgia loses her brother to a surfing accident. Shortly after the funeral, a very charismatic stranger arrives in town who seems to know a bit too much about her brother…(Cue scary music here)

BH: Ooh, sounds exciting! And huzzah for Northern California settings! What does your workspace look like?

YP: I can’t post a photo because I’m away from home right now but suffice to say, it’s your usual writerly chaos. My imaginary workspace is spectacular, however, and features a massive fireplace and a big sleeping dog at my feet. I think it might be in Colorado or Montana.

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

YP: I like Stephen King’s [On Writing] because it’s so easy to understand. I don’t write like him but he just makes sense.

Like me, he doesn’t think that there are any secrets involved. He’s a believer in hard work.

BH: I’m reading his book right now – so far I like what he has to say. Do you have any words or advice to aspiring writers for keeping the hope alive?

YP: Remember that publishing is a business and a rejection is only one person’s opinion of your work. Don’t take it personally.

Get out there and live. Get some great stories under your belt. Fall in love, get your heart broken, get in trouble, see the world. If you don’t have a book to write when you’re done at least you’ll be more interesting at cocktail parties.

BH: Thank you, Yvonne, for the interview. It has been a joy getting to know you and your books! Studio audience: for more on Yvonne, check out the links below. Also, I don’t know for sure, but Yvonne said she might be around to answer questions today in the comments section, so if you have any, feel free to ask!

links:

www.allyougetisme

www.thevinylprincess.com

www.caughtinthecarousel.com This is a website that the Vinyl Princess reviews music on.

Buy the Book:

http://www.amazon.com/Vinyl-Princess-Yvonne-Prinz/dp/B0046LUF4U/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1299180161&sr=1-1

Or visit your local Indie bookstore.

NiFtY Author Holli Castillo

Our NiFtY Author today is Holli Castillo, a writer and attorney who is the author of the Crescent City Mystery series. Californians take note: this is NOT the Crescent City up by the Oregon border, as I’d originally thought. Crescent City is also a nickname for New Orleans. Maybe everyone knows this except for me…but now I know, too. So there. Let’s move past my geographical ignorance and meet Holli Castillo! Not only has she created a great main character for her series, but she also has an inspiring publishing story to tell.

BH: What’s your one-paragraph pitch for Jambalaya Justice, the second book in your Crescent City Mystery series?

HC:  Jambalaya Justice is the follow up to Gumbo Justice, and once again follows New Orleans female prosecutor Ryan Murphy, this time as she involves herself in the investigation of a murdered hooker, Cherry.  Ryan has her own reasons for wanting Cherry’s murderer caught, and pushes the NOPD detective assigned to the case to solve the case.  When Cherry’s murder links to the unsolved murders of several other hookers, Ryan’s pursuit of the killer’s identity puts her in danger, especially since she’s hiding her involvement from her recently acquired homicide detective boyfriend, Shep.  On top of her extracurricular activities, Ryan also has her Strike Force cases to juggle, including the prosecution of a mobster murderer, a nasty domestic violence case, and the armed robbery of Big Who’s strip club.  And then there’s the home invader who’s off of probation and might be after her.  Just another typical week at the office for Ryan Murphy.  Set against the backdrop of pre-Katrina New Orleans, Jambalaya Justice is the second in Crescent City Mystery Series, which eventually follows Ryan through Hurricane Katrina and into the strange new world of post-Katrina New Orleans.  Jambalaya Justice will be available by this summer, 2011.

BH: The main character, Ryan Murphy, has a voice that definitely grabs me from the first chapter of Gumbo Justice (here’s a link for Chapter One): She’s sarcastic, intelligent, and at the same time, a little vulnerable. How did you go about creating her?

HC:  The sarcasm was the easy part, as I’m pretty sarcastic myself.  The intelligence I think is more knowledge based—she knows a lot about the law and she is definitely one of those over achievers that drove me crazy in school, so that element of her personality was easy to incorporate. The most difficult thing was probably making her vulnerable.  I’m the type of person who will let you know when you’ve done something to annoy me, but you’ll rarely hear me say anything about emotional things.  People attribute it to my German genes.  In any event, that was the most difficult part for me, trying to make Ryan so opposite from me as far as revealing her emotions.  I wanted to make her likeable, despite her flaws, so I had to look for opportunities where Ryan could show her natural vulnerability without making it too soap opera-ish. I spent a lot of time editing that part of her, trying to strike the right combination.

BH: How does your work as an attorney influence your writing?

HC:  My writing is based upon what I know, which is criminal law.  My cases give me constant inspiration for storylines and characters.  The legal aspect of Ryan’s job is easiest to write, because I still deal with the law and criminal procedure on pretty much a daily basis.  I had other jobs before I was a lawyer, and those also helped me build a foundation for some of the scenes in my novel.  I was a child support collector, a theater stage manager, bartender, waitress, and I worked my way through undergrad at a Can-Can show on Bourbon Street, all interesting jobs to have in New Orleans.  All of my past job experience will eventually find a home in one of the Crescent City Mysteries.

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

HC: Mine was a tortured path, and if nothing else it should give anyone about to give up hope that they may get published.  After I finished the novel, I queried agents.  I had bought books on how to write a query letter, worked on it until I thought it was perfect, and bought the Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market for that year, did what I thought was sufficient research, and sent out the queries.

No big surprise, I received a bunch of rejections.  Some were form rejections, but other had little notes on them.  I didn’t take this a positive sign, which I should have.  Handwritten notations mean some human being actually read my work and thought enough to explain to me why his or her company couldn’t offer me representation.  After what I thought was enough rejections, I signed up for an online novel writing course at Writer’s Digest.  Miki Hayden was my online instructor, and she gave me the best advice I have ever received.  The first thing she said, when I submitted my query, was that my manuscript of 160,000 was too long, and that most agents looking at my query letter wouldn’t read past that number.  I didn’t know an acceptable length of a novel from an unknown author.   I calculated the page numbers according to famous writers’ books, like Grisham, John Sandford, Tami Hoag, etc.  Of all of the books I had bought about querying and writing, not one of them said aim for 80,000 words.

Miki Hayden also offered some substantive advice, a few key things that I think made a huge difference.  I then edited, cut, brought the manuscript down to 85,000 words, and then re-read my rejections.  I noticed some said things like serial killers were not for them, or had underlined the word serial killers.  Some said the material was too dark for the publishers they worked with.  That made me realize I hadn’t done enough research in determining which agents were the most appropriate to submit my work to.  I had one agent, a pretty famous one who writes books on finding an agent, comment that my dialogue wasn’t believable.  That kind of stung, but I took it constructively and weeded through my dialogue to make it the best I possibly could.

Before I queried again, I did a more targeted search, this time looking at publishers.  I felt like I was at a disadvantage, because I had already sent my work out to the agents I thought were most likely to represent me, but it was too late to revisit that.  Before I queried, I bought a book from the publishing houses I was going to query, to see what type of stuff they actually published.  I queried a few more agents as well, and had a hit off an agent who said she was really interested.  I sent her the manuscript and waited, and before I heard back from her, Katrina hit, we evacuated, and for the next months I was too busy dealing with this new world I lived in to worry about Gumbo Justice.  That agent finally wrote to me and said she was not taking any new clients because of health issues.  I considered self-publishing, but had already decided if I ever went that route I would have to hire an editor, because I didn’t want to put my work out there without a professional weeding through it.  I wasn’t quite ready for that, and not long after that a publisher contacted via email off of a query I had previously submitted, and asked to read the novel.  We subsequently signed a contract, and right as we were discussing the best time to release my novel, summer of 2008, I was in a head-on collision with a drunk driver and was in a wheelchair for seven months, full of hardware, having surgeries, and eventually had to learn to walk again.  The whole thing put the publication date back, but one day short of a year from the accident, Gumbo Jumbo was released.  If that doesn’t give someone out there hope, nothing will.

BH: Wow, that’s amazing. What does your workspace look like?

Rin and Deaf Kitty - Holli doesn't talk about them in the interview, but they're cute enough to warrant a photo slot!

HC:  My workspace is my laptop.  I can work from anywhere, wherever and whenever I feel like it.  At home, I work on the living room coffee table, a desk in my office, my bed, my kitchen table, or the bar.  All I need is my computer, and since my last laptop crashed during the 2010 Superbowl (when my hometown Saints won), it has a flash drive next to it all times, so I can save my work each and every time I work on it.  My brother in law is a computer guy for FEMA, and although he was able to save all my work, it put me behind schedule with Jambalaya Justice.

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

HC: I tend to focus more on grammar and punctuation type books such as Eats, Shoots and Leaves, but I do like The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman  and How Not to Write  A Novel by Mittelmark and Newman.  My favorite book on writing, though, is a screenplay writing book, Your Screenplay Sucks, 100 Ways to Make It Great by William Akers.

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

HC: When it’s not working out for you, whether in the writing stage or when trying to find an agent or publisher, take a big step back and remove yourself from the picture. Look at the problem objectively, analyze the situation like a doctor approaches a patient to diagnose an illness, and figure out what the problem is and how you can best solve it.  If I hadn’t decided to take the online writing course, I don’t think I would be published today.  Even just learning that my manuscript was almost twice as long as it should be made such an enormous difference.

BH: Thanks for sharing your insights into the writing life with us, Holli! Hearing about your trials getting published does give me hope! For more information on Holli Castillo and her books, please visit the links below:

Amazon website:

http://www.amazon.com/Gumbo-Justice-Holli-Castillo/dp/1892343517/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1297495870&sr=1-1

Holli’s website:

http://hollicastillo.com/

Gumbo Justice website:

http://gumbojustice.net/

Holli’s blog site:

http://www.gumbojustice.blogspot.com/

Holli’s publisher’s blog:

http://otpblog.blogspot.com/

NiFtY Author: Dorothy Bodoin

Today’s Free-for-All Friday brings us an interview with NiFtY Author Dorothy Bodoin. Dorothy has written numerous novels and is the author of the Foxglove Corner mystery series. Join me in learning more about Dorothy and her writing!

BH: Hi Dorothy! From what I read on your website, your Foxglove Corner mystery series is eleven books strong. Can you tell us a little about the series?

DB:  In the first book of the series, Darkness At Foxglove Corners, my heroine, Jennet Greenway, and her collie move to Foxglove Corners after a tornado damages her previous house.  She hopes to find country peace and quiet.  Instead she finds a mystery in the old yellow Victorian across the lane and romance with a handsome, enigmatic deputy sheriff named Crane Ferguson.

I never intended to write a series, but one idea led to another and another.  At present I find myself writing the twelfth book about Jennet Greenway and her collies.

BH: Which of the Foxglove Corner mysteries is your favorite?

DB:   It’s difficult to choose one, but The Collie Connection has a special place in my heart.  I wrote it after an accident threw my life into a tailspin.  During this time, I lost my beloved collie, Holly, who served as the model for Jennet’s Halley.  I didn’t think I’d be able to write that book because, according to my plan, Jennet was supposed to lose Halley just before her wedding, but I did; and it received my publisher’s Golden Wings award.

BH: What are some of the joys of writing a series character?

DB:  By now, I know my series characters better than I know my friends.  I know how they’re going to act and what they’re going to say, and I look forward to seeing them again.  I also have fun playing matchmaker.  When I bring one of my characters into my current book, it’s like greeting an old friend.

BH: Do you have any tips to share on how to keep a main character growing and learning throughout a series?

DB:  Each one of my books is set in a different season.  At this point, for example, I have three books that take place during Christmas.  My characters, like real people, change.  They get married, survive disappointing love affairs, and deal with life’s problems—Jennet’s encounters with unruly students, for example, and her conflict with Principal Grimsly.

My setting is also real.  I live about an hour’s drive from the fictional Foxglove Corners.  Places change, too.  People react to change.  Readers, I’m happy to say, often refer to Jennet and Crane as if they’re real people rather than characters in a book.  They’ve been known to react to the collies this way too.

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

DB: When I was fifteen, I wrote a science-fiction novel on a portable typewriter.  I thought it was quite good and submitted it to all the big publishers I could find and collected several kind rejection letters.  It was a different publishing world then.  I didn’t sell my book, of course, but I learned an early lesson about perseverance.

A decade or so later, I wrote a western Gothic novel.  Once again, I thought it was good and tried to find a publisher.  There were different markets available to writers now.  The publishing world was changing.  Some editors were still kind, but no one wanted to publish my book.  From time to time I revised it and tried again.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had a lot to learn about writing.  My manuscript spent many years in a box on my closet shelf.

Finally—I won’t say how much later—I left my job teaching high school English and started writing full time.  Once again I had faith in my book, Darkness At Foxglove Corners.  This time, I was determined to be published.  I had my manuscript professionally critiqued not once but twice, and kept learning.  After twenty-eight submissions, I found a publisher for it.

Unfortunately, I still had a lesson to learn.  One acceptance doesn’t add up to success everlasting.  My publisher rejected my second book, Cry For The Fox.  I was disappointed but also by this time a professional.  I submitted it to other publishers and, while waiting for replies, wrote a third book, Winter’s Tale.  Wings ePress accepted Winter’s Tale and Cry For The Fox.  And I kept writing.

Finding Hilliard and Harris on the Sinc-ic website was a lucky break for me.  They published my stand-alone novels of romantic suspense, all of which have been selected by Harlequin Worldwide Mystery BookClub.

BH: What does your workspace look like?

DB:  I have two workspaces: two desks, one in the living room, one in a bedroom converted into a home office and library.  I do the majority of my planning and rough draft writing in the living room and fine tune my chapters on the computer.

In both rooms, I have oil paintings and prints, mostly of collies, and photographs all around me.  The dictionary and thesaurus are never far away.  Both spaces look neat in the pictures because I’m between chapters today.

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

DB:  Phyllis A. Whitney’s Guide To Fiction Writing is my all-time favorite.  I read an earlier version of her book with a different title when I was in my teens.  In those earlier years, I often returned to it for enlightenment and encouragement.  Every time I read it, I seemed to read her message between the lines: “You can do it!”

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

DB:  My advice is simple.  Keep writing and keep submitting and, in your leisure time, read the kinds of books you’d like to write.  I learned from writers like Velda Johnston and other favorites, and I’m still learning.

Find a group like Sisters in Crime and become as active as you can.  Find the right critique partner or critique group.  At one point, the Internet Chapter of Sisters in Crime had a wonderful Workshop.  I posted the entire draft of Winter’s Tale in the Workshop before submitting it to Wings.

Also, it’s important to write every day if possible, even during life’s bad times.  Even three or four pages will eventually turn into a book.

Write about something that’s important to you.  I’ve always loved collies and like to think of myself as the Albert Payson Terhune of the mystery world.  Moving ahead to promotion, I advertise in collie magazines and have met many wonderful people who first saw my name in The Cassette or Collie Expressions.

BH: If you want more of Dorothy (and oh, I bet you do!), check out the links below!

http://www.dorothybodoin.com is my website.  Here in my Photo Album you’ll find pictures of beautiful collies like the ones who romp through the pages of my books.

http://www.wings-press.com is the publisher of my Foxglove Corners series.

http://www.hilliardandharris.com is the publisher of my novels of romantic suspense.

http://www.amazon.com Here you’ll find my books; the Hilliard and Harris books are also in bookstores.

http://www.sistersincrime.org I recommend joining this organization, along with Sinc-ic, (the Internet Chapter) and the Guppies.  The last group is slanted toward the unpublished, but many of us remain members after we’re published.