Angie Azur is a YA Sci-fi Writer.
Writer for PALEO Magazine.
Former Intern at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.
SCBWI & COWG Member.


Monday, December 26, 2011

Picture Book Writing

I am drawn to Middle Grade and YA, but I have been told that I have a natural picture book voice. PB's are not my passion. I find them difficult to write. In fact I think they are tougher than MG & YA combined. But I do have a few that I am working on, or struggling with. Here are some tips when you decide to tackle the picture book monster.

First: CAN YOU READ IT OVER AND OVER AGAIN? Do you want to? Is it fun? Do the words roll off the tongue? Is it funny? Do the characters come to life?

Second: THE LANGUAGE SHOULD SING!! And I don't mean rhyme. In fact do not attempt rhyme unless you are already published...I'm serious. I've never heard any agent, publisher, or editor ask for rhyming books at any conference or workshop.

The language of a picture book should be fun to read out loud. Your mouth should not trip over any of the words. It should almost sound like a song, or be that easy to read over and over.

Third: WORD COUNT UNDER 1000 words - 800 words or less is preferable. And they keep getting smaller. I attended a writer's workshop recently where the editor said she was looking for 500 words or less for a picture book.

Fourth: TELL THE TRUTH PLEASE. BE REALISTIC. Kids know when they are being lied to, or patted on the head. Tell them the truth in appropriate language for the different picture book ages.

All picture books need a:

  • beginning = introduction
  • middle = action
  • end = resolution
Some questions you may want to ask yourself while planning your picture book are:
  1. Am I making the points clear? 
  2. Is the story going in the right direction to reach the appropriate resolution?
  3. Is the character the appropriate age?
  4. Will the main character grow and in what way?
  5. Is there cause for change?
  6. Is the book happening or am I forcing it to happen?
  7. Am I preaching a lesson?
  8. What is the point?
  9. Who will use this book? Parents? Teachers?
  10. What will the child reading this book need to know in order to get the point?
  11. Why are you the person to write this book?
Plots: There are many plots to toy with, even in a picture book. The main character still must make choices and learn or receive consequences from those choices. Below are just a few. 
  • Adventure
  • Discovery
  • Underdog
  • The Riddle
  • Love
  • Sacrifice
  • Quest
  • Rescue
  • Revenge
Voice: Yes, even in picture books, your main character needs his/her own voice.  
  • "Once there was this most terriblest storm that came up and it rained and all this thunder was clomping itself into this water and all these people were drowning without air, Absolutely no one was saved." Eloise
  • The Hello, Goodbye Window is another great example of voice
  • Officer Buckle and Gloria has a specific voice to it.
  • No, David! Definitely has voice.
Characters: When you read these picture books you automatically read them with a certain tone, or playfulness, or seriousness. The writer was careful on each page to be sure the voice of the character stayed true.

A good idea for characters is to index card them. Every time I meet a "character" or remember one from my past, I stick them into an index card bin. Here are my lists I've made:
  • Blond Moments: I record funny or absurd moments that I remember either doing myself or being told about others. 
  • Dress: What people wear.
  • Eating: I record people's eating habits or the way they feel about food.
  • Funny: These are more joke-like - say pranks people have played or crazy things I've seen people do.
  • Gross: These are things that guys have done in the locker room - or to each other as pranks, but have gone overboard. (These can be tamed for a PB)
  • Habits: A list of unusual habits I've noticed with others. 
  • Kids Say Funny Things: I have 2 boys - they say some pretty funny stuff or ask some pretty funny questions.
  • Poop: Yes, I have a poop file. Mostly it's filled with college and high school pranks or jokes
  • Relax: I record how people relax. Some smoke. Others drink. But the interesting ones do something unexpected.
  • Scary: Everyone has a scary story to tell. Ask and record them.
  • Superstitions: Same as the Scary stories. People have odd superstitions. They make for great characters.
Flow and Accumulation:
  • Flow = How does the PB work? Is the story circular? Does it end up back where you started? Is there a connection to the beginning and end? Examples:
  1. If you give a moose a muffin.
  2. One Fine Day
  • Accumulation: Does the main character gain something on each page? This could be something physical or emotional. 
  1. There was an old woman who swallowed a fly
  2. Alexander and the Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
Standard Picture Book Pages: 32

Now that you have some basic information on the picture book you can start to plan your story, but remember that picture books have a certain number of pages. Your story should be told in mind with where your major points will be plotted on the pages. When will you have a spread = meaning two pages become one picture. Will you have many spreads or only a few? 

Remember too that within those 32 pages are the front and back matter. These are the pages where the copyright, and title pages will be. Your agent will help you with these details, but it's good to know ahead of time how many pages you actually can claim before you write the text.

Artwork: 

I would say that the number one biggest problem for writers writing their first picture book is we tend to out write ourselves. I mean, we write what will be shown in the artwork. The only time you need to clarify something in a side, author's note, is when the words you've written are the exact opposite of what the character should be doing. Other than that, do not waste text where the artist will capture the words quicker. A picture is worth 1000 words, remember this when you are writing. 


These tidbits of advice from various teachers, and other writers have helped me write, and rewrite my picture books. Now if only I had the guts to send them out... No, I will. This is my year. My new years resolution is to Query my butt in chair off. On this note, the next blog will be about Query letters. Oh I hate those things....

Write On~ Angie




Thursday, December 22, 2011

Mystery and Suspense Writing


I've learned a lot from classes on writing. Here is a collection of helpful hints from various teachers, including myself on writing suspense and mystery novels.








There are 4 main mystery & suspense books:
  1. Puzzled Clue: this is for the reader who likes to solve problems and is usually very logical.
  2. Treasure Hunt: this book will have maps - hints - clues. it is usually a race between the goods guys and bad to find the treasure.
  3. Psychologicals: there is always an evil perp. the reader gets a peak into their mind. this book is intentionally spooky.
  4. Super Natural: can be spooky and/or funny. ghosts - demons - angels are some of the main plots or characters here.
The very essence of a mystery is: DISORDER
  • something has gone wrong
  • try to fool the reader
  • escalating crisis
  • in the end - retribution - very important!
RULE: The reader must always know what the main character knows.

PLAN: You, the writer, must plan. 
  1. What really happened?
  2. What you want the reader to believe?
  • All false clues must be logical
  • All false clues must go with what really happened
1st Chapter: The reader must know what has gone wrong and why. And the clock must be ticking. 

Common Flaws:
  • coincidence
  • detectives who rely on luck
  • writing too much
  • dead ends
  • lack of character
  • unlikely oversights
  • hero is too tough (the reader can't relate)
  • tired situations (already done scenes or overly done)
  • foolish bravery (you know the girl who runs outside to check on that scary noise)
  • too much or extra descriptions
  • secondary character takes over (becomes more interesting or believable) 
  • withholding information


Characters : Crime : Motive

Toxicity: how evil / nasty is the act? what level of intensity?

  • low toxicity: unintentional bad things happen, goofy things occur, accidents occur
  • medium: intentional things, but no real harm done. things are easy to fix, no permanent scars.
  • high: intentional death or injury, great harm done
Example: low = losing your keys
                medium = losing your credit cards
                high = losing your wedding ring

MOTIVES:
  • basic curiosity
  • rascally behavior
  • money
  • revenge
  • jealousy
  • fear
  • anger
  • self-defense
  • mental instability
  • keeping secrets
  • shame
  • hiding flaws
  • obsessions
VILLAIN: The reader must be able to sympathize with he/she. reader must be able to get inside the villain's head. the villain must behave logically based on his/her mental universe.

CHARACTER VOICE: This is a great exercise for any character, but I love to use it for villains.
  • Make a list of words or thoughts only this character would use, think, or say
  • Include: vocabulary, cadence, tempo, slang, tone, etc...
  • Make a list of people you know who have a speech pattern or way of talking, use of words that stands out to you.
  • Give every character a secret
  • Happiness is the goal of your main character: so build up failures and build up rewards
  • What is it specifically that would make your main character happy?

CHARACTERIZATION: What I've learned in my 8+ writing years is the best way to describe a character is by the house, room, closet, car, etc...they live in....including clothing choice.

For instance my closet is:
  • Very organized
  • color coded (I know psycho)
  • I own shirts in every color in the rainbow 
  • Lots of jeans - too many in fact
  • Many moods of clothing
What does this tell you about me? Maybe I don't know who I am because of the many moods? Or I am moody? Maybe I am a happy go lucky person because of all the colors? Maybe I'm "Sleeping with the Enemy" organized? You'll learn more once more is revealed, but your character's closet is a good place to start. 

A note on simile and metaphor: They must arise out of your character's own sensibility and must not over power the subject of your sentence. 

SETTING: Think about the type of mood you want to set. Is it light or dark?
  • Untraditional is better
  • Spooky? Or can become spooky?
  • A good place where things should be good, but something bad happens?
  • Good place with a known bad area
  • Weather? What patters are there?
  • Rain = dark setting
  • Sun = light setting
  • Geography: what is the character's home turf? what is the unknown areas around?
  • History: are there secrets to a house? a place? a town? something hidden? something found?
  • Missing Object: can set your setting depending on who finds it? who is missing it?
CULTURAL EXPECTATIONS: this is tricky because in each decade there is change - which is good - but if you are decades older than the characters you are writing, then you must understand the difference between how and when you grew up and how and when your characters are growing up. So what are your character's cultural expectations, not yours?

ENDINGS:
  • be sure to live up to your beginnings expectations
  • wrap up loose ends
  • keep the suspense and mystery going until the last page
  • let your mc be happy
  • mc must have learned something
  • keep it real to the novel - no surprises - meaning if no aliens were suspected throughout your novel, no aliens show up in the end.
  • let other characters learn something too
  • the evil perp may change or become worse
  • play with different endings
  • surprise us with a twist that fits in the novel    
I dropped a lot of information on you relatively quickly. I hope it helps in your suspense and mystery writing. But don't stop there. These helpful ideas can push your romance novel forward,  your fantasy novel will get a bigger punch if you add suspense. Good writing --- Angie Azur











Wednesday, December 14, 2011

IInterview with Song Writer and Singer: Cory Jamison


I met Cory on the elementary school playground. Her smile warmed me from the start. Then her personality drew me closer. Before I knew it, I'm volunteering for the school as per her request. But that just makes her more awesome!

I got the chance to see Cory live for the first time at the 142 Throckmorton Theatre, in Mill Valley, CA. I wasn't sure quite what to expect, because like I said, I met her on the playground. Where we wear workout clothes, don't have makeup on, and chase our kids around.

When she walked out on stage, she blew me away, and that was before those amazing pipes burst forth with notes I couldn't believe possible, especially from one so petit. Her songs touched me and actually drew tears. I never cry - and I mean never. This tells you how amazing she truly is. 

Cory's a gem, a star in our community. That's why it's so hard to say goodbye. She and her family will be embarking on a new adventure back home on the East side of the States. We will miss her voice, her smile, and her warmth. 

Thanks Cory....for shining. Please come back soon...

Below are the questions I asked her:

1.    In 5 words describe your feelings on stage.

Happy, comfortable, alive, loving, fulfilled

2.    What is the hardest and/or fastest song you've ever sung?

I do The Monkey Song from my 1st CD and it's crazy fast but right now my hardest is The William Tell Overture (Mom version).  Crazy fast and scary.

3.    Your debut CD "Here's to Hoagy" became a top seller in 2000. What were your thoughts when you found out?

 I cracked up and thought there must not have been a lot of good CDs produced that year.  

4.    How much recording time does it take to create a great CD?

It depends on who's doing it.  Sometimes a great CD happens so beautifully and spontaneously and like a lot of art, you can't plan on that.  Most times, it's a painstaking process full of obsession, time, inspiration, a lot of planning, talent, good taste, and luck.  Oh, and money.  Hard to say how much overall time it takes.  

5.    What do you think about jazz singers today? Is the younger generation missing out?

I think there are still a lot of great jazz singers out there and so many with amazing technique and talent.  It's hard to become an original and seems harder and harder in any field but they're out there.  I think Kurt Elling is one of those.

6.    What is your favorite quote?

Life is uncertain, have dessert first.

7.    Do you sing in the shower? If so what song?

Yes.  I warm up a lot in the shower so those are not pretty sounds, trust me.  Actual songs though are sometimes Singin In the Rain, especially if my daughter's around anywhere.

8.    You've sung in front of audiences across the US – what was the most exciting venue and why?

Town Hall in New York is fantastic and even The Auditorium Theatre in Bloomington, IN.  It was a huge hall and I was singing an orchestral concert at Indiana University with one of Hoagy's sons.  Very fun.  

9.    What is the one word that best describes you?

Content.

10.    I've seen you perform at the Throckmorton Theatre – you're funny. Where did you get that wit? Do you write your own jokes?

Ha! From a lifetime of pain;-) I guess from life.  Life is funny.  And yes, my own jokes, such as they are.  

11.    You've been known to throw back bourbon – how do you drink it? Straw? Ice? Sip? Pound?

Another Ha! Just had some the other night.  Preferably on the rocks.  Or sometimes, neat, with a water back, if it's a really yummy one.  My 'going out drink', like my grandmother's was, is a Maker's Manhattan, up.  Any better bourbon in a Manhattan would just be wrong.

12.    How do you keep those pipes clean? Gurgle salt? Warm tea?

Lordy, it's hard sometimes.  Sleep, sleep, sleep.  That doesn't happen enough though so yes, lots of liquids, with lots of honey and lemon if possible.  

13.    You are moving East…where will your first performance be?

I'd like to perform in DC asap.  Either at The Birchmere or Blues Alley.  They would be great but I've got a lot to explore out there.

14.     Are you excited about the move?

       Yes.  Stressed a little and super sad to be leaving San Fran/Mill Valley but it will be a good move when I get there. Very good.

15.    Who was your best singing coach and why?

She is still Faith Wintrhop, here in San Fran.  She's a dear friend too which is a joy.  Her technique is simple and sustainable.  Natural.

16.    When your heart is breaking…what song would you sing?

If I can get through them "I Get Along Without You Very Well" or "Autumn Leaves/When October Goes".  So many beautiful, sad songs.

17.     When your heart is light and full of love…what song best captures that feeling?

Also so many choices. "It's a Wonderful World" (not Louis Armstrong's but a different, swingy standard). "Singin In the Rain", "Zippadee Doo Da".

18.    What time do you get up?

Around 6:15 or 6:30 on weekdays.  Hopefully, 8:00 on weekends.  That depends on the kids, God bless 'em.

19.    What defines a true cabaret singer?

Oh boy, a true cabaret singer.  Someone who finds the heart of the lyric of a song and then makes that intent the force behind their interpretation and arranging choice.  They make it completely their own story, one way or another.

20.    And what is the difference between Jazz and Cabaret?

Cabaret, to me, has to do with the lyric as the driving force in an interpretation.  
Jazz, in my opinion, chooses the music of the song as something to play with and experiment with.  The lyric is not nearly as important and they allow themselves a lot more freedom with the melody.  Their voice is the true instrument and is used just as a sax or trumpet would be in either solo work or with an ensemble.  
That's not to say that cabaret and jazz interpretations are mutually exclusive.  If it's thoughtful, and for the right reasons, a great, crazy, experimental jazz arrangement can be great for a song as long as it's staying true to the lyric also.  I love the freedom of being able to do both whenever possible.  

21.    You've been singing for some time now…what is the feeling of walking on stage now, as opposed to when you first started?

Wow, so different.  I used to be so nervous for both theater and cabaret work, especially cabaret.  Once I realized there was no real 'right' or 'wrong' when I performed as myself in a cabaret format, I really freed up.  Now it just feels like a conversation with good friends and that makes all the difference in how I perform, I think.   As long as I'm prepared with the material and I'm not stressing about learning new songs or words, I feel so comfortable on stage.

22.    How can my blog readers help you become an even bigger success?

        They can buy my CDs and come to my shows when I come back to the Bay Area;-)  And spread the word and ask appropriate radio stations to either play my music or ask when I'm performing.
Also, check out her website: http://www.coryjamison.com/

23.    What will you miss most about Mill Valley?

Where do I start?  The people first-all our dear dear friends.  And the redwoods, The Depot, Mill Valley Market, Mt. Tam, The Proof Lab, Blithedale Canyon and the trails around the railroad grade, Joe's Taco Lounge, 142 Throckmorton, the air.  Good, rich, beautiful air.  And that's just the beginning..... Thanks Angie!!


Monday, December 12, 2011

MENTORS & IDOLS

THE HUNGER GAMES


Tis the season for shopping, decorating, kids getting home early, parties, and shows. And during all this hustle and bustle, I joined a new book club. The instigator behind our group wanted to read something easy and relaxing. She chose THE HUNGER GAMES. I laughed out loud and said, "If kids killing kids sounds like an easy, relaxing book for the holidays, I'm in." The whole table chuckled. 


The next week flew by without me buying the book. There's so much to do in these last few weeks before Christmas and I hadn't even started to shop yet. No time to read this book. But I found myself having coffee with a friend at a local book shop known as The Depot, and popped in to see if they had it. They did.


I started to read while my friend took a needed trip to the bathroom. And when she came back I was engrossed and angry that she was back so quickly. It has been 3 days since I purchased the book. I finished it just now. So here I am at my computer already blogging about it. 


I am not only happy with this book, but thrilled that I can learn from it. That's how I gauge books now, ever since I knew writing would be my career. I never just read a book. I tear into it, taking it a part bit by bit like a gourmet submarine sandwich. 


I want to know what's inside, what makes it tick, what makes it stand out from the thousands of books I pass by in every book store. So as I read, I highlight, underline and write in the empty spaces my thoughts, good or bad. Then I go back to them when I am stuck on my manuscripts and try to use the authors unique talent to help shove me forward.


Here's how I dissected THE HUNGER GAMES:

  • Book: Do I care from the first sentence?
I wasn't particularly interested in the first sentence, but the last one of the first paragraph made me wonder what a reaping was. I read on. 


  • Character: Do I like the MC? Is she like me in anyway?
Well quickly I found that the MC protects her little sister at night. That seems sweet. Then two paragraphs later I find the MC tried to drown a cat. That seems evil. I like her now. She's a mix of me, of anyone really. 
  • Voice: How does the author speak? Does the character shine and not the author's cute or interesting way of reporting the story?
This character is complex. She is interesting. She tells her story, but uses the author, not the other way around. It rolls out of the character as if it was always told, but just needed someone to write it down. There is nothing forced here.
  • Universal lines: Do I find myself shaking my head in agreement?
I've been so scared that I crack a joke. I know you have too - it's universal. And if you haven't then I'm sure you've seen someone try out a laugh during a meeting. It's not really funny, but everyone laughs to relieve some pressure.
  • How fast am I reading this?
If I finish a book in under a week, it's top on my list. It took me 3 days for this one. I devoured it like chocolate cake during my time of the month. I couldn't stop myself. I needed more.
  • Wise-Owl lines: What makes me realize something about the world around me that I never got before?
There is an amazing line about the abuse of children in this town. I've seen children like this, especially in the small town I came from. I never realized the curled shoulders meant so much more until I read this line in this book. 
  • Character building lines: What makes me like this MC more and more?
There are many great character building lines in this book. It's like a ping-pong match, just as you get to feel the MC is a softy, she's all hard again and the opposite is true too. The author sprinkles the book with more and more details of this character, building her as solidly as a brick wall. 
  • Funny moments: How does the author weave breaks for smiles throughout such a tough drama filled book?
You wouldn't think it from my book club comment, but even through the kids killing kids part of this book, the author manages to make you smile, laugh even. There are ridiculous moments at the Capitol and funny moments between characters, even sarcastic moments that made my lips turn upward. 


This book is a favorite now of mine. I will use it like a school text book, learning, rereading, and pushing myself forward from it. I encourage all newbie writers as well as published authors to read this book. I promise you'll learn something about writing, about character development, and about yourself. 

Thank you Suzanne Collins, for this amazing read!
Angie Azur 



Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Writer's Workshops & Conferences



I've been a little behind on blogging about help for writers. I've been interviewing creative people for a few months. I've loved every minute of getting to know them and learning from them. There are more in the works, so look for those to come out in the next few months.

This blog will take you behind the scenes at a SCBWI conference. I learned a lot this year and I want to share. First off, I've been going to writer's retreats, workshops, and conferences for almost eight years. I started going when my first child was born. Reading picture books to him made me realize my passion in life....to write better than the books I read.

I thought it would be easy. Picture books had to be the simplest books to write because of the audience, right? Wrong! But I eagerly wrote my first one, paid for a workshop and critique. When it came back with red ink all over it I knew I needed to learn a thing, two, or one hundred. So I started taking classes and attending as many workshops as I could afford.

Eight years later, I helped to run my first SCBWI conference. The learning continues. As they handed me my staff badge, I remembered my first conference back when I lived in Pittsburgh, PA. I watched the SCBWI staff as they greeted, smiled, spoke, and helped the attendees. I envied them. They looked confident and they all had a manuscript ready to go. I did not.

This year, standing with my SCBWI badge on, greeting people, feeling more confident, and having a manuscript ready to go, I am proud of myself, and what I've learned in the years past. I am going to share my thoughts and observations in bullet format so you can easily find a topic below:


  • Signing up for a conference: First, do make sure you can attend on the dates given. Most conferences do not give refunds. They can only afford to book so many rooms. So there is only room for so many warm bodies. Once you take a spot, there is usually no time to replace you. 
  • Email Accounts: If sign ups happen via paypal - use your account and your email address. Actually use your email address for everything. All communication will go to the email account you signed up with. No one can change that for you once it's put in the system. 
  • Read: Once you've registered for any workshop, read everything about it. I was the email contact for this conference and so many of the emails I received were questions that were easily answered if the writer read the information that we already sent out. Do not look bad by asking questions that are already answered on a website. 
  • Dress Code: I know that some conferences will say casual. This does not mean come in sweat pants, cut off shorts, or sleepwear. I have been to dozens of workshops, and never did any of the staff, agents, editors, publishers, or authors, ever dress in less than what they would wear to work. You do not need a suit, but look professional. 
  • Critiques: Some workshops offer critiques. They usually ask for a fee. You've paid for one. You may not request a specific reviewer. You may not find the reviewer after your critique and hound them for more. If you receive red pen marks all over your ms, be thankful, and learn from it. This means the reviewer took time to really read your work. Do not give up. Revise and move on.
  • Manuscripts: Do bring a finished manuscript with you to any conference you attend. Better to have a sample of your work than to be asked for one, and not have anything to show. Do not try to give your ms to any of the agents, editors, publishers, or speakers. This is considered unprofessional, rude behavior. 
  • Know Your Genre: Please come prepared. Do your research. Know your genre. By that I mean know what age group your manuscript is written for. Know how many words go into a middle-grade, young-adult, or picture book. Know the age your character should be for those genres. Know if you are writing an action-adventure, fantasy, romance, thriller, or drama, or combination of these. If you don't know what you are writing, or who you're audience will be, no one will. 
  • Introductions: Do introduce yourself to the speakers, the staff, and other writers. Everyone there wants to find the next great manuscript. I know we writer's are a shy bunch, and love to be alone, but when we are at a workshop, it is our work obligation to meet and greet. Do not stand on the sidelines, you will be ignored. Do not pitch to every single person you introduce yourself to, unless they ask what you are working on. Do try to find something in common that you can talk with them about. Do your research about them before you come.
  • Q & A: There will always be time for questions from the audience during the conference. Do not ask more than one question. Let others shine. Do choose your question wisely.  Be sure they didn't already cover that in a previous class. If you re-ask a question it makes you sound like you do not pay attention. Do take notes so you know what they have already answered.
  • Facebook and Twitter: If at a conference the staff offer to everyone to find them on facebook or twitter - go find them! If they do not, you may ask them individually, but do not cyber stalk them. They are people, like you and me, and have private accounts on these sites where they want only their true friends and family. 
  • Blogs: Before you blog about a conference. Before you post pictures. Before you write a single word....ask. Ask the SCBWI rep if it's okay to blog. Ask if pictures are okay to share. And be sure above all else, you do not negatively blog about your experience. Even if you had a bad critique, or they lost your payment....work that out privately. Agents, editors, and publishers will google the conference they just attended to see what people are saying. You do not want to be cast in a negative light. 
  • Re-Writes: If you were lucky enough to get a great critique on your work. And if by chance the stars aligned, and an agent actually asked to see your manuscript. FREEZE! Do not go home and email it immediately. Take your time. Revise completely. Reread. You have one chance to wow them. Do not rush it. If you build it, the agent will come. But be sure you have a strong foundation. Rule of thumb, wait at least two months before you send. Put your ms aside when you think it's ready. Work on something else. Then go back to it for a final read. If you still believe it's ready....SEND. And good luck!!
  • Business Cards: Do get a professional writer's or illustrator's business card. Do not hand out a card from your day job. No one is going to remember that the card they have in their pockets is a writer if it says realtor on it. If this is the career you want, then be as professional in it as you are in your day job right now. If you are a writer, your card should say WRITER, not teacher, actor, director, illustrator, blah blah blah. That's too much. You don't look focused. I am an actor, a mother, an artist, a tennis player, and swimmer...but when I hand out my cards it says WRITER. 
  • Goodbyes: When the final word is spoken and the audience stands to leave, be sure you thank at least one staff member, one agent, one editor, one publisher, and one author. I personally like to thank everyone, but that's just me. These people took the time to help you on your journey to publication. Respect that by either thanking them in person, or on their facebook page. Being a positive person will help you reach your goals while making the world a happier place. 
  • Volunteer: Please help SCBWI. We do need volunteers for all conferences, workshops, and retreats. And you'll get to meet top authors, agents, editors, and publishers in the field you hope to break into. Through volunteering I have met so many great authors, wonderful agents and amazing editors and publishers. It's such a small, welcoming community. So sign up! Help us out and who knows, you might just meet that one person that can help you on your way to the top. 
If you ever have any questions, please feel free to email me at angazur(at)mac.com ** Remember to put the real @ sign in - yes, that was one of the questions I answered for a writer at this conference. He couldn't understand why his emails weren't going through. I had to laugh about that one. ~ Angie



Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Interview with Christine Ashworth: Author of DEMON SOUL


I met Christine at another wonderful SCBWI writer's conference. She stood out to me not only because of her bright, red hair, but she had her book jacket made into bookmarks. So clever! We've stayed in touch via Facebook and Twitter. 


Christine is my kind of gal. She can talk about zombies, demons, and magic along with cooking and wine. She's funny and witty too. She's the whole package. Once you know her, you know that she's writing her way to success. 


Below are the questions I asked Christine:


1.    We met at a SCBWI writer's conference. Why do you attend them?
I love conferences. The energy put out by writers, the energy put out by the editors and agents, the smell of desperation in the air...oh no wait, that was the smell of coffee in the air, that's right! But seriously, I adore conferences. It may seem like you hear the same advice over and over - but sometimes it's that one-trillionth repetition that makes it click, that gives me that aha! moment. I love to learn. I'm ALWAYS learning.

2.    The cover of DEMON SOUL is electrifying. How many jackets did you see before this one was chosen? Did you get a say?



Thanks so much! I love it, too. If I had spoken up right away, I might have made a very slight change or two - but I was just so enthralled with my first cover that I gave it the okay. Apparently there were other covers before this one, but my editor nixed them before I saw them.

3.    With all the vampire hype out there right now, and agents/publishers saying they "don't want to see anything with a vamp", what do you think made your story get published?

My vampires aren't the main characters. They're the bad guys, all the way. Regarding why it got picked, I was incredibly lucky - I did an online pitch to Crescent Moon Press that included a 3 line pitch and the first 100 words. Heather Howland, the Acquiring Editor for Crescent Moon Press at that time, hated my pitch but she loved my first hundred words. She asked to see the first chapter; that evening she asked me to send her the full manuscript. But truthfully, if you write an unforgettable vampire novel, it will sell. You just have to find the right person to buy it.

4.    What draws you to write about demons and the other side? 



 It's less work. No, I didn't totally mean that - but, say, in historical romance which I absolutely love to read, there's so much RESEARCH to do. Writing paranormal books means I can make things up MY way, and no one can say I'm wrong. Of course, I try to keep the "real" as realistic as possible; my books are set in the Santa Monica area of Los Angeles, so I'm pretty careful about streets and such. That's one kind of research I really don't mind!

5.    Have you ever seen a ghost? A demon? An angel?  



I've met people that I would swear were angels on earth; likewise, I've met some truly evil people who could be described as demonic. I've never actually seen a ghost, but I've been in the presence of one a couple of times. They were family members, so their presence was comforting.

6.    Describe your book in 5 words. 



 "Know yourself, and you'll prevail."  Okay, that really describes Gabriel's journey, but there you go.

7.    What time do you wake and what do you eat for breakfast?  



I get up at the ungodly hour of 5:30am now that I have a day job again. For breakfast I either splurge on an egg, toast, and tomatoes, or I'll have yogurt and granola. Or oatmeal (yum!). Or a protein shake, if I'm really running late.

8.    Where did the name Gabriel Caine come from?  



Um, really good question. The name "Caine" came from one summer of unemployment when I watched an awful lot of "CSI-MIAMI",  and I really liked the name Horatio Caine. So I swiped the Caine from there. Gabriel was originally Rafael; I took a lot of flak about that name, which apparently has been used to death. So I finally switched it to Gabriel, being another "angelic" type of name.

9.    How many sales on your book have been ebooks vs. actual paper books?  



I have no idea!

10. Who is your biggest cheerleader?  

My husband, hands down. He's been urging me to write for 34 years; I finally got around to it 11 years ago.

11. What made you believe in yourself as a writer?

 My father is a writer, and so was my brother. I have a glib way with words; I used to love essay tests in history because I'd write reams. I'm convinced that I got an "A" in that class because the teacher didn't want to read my writing. Plus, having my dad around all day, selling books, writing constantly, while intimidating in a way was also very empowering. Especially when my brother started to sell, too.

12. Why did you write this book?  

I had just written a dark, urban fantasy. I wanted to keep a bit of the dark, but focus more on the romance. However, I didn't want to write the typical vampire or werewolf book. I wanted something different, so I chose tribreds - men with demon/human blood in them, with the gifts - and the traps - that come with it.

13. Is this your first novel you ever wrote? If not, how many others did you attempt before this one took over?

I've written 11 novels; this one was book 8. I've written two YA contemporary novels, and I'm working on DEMON HUNT, which is Gabriel's oldest brother's story. I've done probably 50 partials; stories that are waiting for me to get back to them.

14. How do you choose your characters? Friends you have now? Foes? Family members?

I don't. They kind of choose me. For instance, one of the characteristics of the Caine family is that they have ALL the bloodlines inside them, so they all look different - Gregor, the oldest brother, is black as night. Justin the middle brother looks Jamaican, with dreadlocks, and loves to surf. Kellan is slightly Native American looking, but with blond hair and tanned skin; and then there's Gabriel, with black hair and white, white skin.  What makes them noticeably brothers is in the set of their eyes, the breadth of their shoulders, their absurd sense of needing to "fix" things and protect those they love, and their height - all of them are 6'3" or taller.

15. Which character represents you, the writer, the most? Why?  



Magdalena de la Cruz. Not because of her curves or her height - I'd kill for both - but rather for her rich emotions. I'm the emotional type!


16. Do you have a preferred place to write? Coffee shop? Office? Car? 



 I love to write first drafts in my local Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf with my trusty MacBook. They have a "Time Out" corner, just big enough for a chair, a table, and it's right near an outlet. Give me my cup of coffee and my combo bagel with cream cheese, let me plug in my iPod, and I'm gone into the world.

However, when I revise and edit, I prefer to do it at home on my bigger screen. I do a lot of starts and stops when I revise, so being at home means I can find reasons not to write - do laundry, clean the kitchen, polish the ceiling - you know, typical avoidance behavior.


17. How can my blog readers help you to become an even bigger success?


Hey, Christmas is coming up - books make GREAT presents, lol!  Oh yeah, and feel free to stalk me on twitter @CCAshworth and at my website at http://christine-ashworth.com . I blog about inexpensive wines on most Fridays, and keep folks up to date on where on the interwebs I'm roaming.

18. What is your favorite drink? Coffee? Tea? Water? Wine?  

Depends on the time of day. First thing in the morning? Coffee. After I'm done writing for the night? A glass of wine, please! Waking up in the middle of the night, I need water.  Of course, you can offer me a glass of chilly champagne at any time of the day, and I won't turn you down!

19. What author would you most recommend to your audience? 



 Ah, that's a good one. I can't choose just one author. If you like historical romances, then you'll LOVE Jennifer Haymore. She's brilliant. 


For category romance, I really like Charlene Sands and Carol Ericson.


Lynne Marshall has a terrific new book out about an older, mis-matched couple - it's called ONE FOR THE ROAD. 


And a new face on the urban fantasy front is Darynda Jones, whose FIRST GRAVE ON THE LEFT is totally hysterical.  And of course, all my fellow writers at Crescent Moon Press are tops!

20. What word best describes you?  



Eclectic!

21. Which character is least like you in your book?  



 Justin. He's so calm and cool; I'm not that way at all. Unless there's a huge emergency - then I'm cool as a cucumber, and fall apart after its all over.

22. If your book became a movie, what actors would play the main roles?

I'd love to see Carey Mulligan as Rose. Justin Chambers would be fantastic as Gabriel...not sure about the rest!

23. Who is the most proud of you?  

My daddy. Every time I call him, he says to me, "Is this my best-selling-author-daughter Chrissy?" I adore him!  (By the way, he's got a new book out, too - it's called Seal Team: North Korea Blowup, and his name is Chet Cunningham. I'm SO darned proud of him!)

24. What are your next projects? Current release dates? Titles?  

I'm working on DEMON HUNT, and  the third book in the series, which doesn't have a title yet; hopefully both books will be out next year.




Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Interview with Kate Avery Ellison: Author of The Curse Girl




Starting my own Twitter account was not high on my things-to-do list. With a book in revision, a SCBWI conference to help run, and agents to query, time is my most valued commodity. But I'm glad I did. I've met some wonderful and interesting new friends there, including Kate Ellison, author of The Curse Girl


I put a call out for interviews and she was the first to respond. I am so delighted she did. Right from the start her main character, Bee, draws you in. You want to know more....no, you demand to know more! The writing is crisp, to the point, yet Kate weaves deep description all around you. 


I am only a few chapters in, but I can't stop reading and I love that about a book!!! Thank you Kate. You are the reason I read. You are the reason I write. 


Summary of The Curse Girl:
When Bee is imprisoned in a magical, cursed house because of her father's selfish choices, she has just one plan... escape! But in order to leave, she must solve a riddle and help her fellow prisoners break the curse that binds them all. And thanks to Will, the bitter young master of the house, the whole curse-breaking thing is proving difficult.

Will wants nothing to do with Bee or her help, and he certainly isn't planning on falling in love with her. But he might have underestimated just how determined, clever, and irresistible this Curse Girl can be.



Below are the questions I asked this talented young writer:


1.    We met through Twitter. How have you used it to promote your work?

I mostly use Twitter to interact with friends/writers/readers, although I do occasionally tweet about my books. I've definitely found some great promotional opportunities (like book bloggers) through it, and I always tweet about new releases, sales, and other news. It's a great tool for any author and a great way to spread information quickly.


2.    The Curse Girl is dedicated to Nikki. Who is she? 


Nikki is one of my best friends, and she is my "ideal reader." Essentially, I write my books with her in mind. If she likes the book, I know I've succeeded.

3.    The line, "I sat silent and immobile, a statue, a paper doll, a frozen thing of stone" is very powerful. What made you write it? 



I really wanted to convey the idea of numbness as that place beyond fear--she's on this horrible drive to the house of the beast, and there's no turning back, and she's being pushed to the very edge of her emotional limits.

4.    What made you write about this daughter and father?

Parent-child relationships fascinate me. They are so rich with nuances of both love and hurt. I'm especially interested in betrayal, and exploring that.

I do feel like I should add that I have an incredibly good relationship with my own father (who likes to joke that I was expressing some deep-seated rage at him for casting the father in such a terrible light!)


5.    The imagery you create in the first paragraphs really grips the reader. How did you write those scenes? Did you walk on gravel? Stand in front of a ghastly house? 

Sometimes I find a bunch of pictures to help my imagination while I'm writing, and sometimes I make an effort to experience a setting firsthand, but with this story it was just all in my head.

6.    Describe your book in 5 words.

If I can use five unconnected words, then "intrigue, magic, romance, enchantment, and forgiveness." If they have to be a sentence, then "Can Bee break the curse?" :)


7. How are you choosing to promote sales? Internet? Facebook? Book signings? And which one is working the best?

I mainly use the Internet, and I've seen the most success there. I don't use Facebook much personally, although I have had my book featured by a few Kindle-related Facebook accounts, like Kindle Lovers and Kindle on the Cheap, and I've seen some fantastic results with those promotional opportunities.

I participate on KindleBoards, in internet blogfests, giveaways on LibraryThing, and I've sent review copies to book blogs and written guest posts. I probably see the best results from being featured on websites, whether it's a popular book blogger or a book recommendation site like the Frugal E-Reader. Word-of-mouth is a great way to get the word out, too.



8. What made you believe in yourself as a writer?

The first time I wrote something that made someone cry.


9. How many revisions did this novel go through? 

Only two (which is a very low number for me). Usually I do between 3-4 revisions.

10. Did you ever want to give up?

Many times, and some days I still want to give up. Writing can be lonely, and I think everyone has those days where they feel like a hack. I keep a file of writer quotes by the greats, from Hemingway to Mark Twain to Anne Lamott--quotes where they're talking about how terrible their first drafts are or how many times they had to rewrite something. Stuff like that really encourages me, because it shows me I'm not alone.

11. Do you have a preferred place to write? Coffee shop? Office? Car?

I have a hard time writing in public places like coffee shops because I tend to pay attention to the people around me instead of the page in front of me, so I usually write at home. My favorite writing place at home is on the couch in my living room. It's beautiful in there. I have a ceiling-to-floor bookcase and big windows that let in tons of light.

12. How can my blog readers help you to become an even bigger success?

If they read my book and like it, add it to your Goodreads page or recommend it to friends! Word-of-mouth is the best way for a book to catch fire.

13. If someone said, "Your book changed my life." What would they be referring to?

Maybe the central theme, which is about love, hate, and forgiveness. I tried to convey the idea of how hatred can fester inside like a wound and cause more pain for both the hater and the person they hate. Love is a difficult choice, but it brings healing.

14. What author would you most recommend to your audience?

Two, actually. Robin McKinley is a huge influence on me personally, and she's one of my favorite fantasy writers. I'm also a huge fan of Maureen Johnson. She always has the perfect blend of humor and intensity.

15. What word best describes you?

Quirky . . . but that's mostly just a euphemism for "weird."

16. If your book became a movie, what actors would play the main roles?

I love casting my books! For The Curse Girl, I always pictured Caterina Scorscene (SyFy's Alice) as Bee... she has a strong, understated beauty to her. Will would be played by Blake Lee (Parks and Rec), and Rose would be played by Molly Quinn (Castle). They're all kind of lesser-known actors, and I like that.

17. Who is the most proud of you?

My husband, parents and siblings! They are always bragging about me in ways I don't deserve.

18. Where do your cats hang out when you are writing?

My silly kitties hang out wherever I do, because they are both little furballs of clingy neediness. If I'm in the living room, they sit on the couch with me or on the chairs beside it. If I'm in my office, they sit in the other office chairs or climb in my lap. They are very concerned about being left out of the action.

19. What are your next projects? Current release dates? Titles?

Right now I'm working on several things. I am writing a companion novel to The Curse Girl that's set in the same modern alternate universe/fairy tale world, starring different characters. It's kind of a loose retelling of Sleeping Beauty, but I really go off-script with it. It's more the story about Sleeping Beauty's sister and her attempts to break the sleeping curse. 


I'm in the process of revising a paranormal/mystery story (titled Nocturne) as well, and I'm working on a zombie novel. Hopefully both the companion novel (no title yet) and Nocturne will be available early next year.