Sunday, October 29, 2017

GUESTOPIA: Author Ewa Dodd


I'm back with another Guestopia interview to finish up October, and today my victim...guest is debut author Ewa Dodd whose first book is out next year!

The daughter of a bookseller, Ewa Dodd has been writing since she was young, starting small with short self-illustrated books for children. More recently, she has delved into novel-writing, and is particularly interested in literature based in Poland, where she is originally from. The Walls Came Down was shortlisted for the Virginia Prize for Fiction. Ewa lives in Highbury, north London with her husband.

Is this your first published book?

It is. I’m very excited about it.

What’s it called?

The Walls Came Down

Which genre?

Historical mystery

Which age group?

18-30 (New Adult), but I’m hoping it will also appeal to a broader audience.

Is it a series or standalone?

It’s a standalone story

Are you an agented author?


Which publisher snapped up your book?

Aurora Metro, an independent publisher based in Richmond.

How involved have you been in the whole publishing process of your book?

I’ve been predominantly involved in the editorial process, which has been very fascinating. It’s great to have an experienced editor asking questions about your book, which you may never have thought about. The book has definitely improved as a result of my editor Mary’s work on it. 

Do you have another job?

Yes, I’m a Marketing Manager in the education sector.

Did you receive many, if any, rejections prior?

Definitely. The road to publication is never an easy one, and I’ve received lots of rejections both from agents and publishers. The trick is always to persevere, and to get as much feedback as possible so that you can improve next time around. 

What created/what were you doing or watching when the first idea for this book sneaked up on you?

I was reading a newspaper article about a missing child, and it made me think about the long-term effect of that one moment of disappearance on the lives of those closest to them. This idea forms the premise of my book.

How long did you plot/plan until you started writing it?

I thought about it for a good few months before I started putting any words on paper. I tend not to create written plotlines. I have an idea, start writing, and see where it takes me.

Once you started, did the story flow naturally or did you have to step in and wrestle it into submission?

It seemed to come quite naturally, but I did end up making some significant changes to the structure later on.

How many drafts did you write before you let someone read it? Who was that someone?

I had a few close friends read it and received some really useful feedback from them, mainly to do with the characterisation of the three protagonists.

Did you employ an editor/proofreader or did you have a critique partner/beta readers before you started querying?

I didn’t employ a proof-reader, but I did ask my first readers to mark up any mistakes that they spotted as they read.

Roughly how many drafts did it take before you sent the manuscript off into the real world?

Three, but then I sent it off and felt that I hadn’t done enough!

How many drafts until it was published?

Another four.

Has the book changed dramatically since the first draft?

Yes, quite significantly, as one of the three main protagonists has changed, and there were
also a number of important structural developments along the way.

Are there any parts you’d like to change even now?

Definitely. Particularly when I re-read certain bits of dialogue and wonder whether that character could have said what they meant a bit differently… I also feel I could have further enhanced some of the detail of the historical setting.

What part of writing do you find the easiest?

I definitely find getting the story down on paper the easiest.

What part do you find hardest?

Editing is by far the hardest for me. I find that leaving a few weeks’ gap in between each edit definitely helps.

Do you push through writing barriers or walk away?

I try to push through, but it’s not always easy!

How many projects do you have on the go at the same time?

Usually no more than two. Any more than that and I think you’ll get really muddled.

Do you think you’re born with the talent to write or do you think it can be learned?

I think it can definitely be learned – you just need to have a good story in you.

How many future novels do you have planned?

I definitely have plans for another one. Beyond that, we’ll have to see! I’d like to think that new stories will keep coming to me.

Do you write other things, such as short stories, articles, blogs, etc?

I used to write short stories, but then I felt very restricted by the word count and found that that ultimately they didn’t really work for me.

What’s the highlight of being published so far?

Having a copy of your book to hold is a great feeling.

Give me one writing tip that work for you.

Writing everywhere where an idea comes to you, even if you only have a few minutes – I usually do it in the ‘Notes’ app of my phone and then send it to myself in an email at the end of the week.

And one that doesn't.

Meticulously planning your plot. Sometimes your story takes an unexpected turn and you’ll feel annoyed at yourself for not sticking to the plan.

Can you give us a clue or secret about the next book?

I can’t yet as it’s too early days, but I’m looking into middle grade fiction!

What question have you always wanted to be asked but never have? What would the answer be?

I think it’s probably about routes to being published. One very good one is via entering competitions, and I would definitely encourage unpublished writers to do so. I entered the Virginia Prize and got shortlisted, which was a great route to meeting an interested publisher.

Absolutely fantastic that you were able to join us today, Ewa, and from all of us here at YAtopia, we wish you so much luck with this book and all those that follow. 

If you would like to find out more about Ewa and her books, these links might just help! 

Saturday, October 28, 2017

How to Choose Character Fears

With everyone's favorite spooky day upon us, let's talk fear. Your protagonist needs a fear. But not just any fear. You can't toss in the fear of clowns because it's hot on American Horror story. You can't use spiders just because they make your skin crawl. You have to choose a fear that works specifically against your character.

Think goal.

Whatever your character's goal is, wouldn't it be interesting if she had to face her fear to get to that goal? So what is she working toward? Breakfast? Riveting goal! Your protagonist wants to make breakfast, but first...she has to do the dishes, and she's afraid to reach her hand into the murky water. She doesn't know if she'll grab the blade of a knife or worse--a slimy piece of food. Her stomach churns. And then it rumbles. But she has to do it to make breakfast.

Now let's build on goals and fear and focus on character flaws.

A character flaw will take the reader deeper into your character and world than a fear because not everyone will relate to the same fears, but we do all relate to feeling of inadequacy thanks to our weaknesses. Let's say your protagonist is afraid to ask for help. You can take that deeper by giving him the character flaw that he doesn't let himself appear vulnerable to anyone. So wouldn't it be juicy if his goal were to clean his entire apartment so he could make dinner for his girlfriend? But uh-oh! She's coming in two hours and he hasn't cleaned in two weeks. He's going to have to call a friend and ask for help. But this makes him vulnerable because 1) he's going to have to ask for help, and his friend could say no, 2) if his friend comes over, he's going to see the mess AKA what a mess he is, and 3) he's going to have to tell his friend why it's so important to him to get the apartment clean--for love, man--and love makes us vulnerable.

Deepen it even more with history.

Of course we all know not to dump backstory, but you need to know what part of your character's history caused her specific fear and character flaw. And then if you sprinkle a hint to your readers, they'll gain a deeper understanding and appreciate it even more when your character jumps that fear hurdle to get to the goal. So back to our first example. She wants breakfast--needs it. It's the most important meal of the day! But the thought of dishes make her blood pressure rise. Why?

Because when she was little, her older brother played a cruel prank on her. It was her turn to do the dishes. The bits of slimy food floating in the water always made her squeamish, but she sucked it up because it's just food, after all. She plunged both hands into the bubbly water, pulling our saucers and spoons. Her shoulders relaxed a little. She washed a knife--she hated not knowing if she'd grab a knife. Always afraid to get cut. She reached back into the water with both hands. Her right hand brushed the ridged edge of another knife. She grabbed it gently. She sucked in a breath as something slimy brushed her other hand. It's just food. Grab it out. She fished around and felt the thick slimy texture again. Her heart thud-thudded against her chest. She pulled and out came a snake. The beady eyes looked right at her. The tongue flicked in and out faster than her heartbeat. She screamed, her body tensing in panic, and the dishwater turned red with blood as she still held the knife in her other hand.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Experiment with Something That Scares You

October is the perfect month to prepare yourself for NaNoWriMo (if you partake) or just another month of writing for those who don’t, so why not… scare yourself?

I don’t mean by saying Bloody Mary three times in front of a mirror – although if you do that, would you let me know if it works? - but by tackling something totally out of the ordinary for you, within your writing.

For us YA writers and readers, we tend to stick within our own preferred age-range (I know it’s a bad habit of mine anyway) so occasionally I’ll make myself read books aimed at younger or older markets than YA. It’s amazing what branching out with your reading and writing can do for your writing skills. This October, try your hand at a paragraph or too of writing for a different age-range. 

Even if it’s not your cup of tea, you’ll be able to identify what it is that makes YA, YA, and why you love writing it so much, and either stick to it, or invert it some way that puts a new spin on your writing.

Then we have genre – personally, I love anything fantasy, sci-fi or thriller, which means those are naturally the books I’m drawn to at the book shops/libraries, as well as the ones I’ll pick up first from my bookshelf. But this October, I plan to shock myself and pick up some literary fiction or cosy mysteries. Maybe I’ll even dabble in some horror on October 31st.

Because we all remember that amazing scene from “Bring it On” when the cheerleaders combine a range of dance styles to create a kick-ass dance routine (…. oh… only me then?) and I like to think experimenting with genres is a sort of the writing equivalent to creating that dance routine. As we read and write, we come to learn the expected tropes of a certain genre, which means we can use them, or invert them within the genre we prefer. You’re more likely to create that gobsmacking-ly original, cross-genre, industry-redefining novel if you’re well read in every genre there is out there, so get cracking!

Experimenting with tenses, POV, age-range, story-length, and genre means that you might discover a new style of writing that you absolutely love, but even if you don’t, you can combine all your new knowledge to make that sizzling dance routine. What makes that horror so scary? That thriller suspenseful? Romance swoon-worthy?

You’ll have fun finding out, discover new authors and genres that you love, and your writing will develop as a result. So, get out of your comfort zone and into that Halloween outfit! (and then do some reading and crazy writing.)

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Writing a good scare!

Hey guys!

Ah the month of Halloween is upon us! In just 21 days all the spooky and creepy will hit our doorsteps and homes. And I, for one, couldn’t be more excited. This is hands down my favorite holiday of the year. The haunting atmosphere connects with my eerie little W.I.P. So, I wanted to look at some fundamental elements that I think should be in a “good scare” book (just to be clear: this is only my ramblings, no one else’s. Also, I’m talking spooky, not full on horror – though some elements might overlap).

All right, let’s get to it.

When it comes to eerie, one of the first thing I think of is pacing. A spooky book isn’t going to be a languid walk in the park. It’s got to be fast and unpredictable at times, and then at others there needs to be a slow, but ever-increasing tension buildup. This can’t be just your average building of tension. This needs to build a particular atmosphere. It needs to be an increasing “heart in your mouth” feeling. Think about those old horror movies where the girl goes creeping around the house. Cheesy, yes. Effective? Also, yes. Most of us will still hold our breath, even though we know what’s going to happen. It’s human nature. Now, I’m not saying write an old-fashioned cheesy horror (but you can if you want!). What I’m getting at is the variation in pacing should go between these two. You need to build up, then be quick and unpredictable.

So, here’s where I want to build on atmosphere aside from it building your tension. Atmosphere is crucial for a spooky book. You need to decide what kind of atmosphere you want (and I do recommend either doing this before you write your first draft, or doing an entire edit pass focusing on just this aspect.) Are you looking for eerie and peculiar (ala THE ACCIDENT SEASON by Moira Fowley-Doyle) or are you looking for something off-kilter and uncomfortable (ala CORALINE by Neil Gaiman)? Perhaps you’re going for an old-style Goosebumps book, or what about something like ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD by Kendare Blake? Whatever your choice, you need to think ahead – what makes an eerie tone as opposed to a “hold your breath” tone? Word choice, word choice, word choice. Sentence structure. Choice of details. Be careful in your choices.

Then, of course, there’re characters to talk about. You can have a cast of completely normal characters, of course, but you can up the spook by having odd characters, too. Think about HOW TO HANG A WITCH by Andriana Mather. The Descendants are plain unusual – descended from the witches from the Salem witch trials, all dressed in black, and giving fierce looks, and a closed circle kind of feel.

Plot – well, this one goes without saying. But just a reminder: twists, turns…the unexpected, and the guessing game of who is going to do what. And then you have the “this is weird…what the heck is going on?” And the “is there going to be something terrifying in there?” Choose whatever plot you want, but make sure it keeps the creepy factor throughout!

All right. So, there are many, many more things that can make a novel spooky, but if I try and write them all here, I’ll end up with a book (and I’m not writing non-fiction lol), and there will be plenty that I miss. So this is just my little nook in the web to tell you the main things I look at on my first edit pass when it comes to spooky!

Happy Halloween to come, you guys!!!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Agentopia: Stephanie Hansen

Welcome to the September edition of Agentopia. This month we have Stephanie Hansen from Metamorphosis Literary Agency.

About Stephanie: 

Stephanie represents debut to New York Times bestselling authors. She’s signed authors with small presses to major publishing house distribution. She received her Master’s in 2008 and Creative Writing Specialization in 2017. Predominately she represents YA SF/F but has a secret addiction for romance. While these are her favorite, she handles everything fiction from children’s books to adult thrillers. Previously an editor for Mind’s Eye Literary Magazine, she became a part of Metamorphosis in July 2016. Originally looking to help Midwest authors garner the attention of major publishing houses, despite residing in “flyover states”, she found camaraderie with multiple agents and editors.

What is currently on your wish list?

Currently, romance with fantasy that reads like a movie screen and YA series with a fresh perspective.

What's a personal turn-off in a query which is guaranteed to get the author rejected?

Queries that only contain two sentences. Please include your genre (and sub-genre if applicable), word count, title, name and 2-3 paragraphs describing your story.

Do you google authors and if yes, what are you looking for?  

Yes, I Google authors because I want to see their online presence (while not necessary, it's very beneficial).

Follow Stephanie on Twitter @hansenwriter

Two authors Stephanie represents recently signed with publishing houses! These are:

Laura M. Snider signed WITCHES' QUARTERS with Clear Fork Publishing.

Paul McGowan signed DAWN OF THE REAPER with the Fire & Ice YA imprint.