Monday, October 29, 2012

Interview with Ampersand's first signed author Melissa Keil

The Ampersand Project is a Hardie Grant Egmont program dedicated to finding amazing debut authors. They're about to reopen to submissions so I'm talking to Melissa Keil, the first writer signed up through the Ampersand Project. Her debut novel, Life in Outer Space, will be published in February 2013. Keep in touch with Melissa on Facebook, Twitter and her website. I'll also being talking to Ampersand editor, Marisa Pintado about what she's looking for this year on my personal blog
Sharon: Geeky seems to be the new sexy – what do you think about that as a self professed lover of all things geek?

Melissa: Ha, I’m not sure if ‘the new sexy’ is quite right, but it is great to see people openly embracing whatever weirdness it is that they’re passionate about, and finding little (and not so little) communities of people who share that weirdness. There’s something very liberating about accepting the fact that it’s okay to not be one of the cool kids; that staying home on a Friday night and watching back-to-back episodes of Doctor Who (or whatever) is awesome. I love that John Green quote that nerds are allowed to be un-ironically, jump-up-and-down enthusiastic about stuff (I know it’s contentious, but I draw no distinction between a geek and a nerd).

Sharon: You’ve been a high school teacher, a Middle Eastern tour guide, waitress and a community theatre dogs-body, which job of those did you enjoy the most?

Melissa: All of them for different reasons; travelling through the Middle East was brilliant, and eye-opening and inspiring, and my short time as a high school teacher gave me plenty of material for characters. I waitressed through uni and despised it at the time, but in hindsight I had a lot of fun, I made some great friends and got to eat lots of free food; I really do think that everything is useful (gosh, it’s probably really pretentious to quote one of your own characters…)  

Sharon: You’ve got a picture book under your belt with Rabbit’s Year, how was it to write YA instead?

Melissa: Your words in a picture book are only part of the narrative, because you’re sharing the telling of the story with the illustrator, but one of my favourite things about writing longer fiction is having the scope and space to become completely immersed in a world; creating a landscape for the characters to play in and filling in the detail. I became a little obsessed with creating mood boards for my characters; the d├ęcor of their rooms, the clothes they would wear, the locations they would hang out, the stuff they would own – like writing back story and character profiles, it’s hard to quantify how much of this made it into the final pages, but it really helped me get to know them and their universe. I spent a lot of time wandering the streets of Melbourne and taking photos of the carpet and walls in odd places while imagining the sorts of conversations my characters would be having there (I freely admit that this may not be normal behaviour!)  

Sharon: You were plucked out of 250 submissions to be the first Ampersand Project author, and are going to be published next year. Walk us through what you went through to get to this point.

Melissa: I’d been editing the novel and workshopping the manuscript with my writing group for about eight months, and was at the point where I was pretty much just tweaking single words and commas. One of my writing group members suggested I submit it to the Ampersand Project, but it took some convincing to send it off. Like 98 per cent of writers I’m pretty anxious about putting my work out there, and I think I would have sat on it and tweaked for many months more if I wasn’t given a shove. So I sent it off with a synopsis and pitch, not really expecting anything other than a thanks-but-no-thanks letter. A couple of months later I received a very lovely ‘we’d like to meet you’ email. I went in for a chat with Marisa Pintado (commissioning editor extraordinaire), convinced her I wasn’t a crazy person, had an initial brief discussion about possible editorial suggestions, and then went home to wait it out. I found out I was shortlisted a few weeks later, and received a formal offer a little while after that. It was a bit of a whirlwind! And then there was editorial, which began maybe a month or so later…

Sharon: Your day job is an editor Five Mile Press and previously for Black Dog Books, how does it feel to be on the other side of the publishing table as the writer?

Melissa: It’s been an incredibly interesting experience to wear the other hat; at times I’ve felt like I’ve developed something of a split-personality disorder. For instance, I understand certain things as an editor that the author half of me really wants to ignore (the pace in this chapter needs to speed up? But I really like this chunk of dialogue and I don’t want to cut it!) It was also far more emotionally taxing than I was expecting, due in no part at all to my editors (who have been fabulous). I think that my editorial brain has the ability to be analytical and objective, even with work that I’m really passionate about, but I found seeing my own writing through the same eyes much more difficult than I anticipated (which is precisely the point of needing an editor!)

Sharon: On your blog you talk about the emotional rollercoaster the journey has been so far, what advice do you have for any debut writers in coping with the journey to publication?

Melissa: Take a deep breath, and try and step back from your work as much as possible. I think it’s only natural to feel a little precious about something that your really close to, and the editorial process can be somewhat daunting, but try and look at the intent behind the feedback you’re receiving – the solution your editor suggests for solving a problem may not be the right solution for your story or your characters, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem that needs to be solved. And I think it’s really important to have some writerly friends that you can bounce ideas around with; people who understand the particular madness that’s required to shed tears over the made-up people in your head.

Sharon: So far for your story we know that it’s YA ‘romantic comedy about a horror-film geek and the indie-dream girl he refused to fall in love with’ and is going to be out next year, your protagonist as a stuffed Freddy Krueger doll, combines your many loves (movies, music, karate, the Astor Theatre, Star Wars and all things geeky) and has been described as ‘everything we love about 80s rom-coms and The Big Bang Theory.’ Is there anything else about it you can share?

Melissa: I’ve always had a soft spot for nerdy boys, and I really wanted to see more of them in YA. I’m as partial as anyone to the too-beautiful-to-be-real alpha guys, but there is something inherently sweet about the shy, socially awkward boys, and, um – there are a few of them in my book. 

Sharon: What future projects are you currently working on?

Melissa: It seems like bad juju to talk about a project that’s still being written, but I am working on a YA novel in a similar genre. I’m doing a lot of research on card magic. That’s about all I can say.

Sharon: What advice have you got for writers planning on submitting to the Ampersand Project when it reopens in November?

Melissa: Write the story that you want to read; the Ampersand editors are genuinely excited about finding manuscripts they can fall in love with, and I think that if you’re passionate about your story, it’s evident on the page (and is much more appealing than trying to bend your writing to fit a market trend or genre). Submit the most polished version that you can, but recognise where the weaknesses lie and be open to editorial feedback. Have a pitch; try and capture something essential about your story in a sentence or two (I pitched Life in Outer Space as Pretty in Pink meets The Big Bang Theory – not a perfect comparison by any means, but I think it conveyed something about the tone of the book). Don’t panic – the Ampersand editors really are lovely people who are looking to support new writers, and they understand just how daunting it is, especially as a first-time writer, to send your work out into the world.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

YAtopia Relaunch: Ryan



Last but certainly not least, on this day where we celebrate the winner of the YAtopia relaunch giveaway is a little look into the mind of Ryan Greenspan.
   

See that card there? Yeah, it's official. Like it or not-- I'm a citizen!  But it didn't come without some strangeness. The citizenship interview was like nothing I experienced before. But I guess weirdness follows the weird. Before the immigration agent--Jonathon was his name-- handed me my card, he had the most interesting series of questions.

AGENT JONATHON: You're from Canada, right? 

RYAN: Yes, it says so right there on my card.

AGENT JONATHON: Never mind the card! Let’s say a giant moose race took over Canada!

RYAN: What? How is that relevant?

AGENT JONTAHON: Their evil Moose Overlord (Lord Monty) passed a law granting each citizen the work of only one author to read for the rest of their lives! Which author would you choose?!

RYAN: Err, um, I'd have to say Roald Dahl. His writing has really influenced me. He speaks directly to the child in all of us. That's what I hope to do with my writing too.

AGENT JONATHON: Touching. But, Ryan! Think fast! The peanut butter & jelly uprising has begun! 

RYAN: Can I speak to another agent, please?

AGENT JONATHON: No time! Sandwiches across the nation are attacking their makers! No one is safe! What is your plan to combat this lunchtime epidemic!? Will you save us?!

RYAN: Is this for real?

AGENT JONATHON: Yes! They're right outside this door!

RYAN: In that case, I tell you to quickly barricade the door. We take off our clothes and stuff them underneath (bread can slip under doors, you know). I ask you, "What's a piece of bread's worst enemy?" You stare blankly, being just an agent and not a creative dynamo such as myself. A light bulb goes off (in my head)-- a toaster oven! But we'd need one big enough. "Arm yourself!" I say  and toss you a butter knife, which I conveniently keep in my pocket. We fight our way through the throngs of rabid, jelly-salivating menaces, and make it outside. There we lure them into the world's largest makeshift toaster oven, which you radioed ahead to be constructed using a Wal-Mart and super-heated lighting fixtures. We lock them inside and watch them get nice and toasty. Their screams are a relief to us. The evil lunch snacks beg and plead, but we don't listen. After the last agonizing murmur is snuffed, we celebrate with cheers and a hearty meal of, you guessed it, PB&J. We then ship the remaining sandwiches across the globe, ending the world's hunger problem.

AGENT JONATHON: You've saved us! A clever one, aren't you? Perhaps even worthy of having your life story published. 

RYAN: I try, I guess. My life isn't that special. Not yet anyway. I write middle-grade, play hockey, cook vegetarian, and am obsessed with superheroes. Not much of a life story yet.

AGENT JONATHON: Nonsense. As writers and readers, we all follow trails of consonants and vowels that lead us to sentences. With each sentence comes a paragraph; with each paragraph comes a page; thus, our stories are born. What would your life story be called and who would write it?

RYAN: Hmm, let's see. Without a doubt, Lewis Carroll would write my life story. It would be a nonsensical adventure story about a strange boy's indecisive wanderings through the murky waters of young adulthood. It would be called: "The Adventures of a Boy Who Can't Relax".

AGENT JONATHON: A best-seller no doubt. You're doing really well. We're almost done! But here's a curve-ball for you. Say you’re walking along; it’s a cool and sunny day. Suddenly, you trip! With a little knock on the head your imagination escapes from your ear. Where would you likely find the little rascal hiding?

RYAN:  It would probably flee to my favourite place in Canada, the place that inspired me so greatly when I spent time there a couple years ago: in the Rocky Mountains of Banff, Alberta. It's an oasis of beauty, serenity, creativity. There's scope for imagination there for sure. An imagination could go absolutely wild in that place.

AGENT JONATHON: A truly remarkable image. But to keep you on your toes--look out! They’re back! Long forgotten stories have come back to torment their authors! What are some harsh words your first works may have for you?

RYAN: They'd probably ask, "What took you so long?" They'd wonder why I wasn't working on them instead of browsing the Internet or watching TV. You see, like many writers, I have a procrastination problem.

AGENT JONATHON: I see, well we can't all be perfect, can we? 

RYAN: No one is perfect. So, are we done here?

AGENT JONATHON: I had question about your first novel getting into a fight with Twilight and its weapon of choice, but I think you've done more than enough to prove you'll fit in splendidly in YAtopia. Welcome to your new home!

RYAN: Thanks! As for your question though--my first novel would have an arsenal on Twilight. To name a few: imagination, well-developed characters, engaging prose, a well-crafted plot... I could go on and on and on. Twilight wouldn't stand a chance.

 ***

To read more of Ryan's YAtopia contributions, drop by the blog every 22nd of the month or click on his name on the right. You can also check out his other blog at http://theamazingwriterman.blogspot.com or follow him on Twitter @TheHeraldRyanG.

Getting Lost In Your Manuscript


Last weekend, I got terribly lost in a corn maze.  On purpose.

Rainy weekends and soccer schedules made us miss out on apple picking, and we were determined to get one fall staple checked off.  While my husband and I referenced weather reports, sliced oranges, and programmed the GPS, my kids popped on boots and ran circles around the yard in happy anticipation. 

As the sun rode high, there we stood at the entrance to the maze, listening to the wind click-clack through the dried-out corn stalks, and wondering what the next few hours had in store for us and how many children we’d be carrying on our backs by the time we exited. Then we stepped into the unknown. 

My eldest son (though he doesn’t know it, because we tell my twins we “forgot” who came out first; no one needs that kind of one-up over a measly minute) had a plan in mind: a left, right, left pattern he determined to use at every juncture. Incredibly and without actual reason, it worked!  Ten minutes later we were standing in the same spot, having just exited the maze.  We were giddy with accomplishment and breathless at the staff’s shock.  And then we were… disappointed.  That had been far, far too easy.  And now it was over.  No fun!

We looked sideways at one another and my youngest (and yes, she knows it and uses it to every advantage) proposed, “Let’s go again!” So we turned around and plunged back in, this time with no intent but to get good and lost. 

About 45 minutes later, with nothing but towering stalks on all four sides of us and out of hearing range of the hayride circling the perimeter, we held our flag high above our heads to signal for help.  A staff member located us within minutes and gave us a choice.  He could escort us directly to the exit or we could follow him onto a wooden bridge in the center of the maze that would allow us an overview of the entire labyrinth. No one needed carrying yet, so we opted for the bridge. 

“Hey,” exclaimed my other son, “The maze is shaped like a rocket ship!” From far above we could see shapes and patterns. We could see the outer space theme and we could see the way we needed to proceed to reach the end. We took deep collecting breaths and descended back into the corn with purpose.  We got a little lost again, but this time we course-corrected more easily.  With the sun riding low and the corn casting shadows, we again stood (or in the case of my daughter, rode piggyback) at the exit, more tired, but far more accomplished for having done the real work of solving the maze.  Of course, there was no real time for reflecting: hot cider donuts awaited.

Now you’re all smarty-pants writers, so I know you’re picking up on my analogy here, but let’s be corny (get it?) and talk about how this could relate to your writing.

You may approach your novel as a plotster, analyzing the publishing market for your genre the way we checked the forecast, preparing outlines the way we programmed our GPS and envisioning possible disaster scenarios the way we packed food and water for the inevitable mid-maze hunger meltdown. Or perhaps you’re a panster, whipping out your laptop in the same manner my kids slid on boots and bubbling over with happy anticipation at the murky mess that awaited.  Either way you find yourself at the beginning, staring into the unknown. 

Perhaps you have a formula to follow- a left, right, left of plot turns and characterizations.  It may even bring you to a smooth and quick finish.  The excitement! The envy of all around you!  The… let down.  That was too easy, not nearly satisfying enough.  And if you felt that way writing it, chances are your readers will feel that way reading it.  It may be time to get lost on purpose. 

Dive back into your manuscript, take all lefts until you’re good and stuck in the middle.  You know what to do now.  You have your flag.  Send it up to summon a critique partner or two or ten.  Bring them to join you in the mess and then let them show you to a bridge.  Stand above at a good distance from your story and see if you can spot the overriding themes.  See if you can spot the places you made wrong turns and the path you need to take to reach the finish line.  Let them point you in the right direction. Dive back in. Get a little more lost, but with assurance, knowing you’re close. Very close. Reach the end, exhausted but happy, accomplished, having put in the work to solve the full puzzle. You may be on your own two feet or you may be getting carried out by an agent or an editor, but you’ve done it nonetheless. Bask in the glory! Go forth and seek out hot cider donuts.

And whether your autumn plans include an actual corn maze or whether they include 50k worth of NaNowriMo, have fun getting lost and found.




Saturday, October 27, 2012

STRUCK ARC Winner

Now that the buzz with the re-launch is starting to die down, I'd like to announce the winner of the signed ARC of STRUCK.

*Drumroll*

ANGELA! 

Entrants had to tell me what book they associate with the fall season and here is Angela's answer:

Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. The reason is in the name of the story. Plus, it was one of the first series I read that made me associate any season to a book.


Fear not, lovely YATopians, because if you didn't win, there'll be more giveaways in the future. :-)

*Winner was selected by random through random.org* 

Sweet Peril cover reveal and Giveaway




My wonderful friend and critique parter, Wendy Higgins, has a new book coming out, Sweet Peril, and we've got the cover reveal going on! Isn't it gorgeous!

To celebrate I'm holding a giveaway - yah! A preorder copy of Sweet Peril, a copy of Sweet Evil - for those of you who haven't read this awesome book yet-, a Sweet Evil bookmark and, for the aspiring authors out there, a ten page critique.

Book Blurb:
Anna Whitt, daughter of a guardian angel and a demon, promised herself she’d never do the work of her father—polluting souls. She’d been naive to make such a claim. She’d been naive about a lot of things. Haunted by demon whisperers, Anna does whatever she can to survive, even if it means embracing her dark side and earning an unwanted reputation as her school’s party girl. Her life has never looked more bleak. And all the while there’s Kaidan Rowe, son of the Duke of Lust, plaguing her heart and mind.
When an unexpected lost message from the angels surfaces, Anna finds herself traveling the globe with Kopano, son of Wrath, in an attempt to gain support of fellow Nephilim and give them hope for the first time. It soon becomes clear that whatever freedoms Anna and the rest of the Neph are hoping to win will not be gained without a fight. Until then, Anna and Kaidan must put aside the issues between them, overcome the steamiest of temptations yet, and face the ultimate question: is loving someone worth risking their life?
Book 3 of The Sweet Trilogy, Sweet Reckoning, is slated for spring/summer 2014.

You can find Wendy on her website, on Facebook and on Twitter. You can also stalk the lush love interest Kaidan Rowe on Twitter (character account). You can fan the Sweet Evil trilogy on Facebook too.
Sweet Peril bookish locations:
Author Bio:
Wendy Higgins was born in Alaska, grew up an Army brat, and lived all over the United States before settling in the Washington, DC area. She attended George Mason University for her undergrad degree in creative writing, and Radford University for her masters in curriculum and instruction. Wendy taught 9th and 12th grade English in a rural school before becoming a mother and author. She now lives in Northern Virginia with her husband, daughter, and son. Sweet Peril is her second novel.


Possessing Freedom Blog Tour: Belinda interview

Today I'm talking with Belinda Dorio, contributor to the integrated ghost story Possessing Freedom.

Sharon: So what attracted the team to a ghost story?

Belinda: The team was drawn to a ghost story because we felt that we wanted to do something ‘paranormal’ but outside of the realm of vampires and werewolves. We knew we wanted to create panic in and around Melbourne through some sort of event or on-going issue. I believe that first we came up with the symptoms, the ‘seizure’ like episodes that plague Melbournians in Possessing Freedom. I remember we were sitting at the cafe, stroking our chins, when I imagined a ghost trying to jump into the body of a woman who was walking by. Surely such a thing wouldn’t be pleasant? Surely attempted possession would have adverse side effects on the living? – And so the ghost idea was born.
Sharon: What were some of the steps the team took to ensure consistency in characters?

Belinda: The team met fortnightly to plan/and or touch base with each other. In the meantime, we stayed in contact via a facebook group, so it was very communicative. That being said, it was very nerve wracking to create a character that you knew was going to occur in a story not written by you. Beau and I use each other’s characters a lot, so we wrote up character profiles that we could refer to. Other than that, we’d ask each other lots of questions; ‘Beau, would Jared do this?’ etc. We also read each other’s work, so that if I read one of the stories where Alice appears as a character but not as a narrator, and I felt that she was a little ‘off’ we could work on it together.

Sharon: Who was your favourite character to write and why?

Belinda: It’s very hard to decide who was my favourite character to write! My narrators were Alice and Faye, which turn out to be the ‘heroine’and ‘villain’ respectably. I enjoyed writing through Faye because I could add layers to her personal story, she isn’t just an evil ghost that likes to hurt others – she’s scared and alone like a lot of the other characters. However, Faye was originally created by Beau and I chose to narrate her. Alice was the first character that came to my mind when we began talking about ghosts, and I could see her immediately. A girl that could see ghosts but no one believed her, and then the possibility of weaving a love story appeared - I just couldn’t resist using her as a narrator.

Sharon: If you were a paranormal being, what would you want to be?

Belinda: If I were a paranormal being I’d definitely have more than one power. Perhaps the ability to fly coupled with control over an element, like fire – very cool!

Sharon: During this process did you ever break out into the Ghostbusters song?

Belinda: Hahahaha! No, I never broke out into the Ghostbusters song though that was probably because I was narrating our villain Faye, and a maternal part of me didn’t want to see her get hurt –despite her evil antics.

Sharon: Did you have an imaginary friend growing up (if so tell us about him/her):

Belinda: I grew up with two older brothers, so I didn’t really have the need for an imaginary friend. I was either with my brothers or playing in cherished silence alone. The idea of an imaginary friend intrigues me though, and is the basis behind Alice and Will’s (her ghost crush) relationship. What if you had an imaginary friend who made your stomach flip, but turns out to not be imaginary at all?
Sharon: I believe Maria V Snyder workshopped the opening story, what was that like?

Belinda: Yes, Maria V Snyder helped workshop my opening story ‘Reflection’ narrated by Alice.
When I heard Maria was coming to Melbourne, I was thrilled and had planned to go to one of her book signings to meet her – I’m a big fan! So you can imagine my elation when Steve tells me that I’ll get to workshop my story with her over breakfast. Of course, my happiness quickly turned to nerves and I worked furiously on the story to make it as good as it could be before it got to Maria.

I first contacted Maria when I was eighteen or so, asking for some piece of writing advice, and was touched by her quick and helpful response. She’s a lovely person, and I’m grateful she had the time to meet us. I found the ‘writing advice’ section on her webpage very helpful, especially if you’re just starting out.

Needless to say, having someone so highly experienced read and offer advice on my own work was awesome – I learnt a lot, and I hope my work reflects that.

Sharon: What is the biggest learnings you've taken away from the process?

Belinda: Being a part of the Melbourne writing team was an invaluable experience for me, it really helped me to get my head around planning and plot issues, and I find that I can outline and plot a lot better now. It’s really instilled in me what a great thing collaboration is, and I’d love to do something like this again.

Rapid fire questions:
Latte or cappuccino? Does chai latte count?
Note pad and pen or computer? I still can’t decide! I cycle between my iPad and a notebook.
Magic or fists? Fists!
Blue or green? Blue.
Sixth Sense or Ghostbusters? I’m a bit of a scaredy cat, so –Ghostbusters!

As part of the Possessing Freedom launch, Australian Literary Review editor, STEVE ROSSITER. is holding a Fan Fiction Competition where you could win$2,000! To enter you need to have read the book, so we're giving away three copies over three interviews. There's this interview, an interview with Rhiannon Hart on Down Under Wonderings and an interview with Steve here on October 20.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Guestopia: Jessica Souders

Click here for more information about our monthly Guestopia feature!

What is perfect?
by J. A. Souders

Webster defines it as “being entirely without fault or defect : flawless”. Which leads to the question, what is flawless? Webster again defines this as “an imperfection or weakness and especially one that detracts from the whole or hinders effectiveness.”

Can you see where I’m going with this? Perfection is being without flaws, but a flaw is an imperfection. They define each other, but what really defines either of these? Especially when it comes to people. How is one flawless? Can someone even be flawless?

The answer to that is easy and resounding no. Of course not. Just as “one person’s trash is another’s treasure,” one person’s view of perfection is completely different from someone else’s version.

Why am I bringing this up, besides the fact that perfection plays a huge part in RENEGADE? Because as writers we always want our stories to be perfect. We spend hours making them that way. We make sure every word is right and exactly where we want it. Then we send it off to crit. partners and beta readers for them to tear them all apart, so we can put it back together again and make sure it’s even more perfect. Then we do it all over again. Every time we read through the manuscript we find more flaws. We begin to second guess ourselves, where it gets to the point where we no longer know if we’re fixing it or making it worse.

But I have good news! There is NO SUCH THING AS PERFECTION! No matter how hard you try, you will NEVER make your story perfect. Someone will ALWAYS find flaws and faults. You can’t please everyone.

How is this good news? Because if you go in knowing that perfection doesn’t exist, that no matter what you do, you can’t please everyone, you can give yourself permission to not worry about them. Because eventually there comes that time when trying to make it perfect just becomes procrastination. Or will give you an ulcer. Or both.

We begin using the excuse of making it perfect to not send out the manuscript to agents or editors or even readers. We’re afraid of what they’ll say about it. We’re afraid they won’t like it. Or even worse they’ll hate it. Or when we do get the dreaded negative review, we decide we don’t “ever want to write another book
again.”

And, unfortunately, because perfection is different for everyone, someone is going to hate it. But that’s okay, because for every person who hates it, there’s another hundred that will love it. And even when someone writes a horribly mean, snarky review, there’s someone out there who’s writing such a positive and glowing review of it, that it’ll outshine that negative one.

So stop worrying about perfection, because nothing is perfect and beauty is often found in things others thought was flawed.



J.A. Souders was born in the heartland with an overactive imagination and an over abundance of curiosity that was always getting her into trouble. She first began writing at the age of 13, when she moved to Florida and not only befriended the monsters under the bed, but created worlds for them to play together.

Because she never grew up, she decided she’d put her imaginary friends to work and started writing. She still lives in the land of sunshine and palm trees with her husband and their two children. Renegade is her first novel and surfaces November 13, 2012.
 

Renegade

“MY LIFE IS JUST ABOUT PERFECT.”

Since the age of three, sixteen-year-old Evelyn Winters has been trained to be Daughter of the People in the underwater utopia known as Elysium. Selected from hundreds of children for her ideal genes, all her life she’s thought that everything was perfect; her world. Her people. The Law.

But when Gavin Hunter, a Surface Dweller, accidentally stumbles into their secluded little world, she’s forced to come to a startling realization: everything she knows is a lie. Her memories have been altered. Her mind and body aren’t under her own control. And the person she knows as Mother is a monster.

Together with Gavin she plans her escape, only to learn that her own mind is a ticking time bomb… and Mother has one last secret that will destroy them all.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

YAtopia Relaunch: Aimee & Jen

Today we're introducing two of our newest members, authors Aimee L. Salter and Jennifer Malone.
(But don't forget to click the link at the bottom - you could win autographed books, critiques and more!)


Aimee was born in Portland, Oregon, raised in Hokitika, New Zealand, and has subsequently made her home everywhere from Los Angeles to Ulan Baatar, Mongolia. She is represented by Brittany Howard of the Corvisiero Literary Agency, New York.

When she's not writing, Aimee spends most of her time wrangling her young son (and young-at-heart husband), critiquing for other authors, and making awkward comments on Twitter. Her blog focuses on practical tips for making your manuscript better, and can be found at www.aimeelsalter.com. You can find her Twitter musings at @AimeeLSalter.



Jennifer is busy failing at not creating the world’s longest resume, which includes everything from regaling her students at Boston University with celebrity gossip collected in her years as a publicist for 20th Century Fox, trying not to terrify expectant parents of twins at a local parenting center and running her own wholesale craft business, Linaloos Designs, selling handmade accessories made from vintage sweaters to boutiques. In all her “spare” time, she writes middle grade fiction about first kisses and is repped by Holly Root at The Waxman Literary Agency.

If celebrity gossip isn’t your thing, Jennifer can also entertain you with tales from the year she spent traveling the world solo and, for a really good story, ask her about how she met her husband on the highway--literally! Feed her Twitter addiction by starting up a conversation @jenniferlmalone.


Q. What does your writing environment look like? (Is there anything you can't write without?)

Jen: I wish I could say I went to work every day in my cozy little studio overlooking a lazy river, but my writing environment is wherever and whenever I happen to be balancing my laptop that day. I am very superstitious about a particularly cozy chair in my living room--I get my best writing done there, but I pay for it with a very stiff neck afterwards. I did keep a list of all the places I worked on my last ms- just for fun. It's mostly fairly boring places like my library or coffee shops, but I did write two chapters in the Swiss Alps at a hippy commune (Nope, I am not a hippy, I was there for work. I have a weird job.) Aside from my laptop I don't need anything else to write, but I can tell you what I can't write WITH and that would be any background noise like TV or music and especially not with a window open to Twitter...

Aimee: I'm really blessed to live at the beach. My most common writing environment is my own living room. While my son is at school I sit at the dining table facing a huge window that lines our living room and looks out over the sea. (That said, there are days I have to shut the curtains to help myself stay focused). In a pinch I can write anywhere and so far I haven't found anything I can't write without. But my favorite environment is indoors, silent--unless I'm playings songs from the playlist for that particular book--and near a window while it's raining outside. That's when I seem to do my best work.


Has anything autobiographical made it into your manuscript?
 
Jen: A thousand times, yes. Tons of little things. My character names are almost all nods to people I know, especially favorite teachers. I also like to give my man characters quirky traits that I have: never knowing the actual words to a song but singing along anyway, always mixing up common
expressions, being accident prone on staircases, things like that. In my completed ms, my character builds a dollhouse from a kit with her mom, which is also one of my favorite childhood memories. My WIP takes place in the land of movies and I'm drawing A LOT from my experiences as a publicist for 20th Century Fox. There is one encounter with an A-list star that I replicate almost exactly using my character- it was really fun to write and should be pretty interesting to read.
 
Aimee: Like Jen, I've had tons of little details, settings, rooms, teachers names, even friends / former classmates names. But honestly, the thing I draw on the most is my emotions. I really remember what it was like to be seventeen. I don't know why that time of my life was seared so indelibly on my psyche, but I know it's the reason I write for teens. I use the feelings and fears I used to have in every single manuscript I write. The book that got me my agent also draws on my experience being bullied in high school.
 
 
What's your favorite thing about being a YA / MG writer? Is there anything you dislike?
 
Jen: Well, my first manuscript is actually middle grade, though it's geared towards the upper end: my MC is 13. My WIP is YA and it's a first for me. In both instances, I really love writing the romance- whether it's first kiss stuff or (a tiny bit) steamier. My absolute favorite thing to write is dialogue,
exploring what would make two people connect in a way that hopefully has the reader screaming "Just kiss already!" at a certain point in the book. As for what I dislike, I'd say maybe the effort it takes to craft a message without crossing the line into preachy.
 
Aimee: I love being transported back into my high school days because I get to rewrite my own history--learn the lessons I wish I'd learned back then, or have some of the experiences I felt like I missed (even getting to relive some of the awesome parts). But I hate it too. There was a lot of pain in my life back then and I have to draw on that to make my characters real. My hope is, by mining those feelings and experiences, one day a girl will pick up my book in her library, read it, and think "She knows how I feel!"

 
And finally, if you could have been the author for any book out there, which do you wish you'd written and why?
 
Jen: Just one? Yikes. Well, I'm about to begin reading the Harry Potter series aloud for the third time- once to my husband as he did manly fixer-upper stuff to the decrepit 120 year-old Victorian we bought and renovated, once to my now 10 year-old twin boys and soon to my first-grade daughter. So I may just have to choose this series because if I'd written it, it would mean that not only am I the mastermind plotter of all time, but that I am capable of capturing the hearts of bajillions of kids (and adults) and most importantly, that my imagination would be the most wildly fun place on earth to go and play any time I wanted. Although more money than the Queen, paparazzi and haters: not so much.

Aimee: Right now, I'm in awe of the wit and humor in Julia Quinn's historical romances (specifically the Bridgerton Family series). I wish I had the ability to write that kind of snappy, laugh-out-loud dialogue. But in terms of story content, I wish I'd written Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher. The concept is mind-boggling, and the story feels so real to me. Since I can't actually write that book, my goal is to be able to write something like it.

***


For more info on the re-launch, including how you can win some incredible prizes, click here!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Shadow of the Mark cover reveal and contest!




Former YAtopia Leigh Fallon has a new book on the way. SQUEE!! And here's her gorgeous new cover for Shadow of the Mark!


Leigh Fallon on the new cover: I know, there's no mistaking it. This is definitely a Carrier Series cover, but that was the intention. After the amazing reception to the cover of Carrier of the Mark, HarperCollins wanted Shadow's cover to be instantly recognizable. And it is, but the new darker color palette reflects the darker tone that this installment brings, and the pink and purple really make it pop. I love it and think HarperCollins have done another amazing job. I hope you like it too.

Shadow of the Mark

Life for Megan Rosenberg just got a lot more complicated. While she evoked the air element, and her feelings for Adam intensified, a web of lies, deceit, and betrayal has been spun around her. With the Order tightening its hold, and the reinstatement of the Mark Knights, Megan has more questions than answers as the Marked Ones grow in strength. New people arouse suspicion, the DeRises start behaving strangely, and Megan begins to unravel a destiny shrouded in mystery. It's a destiny the Order has struggled to hide, and a destiny someone from the past, far in the past, has already laid claim to. Alliances will be made, and friends will be lost, as the Order's dark secrets are revealed by the very thing they sought to destroy.

Like what you've read? You can pre-order Shadow of the Mark right now.

Leigh is also hosting a giveaway! Books and swag are up for grabs.



a Rafflecopter giveaway






YATopia Relaunch: Lisa and DJ

Today we're introducing the lovely Lisa Burstein, author of Pretty Amy, and reintroducing DJ DeSmyter, who has been with us since the beginning. Lisa and DJ decided to ask each other quirky questions for their interviews, but before we get to those, here is some information on the two of them:


Lisa Burstein lives in Portland, OR with her husband a neurotic dog and two cats. She is the author of PRETTY AMY, May 2012 (Cybils nominee 2012) from Entangled Teen. DEAR CASSIE will be published by Entangled Teen in March 2013. She is represented by Susan Finesman at Fine Literary Management. Lisa has been accused of actually being a seventeen year-old-girl in reviews, but she is definitely old, married and no longer in high school. Visit her website or blog to learn more about her. And if that's not enough Lisa, check out her Twitter @lisaburstein, Facebook, and Goodreads!


DJ is a proud writer of young adult paranormal-romance who suffers from Sexy New Idea Syndrome and currently writes from his bedroom. His novel Hunted was published by Pendrell Publishing in 2011. In addition to novel-writing, he is also a singer/songwriter and book blogger. His reviews and songs can be found on his site, DJ's Life in Fiction. As he continues to grow as a person and a reader, DJ hopes to continue growing as a writer and can't wait to see where his stories take him. Find Hunted on Facebook and GoodReads!
***

DJ INTERVIEWING LISA:

Which book do you wish you had written?

Catcher in the Rye.

If you could be a Disney character, who would you be?

Wall-E.

Team Edward or Team Jacob?

This is terrible, but neither ;) When it comes to Twilight I am not a fan. (<--DJ's not sure what to make of this, :-P )

What song are you embarrassed to admit you love?

Waterfalls by TLC

David Beckham or Robert Downey, Jr?

Robert Downey Jr. I had a thing for him in the Breakfast Club, of course these days it would be David Beckham.

Describe yourself in three words.

Funny, Sharp, Creative

LISA INTERVIEWING DJ:

If you were an animal what kind of animal would you be?

I would want to be a dolphin. I've always loved them and how intelligent they are. Plus they can beat up sharks.

What is the weirdest thing I would I find in your refrigerator right now?

Hm...let's see. You know, I don't think I have anything out of the ordinary in there. I do have some leftover pancakes in a bag. Does that count as weird?

If you could be any character in fiction, who would you be?

Karou from Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone. She has such a fascinating and adventurous life that I think it'd be fun to be her for a day. Plus she has Akiva. Enough said.

If you could be a superhero, what would you want your superpowers to be?

I'm a huge fan of the show Charmed and have always loved Piper's power to freeze time, so I would want to be able to do that.

What is your biggest pet peeve?

 My biggest pet peeve is when I get taken advantage of. I'm a pretty quiet person and I tend to get walked on a lot because people think I won't protest or that I won't mind doing whatever it is they're too lazy to do.

How would you describe yourself in three words?

Quiet, friendly, and creative.

***
For more info on the re-launch, including how you can win some incredible prizes, click here!



Monday, October 22, 2012

YAtopia Relaunch: Suzanne and Sharon


Today we're introducing you to new YAtopian Suzanne van Rooyen and reintroducing you to YAtopia old-timer Sharon Johnston.

Suzanne van Rooyen

Suzanne grew up in the concrete jungle of Johannesburg, South Africa. After a brief stint in Australia, she felt most at home in the forests of Finland where the cold, dark winters provide a perfect excuse to stay indoors and write. She is the author of the cyberpunk novel Dragon's Teeth (Divertir, 2011), the YA science fiction novel Obscura Burning (Etopia Press, 2012) and several short stories published by Storm Moon Press, Niteblade and others. Despite having a Master's in music, Suzanne prefers conjuring strange worlds and creating quirky characters. When she's not doing that, you can find her playing in the snow with her shiba inu or eating peanut butter and watching science fiction movies.

You can find Suzanne on her website, on Twitter @Suzanne_Writer or on Goodreads.
Sharon Johnston

Sharon is a corporate communication manager and a former journalist from Australia who writes in her spare time. Sleeper is Sharon's first novel that she is currently querying. Although she normally writes about the strange and the weird, her first publication is a general fiction short story call "Growth" as part of The Australian Literary Review's anthology The Basics of Life.

Sharon loves YA, science-fiction, speculative fiction, paranormal and anything that comes from the deepest darkest parts of someone's mind. She draws inspiration from local writers who have made it in the tough Australian publishing industry such as Tara Moss, Kerri Arthurs, Karen Brooks and Emily Rodda.

Well-known for her fantastic taste in shoes, Sharon has actually been stalked by women wanting to know where she got her high heels from. She invites you to read her personal blog and she is a Twitter fiend so follow her @S_M_Johnston.


Suzanne, interviewed by Sharon:

Sharon: Dragon's Teeth is Cyberpunk. What makes a novel Cyberpunk?

Suzanne: Excellent question. Cyberpunk as a genre usually denotes a future where there is an emphasis on sophisticated technology, but a breakdown in society. Dragon's Teeth has exactly that! There's an emphasis on technology, specifically on medical procedures that increase longevity, including the use of cybernetic implants. There's also a huge breakdown in society. It's post apocalyptic, but more than that, in the world of Dragon's Teeth there is rampant corruption and an underground criminal network undermining the society that's trying to reclaim its place on a damaged planet.

Sharon: You've got a passion for music and dance. How does that influence your writing?

Suzanne: Music definitely influences my writing. I use music as a soundtrack for all my writing. It helps me capture the right atmosphere and character emotions and can even help with setting. As for dance, I'm not sure that influences my writing as much as music does. It certainly helps character creation though. Many of my works feature muscians and in my WiP one of my secondary characters is a dancer.

Sharon: How has your reading as a teenager influenced your writing for teenagers.

Suzanne: As a teenager I didn't read teen books. I mostly read fantasy by authors like Caiseal Mor, Stephen Lawhead and Juliet Marillier - none of which is YA as we know it. I think that has made me realise that teens don't need to be coddled or written down to. Today's teenagers are quite sophisticated and they expect a lot from YA authors. That definitely puts us writers under pressure, but also raises the bar on quality, which is never a bad thing.

Sharon: What are your top four favourite books and why?

Suzanne: Oh I hate this question! Only four? Lost Souls by Poppy Z Brite because I love her description and the effortless ways she weaves together romance and horror somehow making the horrific aspects of her story rather dreamy - that takes skill! The Sandman by Neil Gaiman, that's an entire graphic novel series so I'm cheating here, but that series blew me away. Gaiman really is a genius and his Sandman creations are phenomenal: fantasy, science-fiction, horror - all rolled up into one with so many layers. Love it! The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater because she writes beautifully and her characters are so real. Stiefvater also manages to keep her book fantastic and yet totally believable, and I'm a sucker for creatures from mythology. The Crow by James O'Barr because this is the story that first got me into darker fantasy. O'Barr wrote the story and illustrated his own graphic novel - that's incredible. I love how visceral and dark but also how totally heartbreakingly poignant this story is. Ah, I could go on and on about all the books I love...


Sharon, interviewed by Suzanne:

Suzanne: Can you tell us a bit about Sleeper?

Sharon: I can, but will I? (Sorry, that's the influence of my English teacher sister coming through). Sleeper is a Speculative Fiction (Science-Fiction/Fantasy mix) about a girl, Mishca, who discovers that her adoption was a front and that's she's actually a sleeper soldier for a private army. Her programming is accidentally triggered by a life saving heart transplant operation. The rest of her "unit" have the same condition, so are deemed as defective and scheduled for termination. So Mishca sets out to save them.

Suzanne: What do you think makes the Australian publishing industry a tough nut to crack?

Sharon: We're such a small market and there's so many books from overseas that a lot of publicity here. Even published Australian authors aren't necessarily finding homes for the new stories. But I think this will change as teenagers are thinking more globally and want to read stories from other countries. Australia is one of those countries that everyone wants to know more about. I had not only one of the most popular Australian manuscript with an earlier version of Sleeper on a YA writing site, Inkpop (which was recently bought out by Figment, but was the site that discovered Leigh Fallon and Wendy Higgins), but one of the most popular stories on the whole site. So that definitely showed me that teens internationally love stories set in Australia. More and more Aussie authors are finding success overseas, especially with the rise of ebooks.

Suzanne: If you could be any fictional character for a day, who would be and why?

Sharon: Wow, this one is tough. A lot of characters I love face so much adversity that I really wouldn't want to walk in their shoes. I love Tonks from Harry Potter. She's a bit bad-ass and a bit goofy and I'd love to change my hair colour whenever I feel like it. She can handle a broom too.

Suzanne: Which 2012 YA book was your favourite and why?

Sharon: A Million Suns was just amazing. I loved Across the Universe so much. It's like a YA 1984. The insights into the flaws of society continue on into the sequel. And the twists! Revis is just a master. I can't stop at one. Pandemonium blew me away. I didn't mind the first one, but the sequel rocked. While it's not my usual YA, From the Ashes was also amazing. It really helped me understand writing from the male POV.


 For more info on the re-launch, including how you can win some incredible prizes, click here!


A Wild Middle-Grade Writer Appears... GET HIM!



Citizens of Yatopia, put down your pitchforks!

I am but a lowly middle-grade writer. I’m not some depraved, fart-and-puke-obsessed creature. I have thoughts—I have feelings! My writing has meaning just like yours.

Look at yourselves. Your envy is as green as the grass which surrounds this page. It doesn’t have to be this way! Please listen!

This, my first post as a newly-landed Yatopian, is a call to all children's writers--middle grade and young adult alike—to climb to the tallest building and declare…

We—quite simply—are just much cooler than you.

Now, before you poke out my eyes with your quills, please have a moment of pause. You too can be as cool as me. You too can write the wonders of middle-grade. It’s as easy as wiping your booger on a wall (something your characters most certainly will do). Let me show you!

Make Robots, Not Love

You can keep your cheesy romance. Middle-grade authors get to write about cool things like robots, pirates, and evil washing machines. All that touchy, feely, flirty nonsense you YA writers like has no place in middle-grade. Sure, a girl may like a boy (or even a girl!), but it’s kept strictly elementary. The girl might tease the boy. The boy might torment the girl. But other than that, romance is icky to most middle-graders. Cooties most certainly exist in these worlds. Now friendships—friendships are slathered all over middle-grade stories. Middle-grade characters value their friends. But they don’t secretly desire them—No! They see them as partners in crime, or sidekicks, or fellow adventurers! 

Reader Discretion is Not Advised

Where you YA writers might have an advantage—where I’ll admit I’m a bit jealous—is your knack for writing such lovely violence and wonderfully bloody mayhem. Blood and guts must be kept far away from middle-grade eyes. It’s their parents—fickle people they are. They have some ridiculous notion that violence warps young minds. Pfft! I don’t see it, but that beside the point. If violence occurs in a middle-grade story, it usually happens to the baddie, and it’s usually stylized to the point of slapstick. No blood, people. Same goes for swearing. Do kids swear? Heck yeah! But we must keep those sensitive mommies and daddies satisfied, right?

No Time to Stop and Smell the Roses

Hey, you know how your character spends ten pages staring in the mirror just thinking? Middle-grade characters don’t do that! They don’t even stop to think about what pants they’re going to wear to school. They just grab something and go! Middle-grade authors don’t have to worry as much about the many muddled thoughts and feelings and worries of teenagers. Our characters have only one hormone running through them: adrenaline. It comes in handy when they do battle against ancient gods, duel with evil wizards, and when they’re being chased by terrible giants. The point is: middle-grade novels move fast. My readers don’t have the attention span for anything else. Action, action, action is all they want. Give it to them and then crank it up to 11.

I'll Never Grow Up! Not me!

Adults, leave your fragile sensibilities at the door when reading this next point. You are the enemy of middle-graders. In middle-grade novels, adults are the worst form of life. They are evil, blood-thirsty monsters who will stop at nothing to destroy the main character—or the world! The very concept of adulthood is foreign to middle-grade characters. They feel they’ll be young forever—going on grand adventures all day long. Unlike the many growing responsibilities and adult situations your young adult characters face, middle-grade characters deal with simple issues like why their teacher sleeps in a coffin during recess or why their grandmother has a pet anaconda. Middle-grade characters don’t spend time thinking about the future—they live in the here and now!  

Purple Monsters Hate Purple Prose

Finally, middle-grade readers are little monsters—purple ones—and they hate long, complicated sentences. Flowery adjectives and adverbs make them cranky. Too many and they’ll tear your book to shreds. They take a liking to concise, vivid descriptions and short, snappy sentences. They like small paragraphs too. Easier on their beady, little eyes. More sensible to their simple minds. It’s easy to make these purple monsters happy. But it’s even easier to make them mad. If you can’t handle it, stick to young adults!

If I have not convinced you that middle-grade writers are cooler, I don’t know what will. Perhaps you’ll say something like, “middle-grade writing isn’t always like this!” or “young adult writing can be fun too!” and you would be right. These points are meant more to be guidelines than hard and fast rules. But I guarantee it, if you give middle-grade writing the old college try, you’ll see what I mean when I say: middle-grade writers are cooler!

If you still don’t agree, at least let me stay for a while. It’s quite nice here. :)