Teen Writers Bloc

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

Archive for the ‘Author Interviews’ Category

WhenYouWereMineCover1 204x300 Debut Author Interview: New School Alum Rebecca Serle On When You Were MineLast week, in an effort to fulfill our Writer’s Life Colloquium requirement, I stopped by Barnes and Noble to attend a reading for author Rebecca Serle, whose debut novel, When You Were Mine, has just been released. It’s a modern re-telling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet with a bit of a twist — it’s told from Rosaline’s perspective. When I went to buy the book and found out she’d graduated from the New School MFA program (Fiction Concentration), I knew she’d be a great person to interview for our blog. Take a look for yourself and see what Rebecca has to say about her journey to publication and her life now as a full-time writer.

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

I have always been a writer, but it took me a little while to call myself that. It was the only thing I ever felt any good at — that ever felt worth doing, frankly. I think that’s how you know. When you’re a writer, and you write, there is nowhere else you should be, and nothing else you should be doing. It’s this wonderful, perfect sense of productivity — and it has always been there for me.

Can you give us a quick synopsis of  When You Were Mine? How did you come up with the concept for the book?

When You Were Mine is a modern re-telling of Romeo and Juliet from the perspective of Rosaline — the girl Romeo was supposed to love. It’s about first love, and first heartbreak, and what happens when our destiny defies us.

The book came about through and from my own heartbreak. I felt like I knew exactly what it’s like to be the girl who gets left behind. I wrote my way out with Rosaline — we did it together.

Were you a big Shakespeare fan growing up? What was your favorite book when you were a kid/teenager?

I was, but I actually never read Romeo and Juliet as a child, or in high school. I was a huge fan of the Baz Luhrmann movie — Leo, sigh — but it wasn’t until later that I came to the play. My favorite book as a teen was probably Wuthering Heights — it still might be.

romeo and juliet poster Debut Author Interview: New School Alum Rebecca Serle On When You Were MineRosaline is so relatable and the friendship between her, Charlie and Olivia is so strong and defined. During the initial stages of the book, did the creation of their voices come easily to you?

I’m so delighted you think so! Not everyone will like Charlie and Olivia (with good reason). They are imperfect people, but they love each other completely — I just see friendship that way. My friends and I, we’re not perfect. We talk about each other, we complain about each other. We care about silly things. But we love one another. Charlie and Olivia can be catty, they can be stuck up and snide, but they are fierce in their love for Rose — that was easy to write, yes. I really love those girls.

Was it challenging writing a story where — technically — readers already know how part of it will end?  

Good question! Well, you know, just because we know the ending for Romeo and Juliet, doesn’t mean we know the ending for Rosaline, right? This is her story, after all.

How was your New School MFA experience? Did When You Were Mine begin as your thesis?

It was great — I learned so much. I think the most important lesson, though, was how to commit to doing it. I really came to see myself as a writer through my time there — something I think is invaluable for an artistic person. If you do not see yourself as what you want to be, who else will? When You Were Mine was not my thesis, no. My thesis was another novel that is tucked safely away in a drawer (where it will remain).

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

I wish I could tell you! Sometimes I am very structured, and sometimes I am not. When I’m working, which I haven’t been lately, I try to do 1,000 words a day — more on the weekends. That doesn’t always happen. I believe in consistency, but I also believe in self-forgiveness. So much of being a writer, an author, is wresting guilt — am I doing enough? You’re doing just fine. What gets done, gets done. And somehow, books still get written!

What has your path to publication been like? Any surprises?

Tons. Sometimes it sounds like a fairytale when I tell it but the truth is, it wasn’t always that way. I fought many losing battles, and I’m sure I’m still not done. Writing, and publishing, is a dynamic process — it’s always changing. I just try not to take it for granted. The work is what matters — and luckily that is always there.

Rebecca Serle umbrella1 300x197 Debut Author Interview: New School Alum Rebecca Serle On When You Were MineWhat’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you yourself give aspiring authors?

My friend and fellow novelist Lauren Oliver once told me “write for truth and beauty will follow” — that is some pretty A+ advice, right there. When I write I try to always ask myself: is this true? 

I’d tell aspiring authors to be writers, first. Being an author is cool and all, but we all work with the same alphabet, the same blank pages. Writing is 90 percent temperament and ten percent talent — you have to be comfortable just doing it. Also! Get Stephen King’s On Writing. 

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

I’m working on my second book, which should be out in the next two years. I’m always working on a million things. I love the process, I love creating. So, more to come.

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

I think community is important in just about everything. It’s wonderful to be able to call up a writer friend and ask “hey, I’m stuck on this chapter” or “when you went through x part of the publishing process, was it like this for you?” I’m lucky that I have those people in my life — writers who have gone before. Particularly because writing is so solitary, it’s lovely to have that dialogue. But I think, sometimes, writers in groups can get a little too focused on what other people are doing. It doesn’t matter. Focus on YOUR best work. No one writes like you. No one has your specific talent. What other people are doing is irrelevant. It’s a balance. Luckily, my writer friends are also, just, my friends! So we talk about lots more than just our work.

Thanks again!

Thank you! This was so much fun!

Photo Credits: Book and Author Image: rebeccaserle.com & Simon and Schuster

Movie Poster Image: Flixster, Inc.

Spotlight: Kate Milford’s KickStarter Campaign and The Kairos Mechanism

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On April - 19 - 2012

The Boneshaker Spotlight: Kate Milfords KickStarter Campaign and The Kairos Mechanism My good friend Kate Milford is embarking up a fascinating journey — using self-publishing to accompany her traditionally-published novels, The Boneshaker and The Broken Lands (Clarion, September 2012). She is one of the most talented writers I know, and I love all the things she writes. Plus, she’s always up to something. Most recently she has launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund her latest book (which is wonderful and imaginative and everything I love in a good book).

We caught up with her about her latest endeavor.

Here’s the big idea in her own words describing what she’s up to:

I’m publishing a novella companion to release this fall with my second book, The Broken Lands (Clarion, September 2012). I want to experiment with self-publishing as a way to promote and enhance traditional releases by providing extra content to readers in the form of complete, related tales. I also want to use resources that support independent bookstores. It’s my hope to release a self-published novella alongside as many of my forthcoming hardcover releases as possible in an ongoing effort called the Arcana Project, which is why it has the optimistic subtitle.

The novella is called The Kairos Mechanism (Arcana #1), and it’s a story about characters from my first book, The Boneshaker (Clarion, 2010). It’s also related to the events of The Broken Lands



September, 1913. The crossroads town of Arcane, Missouri, is a place where strange things happen, and lately those strange things have a habit of happening to thirteen year-old Natalie Minks. It’s Natalie who first encounters the two boys who arrive in town seemingly out of nowhere, carrying a dead man between them. Odder still, a few of her older neighbors immediately recognize the dead man as a fellow citizen who’s been missing for fifty years–and who doesn’t appear to have aged in all that time. When another newcomer, a peddler called Trigemine, arrives in town, Natalie learns why the two boys and the peddler have really come to Arcane. And, of course, she realizes she has to stop them.

Like The Boneshakerand The Broken Lands, The Kairos Mechanism is a moderately frightening folklore-based fantasy. If you have read The Boneshaker, you’ll find the novella full of clues as to what’s coming and bits of history about characters you’ve already met. If you haven’t read it, don’t worry. You’ll fall in love with Natalie and Arcane right away.

I caught up with her to ask a few more questions about her project and how she creates as a writer.

TheBrokenLands Cover 1 166x245 Spotlight: Kate Milfords KickStarter Campaign and The Kairos Mechanism 1. How did you come up with the whole idea for having this novella? Are companion novels and novellas something you’ve always wanted to create as a writer?

I guess it started with the Nagspeake Board of Tourism and Culture website. I love cities and towns, and I love the idea of exploring a fictional city the way you’d explore a real one, by poking your nose into different streets and alleys and shops at random to see where your wandering takes you. So I started building a fictional city, Nagspeake, online. I’ve sort of always been interested in the ephemera that are hidden around a place or a story, just waiting to be discovered.

Ultimately this is why I started thinking about writing some companion pieces to my books. It was an idea I’ve been kicking around since the year after The Boneshaker sold. At that point, I had the idea for the project that would become The Broken Lands—it was just the tiniest bit of an idea, but I was thinking about what Jack the Drifter might’ve been up to before he wandered through Arcane. At the same time, I was beginning to think about a bigger story, something that would pit Natalie Minks against Jack. I thought it would make for a neat bit of backstory, something that might tide readers over until I began the big Natalie/Jack series. Fortunately, my publisher thought The Broken Lands would make a better full-length novel, and she was right. But I never stopped thinking about what I could do with all the extra little ideas I had floating around, and how I could use them to provide extra content for readers to explore the world of The Boneshaker.

Also I had about a year where I wasn’t sure what my next contract was going to be, and a girl’s gotta stay busy. At least, I do. Otherwise I go a bit crazy, and my husband likes it when I’m not crazy.


2. When you created the world of The Boneshaker and The Broken Lands, did you know you had several more stories within the world to tell? Did you always plan for this? Give us a little insight into your world-building.

Originally, I had envisioned The Boneshaker as a stand-alone novel, but once I added Jack, I started thinking about it differently, and by the time I was done, I knew I wanted to bring Jack back to Arcane. And I started wondering about what he might’ve been up to. Jack is an extraordinarily powerful creature looking for a place to make his own, and for this purpose he needs a place with a powerful crossroads. It occurred to me that before he settled on a small crossroads town like Arcane, he might’ve tried for someplace big first. From there, I started tracing his efforts backward, so now I know of several places he turned up before Arcane.

What happens with me is once I get really immersed in a place or time, I keep getting ideas. I fall in love with my characters (even—maybe especially—the villains), and I know where they all come from and where they all were at different times. And since the world of The Boneshaker is populated by a number of ancient wanderers and a number of powerful crossroads, I started thinking about those, and about their histories and about how the roamers might’ve crossed paths and where, and when…and things evolve from there. Plus, I’m an obsessive researcher, so as I get to know an era better and better, I start thinking things like, you know, Liao (a character in The Broken Lands) would’ve been a boy right about then. What might he have been up to? And Jake Limberleg (the villain of The Boneshaker) would’ve been youngish then, too…I wonder under what circumstances they might have crossed paths? This is where most of the ideas I have stockpiled away for the Arcana came from. It’s also where most of the ideas for the full-length projects I’m working on right now come from, to

I did seed certain things into The Boneshaker and The Broken Lands that I knew I wanted to come back to. Two characters in The Broken Lands spring to mind, for instance: there is a nameless woman with a violin, and a girl with silver eyes. They are not physically present in the book the way the protagonists are, but they are mentioned in a crucial story that one of the characters tells, and they’re characters in future books. But that’s often as far as my planning goes. I know I’m coming back to them, and why, and I usually have a vague (but sometimes only the vaguest) idea as to what their untold backstories are. But I don’t always know the specifics.

 Spotlight: Kate Milfords KickStarter Campaign and The Kairos Mechanism 3. Without spoiling the wonderful plot of The Kairos Mechanism, can tell us how this book is a bridge between The Boneshaker and The Broken Lands? Or how do you intend it to function?

The Boneshaker takes place in Arcane, Missouri, in 1913, and it’s about a girl named Natalie Minks. The Broken Lands takes place in New York City in 1877, and although two characters from The Boneshaker turn up, the cast is otherwise entirely different. It’s a bit of a prequel, in that the events that take place in The Broken Lands relate to The Boneshaker, but it’s basically a stand-alone story. So The Kairos Mechanism is meant to do two things. Firstly, it’s a Natalie story, to tide me (and any Natalie-fans who are out there) over until I get to come back to her and to Arcane. Secondly, it provides some extra clues as to how the two books are related, some clues to what’s coming for Natalie, and some history for readers who, like me, want to know more about the world and the characters. And it’s a self-contained story in its own right.

Like I mentioned, I really love when, as a reader, I get to explore a world in more depth and really get to know it. But I want to be able to explore it while I’m reading the story it relates to, and I particularly love when I find extra content that isn’t just extra content, but something that actually changes the way I read the story. Obviously this is a fine line—if it’s not in the book, it almost can’t be critical to the story (unless that’s the point, I guess). And the extra content can’t be spoilery—for instance, I don’t know in what order people are going to read The Kairos Mechanism and The Broken Lands, and there are probably going to be people who read one of those two before they even read The Boneshaker. So I’m having to be very careful about what’s fair game to include, or refer to, or reveal. It’s very tricky.

4. If the Kickstarter campaign is successful, which we know it will be, what are your plans for the rest of the Arcana? Can you give us a little insider information? Or a sneak peek of your vision for them?

My pie-in-the-sky dream is to release an Arcanum novella alongside every hardcover release. I have a list of projects I’m saving up for them—basically for every full-length proposal I’ve written in the last year, I have a plan for a novella to accompany it. And one of the coolest things I’ve planned for the project (if I do say so myself) is that each one will be available in a digital version illustrated by young artists, one artist per chapter. The group that’s assembling right now is so diverse in terms of styles, I think it’s going to make for an amazing collection of illustrations. (And for what it’s worth, as of 1pm EST on Wednesday, I am still in need of one or two more artists.)


The Kairos Mechanism Kickstarter campaign’s off to a great start, but it still needs backers in a big way. Plus, if we exceed our goal, I’ll be able to bump up the artists’ compensation. Plus plus, if we REALLY exceed our goal—and it can happen, there’s still time—I may be able to finance the second Arcanum on this campaign. That would be amazing. I’d like the project ultimately not to require crowd-sourcing the funds, but that’s a long-term goal, obviously. It won’t happen on the first few installments.



Spotlight: Neesha Meminger’s New Book “Into The Wise Dark”

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On April - 4 - 2012

b170d833bb3ad68fdafd38d0c35d1c28 Spotlight: Neesha Memingers New Book Into The Wise DarkAnnouncement! Announcement! My good friend Neesha Meminger has a new book out and it’s magical. The last time we caught up with Neesha, it was to discuss her other book Jazz in Love. Fans of that book will definitely dig her latest one, even though it’s a departure from contemporary fiction. Neesha wades into fantasy waters and does it well. Plus, the main character, Pammi, is a secondary character from her last novel. We caught up with Neesha to discuss the new project.

What inspired you to write a fantasy novel? Was it challenging to incorporate fantastical elements?

I loved magic and fantasy as a child. I don’t think I’ve met a child yet who doesn’t! It engages the imagination and makes the seemingly impossible, possible. All fairytales are full of magic — fairy godmothers and wolves who talk and mirrors that tell tales and lands where no one grows old… And the stories I grew up with at home were deeply rooted in Indian myths and legends. The lines between the fantastic and the real were always blurry and my mother never made the distinction between the two. I wrote many short stories and poems, prior to having my first book published, that had elements of the speculative. They had a thread of magic or a hint of the fantastic woven throughout. In fact, the very first novel I ever shopped around to agents – an epic tale of trans-global migration – had a grandmother ghost in it. But the first novel to get published was a contemporary realistic one. It was distilled from the longer, epic novel I’d written, sans the grandmother ghost. But I’d always wanted to write stories that broke open the world we live in, so that we could glimpse other Possibles, and grow bigger than we think we can. Into The Wise Dark had been brewing in my mind for a while and when I finally began to write it, I felt like I was coming home in a way.

How did you transition between writing two different genres — contemporary for Shine, Coconut Moon and Jazz in Love – and now, fantasy with Into the Wise Dark? Did you have to switch “hats” or sensibilities so to speak?

I read a lot of both, so it wasn’t super hard for me to make the transition. The challenges I faced were the same challenges I face with all my other writing. I have weak areas and blind spots and strengths and some things that I do really well. All of those came into play in the same way. I still look at issues of race and gender and sexuality and collective action over individual glory, and my key protagonists are all women and/or women of color. This is true for all my work. It will always be true of my work. I often get asked if I will “branch out” and write characters who are not South Asian. My answer to that is usually, “Yes. I will stop writing strong South Asian female protagonists when the shelves at major bookstores are lined with novels about strong South Asian female protagonists. Until then, this is what I shall focus on.” icon smile Spotlight: Neesha Memingers New Book Into The Wise Dark

The other thing we hear a lot about when it comes to fantasy and speculative fiction is “world-building.” At first, this term intimidated me, but then, when I thought about it, I realized I’d been “world-building” all my life. Every time I translated the western culture we lived in to my non-English-speaking parents at home, I was world-building. Every time I tried to explain the strange and foreign traditions and customs of my family to the outside world, I was world-building. And in both my contemporary novels, I still had to build worlds. I needed to build an “inside” world of South Asian culture and traditions that could feel real to readers who might not be familiar with those. If readers couldn’t step inside and become a part of the world I’d created, they wouldn’t experience the story as it was meant to be experienced. So, when I thought of it in those terms, the process was less intimidating and felt more doable.

What’s next for you? A sequel to Into the Wise Dark? Another contemporary tale? Both?

At this point, I’m not sure which direction my career will take. Writing will always be an important part of my life and connecting with my readers is a necessity for me. It shapes me and helps me evolve. But the path has been unpredictable and bumpy and, many times, not at all what I expected. Now, with the way the world is in flux and all the (very rapid!) changes taking place, I’m having a bit of a breather so I can gain some perspective. But rest assured I will be putting *something* out in the not-so-distant future icon smile Spotlight: Neesha Memingers New Book Into The Wise Dark .

Photo Credit: Ignite Books


Debut Author Interview: Aimee Agresti Talks ‘Illuminate’

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On March - 23 - 2012

illuminate 400x600 Debut Author Interview: Aimee Agresti Talks IlluminateWay back in the day, when I was just starting out in journalism, I worked briefly with Aimee Agresti, who was then an editor at the since-shuttered but always fabulous Premiere magazine. So when I heard that Aimee was releasing her first novel, the hotly-anticiapated Illuminate, the first in a trilogy, I knew we had to nab her for a quick chat for TeenWritersBloc.com. Thankfully, she graciously agreed! Herewith, Aimee!

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

Hi there! Thanks for having me! Before Illuminate, I was a writer firmly entrenched in the world of facts, so the leap to fiction has been a great new adventure. I majored in journalism at Northwestern and spent years writing for entertainment magazines, which was just as fun as it sounds! Most recently I was a staff writer for Us Weekly, a fabulous place full of great people. But I always dreamed of writing novels. I grew up reading everything in sight so writing Illuminate and seeing it on the shelves now has all been such a thrill!

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

Sure! Illuminate is about a teen angel who’s forced to battle a pack of gorgeous, soul-stealing devils and ends up falling in love with one of them. But, of course, there’s so much more to it than that! Illuminate is a wonderful stew of so many things I adore. The first germ of the idea came from my love of The Picture of Dorian Gray. I thought it would be fascinating to update it and kept thinking, What would you have given your soul for when you were in high school? Then I added a few twists, some angels and devils, and, most importantly, a strong heroine. I grew up on Nancy Drew mysteries and loved Nancy’s fearlessness and confidence. I wanted my protagonist to be a girl who didn’t necessarily start out so sure of herself, but who became a force to be reckoned with by the end.

The book is set in a hotel. How did you decide on that for the setting? And you’re writing about angels and devils — did you dig into the canon on this?

I went to college in Chicago and I always knew it would be the perfect place to set a mystery. I loved its wild history — Capone, prohibition, and all those amazing tunnels beneath the city. What better place to serve as a backdrop for all sorts of sinister goings-on?

To get access to those tunnels AND to give my characters a fun place to call home, I decided to resurrect the Lexington Hotel — which is no longer standing. I liked the glamour element that came with living in a hotel. Dorian Gray is full of beauty and luxury, he lives in a pretty posh pad, so I wanted the setting to be special. I did look at old pictures of the Lexington but, since it no longer exists, I gave myself carte blanche to modernize it and make all sorts of changes. Illuminate‘s Lexington is a newly renovated version. (Capone sure didn’t have a spa when he lived there!)

As for the angels and devils: I wanted my characters to be angels because I thought learning to fly was a great metaphor for growing up. Since these are my particular angels and devils, I created some new myths and legends and history for them. I’m hoping readers come to the book ready to watch a whole new world unfold!

If I’m not mistaken, Illuminate is the first in a series. Can you talk about the challenges of planning ahead for books two, three, and so on?

I always envisioned Illuminate as the beginning of a trilogy. There are three tests these characters need to complete to earn their wings, so each book represents one of those tests. I’ve, of course, never written a series before, so I have a whole new appreciation now for all those authors who have done it so well!

There’s a lot of planning involved. I always need to map everything out, that’s just how I roll, I tend to outline like crazy before I start writing. But even so, there are certain little bits that I had planned for Book Two that went into Illuminate. And now, as I’m working on Book Two, there are certain bits that I was saving for Book Three that I can’t resist using now. Even with so much planning, you still have to let a book lead you sometimes!

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

Good questions! When I’m in Total Writing Mode, I have to admit, I become a little anti-social! I tend to stay tucked away in my apartment pretty much chained to my laptop from morning until mid-afternoon and I try to stay off of email, too. At some point, to prevent from becoming a complete recluse, I’ll emerge for a coffee break. And when I need a change of scenery, I’ll head to a museum to write. I live in DC, surrounded by the Smithsonians, and I absolutely love to write in the courtyard of the Portrait Gallery.

I tend to stop working in the late afternoon/early evening, but if it’s going especially well then I’ll pick things back up again at night, which can be the most wonderful, peaceful time to write.

Of course, this is my schedule in theory. It doesn’t always go so smoothly! I’ve had to amend it a little bit while working on the sequel to Illuminate because I had a baby boy a few months ago! He calls the shots!

Aimee Agresti new website photo 333x465 214x300 Debut Author Interview: Aimee Agresti Talks IlluminateWhat has your path to publication been like? What’s been the most surprising part of the process for you? 

The most surprising part of the process has probably been how well-cared for I’ve been. My editor is absolutely fantastic and I’ve learned so much from her. My agent is actually a friend of mine and she’s been so wonderful guiding me through every step of the way. And the whole team at HMH has been tremendous — from the fabulous cover designer to the publicist, who has been such a true champion of the book. I’m a lucky girl!

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

Write, write, write! The great thing about writing is that the more you do it, the better you get. I wrote so many unpublished stories before this, but I know that all of that work made me better. And I like to think that every time I sit down at my laptop, I continue to get better.

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

The Catcher in the Rye was my all-time favorite as a teen and it still is. I still reread it all the time, I love Holden Caulfield! But I had so many favorites as a kid: Alice in WonderlandLittle Women, the entire Nancy Drew series, Roald Dahl’s The Witches, so many!

Right now, I have a towering to-be-read pile and I’m always hopelessly behind. I just took a tiny break from YA to finally, finally, finally read The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. (I know, so late, forgive me!) And now I’m back to YA and just started The Catastrophic History of You and Me by Jess Rothenberg. A girl who dies of a broken heart?! Such a brilliant premise.

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

I’m working on the sequel to Illuminate right now. It should be out next year! You can keep tabs on it at aimeeagresti.com!

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

I love writers supporting each other in any way or form — whether it’s championing each other’s work in the blogosphere or whether it’s actually taking a critical look at something before it’s a finished product. For me, I find it comforting to connect with folks who are sharing an experience, and, though it isn’t any formal group, I’ve been lucky to have a few individual writers I go to to compare notes on navigating the world of publishing and to talk about our work. We tend to share our writing before it’s out in the world, but after we’ve done a good amount of revising and feel it’s in pretty good shape.

When it comes to getting real, solid constructive criticism on early drafts, I turn to my trusted first reader: my sister, Karen! She’s extremely well-read, has a sharp eye, and is honest. She’ll tell me if certain things aren’t working. She’ll pinpoint what I need more or less of. She asks great questions and gives me the kinds of notes I need to hear. I listen to her, and I’m always glad that I do! Our deal is that she reads a draft, prepares her notes and then I take her out to dinner and we talk about it all. It’s a good time!

Thanks Aimee, for taking the time to chat with us! We’re so excited to check out the series! 

Cover Image courtesy Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Author Photo courtesy Aimee Agresti/Rouse Photography Group

Super-Special Interview: Wuftoom Cover Illustrator Neil Swaab

Posted by Mary G. Thompson On January - 4 - 2012

Neil Swaab 300x199 Super Special Interview: Wuftoom Cover Illustrator Neil SwaabWhen I saw the cover for my first novel, Wuftoom, I immediately fell in love. I had to find out who was responsible for this piece of art that represents my book so perfectly. Recently, I was fortunate enough to get in touch with Neil Swaab, and he graciously agreed to answer a few questions about his creative process. Thank you, Neil!

1. Tell us a little bit about your background. How did you begin doing book covers?

I graduated from Syracuse University with a BFA in Illustration. Immediately after, I started illustrating for newspapers and magazines as well as working at HarperCollins as a fulltime book designer, where I got the opportunity to create and art direct many jackets for children’s books and young adult books. Since then, I’ve gone freelance where I act as an illustrator and/or art director for a variety of projects in the publishing and media sphere.

2. As a group of new authors, we’re dying to know how the process of creating a cover works. First of all, do you read the book?

Of course! Not all designers do, but I try to read every book I’m assigned. It’s just so much more helpful. Sometimes, though, the book may not even be written yet when we have to make a cover, so we’ll just have to work off of a synopsis. On the few occasions that I’m just too busy to read an entire manuscript, I’ll at least read several chapters to get a feel for the tone.

Wuftoom Cover 199x300 Super Special Interview: Wuftoom Cover Illustrator Neil SwaabCover creation is a long and drawn out process and my work on it depends on what my role is. If I’m just illustrating, it’s far less work than if I’m art directing, which is far less work than if I’m art directing AND illustrating, which I’ll do from time to time. As an art director, I’ll read the book, talk with the editors about initial things we feel are important to convey on the cover, and then go off on my own for a week or two and mock up concepts and ideas and include any relevant artist or photographer samples. We’ll then try to get everyone onboard in-house and then the author as well. Once that’s all set, we’ll commission the illustration or photography and start designing.

In the case of your book, I was just an illustrator. I was contacted by the art director to create the cover image based on the work in my portfolio that she was responding to. After reading the manuscript, I went to work sketching out various concepts and mocking them up in a way that would show what I was getting at. The art director picked one of the concepts and, with some slight tweaking based on her feedback, I went and created the final art.

3. How much instruction does the publisher typically give you? Do you have free reign to create a cover that fits your interpretation of the story?

It really depends. Some publishers have no idea what they want and give you free reign while others may have an extremely narrow focus. The more freedom, usually the more fun the project will be. In general, though, publishers will have a particular audience they’re trying to reach and will want the book to be compared to others in the market and that may influence a lot of choices like whether to use photography or an illustration, for instance.

For your book, I’m sure the art director had a lot of those conversations before I came on board. When I was commissioned, I was told very specifically, that they wanted the silhouette style of art I had in my portfolio and that the book was a Kafka-esque middle grade story about a boy who turns into a worm-like creature. Other than that, I wasn’t given any other direction, which is actually pretty rare. More often than not, they’ll tell you exactly what they want on the cover. So, for this book, I just went off on my own and let my imagination work.

wuftoom.ns22 200x300 Super Special Interview: Wuftoom Cover Illustrator Neil Swaab4. What medium or computer program do you work in?

Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign are my main tools. I also combine those programs with a lot of hand-drawing. For your cover, I drew the entire thing by hand in pen and ink and then scanned it, imported it into Photoshop and then arranged it and added flourishes and textures.

5. Do you typically work alone, or in collaboration with an employee or partner?

I work alone. I share a studio, though, with three other illustrators and always have them to turn to if I need another set of eyes. Sometimes, I even work at the publisher’s office when I’m doing a long-term gig.

6. How long does it typically take you to create a cover?

It really depends. Every cover is different and has its own unique set of challenges. Your cover actually went very easily and only took a week and a half from beginning to end. Most covers, though, tend to live with you for months as you’re going through rounds of sketches, approvals, tweaks, final art, and revisions.

7. For Wuftoom, was the final cover the first idea you came up with?

It wasn’t the first idea, but was in the round of initial concepts I sent off to the art director.

wuftoom.ns3  200x300 Super Special Interview: Wuftoom Cover Illustrator Neil Swaab8. Can you share some of your other ideas?

Sure! I’ve attached some in the email. These are all rough mockups of concepts that I would take further based off of the art director’s reaction. [At left, see the final cover and a few of Neil's mockups!]

9. Why did you choose this particular idea to run with? Did you consult with the publisher during this process?

That part of the process is all up to the art director, the publisher, and the sales staff. They let me know which one they responded to best.

10. What other book covers have you done recently?

I just finished up illustrating the cover to Paolo Bacigalupi’s novel THE DROWNED CITIES, a few Lois Duncan novels, and art directed and designed a children’s book by Karma Wilson and Jim McMulllan called HORSEPLAY! (none of those are on sale yet). I’m currently doing some illustration cover concepting work on a middle grade James Patterson book.

11. Aside from book covers, what other projects are you known for? Where else can we find your work?

I animated the first season of the show SUPERJAIL! on Adult Swim and the pilot of UGLY AMERICANS on Comedy Central; I do a weekly alternative comic strip called REHABILITATING MR. WIGGLES that runs in a bunch of newspapers and magazines around the world; and I contribute illustrations for various clients when the opportunity arises. You can see my work at neilswaab.com and my weekly comics at mrwiggleslovesyou.com.

wuftoom.ns4  200x300 Super Special Interview: Wuftoom Cover Illustrator Neil SwaabNeil Swaab is a freelance illustrator, art director, cartoonist, animator, writer, and educator based in Brooklyn, NY. As an illustrator, Neil’s work has graced the covers and interiors of magazines, CD’s, newspapers, and books for clients throughout the world including The NY Times, The Utne Reader, The Village Voice, and Little, Brown. As an art director, Neil worked for years at HarperCollins Publishers where he oversaw the design of many bestselling children’s books and young adult novels for Laura Geringer Books and Joanna Cotler Books and continues to freelance art direct for them and other book clients on a regular basis. As a cartoonist, his weekly alternative comic strip, Rehabilitating Mr. Wiggles, has been published in newspapers in over six countries and has been collected into books in America, Russia, and Italy. As an animator, Neil served as a character layout artist on the shows Superjail! for Adult Swim and Ugly Americans for Comedy Central where he created and drew many characters and key frame poses for the first season and pilot respectively. Additionally, as a writer, Neil’s first screenplay, Eddie Fantastic!, was a finalist for the prestigious Nicholl Fellowhsip and he’s currently hard at work on its follow-up. Finally, Neil is an adjunct professor at Parsons The New School For Design, where he teaches in the illustration program. Neil’s work has been recognized by The Society of Illustrators, Print Magazine, Communication Arts, American Illustration, and The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

All images © Neil Swaab




wuftoom.ns5  200x300 Super Special Interview: Wuftoom Cover Illustrator Neil Swaab

Paris App logo Time Traveler Tours: Interactive Mobile Itineraries for Youth    New Form of Storytelling!When I was living in Paris, I got in contact with the Parisian chapter of SCBWI and found a group of like-minded, English-speaking writers who lived in the city. We started meeting in cafes to write and discuss our various projects, and I had the pleasure of reading chapters from what was a novel — or traditional book — by Sarah Towle, the developer of an innovative and creative app called Time Traveler Tours, a journey through Paris and back to the heart of the French Revolution with murderess Charlotte Corday.

It’s been fun to see how the pages I fell in love with have transformed into an accessible and fun application. Charlotte’s story comes to life via the app and Sarah broadened the way to tell a story. We caught up with Sarah about this endeavor and how she took a story for children and merged it with digital media.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself (bio) and how you became a writer and developer of this special app? What did you do before you “officially” became a writer? Do you write/create full-time now?

Once upon a time, right out of college, I worked at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in the development office. Those were fun years. I learned a lot and met a lot of very talented people and experienced a lot of great performance art for free! But the summer I took an extended holiday to Central America there was no turning back. I was bitten by wanderlust and smitten with the experience of learning and communicating in a language other than my native tongue. I decided to get my Masters in Linguistics and use it to work my way around the world. And that’s what I did for the next 15 years. In 2004 I landed in Paris with my husband and 8-year-old daughter after living in Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, China, Hong Kong and New York. But in Paris, I was the trailing spouse and the French government wouldn’t grant me the right to work. So I took up language study and writing full time. I had been chewing on an idea to create a travel guide for youth that would bring history and culture to life through story. This was my chance.

2. Can you tell us exactly how TIME TRAVELER TOURS works?

Each tour is a journey back in time to a specific historical era in the company of a character who lived at that time and whose actions helped shape that time. As my narrators spin their personal yarns, taking you to the museums and monuments of relevance along the way, the story of their age is also revealed, but from the storyteller’s (not historian’s) point of view. Woven through each story are hunts for historical treasure, trivia challenges and orientation games, making them fun and highly interactive. This is now possible thanks to digital mobile formats, which allow us to combine audio with visual and gaming elements. History through story – enhanced by archival images, treasure hunts and other context-driven games – in the palm of your hand. I call it a new generation of travel guide for the next generation of traveler.

DSC03046small Time Traveler Tours: Interactive Mobile Itineraries for Youth    New Form of Storytelling!3. How did you come up with the concept for the interactive application? Can you talk a bit about your process, from conception to the launch?

It happened sort of by accident, to be honest. The project, in its original conception, was to be a book, actually a series of booklets, what the French pochettes, small enough to fit in a daypack or pocket. They would be sold separately or in groups of three and if you wanted all 12 tours, spanning the Roman era to the period between the two World Wars, they would sell together in a decorated box no bigger than a traditional guidebook. But just as I began the query process of finding an agent to editor, the global economy crumbled and the publishing industry as we knew it was turned on its head by advancements in digital technology. Though many industry professionals loved the concept and admired the execution, they did not want to take a risk with a project that didn’t have one obvious place on a bookstore shelf in such an unstable environment.

Buoyed by their positive responses, I thought about self-publishing. But I wanted to test it first. I chose one among the three sample chapters, took some time to learn graphic layout and set up Beware Madame la Guillotine: A Journey to the French Revolution with Charlotte Corday, Murderess as an A5 book. I then organized a group of 48 13 -14 year olds – 8th graders from the International School of Paris – to pilot the tour. (They were studying the Revolution at that time, so their teacher was happy to complement her classroom curricula and the kids were happy to have a learning day outside school.) Through a follow up questionnaire and focus group I learned that students and teachers alike appreciated learning history through story; they loved Charlotte and found the interactive elements and optional sidebars both enjoyable and educative. But they didn’t like having to stop at each location in the itinerary to read aloud. It bogged the story down. It was “too much like school”.

That was just about the time, spring of 2009, that I got my hands on an iPhone for the first time.

“Do you think it would make a good app?” I asked the kids. Their answer was unanimous: “Yes!”

So that’s how the idea to publish the project as an app was born. And that’s when I first understood that some projects lend themselves better to print, while others may be better as digital products.

4. What’s your writing process? What does a typical writing day look like? Where/when do you write? Where does your inspiration come from?


Well, to be honest, I haven’t had a “typical” writing day since propelling myself into development, submission and launch of Beware Mme la Guillotine.  But now that it’s finally in the App Store and I’m preparing a second StoryTour for production as an app, I’m thrilled to be getting back into my old, familiar writing habits once again!

My process generally reflects whatever phase of a project I happen to be in. The early stages of developing a story for the Time Traveler Tours involves as much, if not more, reading and research.  I devour anything and everything of relevance to the historical period of focus – books, movies, archives, guided visits to museums and monuments, online resources – keeping always on the look out for my narrator. I search for the characters lurking in the shadows, the ones who are there but not typically heard from. Once I’ve found the right voice, the writing comes more easily.

In this middle phase, the time I spend writing and researching is about equal. I write best in the morning when I’m fresh and clear-headed, so afternoons are for research and/or chores, exercise and appointments. I start the day in my journal, at my desk at home, writing by hand. Sometimes I just talk to myself, exorcise demons or tether all those ideas floating around in my head or play with plotting details. Other times I talk to my characters, flesh out descriptions or work through transitions. After about 2-3 pages of journal writing, I’m usually ready to go back to the computer and pick up where I left off the day before.

If I’m in drafting mode, I don’t write for very long: one hour, maybe two, before I run out of gas. If I’m revising, however, I can sometimes be in my chair all day without noticing the time pass. Of course, by the time I’m revising, I’m usually pretty well finished with research so I don’t need to set aside as much time for that. So my process tends to really go with the flow.
BMLG title screen on iphone web Time Traveler Tours: Interactive Mobile Itineraries for Youth    New Form of Storytelling!5. What has your path to launching the application been like? What’s been the most surprising part of the process for you?

I’d say my path was pretty herky-jerky, reflecting both the newness of the mobile format as well as the huge learning curve I brought to the endeavor. Having decided that my story tours would make better apps, I went to the Bologna Book Fair in 2009 to look for someone to publish them. It was clear right away that the children’s book industry was not then ready to start paving that road. Though we are seeing more and more apps coming to market today, mostly using tried-and-true content, in 2009 children’s publishers were resisting the coming digital revolution with all their might. At the entire Fair (some say it’s football five fields wide but I think they mean European football), I found only one person talking digital: Stephen Roxburgh of Namelos. I approached him with my project idea and he loved it. But his focus is not in app production. He offered Namelos’ to edit my content, to help me make it the best it could be, but if I wanted to realize my content as an app, I would have to publish it myself. That was surprise #1.

Surprise #2 was coming to find that while there are a lot of app programmers out there, there are not a lot of good ones.  I went through two before I found the team capable of grappling with the challenges posed by my particular project. You really have to take your time to vet and select the right programmer for your budget and your needs.

I was also slow to realize, surprise #3, that neither a programmer nor I was capable of making my app something worth looking at. I needed an Art Designer, of course, to round out the team. It took a full year and a lot of trial and error that cost me both time and money, unfortunately, but by March 2010, I had finally pulled together a good working collaboration.

From that point, the process went very quickly. But it turns out that one’s work is not done with submission and approval. Now you have to market the thing! Surprise #4.

But the biggest surprise of all: Beware Mme la Guillotine: A Revolutionary Tour of Paris (revised title) is a hit! Folks now want more story tours of more cities. And I’m in a position to deliver. So through this process, I went from a writer of creative non-fiction cum app developer to a small business entrepreneur as well.
6. What was your favorite book when you were a kid/teenager? What are you reading now? Does what you read affect your creation of interactive media?

Oh, I never had a favorite book, but I went through phases of loving different genre. Mostly I loved stories that transported me to other worlds, places and times. In early middle school I couldn’t get enough of King Arthur stories. Then I discovered the Narnia Chronicles; then the Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. In high school I was really into dystopian science fiction like Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World. But when I read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird that was it. I still love the sensibility, the odd mixture of pathos, humor and the grotesque, that you find in southern fiction. I still re-read Mockingbird and Huck Finn every two or three years, both of which I discovered as a teen.

I always have a stack of books by my bedside. Right now it consists of Fever, by Laurie Halse Anderson, Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet, Enchanted by Guy Kawasaki, In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes our Lives by Steven Levy and Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt (recommended by my 15 year old) by Beth Hoffman. What I choose to read is very much influenced by what I’m working on as a writer, and now as a newbie entrepreneur. Likewise, what I read both informs my stories as well as enables my understanding of interactive media.
Marie Antoinette Adult6 Time Traveler Tours: Interactive Mobile Itineraries for Youth    New Form of Storytelling!7. What’s next for you media-wise (and otherwise!)? What else is coming from Time Traveler Tours?

Next for the Time Traveler Tours is the release of the French-English bilingual version of Beware Mme la Guillotine in early November. We’re recording and editing the audio now. When that is complete, we will have established our publishing prototype upon which to base future iOS apps (at least until the technology changes again!). Then production can move more quickly. We hope to produce four more StoryTours in 2012: two additional Paris stories, to the ancièn regime and the Napoleonic era; and two London stories. As I have my hands full revising and storyboarding the Paris stories, I will be soliciting manuscripts for the London StoryTours.

You’re the first to know: I seek children’s writers with an intimate knowledge of London history and geography to create the first TTT London StoryApp Tours. Send queries to stowle@timetravelertours.com.

8. Do you believe in being part of a “bloc” of writers as you create your written content? Are critique groups and writing communities helpful to you? Were they helpful to you as you envisioned your interactive media application?

Oh, yes! Essential! Beware Mme la Guillotine is the result of one of the best writers’ critique groups I’ve ever been a part of. Unfortunately, that group has since broken up. If any of you have room in your crit group, let me know. I may like to join! Only problem: I live in Paris.

9. How does the TIME TRAVELERS TOURS blend writing for children with an interactive application?

Well, I believe that the central and most important aspect of any StoryApp, just as with a traditional book, must be the story. The interactive elements are secondary and, in my opinion, should act only to enhance the story, to deepen understanding or offer a gateway into a broader perspective. There are a lot of apps out there that are little more than bling, wherein interactivity is defined as bells and whistles that may even detract from the story. That’s fun and interesting for a minute. But just as with good books, the apps that will endure, the ones that people will keep going back to, and that kids will continue to ask for, are the ones that contain great story content.

I’m thrilled that reviewers of Beware Mme la Guillotine have focused first on the value of Charlotte’s story and second on the interactive elements that serve her story. Check out this great review from School Library Journal’s Touch and Go here and this one from Kirkus Reviews here.
10. In your opinion, how do you think APPS will change or affect the children’s book market?

The App Store is now a very noisy place, in part because it grew faster than Apple ever imagined and is not terribly well organized as a result; in part because more apps come to market everyday. Where children’s StoryApps are concerned, most have been developed outside the children’s publishing industry and have not been vetted by the traditional gatekeepers, agents and editors, and quite honestly, it shows.

This has forced the major publishing houses to finally get with the program.  Many are now “experimenting” by creating apps using tried-and-true content. But things are moving fast. Remember that in April 2009, at Bologna, I found no one even talking about apps. Now, two years later you have Frankfurt Sparks and Digital Book World and other conferences dedicated to nothing but. So publishing apps from original content is right around the corner. Indeed, more and more publishing houses are adding departments to oversee digital acquisitions and production. This should bring greater quality to the App Store over time, I hope, as well as compel the most widely read and authoritative reviewers, like SLJ and Kirkus, to critique apps alongside their print cousins.

I personally think it’s a very exciting time for writers and illustrators. The book is not in jeopardy, not at all. We all love our books, but there’s no shame in admitting we love our eReaders as well. It’s so nice not to have to lug around a bunch of books when I travel! Digital media have opened up myriad news ways to create and communicate – consider the storyworld of a gaming environment: it took a writer to come up with that. As the possibilities for story creation expand, so too will we realize that some projects should become books while others, like mine, should never be. And thanks to mobile applications, everyone, even children, can consume written content more often – waiting in line at the grocery store, riding in the train or car – and at a greater rate than ever before.

The key, as always, is to expose children and youth to the best content possible. That is the fundamental intention behind my Time Traveler Tours: to deliver great creative non-fiction to teens, tweens and the young at heart via mobile device while making history and culture come to life. I can only hope that I have achieved that goal.

Thanks, Sarah. For those of you interested in digital media and children’s books, check out Sarah’s app and this article.

Debut Author Interview: Jessica Martinez Talks Virtuosity

Posted by Sona Charaipotra On November - 5 - 2011

13 400x600 Debut Author Interview: Jessica Martinez Talks Virtuosity

Write what you know, they always say. So it’s no surprise that debut author Jessica Martinez  —  whose first book, Virtuosity, about a musical protege, came out a few weeks ago  —  is a gifted violinist. We caught up with the Florida-based, Canada-raised author to talk about protege pressure, catching the writing bug and balancing work, motherhood and and fiction.

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

I’ve always been a writer, but it took me a long time to get serious about it. I studied English in college with music minor, went on to teach high school English, and then played violin professionally for a few years. When I started writing Virtuosity, I was mostly a stay-at-home mom, but playing as a sub with the Orlando Philharmonic and teaching violin too.

It was actually my obsession with reading that made me realize I had to write a novel. I couldn’t read without thinking, “This is beautiful — I wonder if I could do this?” Or “This isn’t that great — I think I could do better.” At the time, I had no idea how hard it would actually be to write a book!

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

Virtuosity is about a teenage violin prodigy who falls for the one person who can take her dream away — her biggest competitor. She’s also dealing with a pressuring stage mom and an addiction to anti-anxiety meds that she takes to perform. With the biggest competition of her career approaching, she has to decide whether taking control of her own life is worth losing it all.

It started with a single image.  I pictured the scene from the prologue: a girl lying on a balcony hanging her million-dollar violin off of the edge. As a violinist, I can think of all sorts of reasons she would want to drop it, so I started writing some of those reasons. I wrote a lot — almost a full novel — before I realized it wasn’t the story I wanted to tell. I could do better. It took several very different drafts for me to determine what kind of challenges I wanted Carmen to face and exactly who I wanted her to become.

Music obviously plays a major role here — do you play? Where did you draw from for this aspect of the book? Were you a child prodigy yourself? Talk about pressure! 

I started playing the violin when I was three and played fairly seriously throughout my childhood and teenage years. Every moment I wasn’t at school I was at the music academy or practicing, and I went to a unique high school that let me do most of my work by correspondence. While I was a teenager I competed in major competitions, and performed as a soloist with professional symphonies. I knew lots of stage moms like Carmen’s (though my mother was not like her at all), I knew people who used anti-anxiety drugs, and I had teachers like Yuri. Actually, I had a few teachers meaner than Yuri. I also loved and still love music intensely, so Carmen’s dilemma is very real to me.

Pressure! What can I say? It was always there, and I’ve often wondered which of my personality traits (the good and the bad) I owe to it.  I had trouble sleeping for most of my childhood, and although I learned to control my stage fright, that anxiety was a constant companion during my formative years. In many ways it separated me from my peers—their experiences were so different than mine — so I bottled it all up in and dealt with it in some less-than-healthy ways.


It wasn’t all bad, though.  I learned to work hard in the face of discouragement and exhaustion.  And I learned not to cry when being yelled at in public.  That sounds sick, but seriously, I can always hold it together and save my breakdowns for later!  I also had incredible experiences that shaped the way I saw the world, and still do.  So, as difficult as the pressure was to handle, I wouldn’t change anything about my childhood.  It made me who I am, and I kind of like that girl.

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

I’m a slow writer, and I think drafting is brutally hard. Once I get to the editing, though, I’m in love. I plot, but I almost always change the outline as I go along.

I used to write just at night and during naptime when my two children were sleeping, but now I have three hours every morning while my youngest is at preschool. It is divine! I write at home, or at Starbucks if the piles of laundry are distracting me.

What’s been the most surprising part of the writing/publishing process for you? 

Finding an agent involved a good number of rejection letters, but once I’d revised my query (it was pretty lame at first), I got a bite from Mandy Hubbard. After revising, I signed with her, and she got Virtuosity to all the right people quickly. I was lucky, and it sold right away.

Virtuosity 198x300 Debut Author Interview: Jessica Martinez Talks Virtuosity

Honestly, everything about publication has been a surprise. My big dreams all had to do with the writing, so I don’t think I ever really envisioned what it would be like to go through the publication process and be a published author. I will say I’ve been amazed by how much work authors do to promote their novels. Generally, I’m more comfortable with the artistic side of things. I prefer to let someone else handle business aspects, so all the self-promotion has been a little difficult for me at times.  I’m learning, though!

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

The best advice I’ve received is to write every day. I’ve learned writing is like any other skill — there’s no substitute for repetition and consistent hard work.

The advice I’d give other aspiring authors is to lay off the delete key. I was so self-critical for so many years that I didn’t produce anything at all — or I did, but I deleted it! You have to be merciless in the editing, but don’t let that mindset infect your drafting process.  Just write.

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

When I was a teenager I loved Jane Eyre, Anne of Green Gables, Pride and Prejudice — all of those romantic novels with spunky heroines. Now I alternate between contemporary YA and adult books. I just finished Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins and I’m downloading The Marriage Plot by Geoffrey Eugenides today. Oh, and I’m dying to read Past Perfect by Leila Sales, so that’s my next YA.

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

My second novel (title in the works) comes out next October, also with Simon Pulse, and I’m working on my third novel right now.

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

I’ve found that being a part of the Elevensies (debut YA and middle grade authors in 2011) has been incredibly helpful. Writing is such a solitary process, it’s nice to connect with people who are going through the same things as you are. Also, I’m touring with a group of YA authors who write about the performing arts called Stages on Pages. Getting out there and doing store signings and school presentations with other authors makes all the difference. There’s safety in numbers! As for critique groups, I’m not a huge fan, but I know I’m in the minority. I’m not opposed to them in theory, I’m just so busy, it’s all I can do to squeeze in my writing time.

Author Interview: Tracey L. Pacelli’s Time Warped

Posted by Jessica Verdi On October - 20 - 2011

Time Warped Author Interview: Tracey L. Pacellis Time WarpedI recently caught up with Tracey L. Pacelli — friend of Teen Writers Bloc and author of the new paranormal YA novel Time Warped.

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a writer? What did you do before you “officially” became a writer?

In 5th grade we were given an assignment to write a sci-fi short story. My teacher  chose mine to read in front of the class, declaring it the most inventive. I never forgot the thrill it gave me to be singled out that way. Afterward, my best friend said I was talented and that was basically it for me. I knew I was a writer and would someday follow that path.

Before writing, I chased those “glamour” positions that pay very little, working administrative type jobs at CBS, HBO and the NBA, all in New York. It was fun, especially HBO, but I could barely pay for the Upper West Side closet my landlord creatively called an apartment, so I jumped ship and headed to a financial office in a little place called The World Trade Center, building #7. Beautiful area, but I didn’t mesh very well with the Trump wannabes. So, I fired myself and headed for Charleston, SC, with my new hubby. In Charleston, I worked for a scary police chief in the paralegal dep’t and about a year later I was a ballroom dance instructor at The Fred Astaire Dance Studio. The ballroom had no bathroom, and the students had to go across the street. After only one month of lessons, I was expected to teach! I wasn’t ready, so I headed for that bathroom across the street and never came back.

What made you want to be a writer? Do you write full-time now?

Gene Roddenberry and Star Trek made me want to write. Since I couldn’t actually share in the crew’s adventures, I had no choice but to imagine myself on the Enterprise as a red-headed, Venusian navigator in love with Captain Kirk, and penned many exciting episodes for myself over the years.

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

Time Warped is about a troubled teen, Lanie Landry, who wakes up one day to find herself in an insane asylum, back in 1969. There she meets her biological mom for the first time and falls for a mysterious inmate.

I’d just seen Shutter Island and knew immediately I was drawn to the setting of an insane asylum. Call me crazy–and many do–but I thought, how about we put a teen in one who didn’t actually belong there, and I’ll add some Twilight Zone twist to the story. I’ve always been fascinated with time being a man-made construction and I like to fool with the idea of taking that construction apart, till it no longer makes sense. In other words, I think time travel is really cool.

What’s your writing process? What does a typical writing day look like? Where does your inspiration come from?

It used to be I’d spend the larger portion of my day writing and leave the marketing, cleaning, preparing meals and listening to my daughter and husband’s rants, for my evening chores. Now, everything’s basically gone to Hades, including my family’s basic needs, and I find myself knee-deep in the gorilla marketing trenches, unable to climb out. Of course, the novel only just launched and there’s a need for me to push it out into the world, much like a newborn. But it’s a labor of love, and I actually am enjoying finding ways to hammer my book over the heads of unsuspecting readers. Hmmm…wonder if Vistaprint sells hammers with book image?  Must look into that.

As for inspiration, pop culture usually feeds it nicely. Whatever I’m watching on TV, at the movies, or reading in my daughter’s teen mags (don’t tell her I borrow them), becomes fodder for the muse I keep locked up in my basement.

Tracey Pacelli 300x225 Author Interview: Tracey L. Pacellis Time WarpedThere are a lot of pop culture references in Time Warped, which I found really helped develop the character of Lanie and grounded us in a real place and time. Did you do this intentionally or was that a happy accident?

Funny, I just answered your question. Must be psychic. I really do love pop culture, which is probably why The Gilmore Girls is my second all-time favorite show, right after Star Trek. Lorelei is a master of pop culture and I can only bow to her greatness. Rosie is another pop-culture goddess. I hope one day I may be in their league and maybe go bowling with them sometime.

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

I wrote it and they came! But, first I had to walk thousands of miles barefoot over sharp rocks, swim through a feces infested moat, use my body as a battering ram to knock down the castle door, and sleep atop a thousand mattresses with this annoying pea underneath. Only then was I given the keys to the castle. Translation: As a writer I cried waterfalls of tears over the years, facing overwhelming rejection to finally land this amazing deal at Gypsy Shadow Publishing. And, I’d do it all again.

What was surprising part? To Quote Sally, “They liked me…they really liked me!”

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

Every rejection moves you one step closer to success!

What was your favorite book when you were a kid/teenager? What is your favorite children’s or young adult book today? What are you reading now?

Pride and Prejudice and Pride and Prejudice. I know, every girl loves that book, so why should I be any different? I’ve always loved to laugh at ridiculous people. Jane Austen had such a gift for exposing them. Though I used to think I wouldn’t be caught dead in a room with Mr. Collins, I actually now have a couple of friends who are very much like him and I thoroughly enjoy their company!

Presently, I’m reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.

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

I actually belong to The Royal Book Club in downtown Asheville for parents who like to read young adult books. Sounds crazy, right? But we’ve already established I’m a bit off my rocker. At the meetings, we dissect the writing to such detail, it becomes a great learning tool for me as a teen author.

What’s up next for you?

I’ve completed the first draft of a new teen trilogy I’m quite excited about called Already Gone. It takes place just a wee bit into the future and then travels back and forth to Atlantis during its final days before the apocalypse.

There’s also my littleredwriter paranormal blog, where I try to mix in a little humor with weekly paranormal news at www.traceypacelli.com.

Thanks so much for this interview. I’m a great fan of TWB and wish all the writers much success!

Thanks so much, Tracey! Time Warped is available now in print and e-book format!

Author Interview: Christopher Grant’s Teenie

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On September - 21 - 2011

 Author Interview: Christopher Grants TeenieSince Black History Month I’ve been wanting to catch up with Christopher Grant, the author of one of my favorite 2010 debuts. After a few unanswered emails, I decided to track him down over the summer. David Levithan moderated a Teen Author Reading Night in July at the Jefferson Market Library, and I spied that he would be reading there, so I met my friend J.A. Yang, and decided to bombard him after the presentation. The ambush worked out well and I discovered that my emails had been eaten by his website form, and got to secure an interview with him. We caught up with Christopher about his inspiration, his newest endeavor, and rejections.

Tell us a bit about yourself (bio) and how you became a writer? What did you do before you “officially” became a writer?

I love to tell stories.  If you let my friends speak on it, they’ll say I love to flap my gums.  In jest, one suggested that I should share my stories (they were probably thinking stand up comedy but that’s never going to happen), and I decided to give writing a shot.  That was about eleven years ago, right after I finished grad school.  Around the same time, I began my career as an equities trader, something I continue to do it to this day.

What made you want to be a writer? Do you write full-time now?

As I mentioned above, I love to tell stories.  By the grace of God, I’ve been blessed to see and hear a lot crazy things, many of which appear in my book. I am of Caribbean descent and I feel that there isn’t much of a representation of that population in contemporary literature.  My folks, all islanders (Trinidad, Jamaica, Barbados, Grenada) have a unique and colorful way of expressing themselves.  It was great fun attempting to incorporate some of that vivid language into TEENIE.

I have been an equities trader for the past eleven years, and do my best to balance that with my writing career.

 Author Interview: Christopher Grants TeenieCan you give us a quick synopsis of TEENIE? How did you come up with the concept for the book?

Teenie is desperate to be accepted into a prestigious study abroad program in Spain, so that she can see what life is like beyond the streets of Brooklyn.  She wouldn’t mind escaping from her strict (though lovable) West Indian parents for awhile either.  But when the captain of the basketball team starts to pay attention to her and Cherise, her best friend, meets a guy online, Teenie’s mind is on anything but her schoolwork.  Can Teenie save her friendship with Cherise, save her grade point average so that she can study in Spain, and save herself from a potentially dangerous relationship?

TEENIE is like the sister I never had.  Many of the situations in the book are based on things I’ve heard and/or seen.  For instance, Teenie’s father Beresford has an eating utensil called a spife, half spoon, half knife.  One of my uncles used to eat with something very similar to it.

What’s your writing process? What does a typical writing day look like? Where does your inspiration come from?

I do the majority of my writing on the NYC subway.  During my commute to and from work, I get about an hour and a half (forty five minutes each way) to create new material.  More often than not, I keep my headphones off and listen to the banter around me.  There is no place like a crowded subway car to pick up authentic dialogue.

My inspiration comes from my routine.  I try my best to make the most of my time during my commute.  My schedule is so hectic, it’s pretty much the only time I can really get any writing done.

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

It took a long time to get published.  I worked on TEENIE (on and off) for about nine years.  In the process, I received over a hundred rejection letters from various agencies.  I kept clippings of the rejections and Bible verses pasted to my wardrobe to keep me motivated.

The most surprising part is how much I’ve enjoyed doing TEENIE related readings and events.  I always thought public speaking would be my biggest issue, but thankfully, I’ve gotten pretty good at it.  I have a couple of events coming up in September and October.  Those wishing to hear more can check me out on twitter, @nycsubwaywriter.

 Author Interview: Christopher Grants TeenieWhat’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you yourself give aspiring authors?

The best writing advice I’ve ever gotten was from an article  I read awhile back.  There was one line in particular that really resonated with me.  “You may not be published if you write, but you’ll never be published if you don’t.”

For the aspiring author, make sure you are as well versed in the process as possible.  Agencies and publishing houses get inundated with material and will look for any reason to send out a form rejection letter.  There are several basic things that a writer can do to help push their MS beyond the initial culling.  The Novel and Short Stories Writers Market is a great resource to make sure that the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed.  Taking a creative writing course is another way to get technique up to snuff.  These are resources that I used during my process.

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

There are too many to name.  I always had a book in my bag.  My mother would get upset because I would take all her paperbacks, read them, and return them with the covers mysteriously missing.  That tends to happen when you put a book in the same bag as football cleats.  As a kid, I liked Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, and Archie comics.  As a teen, anything by Marvel Comics, Michael Crichton, John Grisham, Tom Clancy, and whatever I could find on my mother’s bookshelf.  I tried to read one of her romance novels but couldn’t figure out what quivering love pudding was.

I just finished the HUNGER GAMES Trilogy, and am currently reading WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE.

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

I am working on a sci-fi/fantasy novel.  It’s exhilarating and nerve-wracking all at once.  There are times when my main character, Genesis, is asking questions that I don’t know the answers to yet.

Genesis lives in Harlem with his grandmother Selva.  She beats the living daylights out of him, but for good reason.  She doesn’t want him getting too excited and giving his location to people that might want to steal his blue blood.  Then there’s the issue of him leaping to different time periods before Selva’s had a chance to teach him everything he needs to know.

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

Whether it’s a writing group, or in my case, a focus group, every writer needs honest opinions from people they trust.  There are times when I think I’ve written something so good that the page should be bronzed, only to have someone in my focus group say, “That’s not going to stay in the story is it?”  I have three readers for my new novel and their input and critique, both negative and positive, really help me to get through the story.

Did the race and ethnicity of your characters help or hinder your publication process?

I would hope not.  It’s obvious that people of color are underrepresented in all forms of media, but I was fortunate enough to have the book published by one of the largest publishing houses in the world.  I received a lot of rejections, but only a fool would have been brazen enough to cite race as the reason.

Thanks for catching up with us!

Photo Credit: Tara Holland, Knopf Books for Young Readers

Author Interview: Amanda Cockrell’s What We Keep Is Not Always What Will Stay

Posted by Dhonielle Clayton On September - 13 - 2011

What we keep co 210 Author Interview: Amanda Cockrells What We Keep Is Not Always What Will StayI got the wonderful pleasure of meeting Amanda Cockrell during my first masters program in Children’s and Young Adult Literature at Hollins University. This talented author is both the Program Director of the Children’s Literature Masters Program as well as a prolific writer (not sure how she does it all!). After graduating college, I jumped right into this program and I’ve missed it ever since. Don’t get me wrong, I love The New School and my workshops, but Hollins University has the best literature courses on children’s literature (take a peek at the course list). We caught up with Amanda about her latest novel, her day-job, and use of magical realism.

Tell us a bit about yourself (bio) and how you became a writer?  What made you want to be a writer? Do you write full-time now?

I grew up in Southern California, in Ojai, a town that was the template for Ayala in What We Keep. It was a wonderful  place – still is. I could ride my horse down Main Street and there was a hitching post outside the library. It was a bedroom town for Hollywood and a lot of recognizable people lived there. We were mostly polite and pretended we didn’t recognize them. I usually didn’t anyway, since I had my head in a book.

My parents were both writers – a screenwriter and a novelist — so it always seemed like the family profession.

Very few of us manage to write full time. Writing is not the best get-rich-quick (or get-rich-slowly either) scheme in the world. So I keep my day job, which I actually love, at Hollins.

Can you give us a quick synopsis of WHAT WE KEEP IS NOT ALWAYS WHAT WILL STAY? How did you come up with the concept for the book? 

Here’s the plug from the back of the book. I’ll steal that since I’m not good at short, snappy descriptions, but I like this one:

“Angie never used to think too much about God – until things started getting strange.  Like the statue of St Felix, her secret confidant, suddenly coming off his pedestal and talking to her. And Jesse Francis, sent home from Afghanistan at age nineteen with his leg blown off. Now he’s expected to finish high school and fit right back in. Is God even paying attention to this?  Against the advice of St. Felix (who knows a thing or two about war), Angie falls for Jesse—who’s a lot deeper than most high school guys. But Jesse is battling some major demons. As his behavior starts to become unpredictable, and even dangerous, Angie finds herself losing control of the situation. And she’s starting to wonder…can one person ever make things right for someone else?”

The idea started because I always thought that sainthood might take a person by surprise, so to speak. Felix claims that God de-sainted him because he wasn’t holy enough. And the war had been on my mind and I thought the saint might know a thing or two about that.

Amanda 2009 330 214x300 Author Interview: Amanda Cockrells What We Keep Is Not Always What Will StayWhat’s your writing process? What does a typical writing day look like? Where does your inspiration come from? 

I generally try to write in the office, first thing in the morning if possible, or if not, in the afternoon when I have got everything else out of the way. My usual thing is to re-read what I did the day before, revise that until I like it, then write about 3 more pages, re-read and revise that when I quit, print it out and let it sit. The next day, I look at it again, rework it, and go on. Then at the end I do a complete read-through and realize how much revising is still left to do.

I have no clue where inspiration comes from. Sometimes it just drops out of the sky, a nice little gift from the gods. Other time I achieve it through a lot of biting and chipping.

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

I have published a lot of books, through varying paths, with and without agents (I vastly prefer with), some series, some stand-alone, some with major houses, some with a small press. Nothing surprises me anymore. Annoys, perplexes and possibly makes me shriek, but not surprises.

This is my first YA novel, and it has been a lovely experience all the way through. I have never had a publisher give me input on the cover before (I adore the cover) and they sent me to ALA which no one has ever done either. I am completely in love with Flux.

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

I was once asked for the three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as I’ve developed as an author. I would say that paying attention to detail is probably the first. That is what makes a story live. Followed by being willing to revise. To embrace revision. Which I am currently being forced to do with my new book, and I admit that the process is not inherently embraceable. And finally followed by going after the hard things to write about. Not dodging something because it makes you uncomfy. If you get to a scene or scenes that you just don’t want to write because they make you uncomfortable, that is a sure sign that they touch on the heart of your story and you had better write them.

So: detail, revision, discomfort. Or, you could stack those three in reverse. Or sideways. They’ve all been equally important.

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

As a child I adored Kipling’s The Jungle Book (and am still incensed at what Disney did to it). I wanted to be raised by wolves. I adored my parents, mind you, but wolves are so cool.

As a teen I discovered Georgette Heyer and British mysteries—Margery Allingham and Dorothy Sayers.

Right now I’m happily reading Ellen Kushner’s The Privilege of the Sword and Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna.

 Author Interview: Amanda Cockrells What We Keep Is Not Always What Will StayWhat’s next for you writing-wise (and otherwise!)?

I just sent my agent the first draft of a new YA novel, and she (wise woman) pointed out that not much important stuff is actually happening to these nice characters. If I have a besetting writing sin it’s dreaming up interesting characters and then not having them do enough. So I am making them do things.

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

When I have a good writers group, it’s heavenly. I think they are enormously useful. If I was part of one right now, someone might have said, “Amanda, when are these people going to do something?” But you have to have a group that’s willing to say that, and also one that knows what they’re talking about. It’s no good if they just love everything you do. And it’s no good if they indulge in what I have heard described as “owl criticism” – “There is an owl in this poem, and I don’t like owls, so I don’t like this poem.”

In What We Keep Is Not Always what Will Stay, your use of magical realism is so deft and light and not once do readers question St. Felix, so how did you decide to use magical realism?  

I have always been a huge fan of magical realism, and several of the previous books for adults that I have done employed it, so it’s just a natural urge for me. The premise of a saint coming to life, declaring that God threw him out  for not being saintly, pretty much demands magical realism right there.

Thank you Amanda for catching up with us, and I just love your book cover.

Photo Credit: Flux

pixel Author Interview: Amanda Cockrells What We Keep Is Not Always What Will Stay

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