Tuesday, February 23, 2016

7 Questions For: Author Andy Weir

ANDY WEIR was first hired as a programmer for a national laboratory at age fifteen and has been working as a software engineer ever since. He is also a lifelong space nerd and a devoted hobbyist of subjects like relativistic physics, orbital mechanics, and the history of manned spaceflight. The Martian is his first novel.

He was born and raised in California, the only child of an accelerator physicist father and an electrical-engineer mother who divorced when he was eight. Weir grew up reading classic science fiction such as the works of Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov. At the age of 15, he began working as a computer programmer for Sandia National Laboratories. He studied computer science at UC San Diego, although he did not graduate. He worked as a programmer for several software companies, including AOLPalm, MobileIron and Blizzard, where he worked on the video game Warcraft II.

And now Andy Weir faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

“Tunnel in the Sky” (Heinlein), “Caves of Steel” (Asimov), and “I, Robot” (Asimov)

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

I spend most of the day writing, and I work on weekend days, too. Not sure how many actual hours. I’ll guess about 50? I don’t read anywhere near as much as I’d like. It’s pretty much zero these days. It used to be an hour a day.

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

Originally the book was just a serial I posted a chapter at a time to my website. Once the book was done, people started requesting that I make an e-book version so they didn’t have to read it in a web browser. So I did and posted it to my site. Then other people emailed saying they want to read the e-book, but they aren’t technically savvy and don’t know how to download a file from the internet and put it on their e-reader. They requested I make a Kindle version they could just get through Amazon. So I did that as well. I set the price at Amazon’s minimum allowable price of $0.99. More people bought the book from Amazon than downloaded it for free from my website. Amazon has a truly amazing reach into the readership market.

The book sold very well and made its way up various top-seller lists on Amazon. That got the attention of Julian Pavia at Crown. He told his colleague David Fugate (a literary agent) about it. David ended up becoming my agent and Julian offered me a book deal. It was a whirlwind of activity because 20th Century Fox optioned the movie rights that same week.

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

I think anyone can become a writer. It’s like anything else: You do it long enough and you start to get good at it. In my case, I just kept writing stuff.

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

My favorite thing: Knowing that people are reading my stories and enjoying them. 

Least favorite thing: Plodding  forward when you’re unmotivated.

Question Two: 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)

1) You have to actually write. Daydreaming about the book you’re going to write someday isn’t writing. It’s daydreaming. Open your word processor and start writing.

2) Resist the urge to tell friends and family your story. I know it’s hard because you want to talk about it and they’re (sometimes) interested in hearing about it. But it satisfies your need for an audience, which diminishes your motivation to actually write it. Make a rule: The only way for anyone to ever hear about your stories is to read them.

3) This is the best time in history to self-publish. There’s no old-boy network between you and your readers. You can self-publish an ebook to major distributors (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc.) without any financial risk on your part.

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

Isaac Asimov. Just to experience how his mind works.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

GUEST POST: "Beginnings" by Virginia Zimmerman

Every part of writing is hard in its way. 

At the end of a project, saving the document and sending it to critique partners or an agent or editor is an act of bravery. In the middle, when characters don’t behave as we expect them to or plot holes yawn open like uncrossable chasms, writing can feel impossible. 

And beginnings… the blinking cursor on a blank page is an invitation and a promise, but also a threat – what if we’re not able to fill the space with story?

I am at the beginning of a new project. Sort of. 

The truth is projects don’t have firm beginnings. They evolve, slowly, imperceptibly. When did humans begin? It’s not an easy question to answer. When did books begin? With paintings on cave walls? With papyrus? With the printing press? 

When I visit schools to talk to kids about my novel The Rosemary Spell, someone always asks how long it took me to write the book, and I never know what to say. Did the book begin when I first had the sprout of an idea that grew into a theme or a story arc? Did it begin when I finally shaped the plot and the characters that are in the actual published book? 

The truth lies somewhere in between, but I can’t say where, because I don’t think I ever even knew I was there, at the beginning of something that would become a published novel.

So, I should say that I am ready to begin the writing part of a project that’s been germinating for some time. The cursor blinks. The page waits. But how do I start?

When in doubt, I turn to my writing notebook. This is a leather-bound notebook in which I brainstorm and free write. I take notes. I do writing exercises. And I do all of this by hand. 

The exercise of writing slowly, pen to paper, allows my thoughts to take shape. I will use my notebook to pick my way through my ideas until I find a place that feels solid. Once I’m there, I’ll start typing. It probably won’t be the actual beginning of the book. It will be a scene or a conversation. 

It will be a start.

Once there are words on the screen, it will be easier to move forward, bit by bit, into the middle, where I’ll stay for a long time. Eventually, I’ll click save and send, and then I’ll discover that while I wasn’t looking, the next project began, so I’ll sit down with my notebook and watch my handwriting unspool on the page. 

I’ll begin again.

Virginia Zimmerman grew up in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., though she was named for a great aunt, not for her state. When she was young, she enjoyed writing and talking to friends about books, so she decided to grow up into a person who could do those things all the time. She was an English major at Carleton College, and she went to graduate school in English at the University of Virginia. All together, she enjoyed twenty years of formal education, much of it focused on reading. 

When she finished school, she wasn't done reading, writing and talking to friends about books, so she became an English professor at Bucknell University. This means--and she still pinches herself to make sure this is real--she gets to read and write and talk about books for a living. Most of the classes she teaches are about British literature from the nineteenth century or children's fiction. She loves both.

Virginia also loves Catalunya, a beautiful region in the northeast corner of Spain. Her husband, Jordi, is part of a large and wonderful Catalan family, and, for twenty years, Virginia has been traveling with him to visit Barcelona and lots of picturesque villages in the mountains, the countryside and on the Mediterranean Sea. The family has become her own, and Catalunya has become her second home.

Virginia's first home is a two-hundred-year-old house in a small town on the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania, where she gets to read and write and talk about books with dear friends, inspiring students and beloved family. She lives with her husband, three children and little white dog.

Part mystery, part literary puzzle, part life-and-death quest, and chillingly magical, this novel has plenty of suspense for adventure fans and is a treat for readers who love books, words, and clues. Best friends Rosie and Adam find an old book with blank pages that fill with handwriting before their eyes. Something about this magical book has the power to make people vanish, even from memory. The power lies in a poem—a spell. When Adam's older sister, Shelby, disappears, they struggle to retain their memories of her as they race against time to bring her back from the void, risking their own lives in the process.

"Rosie makes a sweet but stubborn protagonist, and she approaches the disappearance of her friend with a sense of pragmatism that balances the more magical elements of the story, making this a compelling blend of mystery and fantasy." 
"The incorporation of Shakespearean references and poetry gives the story a more mature feel and balances the youthful earnestness of Rosie and Adam. The mystery and magic are subtle, but the little clues that pop up keep the story tense." 
School Library Journal 
* "Plays and lore of Shakespeare trickle through this expertly plotted novel, which will leaving lovers of—and newcomers to—the Bard wanting more." 
Publishers Weekly, starred review 
"Zimmerman provides a wonderful blend of literary puzzles, adventure, and musings over memory and identity." 
"[Zimmerman] deftly weaves the difficulty of loss into a tale of triumph, Rosemary's strength of character keeping her buoyed through the emotional tumult she must navigate to save her friend...A spellbinding story about friendship and the power of prose." 
“Avid middle-grade readers, Shakespeare buffs and poets will revel in Zimmerman's earnest and engaging exploration of memory and memory loss, loss in general, growing up, evolving friendships, and the joy and power of words.” 

Shelf Awareness

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

7 Questions For: Literary Agent Kim Lionetti

Note: Kim is interested primarily in young adult fiction, not middle grade.

After eight years at Berkley Publishing, Kim Lionetti left her position as Senior Editor to join BookEnds in March 2004. While there, Kim enjoyed overseeing an eclectic list comprised of romances, westerns, young adult, mysteries, nonfiction, and general fiction. While she's narrowed her focus a bit with the books she represents, she still enjoys using her editorial skills to help authors shape their work into more marketable products and helping them to see their writing as part of the "bigger picture."

Kim's obsession with books began in middle school when she was introduced to her grandmother's collection of gothic romances by Phyllis Whitney, Victoria Holt, and Mary Stewart. To this day, Kim harbors a soft spot for dark, tortured heroes, but also enjoys a good romantic comedy. A member of AAR, Kim is looking for fresh voices and compelling storytelling.

Originally from Pennsylvania, Kim currently resides in New Jersey with her son, daughter, cat, guinea pig, and very patient husband, who puts up with her crushes on Mr. Darcy, Eric Northman, blind dukes, and Ryan Gosling.

You can follow Kim  through Twitter at www.twitter.com/BookEndsKim.

Kim's areas of interest are women's fiction, historical and contemporary romance, cozy mysteries, and young adult fiction (except fantasy or sci-fi). She'd love to be invited to speak at a SCBWI chapter meeting or conference.

And now Kim Lionetti faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

It’s just impossible to pick only 3!  So I’m dreaming up 3 categories and my favorites in each…

Favorite classics:  JANE EYRE by Charlotte Bronte and anything Austen or Dickens (And not to cheat by jumping to the next question, but I also love any movie or mini-series adaptation of any of these!   I think Johnny Lee Miller as Knightley is my favorite!)

Nostalgic favorite:  SNOWFIRE by Phyllis Whitney — It launched my love of all gothic romances, which I shared with my mother and grandmother.  When I was in high school I wrote a letter to Phyllis Whitney and received a lovely response back.  I still have that letter.

More recent favorites: THE FIFTH WAVE by Rick Yancey, THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green and ME BEFORE YOU by Jojo Moyes

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

"The X-Files” — I’m so happy that Scully and Mulder are back (for now anyway)! I re-watched many, many of the old episodes in preparation for the new season and it just reminded me how brilliant it was.  The way their relationship was written and acted is unparalleled.

“Outlander” — So well done and unlike anything else on television.

“Notorious” — The Alfred Hitchcock film with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman.  I’m a sucker for almost anything Hitchcock and, well…. Cary Grant.

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

Honest, hard-working, open-minded, determined, professional, communicative — and talented, obviously!

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

Right now, I’m most eager to find a YA thriller that’s both suspenseful and emotional, and  women’s fiction that’s both moving and romantic (ala Jojo Moyes).

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

My favorite thing is helping authors realize their dreams.  I know that sounds corny, but it’s true.  I recently made a first sale for a new YA client.  I love her book so, so much. I was already on top of the world when I received the offer, but then when I was able to share the news with her, and listen to her reaction… it was awesome.  I was literally jumping up and down and crying happy tears that day.  Best feeling in the world.

My least favorite thing is having to nag editors.  I was an editor for over eight years so I know how busy they get, but now I understand the authors’ frustrations when waiting and waiting for answers.   Now that I’m on the other side of the fence, I need to nudge — a lot  to get responses.  I hate pestering, but it’s a necessary part of the job.

Question Two: 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)

Perseverance is probably the most important quality for any successful author.  I think what some writers don’t understand is that you don’t have to just persevere until you get published.  You have to be perseverant for the entirety of your career.  If that third book doesn’t take off, then you have to be just as determined as you were before you received your first publishing contract.  Be open-minded about how you’re going to build yourself a successful writing career.  That doesn’t mean you have to be a “sell-out”, but maybe there’s more than one way to get to where you want to be.  

Don’t ever give up.  But also, don’t ever think it’s going to be easy.  Being a writer is never going to be an easy job.  But as Phyllis Whitney wrote to me in her letter: “You write, because you HAVE to write.”  And it may be a hard, hard road, but it can also be so very rewarding.

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

Phyllis Whitney, but I’d want it to be a whole heavenly book club meeting.  I’d want my mom there and my late grandmother too, since most of my gothic romance collection belonged to her first.  My grandmother died when I was just 11 years old, but I still feel so connected to her when I hold those books in my hands.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

GUEST POST: "UGH! The Creative Process" by Margaret R. Chiavetta

I didn’t really get into creative writing until after college, when I worked on an island full of monkeys (sorry, I’m not explaining that any further). Most writers boast that they’ve been writing ever since they were kids. Well good for them! I’m sure they are seasoned veterans when it comes to the struggle that is the creative process. For me, however, suffering through such a tiring evolution didn’t start until the summer of 2012, right before I began my MFA at age 29. It wasn’t until my second year in the program that I discovered the carrot that got me to where I am now: 

I always keep trying, and as long as I do, give myself a break.

I didn’t begin actively working on my novel, The Alchemist’s Theorem, until the fall of 2013. It wasn’t even part of my thesis (a collection of nonfiction essays that I have lost interest in completely). Once I had set my mind to writing it, I was forced to figure out how to finish an entire book, something I had never done before.

Because the US government threw a ridiculous amount of pretend money at me (student loans), I got my own place that second year of grad school. It was a basement studio. Two obnoxious dogs lived above me and barked all the time. The wall next to my writing desk was shared with the bathroom of another studio. The man who lived there did not take good care of his bowels. But the biggest problem I had was the clingy, obsessive, unhealthy relationship I had with my beloved Xbox.

Early on, one of the dogs died, so things got quieter. I moved my desk to another wall in the apartment by a tiny window. I still occasionally heard my neighbor laughing at his own bathroom noises, but I was desensitized to it. And I finally set some boundaries with my inter-intelligence romance, and told my Xbox we could only see each other after 5:00 pm. These changes were all very helpful, but I didn’t exactly become a writing machine once they happened.

Years ago, when I began thinking about writing seriously, I did my research and asked questions of whomever would talk to me. People in the writing industry can be rather directive. I was constantly told I have to do this and I have to that, otherwise I shouldn’t bother. My knee-jerk reaction to these commands was always, “The hell I do!” I hate being told what to do. One of the directives I heard over and over was that I have to write at least 500 (sometimes it was 1000) words a day, no matter what, even if it was garbage. That one irritated me the most.

Between classes and my novel, I had plenty of good projects to work on, so I never stared at the wall with absolute blankness in my mind. I have endless universes in my head, enough to keep me busy for the rest of my life, so I am lucky in that regard. But I sucked at actually sitting down and putting words to the page. I told myself that yes I have to try and write every day. For the first couple of months there were many days where I didn’t write a single word, despite setting a goal each day. But instead of buckling under feelings of guilt, ineptitude, and despair, I gave myself a break, and said, “That’s OK. No big deal. Try again tomorrow.” As long as I was always trying, I didn’t worry about it.

I gradually began to have better days, writing more words more often. Eventually, I had great days where the words poured out of me. Because I kicked my addiction to my Xbox, I needed to be addicted to something, and due to those great days, I became addicted to writing. Over time, I got used to sitting down and writing for the joy of it, but it certainly didn’t happen naturally or overnight.

I still don’t write every day. What I do though is set broad deadlines, and I give myself the room to write in my own time in my own way. I use my strengths in my writing process. I love completing tasks. “To Do” lists are my favorite tool. It feels so good to check things off my list. I also love to multi-task, so I let myself jump around from one project to the next (so I don’t lose interest). And sleep is so important to me. That’s why I let myself wake up naturally, which is anywhere from 9-11:00 am (sometimes I wake up at 8:30 am, like a grownup). All of these things take the pressure off and let me enjoy the writing process. Sometimes I’ll go too long without writing, and that’s when I stop giving myself a break and I start getting on my case.

The most important thing I learned, though, was this: I don’t have to listen to other people, but I do have to practice my craft in order to get better, and what’s key is that I do it in a way that suits me best. What works for me won’t work for everyone. I think the creative process is all about the individual. Other people's’ directives don’t necessarily account for individual differences. So I say ignore them, and figure out what works best for you.

I finished The Alchemist’s Theorem: Sir Duffy’s Promise last August (2015), and ran a successful Kickstarter campaign. The rave reviews have been coming in from both readers and reviewers. I couldn’t be happier with the way this book turned out. It’s now available in print and digital ($2.99) forms via Amazon or The Seattle Book Company, and it can be ordered wholesale through Ingram and Baker & Taylor. This is the first book of a series, and I am currently working away on the next. I hope you enjoy the adventure!

Margaret Chiavetta graduated from the University at Buffalo in 2005 with her BA degree in Anthropology. Afterward, she moved to Puerto Rico for a year where she spent the hot humid days following around free-range rhesus macaque monkeys. When the study finished, she went from one monkey job to the next, moving up and down the east coast for several years. Then she attempted a primatology graduate program in London, England, but soon developed an allergy to academia. Margaret dropped out and returned to the US and eventually went on to get her MFA in creative writing, graduating from the University of Washington Bothell in 2014. She lives in Seattle.

This epic fantasy novel for middle grade readers has fun potion-making, faithful animal friends, and fantastical adventures.

Mendel, an eccentric boy with an autistic nature, and the master alchemist Sir Duffy set out on a series of quests with their many weird and endearing creature companions like Esther the snake-ish gusselsnuff, and Gooder the fat, lazy, carnivorous horse. These determined travelers must venture across the continent of Terra Copia, an exotic land where the plants and animals in one forest are completely different from the next. It is up to them to safeguard secrets and dangerous artifacts from many enemies such as agents from the Academy of Advanced Disciplines, venomous pixies, and a mysterious pale stranger. If they fail, a terrifying curse will return to their land. 

"Chiavetta employs a gale-force imagination in conjuring her alchemical realm... While immersed in this crowd-pleasing adventure, young readers should marvel at Chiavetta’s Alice in Wonderland vibe, and adults should appreciate the sweeping mythos.” —Kirkus Reviews

“The detailed botanical specimens and creatures of the “canny class” were very imaginative and well thought out… I thought the book a worthwhile read, and I would recommend it to those looking for a fantasy story set in a different world.”—Middle Shelf Magazine

"The strongest part of Chiavetta’s work is the world building: the world of Terra Copia is an interesting and thoroughly magical landscape to read about.” —BestFantasyBooks.com

"Chiavetta avoids showing autism as either an entirely crippling illness or a special gift in and of itself. Mendel has autism and he has to learn ways of coping with the world . . . It becomes one aspect of who he is, not the sole defining quality of an inquisitive and inventive young man.” —Fangirlnation