24 November 2012

The perfect reading-by-the-fire sort of day...

It's cold and windy here today, the last of our leaves are falling. Perfect day for a fire in the wood stove and a good book. For me, it's DAYS OF BLOOD & STARLIGHT by Laini Taylor. My almost 9-year-old daughter is reading EIGHT KEYS by Suzanne LaFleur. And my 13-year-old son has Peter Salomon's HENRY FRANKS.

Couldn't ask for a better way to spend the day.

13 November 2012

Maureen McGowan on the long road to publishing and how contests can help

Maureen McGowan
Look who's here! It's Maureen McGowan, author of DEVIANTS (Amazon Children's Books, Oct. 30), the first book in a brand new post-apocalyptic trilogy called THE DUST CHRONICLES. Maureen also penned CINDERELLA: NINJA WARRIOR and SLEEPING BEAUTY: VAMPIRE SLAYER (both published by Silver Dolphin Books, April 2011). 

If you want to hang out with Maureen a bit more after this interview, you can visit her website here and her blog here. You'll also find her talking about books, movies and storytelling with some of her writer friends, over here

So, here goes!

Q: Hi Maureen, tell us about your path to publishing... when did you start writing YA, where did your writing journey take you, and how did you find your agent/publisher?

A: How long do we have?  My publication story is long and twisty and would take several pages to tell in full. Let’s just say I wrote seven or eight manuscripts in four genres, had two agents, and had a publisher close before releasing 2 contracted books for which they hadn’t paid me, all before I got my contract for DEVIANTS. 

But the short answer to your question is that I got my current agent the old fashioned way. I sent a query. Actually I sent four queries to my fantasy four agent list, and one of those was to Catherine Drayton of Inkwell Management. (Her clients include Markus Zuzak, Nathan Bransford and Becca Fitzpatrick.) After reading my query and sample pages, Catherine referred me to another agent at her agency, Charlie Olsen, who reps Andrea Cremer, among others. 

Charlie loved the manuscript and I signed with him less than a week after sending him the full and we started submitting to editors a week after that. The market for post-apocalyptic and dystopian set YA was tightening up at the time, but we got three book deal within a few months. The tough part was that I wasn’t allowed to talk about the deal for another 8-9 months after that! Mostly because the deal it was with Amazon Publishing, who were just starting up when they made the offer and their plans for YA were not yet firm. They actually first discussed publishing my book under their sci-fi imprint which also had not been announced at the time.

Once things got moving, I love how quickly Amazon got DEVIANTS to the market and they did a beautiful job of the hardcover! The second book in the series, COMPLIANCE, comes out May 21, 2013, and—assuming I finish it soon!—the third book, GLORY, will come out in late 2013 or early 2014. 

Q: Your first two YA novels were fairytale adventures (with badass heroines who still get their handsome princes!). You've gone in an entirely different direction with DEVIANTS, a post-apocolyptic sci-fi thriller. Can you tell us how your writing has changed between the earlier project and the new one, and why you chose to move in this new direction? 

A: All of my published books have a lot of action and strong heroines. I also think all three have solid worldbuilding, fast pacing and all are packed with tons of conflict and tension. But the main difference with DEVIANTS is that the Twisted Tales books had to appeal to readers as young as nine! The original publisher for that series, hoped to straddle the middle grade and YA markets, and so those books are a tad more juvenile that I would have written them if I’d had free rein. (I had some awesomely dark ideas for Sleeping Beauty: Vampire Slayer, but couldn’t really go there.)

I feel that with DEVIANTS I didn’t have to hold back at all. I just told the story I wanted to tell. In fact, other than the lack of swearing and sex, I’d say there’s not a huge difference between my voice/storytelling style in DEVIANTS versus the adult projects I’ve written. 

That’s what I love about YA these days. They may be about teens, but they’re not necessarily just for teen readers.

Q: You were a finalist in the Golden Heart® competition and the inaugural Amazon Breakout Novel Competition. Can you tell us about these competitions, your decision to participate, and how they helped launch your YA novels?

A: I think the Golden Heart is a great contest—if you final.  It’s the RWA’s main competition for unpublished work and gets about 1200 entries, of which only 70-80 final (across various categories—up to 9 finalists in each.) If you final, it certainly makes the RWA National conference experience fun. The awards night is like the Oscars—2000 people in the audience, fancy gowns and a big production. It’s during the same ceremony when they announce the RITAs, the awards for the top romance novels of the year. Unfortunately, they’ve changed the rules this year so that the YA titles need to have a central love story (versus the romance being only a sub plot) so unfortunately, a most YA titles won’t be eligible anymore.

The Amazon Breakout Novel Awards (ABNA) is a competition run by Amazon and the finals are judged by Penguin editors. (Or were the year that I entered.) The top prize the year I entered was a $25,000 advance from Penguin and there were several rounds of competition. Depending on how far you got in the competition, you got reviews from the general public and from Publishers Weekly. 

I personally would only advise someone to enter the ABNA with a project that had been thoroughly “shopped out” the traditional way, before the entry date, because the manuscript will be tied up for the months that the contest is ongoing. That is, you can’t submit it anywhere during that time. For me, entering was one last shot for one of my manuscripts, and I had the blessing of my former agent to enter.

I was part of the first year for that contest, and it’s changed a bit now, but for me, the biggest benefit was learning how to deal with reviews. Years before I had anything published, I’d dealt with reading negative (and positive) reviews from strangers.

That contest was also great because it gave a chance for published author acquaintances of mine to actually read some of my work. That helped me build connections that led to referrals to agents, great advice, etc. 

It was an encouraging experience for me. I had authors contact me saying they couldn’t believe I hadn’t been published yet. And that was early 2008. (It took another 2 ½ years after that to get my write for hire contract, and another 18 months after that to get a more traditional advance-paying contract.)

Q: I saw other authors tweeting about your release party for DEVIANTS, and I know you're active online with blogs and web presence, twitter, etc. How much time do you put into these and other networking and promotional efforts? 

A:  Lately, too much! And not enough at the same time... I feel like there are so many things I wanted to do before my release that I never got time to do. It’s so hard to get the word out about your novel. I’d like to find a balance where I spend no more than an hour or two on promotion and social networking each day, but would be lying if I said I stuck to that now.

Q: What is your writing process? How do you approach a new project (research, outlining, plotting, pantsing... what's your style?)?

A: New ideas usually percolate for a long time with me. At some point, I’ll discuss an idea with my critique partners and then start to develop it more. My ideas don’t always spark in the same way. Sometimes it will be a premise, sometimes a world, sometimes a character. And with DEVIANTS, I actually melded at least three different ideas together. It was magic to realize that I didn’t need to choose between 3 story ideas, but could combine bits of them. 

If I’m not forced to write a synopsis first, I usually only plan the bare bones. Not because I don’t find more detailed planning useful, more that I’m too impatient. I believe that to end up with a strong, tightly plotted and well-formed story with great motivations and character arcs, you need to put in the heavy planning or analysis work at some point... whether it’s up front, while you’re drafting, or while re-writing. I personally believe it’s most efficient to put that time in planning, but it doesn’t always work that way for me. Every project tends to be different. 

Q: What are you working on now/next?

A:  COMPLIANCE, Book 2 of The Dust Chronicles, comes out May 21, 2013. I’m working on my line edits at the moment. Then I need to finish the third book in the trilogy, tentatively called GLORY, as soon as possible!

After that, I’m not sure. I’m in the development stage with another YA series and I’m also hoping that my women’s fiction projects might see the light of day sometime soon... We’ll see.

Thank you, Maureen! 

And for those who are curious about THE DUST CHRONICLES, here's a little teaser on DEVIANTS: 

DEVIANTS by Maureen McGowan

In a post-apocalyptic world, where the earth is buried by asteroid dust that’s mutated the DNA of some humans, orphaned, sixteen-year-old Glory must hide and protect her younger brother. If their Deviant abilities are discovered, they’ll be expunged—kicked out of the dome to be tortured and killed by the Shredders. Glory would give anything to get rid of her unique ability to kill with her emotions, especially when Cal, the boy she’s always liked, becomes a spy for the authorities. But when her brother is discovered, and she learns their father, who was expunged for killing their mother, is still alive, she must escape the domed city that’s been her entire world.

Outside in the ruins, they’re pursued by the authorities and by sadistic, scab-covered Shredders who are addicted to the lethal-to-humans dust now covering the planet. Glory’s quests to transport herself and her brother to safety make up the thrilling and fascinating first volume of The Dust Chronicles.

 It's on sale now... herehere and here

06 November 2012

LOVELY, DARK AND DEEP Author Amy McNamara finds inspiration in words, motion and images

It's election day, and I considered holding this interview… but I can't wait to share it! I've been waiting since December 2010, believe it or not! That's when Amy first told me about her book and I put her on my "authors to be interviewed" list. At the time, Fall 2012 seemed sooooo far away. But here it is, and I could not be happier to see Amy's book out in the world. On bookshelves! 

Amy McNamara
Anyway, if you're like me, you'll be wanting a pleasant distraction from today's polling news. Right? (But first, GO VOTE!) So, here she is: Amy McNamara, author of LOVELY, DARK AND DEEP (Simon & Schuster books for Young Readers, Oct. 16, 2012). Amy holds a B.A. in French literature and an MFA in poetry. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals and have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her "honey" and two kids. You will often find her with camera in hand, documenting her city for pay and for pleasure. 

Though without heat and electricity for many days following Superstorm Sandy, Amy found time to answer a few questions. 

Q: Hi Amy! Every author I've interviewed has followed a unique path to publishing, and I'm curious to learn about yours! You studied French literature and poetry... how did that lead you to YA? 

A: I fell into it by accident. I wrote the novel during a period in which I wasn’t writing poems. Those are always hard, the fallow times of not writing. Then one morning I woke up with the opening scene in my head. I put it on the page.

Why is Wren a teenager? I think because that’s a time where life is full of transitions and decisions and moments that really begin to form who you become. You’re still mostly free to feel however you feel because you’re largely only responsible for yourself.

Q: What was the experience of writing your debut novel like? And can you also share the story of finding your agent/publisher?

A: I was lucky. Wren and her story kind of rushed through me. I never felt stuck or wondered what was next. I don’t recall dreaming it up, it was just there. I completed the first draft in a little under three months, and revised it another three months after that. At that point I was doing it for the joy of making something. Initially I had no intention of sending it into the world. I was telling myself a story. It needed a lot of work after the first pass. It’s not easy to sustain a narrative about someone who is trying to shut down. But feeling like that happens for some people and it seemed like a story worth telling.

My experience finding my agent (Sara Crowe at Harvey Klinger) was also charmed. I spent about a month (felt like it at least) on my query letter, then sent it out into the world. Sara was a critical, passionate reader and gave me good advice. I am so lucky to be in her hands.

After I revised the novel with her, Sara went out with it. A few months later we had a deal with Alexandra Cooper at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. I was thrilled. I knew finding a home for a story about a deeply sad and stuck person who wasn’t supernatural in any way might be tough. I celebrated for a month, solid.

Q: The cover of LOVELY, DARK AND DEEP is lovely, indeed. Since you are a photographer as well as novelist and poet, were you able to give input into what image they would use? Did it capture the feeling of the novel as you'd hoped? 

A: I was incredibly fortunate to work with Lizzy Bromley. Lizzy is an artist (check out some of her other covers - Laurie Halse Anderson’s Chains and Forge, or Nora Baskin’s Anything But Typical) and I owe the many compliments I’ve had on the cover design to her.

For a while I imagined trying to shoot a cover image myself, but I didn’t make that request partly because I wasn’t sure if I could pull it off—shoot something that felt right—but mostly because book designers know what they’re doing, and I don’t. My instinct would have been to make it dark, a blurred photo of a girl running in a woods or something else equally literal. As you can see, my cover’s neither dark nor blurry. Thank heavens. That would have been utterly unremarkable. The cover design process is really the book’s first step into the larger world. By that point, the author’s job is largely done.

Q: The title, LOVELY, DARK AND DEEP comes from the Robert Frost poem, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." How did poetry... of others as well as your own... affect the writing of this novel? 

A: Yes, that’s right. I memorized that poem in eighth grade and the marvelous dark quiet and rhythm of it have never left me. I wrote this book a few months after losing a friend. I read poems like I was begging them to make some kind of connection between us again. That meant reading and rereading the work of Philip Larkin, who was one of her favorites.

I suppose writing poems for so long has made me more attentive to the sound of language, to how words work in concert to influence larger meaning.

Q: You have two kids, a hubby, and many outlets for your creativity. I'm guessing there is no such thing as a typical day... but I'm curious what your writing process is like. How do you get your ideas and inspiration onto the page?

A: Before I wrote this novel, my process included going for a run in the morning without listening to anything. I find motion to be really fertile in terms of listening for language that I might follow. I also read everything. Poems, novels, art criticism, picture books, magazines, cook books, shampoo bottles, anything I can get my hands on. Then I try to fill a lot of pages with whatever shows up. You never know what’s going to turn into something. I’m a natural night owl, but family life means that I need to work in the earlier part of the day. When I don’t feel like reading or writing, I’ll walk around with my camera or make strange pieces of mail to send to friends. I am talentless for drawing or painting, but I love image, so I try to make things with images.

Q: What are you working on now? Will we see more YA fiction from you sometime soon?

A: That’s a good question. I hope so, but I don’t know, to be honest. I wrote a draft of another novel, but it’s not working. I’ve tucked it away for now. I’m in a period of not-writing at the moment which is always a little excruciating. I’ve been here many times before and at this point I know to just shut up and trust that something will come to me another day. I find every time I try to force anything in life, it fails. Better to let go a little and trust something will come again. I’m reading a lot and before Hurricane Sandy was going to look at a lot of art. I’m also doing corporate writing-for-hire jobs that fill my time and more importantly help pay the bills.

Thank you, Amy! I'm inspired by your approach to writing, and to stimulating your creativity in so many different ways. 


About Amy's Book:


Since the night of the crash, Wren Wells has been running away. Though she lived through the accident that killed her boyfriend Patrick, the girl she used to be didn’t survive. Instead of heading off to college as planned, Wren retreats to her father’s studio in the far-north woods of Maine. Somehwere she can be alone.

Then she meets Cal Owen. Dealing with his own troubles, Cal’s hiding out too. When the chemistry between them threatens to pull Wren from her hard-won isolation, Wren has to choose: risk opening her broken heart to the world again, or join the ghosts who haunt her.

You can buy it here, here, and here! (And, of course, at your local bookstore. Here's mine. It's are tiny with a small YA section but they always order up whatever I request and have it there within a couple of days!)