Interview with Award-Winning Author Marilee Crow


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Introducing Marilee…
 

Writing has been a passion of mine since I was a kid. I was so busy working and raising a daughter that writing came by little bits and pieces here and there. When I joined Romance Writers of America, writing once again became a passion. I then came to realize that I love children’s stories as much as romance. I was fortunate to be accepted by a publishing company that has the best supportive writers and illustrators. Guardian Angel Publishing has given me the opportunity for a long awaited career. My first book, Down By The Shore, was nominated for a Cybil award in the first few months of it’s release. Before my break into children’s books, I had been published in Portals, A showcase for poets and A Penny A liner. I have two stories in an anthology called Reading For Little People. I hope you enjoy reading the stories I so enjoy writing. Thanks to my husband of thirty-two years for his encouragement and support and to my daughter for the best years of my life and many stories forthcoming. For more info, visit her blog!

Let the conversation begin!

When did you fall in love with writing?

Writing has been a passion of mine since I was a kid. I wrote my own Nancy Drew Mystery when I was 12 years old. Then life happened and I would write little stories here and there. I was so busy working and raising a daughter that writing came by little bits and pieces. When my daughter went to college, though, I began to put some serious time and effort into my writing. 

When I joined Romance Writers of America, writing once again became a passion. I then came to realize that I love children’s stories as much as romance. I was fortunate to be accepted by a publishing company that has the best supportive writers and illustrators. Guardian Angel Publishing has given me the opportunity for a long awaited career.

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

I have a piece of paper on my desk that I can see every day. I think I got it from Chicken Soup for the Writer’s Soul. It said, “Writing is about time spent with words until eventually they become your friends and begin to cooperate with your gifted storyteller’s mind. Writing is about time and practice.”

Was it easier to write before or after you were published?

After. I’m more motivated now. I can’t begin to tell you how it feels to see your first book in print. It definitely makes you want to write something bigger and better! 

Once There Was A Monster

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Author Interview with Carla Stewart

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Introducing Clara…

Carla Stewart’s writing reflects her passion for times gone by as depicted in her first highly-acclaimed novel, Chasing Lilacs, which was a 2011 Finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award and the trophy winner of the 2011 Best Fiction Book for the Oklahoma Writers Federation Inc. (OWFI). Chasing Lilacs received a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly and favorable reviews in Library Journal, RT Book Reviews, Book Page, and Christian Retailing magazine.

Carla launched her writing career in 2002 when she earned the coveted honor of being invited to attend Guidepost’s Writers Workshop in Rye, New York. Since then, her articles have appeared in GuidepostsAngels on EarthSaddle Baron, and Blood and Thunder: Musings on the Art of Medicine.

An Oklahoma native and graduate of OU, Carla has lived in Tulsa since 2003. In her life before writing, Carla enjoyed a career in nursing and raising her family. Now that their four sons are married and they’ve become empty-nesters, she and her husband relish the occasional weekend getaway and delight in the adventures of their six grandchildren. For more info, visit Carla here

Let the conversation begin!

Was it easier to write before or after you were published? 

Definitely before! Then, I had the leisure of writing or not, and I wrote with abandon not worrying what my crit partners might say or whether my publisher would ask for my advance back. I experimented in different genres and worked hard on the craft. Then it was all about the writing. 

What I didn’t factor in was how much time would be gobbled up with marketing and promotion once I had a contract AND deadlines. You didn’t ask which I preferred, but definitely being published. There is nothing so sweet as getting a letter from a reader telling me how much my words meant or that I must’ve been the fly on the wall in her home. Nothing prepared me for this thrill. I LOVE my readers! And that makes me want to write better each time I carve a few hours for my WIP (work-in-progress). 

Are your characters completely fictional?  

Yes, my characters are completely fictional, but I have voices in my head of people I’ve known. Their accents or actual words somehow end up being spoken by my characters. And sometimes I will notice an unusual characteristic of a person in real life—like the shape of a person’s eyebrows or some quirk—yes, I give that characteristic to a character! In the end, though, I don’t think that anyone would read my books and say, “I know this person.” 

Where do you get your ideas?

Newspapers. The news. Questions from my sometimes overactive imagination. Music inspires me as do photographs. Since I love nostalgia, those sepia toned photographs make my heart beat faster and before I know it, I’m making up a scenario in my head. When it comes time to write a new novel, I draw on these fragments to craft a concept and characters for a new novel. 

What advice would you give young writers? 

Read widely, both in your genre and in others. Listen to the cadence of the words you read. Study how your favorite authors write—both in what they say and what they don’t. How do they pace their stories? How do they foreshadow or condense dialogue into the essence? Don’t try to write “just like” another author, but let your own unique voice and story shine on the pages. Editors want something new, but they also want well-crafted stories. Learn the craft, then write the stories of your heart. 

969716_10151479869483341_105473093_nWhat would you like your life to look like in ten years? 

This question makes me smile. Since I didn’t start seriously writing with an eye toward publication until I was fifty and had my first novel published when I was sixty, I’m going to be retirement age in ten years. Will I still be writing? Will I close my laptop and skip off to a retirement village in the land of sunshine? I honestly don’t know. As long as the Lord bestows favor on me, I’ll probably continue writing, but I also want to enjoy time with my husband and enjoy the fruits of his many long years of work. Hopefully, I will have time (and an audience) for both. 

When are you the most productive?  

Afternoon. Two to six p.m. is the sweet spot for creative writing. 

What’s the first item on your bucket list?

Travel—England, Italy, the Holy Land. I was just talking about this today with my son who’s been around the world 1 ¾ times. He says Italy is grand!

Also, I told my husband that I want to celebrate my 65th birthday with a hot air balloon ride. I’m deathly afraid of heights, so this shocked the socks off of him! 

Do you let anyone read your work-in-progress? 

No secrets here. I have to let my agent read the synopsis and early chapters so she can send proposals. And my crit partners see all my dumb ideas and mistakes. 

Do you begin with character or plot?

I nearly always begin with a character who’s in a particular situation and setting as if the two are co-dependent. I usually can’t imagine a character being anywhere but exactly in the place where they come to me. The plot and what came before and after this initial visualization are the parts I have to brainstorm and work out. The secondary characters come during the plotting phase as well. 

Dream vacation?

Yay! An easy question. My dream is to spend three months in an English cottage with a postage stamp garden and cobblestone streets. My husband and I will take walks with our little dog and visit the green grocer to pick out what we’re having for dinner. Every couple of weeks or so, we’ll pop over to London to catch a play or a show. We might visit Ireland while we’re there or amble through a cathedral or two. The only difficulty is that we would probably not want to come home when our time was up!  

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Author Interview with Elizabeth Loraine

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Introducing Elizabeth…

Elizabeth Loraine grew up in a small Northern Minnesota town, married her high school sweetheart and raised two children. In 1984 they moved their family to Florida where they still live today. She was a secretary and later a decorative painter.

Two years ago at the age of 52, with children settled she embarked on a new career, with a simple idea and a quest to write books where strong female characters were not waiting to be saved, but the ones doing the saving. With that simple idea Royal Blood Chronicles was born. Now with five books in the series and a new series launched – Phantom Lives – she is having the kind of career in writing she always wished for. When not writing she loves to spend time with her family, traveling, cooking and gardening. For more info, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin!

If you could only write one more book, what would it be about?

Vampires, I love them.

Do you begin with character or plot?

It depends. I usually have a simple idea that turns into a full blown fantasy world with a life of its own. But when writing a series it usually is about the character first, the world has already been built around them. 

Describe your perfect day.

A cool windswept day in Paradise Valley, MT. A long scenic drive to Yellowstone to look for wildlife. A walk into the mountains on a trail that pulls us towards the distant sounds of a hidden waterfall. Later a quiet dinner with my husband, the love of my life. Finally a blanket under the stars with a glass of wine. Sigh. 

What was the best thing that happened to you this weekend?

I think every day you wake up and have your health is a blessing. Life is too short not to cherish every moment and those you love. 

Who inspires you and how are you a bit like them?

My parents were always my greatest inspiration. I learned to work hard, demand respect, and give it, and not take myself too seriously. 

Where do you get your ideas?

From real life, my curiosity about things. History is a great inspiration as well and my favorite. 

99665cf5ce664c835e9a3fb4615eb425What advice would you give young writers?

Write about what you love. Study those authors that you really like and then write. Stay at it, don’t give up. 

What was the weirdest food you’ve ever eaten?

I am not very adventurous. I have eaten snails, and buffalo. In Africa we ate ostrich and goat. I thought ostrich would taste like a big turkey but it tasted like beef. 

What do you consider to the most valuable thing you own?

My computer.

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

Write every day, do your research and take it seriously. 

What one word describes you? Why?

Artistic. I love to write, draw and decorate. 

What would you like your life to look like in ten years?

Just like it is today, doing what I love with a great healthy, happy family around me. 

What’s the first item on your bucket list?

Another thing I learned from my parents was not to wait to do the things you want to do. Find a way to do them now. That’s what we’ve always done. I would to go to the premier of a movie made from one of my books. 

What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?

Gardening. Physical things like that let me relax and solve all the world’s problems. 

What book was the easiest to write?

My first one. Hardest? The first one. I just sat down with a simple idea and started to write. I had no idea where it would lead. 

Do you let anyone read your work-in-progress?

Rarely with the Chronicles. With Phantom Lives I did post a chapter and used someone to see if I was on the right path. 

Outliner or seat-of-the-pantser?

Pantser. I just start to write it leads me where it wants to go from that simple starting idea. 

What element would you add to your writing space if money wasn’t an issue?

Illustrations in color. That would be fun. Fantastically expensive software to do everything. A computer that I could talk to and it would write everything down for me.  

How long do you take to write a book?

I write every day with a word count in mind. About three months. 

Easier to write before or after you were published?

I have no problem writing, it’s all the other things that go along with it that take the most time. Most people have no idea how much time marketing takes and published, or self-published, the marketing is your responsibility for the most part. 

What’s one rule you’re dying to break?

I’d love to sneak out onto a pro-football field during a game and call a couple of plays. 

If this was your last day on Earth, what would you do?

Fix my family a big dinner with all their favorites and recall all our happy memories. 

What initially drew you to writing?

I was frustrated by the lack of strong young female characters in fantasy writing so I decided I would do it myself. 

If you could spend a vacation with three authors, who would they be?

Anne Rice, J.K. Rowling. 

Daily word count?

2000 words.

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Margie Palatini

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Introducing Margie…

Margie Palatini is the award-winning author of more than three dozen very funny children’s books including Piggie Pie!, Bedhead, Sweet Tooth, Moosetache and Geek Chic (can you say Geek Sheek?).For more info, visit Margie at her website!

Let the conversation begin!

What initially drew you to writing?

Years ago, fresh out of art college, I joined a writers’ workshop thinking that I could meet writers and maybe have a chance to illustrate one of their manuscripts. (Which of course, is not how picture books come to be, but I didn’t know that at the time.)  

Mentored by the wonderful author and editor, Patti Gauch, I discovered that I loved writing. I also discovered that perhaps it wasn’t doing the art that was driving me to want to tell a story, but surprisingly, the words. It was through Patti’s guidance and enthusiasm that I eventually found my ‘voice’, which set me on a new path and journey as a writer, and eventually, a published author. 

What is the most valuable advice you’ve ever received?

Don’t allow a review or someone else’s opinion define you as an artist, be it positive or negative.

(It’s a tough one to follow, especially when it’s more negative than positive!  But, you need to stay within yourself, and not be distracted by outside influences.) 

When are you the most productive?

I seem to work out story lines, plots and characters late in the evening almost as I’m drifting off to sleep. When those ideas are ready to hit the page, I’m up at around four or five in the morning ready to work. There are many days when it’s late into the afternoon — and I’m still in my robe! When I’m right in the middle of a project, I become obsessive, usually finding myself working through breakfast, lunch – and dinner.  (Oh, those dust bunnies that collect around the house!) 

Are your characters completely fictional? 

I think something of me is in all of my characters – some hitting closer to home than others, like Gritch the Witch and Sweet Tooth.  But many have also been inspired by my son, my sister, my brother, dad, mom, husband. 

What book was the easiest to write? Hardest?

THE WEB FILES, one of my all-time favorites, and I think very ‘autobiographical’, was one of the easiest. The hardest is always the one I’m working on at the moment. 

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

Be yourself – and bring yourself to the page, and don’t become preoccupied with trends.  Stay true to your own passions, style and voice.  Of course, that can be difficult and frustrating when what you write or like to write—or how you write—is not the current popular ‘flavor of the month’ and moment. But, I think, staying true to yourself as an artist is always good to remember. 

MargiePalatini

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Author Interview with Amanda M. Thrasher

greenlee_cover_smallIntroducing Amanda…

Amanda was born in England, then moved to Fort Worth Texas as a teen and resides there still. Author of The Mischief Series: Mischief in the Mushroom Patch and A Fairy Match in the Mushroom Patch, the third installment of this series is underway, and The Ghost of Whispering Willow. 

Next release:  The Greenlee Project, a YA novel, and Sadie’s Fairy Tea Party, a picture book.

Wrote a graphic novel for the Texas Municipal Education Center, about teen driving safety which is part of the DRSR (Driving on the Right Side of the Road), titled – What If… A Story of Shattered Lives. This was adapted into a Reader’s Theater and the script, about the consequences of drinking alcohol and driving, and offers middle school students an opportunity to perform and use their voices to depict characters in this tragedy. 

Co-Founder of Progressive Rising Phoenix Press, LLC an innovative publisher founded by authors. We believe that authors have a choice in all aspects regarding their work.  Our mission is to succeed through innovative cross-promotion, creative marketing, and original content.  For more info, visit her site here

Quirky Questions

What one word describes you?

The one word that best describes me is determined.

What do you do when you see a spider in your house?

If it’s a garden variety I have one of my kids remove it, if it’s poisonous, I step on it. Spiders make me squirm.

Do you bake or buy?

Both, I admit it.

Do you believe in UFOs?

I definitely think there’s more out there than meets the eye, as to what extent, now that I don’t know. Too many unexplained things happen around us and have been documented as such. Does that mean an actual little aliens; I don’t think that, just unexplained events and things.

What kitchen utensil would you be?

I actually asked a friend what utensil they thought I would be in the kitchen, because I thought the question was so unusual, their response made me laugh because it made sense. A pressure cooker… is that even a utensil? Not sure if that’s a good thing or not. 

If you were to attend a costume party tonight, who would you be?

Cleopatra. Why? Because she knew exactly what she wanted. 

What is your concession stand must-have at the movies?

Popcorn and coke zero.

Which is worse, being in a place that is too loud or too quiet?

For me being in a place that’s too loud; I like to hear the people I’m conversing with, and I can’t think if it’s too loud.

What is one quality that you really appreciate in a person?

Directness.

What is the most distinguishing landmark in your city?

Not necessarily one landmark but definitely cow-town, Fort Worth, TX, we’re known for cow town due to our cowboys and western history.

What is your earliest childhood memory?

My earliest memory is being in a ‘push chair’ (stroller), and petting horses through a fence with my mom and sister. I was about two years old.

What food item would you remove from the market altogether?

Chips. My downfall in regards to food, definitely potato chips. I love them, but if they were removed from the shelves completely, I wouldn’t be tempted to purchase them.  

What would you rather have: a nanny, a housekeeper, a cook, or a chauffeur?

Definitely a housekeeper, because keeping up is difficult, and a housekeeper is a gift. 

Would you rather be trapped in an elevator or stuck in traffic?

Traffic. At least stuck in traffic you can roll down a window; not as frustrating when air is circulating. 

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Writing Questions

What inspired you to write your first book?

My very first book is not in print. I love to write and the thought of writing the manuscript, bringing it to completion, was more of a challenge than an inspiration.  It is over 54 thousands words; a complete storyline, beginning, middle, end, characters, but is incredibly boring. Writing it was a great learning experience, and reading it, realizing it was flat, was growth as a writer. My first published book was inspired by mother’s love of fairies. I wrote her a fairy book. She never saw it in print.

Do you have a specific writing style?

I have been told that my writing style is considered a whimsical poetic style. I did not know that for a very long time, since it was simply the way I’ve always done it. My editor, friend, mentor and Barnes & Noble, CRM, told me that. People that reviewed my work stated the same thing. It’s nice to have a style associated with your voice.

What do you think you do best in your writing? Bragging is encouraged.

I believe one of the best things, as a writer, that I offer is the ability to describe scenes to my readers in a vivid way that allows my readers to see what I see. Meaning in my minds eye. For example:  my readers feel as if they’re in the mushroom patch with Lilly, Boris and Jack, because of the way I describe each scene, incorporate the dialog that they use and describe the characteristics of my fairies so vividly.

What books have most influenced your life?

As a child I loved The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, the whole series really. As an adult, to this day, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and of course Emma.

If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?

Um. Great question. I love Grisham’s works, his story telling and character building ability. I think he’s a magnificent writer.

What book are you reading now?

NYPD Red by James Patterson

Name one entity that supported your writing journey outside of family members.

Anne Dunigan, CRM, Editor, turned mentor, and friend. She took an interest in my work when and didn’t have a single thing to gain. Sharing and advising me along the way, but speaking a language that to me, made complete sense. The greatest advice that I’ve ever received came from Anne.  “Narrate the story; be the tour guide, show the reader the way…” Anne Dunigan.  As writers we sometimes lose sight of narration, but it’s so important. Her words, at the moment she said them, became my ‘light bulb’ moment.

If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?

My latest release is The Ghost of Whispering Willow. My favorite character is Margaret Rose, a little ghost girl, whose love of life is so huge that it overshadows the fact that she’s gone. If I had to do it over again, I would write her into additional scenes. She’s that neat to me, childlike though she’s gone, sweet, loving and full of life. She’s clearly a ghost, so these qualities make her neat and unique.

What initially inspired you to pursue a career in writing?

My writing career came about by accident. Though always a writer, I’d never set out to be an author. My mother was ill and I wrote her a story, at her request I promised to submit my work. She never saw it in print. Once it was released, the rest became a full time job. Writing, marketing, signing, school presentations, writing workshops, conferences etc.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in writing? What comes easily?

The biggest challenge for me is a time issue. To put my mind in the creative mode that it needs to be, to produce the quality of work that’s interesting and believable, takes a meditation type process. It’s very different than merely producing a set word count for a day. I can write thousands of words a day, but if they’re irrelevant, flat and boring, it doesn’t matter. Quality words count, and it takes a while to put your mind back into the scenes and chapters for the novel that you are writing. The time required to visualize and predict what your characters would say or wouldn’t say, do or not do, what the scene would look like and why, so that your readers can see what you see, is a process. It’s impossible to simply sit down and write without spending quality quiet time in your head, at least for me. On the days I conduct business, (Progressive Rising Phoenix Press, LL), I don’t even dream of writing. It’s two different hats and wouldn’t be productive anyway. The days that I’m at my desk writing, it’s mandatory that there are no disturbances. I personally must have dead silence in order to hear myself think. I truly believe that just pounding the keys and producing words is a terrible waste of time. Quality words make all of the difference. What comes easy for me, usually, is placement of dialog and predicting what my characters would likely do. Knowing when it’s time to incorporate dialog is critical for entertainment value of the piece being written and prediction helps mold the character.

Who’s your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?

John Grisham is one of my all time favorites; this is due to his story telling ability, I wished that his endings didn’t drop off as quickly as some of them do, but I love the way he writes. Classic writer, Jane Austen, she was so witty especially for her era. Loved her ability to ‘observe’ while she wrote. It comes through her characters, and I find that so neat.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Write. Don’t be afraid to produce a terrible manuscript, you should. You shouldn’t print it; but you should write it, it’s the only way to learn. This is different from pounding a word count; this is a finished flat manuscript that just isn’t very good. Once you finished multiple manuscripts your strengths, voice, style, start to reveal them selves and that’s how you learn. I would also say don’t be afraid of the industry, it’s changing and that’s a good thing. Due to the wave of change we see, it’s a great time to be a writer. Challenges and opportunities exist, but how we handle them are completely up to us.  

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Author Interview with Danette Haworth

LUCKY finished coverGet to know Danette…

Danette Haworth created her first book when she was six, featuring hair-raising pictures of the battle between a green stick boy and a red stick pirate. She has since stopped illustrating—at least until the market is ready for some really good stick men. Danette is the author of Violet Raines Almost Got Struck by Lightning (2012 California Young Reader Medal); The Summer of Moonlight Secrets; Me & Jack (2012 Great Stone Face nominee); and A Whole Lot of Lucky (starred Kirkus Review). Growing up in a military family, Danette lived up and down the East Coast and in Turkey and England; she now calls Orlando, FL, her home. For more info, visit Goodreads.

Quirky Questions

If I gave you a brick, what would you do with it?

The weight is good, and it’s just the right fit for my hand. I want to throw it through a window. But I’m a conscientious citizen, and I remember another author you interviewed said he’d strap it to his shoe so he could be taller. That guy’s been walking around lopsided. He gets my brick. 

What do you do when you see a spider in your house?

I’ve been told my screams shatter glass and burst eardrums, but that is pure hyperbole.

Do you believe in UFOs?

I have always believed in Ultimate Free Oreos.

Which is worse, being in a place that is too loud or too quiet?

I can’t stand a quiet house, unless I’m working, in which case . . . shhh!

What is the most distinguishing landmark in your city?

Well, that would have to be Walt Disney World!

What is your earliest childhood memory?

Dusty dirt roads, open windows, carts being pulled by donkeys. The man trudging down the street with a chained bear that would dance for you if you threw money to them. I was two-going-on-three, and we lived in Turkey.

What is your favorite board game?

I grew up on Scrabble. I play by the rules and I play to win. No second chances! No helping! And God pity the soul who challenges and is proved wrong—they will lose their turn. No mercy!

What food item would you remove from the market altogether?

I just don’t think we need cauliflower. 

Moonlight Secrets cover FINALWriting Questions 

What inspired you to write your first book?

Violet Raines Almost Got Struck by Lightning is my first published book, and the character was inspired—in part—by a photo of my mother when she was three years old. She’s wearing a cowboy hat while sitting on a horse. The look she’s giving to the camera is so impish, so mischievous, you just know she was that plucky, does-what-she-wants-to sort of girl. 

I’d been reporting to my computer daily in hopes of an idea while my first manuscript was on submission. (This first manuscript was Me & Jack, published later in 2011.) And I swear, this girl Violet walked into the room after a couple weeks of brainstorming. “When Eddie B. dared me to walk the net bridge over the Elijah Hatchett River where we’d seen an alligator and another kid got bit by a coral snake, I wasn’t scared—I just didn’t feel like doing it right then. So that’s how come I know just what he’s saying when I see him in church, flapping his elbows like someone in here is chicken. When Momma’s not looking, I make my evil face at him, but he just laughs and turns the right way in his pew.” 

That’s the first thing she said. I wrote it all down, and it now appears—unchanged—as the first paragraph in the book.

Do you have a specific writing style?

I love unreliable narrators; I fall into present tense naturally; and I write in first person. Not to say that I won’t change that up in the future, but this is what’s reflected in my books. 

What books have most influenced your life?

I’d been freelancing as a feature writer and copyeditor when I read Terry McMillan’s book, How Stella Got Her Groove Back. There’s a part in the book where Stella mentions something about picking up more side work. Her friend points out that Stella’s been dancing around the thing she wants to do instead of diving straight in. 

I read this as I was considering taking on more clients because my youngest was going to pre-K. Stella’s friend was talking to me. What I really wanted to do, what I always wanted to do, was to be a writer of books. And this was my moment.

What book are you reading now?

I’m just starting Lauren Fox’s Still Life with Husband. It’s Lauren’s first book, but I read her second book first, Friends Like Us, and I absolutely loved it. Good, honest writing with a believable story arc.

Name one entity that supported your writing journey outside of family members.

I drafted my first book in secret! I didn’t want anyone to know what I was doing; I was afraid of being peppered with questions or doubts or hyper enthusiasm. 

After dropping my children off to school, I pulled out all my how-to-write books. I was teaching myself the art of creative writing and how to carry a story arc. I took notes. I scoured websites. I researched concepts. Before anyone came home, I packed everything up and away—there was no trace, no evidence to give me up. Only God knew what I was doing.

If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?

A Whole Lot of Lucky was my fourth book with my former editor, Stacy Cantor, who has an uncanny knack for teasing out the gems in a story. Hailee Richardson is a spitfire unreliable narrator who doesn’t have a cell phone, wears Salvation Army clothes, and rides a three dollar bike (a boy’s bike!) that her mom picked up at a garage sale last year. When her family wins the lottery, she envisions herself riding to school in a limo, eating in five star restaurants, and hiring a nanny for her baby sister who seems to get all the attention. Hailee’s life does change, but not in the ways she’d expected. I don’t think I’d change anything in it. Hailee makes me laugh!

Me&Jack CVRLowResFinalWhat initially inspired you to pursue a career in writing?

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing. One of the things I show at school visits is the only remaining edition of my Peter Pan comic books—these were comic books I drew and wrote myself. They featured a green stick boy and a red stick man, and one story had a robot in it. It all made sense back then. But I took this endeavor seriously enough to bind my homemade comic books by poking a knitting needle through the center of the pages and lacing yarn through the holes to hold the comic together. 

When I started college, everyone who wanted to write majored in journalism. I was already on my own and I could foresee the future wave of journalism grads I’d be a part of, all fighting for the one or two spots available at the town’s only newspaper. My sister heard of something called “technical writing,” which was something that had always been done, but hadn’t really been a concentrated field of study. The university in my town happened to have one of the first programs for technical writing in the country.

It has such a dull ring to it, but my first job was fun. I got to interview scientists, Army colonels, engineers, and professors. On my first day, my boss plopped a five hundred page technical Army report on my desk. I was still a student, interning. My first reaction to this ream of paper loaded with military jargon and concepts: Oh, no! I can’t do this! But then I buckled down. Yes, you can, I told myself. This is what you’ve been in school for, and you can do it. And I did, and my boss was pleased. 

When my husband and I started a family, I quit to stay home, but it wasn’t long before I needed to exercise my writing brain. I began to place short pieces in small venues and a couple pieces in large venues. I picked up the freelance copyediting work and later drafted my first manuscript. 

That’s really the condensed version. There was much angst over the short stories and articles I sent out in which the editors made swift use of the SASE. I want to stress that rejection letters are part of the journey and everyone gets them. That’s why any piece that gets published is worth celebrating over!

The best moment for me as a writer happened when my family and I went out to eat one Saturday night. The restaurant lobby was dark and crowded. A boy walked by, his nose buried in a book, the back of which looked familiar. I pulled my middle son close enough to whisper in his ear. “Follow that family,” I ordered. “See if he’s reading Violet Raines.”

My son went off on his mission while the hostess seated us. A few minutes later, he came back with the boy and his sister, their faces alight with joy. They couldn’t believe they were meeting the author! My face was alight with joy, too. I couldn’t believe I was meeting a reader in the wild! It was the best night ever!

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in writing? What comes easily?

Starting a work is challenging! Everything is so blank; nothing has shape; I hate to even look at my computer. But once that first draft is done, it’s like hallelujah! Now, there’s something to work with, to shape and refine. I love this stage, especially after collaborating with my editor, whose eyes I trust. When the editorial letter comes to me, I’ve learned to take slow breaths, read it, put it down, back out of the room slowly. I let the comments percolate for a few days, then I come back to the manuscript with a renewed vigor.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

My advice is the same I’ve always given, but it bears repeating: everyone’s heard Read! Everyone’s heard Write! But I add Let a qualified reader critique your work, even if you have to pay for it. Many agents and authors critique full manuscripts for reasonable fees. This is a worthy use of your money and an education in itself—you’ll receive comments from someone who’s crossed the transom and seen the promised land. Their notes come from a place of experience, and that’s a boon to the work you’re trying to accomplish. Submit. Some people don’t submit for fear of not getting published, but you guarantee that by not submitting your manuscript. Don’t be afraid! Put it out there! And if you get rejected, don’t be crushed—just move on to the next step: Repeat from top.

Attend conferences. Force yourself to mingle, even if you know no one. And use every opportunity presented to put your work before an editor or agent’s eyes. I’m not talking about the bathroom stories we’ve all heard; I mean put your first page in if there’s a first pages critique; sign up for the ten page critique; raise your hand during discussion. Essentially, put your work on the line so you can receive the kind of feedback that will make you a better writer. It’s scary, I know, but worth it. 

Good luck, fellow writers! You can do it!

Danette Haworthauthor photo

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Author Interview with Cole Gibsen

Katana-final-CoverIntroducing Cole…

When Cole Gibsen isn’t writing books for young adults she can be found rocking out with her band, sewing crazy costumes for the fun of it, picking off her nail polish, or drinking milk straight from the jug – provided no one is looking.

She first realized she was different when, in high school, she was still reading comic books while the other girls were reading fashion magazines.

It was her love of superheroes that first inspired her to pick up a pen. Her favorite things to write about are ordinary girls who find themselves in extraordinary situations. For more info, visit her site here.

Let the conversation begin!

If this was your last day on Earth, what would you do?

Confession time: I’m a huge comic book nerd. If this was my last day on earth I think I would dress up as a superhero and wander the streets of St. Louis vigilante style. 

From idea to completion, how long does it take to write a book?

That depends, what’s your definition of “book?” LOL. I can write three-hundred pages of absolute trash in about two months. It usually takes me another two months to get it cleaned up enough so that plot, characterization, and story arcs are recognizable. 

Was it easier to write before or after you were published?

It’s actually easier for me now only because I’ve had the validation of a publishing contract so now I take my writing more seriously. Before, my internal editor convinced me that I was writing complete crap. Now that I know I can write books worthy of getting published, it’s easier to fend that internal editor off and put words on a page. 

What advice would you give young writers?

Don’t let anyone tell you what you can and cannot do. I grew up in a household with a very negative influence. This person took great pleasure in telling me that I was stupid, would never go to college, and that I’d end up working in the mall my entire life. I take great pleasure in the fact that I proved them wrong on all fronts. 

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

The best advice I’ve ever received is to allow yourself to write complete garbage. Give yourself permission to write crap. Brilliance doesn’t have to flow from your fingertips every time you sit down in front of the computer. The only thing you have to produce are words. 

How many words do you write each day?

My minimum goal for myself is a thousand words Monday through Friday. If I write more, great. But a thousand is the minimum. I also make sure that I take the weekends off just like I did when I worked in an office, to spend time with my family. 

810gtQ48MtL._SL1500_When are you the most productive? 

Anytime, as long as I’ve had my caffeine.  

What element would you add to your writing space if money wasn’t an issue?

Stan Lee. He’s my idol and my inspiration. If you follow him on Twitter you probably already know what a positive, humble, optimistic person he is. If money were no object, I’d pay him to sit in the corner and occasionally tell me, “You can do it, Cole!” That would rock. 

What’s the first item on your bucket list?

I am in love with Japan and the Japanese culture. While there are so many things I want to see and do in Japan, if I ever get there, the first thing I’d want to see is an actual katana being made. 

What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?

I’ll read books or comic books and I’ll make sure to stay OFF the internet. Nothing can zap your confidence more than comparing yourself to other writer’s and their publication journey. 

What book was the easiest to write? Hardest?

KATANA was the easiest because it has all of the comic book elements in it that I love – action, fighting, romance – and that made it a blast to write. 

BREATHLESS was completely opposite because I suffer from depression, and it was during one of my “dark times” that I wrote it. Edith has a very negative influence in her life – one I could relate to when I was a teen – and it spirals her into hopelessness and despair – all very real emotions that I dealt with as a teen and continue to struggle with today. While it was a hard book emotionally to write, it was very therapeutic. 

Do you let anyone read your work-in-progress? 

Oh my goodness, no! And it’s not because I believe my work to be top secret. It’s because I write the majority of my first draft using the Write or Die software with the backspace disabled. This means I can’t go back and correct anything I’ve written (including spelling errors) which means most of my first draft reads like alien script. It’s not pretty. 

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Tracy Barrett

King-of-IthakaIntroducing Tracy…

Tracy Barrett is the author of numerous books for young readers, including the award-winning biographical novel, Anna of Byzantium (Delacorte, 1999). Her most recent publications are two young-adult novels, Dark of the Moon (Harcourt, 2011), King of Ithaka (Henry Holt, 2010), and the four books in a middle-grade series, The Sherlock Files (Henry Holt). Forthcoming from Harlequin Teen in July, 2014, is The Stepsister’s Tale. Tracy was the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ Regional Advisor for the Midsouth from 1999 to 2009 and is now SCBWI’s Regional Advisor Coordinator. She was awarded the SCBWI Work-in-Progress Grant in 2005 and a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1994. She holds a B.A. with Honors in Classics from Brown University, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Medieval Italian Literature from the University of California at Berkeley. She lives in Nashville, TN, where until recently she taught at Vanderbilt University. For more info, visit her website and blog.

Let the conversation begin! 

What inspired you to write your first book?

While doing research for something else, I stumbled on the historian Anna Comnena, who was born in the twelfth century and was raised to be the heir to the Byzantine Empire. For some reason, her father changed his mind and made her hated younger brother his heir. She didn’t take it well, to put it mildly. I tried to imagine what her life in exile must have been like, and wrote what I thought was a short story of her reflecting on her life. My critique group wanted to know more, so I wrote one more chapter. They asked what happened next, so I wrote just one more chapter. This went on until I realized I had a book, which became my first novel, Anna of Byzantium.

What one word describes you?

Thorough. 

Do you bake or buy?

Bake. I have a serious sweet tooth and I bake a lot.

Do you believe in UFOs?

Of course! The “u” stands for “unidentified,” and until everything floating around up there has been labeled, there will be UFOs.

Should you tip for takeout?

Always.

BarrettTracyRTWhich is worse, being in a place that is too loud or too quiet?

Too loud is worse, although I do best when there’s a low level of sound.

What is one quality that you really appreciate in a person?

Curiosity.

What is the most distinguishing landmark in your city?

Nashville is the Athens of the South, and to prove it, we have the world’s only full-scale replica of the Parthenon that reproduces both the interior and the exterior of the building. I was a Classics major, and was all prepared to scoff at the Nashville Parthenon when I moved here, but I love it.

What is your earliest childhood memory?

I’m ashamed to tell this one. My sister was about a year old, sound asleep with her thumb in her mouth, and I pulled her thumb out so that she would cry.

What would you rather have: a nanny, a housekeeper, a cook, or a chauffeur?

A housekeeper. 

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Robin Friedman

author  robin friedman with her book  "nothing" 8/5/08 gpIntroducing Robin…

Robin Friedman is the award-winning author of five books for children and teens, as well as a working journalist and freelance writer. She has written more than one hundred articles about the science of chocolate, Amish cooking, road rage, SOPRANOS actor Federico Castelluccio, the prom, mystery authors Mary and Carol Higgins Clark, and square dancing, among many other topics.

Her books include THE IMPORTANCE OF WINGS, which won the Sydney Taylor Book Award; NOTHING, an ALA Popular Paperback for Young Adults; THE GIRLFRIEND PROJECT; THE SILENT WITNESS: A TRUE STORY OF THE CIVIL WAR; and HOW I SURVIVED MY SUMMER VACATION: AND LIVED TO WRITE THE STORY. Visit her at website for photos, interviews, press materials, and book excerpts. 

Quirky Questions 

What’s your idea of a good time?

In the summertime, sitting on the porch with iced tea and a great book. In the winter, sitting in front of the fireplace with hot chocolate and a great book. I tend to enjoy quiet, peaceful activities the most, but once in a while I do like getting all dressed up (and blinged out!), going to a lively party, and sipping a delicious cocktail (anything with champagne as an ingredient). I love the festiveness of champagne, and I love the word itself too, “champagne.”

Name one thing that drives you crazy.

I specifically hate it when drivers stop to rubberneck, for all sorts of reasons, one being traffic, but more importantly, because I find the behavior ugly. I generally hate it when people follow a crowd, and especially without thinking. This “herd mentality” can be stupid, and also dangerous.

Name one thing you can’t live without.

Beauty. The hopefulness of a new day and its beautiful sunrise, a spider’s web coated with dew, the purring of a contented cat, the smell of freshly brewed coffee. Small and large things, the everyday, and the unexpected, but especially the everyday. 

What’s your motto in life?

“Be courteous to all, but intimate with few.” –George Washington 

If you were a road sign, what would you be? 

SLOW. I tell myself every day to slow down and take it all in. There’s no destination to reach, in the abstract sense, but the journey is very, very real, and anything that makes it more meaningful all adds up in the end. 

What is one quality that you really appreciate in a person?

Kindness. It takes so much character to endure all of life’s relentless disappointments and failures, and still be a caring person with empathy for others. Life can certainly wear down the sheen of our youthful expectations; with character we can try to polish it back to a graceful wisdom. 

ltNovelByNJJNeditor

Writing Questions

What initially inspired you to pursue a career in writing?

I’ve been trying to express myself through writing since I was five years old. Writing is the outlet that I use to view the world, the external one, and my own internal one. It’s the prism through which I make sense of things, especially when those things, be they experiences, emotions, thoughts, or needs, are difficult to understand, or witness, or tolerate. 

What book are you reading right now?

THE GREATER JOURNEY by David McCullough. It’s about the Americans in Paris in the 19th and 20th centuries, who visited what was at that time the greatest city in the world, in order to bring back their knowledge to help their new country, the United States. Samuel Morse, for instance, got the idea for the telegraph, and his Morse Code, while in Paris. David McCullough is my favorite author. I’m a huge fan of American history, especially anything having to do with George Washington and the American Revolution. History helps me understand what those before me have overcome. As a society, we tend to be present- and future-oriented, but I find the past to hold immeasurable wisdom.

Was there ever a time in your writing career where you wanted to seriously give up? If so, how did you find the motivation to continue?

Too many times to count, to be honest. Publishing today is a Big Business (it wasn’t always) that can be inhospitable to authors at times. Like other industries, it has evolved to be somewhat unforgiving. It certainly isn’t a gentle place for people who might be sensitive. I keep going because I love writing, the privacy of my own creativity, as opposed to the public business of modern publishing.

n311134What inspired you to write your first book?

I seem to need two ideas when I start writing a novel. For my first book, a middle-grade novel called HOW I SURVIVED MY SUMMER VACATION: AND LIVED TO WRITE THE STORY, I combined my husband’s stories about being a kid over the summer at a swim club with a contest for the best opening line of a novel. The result was a boy who wants to write a novel over the summer, but keeps being dragged into shenanigans with friends at the local swim club.

Do you have a specific writing style?

I tend to collect a bunch of material (names of characters, title for a book, setting, plot) and when it feels like I have “enough,” I sit down to write the first chapter. If that goes smoothly, I’ll write the next, and the next, and so on. I don’t outline, but at the end of every chapter, I’ll jot down notes for the following chapter. I guess it’s sort of a variation of taking “one day at a time.” I usually have a vague idea of the ending; it comes into clearer focus as I write toward it, like a camera lens, which I find kind of neat. Writing is actually a fun process that totally engages me; I love it! That’s why I keep writing, I guess, in answer to a previous question, about giving up on the publishing industry. It’s just something I enjoy.

What do you think you do best in your writing? Bragging is encouraged.

I’ve been told that I capture dialogue really well, which I’m proud of, actually, because so many writers have trouble with stilted, unnatural-sounding speech. It’s almost a cliché for a writer to have problems writing authentic dialogue. Maybe I should have been a screenwriter or playwright, but those industries are even tougher than book publishing!

What books have most influenced your life?

Reading has always been my passion, especially when I was a child. I read all the LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE books by Laura Ingalls Wilder and the BETSY-TACY-TIB books by Maud Hart Lovelace. Even as a child, I seemed to gravitate to books set in the past. I also liked C.S. Lewis and Judy Blume.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in writing? And what comes easily?

Sometimes I’ll write something and wonder what a reader might think of it, which is inevitable, but really limiting. Self-censorship has a place, I suppose, but it’s always preferable to write without considering the reaction of others. That kind of limitation can really dampen a writer’s creativity.

What comes easily for me is that when I’m familiar with a character or setting or situation, the writing flows so fast that my fingers on the keyboard often have trouble keeping up with my brain. In those cases, I just have to get down the words in shorthand or abbreviations, as quickly as possible, and go back to fill them out later.

Who’s your favorite author and why?

David McCullough, who writes about American history, because he has the rare gift among historians, and nonfiction authors generally, in fashioning a narrative that reads like fiction. He’ll write about a Revolutionary War battle with all the drama, suspense, and breathtaking gasps of a 3-D action film.

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