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

Friday, May 30, 2014


I haven't written about yoga and writing in a while, but while I was reading 40 Days to Personal Revolution by Baron Baptiste a blog idea formed in my head.

And it has to do with 
Law 9: Don't Rush the Process

Which really means PATIENCE.

New writers tend not to have patience. I was once a new writer with no patience. I wanted to be the best now and I was determined to show you that I was. So I wrote a picture book in about a week and passed it out waiting for praise. It never came.

I had always been a pretty good writer. I got A's on all my school papers. Teachers would write in the margins how great my ideas were and how eloquently I expressed them. So how could writing children's books be any different? And why wasn't I getting immediate praise for my brilliant ideas and amazing way of writing them?


I needed a dose of humility, which I thankfully got at my first writer's retreat where I gleamed with pride over my rushed picture book, waiting for the praise I knew was sure to come.

When I received my picture book back with red marks all over it and questions in the margins, instead of praise, I was shocked. 

It was like my first yoga class where, in the mirror, I saw how awesome my poses were but then the teacher came over and moved my foot and my arm and pulled my hips up higher. I was a new yogi and so, of course, I had no patience. 

I had always been into sports, able to move my body and knew where my arms and legs were at all times. So why was this yoga teacher "helping" me? I was irritated and so went back to the way I did MY pose. 

I continued my practice and teachers continued to help me. And little by little I was less irritated by their help. When I allowed patience and learning to happen I grew longer, and taller and opened my heart and my practice strengthened. 

Mirror this to my writing today. Ten years ago when I first decided to go to my first writer's retreat, I winged it. I figured I was good enough. I didn't accept critique. I didn't like the red marks on my writing. I had no patience for the growth I needed to become a better writer. 

As time passed, and my work was rejected, I knew I had to take a breath, step back, and learn something. I took writing classes. I joined a critique group. I wrote everyday. And my writing grew.

Today, I know that my first writing sucked. It did. I know that my first yoga poses sucked. They did. But I had wonderful teachers and they helped me on my path to bettering my writing and my poses. 

In 40 Days, there is a line that came from one of Baron's students and this is where this blog idea came from.

"I learned I had to be willing to show up and suck until I could show up and shine."

I love this line because it's so true in everything I do. I will suck until I shine…but I will only shine if I put in the time.

My writing and my poses have come a long way in 10 years. I am ready to submit and know that my writing is ready to be read. I also know my poses are much better, stronger, and balanced. But I also know there is always room for growth.

Now, when yoga teachers help me, I thank them. And when other writers critique my writing, I thank them. 

Be open and be patient. Allow yourself to fail, to go into child's pose to relax, to write an awful line of prose, to get red marks all over your paper, to fall out of headstand, and know that it's the patience and the process that makes you stronger.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Character's Hair: More than a style on the head

When I see someone for the first time I notice their hair. The color, style, length, whether it's pulled back in a tight bun, loose and flowing, braided down the middle or side, growing in tight dreadlocks, or cut short and spiked. 

Hairstyles are linked to culture, land and history. So when you are developing your characters take hair style into account.

Throughout history the way women styled their hair, the texture, sleekness and shine or lack there of, has been under scrutiny. 

There have been many jokes about a lack of intelligence for those with blond hair. People with red hair have been thought to be less hardy. Those with thick black, shiny hair are said to be healthy. Spiked short hair has been seen as hip, maybe even dangerous. Those with stripes of color in their hair are sometimes thought of as fun or punk rock-ish depending on who's judging.

People judge hairstyles in every culture. Think about how your readers will judge your character based on their hairstyle alone. If you want them to think your character is of the grunge culture, maybe give them dreadlocks. If you want a real housewife, she needs to have long, shiny, perfectly combed hair. 

Hair means different things to different cultures. Be sure to research your characters background when choosing a hairstyle. 

You should also think about the psychology of hair and your character. Your character may be a female with not much control in her life, so she cuts and dyes her hair many times a month. She has control over her hair.

Your character might be stuck in a job where he has to wear a suit and must keep his hair short and neat, but desires to let it grow long. How does this affect his mind? His actions?

Why doesn't everyone do whatever they want with their hair? Why not dye it purple? Cut it at a fun angle? Let it grow to the ground or shave it off completely? Allow it to go grey? Think about these questions when you are describing your characters. 

I grew up with very long, almost white blond hair. I often was the butt of dumb blond jokes. That has molded the way I feel about my hair and about other blonds. 

When I started college I decided that I did not want to be seen as a joke. I wanted to be taken seriously, so I cut my hair short, and had low lights added so it was less blond. It worked.
Hair reveals secrets. You can guess a person's character by checking out their hair. But hair can also hide secrets. It may be a shield a person is using to not reveal themselves. 

Hair can be a clue as to where a person lives, their status, and their culture. I grew up on a small blueberry farm where hair didn't matter. My mom cut my hair and she rarely had a professional cut hers. My dad's hair was blond and often overgrown. It didn't matter. But when I moved to LA, hair was taken more seriously. There were stylists on every block and everyones' hair shined and every hair was in place. If you took a picture of the me at the farm and the me in LA you could tell by my hair which picture was done in which place.

So don't just throw hair on top of your character's heads. Hair is something to think about. Hair reveals rootedness, ties to culture, land and history and much more. Use it to your advantage and your characters will be more memorable. 


Monday, May 19, 2014

Interview with Sandra Waugh - Author of LARK RISING

I met Sandra via email - she reached out for an interview and when I saw the Lark Rising cover, how could I refuse? I absolutely feel this book just from the jacket and can't wait to read it! 

Sandra is a rising star. She's in an awesome critique group with amazing writers. They even helped her land her agent --- I LOVE when writers help writers! 

You'll learn something new from Sandra and you'll learn it in a very lyrical and beautiful way. Watch out world of children's books - Sandra is rising!

Describe LARK RISING in 5 words.

Shy clairvoyant must save earth.

Your childhood sounds like a writer’s dream. How has it molded your writing?
Those years of exploring physical landscapes of fields and woods and seashore are definitely the backbone for fantasy writing.  I was lucky to grow up in such a beautiful environment and yet I think it’s what we make of our environment more than what our environment makes us.  I believe a writer can find a story within a gum wrapper discarded in a gutter.

Why write children’s books?

            They are closest to my heart. 

How does art influence you and your writing?

            Music—fires my imagination, inspires the emotional moods in my stories.

            Fine art—(or things that I find in a museum) are images and imagery to draw from.  A ring from the Byzantine era and the Unicorn Tapestries are both objects I’ve used (directly and indirectly) for my stories.

            Literature—Oh… how can reading NOT influence writing!  Certain voices, stories will catch the ear and heart, will most likely be the basis for finding your own voice.

            Dance—is what I use to decompress—that, and yoga.  I’m not someone who can sit still for hours on end.  So this helps shake out all the writing angst and leaves me open to find new ideas when I feel depleted.

What time do you get up and what do you eat for breakfast?

            On my best days, I am up by 5:30 (admittedly, there are days that I wallow).  Tea is always first (and last, and in-between). Breakfast comes later, which is usually a slice of whole grain toast, ½ a banana, and a spoonful of peanut butter—in varying combinations.

How did you choose your main character’s name, Lark?

            One of my favorite names.  The name came first, the story followed.

What draws you to the fantasy world?

            How can I not be? It is so much more exciting than the everyday!  It is the space where anything is possible.

Where is the best place to steep a cup of tea in your town?

            My house. A good tea bag, boiling water, and some whole milk is all I need! Unfortunately, we have no great tea places here and a half hour to reach a Starbucks (I am a Frappuccino lover).  I did find an amazing antique store, which hides a little coffee bar in the back… so will be checking that out!

Writing is a tough industry to break into:  How did you snag your agent?

            I was extremely fortunate to be recommended. I worked on LARK with a small writers group of published authors savvy to the industry. They suggested certain agents who might be a good fit, and then went so far as to recommend me to said agents.  Two of the three agents offered representation.  I am SO grateful for such friendship and wisdom!  That said, I still had to slog through those standard nail-biting weeks (and weeks) of waiting and wondering!

Would you be willing to share your query with us?

            Lucky not to have had to write one. As you can see from my ‘in 5 words’ descriptions, brevity and wit are not my fortes!

Complete this sentence about the writing and publishing industry:  if I knew then what I know now, I would have…

            understood not to take anything personally!

Which of your characters are you most like?  Least like?

            I am closest to Lark, Evie is runner up.  I am least like a character in Book 2 named Lill.

How long did it take you to write Lark Rising?

            From idea to agent, about two and a half years. 

Who is your biggest cheerleader?

            My husband.  I adore him.

Where did the plot for LARK RISING come from?

            A hawk lit upon my porch railing one morning.  We watched each other for a time and then he flew off.  A friend said that was an “auspicious event” and I sat down and wrote the first pages of LARK based on that moment.  The rest of the story--and series--was formed as I mowed the field behind our house (which borders woods, like Lark’s cottage).  Most of my stories get fleshed out while I push the lawnmower.

Please give newbie writers 3 bullet points of wisdom.

            READ, READ, READ what you love
            WRITE, WRITE, WRITE what you love
            WORK to slay your demons. 

Most authors (me included) are raw to so many insecurities and it is sometimes a daily battle to keep going, to keep believing. But: if you do your homework (see above) and adhere to a firm schedule and deadline, then you have your weapons to fight the insecurity. Progress matters—for when every other emotion paralyzes you, you have achievement to hold onto.  It does not matter the ‘crappy’ ness of the writing.  Once something is on the page, then you have something to build from!

You have amazing dreams—share your favorite with us.

            This is one from when I was very young, maybe 10 or 11.  That’s significant because the dream sounds straight out of a romance novel, except this dream came before I’d read any romances.  I also hold no special affinity for things German or Eastern European, so all of this was new and completely unattached to anything I favor—and yet, even as I dreamt I knew that I already knew this story. It was a replay of something that had already happened.
            Only the scene was set in my dream—A manor house, somewhere deep in a Bavarian-type forest, early nineteenth century feel to all of it.  A drive leading up to the manor house, carving straight between an impossibly tall and dense pine forest. Above, a starry sky. A traveler on horseback was coming up that drive, a man—dark cape, dark horse.  From the great window above the main entrance a girl was watching his approach.  She had long black curls, wore a white, empire-waisted gown, emerald green sash and slippers.  She did not know the man, only that with his presence came the sensation of impatience and curiosity, that this the dawn of an adventure.  And then as I, the dreamer, watched this moment I knew I’d lived this moment before, I knew that the man was going to be the great love of this girl, and that the girl was me.
            So… ask me if I’m a believer in other lives.

You have a second book coming out with Random House Children’s Books in 2015 –FALLING RAIN.  Describe it in 5 words:

            This is Evie’s darker tale.

(note: I’ve just learned Falling Rain may not be the final title! Stay tuned.)

Did you dually write these two books or finish one completely before moving onto the other?

            LARK came first, although ideas for Evie’s story hovered nearby.  There are four books in my head for what is now known as the Guardians of Tarnec series.

Who is your main character Evie molded after?

            I’ve never used someone specific for any character.  But there are pieces of me in Evie, no question.

What are you reading right now?

            Currently: two ARCs: DEAD TO ME by Mary McCoy, and THE FIRE WISH by Amber Lough; a paperback copy of Rae Carson’s THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS; Victoria Schwab’s THE ARCHIVED on my Kindle; and hardcover of Brandon Sanderson’s STEELHEART.  

(I do read adult literature, they’re just not on the tops of the teetering book piles by my bed right now!)

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

            Wouldn’t it be great if everyone wanted to read LARK RISING! J If you do and you like it, please spread the word! (Word of mouth works wonders!)  Follow me on Twitter @sandrajwaugh, be my friend on Goodreads…

What are you working on right now?

            Writing synopsis of Book 3 of the Guardians of Tarnec.  Revising a YA contemporary paranormal to be in shape for submission, working on an adventure MG with an author friend of mine for fun.  We’ll see if any, hopefully all, of those come to book life!

 Any big news?

            I’ll be doing a Blog Tour with Rockstar Book Tours just around the release of LARK RISING on September 23—giveaways abound! 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

So you want to write a picture book...

I've gone to many writer's retreats and conferences and have met many new writers who want to write picture books. I'm not sure why writers start out wanting to write in this genre. The only thing I can guess is that they think it's easy, or at least easier than writing a chapter book, middle grade, or young adult. It's not!

Picture books just might be the toughest genre, especially for newbie writers. Why? Because you've got to have a full plot, interesting characters, great story, strong voice, recognizable theme, compelling setting, make it fit the page limits, and all under 1000 words (typical for today's market).

So, what is a picture book, exactly?

** A picture book is a story told partly with words and partly with pictures, or what's commonly called in the writer world, illustrations**

Another thing I've noticed newbie writers do is illustrate their work themselves. Don't do this. Choose to be the writer or the illustrator when you are first starting out and stick to one. Once you get a contract, then you can play around with being both the illustrator and writer. 

Illustrating a picture book is just as hard, if not harder, than writing one. All the same rules apply for the illustrator, strong voice, alluring setting, etc (see above)…it's difficult to be amazing at both, especially your first time out. 

Hint: Typically a publishing house pairs a newbie picture book writer with a known illustrator or vice versa. If you are an unknown, having a known will help book sales - so don't fight this. 

If you are a newbie writer, and the above has not deterred you from writing your first fabulous picture book, then here are some questions you should ask yourself:

  • Is there a real story here?
  • Do the characters have conflict?
  • Is the topic too complex for a picture book, or not complex enough?
  • Why am I telling this story?
  • Have I read hundreds of picture books of today's market?
  • Am I preaching to the kids?
  • Does this story need to be told?
  • Is there room for illustrations?
  • Would illustrations enhance the story?
  • Will adults and children be engaged?
  • Has this topic been done too many times before?
  • Is there a market for this type of story?
  • Can this story be used in a classroom?
  • Have I checked the libraries to see if this story already exists?
  • Are my main characters children?
  • Does this story pertain to today's youth?
  • Do I know how children talk and act today?
  • Have I targeted a specific age group?
  • Is my main character likable?
  • What is the story arc?
  • Why would readers care?
  • Do I know that picture books that rhyme rarely get published these days?
  • Can I write without rhyming?
  • Are the sentences fun to say out loud?
  • Do I have interesting verbs?
  • Is the language age-appropriate?
  • Do I want to read it over and over again?
  • Are my characters complex, unique people?
  • Does my main character resolve the issue or does some annoying adult save the day?
  • How do kids learn today? 
  • Are they using iPads in elementary school?
  • How do kids read today? On what do they read --- kindle? iPad? Computer? Books?
  • What are schools like today? Are kids still sitting in a classroom, or are they moving around, learning outside, in a common area?
  • What are the words kids use for gym class? Is it PE? Is it Phys-Ed? Is it exercise class? Is it something else entirely? 
  • What words do the kids use for all learning in the classroom?

Once you've answered all of the above questions there are a few more things you should do when writing your first picture book.

1. Research! ---- Do not write anything unless you have researched it. And, I don't just mean the subject. How do children talk today? How do they communicate? Even elementary aged kids use iPhones and iPads now…how does that play into your idea? Does it matter? At least know if it does. 

2. Character. Character. Character. ---- Picture books must have engaging characters, and not just your main character. And keep the adults to a minimum, please.

3. VOICE ---- La La La ---- And, no, I don't mean singing and I don't mean how your character speaks. Voice is how you -- the writer -- well, your main character -- sees the world. The uniqueness of your view point. When someone falls down - do you a) laugh out loud. b) help them up. c) pretend you didn't see it? How do you live in the world? What irks you? What do you love? What can you talk about forever? What do you hate? This is voice --- it's you. And once you get over that it's you and you let loose, you will have your voice.

4. Setting ---- Where does your story take place? When does your story take place? Make it unique, play around with both place and time. Children love to learn about times that have gone by and/or times in the now and/or a future time you believe might happen. 

When is just as important --- this means when as in year but also time of day, months in the year. Is it warm or cold outside? Raining or sunny? Is it night or day? Is it the 1960's or 2999? Have fun with choosing these and see what it does to your story when you change the when and where.

5. Plot ---- Beginning - Middle - End. First question is, do you have a strong plot? Is this a story? Does the main character change in some way from the beginning to the end? Are there obstacles in the main characters way? In picture books there are usually 3 obstacles before the main character learns and grows. If you don't know what I mean by this --- go read picture books!

So there you have it - the picture book talk. I too, as newbie writer, thought I could whip up the best picture book and get published within a few months. I, too, learned my lesson. Picture books are tough, a lot harder than you think to get right. If that's where your writing passion lies -- then go for it. But if you are attempting to write a picture book because you think they're easy --- STOP right now. 

START with a novel. Try your writing hand at that. You can be freer with a novel because there are no 32-page constraints and there is room to play and learn and grow. You don't have to worry about illustrations, too. Of course, there are rules to novel writing, but they aren't as restrictive. 

I am a novel writer who thought writing picture books would be a breeze. I wish someone would have told me the truth. Instead, I wasted money and time lugging my picture book manuscripts to writer's retreats when my true voice was much older. 

Picture books are not an easy place to begin your writing career. Try your hand at all the genres first, before you corner yourself as this type of writer or that one. 

Good Luck in whatever genre you choose!
Just be sure it's the right fit for your voice and your knowledge.