Thursday, October 1, 2015

7 Questions For: Author Barbara Shoup

Barbara Shoup is the author eight novels, including Night Watch, Wish You Were Here, Stranded in Harmony, Faithful Women, Vermeer's Daughter, Everything You Want, An American Tune, and Looking for Jack Kerouac, as well as the co-author of Novel Ideas: Contemporary Authors Share the Creative Process and Story Matters. 

Her young adult novels, Wish You Were Here and Stranded in Harmony were selected as American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults. Vermeer's Daughter was a School Library Journal Best Adult Book for Young Adults. She was the recipient of the 2006 PEN Phyllis Reynolds Naylor Working Writer Fellowship. 

She lives in Indianapolis, where she is the Executive Director of Indiana Writers Center.

Click here to read my review of Looking for Jack Kerouac.

And now Barbara Shoup faces the 7 Questions:

Question One: What are your top three favorite books?

AARGH. That’s impossible. There are so many books I love. But here are a few that I’ve found especially enlightening as a writer because they are wonderful stories and offer insight the process by which stories are made: 

The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien 
Atonement by Ian McEwan 
Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively
Life after Life by Kate Atkinson.

Question Two: How much time do you spend each week writing? Reading?

I usually get up around 5 AM and write for a few hours every morning before the “real” day starts. This works best for me when I’m in the middle of something. It’s harder when I’m still trying to get something going. I still get up early, but I sit and stare a lot. 

Reading? I’m addicted. I read every night before I go to sleep, which can be anywhere from ten minutes to several hours. (Depending on how tired I am.) I always have a book or my kindle with me, so I read in restaurants, cafes, hospitals, airports—any place I have a few extra moments. I read in the car when I’m a passenger; when I’m the driver, I’m listening to an audio. Once I start a book I like, it’s marathon time. I’m in that world; I can’t stop. I’ve been known to read eight (or more) hours straight. (When I went to the hospital to give birth to my daughter, Kate, I was in the middle of a big, fat Michener book and kept trying to read while in labor and, afterwards, holding Kate and reading at the same time. I know. It’s awful.

Question Three: What was the path that led you to publication?

I didn’t have any training as a writer and took my first writing classes at the Indiana Writers Center. I don’t know what I would have done if it hadn’t been there to get me started and make me feel like being a writer was possible. I was lucky. I jumped into the novel, got an agent with the first one I finished (though it never sold). The second novel I wrote, Night Watch, sold pretty quickly. But it was twelve years before I published the next novel, Wish You Were Here. That was hard! I kept writing, though a lot of times I wondered why.

Question Four: Do you believe writers are born, taught or both? Which was true for you?

Both. I think the best writers were born with the ability to see things more clearly than other people, though they may not figure this out for a long time. They’re curious about how the world works, often painfully aware of the complexity of human existence. They’re always trying to figure out what it means to be alive. This doesn’t make you a writer, though. Writing is a craft. You have to learn it. If you’re lucky, you have some good teachers and mentors along the way.

I definitely got that “thing” about seeing things more clearly (often painfully clearly). But it took me years to learn how to translate that sensibility into words and stories. I went to writers conferences, found other writers to share work with, and had a wonderful mentor, a woman quite a lot older than I was, who took me under her wing and taught me so much. I still hear her voice when I’m revising.

Question Five: What is your favorite thing about writing? What is your least favorite thing?

I love how sometimes, writing, I write something that surprises me, something I didn’t know I knew. 

My least favorite thing is starting…anything. Once I get going, I just keep following the thread and, eventually, I get there. But starting? Ugh.

Question Six: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)

I love this quote from Flaubert, which I think says it all: “Talent is a long patience, and originality an effort of will and intense observation.” 

Question Seven: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

Kurt Vonnegut. He was so smart, funny, honest—and had such a large heart.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Book of the Week: LOOKING FOR JACK KEROUAC by Barbara Shoup

WARNING: This week’s book is actually edgy YA and is filled with adult content. It's absolutely not appropriate for younger readers and adults should view it as the equivalent of an ‘R’ rated movie.

First Paragraph(s): IT WASN’T DUKE WALCZAK’S FAULT that I took off for Florida, like Kathy thought. The truth is, we started getting sideways with each other on our class trip to New York and Washington D.C. nearly a year earlier—which, looking back, is ironic since she was the one dead set on going. 
Not that I wouldn’t have loved to go…anywhere, especially New York, if I could have gone on my own and just wandered, searching for the places I’d read about in books. But I didn’t like hanging out with big groups of kids at home, so why would I want to hang out with them in New York? And, believe me, two days of lockstep sightseeing once we got there didn’t change my mind about that. Not to mention our tour guide talking us senseless, determined to tell us every single thing she knew.

It's to be a more mature YA novel this week, Esteemed Reader (it's got F-bombs and N-bombs, so be warned), if that works for you. Barbara Shoup has long been on my to-be-read pile as there are only so many Indiana authors publishing young adult  and I like to read stories about my state I didn't write to see how it could be done better:) Next week we'll be chatting about It's A Wonderful Death by fellow Hoosier scribe Sara J. Schmitt. I've seen John Green around town, but haven't been able to ask him one question, let alone seven of them, and Kurt Vonnegut so rudely expired before I started this blog (though I did get to see him read), but otherwise I intend to feature as many Indiana authors as I can. It restores my faith in my state and makes up for the many adult Hoosiers who don't even have the good sense to appear properly ashamed when they tell me they don't read.

Looking for Jack Kerouac starts out in East Chicago, Indiana in 1960s, but naturally, it becomes a book about a road trip. What else can we expect from a book that invokes the author of On the Road and has classic cars on its cover? This is a trip you want to take, Esteemed Reader, and one I'm sorry to have finished so soon. I absolutely loved this book. I loved that it never condescends to its reader or attempts to patch a solution onto a situation for which there isn't one and I love that its honest and eloquent in its execution.

Paul Carpetti is in a period of transition many of us older readers will remember well. He's just graduated high school and now he's faced with the big question: what next? His mother has died just before the start of the novel and his girlfriend has moved to take her place as much as possible. She's got plans for Paul to be her husband and father of 2.5 kids with a home in the suburbs and all the rest of it. Paul simply needs to show up to work at his dead-end job, put his brain on autopilot, and everything will simply fall into place for him.

Naturally, it's time for him to get out of town. His reasons for needing a road adventure are myriad, but number one on his list is the love of a great novel, which makes him my kind of protagonist:

I wanted like Sal wanted, too—I didn’t even know what I wanted. I just wanted. Maybe everything. It was like an ache sometimes, that wanting. I never mentioned it. There wasn’t a single person in my life who’d have understood, even if I had been able to explain it—and I doubted I could. But lost in the pages of On the Road, I felt like…myself. Like the book knew who I was, knew what I wanted, and was speaking back to me somehow.

Actually, it Paul's new friend Duke Walczak I most identified with. He's got a head full of "dangerous" new ideas, the makings of a future alcoholic, and a dream of being a writer. Paul's girlfriend sees Duke for what he is from the start: trouble. The story is a bit hard on old Duke, and to be fair, he's cruising for a bruising, but I felt more of a kinship to Duke as he reminded me of a foolish young Ninja I once knew many years ago:) Duke's the one who learns Jack Kerouac is hiding out in Florida through an obituary listing and his motives in seeking out the great writer are far less altruistic than Paul's, though I personally found them more relatable:

“It’s all there, ready to be made into the Great American Novel,” he said. The main character, Duke himself, was going to be named Jack Bliss, he said—Jack, of course. I was in it, too. Rocco Minetti. 
“Rocco Minetti?” I said. “That’s idiotic. Jesus. Don’t name me that.” 
“Rocco Minetti,” Duke repeated, firmly. “My book. My characters. You’ll like it just fine when you get famous because of it. Like Kerouac’s buddies did.” 
“Yeah, right,” I said. 
“You think that won’t happen? Hey! Put your money on it, man. It’s been ‘mutely and beautifully and purely decided.’ What I’m going to write in those Big Chiefs, starting today, will make Jack Kerouac look like old news.” 
“If you think that, how come you’re so hot to find him?” I asked. 
“To pay homage, man,” he said, indignantly. “To stand before him and, you know, get his blessing to carry the torch.”

The fellas hitchhike their way south, along the way encountering interesting people such as a sexy mermaid (a performer in a tail, not Ariel) in a convertible sports car who likes to party. And there's another girl later in the book, who may or may not be of particular interest to our heroes, and a certain famous writer who may or may not put in an appearance, though it would be spoiling to tell. Given that his name is in the title, it would be sort of weird if Jack Kerouac didn't show up, but maybe it's just a weird book--I'm not going to spoil it:)

One of my favorite of Paul and Duke's many encounters is a trucker named Bud:

“You got a truck, you got a rolling motel room.” He gestured over his shoulder, to a built-in bed between the seat and the back window. 
“You’ll notice, the wife even made me up some nice throw pillows.” He winked. “I’m going to tell you something, boys: In addition to all its other benefits, trucking is the secret to a happy marriage.” 
“How’s that?” Duke asked. 
“Simple,” Bud said. “You’re gone a lot, you see the world. You romance the occasional lady who doesn’t expect anything but a nice steak dinner and a few drinks for a roll in the hay. So you come home and find out the wife’s gone overboard with the Sears Roebuck catalogue? It’s a small price to pay to dodge the nine-to-five grind, coming home to tuna casserole, whiny kids, and mowing the grass every Saturday morning. There’s damn good money in it, too—if you can put together enough to get your own rig.”

What a charming fella that Bud is:) But the boys don't buy it:

But when Bud dropped us at a truck stop a few miles south of Clarksville and pulled into the truckers’ parking lot to sleep, Duke shook his head and laughed. “Poor old Bud. He thinks he’s got it knocked, but he’s just kidding himself. His leash is just longer than most other guys’, that’s all.”

Looking for Jack Kerouac is a fascinating read and worthy of closer examination, which I intend to give it, the way I might re-watch a magic trick in slow motion to catch the magician at work. One of the things I like about Bud is even though I wasn't alive in the sixties, I've met him. I've heard a similar spiel from truckers. But I picked his passage in particular because I believe its an example of Barbara Shoup at work. 

Thematically, marriage is shown again and again throughout the novel as a force of coming unhappiness (better throw up an example), the likes of which I haven't encountered since Revolutionary Road:

I flipped the TV channels for a while, coming up with nothing but moronic shows that only housewives would watch, which reminded me of dinner at Kathy’s house the night before. Mrs. Benson falling all over herself re-filling my plate of meatloaf, making sure I was happy in every possible way in between nagging Mr. Benson to death about chores that, if you listened to her, had to be done ten seconds after dinner was over, or the whole house was going to fall down around us. The sheepish grin Mr. Benson cast my way when she wasn’t looking, as if to say get used to it, buddy, a few years from now this will be you.

Paul's reason for skipping town in the first place is to avoid being herded into marriage. As I read, I couldn't help but notice the absence of any strong female characters except the conniving girlfriend and the overall picture painted of females is not particularly positive until late in the novel. I found myself thinking of how the female writers in my critique group would come after me if I turned in such a manuscript, and here this book was written by not-a-dude:)

But as usual, I was missing the point and was later amused to find myself genuinely challenged by a clever story. After all, the world is presented to us from the limited perspective of one Paul Carpetti. Barbara Shoup may or may not be a marriage enthusiast, but Paul has reason to fear marriage and women. It was a woman who hurt him and he's so very, very angry:

I was done feeling guilty about having a little fun, I decided. Seriously. I was so frigging tired of doing the right thing. Where had it gotten me? Where did it get my mom? Or my dad, for that matter? He was nuts about Mom, he treated her like a queen, and all he got was a broken heart.

If you're the sort of reader who needs to be spoon fed, Looking for Jack Kerouac may not be for you. But if you yearn for a more adult story about a young adult coming of age, Barbara Shoup has crafted a rewarding tale I'm glad to have read and am looking forward to rereading. 

I should end my review there as it's really long, but I can't finish without commenting on Shoup's treatment of history. There's a bit of nostalgia for an era gone by--isn't that the fun part of reading a Jack-Kerouac-themed road trip novel? But it's tempered with an unblinking view of that world as it was:

“Y’all do not want to be hitchhiking down through Georgia at night,” he said. “Niggers around here have gone plumb crazy.” 
“I’m not afraid of Negroes,” Duke said, stressing the correct pronunciation. “I’ve got friends back home who are Negroes.” 
“This ain’t the North, son,” Darnell said. “I got nothing against them myself—and it ain’t so much them you got to worry about, anyway. You know what happened to them friendly white boys in Mississippi this summer, don’t you? You want to end up like that?” 
Duke shrugged. But I’d read about shootings and lynchings by the Klan and by the police, too, who were likely to assume that two guys obviously from the North, like Duke and me, had come down to cause trouble, as they saw it.

It would've been perhaps easier to give us the 1960s lite, but less honest. Kudos to Shoup for having the courage to report the facts, including the rebellious ideas that were brewing in the citizenry. Duke has his suspicions that the Gulf of Tonkin was "a big scam to crank things up over there" in Vietnam and he suspects that maybe, just maybe, Oswald had help executing our President. You know I'm a conspiracy nut, Esteemed Reader, and I've told you Duke is the character I liked most. But it's quite something to see those events through the eyes of someone who lived through them and knew his government was lying to him. It shapes a very different view of history than the one we're taught in schools. Thank goodness all of that happened in the distant past and in no way impacts our present life.

In conclusion, Looking for Jack Kerouac is a terrific book to be enjoyed by readers of all ages:) Find your way back here on Thursday to see Barbara Shoup face the 7 Questions, and if you happen to be in Indianapolis around Central Library on Saturday at 2:00pm, stop by to see her, me, and Shannon Alexander, among others. As always, I'll leave you with some of my favorite passages from Looking for Jack Kerouac:

You couldn’t be halfway married any more than you could be halfway dead.

“Yeah, I was scared. So what? Hemingway said courage is being scared and doing the right thing, anyway. Did you know that?” 

“Hemingway blew his brains out,” I said. “What kind of courage is that?”

I walked slowly, weaving a little, stopping to look in the window of a souvenir shop or listen to music drifting out from the other honkey-tonks. The bars were mostly set up like Tootsies, with a band in the front window. Framed by the open doorways, people writhed in the neon light, looking weirdly like the pictures of hell the nuns showed us in grade school to scare us straight.

“Jack Kerouac. The writer. He lives here, in St. Petersburg. Me and my buddy here, we’re looking for him.” 

“Writer. No, I don’t know any writers. G.D. Reds, most of them.”

A guy at a nearby table glanced up from the newspaper he was reading. Disheveled, unshaven, not quite clean, he looked a lot like the guys we’d seen in Morris Park the day before. There were others, too, their heads bent over books or newspapers, their dirty green army surplus duffels at their feet—and it occurred to me that whatever had deposited them in this place, rootless, without purpose, might have seemed like a grand adventure at the start

STANDARD DISCLAIMER: Book of the Week is simply the best book I happened to read in a given week. There are likely other books as good or better that I just didn’t happen to read that week. Also, all reviews here will be written to highlight a book’s positive qualities. It is my policy that if I don’t have something nice to say online, I won’t say anything at all (usually). I’ll leave you to discover the negative qualities of each week’s book on your own.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

GUEST POST: "Undeniably Real: An Author Realizes He Can Make a Difference" by Chris Minich

Over the summer, I was fortunate to speak with my target audience on a couple of occasions related to my first book as an author. There I was, in a room full of students, one class about to end the school year and another class participating in a summer reading program. The spotlight was on me and it was pretty scary.

Okay, the students varied from kindergarteners to second graders but I was nervous. See, a long time ago, I was a little lad just like them.

As a student similar in age to the classes I visited, I too had guest speakers come for visits. School was always very hard for me. My eyesight was poor at best and from the age of four, I’ve worn glasses. I always sat at the front of the class so I could see and keep pace with the teacher. Keeping pace was another problem; I had trouble concentrating and reading was especially difficult related to my eyes. I was six and very frustrated and didn’t understand why I couldn’t pick up things as fast as my classmates. Consequently, I fell behind in school. My first-grade teacher and parents made the decision to hold me back and re-take that first year of school.

I got older and school continued to get harder for me. School would always be tough. When I reached high school, I spent my freshmen year in entry-level classes because my placement scores were low coming out of junior high. I never felt dumb. I felt like something was wrong with me. High school is hard enough for an overweight kid with glasses to add additional feelings of insecurity.

Then something remarkable happened. During my junior year, my English class included creative writing. For the first time, something at school clicked. I was interested in what my teacher was presenting, and I got positive feedback from her related to my assignments. I didn’t know at the time, but that class cracked a door open for me. A door I would walk through many years later.

I got a job right out of high school and, except for some college, I’ve been working ever since. However, I never stopped writing. I still have many of my old Mead spiral notebooks from high school tucked away in the garage filled with poems for girlfriends I wish I'd had before meeting my wife or song lyrics to music that didn’t exist yet. That creative spark ignited in high school never went away. It was always there for me, if only just me.

Well, it turns out it wasn’t just for me after all. While I stood in front of those students talking about my journey from a shy boy in grade school with glasses to a now published author of a children’s book, all eyes were focused on yours truly. That realization wasn’t lost on me. Those students wanted to hear about the book. They wanted to hear about me. I sat with one class and read a chapter. I tried my best to engage with them and ask questions about the book, school, and what they want to be when they grow up. My visit ran long the first time, as I kept fielding questions. Turns out, I’m really great at engaging. I had the attention of the entire class. I don’t know how, but I did. One student said he wanted to be an author when he grows up. That statement still chokes me up a little bit, as I type this. I told him – and each of the classes – that they can do anything they set their minds to.

Someone recently asked me why I write middle-grade chapter books. I didn’t set out with that specific genre in mind. I set out to tell a story. I’m a writer, that’s what we like to do. I have always felt comfortable expressing myself through writing. It was my “safe” place to share my thoughts and feelings at a given point in my life. I didn’t even know if the book would be read outside of my immediate family and friends. To my surprise, it was.

Talking about the book with students opened a new avenue for me. The platform allowed me to share a story of laughter, challenges and importance of family with the young men and women of our future. Not only did I write a book for my wife and me, I wrote a book for children of all ages to enjoy. I wrote a book that parents can read with their kids. Wow, I wrote a book.

What now? Well, I’m currently in the editing process for my second book in the Sydney series. Yes, I now have a series, which hopefully means more school visits. Which means more opportunities to engage with students.

Growing up can be tough, I know, but kids don’t have to feel uncomfortable about reading or give up if they have trouble. Much like writing a book, it takes time, practice, and determination. I saw all of those traits emerge this summer. I look forward to seeing them again. Does this mean I’m on the path to public speaking? If it means sharing my story and letting kids know they can accomplish their dreams, I guess I am. Ooh, perhaps a talk show? Too soon? Okay, too soon but, as I told the kids, it’s good to have goals.

"Misadventures of Princess Sydney," published in 2014
"Misadventures of Princess Sydney: Have Parentals, Will Travel," coming in fall 2015

Chris Minich is a writer living in Snoqualmie Washington. He enjoys spending time with his wife and their two precocious dogs, Sydney and Buddy. Chris is also a die hard Seattle Seahawks fan.

To learn more about Chris Minich and "Misadventures of Princess Sydney":
Twitter: @cockapoosyd

Author pages:

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

GUEST POST: "Hybrid Publishing Middle Grade" by Glen Wood

What a journey it’s been so far!

The Brain Sucker began life a few years ago as a story called "The Manners Thief", which came about after I saw several young kids misbehaving in a supermarket. They were barrelling around the aisles, throwing packets of frozen peas in the air and almost knocked over several slow-moving pensioners. I thought to myself, it’s as if those kids have had the manners sucked out of them. 

From this germ of an idea came my story: an action-packed adventure about a warped genius who invents a machine to suck the manners out of kids. His plan is to turn all the children in the world into little horrors, creating chaos and promoting evil. Only Callum, a thirteen-year-old disabled boy with a very cool wheelchair, can stop him. To do so he’ll need the help of his two best friends, Sophie, an engineering genius and Jinx, the world’s unluckiest boy.

My agent sent the manuscript to Walker Books in Australia and they loved it. They were keen to publish the book but wanted the machine to suck more than just manners, they thought it should remove the children’s goodness as well. I thought this was a great idea and rewrote the story to incorporate their suggestion. Thus "The Manners Thief" became The Brain Sucker.

The book was published in 2012 with an initial release in Australia and New Zealand. It received great reviews and was very popular with readers, selling well in tough publishing times in a small market.

In 2014 The Brain Sucker was picked up by Walker Books head office in Britain and released in the UK. Along the way the book was also nominated for a Sakura Medal in Japan. I’m not sure how that happened, but it did.

Now, all I had to do was conquer the USA.

This has proved a little more difficult. Candlewick Press, the American division of Walker Books didn’t want to pick up the book. I was surprised as the story is universal and set in a fictional location but the answer remained no.

Oh well, I’d just have to do it myself then.

I asked Walker books to give me the publishing rights for the USA and Canada and they agreed. However, I needed to differentiate the book from the Australasian and UK versions so I re-edited with US spellings and asked a very talented friend of mine to develop a new cover for the book. Being technologically challenged, I struggled through many revisions of the manuscript before Create Space finally accepted one.

And this is where I am today. I’m writing for Middle Grade Ninja (great name by the way) to tell readers that my book The Brain Sucker is available for purchase through Amazon US and Canada. Now American kids can read about teen heroes Callum, Sophie and Jinx as they battle the dastardly Lester Smythe and his henchmen.

All that’s left is to work out how to get the books in school libraries and bookstores. How hard can that be?   

About The Brain Sucker –
The Brain Sucker is an action/adventure story for 9 to 12 year olds. It follows the adventures of Callum McCullock a disabled boy who enlists the help of his friends Sophie and Jinx to defeat evil genius Lester Smythe who has invented a vicious brain sucking machine and plans to use it to suck the goodness out of all the children in the world.

About Glenn Wood –
Glenn Wood is an award winning copywriter and author who has four published books to his credit. These include his popular autobiographical novels – The Laughing Policeman and Cop Out – and two middle school books The Brain Sucker and The Bully Chip

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

7 Questions For: Literary Agent Heather Flaherty

Heather Flaherty grew up in Massachusetts, between Boston and the Cape, and started working in New York City as a playwright during college. After much country hopping and some work in editorial, Heather became a YA and Children's Literary Scout, consulting with foreign publishers and Hollywood regarding what the next big book will be. Now as an Agent, she's thrilled to grow authors for that same success.

Currently, she's looking for authors of Middle-Grade and Young-Adult fiction. For YA, she's looking across all genres, and loves an excellent and authentic teen voice. For MG, she's looking for more realistic stories (either contemporary or period), about coping, coming-of-age, or situations seen through the eyes of a young person. She also represents select Adult fiction, as well as humor and pop-culture non-fiction.  

Follow her on twitter: @HeddaFlaherty.

For more information, check out my friends Natalie Aguirre and Casey McCormick's wonderful blog, Literary Rambles.

And now Heather Flaherty faces the 7 Questions:

Question One: What are your top three favorite books? 

JANE EYRE by Charlotte Bronte

Question Two: What are your top three favorite movies and television shows?  

The Goonies 
Game of Thrones
I can offer like a hundred more in both categories… and of course faves shift depending upon daily mood. #Important

Question Three: What are the qualities of your ideal client?  

Willing, Positive, Striver, Social, Sleeve-Roller-Upper
Funny. I like funny.
Interesting, my ideal client is also my ideal mate. :b

Question Four: What sort of project(s) would you most like to receive a query for?  

This changes, but right now I’d love some Middle-Grade, where something is witnessed through the childs pov. Whether that something is PTSD of a man in town that doesn’t fit in, or a family dynamic that’s becoming  struggle, what have you. Real life, but through the young persons pov.
I’m also craving some YA Contemporary, either high-stakes romance, or Issue-Driven Drama.

Question Five: What is your favorite thing about being an agent? What is your least favorite thing? 

Favorite thing: Bridging the gap between author and publisher – I love being in the middle, it gives me a feeling like I’m not missing out on something. Call it the scout in me.
Least Favorite: Getting so many queries that I have trouble responding quickly… I’m working on it everyone, I promise!

Question Six: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)

Work. You have to work to get this. It’s not a reclusive writer typing away in their wood-panelled country study anymore… especially not for YA and MG.
You have to work.
You have to work on your manuscript (review, rewrite, revise, relook, get a critique partner). You have to work to get an agent to read the manuscript (query, rewrite your query, do your research on the agent, be a part of the industry so you can meet them, or twitter with them). Then, you can be prepared to work even more – once an editor says yes. Edits (of course), but publicity, marketing, promoting, etc.
Then… then you can begin work on your next.

Question Seven: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

 Amy Schumer (she writes! not novels, but she writes!). The why? No need to answer that, right?

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

GUEST POST: "On Perseverance" by Miriam Spitzer Franklin

It all started with my dad. He was a chemical engineer who wrote plays in his spare time. I noticed the way he was lost in his own world when he sat at his typewriter wearing a cap, muttering the lines to himself and laughing out loud at his jokes. I watched in amazement as he sat at the kitchen table, acting out the different roles by moving around the salt and pepper shakers. Laughing, again.

I helped my dad make copies, dividing the pages into different piles. I went with him to the post office to mail off his scripts. I saw the look of pride on his face as he told the post office worker that his manuscript should be mailed at the Book Rate, as it was a professional piece of work. And I saw the look of disappointment when he found one of those self-addressed stamped envelopes in the mailbox, a "Dear Writer" letter inside.

Then I saw him sit down at the typewriter, cap perched firmly on his head, and start all over again.

My personal writing journey began with a creative writing class in college. I was encouraged by my professor and completed my first young adult novel, which won the creative writing award for the school. Boosted by my accomplishment, I sent off letters to agents after completing only a first draft, confident that someone would "love the authentic voice" the way the professors had. Rejections boomeranged back at me. I revised some, then got busy writing my second young adult novel.

Soon I accepted my first full-time teaching job, leaving only summer vacations for writing. Although I revised those first manuscripts a couple more times, I didn't get serious until a few years later when I wrote my first middle grade novel. I signed up for a critique at a SCBWI conference, and an author asked to read the rest of the manuscript and then referred me to her editor at Clarion. I sent the manuscript off in the mail with a self-addressed stamped envelope and received a revision request a few weeks later.

As you can imagine, I was jumping up and down with excitement. This editor sounded really enthusiastic and couldn't wait to see my revision! She was going to publish my book, I just knew it. I worked on the manuscript a little while, sent it off again, and this time it came back quickly with a brief rejection and a handwritten note saying the editor was moving to Random House. When I tried to send the revision to her at Random House, she said she was only accepting new manuscripts. I was sure I hit rock bottom then, but it was only the beginning of my long rejection-paved road on the way to publication.

It took another fifteen years before my debut novel, EXTRAORDINARY, was published. During those years, I discovered critique partners who pushed my writing to the next level and sent out hugs when I needed them, received a number of R&Rs from agents and editors, and began seriously learning about improving my craft. I began writing EXTRAORDINARY when my oldest daughter, Eliana, was still taking naps in the afternoon. Eliana is now in high school. While I thought about how to fix EXTRAORDINARY, I worked on 4 or 5 other novels.

In between, I'd go back to EXTRAORDINARY. The book went through so many revisions before signing with an agent that I was sure the next part of the submission process would be easy.  I thought, finally, it's going to happen for me! Then came years of submitting to editors and umpteen more revisions. The book of my heart that made it to the shelf barely resembles that first draft or the ones afterward that piled up countless rejections.

Yes, I almost quit. A million times. It was always the characters that pulled me back to my computer, to the story that I didn't want to give up on no matter how many rejections I collected.

Some people might wonder why I didn't self publish. After all, fifteen-plus years of writing and submitting is a long time. But I knew middle grade that has been called literary and "quiet" would never find its way to readers without the help of a traditional publisher. My book needed to be in bookstores where people might see the cover and pick it up, and it belonged in libraries and schools. Though I had my hopes dashed many times, deep down I'm really relieved that my earlier versions of EXTRAORDINARY and other manuscripts did not make it out into the world.

And my dad? When he passed away last year at age 90, he was still writing plays and sending off to screen agents, hoping he'd become rich and famous one day. Over the years, he placed in some play-writing contests, had a number of plays published, and received small royalty checks occasionally from some high school or air force base that performed one of his productions. He never considered himself a successful playwright, based on the goals he'd set for himself. But he'd made people laugh by watching his comedies, and he left behind the greatest gift possible: he was a role model to one of his daughters, who never gave up on her dream of publishing a novel.

Miriam Spitzer Franklin is a former elementary and middle school teacher who currently teaches homeschooled students and is a writer in residence with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. Extraordinary, her debut middle grade novel, was inspired by a niece who suffered a brain injury after a high fever led to a stroke. Miriam lives with her husband, two daughters, and two cats in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Last spring, Pansy chickened out on going to spring break camp, even though she’d promised her best friend, Anna, she’d go. It was just like when they went to get their hair cut for Locks of Love; only one of them walked out with a new hairstyle, and it wasn’t Pansy. But Pansy never got the chance to make it up to Anna. While at camp, Anna contracted meningitis and a dangerously high fever, and she hasn’t been the same since. Now all Pansy wants is her best friend back—not the silent girl in the wheelchair who has to go to a special school and who can’t do all the things Pansy used to chicken out of doing. So when Pansy discovers that Anna is getting a surgery that might cure her, Pansy realizes this is her chance—she’ll become the friend she always should have been. She’ll become the best friend Anna’s ever had—even if it means taking risks, trying new things (like those scary roller skates), and running herself ragged in the process.

Pansy’s chasing extraordinary, hoping she reaches it in time for her friend’s triumphant return.

"A moving novel…Franklin firmly grasps the climate and struggles among kids today. Her crystal-clear writing is filled with rich detail and believable characters." – Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Ten Provocative Summer Picks for Young Readers

Extraordinary is a tender coming of age story that exemplifies the meaning of friendship, and gently reminds the reader that we are capable of more than we think.”- Compass Book Rating, FIVE STARS

“A gentle story about two ten-year-old best friends divided by illness…readers will recognize that Pansy’s dedication to her friend is plenty extraordinary…” Publisher’s Weekly 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

7 Questions For: Literary Agent Alec Shane

Alec majored in English at Brown University, a degree he put to immediate use by moving to Los Angeles after graduation to become a professional stunt man. Realizing that he prefers books to breakaway glass, he moved to New York City in 2008 to pursue a career in publishing. Alec quickly found a home at Writers House Literary Agency, where he worked under Jodi Reamer and Amy Berkower on a large number of YA and Adult titles.  Alec is now aggressively building his own list. On the nonfiction side, Alec would love to see humor, biography, history (particularly military history), true crime, “guy” reads, and all things sports. In fiction: mystery, thriller, suspense, horror, historical fiction, literary fiction, and books geared toward young male readers (both YA and MG).  Not looking for: Romance (paranormal or otherwise), straight sci-fi, high fantasy, picture books, self-help, women’s fiction, food, travel memoir.
Twitter: @alecdshane

And now Alec Shane  faces the 7 Questions:

Question One: What are your top three favorite books?

Danny The Champion of the World by Roald Dahl, The Stand by Stephen King, Citizen Soldiers by Stephen Ambrose

Question Two: What are your top three favorite movies and television shows?

Movies: Rocky, Dumb and Dumber, Braveheart

TV: The Simpsons (seasons 3-8 mainly), Sons of Anarchy, Seinfeld

Question Three: What are the qualities of your ideal client?

My ideal client is one who, if I sat down and told him/her that I would never be able to sell a single thing that s/he wrote and nobody would ever read a word of any manuscript s/he produced, I'd still get fresh projects in my inbox without fail. My ideal clients aren't writing to make money; they are writing because they have to - because they love it.

Question Four: What sort of project(s) would you most like to receive a query for?

My first love will always be horror novels, and I'd love to find a great horror story that doesn't read like an 80s slasher flick or a SyFy Channel monster movie. The best horror tweaks reality just enough to make you wonder if maybe - just maybe - this kind of thing could really happen, which scares the bejeezus out of you. I'd love to see a novel like that.

I'm also on a huge WWII and Civil War kick, so any nonfiction projects that sheds some new light on those wars are welcome.

Question Five: What is your favorite thing about being an agent? What is your least favorite thing?

I get to read for a living - what beats that? I also get to roll up my sleeves and really dig into a manuscript that, if all goes well, will be on shelves and in homes giving readers a great experience - it's really cool to see something like that through, from beginning to end, and know that not only are you helping to build an author's career, but you are helping to create something tangible that could very well one day change the world. The possibility and potential there is enough to make me excited to get out of bed every morning.

In terms of least favorite thing - this job really cuts into the amount of time I have to read for pleasure; the bulk of the reading I do is work-related, and during those brief moments when I do carve out some time just to read for fun, there's a little voice in the back of my head saying "you have over 1,000 pages of work reading to do - why are you reading this right now??!!" So it becomes harder to sit down and just enjoy a book in the hammock the way I used to.

Question Six: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)

Writer what you want to write and what you're excited to write. Don't chase trends, don't write to sell books, don't write because you feel like you should...just write what you want to write. At the end of the day, nobody really has any idea what's going to sell and what isn't; all we can do is fall in love with great writing and a great story and try to get it out into the world. And your best chance as an author of making that happen is to write what you're passionate about.

Question Seven: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

Stephen King for sure - he's pretty much the reason I'm in this business, and I have a lot of questions for that guy. But mostly, I just want to wish him Long Days and Pleasant Nights.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

GUEST POST: "7 More Questions For: Author Hugh Howey"

WARNING: This post is a little more adult than most of the content of this blog. As 80% of my readership is composed of adult writers and publishing professionals, this warning only applies to the younger readers who find their way here. If you're mature enough to want to read this post, you're probably fine, but check with your parent or guardian first so they don't get ticked off at me:)

Today’s post is very special, Esteemed Reader, and it’s one of my most favorite posts in the history of the blog. If you’re not familiar with Hugh Howey’s work, what have you been doing with your time!?! Clearly not reading this blog as I never shut up about the guy:)  

If you really don't know anything about him, you should maybe start with Hugh Howey's original 7 Question Interview. Then maybe check out my review of Molly Fyde and the Parsona Rescue.You should definitely read Wool as it's a modern classic, although I think I like its sequel Shift even better and I, Zombie is my favorite of his books so far (naturally). Although, truth be told, I think I like his nonfiction writing at least as much as, possibly more than his fiction.

I made gratuitous references to Wool in All Right Now: A Short Zombie Story and in the acknowledgements of that book I wrote, "It was Hugh Howey's example of indie authorship that showed so many authors what was possible and I can think of no one who gives back to the indie world more. Heroes are hard to come by, but Hugh Howey is one."

I've never actually met Hugh in person, but he's had a far more significant impact on my life than many of the writers I have. It's dangerous to make heroes of humans as all of us have feet of clay and I'm aware he's just some dude in Florida who wrote some books, but that's what I like about him. This isn't blind admiration, which I'm a little old for, or even hero worship.

When I ran into the seemingly insurmountable obstacle of racist publishers rejecting my book and I felt like quitting writing altogether, Hugh's blog filled with revolutionary publishing advice (at least, for me at the time) was there. Here was a writer taking on the traditional publishing machine and winning. It's not just that Hugh says smart things on a regular basis, it's that he DOES smart things and leads by example. 

I don't want to be Hugh Howey (I get seasick in an hour, so living on a boat would not suit me) or even to be exactly like him. For better or worse, I'm me, Esteemed Reader, and you're you and Hugh's Hugh, so that's who's who:) But I learned early in life that one of the easiest ways to compensate for not being especially brilliant is to watch brilliant people, try and figure out what they're doing and why, then use that to improve what I'm doing. Why else do you think I've been collecting all these writer interviews over the years?

Fortunately for me, Hugh is currently publishing his Wayfinding series, which is literally his advice on how to live a better life. I've been hooked since the first volume and can't recommend these books strongly enough. Today is Middle Grade Ninja history as Hugh is about to become the first  author I've ever asked an additional 7 questions, and it all came about because I was pestering him to please, please publish more Wayfinding with a quickness.

I left organized religion behind more than a decade ago, yet each Wayfinding installment feels like a Bible study devotional--but with like facts and science and common sense and you're allowed to disagree:) I can read them with my coffee and spend my morning pondering some weighty issues in ways I haven't seen them presented elsewhere and I don't have to take any of it on faith because Hugh isn't using information I can't easily verify (such as divine inspiration). It should be noted that Wayfinding is far more respectful toward religion and individual beliefs than I'm being--it's a bad habit of mine.

The topics of each volume vary and though it's clear to me an argument is being built, I'm not sure exactly where Hugh's going and I'd be happy if this series were to continue on for years. I've read my share of self-help books and as a rule, I don't care for the genre. Wayfinding is different because Hugh states emphatically throughout that he might be wrong, so you know I and other Wayfinders aren't going to end up in a compound somewhere:) He's just giving his opinion on better living and even when I disagree with him, I feel my own outlook is enhanced by having at least considered his point of view. At a buck apiece, or free for Kindle Unlimited users, you owe it to yourself to try this series out. 

I've been eating healthier for a time and exercising more and though I started that before Wayfinding, I honestly feel the series has helped and my belt has tightened a couple notches as I've been reading, probably because I stopped eating movie theater popcorn. My word count is also up, which is good news for those of you Esteemed Readers who've been craving another nasty horror novel (details coming soon). The story is now partly about multiple character's inherent lack of willpower because Hugh focused my attention on the subject, which means he'll probably pop up in the acknowledgements.

Because I somehow routinely get really lucky when it comes to talking with famous writers online and because Hugh is so very gracious with his time, I was able to ask him some questions about writing and Wayfinding. Not only did he carve out time for me in less than 24 hours from my asking, he gave some of the most honest, genuine answers to questions I'm not entirely sure I had any business asking, but I did and it's my privilege to share the results with you now.

Enough preamble. Let's do this thing! 

And now Hugh Howey becomes the first author ever to face 7 More Questions:

Question One:You’re breathing rarified air in that your writing is widely praised and you appear to have achieved enough financial success that you don’t have to write anything more unless you choose to. You could sail away forever  now (please don’t), and Wool (if not your entire cannon) will still be considered to be on a level with Ender’s Game, Battlefield Earth, and other Sci-Fi classics, and will probably continue to generate substantial royalties forever. By many writers’ definition, “the dream” appears to have come true for you. Does it feel as good as you thought it would back when you started your first manuscript? What’s been the most surprising thing about your success? What’s been the most challenging thing?

It’s funny that you mention my not needing to write unless I choose to, because that’s been my stance from the day I started writing. For twenty years, I chose to write first chapters and then quit. About six years ago, I finally chose to finish a novel. Writing has been a choice ever since. I imagine I’ll keep writing until I physically can’t. It brings me so much joy, now that I know how to complete what I start.

My view of dreams and happiness is that both are realized through striving, not through having or achieving. You get used to your condition, within reason. Having a lot of money was never a goal of mine; I’ve lived simply throughout my success. Living on a sailboat means a lifestyle of frugality and going without many comforts. For me, the secret to staving off funks and depressions is to remain in a state of mild struggle. You need to have something to push against.

When I worked for billionaires in the yachting industry, I saw in some of them that life had stepped out of the way. There was no more resistance. Nothing to exercise the will. And so they slipped into an emotional coma of sorts, a silent flailing for something to do in order to have meaning in their lives. I worked for one guy who had more money than God, and he spent his days sitting at his kitchen counter, clicking through the internet. We all like to think, “I wouldn’t get like that,” but all the people who get like that said the same thing. We should be careful what we dream about, in my opinion. I took time to really appreciate and enjoy the years I spent roofing, and the years I spent pulling wire through home construction sites, and whatever I was doing while alive and sucking in a full breath.

Question Two: Despite your success, you continue to run an amazing blog where you share advice for writers, you co-run where you provide much needed market data for authors, and now you’re publishing the Wayfinding series with advice for readers to improve their lives. There’s no way you’re doing all this and not ticking off some “publishing professionals” and encountering online haters.  Assuming your appetite for money and fame have been satisfied, what motivates you to stay so busy when you can clearly afford a PS4 and a really big TV and save yourself the aggravation? Do you worry that you put yourself or your books at risk by being so outspoken about the publishing industry?

Sure, I’ve thought about the consequences of voicing my opinions. But to me, the private consequences of staying mum are far greater. I’m no expert on the things I blog about, but I have some experience in the industry from a lot of different angles (bookseller, reviewer, reader, writer, publisher, Big 5 author, small press author), and I think the more voices we have in the mix the better. Probably why I’m such a huge advocate for self-publishing. I also feel like my success requires passing something along. Others helped me out. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the advice of people like Joe Konrath, Kristine Rusch, Dean Wesley Smith, and so many more. Maybe I’m wrong in my opinions; if so, I hope people will point out where and how I’m wrong, so we can all learn.

Question Three: In Wayfinding, you discuss the infamous experiment in which rats were given levers that flooded their brains with dopamine and chose to press them repeatedly for pleasure, while ignoring food, drink, sleep, sex, children, and all else. You draw the metaphorical parallel that most of us have levers we press for immediate pleasure at the expense of our long-term well being. You give as examples your own previous addictions to cigarettes, porn, social media, and videogames. As a fellow recovered smoker, I’ve learned I can’t have even one cigarette without wanting the entire pack, but I can play an hour of a videogame after my work is done and then put it down. Do you find you have success enjoying your vices in moderation, or do you have to completely abstain? How do you know which type of vice is which? Do you find vices you’ve kicked being replaced with other vices, and if so, how do you deal with that? What’s been the hardest addiction cycle you’ve broken?

The toughest addiction cycle has been cigarettes, for sure. The only other drug I’ve ever tried is pot, which I’ve smoked twice. I’ve been drunk twice. The last time was back in high school. I’m a control freak, which is why I can’t stand feeling like those rats, pressing their levers for an easy rush. And maybe this is what I replace my vices with: The vice of too much control, or too much self-experimentation.

On my 23rd birthday, I went out with a girl on a first date, and we ended up back at the marina where I was living on a sailboat at the time. We had sex in the marina pool, and I asked myself what in the world I was doing. I went to a college with far more women than men, and so much of my time was spent hitting on or being hit on. Probably a normal amount, honestly, but to me it felt like my time was being misspent. Time that should've been spent reading and studying was being spent flirting. So I stopped having sex for three years. That was difficult. I dated some really nice people during this time, and they didn’t think I was for real, and they broke up with me over this decision, which I totally understood. What I was doing was strange. I think you can try to conquer vices in unhealthy ways. Moderation is key.

In fact, I think if you want to know what someone’s secret sin is, listen to what they rail about. Freud obviously had something for his mother. People (even Freud, who should’ve known better) make the mistake of thinking their secret is the same secret everyone else is keeping. But all our secrets are different. The pastor who rails against homosexuality is found with a man in a motel room. The politician who makes prostitution his number one priority is using taxpayer dollars to buy sex. Over and over we see that whatever someone is really wary about in others is something they are wrestling with themselves.

When I realized this years back, I realized that I’m no different. I’ve railed against extremism my entire life. For a while there, I was one of those angry atheists who made fun of religion. Or I would be extreme in my political views. The entire time, I went off on extremism. When I had this revelation about how we externalize our inner demons, I realized that I’m an extremist. Which is why I come down hard on those with the same issue.

This really softened my attitude toward things. I realized that I’m a lot like the very people I was acting out against. They were wrestling with the same things as me. I tried to see how many issues I could approach softly and see if my mind was capable of being changed. It was. It just took awareness of what was happening and a desire to not fall into traps like this. Part of being a control freak was to learn that it’s okay to feel deeply. It’s okay to open up to people. We don’t have to be perfect, and we don’t have to make the world agree with us.

As for determining which vice to embrace and which vice to abstain from, I search for regrets. Writing is a vice, but I never regret writing. Or reading. Or spending time with family. I was one of those obnoxious dog owners who would do anything for his pup. I never regretted that vice. I think it’s pretty simple to tell which ones are good for us and which ones aren’t. How do we feel in the hours after we’ve entertained those vices? Do we feel good about what we did? Do we wish we hadn’t? That’s the easy part. Changing our behaviors is hard. That’s what Wayfinding is all about.

Question Four: You’ve stated in Wayfinding that the sad truth is “the meaning of life is to survive, reproduce, and see that our offspring survive.” I’d say that’s pretty much air-tight:)  But supposing you, Hugh Howey, had the power to decide what the meaning  of life SHOULD be, what would you decree?

That certainly seems to be the biological meaning of life, where “life” refers to all of mother nature. As for the meaning of our individual, human lives, I think this is something we should arrive at through discourse and deep thought. I wish it was the sort of thing people enjoyed talking about at length. I geek out over questions of morality and ethics. We should have talking heads on TV debating Objective Moral Truth and questions of code of conduct. That would be awesome.

What would my meaning of life be? 42, obviously.

Okay, if I had to lock one meaning down, it would be to leave the world the best person you were capable of being, while spreading as much joy and illumination as possible, so that the pocket of air you passed through, and the land around you, and the people you touch, are all the better for you having existed. That would be my meaning of life.

Question Five: You’ve written, “the greater our cognitive dissonance, the more creative our rationalizations.” Presumably, no one is better at concocting rationalizations than a truly creative person. What’s been your most difficult self-induced rationalization to dispel?

This is without a doubt the most difficult question anyone has ever asked me in an interview. And it’s not even close. The answer to this question will be something I chase for the rest of my life. Because I rationalize so much. I do it all the time. I think we all do.

Probably the most difficult rationalizations that I’ve dispelled were my various excuses to continue smoking a pack a day when I knew it was going to kill me. I’d make up all kinds of creative stories to get my fix. It’s been over ten years now without a puff, and at least nine years without a single craving, but I’m still scared as hell of that feeling, where you’re like a zombie, watching yourself do something horrible, and making up excuses to keep doing it.

Question Six: You’ve said you’re nervous about publishing the Wayfinding books, as you probably should be.  In the Food and Fitness section, for example, you recommend embracing “being a little hungry” as this is a natural state for the human species that is not living in the same world for which our bodies have evolved. I thought this was a smart claim as it made sense to me, but it also terrified me for you at the reactions you’ve opened yourself up to. What is your biggest fear in publishing these books? What is it about these books that makes them worth overcoming that fear and opening yourself up to potential judgment and criticism?

My biggest fear is that I’m completely wrong in my advice and that I’ll do more harm than good. I don’t think this is the case, or else I wouldn’t be publishing the works. These techniques have helped me, and they’ve helped others that I’ve shared them with. I’ve told two people, only after they approached me and asked about my fitness, how I approach eating and exercise, and both of those people transformed their bodies and their health using these simple concepts. So I’m torn between sharing something I think is useful and the criticism that I’m no expert, so I should just shut the hell up.

What helped me publish these works is realizing that none of us are experts and all of us have something useful to share. As for the judgment and criticism, I get enough of both not to notice any more, and I get so much more love and kindness not to fret over the people with anger in their hearts. It’s true that our natural state is to allow a word of negativity wipe out a thousand words of positivity, but we don’t have to stay in our natural state. We can practice believing words of kindness more, learning how to accept praise with humility and openness, and how to see those with negativity with more pity and love than with fear and hate. It’s not easy, believe me. But practice helps. It is possible.

Question Seven: If someone were only ever going to read one of your books (which would be a mistake, but let’s suppose they’re moving to another planet after one last  read and they can’t take any books with them), which one book would you want them to read and why?

Right now, I’m going to say the BEACON 23 series. I don’t know if every reader will see what I’m trying to do with the work, as I’m not good at telling when I’m being heavy-handed vs. too subtle, but I really want to explore some serious universal truths in this series, and so far the writing process has been impactful for me. But maybe I’m always partial to the work I’m hip-deep into. Another candidate for this question would be I, ZOMBIE, which might be my best work to date. I purposefully made that book difficult to read, I think to hide all the autobiographical truths that are hidden in there that I wasn’t comfortable sharing.