Author Interview with Liz Kessler

0763643742.01.LZZZZZZZGet to know Liz…

If you’re a reader or would like to to know about my books or talk to me about mermaids or fairies or time travel or anything to do with writing, please join my author page!  

Quirky Questions

Favorite TV show?

Grey’s Anatomy, Brothers & Sisters, Lost, Homeland, Six Feet Under. Oh. Was I meant to just say one? Oops!

What’s your idea of an ideal day?

Long coast path walkies with the dog, lunch out with friends, fishing trip out on our boat in the afternoon and barbecue for dinner with fresh mackerel caught on the boat trip.

Have you been told you look like someone famous?

Not as far as I know!

If you could eliminate one thing from your daily schedule, what would it be?

Seeing the ‘To Do’ list with things that have been on it for weeks.

If you were to get a tattoo, what would it be? Why?

I don’t like pain. I wouldn’t get a tattoo!

What has been one of your most interesting jobs?

The one I have now, because researching books has taken me to all sorts of amazing places.

If someone rented a billboard for you, what would you put on it?

‘Emily Windsnap: The Movie, coming soon!’ Because in my fantasy, it would be!

If you were to perform in the circus, what would you do?

I’d love to have the courage to do something daring like be a trapeze artist, but I’d more likely be the clown.

What is one of the scariest things you’ve ever done?

I’m such a wimp, I tend to avoid scary things! I guess flying over the Grand Canyon in a tiny helicopter. But I was so nervous I missed some of it as I had my eyes closed!!!

If you could bring one character to life from your favorite book, who would it be?

It’s got to be Emily Windsnap.

Who’s your favorite fictional villain?

My own Mr. Beeston! 

141435-ml-809884Writing Questions 

What initially inspired you to pursue a career in writing?

Just a really, really strong feeling that this was what I’d always wanted to do and I was determined to make it work.

What books are you reading right now?

Just finished Julia Green’s ‘Northern Sky’. (Beautiful) And John O’ Farrell’s ‘This is Your Life’ (Very funny.)

Name someone who supported your writing journey outside of family members.

My English teacher from school.

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?

There have been times with quite a few of my books where I’ve thought I couldn’t do it and have worried that I might not be able to finish that particular book – but thankfully, up to now, I’ve always got over it and have never seriously considered giving up.

What’s your favorite writing quote?

‘Don’t get it right; get it written.’

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Read this blog I wrote a couple of years ago. ‘Trusting the Seasons of Writing.’ 

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

Yikes! I’m not very good at bragging! I don’t know what I do best but maybe getting into the voice of my main character. Or chapter endings. I do like a good cliffhanger.

What books have most influenced your life?

There’s a very beautiful and heartbreaking book called ‘The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly’ by Jean-Dominique Bauby. This book made me realize that if he could produce such an incredible work of beauty when he was in the terrible situation he was in, then anything is possible.

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

There are always things you want to change. Sometimes when I’m reading aloud from a book at an event, I find myself editing as I go along as I realize I’ve used the same word three times in one paragraph or something. But I tend to think that once it’s written and edited and out there, you have to let it go. No one is perfect – and that counts for our books too.

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

Sometimes it all feels challenging and other times it flows relatively smoothly. It’s all part of the journey though. After doing this job for a little over a decade, I think I have come to accept the roughs and the smoothes and not take any of it too seriously. 

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Author Interview with Elaine Cooper

9781938499920Get to know Elaine…

Novelist Elaine Marie Cooper is the author of The Road to Deer Run, The Promise of Deer Run and The Legacy of Deer Run. Her passions are her family, her faith in Christ and the history of the American Revolution, a frequent subject of her historical fiction. She grew up in Massachusetts, the setting for many of her novels. Fields of the Fatherless just released in October 2013. For more info, visit her website.

Elaine is a contributing writer to Fighting Fear, Winning the War at Home by Edie Melson, and I Choose You, a romance Anthology. Her freelance work has appeared in both newspapers and magazines, and she blogs regularly here.

Quirky Questions 

Favorite TV show?

It’s a toss-up between Downton Abbey and Call the Midwife.

What’s your idea of an ideal day?

Finishing a manuscript, then going out to dinner with my husband to celebrate! Maybe throw in a movie, if we’re feeling wealthy! LOL! 

If you could eliminate one thing from your daily schedule, what would it be?

Fixing dinner! I’m not the best cook. 

What has been one of your most interesting jobs?

It would probably be a volunteer job when I was a teenager. I worked in the live animal section at the Boston Museum of Science as a junior curator. A lot of it was just plain hard work but it got really fun when we loaded up the animals to take to the local PBS station for my boss to teach about the various creatures. 

If someone rented a billboard for you, what would you put on it?

Jesus really IS Alive! Read His Word! 

If you could have the lead role in a remake of a movie, which movie might you choose to star in?

“Places in the Heart” starring Sally Field. But I don’t think I could ever replace her in the original! She is amazing! 

What is one of the scariest things you’ve ever done?

Support my son’s choice to join the military. 

If you could bring one character to life from your favorite book, who would it be?

Atticus Finch from “To Kill a Mockingbird”

road to deer run.jpgWriting Questions 

What initially inspired you to pursue a career in writing?

I never thought I’d pursue it as a career, but my Dad inspired me to write when I was a little girl. He must have known that I had a passion for words. The career developed gradually over time as opportunities kept presenting themselves.

Name someone who supported your writing journey outside of family members.

A writer/editor/friend named Lisa Lickel was a wonderful encourager when I was a fledgling writer. She was always ready to answer my questions and refer me to resources that could help. I treasure her advice to this day. 

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?

After my daughter died of a brain tumor ten years ago, I wrote one more article for a church newspaper then threw my “pen” away. It was too difficult. I wanted nothing more of pouring myself into a story whether fiction or non-fiction. I did not have the emotional energy. It was not until four years later, right on the anniversary of my daughter’s death, when I “heard” an inaudible voice in my heart telling me I was to write a book. It was such a persistent voice that I could not deny it. That’s when I began my research for my first historical fiction novel. 

What’s your favorite writing quote?

It’s not a quote specifically about writing, but it’s a quote that reflects my thoughts as an author who writes historical fiction: “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” — Edmund Burke

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Don’t be afraid of your own writing voice. God made you a unique individual so allow your personality to shine in your words.

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

I think I am unafraid to show honest emotion in my books. I feel that if a character’s thoughts and reactions do not ring true, they will not be believable. I want characters that come to life on a written page, even if they are disagreeable!

What books have most influenced your life?

Definitely the Bible has most influenced me as a person. Historical biographies by Irving Stone have influenced my desire to bring history to life in fiction.

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

Although I write historical fiction, I would have to say that contemporary fiction writer, Karen Kingsbury, has influenced my writing a great deal. I’ve read over a dozen of her books and I’m amazed at how she can be so real in the situations she writes about. Her characters are believable and relatable and, by the end of her books, I always feel closer to the Lord.

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Author Interview with Melinda Brown Long

11466459Get to know Melinda…

Melinda began her writing career on a rainy day when she was six.  Her mother, tired of hearing how bored Melinda was, told her to write a story about Yogi Bear and friends.  She even gave Melinda a typewriter to use.  It was so much fun, Melinda just kept writing.  Now it’s one of her favorite things to do. Melinda lives in South Carolina not far from two pirate hangouts.  She enjoys reading, acting, and visiting schools to talk to kids about writing. For more info, check out her website.

Let the conversation begin!

What initially drew you to writing?

I’ve been writing for fun since my mom bribed me to write a story with her typewriter when I was six. I’ve always enjoyed it and got serious about it right after graduating from Furman University. 

What was your favorite book to write?

Hard to say, but I really loved writing HOW I BECAME A PIRATE and PIRATES DON’T CHANGE DIAPERS. They were just so much fun. I also had a great time with THE 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS IN SOUTH CAROLINA because it allowed me to use all my favorite SC stuff.

Who is your favorite author?

You want me to pick one! CS Lewis, Madelaine L’Engle, Maurice Sendak, Elizabeth Peters, Suzanne Collins, I could go on for days.

Where do you get your ideas?

I get my ideas from things all around me and from my own imagination. WHEN PAPA SNORES was written because my husband and I used to tease each other about who snores louder. HICCUP SNICKUP was based on a rhyme my grandmother taught me. HOW I BECAME A PIRATE was born out of my fascination with pirates as a child. I used to bury my mother’s earrings and draw treasure maps. When I became a writer, a friend who worked in a bookstore mentioned that there weren’t many books about pirates for children. That started the ball rolling. My kids started me on PIRATES DON’T CHANGE DIAPERS by showing me pirate peek-a-boo. 

What advice would you give young writers?

Write and read as often as possible and be persistent. Nobody gets published the first time around. I have enough rejection notes to wallpaper my bathroom. 

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Interview with Clare Di Liscia Baird

Diliciar25995-006 r (2) (1)Get to know Clare…

After graduating from Film School, Clare placed in the prestigious Nicholl Screenwriting Fellowship beating 4600 other writers. This year, Clare won First Place HM with SCBWI’s Sue Alexander Grant for her dynamic altered YA historical, OUTCAST.

Let the conversation begin!

How does it feel winning 1st place HM for the Sue Alexander?

Amazing and very humbling. This was a record breaking year for submissions which the judges managed to narrow down to three winners.

Congratulations! Can you tell us something about your writing background?

I went to Film school with an emphasis in Screenwriting. In 2006 I placed with the Nicholl Fellowship in screenwriting, another huge honor. After the birth of my youngest child, I started reading and eventually writing YA.

What do you attribute to your success?

Reading extensively, writing daily, attending writer’s retreats and most importantly preserving regardless of my comfort level. All these factors go hand-in-hand.

What do you mean?

It seems that there’s this get-to-the-front-of-the-line-fast mentality when it comes to writing. Sometimes writers get this notion that they will attend one writer’s retreat after working on a book for a few weeks and the editor or agent monitoring the group will whip out a contract on the spot after hearing ten pages. I’m here to tell you that doesn’t happen.

What does happen?

After you read, the moderator, an agent or editor will offer feedback. Any problems will be brought to your attention. This is highly subjective, but also based on many years of working in the field of children’s publishing.You, as the writer can choose to heed this advice or ignore it. I advise you to take this seriously. Especially from the professional. You have spent a great deal of money for the opportunity to listen.

How about if the advise isn’t consistent?

This happens all the time, one editor will want you to submit while another agent at a previous retreat will dismiss it completely. Research the types of books the agent reps beforehand. Read a few of the books the editor has worked on to know which material might strike a cord.

What if you get what seems a go ahead to submit but winds up a form rejection?

Here’s a tip. Ask yourself what is it that the agent/editor identified with. Be honest with yourself. Did she really say ‘I love it’ or did she say ‘I like how when the dog dies, the main character’s grief got to me’. Two very different reactions.

How can you tell the difference between the two?

Part of the understanding in attending a retreat or an intensive at a national conference is that you can submit to faculty that might otherwise be closed to unsolicited submissions. Sometimes there is a time limitation, sometimes there isn’t. When you really know they want to pursue your work is when they talk to you privately, hand you their card and ask for yours. Which means follow up! But even this doesn’t mean an automatic sale. I’ve had friends at retreats planning who to dedicate their books solely based on some initial interest. There are many steps that have to take place before the ink is dry on the contract so be patient.

Are even agents closed to unsolicited submissions?

More and more these days agents have become closed due to an overload of submissions. One agent at a panel at this summers LA SCBWI Conference mentioned she received five hundred submissions in one week. So by attending a retreat you’ve already given yourself an upper hand in getting you material read.

What happens when you know what you wrote is good, but didn’t get any attention from faculty?

In striving to improve our craft we need to be original, have an intriguing hook and tell a compelling story that has’t been told before. Good just isn’t good enough. If it’s too ‘familiar’ it will not get attention. It will be dismissed as derivative. Remember agents and editors reject good work from professional writers every single day.

This sounds hard!

It is. And you can’t shortchange the process. As of today I have attended  6 writer’s retreats, two of which were out of state. 7 national conferences, 1 international and 4 Writer’s Days.

Who attends?

Everyone from newbies needing information to published writers.

What’s the cost?

Anywhere from $450 on up. Meals are included. Out of state means airfare, car rentals and hotel. It can easily wind up costing $800 for a three day retreat. Definitely check out local retreats first.

What can we expect?

Most weekend retreats start midday on Friday and end on Sunday.There are four to five sessions with trained faculty. Roughly each participant gets 15 minutes. This is your time, use it wisely. You can read up to seven pages and then receive feedback from the moderator and fellow critique members. When your time is up, it’s up. Don’t go on another five minutes with questions eating up someone else’s time. Be considerate and professional. Remember, if the moderator loves it, they will find you.

Can these sessions get intense?

Sure. Sometimes you find out that what you’re writing isn’t working. That always stings.

That’s a lot of money to find out you’re off track.

That’s why I recommend before you attend any retreats you do your homework. I don’t mean having family read it, but get a beta reader or a critique partner to go through it.

Other suggestions?

Bring at least three different WIP’s. I know, I know some of us don’t have that many but I speak from experience. If you only bring one manuscript you risk having your heart broken with a tough critique.

So, don’t have all your eggs in one basket?

Exactly, work the month before on 3 different WIP’s. Set a goal of having two polished chapters per work. The retreat will help you decide what to focus on and what to tuck away in a drawer. Well worth the cost.

Any other pearls of wisdom?

Make sure to thank the faculty for their feedback. Also, follow up with writers that you felt inspired from. Who knows there might be a treasured critique partner waiting to be discovered. Use social media to friend and follow other writers. 

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Interview with New York Times Bestselling Author Maria V. Snyder

PrintGet to know Maria…

Meteorologist turned novelist, Maria V. Snyder’s been writing fantasy and science fiction since she was bored at work and needed something creative to do. A dozen novels and numerous short stories later, Maria’s learned a thing or three about writing. She’s been on the New York Times bestseller list, won a half-dozen awards, and has earned her MA degree in Writing from Seton Hill University where she’s been happily sharing her knowledge with the current crop of MFA students. She also enjoys creating new worlds where horses and swords rule, ’cause let’s face it, they’re cool, although she’s been known to trap her poor characters in a giant metal cube and let them figure out how to get out. Readers are welcome to check out her website for book excerpts, free short stories, maps, blog, her schedule, and more.

Quirky Questions

Coffee or tea?

Tea! Every night I make a big pot of English Breakfast decaffeinated tea and sip it while I’m writing, and when I wake up, I drink regular English Breakfast to get my caffeine fix. I only drink coffee when I need a super boost of energy. However, I’m currently addicted to those Pumpkin Spice Lattes – yum! 

After a day of writing, how do you recharge your creative batteries?

I write from 10 pm to 3 am, so after writing, I go to bed. I take most Friday and Saturday nights off, and then I’ll pour a glass of wine and watch DVDs.  Currently, I’m watching all the old seasons of Castle. It’s a TV show where a thriller author helps a police detective solve murders. 

If you could be any superhero, who would it be? What would you do?

I’d be Bat Girl – love the super cool motorcycle. I’d use my powers to help the women who are being abused, and the women in the Middle East who are being repressed – burkas can hide lots of stuff, including machine guns! 

Favorite TV show?

Right now I’m loving Castle. It’s a well written show with great chemistry between all the characters. I also like Bones and my all time favorite…Buffy the Vampire Slayer – talk about girl power. 

What’s your idea of an ideal day?

It’s a day when I don’t have anything to do.  Where I can read or watch TV or sleep all day without worrying about getting stuff done. I always have a massive To-Do list and would love a day without anything to check off. 

If you were to get a tattoo, what would it be? Why?

It would be a butterfly because I used a butterfly as a metaphor in my first book, Poison Study, and also because I love butterflies. I’d also have the names of my kids written inside the butterfly – like along a vein in the wing – very small. 

What has been one of your most interesting jobs?

The summer between when I graduated college and my first “real” job, I worked at a kennel. This kennel was just for one very rich lady’s dogs—over 50 of them. She showed them and bred them and hired two of us to take care of them. I loved it!  The dogs were always happy to see me and they never complained – I haven’t had such wonderful co-workers since.

Sea GlassWriting Questions

What initially inspired you to pursue a career in writing?

I never sat down and said, “I’m going to be a writer.”  It happened over time.  I was bored at work and started jotting down story ideas and writing short stories. When I quit to stay home with my son, I needed something creative to do or I’d go insane, so I began writing my first book, Poison Study.  It was slow—a chapter a month, but I really enjoyed it.  I joined a critique group and they liked it and encouraged me to keep going. When I finished editing it, I sent it out to publishers, hoping to sell the book before my youngest was in school full time (after than I’d have to get a job – gasp!).  The book sold along with Magic Study and my career was launched. 

What books are you reading right now?

I’m reading Halloween: Magic, Mystery and Macabre, it’s an anthology edited by Paula Guran. I have a short story in the book, but I’m reading the others.  I’m also listening to Spider’s Bite, by Jennifer Estep. I like audio books for long drives and when I’m doing the laundry—they help pass the time. 

Name someone who supported your writing journey outside of family members.

My writing critique group, The Muse and Schmooze was vital to my success! If you read the acknowledgements in Poison Study and my latest book, Storm Watcher, you’ll see all their names. 

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?

Yes – June of 2003. I’d received 40 rejects from agents and 17 rejects from publishers for Poison Study by that point. I had 3 more publishers to try and then I was out of options for the book. I kept submitting to those last 3, but I decided to go into another direction and focus on writing non-fiction articles and teaching. I submitted article ideas/queries to a number of local magazines. I also submitted an application to Seton Hill’s graduate writing program so I could get my Masters and teach.  I heard nothing from anyone all summer!!  I’ll never forget October 2003. I received a call from Harlequin LUNA – they loved Poison Study and wanted to buy that and a second book.  I was accepted into graduate school.  And Harrisburg Magazine’s editor called, she loved my ideas and assigned me four non-fiction articles. All in one month!   

What’s your favorite writing quote?

I’m not sure if this is considered a “writing” quote, but it’s my favorite: “Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” Thomas A. Edison

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Persistence is my biggest advice. I’d been writing for ten years and submitting for eight before I sold anything. Learn the craft of writing as well as the business of writing and attend writer’s conferences and classes if you can. Consider that time an apprenticeship. Be wary of predators, if someone is asking you for money proceed with the utmost caution. Get feedback on your stories from fellow writers before submitting. Joining a critique group is very helpful. I also find that if I let a story sit on my desk for a few weeks I can pick out all the problems, typos and inconsistencies easier. And I agree whole heartily with Stephen King’s advice in his book, On Writing. He wrote, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” And don’t give up! Ever! 

What inspired you to write your first book?

I was reading Orson Scott Card’s book, How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. In chapter 3, Card tells the writer to consider some questions before choosing the main character. He wrote, “Too often—particularly in medieval fantasy—writers think their story must be about rulers. Kings and queens, dukes and duchesses—they can be extravagantly powerful, yes, but too often they aren’t free at all. If you understand the workings of power in human societies, you’ll know that the greatest freedom to act in unpredictable ways is usually found away from the centers of power.”

This comment led me to think about a person who was close enough to the center of power to witness important events, yet not be the Prince or Princess. I thought about a food taster and a scene jumped into my mind. I saw a woman tasting food that was most likely poisoned through the eyes of the King. He watched her with heartbreaking horror because he had fallen in love with her. That led me to wonder about this woman. Who was she? Why was she there? Why would a King fall in love with her? And Poison Study was born. 

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

From the emails I’ve received from my readers over the last eight years, I’d say I’m very good at creating characters.  My readers love them and want more stories with my characters, even the minor ones.

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

I’d have to say Dick Francis. He’s a British mystery writer and I’ve read all his books. His books always started with a hook and each chapter ended with a mini cliffhanger. Plus he always wrote in first person point of view and his male characters tended to be quiet types with an inner strength that surfaced when things went bad. I think my style as a writer is similar to Dick Francis—his books taught me how to structure a story that is hard to put down. 

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

Nope. I’m not the type to look back and say, “I wish…” I’m proud of my books and spend my energy focusing on the next book. 

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

I struggle with description and setting details. If it was up to me, all I’d write is dialogue and action, which comes easily.  I usually have to layer in the details during revisions. My first draft tends to be sparse with the details.

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Author Interview with Gary Urey

001Get to know Gary…

Gary Urey is the author of Super Schnoz and the Gates of Smell, which Kirkus called in its starred review “…a winner, especially for reluctant readers.” Gary is also a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City where he has portrayed everything from a Shakespearean messenger to a mime trapped in a box on the subway. He puts his professional theatre training to good use every time he sits down to write funny stories for kids. Besides being an actor, Gary spent several years in the city as a theatre reviewer and script reader. He now lives and writes in Portland, Maine with his wife and two daughters, and has just finished the next installment of the Super Schnoz saga. For more info, visit his website

Quirky Questions 

Favorite TV show?

Hong Kong Phooey! It was a 1970s cartoon featuring the voice of Scatman Crothers. Hong Kong Phooey was the secret alter ego of Penrod Pooch, a dog who worked at a police station as a “mild-mannered” janitor. He then transformed himself into Hong Kong Phooey by running head first into a filing cabinet. You can watch every gut-splitting episode on You Tube.

Have you been told you look like someone famous? 

Besides the obvious comparisons to Fabio, someone recently told me I looked like Martin Short. 

What has been one of your most interesting jobs?

I once worked in a graveyard as the caretaker’s assistant. One day I accidently knocked over a HUGE tombstone with a riding mower. The slab of granite was so heavy they had to bring out a small crane to lift it upright again. 

If someone rented a billboard for you, what would you put on it?

There would be a large picture of me sitting on my riding mower from the graveyard with the words: Stay in school, kids. 

If you were to perform in the circus, what would you do?

I would definitely be the Human Cannonball.

If you could bring one character to life from your favorite book, who would it be? 

Maniac Magee because I’d want to see if he could really hit a telephone pole with a stone sixty-one times in a row from twenty paces away. 

Who’s your favorite fictional villain?

Environmental Clean Up, the evil corporation from my own book, Super Schnoz and the Gates of Smell! 

GangWriting Questions 

What initially inspired you to pursue a career in writing?

My original goal in life was to be an actor, not a writer. A few years after high school, I moved to NYC and graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. My roommate at the time was an artist who got an assignment illustrating a series of easy-reader books about historic figures. I took one look at the manuscript on his drawing table and something magical clicked in my brain. I decided right then and there that I wanted to write children’s books. 

What books are you reading right now?

NERDS by Michael Buckley, EAT TO LIVE by Dr. Joel Fuhrman, and R. Crumb’s KAFKA

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? 

It took me fifteen years to sell a book. After year ten, I had serious doubts about ever publishing one of my stories. But within that dark time some magical, serendipitous things happened to me. For example, I became friends with a woman named Roxanne Hsu Feldman who was a children’s librarian with the New York City Public Library. Roxanne later became a member of the Newbery Award Committee. One afternoon I popped into a sushi place on Park Avenue South to get lunch and struck up a conversation with an older gentleman. He turned out to be Richard Jackson, the legendary children’s book editor. I figured those chance encounters were signs from the universe to keep on writing and eventually IT would happen. 

What’s your favorite writing quote?

“Plot is, I think, the good writer’s last resort and the dullard’s first choice.”

–Stephen King 

I’m a proud pantser. Every time I tried to plot out a book in advance it was a disaster. My best writing comes from just sitting down and flailing away at the keyboard without any preconceived notions. I write humor/action and adventure, and the funniest situations are instinctive and spontaneous.

Do you have any advice for other writers? 

Don’t keep rewriting one book. I know many potentially good writers who write one book and then spend the next ten years tinkering with their masterpiece. Write your darn book and then get to work on the next one. And when that next book is finished, get started on another. You become a better writer by writing, not rewriting the same manuscript repeatedly. Also, beware the pitfalls of self-publishing. If you can’t find a legit publisher or agent for your book after sending it out dozens of times, it’s probably not good enough. Keep writing and you’ll eventually find the perfect publisher for your work.   

What inspired you to write your first book?

I’ll tell you what inspired my first published book. SUPER SCHNOZ AND THE GATES OF SMELL is about a boy with a giant-sized nose who becomes the unlikely hero when a criminal organization plots to destroy his school. The story is a perfect brew of my love of super hero comics and the fact I was born into a family of big noses. Seriously, my family reunion is like nose convention. If you were a Rhinoplasty surgeon and showed up at our party, you’d think you died and went to heaven. 

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

Humor and wacky situations. I’m a funny and outrageous person (much to the embarrassment of my tween daughters) and it comes out in my writing. Funny is in the genes, I believe, and I come from a family of goofy, nasally challenged, comical people. My mother is sixty-eight years old and still makes prank phone calls to strangers.

What books have most influenced your life?

MANIAC MAGEE by Jerry Spinelli, the HATCHET series by Gary Paulsen, and CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS by Dav Pilkey. 

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

The only thing I would change is my name of the Russian city Nizhnevartovsk. If I could do it all over again I would call the city Hoc, the Russian word for nose.

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

I have a lot of favorite authors, but Jerry Spinelli holds a special place in my writer’s heart. The way he blends humor, action, and poignancy is a thing of beauty. 

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Interview with New York Times Bestselling Author A.J. Hartley

DA3_revCOMPS3Get to know A.J.

A.J. Hartley is the British born author of the thriller The Mask of Atreus (Berkley/Penguin 2006) which spent several weeks on the USA Today bestseller list and has been published in over twenty languages world wide. His second thriller, On The Fifth Day, was published by Berkley in July 2007, and hit the New York Times list in addition to the USA Today list. In 2009 he published two novels, another mystery/thriller called What Time Devours (Berkley) and the first of a fantasy adventure series centering on an eighteen year old actor, Act of Will (Tor). The second in the series, Will Power, was one of Kirkus Reviews top 15 scifi/fantasy novels of 2010. 

With David Hewson he is the co-author of a novelization of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, written specially for audio and voiced by celebrated Scottish actor, Alan Cumming. It was nominated for a 2012 Audie in the Best Original Work category and published as a conventional book in spring 2012, immediately becoming a Kindle international bestseller. His co-authored Hamlet, a Novel will come out on audio in 2014. 

The first of his middle grades fantasy adventure series, Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Pact, was published by Penguin/Razorbill in Fall 2011, followed by Darwen Arkwright and the Insidious Bleck in 2012 and Darwen Arkwright and the School of Shadows in 2013. The first book in the series won the Southern Independent Booksellers’ award for best young adult novel of 2012, and has been nominated for state children’s book awards. The second book in the series, Darwen Arkwright and the Insidious Bleck was published in 2012 and the third, Darwen Arkwright and the School of Shadows, in 2013, also from Razorbill. 

2012 also saw publication of A.J.’s latest adult thriller, The Tears of the Jaguar from Thomas and Mercer, which also became a Kindle International Bestseller. 

A.J.s latest project is a young adult science fiction series called The World of Glass, the first of which, Eyes in the Dark, is being shown to publishers in October/November of 2013. He refers to it as Lord of the Flies meets Alien

He has an M.A. and Ph.D. in English literature from Boston University, and he is the Russell Robinson Professor of Shakespeare Studies at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, and works as a scholar, screenwriter, dramaturg and theatre director. He is the author of The Shakespearean Dramaturg (Palgrave/Macmillan 2005), an upcoming performance history of Julius Caesar (Manchester UP, 2013), a book on Shakespeare and political theatre (Palgrave 2013), and an essay collection on campus Shakespeare production (Cambridge UP, 2014), as well as numerous articles and book chapters in his field. He was the editor of the performance journal Shakespeare Bulletin, published by Johns Hopkins UP, for a decade. He is a popular speaker at school and library events, and a frequent presenter at writing and fantasy conventions. 

He has more hobbies than is good for anyone and treats ordinary things like sport and food and beer with a reverence which borders on mania. He is married with a son and lives in Charlotte. He is represented by Stacey Glick of Dystel and Goderick literary management, and by the Gotham group for film rights. For more info, you can visit his website.

Quirky Questions

As a teenager, what was your favorite musical group?

I went through a lot of musical phases as a teenager (all of them intense) but the band I committed to most was a British three piece called The Jam. Lots of angry leftist politics like The Clash, with raucous guitars and some punchy no-nonsense lyrics. They are generally called a punk band, though they have Mod influences and evolved through New Wave into something much harder to classify (part of why I like them: I relate to hybrids). Their front man, Paul Weller, later formed the Style Council, before having a long solo career. But The Jam spoke to where I was as an adolescent, showed me how art could be personal and confrontational and real. 

Is there a story behind your name?

My real name is Andrew. The protagonist of my first book (The Mask of Atreus) was a woman and my publisher didn’t want to reveal that I wasn’t. So I was published under my initials, and with no photo or bio on the book. I got reviews which said “Miss Hartley” clearly didn’t like men very much… 

What was one of the most fun things you did with your college roommates?

Played a D&D type role playing game called Rune Quest. Total nerd fun. I played for years. 

What is the craziest (or stupidest) thing you’ve ever done?

Those records are forever sealed… 

Is the glass half empty or half full? What is in the glass?

Half empty. But if I had my choice it would be full of a very dry martini, Bombay Sapphire with blue cheese stuffed olives. Not that I’m picky… 

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

Pretty much here but fatter and less mobile. 

What is the worst possible name to call a child?

Aluminum Siding. 

If you could snap your fingers and appear somewhere else right now, where would you be?

The English Lake District…out on one of the high fells with no one but a few stray sheep and an ice cold tarn reflecting the sky. 

macbethWriting Questions 

What initially inspired you to pursue a career in writing?

Not sure I ever really decided. Telling stories, playing with words: these things are in the marrow of my bones. From the day I discovered books, it was inevitable that I would try to write them. As for the “career” in writing… I’m 11 novels in but I’m not sure I’ve made that decision yet. 

What books are you reading right now?

Game of Thrones and Othello (because I’m teaching it). I like to be reading constantly and widely, but I can only manage one novel on my night stand at once.

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?

Give me a moment to stop rolling on the floor with hysterically anguished laughter… Okay. I’m good. What was the question again? Right: did I ever want to quit? I wrote for 20 years before I found a publisher during which time I wrote 8 complete novels. Every rejection from every agent or publisher felt like a kick in the stomach or a dagger in the heart, and every time I considered quitting. Seriously. But I couldn’t. I’d rail and shout and accuse the world and resolve to never put pen to paper (metaphorically speaking) again, and then a few months would go by and I would have an idea for a book… Ever wonder if you are a writer? Try quitting. It’s a disease. I said words and stories are in my bone marrow, my blood, my DNA. That makes it sound like a disease. Sometimes—particularly when no one wants to know—that’s how it feels. 

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Read a lot and write a lot, the latter with specific goals in mind. Also write (i.e. draft) fast. Edit slow. That way you can get the story down before you start second guessing it, and still allow yourself the necessary time to scrutinize and polish it.

Do you have a specific writing style?

Hmmm… I’d like to think my style is dictated by the genre I’m working in, the point of view of the character I’m closest to, and the tone of the scene I’m trying to convey. I’d also like to think I can at least occasionally make a reader smile when I find just the right word. 

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

When I really know my characters I think I do dialogue pretty well, especially if there’s room for a little wit.

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

Not in my latest book, no, because that’s fresh and I’m still living it. In books I wrote a few years ago? Absolutely. My early thrillers, for instance, are too plot/research heavy. In keeping the book lengths manageable I found myself having to take out some of the character and thematic texture which, for me, was the life blood of the story. I got trapped in my own intricacy of plot. 

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

The longer I write the more convinced I am that it is easier to sell a book with a strong premise but only mediocre execution than a brilliantly executed book with only a moderately arresting premise. Because I love sentences, this upsets me. I also find it frustrating when I’m keen to get to work on a project but know that the big idea isn’t quite where it needs to be. Those ideas are hard to construct. Sometimes they have to just fall out of the sky, and waiting for that to happen can be maddening, especially when you are on a deadline. 

What comes easily, as my previous answer probably implied, is dialogue. Maybe it’s my work in theater, or my fascination with banter generally, but making characters talk to each other is the most fun in the world, doubly so when I’m not worried about straying from important things like plot. Which means, of course, that I then have to go back and cut a lot of it. Hate that. 

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

Well, I know it’s a copout but I’m a Shakespeare professor so I’m going to do it anyway. There aren’t many writers whose work still excites, moves, amuses, terrifies, intrigues and so on 400 years after that work was written, not many writers whose stuff seems to find a way to be new and relevant even as we as individuals and as a culture evolves over time. Yeah, I think Shakespeare is pretty good.

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Author Interview with Hélène Boudreau

OfficialIDYNTYHiRes-936x1024Get to know Hélène…

Hélène Boudreau grew up on an island surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean but now writes fiction and non-fiction for kids from her land-locked home in Ontario, Canada.

She has never spotted a mermaid in the wild, but believes mermaids are just as plausible as sea horses, flying fish, or electric eels.

Her tween novel, Real Mermaids Don’t Wear Toe Rings is a 2011 Crystal Kite Member Choice Award Finalist

Connect with Hélène @:  Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

Let the conversation begin!

What one word describes you?

Five-track-minded. Sorry, I know that’s more than one word but it’s a symptom of my affliction.

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

I get my kids to catch it in a cup and release it outside. Not that I’m scared of spiders but they are petrified so it’s equal parts hilarious for me and a potential growth experience for them.

Do you bake or buy?

I have a thing about packaged foods so I definitely bake lots and try to sneak in all sorts of good stuff for my girls like flax seed and quinoa. I’m sure they eat stuff at their friends’ houses and wonder ‘what is this smooth-tasting manna from heaven?’.

Should you tip for takeout?

Only if it’s delivered. If I pick it up, sorry but all you did was push it across the counter to me.

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

Loud places are the worst for me. I get completely overwhelmed by noise and go into shut-down mode. Stadiums with screaming sports fans? Torture.

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

Compassion. Especially for children.

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

A housekeeper! So s/he could clean up after the girls and I create elaborate craft projects, cook elaborate fancy meals, and come back from elaborate long-distance road trips. 

Do you have a specific writing style?

I’m a planner so I tend to rely on charts, calendars, lists, and timelines to organize my ideas.  Otherwise, it’s Crazy Town if I just write into the void without some kind of outline and it takes forever to revise my manuscript back into submission.

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

I hope I write quirky, funny dialogue and scenes well because those are my favorite things to write.

What books have most influenced your life?

I’m from a family of ten so books were kind of community property in our house. I remember, though, that my godfather sent me my very own hardcover Trixie Belden for Christmas one year. I cherished that book because it was mine. All mine! That feeling of ownership of a story, a character, a whole world, is what really influences me to write for kids.

What book are you reading now?

I usually have three books on the go at once.

Paper book? The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen by Susin Nielsen

E-book? The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling (but I suspect I’m not clever enough to understand this book)

Audiobook? One for the Money by Janet Evanovich

Who are your favorite authors? What really strikes you about their work?

I really love underdog stories with characters that are flawed but have a special inner light and compassionate spirit like Kate DiCamillo’s The Tale of Despereaux and Louis Sachar’s Holes. I think both books do an especially great job of making the reader root for the main characters, who are layered and textured in surprising ways. Love that! 

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