Tuesday, January 31, 2012

APOCALYPSE NOW: an interview with Kristen Simmons, author of ARTICLE 5

Today we’re excited to talk to Kristen Simmons, author of the gripping dystopian YA novel ARTICLE 5, which is available as of TODAY from Tor Books. Congratulations, Kristen!

About ARTICLE 5:

New York, Los Angeles, and Washington DC have been abandoned. The Bill of Rights has been revoked and replaced with the Moral Statutes. There are no more police – instead, there are soldiers.

Seventeen-year-old Ember Miller is old enough to remember that things weren’t always this way. Living with her rebellious single mother, it’s hard to forget that people weren’t always arrested for reading the wrong books or staying out after dark. She has learned to keep a low profile, but then her mother is arrested for noncompliance with Article 5 of the Moral Statutes. And what’s worse, one of the arresting officers is none other than Chase Jennings…the only boy Ember has ever loved.

Welcome to the Lucky 13s, Kristen. So you’re a Cormac McCarthy fan. Me, too. Did THE ROAD figure into your design for this book?

Cormac McCarthy is such an inspiration. In THE ROAD, it’s not fully explained what happened or how the world became that way, it just is, and the characters are forced to deal with it. It got me thinking, what would we do if we remembered what it was like before the world fell apart? If teenagers remembered going to school and hanging out late on Friday night at Burger King, but now must abide by a curfew and go to a soup kitchen to get their meals? And what if, like many people, they never took advantage of how good things were until they were taken away? Often, we complain about how terrible things are, but if the apocalypse actually happened this year, many of us will be looking back on this time and saying, oh my gosh, I can’t believe I didn’t appreciate that mortgage payment and that car payment and those hospital bills, those luxuries that I actually did have.

You have worked as a therapist specializing in trauma. Ember and Chase have endured war, deprivation, and loss. Did your therapeutic work help you gain insight into these characters, who miscommunicate and mistrust so profoundly?

It did. Perhaps the most important thing I learned as a therapist is how resilient we all are. How much we can take and still fight back. Witnessing someone recover after they’ve lost everything is awe-inspiring, and that is what I hoped to capture with my characters. People who have had trauma in their past, especially when they have the kinds of symptoms that come up for Chase, tend to try to bury it. Chase has something he can’t reveal to Ember, but even the things that aren’t a secret are painful for him to talk about, so he avoids communication as much as possible. He’s constantly battling his memories, but they’re right under the surface, breaking through in his temper and sometimes in his dreams. This is hard for both of them because they remember a time when being with each other was the easiest thing in the world. It’s not any more. It’s work to connect even on simple issues. But if they can learn to trust each other, they’ll heal, and grow even closer than they were before.

Can you tell us about how the book came to be published?

My journey has been a long one. I finished my first novel – at least the first one that I thought might actually be publishable – about ten years ago. My boyfriend at the time (now my husband) bought me this book called Writer’s Market, which contains a sample query letter (one of many things along this journey that I had never heard of). OK, I thought, not so hard. I modeled my own letter after the sample and I sent it out to some agents. Imagine my surprise when they all promptly responded with rejections! It was my first taste of the publishing world and I was crushed. But! Time heals all wounds. A year later I was at it again. I finished another book and sent out more query letters. This time I didn’t tell a soul; I was fairly embarrassed at the way the last attempt had gone. I was glad I didn’t. The result was the same: more rejections.

I didn’t know what I was doing wrong. I didn’t know this was kind of a common experience. I’d never heard of critique partners, or beta readers, or organizations for writers. I wish I’d come out of my shell and done a bit more exploring. Either way, the itch came again and I turned back to writing. But four manuscripts later, all I had to show for progress toward my goal was a box stuffed with rejection letters.

Then I wrote ARTICLE 5 and I thought, last chance, I’ll give this one more try (which of course I’d told myself before). I finished the manuscript, I wrote my query letter, and … amazingly! … got a few bites. One of them was my fabulous agent, who changed everything, and led me to where I am today!

And it’s a trilogy! Was that your intention all along?

I didn’t know if ARTICLE 5 would be two books, a series, or a trilogy, but I knew it wasn’t the end of Ember’s story.

Wow! What an incredible accomplishment. So what are you doing to celebrate?

I have a launch party on the 2nd of February at Inkwood Books, an indie bookstore in Tampa, Florida. My agent is coming, which is very exciting!

And we’re ultra stoked on your behalf! A final question: do you have any superstitions?

Normally, I’m not superstitious, but right now I am because the book is coming out! So any black cats I see – get away from me! If there’s a ladder in my garage, I tell my husband to close it. I won’t let umbrellas come in the house. I’m super paranoid about those kinds of things right now, but three months ago I wouldn’t have cared!

Thank you, Kristen. We look forward to Books Two and Three!

Kristen Simmons has a master’s degree in social work and is an advocate for mental health. She lives with her husband and their precious greyhound in Louisville, Kentucky. 

Find out more about her and her books at kristensimmonsbooks.com or www.facebook.com/author.kristensimmons.

This interview was conducted by Lucky 13s member Julia Mary Gibson as part of an ongoing series of interviews with The Apocalypsies – YA, MG, and children’s book authors 
debuting in 2012.

ARTICLE 5 is out today! Get it from your favorite indie bookstore, or online at Amazon, B&N, Inkwood Books, Macmillan.com.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Just Say No!

by: Mindy McGinnis

From a young age we're taught this phrase. Don't be afraid to reject drugs. Stand up for yourself. Make it clear you're not interested. Walk away. But it seems that if you continue to apply this lesson to innocuous solicitations as you get older, you risk social alienation.

What am I talking about?

Random Kind Person: How would you like to be a Brownie leader this year?
Me: No.

Nice Parent: I'm looking for a few moms to volunteer to watch the younger children during soccer practice, would you like to help out?
Me: No.

Really Cool Book-Type Person: I'm starting an adult book club, would you be interested?
Me: No

When you read the above statements, I kinda come off like a bitch, don't I? And while that's a debatable point, what it comes down to is that there are only so many minutes in an hour, hours in a day, days in the week, weeks in the month, and months in the year. I've got time constraints like a sassy nun's got a chastity belt, and adding more shit to the shinola in order to make nice doesn't fit into my worldview.

I started out trying to say it nicely, and be polite, the way my German momma wants me to.

Examples:
Me: Well, that doesn't really work for me. Wednesday nights I have a knitting class. 
Gleeful Response: Oh but that's OK! We can move to Tuesdays or, meet in the mornings even!

Me: Well, I'm not sure. I'm awfully busy right now.
Cheery Smile: Oh it's not all that time consuming, half hour meetings at the most!

I've even tried honesty:
Me: I don't think I can. See, I'm a writer, and I need that time to write.
Oblivious: You can just bring your paper and pencil with you, and write while the kids are playing!

So, I let my Irish side have a go and I went with the concise, slightly rude, you-can't-explain-me-away answer that those anti-drug assemblies taught me years ago: No.

While our amazing e-friendships and networking reminds us that we are not alone in our journey towards authorship, the fact remains that the act of writing is a solitary endeavor. We need our time, we need our space, we need to get into the groove and hit our stride to make the words start flowing. 

So don't be afraid that you won't be invited to the next Nice People Gathering or Coalition of Really Useful People. Stick to your guns, write your books.

Friday, January 27, 2012

To the Finisher Go the Spoils

This week on the Lucky 13s, we've been sharing our favorite bits of writing advice. Write what you love, said Amy McCullogh. Give yourself permission to write badly, said Elizabeth May. It isn't difficult to get published; it's difficult to write a good book, Megan Shepherd reminded us. 

The advice I'm sharing today doesn't condense quite as easily, but I hope it's as helpful to you as it was to me.

Several years ago, I had a decent career as a freelance copyeditor, business writer, and proofreader, but I was secretly desperate to be writing something bigger and truly my own. In the midst of this quiet miasma, I went to a writers' conference. In an undistinguished multipurpose room, under fluorescent lights so gruesome they made conference attendees look like extras in a zombie movie, film critic and novelist Stephen Hunter delivered the opening speech. Hunter held forth at the microphone for 40 minutes or so, giving a no-nonsense pep talk that was by turns funny, helpful, and profound.


He made the case for a pragmatic approach to writing—a no-fuss, no-muss method. You had to get your butt in the chair, he said. If you weren’t in your chair (or in your bed, or on the exercise ball you use as a chair, to tone your glutes), you weren’t putting words on the page.

This was the Carhartt jacket school of writing. There was no waiting for the muse, no wondering whether you were good enough. You just had to do your time. You were a shipbuilder, building a vessel. You were a bricklayer, raising a wall.

(Pablo Picasso is said to have voiced a similar thought: “Inspiration exists, but it must find you working.” Various sources phrase this quotation slightly differently, but Picasso’s basic point is much like Hunter’s: La chaise, s’il vous plait.)

But, Hunter continued, you couldn’t just sit in your chair, keying madly; you had to finish your projects. He said this, or something very similar to this: The world rewards people who finish things, out of all proportion to their talent.

The world rewards people who finish things, out of all proportion to their talent. He was so right! 

Did I have talent? Maybe. But if I didn’t finish something—specifically, a full-length fiction manuscript—it wouldn’t matter anyway, because no one would see it. It was time to get moving--all the way past the finish line. 

____________________________________________________________

Elisabeth Dahl's first book, GENIE WISHES, an MG contemporary novel with line drawings, is due out from Amulet/Abrams Books, in spring 2013. She has just completed her second book, a novel for adults. Elisabeth lives in Baltimore, MD, with her family, two dogs, and a devoted office chair of the Aeron variety. Elisabeth has a fledgling website and a Twitter account, @ElisabethDahl. She is represented by the wonderful Marissa Walsh of FinePrint Literary Management. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The One Easy, Simple Secret to Getting Published

I know this blog title starts off sounding like some terrible snake-oil sales scam along the lines of Loose Weight Fast! or The Secret Doctors Don't Want You To Know! That's what I thought when I first heard this bit of industry advice from a critique partner. She said that there is one simple secret that is the key to getting published:

It isn't difficult to get published. It's difficult to write a good book.

Let me put in a brief disclaimer. There are many talented writers out there who have amazing books and, for whatever unfortunate reasons, just haven't gotten published yet. You never know if something totally weird and unfair is going to happen to you, but...

In most cases, writers need to forget about publication and focus on just writing a good book.

If you write a good book, I mean a really good book, a book with great marketing appeal and wonderful characters and an engaging hook and strong writing that keeps editors and agents up all night reading, then chances are getting published will come naturally. But here's the catch, which I have painfully learned through personal experience. Writing a good book is hard. It takes a certain something (creativity? originality? perseverance? luck?) that can't be found in how-to books. It takes years of study and failure and emotional upheaval and heartburn medication. It's often much easier to focus on concrete, manageable tasks like making list after list of agents, obsessively reading publishing industry blogs, reformatting your query letter again and again, networking with (stalking?) editors and agents, and trying to uncover the "secret rules" to publication. Trust me, I've been there. And don't get me wrong--researching agents and preparing a professional query letter is extremely important. But not nearly as important as having an salable, gripping, wonderfully good book.

So how do you know if you've written a good book?
  • FInd critique partners you can trust to be brutally honest, not just to boost your self esteem (though these can be nice too)
  • Get professional feedback through contest and conference critiques
  • Read dozens (at least) of high-quality, successful books in your genre and target age range. Be brutally honest with yourself. Is your book as good or better than those, while still feeling totally fresh and new?
I've heard of authors who break all the publishing rules and send queries on pink paper or misspell names, and you know what? Agents and editors are only human, too. The number one trait they look for in writers is great writing, not rule-following. While we should always try to carefully read and adhere to publishing guidelines, try not to let the "publication rules" overshadow your real job as a writer: to write.

________________

Megan Shepherd is a young adult writer living in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Her debut novel, THE MADMAN'S DAUGHTER, comes out in early 2013 from Balzer+Bray/ HarperCollins. She is represented by Josh Adams of Adams Literary. Contact Megan on her website, follow her on Twitter or Facebook, and find out more information on her books at Goodreads.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Give Yourself Permission to Write Badly.

This week on the Lucky 13's, we're discussing the best publishing advice we've ever received.  I can't remember where I garnered this gem, but here it is: Give yourself permission to write badly.

Simply nod yes wherever you are in the vast cyberspace if you've ever experienced this scenario:

You've thought of a lovely story and you just know you have to write it.  The first scene may have already taken shape in your mind.  It's a lovely scene, profound.  You can picture it with such utter clarity -- every line of dialogue, everything your characters feel, their every thought.  It's all so vivid; the only thing you need to do is let it play out as you type.

So you go to your computer, you sit down, and you open your word processor.  And you stare at the blank screen.

You stare longer.  Your fingers hover above the keyboard as you try to coax out that first perfect sentence.  Like a bout of stage fright, the words simply don't come.  Your mind is locked up.  You type a mediocre first sentence, because surely that will get you going.  It doesn't.  You work that first sentence over again, adding words, taking them away, adding more.

You type the first paragraph.  God, it's so horrible -- so you edit it.  You chip away at what you wrote because the words aren't good enough.  They're not encapsulating the feelings you want to get across for this scene.  The words aren't right.  And you find it to be a struggle to write past the first chapter, or sometimes even the first page.

If this is you, let me assure you that you're not alone.  A lot of writers have this anxiety, and part of that comes from comparing our work to the published books we read.  "I'll never write like this," you might think.  Or, perhaps, "I wish I could write like this."

Some books are so beautifully written, the scenes so enviable, that it's hard to believe that, at one point, the books you love so much were once probably quite dreadful.  Because, you see, many first drafts are.  They are full of incomplete scenes, or unnecessary characters, or place-holder sentences that sit there until the author comes up with something better.

Give yourself permission to write badly, because no first draft will be perfect.  Because you need to get the story out of you.  Because you can go back and fix everything that is wrong with your manuscript. Because the important thing is that you write and pour that first draft out of you, so it exists on paper.

Give yourself permission to write badly, because those beautiful, profound words that are somewhere inside you will never, ever go away -- and you can always add them later.

___________________________________________


Elizabeth May is an occasional book cover photographer, a fantasy novelist, a lazy PhD student, and an accomplished coffee drinker. She resides in Edinburgh, Scotland, where she can frequently be spotted skulking about dark wynds with a camera in hand.  She spends far too much time on Twitter and her blog.

Her début novel THE FALCONER will be released in 2013 by Gollancz (UK/Commonwealth) and Chronicle Children's Books (US/Canada).

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Apocalypse Now: An interview with Brodi Ashton, author of EVERNEATH

Today we are so pleased to speak with Brodi Ashton, author of the fabulous new book Everneath, which hits the shelves TODAY! Congratulations, Brodi!

From Goodreads:
Last spring, Nikki Beckett vanished, sucked into an underworld known as the Everneath, where immortals Feed on the emotions of despairing humans. Now she's returned—to her old life, her family, her friends—before being banished back to the underworld... this time forever.

She has six months before the Everneath comes to claim her, six months for good-byes she can't find the words for, six months to find redemption, if it exists.

Nikki longs to spend these months reconnecting with her boyfriend, Jack, the one person she loves more than anything. But there's a problem: Cole, the smoldering immortal who first enticed her to the Everneath, has followed Nikki to the mortal world. And he'll do whatever it takes to bring her back—this time as his queen.

As Nikki's time grows short and her relationships begin slipping from her grasp, she's forced to make the hardest decision of her life: find a way to cheat fate and remain on the Surface with Jack or return to the Everneath and become Cole's...


---

1) I spent many happy hours as a child engrossed in my
D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths. Have you always been interested in mythology? What is it about the Hades/Persephone myth that particularly interests or inspires you?

I mention D'Aulaire's book in my sequel, because I totally devoured that book time and time again as a kid! So yes, I've always had an interest in Greek mythology, but I never set out to write a story about it. For Everneath, the story of a girl returning to her old life after a long mysterious absence, came first. It was only later that I realized the similarities to the plight of Persephone.


2) The story of Everneath is told in a flash-back-flash-forward style that reveals information to the reader one tantalizing bit at a time. Did you have to outline extensively in order to write this way? Or did you write the sections in chronological order and then rearrange the pieces?

I didn't do either! I hate outlining, and I couldn't write the sections in chronological order. This is not because I have an organized mind or anything, because if you ask my friends I'm the least organized person around. But when I wrote the book, the scenes just naturally fell into place in a before/after kind of way. Every time I was in the present, and a question came up about the past, I'd go and write about it. That's how the timeline evolved.


3) Although this book is part of a trilogy, it also works well as a stand-alone. Did you always intend for it to have sequels?

No. It wasn't until I was interviewing agents that the idea came up. My agent (Michael Bourret) asked me on the phone if I was done with the world of the Everneath, and that's when I thought to myself, maybe not. We had such a similar vision for the story, and it was a leading factor as to why I picked Michael.


4) Nikki chooses to return to the Surface in order to tie up loose ends and make peace with her loved ones and her former life. If you had only six months left on the Surface, what would be the top three things on your to-do list?

I would eat and eat. I just returned from a Disney Cruise, and I did just that, and it was a beautiful thing. Also, I'd be with my family. And order a million dollars worth of stuff off of the HSN.


5) Cole's band, The Dead Elvises, plays a very large role in the story. Are they based on a real band? Did you write to a playlist of Dead Elvises-style music? If so, what was on said playlist?

I didn't base them off of any particular band, but I imagined they're very hip, with a lot of swagger. I didn't create a playlist, necessarily, but I could imagine them singing "Ulysses" by Franz Ferdinand.


6) How do you plan to celebrate your release day?

Launch party. Everyone's invited!

7) We Lucky 13s like to ask people about their superstitions and lucky rituals. What's yours?

When I'm writing, I always have a Diet Coke nearby, and usually a cup of tea steeping. And nothing could be luckier than chocolate-covered cinnamon bears!

Thanks so much for talking to us, Brodi!

---

Brodi Ashton received a bachelor's degree in journalism from University of Utah and a master's degree in international relations from London School of Economics. She has an active following on her blog, which can be found here. You can also follow her on Twitter. Brodi lives in Utah with her family.

You can purchase your copy of Everneath at your favorite local indie bookstore or online at IndieBound, Barnes and Noble, or Amazon.

---

This interview was conducted by Lucky13s member Alison Cherry as part of an ongoing series of interviews with The Apocalypsies—YA, MG, and children's book authors debuting in 2012.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The best publishing advice I've received? All you need is love...

This week’s Lucky 13s theme is on the best industry advice we’ve ever been given. First up is Amy McCulloch, and the advice she’s passing on is: Write what you love (and love what you write).




***
First off: Kung hei fat choi to all our Lucky 13 readers who might be celebrating! (I am with homemade spring rolls and copious cups of Longjing [aka dragon well] tea from Hangzhou!)

Write what you love.

This is one of those pieces of industry advice that can sound so silly. Write what you love? What else would you write about? Why would anyone write a book that they didn’t like?

Yet it’s the one piece of advice that I give to almost everyone who approaches me for tips on how to get published. Write what you love because if you don’t, believe me, it shows. It’s a rule that applies as much to established authors as to debuts. I remember one particular editorial meeting last year where one very senior editor sighed over a proposal from an author.

“Why doesn’t he just write what he loves?” she said. In this case it was clear he was writing for a trend - and the resulting sample pages were nothing like the quality of the rest of his work.

Indeed, I’ve witnessed several books turned down because it’s obvious that the writer is trying too hard to follow a perceived trend, or because they’ve heard a particular genre is more commercial or an easier sell than another. Far more often than not, this approach just doesn’t work.

Oh, I know the temptation of writing for trends. Last week, when the Lucky 13s wrote about abandoned novels, I could really sympathize. I have at least five novels abandoned that I tried to write that I thought would be an easy sell (or at least, an easy pitch) – yep, there’s an abandoned vampire romance and, yep, there’s even an abandoned contemporary ‘chick lit’ novel too – so NOT me. And if an agent said ‘I really want a steampunk near-future zombie misery memoir this year’ – trust me, I was brainstorming ways to make one of those work too!

Even more disheartening for me was that the more I heard about new, hot trends, the more I heard that new epic fantasy for teens was a hard sell, and that while a few editors were looking for ‘boys adventure’, it was more for middle-grade than young adult.

I never gave up on my novel, but for a long time I gave up on believing it would sell. I wrote it for me – because I wanted to read it, strange as that sounds – but I didn’t pin any publication hopes on it. When eventually it did sell – to an amazingly passionate editor at RHCB – it felt amazing. It’s great to know that someone else has fallen in love with something you’re desperately, hopelessly, head-over-heels in love with too.

That’s not to say that your love can’t be on-trend – in a lot of ways that’s how trends grow and develop: by having a lot of passionate authors running the trends in new and exciting directions. And it also doesn’t mean that writing to a trend won’t make it an easier sell – sometimes it does.

But ultimately, whether you’re blazing a new trail or filling in a gap in the market, if you’re writing what you love, you’ll find an agent, editor and eventual audience that will love it too.




***

Amy McCulloch is a girl of many publishing hats: author, editor and reader. Originally from Ottawa, Canada, she currently lives in London, UK. Other than books, she is addicted to travelling, running and Starbucks coffee.

Her debut novel, THE OATHBREAKER'S SHADOW is due from Random House Children's Books in Spring 2013. Find out more on her blog or feel free to say hello on Twitter!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The (Short) Life of An Abandoned Novel

The decision to abandon a novel is generally never as simple as filing away the manuscript and never looking at it again.  It's easy for authors to become attached to their words, no matter how flawed the sentences, or broken the plot, or undeveloped the characters.

I have written ten novels.  And I have abandoned more than that.

My Abandoned Novel begins with an idea.  It's so new and shiny and appealing.  It begs me to simply indulge it for a little while, to take a break from whatever else I'm working on and let it grow and develop, as novels do.

My Abandoned Novel has a history of not wanting to be plotted.  It appears like vapour, and is so fleeting that I begin to believe it might dissipate if I plot for it.  New ideas can be seductive like that -- they'll tempt me to abandon all planning and simply write.  They'll make me forget all the ideas that have begun the same way and died an abrupt death.  Because this idea will be different.  This is a beautiful idea, filled with endless possibilities.  This idea is so big, that as I develop its mental picture, it grows and expands and it must be written, must be written, must be written.

So, I write.  And write.  The Abandoned Novel is so exciting to compose, I feel that I will breeze through it, beginning to end.  The scenes simply exist, fully formed in my mind, and I have to keep typing.  Deep down, I know how this ends.  If I leave this idea for even a moment, I'll lose it.

I have trained myself to plot my novels, because if I don't, this is what happens: eventually, I have to stop typing.  When I try to revisit the manuscript, that frenzy to write write write doesn't exist anymore.  It's been sated.  The idea has been indulged.  No matter how hard I try to get it back, I can't write any further.  I hit the wall of I don't know what's going to happen or how to get past this scene.

The Abandoned Novel then becomes properly abandoned.  I began it too soon.  I let the idea take over rather than properly letting it develop into something I could plan and add to.  I hit a wall because the scenes beyond that simply didn't exist for me.

If I attempt to plot the rest and can't recapture that excitement, I let the idea go.  It's important to me never to force a story, or write because it feels like wasted time if I don't.  I never consider the Abandoned Novel to be a waste.

Because, sometimes, that small spark of an idea can be revisited later and become the novel it had the potential to be.


______________________________________________________

Elizabeth May is an occasional book cover photographer, a fantasy novelist, a lazy PhD student, and an accomplished coffee drinker. She resides in Edinburgh, Scotland, where she can frequently be spotted skulking about dark wynds with a camera in hand.  She spends far too much time on Twitter and her blog.

Her début novel THE FALCONER will be released in 2013 by Gollancz (UK/Commonwealth) and Chronicle Children's Books (US/Canada).

Friday, January 20, 2012

Abandonment issues

Abandoning a book isn't an easy decision.

Well, if you've only written 1,000 words it's kind of easy. 10,000 is tougher. But, 63,910?

See, that EXACT word count is where I am now. The project, a YA religious horror novel that was going good for about 4 months, suddenly turned into A Nightmare on Book Street. It's seriously messing with my productivity as I lose day after day trying to figure a (good) way to untangle the numerous plot threads I've lost control of. Things seemed so perfect in month 1 when this baby was 50 smoking pages of intense they-won't-be-able-to-put-this-down goodness. 200 pages later, with no end in sight, not so much.

What to do?

Maybe 'abandon' is too strong a term. Maybe me and the book need a break. If I love it, let it go and all that. I'm on the fence, but if I decide to put this one away after all this work I can live with it. Why? Because I typically finish my work. I've written over a half-dozen novels. I just finished a draft of YA Urban Fantasy novel (hopefully more on that soon) in October, and soon I'll have to devote all of my attention to performing edits on WHISPERTOWN, so there's plenty for me to do.

You, however, probably want to know if and when YOU should abandon a book. That's an easy assessment once you answer a simple question. What do YOU typically do?

Sometimes an idea doesn't pan out. If that's a rare occurence for you, there's no harm in letting a so-so story go to work on something more promising that you can finish. If ALL of your stories don't pan out, so you never finish anything, you may need to consider that you have Abandonment Issues. The issue being that you abandon all of your work when it gets hard. That is something we can not abide.

If you normally finish the writing you start, letting a rough idea or two go isn't the end of the world.Who knows, you might come back to it later. It's happened to me before.

If you tend to start more than you finish, DO NOT ABANDON ANYTHING ELSE! You have to get over this hurdle sometime. Might as well be now.

It always gets hard. Doubt seeps in. Neither are reasons to abandon your book. In fact, now that I've typed that, maybe I'll reconsider letting go of that project I've come so far on.

You should reconsider, too.

***********************************************************************
Lamar "L. R." Giles writes for adults and teens. Penning everything from epic fantasy to noir thrillers, he's never met a genre he didn't like. His debut YA mystery WHISPERTOWN is about a teen in witness protection who investigates his best friend's murder and stumbles on a dark conspiracy that leads back to his own father. It will be published in Summer, 2013 by HarperCollins. He resides in Virginia with his wife and is represented by Jamie Weiss Chilton of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Find out more on his website, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

When an idea is just an idea

This week, Lucky 13ers have been discussing when it’s time to abandon an idea. It’s hard, agonizing really, when you realize your story just isn’t working. The first novel I tried to write barely got past 5,000 words. I had an idea I thought would make a fantastic book. Yes, fantastic.

I would “write what I know.” We’ve all heard that particular piece of advice and I could do that! I have three boys. Our family lives just outside of town, while not technically “the country”, it’s pretty close. And these three boys are a walking mess. More days than not – they leave the house looking like normal children only to return covered in mud, shoeless and carrying unknown items found in the woods. (And sometimes these items are alive!)
Oldest son, middle son and a cousin, who may or may not be allowed to come back over.

How great –a Middle Grade adventure story starring three boys growing up in the country. I mean, look at all the real life material I had to pull from. Just documenting what my boys got into every day would be the best MG boys’ adventure book out there. This book would write itself. Right?
No, it didn’t.

Not at all.

I started out with a great setting, introduced my main characters and had them get into a few scrapes and misadventures. And then…I had nothing. Even some of the funnier situations I wrote about was not enough. There was no meat in this story.
All the cute (and not so cute) things my boys did was cute (or not so cute) to me. And only me. Because I’m their mother.   

And while I’m not knocking the “write what you know” advice, I have to add a little something to it. “Make sure it has a plot and would actually be interesting to other people!”  
There are times when an idea for a fantastic story is just that - an idea. And while I enjoy what each new day brings with my boys, it’s not the riveting, roller-coaster, white-knuckle stuff great novels are made of.

Thank goodness.     

Ashley Elston lives in Shreveport, Louisiana with her husband and three sons. Her debut YA novel, THE RULES FOR DISAPPEARING, will be published by Disney Hyperion in Winter 2013. You can find Ashley at her blog or on Twitter.



Wednesday, January 18, 2012

My Poor Abandoned Middle-Grade Novel

After I finished writing my first YA project (you know, the one no one will ever see), I needed a change. I wanted a new voice, a new sensibility, a new world. I wanted a new genre. I wanted a lightness and an innocence that I didn’t think I could manage with a YA voice. I wanted to experiment, to push myself, and to have fun. I wanted to write a middle-grade novel for the first time.

So I did. I wrote 30,000 words, which for a middle-grade novel is pretty far along. I fell in love with my little narrator, a girl named Ada with the eyes of the world on her. She was sweet. She was spunky. She was smart. I had the time of my life connecting to that voice and getting to know her.

But. My plot was a mess. And more than that, I couldn’t write through the confusion. Or rather, I overwrote through the confusion. Sometimes we all get lost while writing a novel. A novel is a big, hulking mess sometimes. But we write through it, we write our ways out of the chaos, we rediscover why we were writing in the first place. But in the case of my little Ada, I couldn’t write through it. I kept changing my mind about what the novel would be. And then I started worrying about what other people would like the novel to be. There was a road trip. There was family dysfunction. There was a unique structural element. There was an older sister and two mothers and five cities and a first crush and a runaway and a celebrity. There were so many ideas, I couldn’t remember what it was I wanted to write about, or what kind of story I was telling. The tone kept changing. Ada’s voice would shift. I couldn’t even decide on a tense.

I wasn’t writing through the problem, I was writing around it. I was writing three different books and trying to shove the pieces together into one book. I was so concerned with making it right, that I wasn’t able to follow through on a single idea. So I set it aside, and it’s been a little under a year since I’ve visited with Ada.

I think if I were to return to Ada and her story, I’d have to start over. Not rearranging chapters, not revising what already exists, not weeding through those 30,000 words. I’d have to truly start over. Blank page. Chapter One. With only my love of little Ada to guide me.

The word count would start from zero, but the process wouldn’t. I got to know Ada in those months I spent trying (and failing) to write her story. And hopefully, someday, that work will pay off, just not in the way I originally imagined.

But that’s what’s so fun about what we do, right? The exciting prospect of your greatest failure someday becomes a wonderful success. Because you just never know.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Apocalypse Now: An Interview with Megan Miranda, Author of FRACTURE

When I read that Megan Miranda's book Fracture was being pitched to fans of Before I Fall and If I Stay, I couldn't help but get excited by this book. My expectations were high and this book did not fail. It hooks you from the start and doesn't let go until the end.

From Goodreads:

Eleven minutes passed before Delaney Maxwell was pulled from the icy waters of a Maine lake by her best friend Decker Phillips. By then her heart had stopped beating. Her brain had stopped working. She was dead. And yet she somehow defied medical precedent to come back seemingly fine-despite the scans that showed significant brain damage.

Everyone wants Delaney to be all right, but she knows she's far from normal. Pulled by strange sensations she can't control or explain, Delaney finds herself drawn to the dying. Is her altered brain now predicting death, or causing it?

Then Delaney meets Troy Varga, who recently emerged from a coma with similar abilities. At first she's reassured to find someone who understands the strangeness of her new existence, but Delaney soon discovers that Troy's motives aren't quite what she thought. Is their gift a miracle, a freak of nature-or something much more frightening?




First, a pretty standard question....what gave you the idea to write this book?

I have a background in science, but the more I studied, the more I was drawn to the anomalies—the things that didn’t seem to follow the rules, or to the things science couldn’t explain yet. We know so much about how things happen, but there is still so much unknown about the brain and how it works: why some people recover, why others don’t; why people with the same injuries can have vastly different outcomes. I’ve also wondered for a while how much of us, and therefore our brain, is determined by DNA, and how much is something more. I don’t have any answers, but the questions inspired me to write.

What is your writing process like? Do you outline? Do you just sit down and let the story tell itself?

I don’t outline, though I probably should. I can’t think that broadly at first, though. I sit down and start to write, and then eventually I start over again once I realize where the story is going, or where it should go. By the time I sit down to write the final draft, I usually have a pretty structured outline in place, but the outline is usually a reflection of things I discovered in earlier drafts.

I love the winter setting in Maine. Was it inspired from a place you know? Did you have a lake like Delaney's lake? Did you grow up with cold snowy winters?

Thanks! It was inspired somewhat by a place I know. My dad grew up in Maine, and it was always our favorite place to vacation in the summer. We used to stay on a bay, which was absolutely freezing even in the summer (though it didn’t stop us from daring each other to swim in it). The setting for Fracture has that same feel (though a lake instead of a bay), only it’s after the tourists like me leave—when it’s just this small town in the cold winter. I grew up in New Jersey, and we definitely had our fair share of snow (and I also had my fair share of playing-in-snow-related injuries), but not nearly as much as the setting for Fracture.

What are your "must haves" while writing? Are there a certain foods? Drinks? Music?

The only must-have for me is silence. Which is pretty hard to come by with a 3 and 5 year old at home J Which is why I typically do most of my writing at night. Other than that…nope! If I’m revising, I also require sticky-notes. I’m partial to the hot-pink variety.

What was your favorite part of writing Fracture?

Developing the characters and the relationships during the first draft. It was kind of a mess, but I love that beginning feeling, when you’re getting to know your characters, and anything can happen still.

Delaney survives being underwater for eleven minutes. Your cover states that a lot can happen in eleven minutes. Give me three things that you can do in eleven minutes!

*Well, I definitely can't run 2 miles. I'm going to be optimistic and say that I could run 1...but that might be a lie. I used to be a runner, but now I think I'd be lucky if I could just complete a mile.
*Like Delaney, I once wrote an English essay in ten.
*Now that I have 2 kids, I can actually get ready for the day (including shower) in 11 minutes out of necessity. It’s not pretty, but I’m pretty proud of that skill!

Delaney asks those close to her what they would do if they had one day left to live. Well...what would you do?

I did think about this while writing Fracture since Delaney has to think about it. And I don’t think it would be any big thing. I’d spend it doing what I do most days: with my kids, doing something they absolutely loved.

Delaney develops an ability after her accident to sense death. If you could have a special power, what would it be?

To fly. Just because.

How do you plan to celebrate your release day?

I’m going to be in NYC, which I’m so excited about because a lot of my family lives nearby. And I’ll be doing an event at Books of Wonder that night with some of my favorite authors!

And since you're being interviewed by The Lucky 13s, I have to ask...what's your favorite superstition?

It’s not exactly my favorite superstition, but it’s the one I can’t seem to shake: I still hold my breath when I drive by a graveyard. I grew up around the corner from a pretty large one, so it was pretty much a daily occurrence. I honestly have no idea what the superstition behind this is, but now it’s habit.

Fracture is avaliable today!

Get it in your local bookstore or on the following sites:
*This interview was conducted by Lucky 13 member Rachele Alpine, as part of an ongoing series of interviews with the Apocalypsies—YA, MG, and children’s book authors with 2012 debuts.

Monday, January 16, 2012

When/why do you abandon an idea?

This week the lucky thirteens are answering this toughie:

When/Why do you abandon an idea?

This is a question that has been painfully close to my heart as I work on my second novel. I have given up on novels before, and it isn't fun. I didn't want to give up onthis one – I'd already spent three months writing 30,000 words – but was it worth finishing? Would anyone want to read it?

On top of worries about whether or not the book was worth writing, there was – in my mind at least – a flicking calendar. For the first time in my writing career (which technically began three months ago) I didn't have all the time in the world. My deadline is December. But, I asked myself time and again, should it really be this hard?

Before I finished my first novel, INFINITE SKY, I had started two other novels. One was a dystopian story set in Cornwall, the other a story about some damaged people living by cliff tops, that had something to with religion. If my descriptions are a bit vague it's because I barely know what I'm talking about.

After between five and forty thousand (Yep. Forty.) these two fledgling novels died a death. I didn't know what they were about. There was no momentum within the stories. I had nothing to say. There was no urgency. Even I couldn't be bothered to write it, which meant nobody would want to read it. Eventually, reluctantly, and with more than a little relief, I gave up. (For the record, I looked back at these four or five year old documents recently and was astounded by how little of worth there was in them. Phew!)

INFINITE SKY was the first novel that I completed. It was the first novel to have its own momentum, not immediately, but before too long. Quite early on in the draft, I knew with a certainty I hadn’t felt before that I would complete it. Whether it would sell or not, or appeal to anyone, I had no idea. But there was a kind of force to it. All I had to do was write.

That's not to say I didn't go for weeks without writing a word, or that I didn't get lost and confused along the way. It's not to say I didn't frequently have to put the novel aside well before noon just to take a little disheartened nap. But I couldn't give up on it. There was a story, and even if I didn't know what it was yet, this story had an ending. I just had to get there and find out what it was.

This time, everything's different. I have a publisher for this book, as I sold INFINITE SKY as part of a two book deal. And I have a deadline. Someone out there actually cares what I'm writing. This is mind blowing to me, after eight years of quite the opposite.

The conclusion I have come to - after much freewriting and reading and worrying about why this book is not coming together - is that I have to find a whole new way to write this novel. Just because I have written one, does not mean I now have a template for novel-writing. Alas.

But what was it that made me realise that this book deserved to be written? How did I realise that I’m not just wasting my time? How do I know I shouldn’t just cut my losses and think up a different idea?

My characters.

From very early on, the three of them seemed to live. They had a rapport that moved me and made me laugh. They had thoughts and ideas of their own, and hopes and dreams. I could see their relationships to each other and how these were going to change as the story went on. Those two novels I abandoned years ago? They didn't have this.

I still don’t know exactly what my second novel is about. I'm not sure where it is set. I can’t yet talk about it confidently or with any clarity. But I want to know what becomes of my characters. I want to know what happened to them to make them the way that they are. Those funny, hurt, hopeful little beings that they are. Already I am falling in love with them, and I think that other people will too.

Chelsey Flood writes short stories, plays and novels. Her first novel INFINITE SKY comes out with Simon and Schuster in February next year.

Follow her on Twitter or check out her blog.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The 13th Day: Writing Snacks

Some people may think that the number 13 is unlucky, but not those of us at The Lucky 13s!

In fact, we're celebrating the 13th day of each month by featuring a blog entry that celebrates all of our members.

Here's how it works... I'll ask a question, and they'll answer.

It's a way of making the 13th day of each month a little bit more special!

This month's question was...

Winter is the time for hibernating and staying warm and cozy inside
with your manuscript. What is your must have food/drink while writing
and revising?

Watch out! Your mouth might start watering as you read our tasty responses!

Rachele Alpine:
I need a good strong cup of coffee to keep me going. I mix in a little skim milk and vanilla creamer and it's the bomb diggity! Gummy candy is also a must...but I'll talk Hot Tamales in an emergency situation.

Cat Winters:
Hot chocolate topped with chocolate whipped cream from my favorite indie
coffeehouse.

Julia Gibson:
Yorkshire Gold tea with milk and sugar and cucumbers on toast with a
choc. Without that, no writing is possible!

Jessica Young:
Dark roast coffee and dark chocolate are my staples. But have been known to explore various other options: salt water taffy, popcorn, salt and vinegar chips, jelly beans, and alternative beverages – especially when revising, nothing is safe!

Emma Pass:
Freshly ground coffee and cheese on toast. :)

Kristin Halbrook:
A triple espresso with a touch of Irish Cream and a pack of Gummy Tummy
penguins. Total brain food!

Betsy Cornwell:
Tea, Earl Grey, hot--the way the best Starfleet captain takes it.

Brandy Colbert:
I don't eat while writing (in fact, I'm the Queen of Forgetting to Eat For Several Hours When Writing) but my favorite snack is a glass of tart grapefruit juice and a bowl of Trader Joe's organic popcorn popped in olive oil. A strange but delicious combination.

Elsie Chapman:
Caffeine is my vice of choice! I'll take it in any way, shape, or form, but
I'm partial to Tazo Awake and Stash Double Bergamot teas in the winter, and
iced coffees in the summer!

Lydia Kang:
I must have salt! But a little sweet makes it even better. My latest
writing treats are medjool dates and a slice of fancy-schmancy cheese. Oh,
and green tea. I'm a tea-aholic.

Erin Bowman:
Chai is my weakness. Chai tea, Chai lattes, *Pumpkin* Chai lattes! Nothing
like a beverage that tastes like Autumn and spices to warm you up on a cold
winter day.

Caroline Carlson:
I'm a tea drinker. These days it's usually English Breakfast with milk
and sugar. I don't eat while I write, and on really good writing days,
I get so caught up in my work that I forget to eat lunch until it's
almost time for dinner. (But I always have some cookies nearby in case
of writing emergencies.)

Elisabeth Dahl:
I alternate between sparkly drinks (seltzer, diet soda, the occasional glass of cava) and hot drinks (especially I Love Lemon tea). Somehow the combination of cold and hot fuels the effort.

Ashley Elston:
Okay, seems like everyone snacks like a grown-up while I'm more like a twelve year old. Coke zero while writing and banana Laffy Taffy while revising. And yes, only banana flavor will do. I need the comic relief from the jokes on the wrapper to get through the really stressful stuff!

Phoebe North:
Eight o'clock coffee and cheese and crackers! Om nom nom.

Ryan Graudin:
Without a hot drink at my side I can't seem to get the words to come out
right. Any kind will do the trick: Chai, coffee, tea, hot chocolate. I also
really enjoy Butter Rum Lifesavers (they remind me of Butterbeer!)

Jennifer Stark:
I am all about coffee, however I can get it. Everything else is incidental to the caffeine! Foodwise, it's really whatever is handy, particularly almonds and cheese.

Liz Coley:
A latte and a lemon Nonni's biscotti are my writing staples!

Amy McCulloch:
For me, it's a mug of hot tea and a packet of Cadbury chocolate buttons! The right combination of food for my muse.

Imogen Howson:
Coffee with skimmed milk and honey. Food is nice, but it's for breaks, not
for while I'm writing--too much of a distraction otherwise!

Corey Haydu:
I'm also a writer who relies heavily on a hot drink. I usually go for a
Starbucks Chai latte, or a skim mocha anywhere else. As for snacks,
goldfish are a staple. But when I need extra motivation, I treat myself to
a chocolate croissant. I have a feeling January will be all about the
chocolate croissant, since I will be starting revisions!

Megan Shepherd:
My writing drink of choice is a maple & sea salt hot chocolate from my
town's chocolate lounge. That's right--chocolate lounge. It's amazing!

Deb Driza:
I drink a ton of Zen hot green tea, and pretty much eat whatever's in
grabbing distance (so if you're writing nearby, lock up your snacks!)
but I love those chocolate brownie bites with sea salted caramel from
Starbucks...yum!) And if I'm splurging on drinks, I'll have a hot
apple spiced cider. (No skipping the whipped cream for me--that would
be cider sacrilege!)

Tamera Wissinger:
On cold writing days my favorite morning snack combo is a cup of hot peppermint milk and a bowl of dry Cheerios. (Love the crunch!) After lunch a bit of dark chocolate with almonds and sea salt signals it’s time to go back to work.

Mindy McGinnis:
I write lying down, so if I were to eat or drink anything while writing I'd
probably choke and die, thus negatively impacting my productivity.

Jessica Corra:
For me the only must-have is WATER. Lots of it. I get really focused and
forget to drink anything, so staying hydrated is super important to me.

Sarah Skilton:
In the morning before work, I like coffee, tea, or a smoothie (OJ, plain
yogurt, bananas and strawberries in the blender) to get me in the proper
mindset of starting my day and writing for an hour. At night, after
spending the day filling my brain up, I like a Guinness or a glass of wine
to help me relax and place a formal separation between my "work day" and my
"writing night." This also helps me be less critical of whatever I'm
writing or revising!

Chelsey Flood:
I drink earl grey all day when I'm writing. With extra sugar when things are bad, and always milk. Coffee makes me feel agitated/nervous, so occasionally I have a cup of that to see if it stimulates me, and if I can turn that nervousness into alertness. It doesn't work. If I'm writing at night, I sometimes drink red wine, to make it feel a bit more sociable.

April Tucholke:
I drink yerba mate, cold, with a bit of almond milk, out of a quart
mason jar (I like that they have lids). Sometimes I'll make a
espresso con panna, if I'm feeling up for the buzz, or maybe a warm
matcha--which is green tea powder whisked into water or milk. It's a
sprightly jade green color that I find cheering on dark days.

What about you? What is your favorite writing snack?

Rachele Alpine is represented by Dystel and Goderich and her young adult comtemporary novel CANARY will be published in the summer of 2013 by Medallion Press.

She blogs, or you can find her on Facebook and Goodreads.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Tough Time Trouble

The Lucky 13's have asked a question for the week:

What keeps you going, when the going gets tough?

I know that feeling. That downward roller coaster when your stomach contents reside in your neck as your writing career goes kablooey? I've lived it. Here's a sampling of bad times and what's helped me through the muck.

I can't get an agent/publisher.
I've heard people call rejections "subjections." It truly is a subjective business. I tried hard to turn the rejections into energy driving me forward. Tweak the query letter. Keep working on your writing quality. Have another book coming down the pipe. Reassess your path periodically. Be ready for the worst news, and hope for the best.

I did strongly consider small presses and self-publishing if I couldn't find an agent or get published traditionally. I had confidence this book deserved to be on a shelf (or e-shelf). I'm glad that I had those options open to me.

I have writer's block for this scene/character/plot/sequel.
This regularly tortures me. The Lucky 13's helped me out with sequel angst, and they came to my help with all kinds of suggestions. So talk things through with your writer friends. For some reason, lying a dark, quiet room gets me to brainstorming nirvana. Works on migraines, and works on writer's block too! But sometimes, all that thinking just gets your brain sulci in knots. When that happens, time away from your project is golden.

My writing career is not going as planned.
Whose writing career? Is is yours, or is it someone else's? I've heard so many amazing success stories, and it's unbelievable how varying the paths are. Any success of another writer does NOT diminish your own career as a consequence. Most of us will not be the writer who pours out their first book ever in a few weeks, considers drool-ridden offers from 10 agents, has their book go to auction for over half a million dollars, and snags a movie deal as icing on the cake. Those writers are still human. None of these things gives them the ability to poop sunshine or pee rainbows.

Forget the others and write, write, write. Work on your next project. Consider publishing your work (anthologies, traditional and online journals, etc) so you can keep building your portfolio of writing. Consider alternate pathways of getting to your publishing goal. Find a support group that will tell you you're writing isn't garbage, while also being honest and pushing you to improve.

Everything sucks.
Chances are that if you are reading this blog, you possess some or all of the following: a place to sleep at night, clothes on your back, food to eat, a loving family, friends, and a computer to access. You are probably not currently hospitalized with a deadly illness. You probably have a fire in your belly about a passion near and dear to you (writing, maybe? Hmmm?).

Don't forget perspective. Things can always be much worse than they already are. Worrying about writerly concerns are truly a first world problem. I need to remind myself of this often. And believe me, perspective slaps me back to reality time and time again.

Lydia Kang is a writer, part-time doctor, and salt-addicted gal with a near-pathological need to doodle. Her sci-fi YA novel, THE FOUNTAIN (Dial/Penguin) will be out in Spring of 2013.

Find her on Twitter, her blog The Word Is My Oyster, and her website.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Twelve Days of Rejection

I'm continuing with this week's theme: What Keeps You Going When the Going Gets Tough. I know the holidays are over, but I've composed my ode to writing survival to the tune of "The Twelve Days of Christmas."

THE TWELVE DAYS OF REJECTION
by Cat Winters

On the first day of rejections my true love gave to me:
My writer friends' empathy.

On the second day of rejections my true love gave to me:
Two chocolate bars,
And my writer friends' empathy.

On the third day of rejections my true love gave to me:
Three foot rubs,
Two chocolate bars,
And my writer friends' empathy.

On the fourth day of rejections my true love gave to me:
Four calls to my sister,
...etcetera, etcetera...
And my writer friends' empathy.

On the fifth day of rejections my true love gave to me:
FIVE FRESH-AIR BREAKS,
Four calls to my sister,
Three foot rubs,
Two chocolate bars,
And my writer friends' empathy.

On the sixth day of rejections my true love gave to me:
Six yoga sessions,
FIVE FRESH-AIR BREAKS,
...la, la, la, la, la... add some more caffeine...
And my writer friends' empathy.

On the seventh day of rejections my true love gave to me:
Seven escapist movies,
Six yoga sessions,
You know all the rest,
And my writer friends' empathy.

On the eighth day of rejections my true love gave to me:
Eight inspiring novels,
Seven escapist movies,
...and can we make them movies that involve attractive men in historical clothing? Because that makes me really happy...
And my writer friends' empathy.

On the ninth day of rejections my true love gave to me:
Nine stress-relief walks,
Eight inspiring novels,
Seven....oh, just give me the @#*!-ing chocolate...
And my writer friends' empathy.

Barbara Poelle,
Dauntless Literary Agent
& Master Pep Talk Giver
On the tenth day of rejections my true love gave to me:
Ten Barbara pep talks,
Nine stress-relief walks,
Men dressed in historical garb,
...la, la, la, la, la...
And my writer friends' empathy.

On the eleventh day of rejections my true love gave to me:
Eleven hugs from my children,
Ten Barbara pep talks,
Nine...
...OH MY GOD, I'M NEVER GOING TO GET PUBLISHED!
I. AM. NEVER. GOING. TO. GET. PUBLISHED!!!
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Two chocolate bars,
And my writer friends' empathy.

On the twelfth day of rejections my true love gave to me:
Twelve hours of uninterrupted writing time,
Eleven hugs from my children,
Ten Barbara pep talks,
Nine stress-relief walks,
Eight inspiring novels,
Seven escapist movies,
Six yoga sessions,
FIVE FRESH-AIR BREAKS,
Four calls to my sister,
Three foot rubs,
Two chocolate bars,
And my writer friends' empathy.

That's all it takes.
____________________________________________________

Cat Winters was born and raised just a short drive down the freeway from Disneyland, which probably explains her obsession with haunted mansions, bygone eras, and fantasylands. Her debut novel, In the Shadow of Blackbirds, an illustrated YA historical ghost tale, is coming Spring 2013 from Amulet Books. She lives outside of Portland, Oregon, with her husband and two kids.

You can visit Cat's haunts at CatWinters.com, Twitter, and Facebook. In the Shadow of Blackbirds is now on Goodreads.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Apocalypse Now: An Interview with Robin Mellom, Author of DITCHED

I've had my eye on Robin Mellom Ditched since I read about it in Publishers Marketplace. I remember it being pitched as The Hangover for teens centering on prom. I am so glad I get to present it to all of you. This book rocks!


From Goodreads:

High school senior Justina Griffith was never the girl who dreamed of going to prom. Designer dresses and strappy heels? Not her thing. So she never expected her best friend, Ian Clark, to ask her.

Ian, who always passed her the baseball bat handle first.

Ian, who knew exactly when she needed red licorice.

Ian, who promised her the most amazing night at prom.

And then ditched her.

Now, as the sun rises over her small town, and with only the help of some opinionated ladies at the 7-Eleven, Justina must piece together — stain by stain on her thrift-store dress — exactly how she ended up dateless. A three-legged Chihuahua was involved. Along with a demolition derby-ready Cadillac. And there was that incident at the tattoo parlor. Plus the flying leap from Brian Sontag's moving car...

But to get the whole story, Justina will have to face the boy who ditched her. And discover if losing out at prom can ultimately lead to true love.

Filled with humor, charm, and romance, Ditched: A Love Story by debut novelist Robin Mellom will have readers dreaming of love on their own prom nights.


First, a pretty standard question....what gave you the idea to write this book?

My agent suggested I write a humorous teen novel. So I thought back on all the crazy things that had happened to me and recalled one incident at a formal dance my freshmen year of college involving a semi-blind date. I say “semi” because we went to dinner one time before I would agree to go to this formal with him. At dinner, he was extremely shy and quiet, but also well-mannered and nice so I agreed to go with him. But on our second date—the night of the dance—his fraternity brothers convinced him to drink way too many shots of vodka and he turned into a MUCH different person. The guy thought it would be “oh-so-hilarious!” to run around unzipping girls’ dresses (including mine) and I spent most of the night in the bathroom fixing my zipper and cursing his name. Needless to say, there wasn’t a third date with that boy. But that zipper-malfunction-incident went on to become the nugget that led to me writing DITCHED which led to my first published book. Aaah, closure. Love it!

What is your writing process like? Do you outline? Do you just sit down and let the story tell itself?

I start with an idea and usually I tinker around with the first chapter to get a handle on the voice and character. Then I stop and outline the turning points and conclusion. Whenever I know how a story will end, I can more confidently start back at the beginning.

What is your "must haves" while writing? Is there a certain food? Drink? Music?

Miniature Reese’s, Coke Zero, walnuts (to keep me from feeling guilty about the junk food). Music is different depending on whether I’m writing teen or middle grade and it depends on if the scene is fun or serious. So I usually have an appropriate Pandora station playing in the background.

Justina's dress is pretty important to the book. What did your prom dress look like?

My dress was one-shoulder, black, and straight to the floor. I loved the dress because it looked very similar to an extremely expensive dress I found at the mall but this one was a total bargain at JC Penney. No shame in a Penney’s dress! I’m proud of being totally practical.

Did any disasters happen at your own prom?

Fortunately for me, my own prom was quite lovely, but we did end up at a crazy party at a Hampton Inn, so yes, that ended up in the book. (Sorry, Mom and Dad, if you’re reading this. The truth finally comes out!)

Justina is telling her story to two women in the 7-11....if you had ten dollars to spend in the 7-11, what would you buy?

I love the coke slurpees and the entire candy bar aisle

What was your favorite part of writing DITCHED?

Many of the scenes were inspired by stories from friends of mine. Like the demolition-derby ready Cadillac the main character drives around in was a story told to me by my hairstylist. And the limo driver was inspired by a story told to me by my Chiropractor. I had the best time while writing this book because I got to run around asking all the people in my life, “What happened at your prom??” Crazy stuff, I promise.

How do you plan to celebrate your release day?

I’m having a party at my house on release day with thrift store prom dresses and junk food and champagne and my closest friends. I’m also having an “official” launch party in Santa Monica on the 22nd at Diesel Bookstore where I’ll talk about my writing journey, read from the book, give away stuff, eat and party!

And since you're being interviewed by The Lucky 13s, I have to ask...what's your favorite superstition?

I love the idea of not trying to step on the cracks of sidewalks, so my son and I often hold hands and jump our way down the street. Superstitious and FUN! ☺

Ditched is out today! Get it at your local bookstore or one of the following sites:

You can also read the first chapter of Ditched here.

*This interview was conducted by Lucky 13 member Rachele Alpine, as part of an ongoing series of interviews with the Apocalypsies—YA, MG, and children’s book authors with 2012 debuts.