Friday, March 30, 2012

Forever Waiting Writers Series: Interview with Thomas Taylor

Today we have the pleasure of spending time with Thomas Taylor. He is not only a talented illustrator and picture book author (Jack's Tractor, It's Hard to Hurry When You're a Snail, to name just a few), he also designed the awesome banner for my blog. His science fiction thriller, HAUNTERS, is set to come out May 2012.

Here's a bit about HAUNTERS:

 Eddie, Adam and David have the same gift. They can time-travel, appearing as ghosts in the past. But each of them wants something different…
 Eddie is sworn to protect the course of history. Adam wants to change it for his own ends. And David must find a way to keep them apart – and save the future of the world…

Thomas, you're a talented author and illustrator with many published picture books and a Science Fiction Thriller and a Comic-Gothic novella soon to be released. Which do you enjoy more, drawing or writing?

The biggest difference between writing and drawing is the level of concentration needed. With illustration, once I have decided what I’m going to draw, I can listen to the radio or chat with friends while I work. With writing I need total concentration and, if possible, silence. For this reason, I like to break up my writing with illustration jobs if I can. A change really is as good as a rest, at least for me. But I can’t really say I prefer one over the other. 

What inspired you to write HAUNTERS?

I have been thinking about ghosts since childhood, mostly because I was terrified of them. So scared, in fact, that I honestly thought I’d seen them as a boy. Of course, I realise now that I never did – well, probably never did, anyway – but I have spent a lot of time wondering what they may be if they do exist. There are several more-or-less scientific explanations for ghosts out there, and these, along with a hundred other things, helped me put together the idea behind Haunters.

Haunters is an inverted ghost story, where the living are the ghosts, and where the dead are the ones being haunted. It’s intended to be an exciting experience for the reader, rather than a scary one. I wish my 12-year-old self could have read it.

The Forever Waiting Writers Series is about how long we sometimes have to wait to see our dreams come true. Can you tell us how long you had to wait before you saw your first book (picture or novel) published and what that journey was like?

I was first published as an illustrator in 1997, having graduated from art school two years previously. My first written picture book came out in 1999.

It wasn’t until about 2005 that I realised what I really wanted to write was fiction for older children/young teens. It took me two years to write my first novel – a piratical sea-faring adventure with more than a dash of the fantastic -- but it didn’t find a home after several submissions. I had begun Haunters by then (under the working title of ‘The Ghost Effect’), and gave up on the pirates. Haunters was taken on by The Chicken House (Scholastic) in summer 2010 and has taken two years to reach publication.

How did all this feel? Well, ‘slow’ would be a good word to describe it, as well as ‘frustrating’, ‘exhilarating’, ‘confusing’ and ‘elating’ (when I finally signed the contract). But ‘slow’ seems the best way to sum up the actual journey. ‘Glacial’, even. 

Any advice to those of us who are pre-published and in the trenches?

It’s often overlooked that publishers don’t simply take on books, they take on authors, and by extension all the books they hope they’ll write in the future. Taking on a new author is therefore expensive in time, money and effort, and carries huge risks over many years. It’s rare for a publisher to feel they’ve got a good return on that investment from a single book. No wonder publishers find it so easy to say no.

So I wouldn’t advise anyone to work hard on the text of their debut novel, because anyone serious about publication is doing that already. But make sure you don’t forget to work on yourself at the same time. For example, look into joining SCBWI, read extensively in your genre, know the market, follow submission guidelines, etc. Do everything you can to be part of the publishing world, even if you feel you are not. And above all, when you do make contact with editors, you should be able to talk about your projected career, about the kinds of books you want to write in five year’s time, about your (realistic) ambitions, and about the challenges of publishing today.

Do all you can to look like it’s only a matter of time before someone snaps you up, and -- if your book’s good too -- somebody probably will.    

Wow. That's great advice. Thank you.
The characters in HAUNTERS are dreamwalkers, if you could have any supernatural ability what would it be?

Dreamwalking would be cool. To be able to detach your mind from your sleeping body and drift, as a ghost, through the waking world, terrifying your enemies or going into the past the visit lost loved ones – yes, dreamwalking for me, please. Even better than telekinesis!

Thank you so much for spending time with us Thomas! 
Sadly, HAUNTERS isn't available in the U.S., but you can get it from Amazon. Also check out Thomas' Comic-Gothic Novella, DAN AND THE DEAD, at Amazon.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Friday, March 23, 2012

Forever Waiting Writers Series: Jill Hathaway

Today we have the pleasure of spending time with Jill Hathaway, author of SLIDE, which debuts March 27th from Balzer & Bray for Harper Collins!

Here's a little bit about SLIDE:

Vee Bell is certain of one irrefutable truth—her sister's friend Sophie didn't kill herself. She was murdered.
Vee knows this because she was there. Everyone believes Vee is narcoleptic, but she doesn't actually fall asleep during these episodes: When she passes out, she slides into somebody else's mind and experiences the world through that person's eyes. She's slid into her sister as she cheated on a math test, into a teacher sneaking a drink before class. She learned the worst about a supposed "friend" when she slid into her during a school dance. But nothing could have prepared Vee for what happens one October night when she slides into the mind of someone holding a bloody knife, standing over Sophie's slashed body.
So I went back and read some of your earlier blog posts. It seems you've been on the ship Forever Waiting since 2008.  You set writing goals, participated in contests, worked on different manuscripts...
Can you tell us what key things you did that helped you get your agent, Sarah Davies, and an eventual book deal?

I think the main thing is that I never gave up. If a manuscript wasn't working, I started something new. If a manuscript was turned down by a million agents, I figured it was time to start something new. But never was I like, "Oh noes, I didn't write the perfect book/get an agent/sell my book on the first try! I'm finished forever!" I took breaks, for sure, but I always came back.

SLIDE comes out next week. Can you tell us what your journey was like from the day you signed with your agent to your book debut? 

It involved a lot of rewriting again and again and again. I'm not someone who gets it right on the first try. I have to experiment and fail a little (or a lot) to figure out the story. 

I know you love burritos and World of Warcraft, any other indulgences you care to share with us? 

Hmmm... I'm a big fan of Veruca Salt and Liz Phair. Also, I'm obsessed with Vampire Diaries and Once Upon a Time at the moment. And I like anything with chocolate and peanut butter in it. 

In a blog post you mentioned how crucial pre-sale orders and first week sales are for a debut book. Would you care to expand on this a bit?

I think pre-orders and first week sales just show the publisher that the public is excited about a title. If no one orders it, they might just think, "Oh, well, we don't want any more books from THAT author." Ha, just kidding. But not really. ;) Also, keep in mind, this is my first time out and I might be just a weeeee bit paranoid.

If you could have any superhuman ability, what would it be?

Um, my superhuman ability would be to burn calories like crazy while being lazy on the couch.  

Thank you for spending time with us today Jill! If you are interested in pre-ordering SLIDE, you can purchase it at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or at any local bookstore.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Query Road

I figure after about five years of writing and re-writing several different novels about the same concept and characters, I've finally reached the point where I feel I've written the best book that I can.  I've had critique partners read it. I've had non-writer betas read it. I've had agents critique it. I've had a professional editor help me with it. And I've taken all that into account over the years and revised and re-wrote the heck out of it.

So what am I going to do now? I've packed up my car with e-mails, postage stamps, and big-girl pills and I've hit Query Road.

Let's see if this road takes me anywhere or if me and my metaphorical car will remain permanently parked in the driveway.

Happy Writing!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Forever Waiting Interview with S.R. Johanness

Today's guest of the Forever Waiting Writers Series is Shelli Johannes-Wells. Shelli is the author of UNTRACEABLE and ON THE BRIGHT SIDE. UNCONTROLLABLE, the sequel to UNTRACEABLE is due to release this summer!

Here's a brief synopsis of UNTRACEABLE:

Grace grew up in the woods. When her forest ranger dad disappears on patrol, she fights town authorities, tribal officials, & nature to prove he’s alive. Torn between a hot boy and cute ex, she heads into the wilderness to find her dad. Soon, Grace is caught in a web of conspiracy, deception, and murder. It will take more than a compass and motorcycle for this tough heroine to save all she loves.

"This thrilling story is a dramatic entanglement of mystery, deception and teen romance. The action flows like a brisk mountain stream interspersed with rapids, holding suspense to last page." -Kirkus Reviews

On your journey to publication, how long were you on the boat Forever Waiting? Were there any moments when you thought land was in sight, but it was a false alarm? 

So many moments! I had an agent for two years and had two books go to acquisitions - several times at several different publishing houses. Somehow my boat would sail back out to sea just as I was about to land on a beautiful island. I tried to swim a few times but I almost drowned :) I'm still sailing. This time looking to discover my own island (that was cheesy but yeah! :)

What inspired you to write UNTRACEABLE?

My hubby came home from camping by himself one weekend and said, "I was so deep in the woods, someone could do something illegal and totally get away with it." He's British so I am totally paraphrasing because you probably wouldn't understand if I said what he said. That seed got stored away in my head. Then, a couple years later when we visited Cherokee, North Carolina, I saw the bear pits there. It disturbed me so much - I needed to talk about it. I put those two separate events together and wha-la - Untraceable was born.

UNCONTROLLABLE will be out Summer 2012, what was it like writing the sequel?

Gosh, I'm still finishing it. It was easier because I already knew the plot and had nailed Grace's voice which is hardest for me to capture. Plotting is the easy part for me. I find sequels easier than a standalone.

Are you a plotter or pantster?

Both. I do beat sheets (from Save the Cat) and then I outline as I go. I need to know the general road map of what is going to happen but I can't plan the details until I get there. 

Any advice to those of us who are pre-published and in the trenches?

Don't set certain expectations on what your career will look like. Everyone gets somewhere - but in different ways. Don't give up and don't compare yourself to others - it will kill your creativity.  

Many of us write when we are tired, or in the wee hours of morning and late at night. What caffeine crutch do you prefer, tea, coffee, or some other caffeinated beverage? Or do you even need a caffeine crutch?

Coffee and sweet tea. I always need a caffeine crunch. I work late and my kids are up (too!) early. If I could have an IV of caffeine- I would. Can someone invent that please? 

Your blog is overflowing with marketing advice. If you had to bullet point three things for a pre-published author to do, what would it be? How about for someone whose book is about to come out?

Pre-pubbed author
Start building your platform and network NOW - it's never too early!
Get started on building a professional web site and present yourself as a published author. (Fake it til you make it!)
WRITE your heart out! 

Published author
Start marketing your book at least 6 months before it comes out. Plan ahead.
Find out who your target audience segments are and reach them in some channel. You should have at least 3-5 segment markets to hit besides the general bucket of YA.
Don't underestimate bloggers. They rock for PR.
I joined SCBWI this past fall and had the opportunity to attend the New York City winter conference and the Spring Mingle in Atlanta. I learned a tremendous amount at both conferences, was able to network with other writers, and got some opportunities to submit directly to editors at publishing houses. How has attending conferences or being part of SCBWI helped you? 
SCBWI is my family. I would not be where I am as a writer - if it wasn't for them. Almost every person/writer/author/blogger who has supported me - I met either online or in that community. I find SCBWI invaluable for any author - no matter what publishing track you are on.
If you could have any superhuman ability, what would it be?
To write a book in one week with no typos, perfect plotting, and a wonderful voice. :) Ahhh sounds nice huh?
If you read UNTRACEABLE or like animals, Shelli has created a petition to close the North Carolina bear pits. You can go here.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Two Years Since the Tear

This past Saturday was my two year anniversary of tearing my ACL. It's not exactly one of those occasions you celebrate, but it was a day of reflection for me. While I never want to tear my ACL again or go through surgery, I wouldn't want to give up all I've learned or how much I've grown as a person these past two years.

To commemorate the day, my friend Marissa (a former internally competitive pairs skater who hadn't skated in 2 years and 28 days) and I decided to go skate at a public session. It was wonderful to see my very talented friend on skates again. While she was reacquainting herself with her blades, I frequently skated over to the spot were IT happened. IT was caused by a stupid hole in the ice that snagged my toe pick. Who knew that particular frozen piece of water would have had such an impact on my life?

Sometimes, when I let myself think about it, I'll get nervous if I jump or spin on that spot of ice. Usually, I just avoid the area.

Today was the first day since I tore my ACL that I started landing double loops on one foot. Getting this jump back again has been difficult because the take off is off the right foot (the injured knee) and the landing is one the right foot.

It's not the prettiest landing, but it's there:

I kept trying and trying to land a clean double loop with a solid landing. And when I actually do it, coach isn't filming. LOL. Even though I fall on this one, I love my coach's reaction.

Mucho thanks to my awesome coach and friend, Danny, for helping me learn to do this all over again! I love you!!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Our First Forever Waiting Guest is Natalie Whipple!!

The world of publishing can be molasses slow.
As my critique partners and I wait for the molasses to thin, we often joke we're passengers on a ship christened Forever Waiting. There are soooo many people on this ship, so today I thought we'd visit with Natalie Whipple, long time passenger, and author of TRANSPARENT which will be out Summer 2013 by Harper Teen.

Here's a brief synopsis of TRANSPARENT:

On the run from her mind-controlling father, the infamously invisible Fiona McClean hides in a small town, hoping to finally rid herself of the crime world she has always known. But playing at “normal life” with a mother she hates, a brother she can't trust, and a boy she can't stand proves more difficult than she ever imagined. Soon her father is hot on her heels, and it’s up to Fiona to protect not only her family, but the friends who’ve taught her that life doesn’t have to be as lonely and cruel as she thought. 

So Natalie, I went back to your first blog post, My Adventure, dated October 10, 2007. It wasn't until 2011 that TRANSPARENT sold to Harper Teen. In between this time, you faced many rejections, got an agent, your agent left publishing, got another agent, and you started Happy Writers Society. Can you describe in a nut shell what your journey has been like?

Wow, you've done your research! I think you've pretty much covered all the rough spots, but I think I would describe my journey as a real trial-and-error type path. I winged it, maybe too much, and it took me a lot of time to figure out how everything worked.  

I met one of my critique partners through your Critique Partner Classifieds. Can you tell us how your critique partners play a role in your own writing and the journey to publication? 

I'm SO happy to hear you found a crit partner through my experimental classifieds! I've found crit partners to be not only helpful in improving my writing, but also vital to my sanity while pursuing publication. For me, it seemed like no one but other writers understood how rough the journey was, and having friends in the field who got my struggles helped me push forward and ultimately achieve my goals.

Things have changed a lot over the last several years with my crit partners as our paths have taken different turns, but we remain friends and we always support each other where we can. 

What inspired you to write TRANSPARENT?  

I've always loved superheroes, the X-men being a favorite since I was little. So part of the idea definitely comes from growing up with cartoons, comics, anime, and manga. As for the specific story, I really wanted to write "superheroes" in my own way. I was really drawn to writing an invisible MC. It seemed like a cool challenge and I wanted to explore what it might feel like and how someone would be treated if they were really invisible.  

TRANSPARENT is the story about a girl who can become invisible, if you could have any superhuman power what would it be? 

Actually, TRANSPARENT is the story of a girl who is PERMANENTLY invisible. She was born that way and has never been seen. She has no idea what she looks like and struggles a lot with who she is as a person. No easy "go visible whenever you want" invisibility here:)

That said, I think if I could pick a superpower I'd go for teleportation—Jumper-style. I have so many writer friends across the country, and it constantly annoys me that I can't visit them whenever I want to.

Even though you've signed with Harper Teen and are working with your editor, what is the next thing you're waiting to happen with your book? Cover reveal? Blurbs?  

That's the thing about publishing—you are ALWAYS waiting. It doesn't change after you sell a book. Heck, it doesn't even change once the book debuts. You can always find something to wait for if you feel like it. At this point I've stopped letting The Wait get to me, and I'm just focusing on my writing and what's in front of me.

But as for Next Steps, there are still quite a few for me before publication. I haven't seen my cover. I don't have an exact release date. I still have copy edits and galleys and blurbs to face. Hopefully I am able to sell some foreign rights. Who knows? Right now I'm happy to let these things come when they do, and I'll enjoy them when they get here. 

How agonizing is it waiting for summer 2013 to roll around? How do you pass the time?  

I don't know about agonizing. I guess it is if I let myself think about it too much, which I try very hard not to do. I've kept myself busy in the usual way—writing and editing! I've had lots of revisions to do from my editor and agent. I have more ideas for books to write, and that is plenty to keep me busy and happy. As long as I focus on writing—not publishing—I seem to be much happier in general.

To add to that, I have two kids and one on the way, and they certainly keep me on my toes. I also watch much anime and Korean drama, cook and bake, garden, read, quilt, draw, and have recently acquired a goldfish that is still living! I've learned that the best way to "pass the time" is to just live a fun life doing the things I enjoy. Writing used to be my sole focus, and that made me kind of miserable. Now that it's one part of my life, I'm able to enjoy it more, as well as do more things I love.

Thank you so much for spending time with us Natalie! 

If you haven't already, check out Natalie's very fun and informative blog and I highly recommend following her weekly inspirational Happy Writers Society posts.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Gossip Time...Forever

 I just finished reading Maggie Stiefvater's Forever, the third book in the Wolves of Mercy Falls Trilogy. I'm a pretty fast reader. If I have the time I can down a book in a day or a day and a half. But, Forever took me quite some time to finish. Why? Because I couldn't handle the tension.

After reading the first two books, Shiver and Linger, I cared too much for the characters. This is how reading Forever was like for me.

Read two to three chapters.
Put book down because my heart was in my throat.
Come back few hours later and read one chapter.
Put book down because I was so mad at certain characters.
Take a few days break then read a few more chapters.
Put book down because I wanted to cry.
Resist the urge to tweet horrible things to Maggie.

I want to summarize this series for you, but there's really no need, when you can go to Maggie's website.

Here, she tells you about Shiver, you can see the many awards its won, and there's a link where you can listen to her read the first two chapters to you.

Here, you can read the summary and see the awards that Linger won, and there's a link where Maggie will read the prologue and chapter one to you.

Here, you can read about Forever AND there's a video of Maggie reading a teaser.

If you're looking for a good series to lose yourself in, Shiver, Linger, and Forever are definitely it.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

On the Ship Forever Waiting

The world of publishing can be molasses slow.
As my critique partners and I wait for the molasses to thin, we often joke that we are passengers on a ship christened Forever Waiting.

While we wait for agents and editors to get back to us, we have a go at the slide, play shuffle board, or have drinks at the bar. Whenever there is a development in our writing journey we yell Land ho! or claim we see a harbor from our telescope.

As I spend time on Forever Waiting I realize there are more passengers on this ship than I thought. They each have inspiring stories of their publishing journeys and are eager to share. So stay tuned for posts in the Forever Waiting Writers Series. The first story launches this week!