Teen Writers Bloc

A Blog by the New School Writing for Children MFA Class of 2012

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Debut Author Interview: Lydia Kang discusses CONTROL

Posted by Caela Carter On December - 26 - 2013

 Debut Author Interview: Lydia Kang discusses CONTROLThis week, we’re super-excited to feature debut author Lydia Kang, whose sci-fi thriller YA novel, Control, hits shelves today. The book centers on explores family drama, alien abductions, and, of course, a good dose of romance. It’s definitely a book worth adding to your TBR pile!

We caught up with Lydia to chat about the differences between writing fiction and non-fiction, and the beauty of science colliding with literature.

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a writer? 

I’m a part time internist living in the midwest with my hubs and three kids. We have a lot of fish and pet stick bugs at our house! I started writing medical non-fiction in 2006. Little bits here and there, and I mostly published my stories about patient care in medical journals. In 2008, I joined a writer’s group that mashed up health care professionals with poets and writers. After that, the poetry started flowing and before long, I scratched the itch to write a book. I’ve always adored YA books, so it felt natural to try. Now, I’m still doing my doctor stuff a few days a week, and the rest of the time, I’m writing. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t know I could do it until I tried.

Can you give us a quick synopsis of  Control? How did you come up with the concept for the book? 

Control is about a 17 year-old girl, who loses her only parent in an accident. Her sister soon gets abducted while they’re in a foster agency, and my MC must align herself with illegal, underground genetically altered kids to help get her sister back. I always wanted to write a protagonist who wasn’t classically beautiful; who used her intelligence (she’s a bit of a research/lab rat prodigy) to get her out of scrapes. I’m a stickler for making the science work, so one thing that I think sets Control apart is that there is no pseudo-science when it comes to the traits of these kids. They had to make sense, anatomically, physiologically, and genetically. And I had to have romance! The book has so much in it, it’s hard to distill into one genre. It’s adventure, a medical thriller, a romance, and sci-fi all at the same time. And there’s poetry! It was a dream to write.

Control promises to be an action-packed page turner. Did you think much about pacing it as you wrote? Action scenes are generally thought to be one of the most challenging kind to write. How did you feel writing the action? 

I concentrated very hard on pacing, and made sure there wasn’t action only the sake of action. I used to be horrible at action! But I learned, and got better. There are several action scenes in Control and I really enjoyed writing them!

What’s your writing process? What does a typical writing day look like? 

I need to outline my stories before I write them. Individual scenes are written more spontaneously though. I’m sort of an omni-environmental writer. Sometimes it’s at a desk, sometimes on the floor, and often in a coffee shop. I need to listen to my Youtube playlist. My inspiration comes from just thinking about everyday things and using my imagination to ask the great “What if?”

What has your path to publication been like? What’s been the most surprising part of the writing/publishing process for you? 

The most surprising thing is that I actually did it! After I’d educated myself about the publishing process, I knew the odds were against me. I had to write a book that was well structured, well paced, with unforgettable characters and scenes and stakes that were worth turning the page for. I worked my tail off teaching myself and learning from other writers. Basically, I wrote every spare moment I had for two straight years until I found an agent and got a deal. Control is the third book I’ve written.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you yourself give aspiring authors?

“Show, don’t tell.” Man, that was hard to learn, but once you experience the nirvana, you never forget. Also, read voraciously and study what it is about your favorite writers that works. And write a lot. Keep the bar very, very high for the quality of your work. Always aim for “is this good enough to be next to (insert favorite, contemporary authors here).”

What was your favorite book when you were a kid/teenager? What are you reading now?

As a kid, I read the Little House book like a million times. I still read them! Laura was so smart and plucky. I’m also a huge Bronte and Austen fan. I’ve read those a billion times too and reread those all the time. I also loved L’Engle, Tolkien, Lloyd Alexander…there are too many! Right now I’m reading more non-fiction. I just finished The Poisoner’s Handbook and am reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. So amazing.

What’s next for you writing-wise (and otherwise!)?

I’d love to do a sequel or companion book for Control. I also have an idea for an historical fiction set in the 1917.

Do you believe in being part of a “bloc” of writers? Are critique groups and writing communities helpful to you?

Absolutely! A writing group got me started, and I found a group of critique partners I cannot live without!

Thanks for stopping by TWB, Lydia! 

Thank you so much for having me at your blog! You guys are awesome. icon smile Debut Author Interview: Lydia Kang discusses CONTROL

Debut Author Interview: Mindy McGinnis discusses NOT A DROP TO DRINK

Posted by Caela Carter On September - 10 - 2013

 Debut Author Interview: Mindy McGinnis discusses NOT A DROP TO DRINKThis week, we’re lucky to feature debut author Mindy McGinnis, whose dystopian YA novel, Not a Drop to Drink, hits shelves today. The book centers on teenaged Lynn and a world in which water is limited and Lynn, and everyone around her, will go any means to protect fresh water. t’s definitely a book worth adding to your TBR pile!

We caught up with Mindy to chat about dreams, destiny, Ohio, and the benefits of staring into space.

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a writer? 

I grew up in a small town in Ohio and went to Otterbein College in Ohio. I then took my degrees in English Literture and Religion and went back to the small town to be an assistant librarian in the same high school I graduated from. I’m rather Ohio-bound. I’m still working full-time as a YA librarian, and intend to keep doing it. I’m one of the very lucky (and very few) people who loves their job.

What made me want to be a writer? Life. Life and my brain. Also, writing is a job where you can stare into space and legitimately claim to be working. I’m an expert space-starer.

Can you give us a quick synopsis of NOT A DROP TO DRINK? How did you come up with the concept for the book? 

Not A Drop to Drink is set in a not-so-far future when freshwater is extremely rare. Rural dwellers who have hand-dug wells or ponds have their own sources, but must protect them constantly. My main character, Lynn, grew up completely isolated from any human beings other than her mother. Mother’s first priority was the welfare of her child, and that meant keeping their water safe. Lynn is taught at a young age to shoot first, ask questions later. The story begins with Lynn as a teenager, having spent her entire life this way. Changes come fast and hard, and Lynn has to learn how to protect her pond while entering into human relationships, which is quite hard for her.

The idea literally came to me in a dream after watching a documentary called Blue Gold, which talks about a projected water shortage for our planet. I woke up and thought, “Holy crap! This could be the one!” I wrote it in about six months, queried and landed Adriann Ranta as an agent in about two weeks. We were out on submission for about six months, and all told it will have been about two years after signing the contract with Katherine Tegen/Harper Collins to publication.

Not A Drop To Drink involves quite a diverse cast of characters. Apart from your main character, you feature a crippled boy, a mother, a pregnant woman. How did you handle developing your secondary characters? 

They were already so developed in my head, I didn’t have to do much more than deliver that on the paper. I swear it’s not a cop-out answer! They all had such a presence. All I had to do was write.

What’s your writing process? What does a typical writing day look like?

I’m a linear pantster — crazy right? I get an idea, I type “Chapter One,” and I see what happens. There is no typical writing day, I write when I have time — usually between 9 to 11 p.m.. And oh yeah, I write in bed.

What has your path to publication been like? 

The path has been awesome. I can’t say enough good things about my agent, my editor (Sarah Shumway) and the team at Katherine Tegen. But that’s the path of the past two years. There were ten years before that where I queried, failed, and kept querying. Yes, ten years.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you yourself give aspiring authors?

I’ve never had any “best” writing advice, but I would definitely tell aspiring authors that they should *not* think they have to write every day in order to succeed. Some people do, sure. I go months at a time without writing. I do space-staring instead.

What was your favorite book when you were a kid/teenager? What are you reading now?

I read The Stand by Stephen King when I was too young to really be doing that. So glad I did. Thanks Mom, for being cool. Right now I’m reading Pivot Point by Kasie West — awesome, original, well-written.

What’s next for you writing-wise (and otherwise!)?

Next for me is holding on by my fingernails as I debut.

Do you believe in being part of a “bloc” of writers? Are critique groups and writing communities helpful to you?

How about invaluable? I truly believe that if it weren’t for the amazing community over at AgentQuery Connect I would not have landed an agent, or enjoyed any of the experiences post-agented. I now serve as a volunteer moderator at AQC and I advise anyone who is looking for an educated, professional, kind community to drop in.

Also I have to say that if it weren’t for my critique partner RC Lewis (Stitching Snow, 2014) I would be known as Mindy “Comma Splice” McGinnis. She does more than that, too, but I always say it’s a good thing I have a keeper. She’s the keeper, I’m the kept. She’s my more responsible, self-controlled half.

Beyond large communities and personal relationships, small groups like Class of 2k13, Lucky 13s and most of all Friday the Thirteeners, keep me sane. Debuting is a very chaotic time, and being with like-minded individuals is balm for the brain.

Thanks so much for stoping by TWB, Mindy!

Debut Author Polly Holyoke discusses THE NEPTUNE PROJECT

Posted by Caela Carter On May - 22 - 2013

Neptune FINAL 198x300 Debut Author Polly Holyoke discusses THE NEPTUNE PROJECTWe are super excited here at TWB to be hosting Polly Holyoke whose middle grade science fiction debut, THE NEPTUNE PROJECT hit shelves yesterday! Polly has a lot to say about writing and reading and being a wonderful super-nerd so let’s “dive” right into her interview!

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be a writer? What did you do before you officially became a writer? What made you want to be a writer? Do you write full time now?

I was a social studies teacher for many years. As much as I loved my students, I REALLY didn’t want to teach summer school. I’d always been a huge reader and loved books that took me to different worlds. So when I had those wonderful summers free, I finally decided to see if I could write a book that transported my readers to other realities, and I hope that’s what THE NEPTUNE PROJECT does. I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to write full time now.

Can you give us a quick synopsis of THE NEPTUNE PROJECT? How did you come up with the concept for the book? Can you talk a bit about your process from conception to publication?

THE NEPTUNE PROJECT is set in a future where global warming is out of control. As people fight over scarce resources like food and water, a group of desperate scientists genetically alter their own children to live in the sea. TNP is the story of shy Nere Hanson who suddenly has to give up her life on land. The idea for this story grew in the back of my mind over several years. It seems so obvious to me that we are messing up both our land and our climate at a disastrous rate. If we wreck the planet, our species won’t have enough resources left to escape to other solar systems. That leaves us with the oceans as our last possible retreat. I wrote TNP in about six months, and it sold quickly after it was finished.

What is your writing process? What does a typical writing day look like? When/where do you write? Where does your inspiration come from?

I’m a big daydreamer (one of the best parts of my job). I try to imagine around 20 different scenes in my story, and then I write out a rough synopsis of where I think my story is headed. I love to write in my office in my comfy chair at my desk which is littered with knickknacks like seashells and small rocks I’ve picked up hiking. I’m disciplined when I’m working on a rough draft and write between 4-6 pages a day at least 5 days a week. That way the story stays vivid in my mind and I remain connected to my characters. I read tons of fiction and non-fiction. I know this is going to make me sound like a super-nerd, but I love NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC and the way its stories so vividly depict people around the world living in realities so different from our own (noticing a theme here yet)??? I get two or three story ideas from every issue I read!

What has your path to publication been like? What’s been the most surprising part of the writing/publishing process for you?

I’m a big believer in agents. Whenever I’ve had a good agent, my books have sold relatively quickly. I’m still a bit shocked by how much of my day is spent blogging, tweeting and using social media to reach out to potential readers. It’s fun, but it’s also a huge time-sucker. I LOVE to write, and I wish I could spend more of my day creating new stories.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you yourself give to aspiring writers?

The single best piece of writing advice I’ve ever heard came from Nora Roberts. She said in her pithy, direct way that the secret to being a productive writer is to, “Keep your butt in the chair.” She went on to explain that when she’s writing that first draft and she sits down at her computer, she ONLY reads over the last paragraph she wrote and drives the story forward from there. I can’t always make myself follow that advice, but when I do, it does help me to write more quickly.

My best advice to aspiring authors is to make sure you write the kind of book which YOU love to read. I enjoy stories in which smart, capable heroines get to save the day, and in THE NEPTUNE PROJECT, my shy heroine becomes a leader and guides her group through the dangerous sea to safety.

What was your favorite book when you were a kid/teenager? What are you reading now?

It’s tough to name a single favorite because I had so many, but I will say that I read THE BLUE SWORD by Robin McKinley so many times that my old copy is falling apart. In this wonderful story, a shy but brave heroine gets to learn how to ride and fight with a sword, and guess what? In the end, she gets to save the day! Right now I’m having great fun reading tons of ARC’s from my fellow 2013 debut children’s authors. I’m amazed and so impressed with the breadth and the originality of the stories my new friends have to tell.

What’s next for you writing-wise?

I’m hoping Hyperion and Puffin UK will both buy the third and final book in my Neptune series because I’m dying to write it! I’m also working on a YA tourist fantasy trilogy.

Do you believe in being part of a block of writers? Are critique groups and writing communities helpful for you? 

Members of The Lucky 13’s and The Class of 2k13 both have been so supportive and generous about sharing information. I’ve also been in the same critique group for eight years now, and every time I take a chapter to them to be critiqued, they always find lots of ways to improve it.

THE NEPTUNE PROJECT is full of all sorts of creatures that we’re guessing you don’t come across very often in your daily life. How did you come up the descriptions for all the living obstacles Nere has to face? Was there one creature that was the most fun to write about?

We are a little short on oceans here in Dallas! I used to go scuba diving in the kelp forests in the Channel Islands, though, so those scenes in the first half of THE NEPTUNE PROJECT I could describe from memory. But I also spent lots of time on dive sites and NOAA’s fabulous website to find out what marine life lives in the waters up north around Vancouver Island. Dolphins are hands down THE coolest animals I researched. I could go on for hours about them, but I’ll just share a few of my favorite facts. They have the greatest brain-to-body ratio of any mammal except for us, so of course, they are highly intelligent. They are very family-oriented and love to play. While writing TNP I was surprised and delighted by how much Nere’s dolphins became important characters in this story.

 Thanks so much for stopping by, Polly! 

It’s Release Day for Jessica Verdi’s My Life After Now!

Posted by Caela Carter On April - 2 - 2013

It’s a super-wonderful-exciting day at Teen Writers Bloc—release day for Jessica Verdi‘s My Life After Now

 Its Release Day for Jessica Verdis My Life After Now!What now?

Lucy just had the worst week ever. Seriously, mega bad. And suddenly, it’s all too much—she wants out. Out of her house, out of her head, out of her life. She wants to be a whole new Lucy. So she does something the old Lucy would never dream of.

And now her life will never be the same. Now, how will she be able to have a boyfriend? What will she tell her friends? How will she face her family?

Now her life is completely different…every moment is a gift. Because now she might not have many moments left.

Jessica stared writing this gripping, startling, heart-wrenching, yet hopeful novel during our second semester at The New School and by the time we read the first few pages of her first draft, we all knew she had started something special. Turns out the folks at Sourcebooks Fire agreed with us and, at long last, now you can too! Trust me, you’ll want to get your hands on this book!

Even better, if you’re in the New York area, come and celebrate Jess’s release with us next Tuesday, April 9 at 7:00PM at powerHouse Arena in Brooklyn! You can enjoy wine, a reading, a book talk, and get a signed copy (if you can wait that long to get your hands on it!)

 Teen Author Festival: The Only Way Out is Through Panel at WORD in Brooklyn“So, serious question,” David Levithan asked the five authors who were on his panel on realistic YA fiction at WORD in Brooklyn last night. “How many of you have had sex for clothing?”

That question was inspired by our own Jessica Verdi who had just read from her debut novel, My Life After Now, about a girl who has HIV. (And, no, Jess’s character and Jess herself have not had sex for clothing either.) Jess’s book does not technically hit shelves until April 2nd, but patrons who were present last night got to buy the earliest signed copies.

Other highlights of the panel included Ellen Hopkins (Crank, Tricks, and so many more) giving us all a sneak peek (sneak listen?) of a project she’s working on for Spring 2014; Tim Decker (The Punk Ethic) discussing how his project went from graphic novel to standard form; Crissa-Jean Chappell (Narc) talking about writing across gender lines; and Amy McNamaras (Lovely, Dark and Deep) story about standing up to genre-snobbery among her poetry friends.

 Teen Author Festival: The Only Way Out is Through Panel at WORD in BrooklynIn addition to a few pages of each of these saucy, clever and intriguing books (which included our own Jessica saying “sex” about 37 times—go Jess!) listeners like me were treated to a discussion on proces. And there’s nothing I love more than hearing how other writers manage to make the magic happen!

I especially liked David’s question about how a project starts. In response, it felt like each panel member had a recipe for what makes a story.

In fact, Tim said he pictures his work-in-progress like a petri dish: he puts a few things in there together and sees how they will react. Crissa-Jean defined author as “being evil all the time” because she takes a character she likes, then tries to make him uncomfortable for hundreds of pages. That’s, of course, the only way he’ll change. Amy said that, for her, a story becomes a story when she has a character and a place she can put together. And Jess said she started with the issue before she even knew the gender or race of her character.

I’m always amazed by how many different answers a question like that can produce!

Other pearls of wisdom I’m going to take away include Crissa-Jean addressing her self-censor. She said that sometimes when she’s drafting she hears an “inner voice” telling her she’s gone “too far”—but she calls that voice a “green light.” I love that idea. Push through that inner voice and go further than even you as the writer are comfortable with to get to the truth.

Jessica said focusing on her character and her character’s own individual experience helped her to avoid sounding preachy.

Ellen Hopkins told us not to read reviews of your own writing. (But it’s so hard, Ellen!) Apparently there are some silly people out there who think all of her characters are the same, which is just, you know, ridiculous.

And David Levithan, our moderator and the mastermind behind the Teen Author Festival (and one of our valued professors from The New School) said that when you find your comfort zone as a writer, you have to run in the other direction!

There are so many more awesome book events this week as part of the Teen Author Festival! Check out the full schedule here!

Also, you can see our own Mary G. Thompson on Friday at 4:40 where she’ll be part of a panel on Alternate World vs. Imaginary world.

And, you can see me, Caela Carter, on Friday at 3:00 on a panel discussing teens and bad choices.

Jess, Mary and Caela will all be signing books at Books of Wonder on Sunday along with about 90 other authors!

 

Debut Author Interview: Tamera Wissinger talks GONE FISHING

Posted by Caela Carter On March - 5 - 2013

Gone Fishing Debut Author Interview: Tamera Wissinger talks GONE FISHINGIt’s release day for another of our author-friends here at Teen Writers Bloc and Tamera Wissinger was kind enough to stop by and chat with us about her debut children’s book, GONE FISHING, writing-in-verse, and the joys of being outside! 

 

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a writer? 

From the time I was very young, I’ve loved rhythm and rhyme, stories and storytelling. After I studied English in college, I went into the most illogical field: Human Resource Management. During that time I did a great deal of business writing, and I wrote stories and poetry at nights and on weekends. Eventually, the call of poetry and story writing became stronger. I’m fortunate to now be able to pursue writing full time.

Can you give us a quick synopsis of Gone Fishing? How did you come up with the concept for the book? 

Gone Fishing is about a young boy, Sam, who is excited for a fun fishing day with his dad, but when Sam’s little sister Lucy wants to come along, he’s afraid she’ll ruin the fun. There is also a section of nonfiction end matter called The Poet’s Tackle Box, where I’ve included tips and information on poetry writing and poetic forms.

The story is told through a series of poems, and it came to me in pieces, first as a single poem that is the opening to the book, and then a few other poems that created a poetry collection. Sam and his dad were the two main characters. Once Lucy came into the picture, the conflict began to develop and the story started to take shape. Even though the characters are fictional, I did draw on my fun memories of fishing with my own family when I was young.

What’s your writing process? What does a typical writing day look like? 

I’m usually an early riser, and my preferred habit is to wake up, eat breakfast, workout, get ready, and be at work in my home office by 9 a.m. It doesn’t always work out that way, but it’s my ideal since my most creative energy is in the morning. If I’ve had a productive morning, and/or am not on a deadline, I’ll do something else in the afternoon, maybe research for submissions, market, or my favorite non-writing activity: read. If I’m on deadline, I’ll keep writing in the afternoon or after dinner, even, to try and push through to the end.

My inspiration comes from a combination of my imagination, my memories and experiences, and my surroundings. Wherever I am, being outside and feeling connected to nature helps spark my creativity. I’m lucky to live in south Florida where there is an abundance of flora and fauna to feed my artistic side.

What has your path to publication been like? What’s been the most surprising part of the writing/publishing process for you? 

I just came across notes from the first children’s writing workshop that I took and was surprised to see that it was ten years ago! After that I joined SCBWI, met a network of fellow authors, became brave enough to receive feedback on my work, took more classes, and eventually attended and became a graduate of Hamline University’s MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. All of those interactions helped prepare me for work on Gone Fishing.

As far as the book, the opening poem that I mentioned was published as a stand-alone in a magazine in 2007, so technically I began work on this story more than five years ago. Houghton Mifflin accepted the book in 2011, and my editor and I worked on it together from there.

The most surprising part of the process is really a confirmation of something that I believed: that there is a warm and welcoming community of publishing professionals, booksellers, librarians, teachers, and authors who all value placing quality stories into the hands of children.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you yourself give aspiring authors?

Something that my husband told me: “If you want to write, then write.”

To that, I would add: give yourself what you need to be successful. Learn, connect, join a critique group, immerse yourself in reading and studying children’s literature, write and rewrite until you have a story that’s polished and then think about connecting with an agent or editor.

What was your favorite book when you were a kid/teenager? What are you reading now?

When I was a middle grade reader I was a huge fan of Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, and I still love Pippi. While Pippi is comical as an independent, strong, rich, and often inappropriate girl, at the heart of the story she’s also lonely and vulnerable, which made me love her even more.

I just finished a wonderful novel by debut author Tim Federle called Better Nate Than Never. It’s about a boy who runs away to New York City to try out for the lead in E.T. The Musical. Tim writes with a striking balance of passion, wit, and tenderness.

What’s next for you writing-wise (and otherwise!)?

Because much of my work is short, I go back and forth between several projects at a time. Right now I’m writing more poetry, a couple of quirky picture books, and a middle grade novel. I recently learned that my first picture book, a counting concept book, will be published by Sky Pony Press!

Aside from writing, I received a stand up paddleboard for Christmas and I’m learning how to maneuver that on the water. There is an art and science to doing it well.

Do you believe in being part of a “bloc” of writers? Are critique groups and writing communities helpful to you?

I think that both critique groups and writing communities are helpful and essential to writers. Because writing is almost always a solitary act, we don’t have the usual social outlets, quality checks, and direction that come with a traditional work environment. Critique groups and writing communities help fill that void, both as a quality and directional check on our work, and as a way to simply be connected with others who understand the challenges and joys of being an author.

What made you decide to write a novel-in-verse? What challenges did you face that might be unique to writing in verse as opposed to traditional prose? 

When I originally submitted the story, there were about twenty poems – enough for a picture book length story. My editor had the brilliant idea of trying to expand the number of poems to tell a deeper, broader story, and move the book from a picture book format to a novel in verse format. That meant doubling the poetry to around forty poems, and also adding the end matter poetry descriptions. I was all for it and went to work.

The biggest challenges as the story evolved were to make sure that the new poems helped advance the story, and that those poems offered an additional variety of poetic forms. It was almost like putting together a puzzle, with every subsequent piece becoming more challenging to put into place.

It was great to learn about Gone Fishing! We’ll have to get our hands on it. Thanks for stopping by, Tamera! 

Thank you for hosting me at Teen Writer’s Bloc today, Caela!

13496312 1 Debut Author Interview: Nicole McInnes discusses BRIANNA ON THE BRINKThis week, we’re super-excited to feature debut author Nicole McInnes, whose conteporary YA novel, Brianna on the Brink, hits on March 15. The book explores the devastating effects of a steamy one-night stand. It’s definitely a book worth adding to your TBR pile!

We caught up with Nicole to chat about the book, the writing process, and the long path to publication.

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a writer? 

I was born and raised just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, which meant I got to hang out in all sorts of cool places as a teenager — places like Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley and The Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco. I went to college at UC Santa Cruz for my undergraduate years and then moved to the mountains of northern Arizona for graduate school. I consider both states my home, though I still live in the mountains. As an undergraduate, I came to a crossroads where I had to choose between creative writing and theater arts as a major. I went with writing and haven’t looked back since. I think what most made me want to write were all the incredible books I’d read since childhood. I split my workday between writing my own books and teaching university writing and literature classes, which is a good fit for me.

Can you give us a quick synopsis of BRIANNA ON THE BRINK? How did you come up with the concept for the book? 

Here’s the scoop: Sixteen-year-old Brianna Taylor finds herself lost, alone and with a major surprise in store after a one-night-stand. Just when she’s got nowhere left to turn, help arrives from the one person who is closest to her big mistake, but accepting that help will leave Brianna forced to choose between clinging to the ledge of fear and abandonment – or jumping into the unknown where a second chance at hope might just be waiting.

The concept came to me thematically, which is to say I was thinking in terms of the big “what if” questions — questions like, “What if a married woman was betrayed in a major way by a teen girl who ended up being more of a lost child than an easy-to-hate villain?” I initially thought of the story from the woman’s point of view, but it wasn’t long before Brianna’s voice was the one demanding to be heard.

My process started with a lengthy drafting process followed by bribing my best beta readers to have a look followed by sending it off to my agent. I’m lucky to have a highly editorial agent (Stacey Glick at DGLM), so she and I worked on the manuscript some more before it was ready to go out. Once it landed at Holiday House, I got to work with editor extraordinaire Sylvie Frank, who really helped me make the story shine. I’m not quite sure what I did to deserve getting to work with such amazing people, from Stacey and Sylvie to the art and publicity folks at Holiday House, but there you have it.

What’s your writing process? What does a typical writing day look like? 

What is this “typical writing day” of which you speak? Seriously, my process is a bit of a glorious mess, but so far it seems to work pretty well. I try to write in the mornings, since that’s my most productive time, but the ideas really start flowing at night after I’ve gone to bed, turned off the lights, and am drifting into Lullaby Land (which is why I’ve learned to always keep a pad of paper and a pen in the nightstand. I’m pretty good at writing in the dark, too). I almost always write at home, since the background noise of a café or other, no doubt more interesting, place would drive me batty. My initial inspiration for characters and plots comes from anywhere and everywhere — from news stories to snippets of conversation I’ve overheard to songs on the radio…you name it.

What has your path to publication been like? 

My path to publication has been a long (decade-plus), uphill battle that, at times, felt like I was tunneling through solid rock with a cereal spoon. I’m looking forward to finally being an overnight success. The most surprising part of the entire journey has been the fact that I honestly wouldn’t change anything about it. This may sound barf-able to writers still struggling to get an agent or a book deal (and my 2005 self would probably slap me upside the head if she could), but it’s the truth. For one thing, I’m glad I’m debuting now in this age of instant connection with readers and other writers via social media. Also, I have a nagging suspicion that I needed the toughening up all those years of discouragement, envy and existentialist woe provided.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you yourself give aspiring authors?

The best writing advice is, hands down, this: Don’t ever give up. Never. Ever. Do you hear me? Well, I mean, give up if you decide you really don’t want/need to write, but if you’re intent on writing and selling books, you may well have to suffer through many levels of incredibly unpleasant, fire and brimstone badness to do so. Then again, you might be one of those perky 20-somethings who lands an agent and a book deal on the first try almost without thinking about it. In which case, good for you, Snowflake! (*grits teeth*)

 Debut Author Interview: Nicole McInnes discusses BRIANNA ON THE BRINKWhat was your favorite book when you were a kid/teenager? What are you reading now?

I was a pretty active reader as a kid, so it’s hard to pick just one favorite book.

I loved Judy Blume’s Blubber and Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret (natch). Also, I *may* have snuck behind my elementary school with a bunch of other girls so we could quickly flip through to the naughty bit pages in Forever, but that’s most likely just a rumor. Various horse stories — like The Black Stallion and Black Beauty — were always a big hit with me as was Wilson Rawls’ classic Where the Red Fern Grows, which I read over and over (even though I’d end up doing the extended ugly cry every time I reached the end).

I am currently reading Ransom Riggs’ mind-scrambling (in a good way) Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

What’s next for you writing-wise (and otherwise!)?

I have a completed manuscript draft in the hands of my agent and another that I’m just starting. Both are contemporary young adult, since I’ve fallen head-over-heels for the genre. One of these days, I plan to take a trip outside the house where I’ve heard there’s nature and something called “the sun.”

Do you believe in being part of a “bloc” of writers? Are critique groups and writing communities helpful to you?

Yes to both! I’m a member of The Lucky 13s and The Class of 2K13, and I’ve learned so much/laughed so hard with debut writers from both groups. Writing is such a solitary act by its very nature, so connection in whatever form works is a good thing.

 Thanks for stopping by, Nicole! 
Photo Credit: Holiday House

Debut Author Interview: Liz Fichera discusses HOOKED

Posted by Caela Carter On February - 8 - 2013

 Debut Author Interview: Liz Fichera discusses HOOKEDThis week, we’re super-excited to feature debut author Liz Fichera, whose contemporary YA novel, Hooked, hit shelves last month. The book explores race, gender and class sterotypes and it’s a romance to boot. It’s definitely a book worth adding to your TBR pile!

We caught up with Liz to chat about inspiration, romance, and what happens when the collide.

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a writer? 

I am originally from Park Ridge, Illinois, but I moved to Phoenix, Arizona, after college, never expecting to live in the desert among cactus and people who’d never seen snow. I was wrong. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was ten years old when I wrote a story about my collie dog, Lady. My mother and my fifth grade teacher, Miss Bone, gushed about my little story and I was “hooked”. But then circumstances and responsibilities got in the way and I didn’t become a full-time writer until about 7 years ago.

Can you give us a quick synopsis of HOOKED? How did you come up with the concept for the book? 

Hooked is a story about two unlikely people who find each other under unusual circumstances and face prejudice, bullying, and lots of obstacles along the way.  The quick synopsis is as follows: “Sparks fly when a Native American girl from the Rez with a killer golf swing falls for the boy on her team with the killer smile.”

I got the idea for the story when I was driving down a long stretch of desolate desert road near my home that borders that Gila River Indian Reservation.  I got this image of a Native American girl and she was waving a golf club at me.  Weirdly, though Arizona is full of both golf courses and Native American culture, rarely do you see them in the same sentence, much less the same book.  I knew that I had to write this story.  Many, many, many drafts later and many, many, many submissions later, my agent was able to sell the book.

What’s your writing process? 

I write every day, mostly in the afternoons and evenings. I write in my home office which doesn’t really look like an office per se.  It’s filled with family photos and art that I love and, of course, my laptop.  I get a lot of my inspiration during hikes in the desert.

What has your path to publication been like? 

I think my path has been pretty typical of most authors who publish traditionally—lots of rejection, submissions, persistence and writing.  Things seem to go really slowly (when you’re getting rejected by agents and publishers) and then bizarrely fast (when you’ve sold a book) and then painfully slowly again when you’re waiting for your release date.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you yourself give aspiring authors?

When my first book (which wasn’t Hooked) didn’t sell right away, my agent said, “Keep writing.”  And I did.  My advice to aspiring authors is to read, read, write, write, and then read and write some more.  Also, make sure you grow an extra layer of thick skin.

What was your favorite book when you were a kid/teenager?

As a kid, I loved The Boxcar Children and all of the Little House books. Loved them to pieces! When I was in high school, I read and loved a lot of the classics like Wuthering Heights and Anne of Green Gables.  I had a wonderful English teacher my freshman year and she taught me to understand and love Romeo and Juliet.

 Debut Author Interview: Liz Fichera discusses HOOKEDWhat’s next for you writing-wise (and otherwise!)?

I finished another YA contemporary this summer which is currently with my agent.  I’m now working on another YA contemporary about a Hopi Indian teen and I hope to visit Hopi Land in northeastern Arizona this summer to do more research for the story.  My focus is on YA contemporaries and realistic fiction.  They are my favorite to read and write.

Do you believe in being part of a “bloc” of writers? Are critique groups and writing communities helpful to you?

Absolutely! These groups are not only helpful but they are essential. Writers live such solitary lives. It’s important to stay connected with writing communities. If I didn’t, I think I would go a little bit crazy (crazier).

Okay, Hooked is a romance between golfers. (Yes there’s a lot more too it that — race, gender roles, etc. — that make us all the more excited to read it!) Which scenes do you enjoy writing more: sports or romance? 

It’s a romance (what’s a book without one?!), but it’s so much more than that.  It’s a book about dreaming big dreams and not letting anything or anyone stand in your way, including yourself.

It’s hard to pick which scenes I enjoy more.  I truly love writing all of them.  When I get into a writing roll and can *see* my characters and their motivations, my fingers don’t stop typing until I’ve told the story.

We’re so excited to read it, Liz. Thanks so much for stopping by TWB! 

Photo credit: Harlequin Teen

Why does Caela write the most during football Season? (Also: Go Irish!)

Posted by Caela Carter On December - 4 - 2012

 Why does Caela write the most during football Season? (Also: Go Irish!)This fall, for the first time in 24 years, my beloved Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team is ranked #1, has a 12 and 0 record, and is heading to the National Championship in  Miami in January to take on the Alabama Crimson Tide in a fight for the crystal football.

(For you non-sporty people, that means they played twelve games, won them all, and get a chance to become this season’s champions.)

Twenty-four years ago, I admit I didn’t pay all that much attention to college football. I was a six-year-old girl. (Although, if you asked me, I would have told you I liked Notre Dame.) So, to me and everyone in my generation, this feels pretty remarkable.

But, this fall, other than the success of my football team, our recent graduation from The New School, and my new marriage, life was usual.

 Why does Caela write the most during football Season? (Also: Go Irish!)My husband (who is thankfully also an Irish alum) and I attended five football games — three at Notre Dame, one in Boston, and one in Dublin, Ireland, which we fit in on the way to our honeymoon. At the end of our honeymoon, after traveling for 24 straight hours home from Crete, we watched the Michigan State game on only a slight delay before getting some sleep. The next weekend, I was at a beautiful wedding and I spent the reception as one of four heads bent over the same iPhone to watch the Michigan game streaming live. (I felt slightly bad about this until the bride called out to me to ask about the score.) And suffice it to say, I lost my voice shouting at the TV in the Public House in New York City during the Oklahoma and USC games.

But my football commitment goes beyond simply watching and attending the Notre Dame games. My family spent hours of Thanksgiving Day talking about who would go to which bowls. My friends and I email/Facebook/Tweet constantly about this subject. My husband and I, along with our friends Linda and Nestor, wrote a musical tribute to our star defensive player, Manti Te’o, to the tune of Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite.” And, in some ways, this year’s time commitment has barely taken its toll because the Fifth Annual Carter Bowl (in which the members of my family pick teams and then trash talk brutally for the entirety of bowl season, all in a fight for the Carter Bowl trophy, pictured above — and, yes, that is a toilet bowl…) has not yet begun!

And yet, somehow, this was fall-as-usual for me in one other way. This year, for the third year in a row, I wrote the bulk of an entire draft of a novel during football season. In fact, during fall of 2010, (I attended four football games, moved to New York from Chicago, and spent every other Saturday watching football non-stop) I managed to complete my first draft of Me, Him, Them and It, which will become my debut novel when Bloomsbury publishes it this winter.

The past two years I marveled at this productivity. I thought to myself, “Imagine what I will accomplish in the winter when my brain can be consumed entirely by writing.”

But not this year. This year, I peer nervously ahead toward the winter months. Because in the past years, winter, spring and summer have not been ripe with words and inspiration the way I have planned. In some trick-math equation, more time does not equal more pages. So instead, I have to wonder, “why am I most productive during football season?”

Perhaps it’s simply the fall. As someone used to being on a school-schedule, maybe I’m just most productive when the leaves change because that was always the symbol of fresh starts and a new year. But, I don’t think so.

Maybe it’s that football provides some sort of structure for me. I always work hardest when there is a reward in store: write five pages today, go out to dinner tonight. But anyone who has followed a team like Notre Dame knows that this doesn’t necessarily work the same way. Because you are going to watch the game whether or not you deserve it. And because you approach the game with trepidation, unsure of whether it will be reward or torture.

No, after much thought, I’ve concluded that it’s pretty simple. I’m most productive during football season because I’m happiest. I mean, I’m a pretty darn happy woman in general, but during football season, even when we’re losing, I always know what my plans are on Saturday. In the moments that I’m being driven crazy by the world falling into the torrents of political upheaval and violence, I can always distract myself with a somewhat more trivial article on ESPN.com. And most importantly, my geographically disparate friends and family somehow feel a little closer when I know exactly what they’re all doing for at least four-hours of each week. (But it’s better when we’re winning.)

And, for me, happiness, more than time, leads to pages.

So now I just need to figure out something to create this much happiness in the winter. And don’t say basketball. I don’t have time for that!

Photo (and trophy) credit: Rich Carter

TV’s Best “YA” Girls (according to Caela)

Posted by Caela Carter On November - 9 - 2012

A lot of writers will tell you that the key to their productivity was when they got rid of their TV. Well, that ain’t me. I love television, especially well-written shows with either hilarious or heart-breaking characters.

…But not quite as much as I love reading well-written books.

And because the majority of books I read feature teen girls, I have a particular fondness for any show that manages to write a real, sympathetic teenaged girl.  I’m not talking about the Gossip Girls and the 90210s and the soap operas aimed at young women. In fact, it’s perplexing to me how many girl characters translate from three-dimensional on the pages to simply flat and self-serving on the screen. I’m not calling for an end to these dramas, but it would be great to see more sympathetic teenaged characters in those hit network prime times.

Here are some of my favorite “YA” voices from modern television:

Big Love’s Sarah Henrickson

 TVs Best YA Girls (according to Caela)

Sarah’s struggle to love her mother while strongly disagreeing with her lifestyle is poingnant and relatable for any reader. Oops, I mean viewer. And the sacrifices she makes to take care of her expanding and confusing family make her a truly sypathetic character.

 

 

 

Modern Family’s Hayley Dunphy

 TVs Best YA Girls (according to Caela)

Hayley is proof that you can write a sympathetic and funny teenager even if she isn’t, um, smart.  Her revolving-door boyfriend (don’t we all love Dylan?) and arguments with sister (Alex) over clothing-rights remind us all of someone we knew (or know) in high school.

 

 

 

 

Parenthood’s Amber Braver man

 TVs Best YA Girls (according to Caela)

Isn’t tiny, quirky Amber everyone’s favorite on this show? She is clearly brilliant. Her reasoning is astounding. Her vocabulary is better than mine. But her mistakes are so frequent that she has no idea how smart she is. If that isn’t the definition of teenaged, I don’t know what is. (And yes, I know she’s 20 now, but she was a teenager though much of the show.)

 

 

 

 

Parks and Rec’s April Ludgate

 TVs Best YA Girls (according to Caela)

What? She’s not a teenager. But, she was. When the show started, she was a spunky, sarcastic 18-year-old intern. And how fresh it is to see a teenager outside of the family-and-high-school setting! She’s such a real character, it almost doesn’t matter how young she is…or maybe that was the writers’ point…

 

 

 

So three cheers from this viewer for these very real fictional girls! And here’s hoping this list gets longer, and more diverse, in the near future!

Photo Credit: hbo.com, abc.com, nbc.com

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