Not Again

Maria Henriksen headshot

Innocence meets tragedy and romance meets conviction in Maria T. Henriksen’s new novel, Not Again. This faith-based YA page-turner is set in the 1980s and will not only resonate with today’s teens dealing with seemingly insurmountable challenges but also with middle-aged women who weathered similar storms in their youth and, despite scars, emerged with a deeper understanding of their own beliefs and strengths.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

Q: Tell us about your journey as a writer and who/what inspired you to try your hand at a novel.

A: Ever since I was in third grade I wanted to write. My teacher showed the class laminated books that previous students wrote and illustrated. I couldn’t resist the urge to create something original myself, so I wrote and illustrated books and comic strips. The desire to create a story or artwork never left. No matter what job or stage of my life I was in, I found myself involved in some creative process whether it was taking photographs or scrapbooking. I even got excited when a professor in college assigned a huge term paper. I cheered while everyone else groaned.

Q: You describe Not Again as a YA edgy Christian romance. That’s quite a mix of genres! What’s the story behind its development?

A: I wanted to write what I liked to read and at the time it was convenient for me to read young adult novels since I had access to them as a substitute teacher. However, those novels lacked the kind of romance that I like to read to about, so I incorporated romance as part of the driving force behind the main character’s transformation. The edgy part is where it gets sticky, perhaps controversial. My novel is realistic to the point that the descriptions make you feel like you’re experiencing life along with the main character and it tackles real life issues. I make no apologies about that and many have found my writing to be gripping.

Teens today are exposed to all kinds of things online and in real life. Ignoring these realities doesn’t make it go away. Instead, my intent is to address these issues head on, all of it, including the good, the bad and the ugly. Not Again offers alternate ways to approach these real challenges. The novel was God inspired and through the obedience to Christ, Not Again has the potential to transform many lives.

Q: What types of books were you reading when you were the same age as your heroine?

A: I was not fond of reading at all when I was a teenager. In fact, almost any kind of reading made me fall asleep. It was especially embarrassing my freshman year in high school when I was too tired from reading the long questions and even longer multiple-choice answers that I fell asleep and awoke with drool on my arm.There was one time, however, that I did read for leisure. I was enthralled by the novel, The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton and to this day it is one of my favorite books.

Q: What governed your decision to set the plot in the 1980s rather than the present day?

A: The 80s was such a simpler time. There weren’t any distractions as there are today like cell phones, the internet, social media… Also, I was a teenager back then and was able to channel my experiences, thoughts and feelings of that time and use them as a springboard to create an original story line.

Q: What are some of the themes you tackle in Not Again and how will these resonate with today’s teens?

A: As an educator, it is important to me to incorporate teachable moments in a relatable and entertaining manner. Being exposed to teens every day, I witness first-hand how they deal with the same centuries-old topics such as bullying, self-image, friendship, romance, conviction, faith, courage, trust. These are some of the topics that are addressed in Not Again and it approaches each of them in a positive, refreshing and sometimes witty manner.

Q: In what ways are you similar to your main character, Christina? In what ways are you different?

A: Christina is kind of my alter-ego, but she’s prettier, taller, thinner, smarter, more athletic and more talented. You get the picture.

Q: If Hollywood came calling for a movie or television series, who would comprise your dream cast?

A: This cast of characters is based on the age of each actor’s performance in said production.

Christina De Rosa – Victoria Justice (Tori Vega in Victorious)

Avery Evans – Zac Efron (Troy Bolton in High School Musical)

Katie – Peyton List (Emma Ross in Jessie)

Morgan Ricci – Bella Thorne (CeCe Jones in Shake It UP)

Paul Martin ­­– Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy in Harry Potter)

Joey – Noah Centineo (Peter in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before)

Mindy – Camilla Mendes (Veronica Lodge in Riverdale)

Miss Brenda – Octavia Spencer (The Help, Hidden Figures, The Shack)

Q: Many of today’s authors are going the way of self-publishing. Was this your original intent with Not Again or had you tried the agent/traditional publisher route first?

A: Traditional publishing never appealed to me. With the advent of self-publishing, writers have control over every aspect of their writing. It’s not that I’m a control freak by any means. However, having the freedom to create my own cover with photos that I took is very rewarding. I even wrote the song and took the photographs and video that are featured in my book trailer.

Q: What have you learned about self-publishing that you didn’t know when you started?

A: I didn’t realize how challenging, technical and involved self-publishing is. As a self-published author you either need to figure out how to do something or farm it out. Paying someone to do aspects of publishing is very costly. It can be expensive if you do certain aspects yourself too because you need equipment, software, training. I find all of that to be very overwhelming. Nonetheless, I forged through and was able to produce a quality product.

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: As much as I treasure my time alone weaving stories, I thrive on interacting with people and getting to know them on a deeper level.

Q: What brings you the most joy about writing and publishing?

A: I absolutely loved writing my novel. Being able to put in writing what is playing around in my brain is extremely rewarding. As far as the publishing part, to be able to say that I’m a published author is very satisfying. My greatest joy is yet to be realized. I look forward to the day when a person’s life is forever transformed from reading Not Again.

Q: And the most stress?

A: The amount of work that is involved in writing and publishing is very stressful. It’s never ending, overwhelming, and costs a ton of money. Also, it’s very challenging to find competent, reliable persons of integrity to perform services that you can’t do or don’t want to do.

Q: Best advice to an aspiring author?

A: Be prepared to spend an exorbitant amount of time and money on your work. If you aren’t willing to make that commitment, then don’t even bother. You should be consistent, disciplined and willing to learn and do more than you would ever fathom. Always get referrals if you are outsourcing a task and follow a certain protocol to make sure you are compatible with your service providers. Even though I did that, I still had more than my share of grievances that continue to plague me to this very day.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I plan on developing an ecommerce website where you can purchase an autographed copy of Not Again along with themed accessories and swag as well as complete my sequel to Not Again.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: I start my day off by posting morning blessings or inspirational posts on social media; FB, Instagram and Twitter. Reading the scriptures and looking at the accompanied pictures fills the spirit. For inspirational and Christian content, you’re welcome to follow me. It’s a great way to start the day! Your support is greatly appreciated. Here are my social media links.

https://www.facebook.com/PurpleNchocolate/

https://www.instagram.com/maria_t_henriksen/

https://twitter.com/mariathenriksen

https://www.mariathenriksen.com

I started a fabulous FB group. It’s my way of giving back to the writing and Christian communities. We feature Motivation Monday, Transformational Tuesday, Wellness Wednesday, Thankful Thursday, Funny Friday, Sovereign Saturday, Scripture Sunday, heartfelt topics and so much more! I would love for you to be a part of this warm, caring community. If you would like to be a member of this amazing group, check it out at www.facebook.com/groups/292254218386413. Traditionally, my monthly blog/newsletter featured photos and stories written by me about my life or loved ones or as they relate to my novel. Moving forward, I will be mixing it up by showcasing authors and their writings as well as having guest writers contribute to the blog.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I have yet to find my target niche – teens.

These are teens who:

1.) are believers in Christ

2.) once followed the straight and narrow path but went astray

3.) are searching for a meaningful way of life that speaks to them on a level beyond their understanding.

With the support of my readers, friends and fellow authors, I hope to find these teens and help to enrich their lives. Let’s make this world a better place one reader at a time!

 

 

 

A Chat With Hope Bolinger

BLAZE Cover.jpg

When I was in high school in the 1960s (even though I only claim to be 35), I used to think that teenagers had an inordinate amount of “stuff” on their plates. In retrospect, I’ve come to appreciate that such stuff is really not much different from what any other younger generation endured (i.e., peer pressure, self-esteem, unreasonable parentals, exam anxieties, and trying to strike a balance between fitting in and being unique). The difference with today’s generation, however, has been the dark impact technology has had on fostering unrealistic comparisons, exposing embarrassing secrets through social media and magnifying one’s sense of helplessness in a world that, for all intents and purposes, appears to have gone insane.

Author and savvy young literary agent Hope Bolinger clearly has a finger on the pulse of YA fears, dreams and sensibilities and effectively taps that expertise for Blaze, the first book in a new series about navigating the scary road to adulthood.

Interview: Christina Hamlett

**********

Q: When did you first know that being a published author was your true calling?

A: I started writing novels in high school because my best friend wrote them, but when my AP Literature teacher pulled me into her office, reviewing one of my papers, and said, “Obviously you can write well,” I thought, Maybe I could do something with this.

Q: Who or what has had the most influence on guiding your career?

A: That’s such a hard question. I can’t say one particular person alone shaped me. So many writing mentors and friends throughout the years propelled me to where I have landed today. If I listed all the names of everyone who helped me get here, it would probably take the entire interview.

Q: New writers often lament that they have trouble coming up with ideas and yet an abundance of “recyclable” material already exists in Shakespeare, mythology, folk tales and the Bible. As was your own case in developing the “Daniel” series, what is it about timeless themes that make them such a wellspring of inspiration for modern/updated spins?

A: Great question. It’s true nothing’s new under the sun. I saw a lot of parallels between the life of Daniel and the life of the average American teenager. We get forced into a Babylon of sorts (the school system) and have to outshine our classmates in fierce competition and eliminate any trace of our identity. The characters did develop on their own apart from their historical counterparts, but I loved the idea of a revamped Daniel for the modern times. Some inspiration was pulled from Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love, a revamped version of Hosea and Gomer.

Q: Of the four main characters in Blaze, which one would you most like to spend an afternoon with (and why)?

A: Oh, without a doubt, Hannah. She’s weird, morbid, and wonderful, and she’d have so many wild shenanigans planned for that afternoon.

Q: Which of these characters is the most/least like you in terms of personality traits, aspirations, fears and beliefs?

A: It’s funny. Technically all of them, but when I made a test for my launch party, “Which Character from Blaze are You?” I got Michelle.

I can see it. We both love tennis, journalism, and theater, and we want to look out for our friends. I think I have more of Rayah’s timid personality, so I won’t speak my mind as much as Michelle, but I have her same tenacity.

As for fears, I often approach the situation more like Danny, cracking jokes but battling severe stomach pain.

Q: What are some of the hard themes you tackle in the Blaze trilogy and why do you believe they resonate with today’s teens?

A: Oh dear, I leave no stone unturned in this series. I’ll break it down by book:

Blaze (2019): Mental health, terrible administrations, poorly run school systems, divorce, severe academic expectations, blurring or eradicating of personal identities. Teens deal with all of these. Even the nicest high schools can tend to have a few bad eggs running things. They have way too much unnecessary stress placed upon them.

Den (2020): Suicide, teen pregnancy, school shootings, sexual assault, mental health. All of these have hit hard in the past few years, especially close to home.

Vision (TBD): Mental health, problems with the medical care system in America and those most vulnerable in it, and spiritual warfare. Without giving away too much, I’ve had friends in their teens severely mistreated by the medical care system in the past few years but are too afraid to speak up because they won’t be believed or will end up in terrible situations they tried to get out of.

Can you tell I take mental health seriously? I love that teen books now plan to confront this topic, but back in high school when I needed characters who looked like me, I couldn’t find them anywhere.

Q: “Great things,” wrote an unknown author, “never came from comfort zones.” In your own experience, have you ever dreaded a major change and then discovered it was the best thing ever to happen?

A: Oh, always. I hate change. I feel often like Sheldon Cooper from Big Bang Theory. The slightest shift in routine can set me off. But in publishing, and in life, you can’t excel without massive change and without stretching yourself far beyond your comfort zone.

Q: How did you get a traditional publishing contract?

A: Oh dear, let me try to truncate this in bullet points.

  • Started writing books in 2013 in high school
  • Tried querying agents in 2014
  • Self-published my first book in 2015
  • Went to Taylor University in 2015
  • Went to a writer’s conference based on exceling well in one of my writing classes at Taylor and pitched an agent in 2016
  • The agent ended up rejecting me a few months later
  • 2016-2017 interned for that agent
  • In 2017 that agent encouraged me to pitch another agent at his agency. I did so and got a contract.
  • That summer I wrote Blaze while my parents split.
  • That fall, I pitched it to the editor of LPC at a conference.
  • After multiple rounds of editing back and forth, the pub board finally accepted it spring of 2018.

Q: There are certain challenges inherent in penning a series vs. a standalone title, not the least of which is the risk of repetition in order to keep new readers on the same page as those who are already familiar with characters and scenarios from the preceding books. How have you handled this?

A: I try to write each book as if it can stand alone. If someone dives into book two or three in the series, I don’t want them to feel the normal disorientation you can encounter in some other series.

I think my biggest fear in a series is I want to do better each book. I’ve read so many trilogies where I couldn’t even finish the third book because I could tell the author put in only a small percentage of effort in succeeding titles, as opposed to book one. I want to keep things as fresh as possible, while maintaining the same foreboding tone throughout the series.

Q: Your career currently encompasses that of literary agent, author and other industry-related jobs. Which “hat” is your favorite and how do you strike a balance to ensure you’re delivering quality time and attention to each one?

A: Ooooh, so good. Can I cheat and say all of them? I will anyway. All of them. I wouldn’t do anything else. I strike the balance in a number of ways. First, I maintain specific work hours for agenting. Past those hours, I write. That way I can maintain boundaries and still give my clients the attention they deserve for their books.

Q: What’s the most common misconception people have about writing books?

A: Wow. I’ve written entire blog posts about this. I’ll do three common misconceptions.

  • One: Book writers are just lazy and sit around all day and write. Umm, no. We market, edit, go to conferences, go to speaking engagements, send out thousands of emails, ping reviewers, etc. We honestly only write a small percentage of the time.
  • Two: People write books during free time. No. Free time doesn’t exist. You force yourself to make room in your schedule.
  • Three: Publishers, libraries, all book people want to read it after you finish it, especially if you have an agent. It takes years, and you still deal with a ton of rejections before you can get a contract, if you get one.

Q: What are your thoughts on self-publishing vs. traditional?

A: Both are viable options. It depends on how much marketing you are willing to do, and how much time you would be willing to wait. Traditional publishing takes years. I had a writer pitch to me at a conference the other day, saying, “If you pick up this book, I want it published next year.”

I scrunched my eyebrows. “Ma’am, it takes two years minimum.”

I’ve seen authors do well in both. You just have to work at both like crazy. Neither is the “easier” option.

Q: Where do you see the publishing industry going in the next 10 years?

A: Well, I see it going in a platform route. Only those with the largest followings will get book contracts.

I can also see other types of books hitting the market. I’m wondering if apps like Hooked (text-message based stories) will start to go for long-form content. And audiobooks will continue to grow in popularity.

But who honestly can say? Things trending in this year won’t next year. No one can really predict what will happen.

Q: How can authors get an agent like yourself?

A: Best way? Meet me at a conference. I will most likely take more time on your submission if you met me in person. Second best way? If I like your pitch on a Twitter pitch party. Third best way? Follow my submissions guidelines here: https://www.hopebolinger.com/instructions

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: I don’t sleep to alarms. I haven’t since first grade. During then, I discovered my pineal gland would wake me up ten minutes prior to my alarm every morning. I decided to test out my internal alarm clock and haven’t woken to any beeping noises since.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Writers, please keep writing. I know the industry gets discouraging. At least once a week I text my agent friend Alyssa and ask some variation of, “Can I die/give up now?” And she always responds, “If you do, I do.” So, of course, I have to keep going.

Know, even after you get published, imposter syndrome still lurks around and you never truly get over it. If I still get discouraged and keep going, so can you.

 

 

 

Ghost Grandma

Ghost Grandma cover

Right before the start of her sophomore year, Brett O’Brien is visited by the ghost of her grandmother. The only issue? No one seems to believe her except for her best friend. In her captivating book Ghost Grandma, author S. Kay Murphy leads us through a young girl’s struggle to find her place in the world after the death of her beloved grandmother.

Interviewer: Sophie Lin

**********

 Q: What inspired you to write Ghost Grandma?

A: To be honest, the premise came to me as I was walking through the halls of the high school where I was teaching at the time. No doubt I was ruminating on two things: Visitations from those who have passed over plus the way high school students often treat each other. At times, it feels like a war zone, with everyone at odds with everyone else.

Q: Is there anyone in your life that you based Brett off of?

A: Brett is absolutely the girl I was at 14 or 15, only she is the new and improved version, the one who is braver and stronger and has better hair.

Q: Do you have a rigid writing schedule or do you write whenever an idea comes to you?

A: Both. I wrote Ghost Grandma in 30 days. True story. I participated in the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) challenge of writing 50,000 words in 30 days, and I did it, much to my surprise. Of course, during that month, I still had to go to work every day, so I wrote 800 words in the morning before I went to work and 800 more at night after dinner, sometimes falling asleep at the keyboard. I knew the premise when I started, but had no idea where the story would take me. It was one of the most fun and most exhausting projects I’ve ever indulged in.

Having said that… I am now retired from teaching, so I have plenty of time to write. But I also have plenty of time to go out and play—go hiking or exploring, ride my bike, have lunch with friends, see a movie—so it has been hard for me to be as disciplined as I should be. But I’m working on that.

 Q: How would you describe your writing process?

A: What works best for me is this: When I’m working on a particular project, I’ll spend some time—30 minutes to an hour—composing. Then I get up, walk around, make more tea, take the dog out or pet the cat. In that time, I generally edit in my head. (I love to write poems this way, and when I do, I’ll write them out in longhand, leaving the notepad on my desk so I can swing by as I’m putting in a load of laundry and change a word or a phrase.) When I go back to what I’ve written, I’ll spend a few minutes making those minor changes, then move on. In the early days of my writing, every paragraph had to be perfect before I moved on. Books don’t get written that way. It’s important to get the narrative down while you’re still excited about the project. Editing is satisfying to me, so I don’t mind doing it. Ghost Grandma went through at least six drafts before I felt it was ready for publication.

 Q: Do you believe in ghosts and/or the supernatural? If so, have you ever had any supernatural encounters?

A: It is possible that I have had supernatural encounters. It is also possible that my experiences can be easily explained away. One of the reasons I wanted to put Ghost Grandma out there was to get young people thinking about what they believe regarding those who have crossed over. In my own spirituality, there is definitely a place for signs and messages from those who have passed. Part of my daily meditation is talking to my deceased loved ones. If that sounds all creepy and séance-y, it’s really just me saying, “Mom, Dad, Aunties, Uncles, good morning. Help me to remember that extending love and kindness to others is the most important thing I can do today.” I definitely feel guided by them at times. One of my best friends is a medium, so we’ve had some pretty fascinating conversations about all of this.

Q: What’s your favorite part about writing?

A: I love having done it. Sometimes, sitting down and beginning a project is absolutely terrifying. When I sat down to begin writing my memoir about my great-grandmother (who has been accused of being a serial killer), I was literally trembling. I wanted that book (The Tainted Legacy of Bertha Gifford) to be perfect because so much was riding on it—I wanted to bring the truth to light and bring closure to my mother (Bertha’s granddaughter). When I finally finished the book, I sat at my desk and sobbed. The same was true for The Dogs Who Saved Me. When we put heart and soul into creating truth and beauty with words, it is a humbling, mystifying, spiritual relief to have the project completed.

Q: What would be your advice for dealing with bullies like Brittany and Jason?

A: In the vast majority of cases, I would say that the best action taken against bullies is to ignore them. It’s also the most difficult. Part of us always wants to fight back, to make a snarky or rude comment, even if it’s behind the person’s back. But we rarely know what other people are going through in their personal lives. Both Brittany and Jason are based on students I actually taught. Brittany started a fight in my classroom in which another girl was badly injured. But in her senior year, she stopped by to thank me for my patience with her. I was never angry with her. I understood that she felt, as I have mentioned previously, that she was in a war zone. She acted accordingly. Sometimes bullies just need to get to the point in life at which they can love themselves. In Jason’s case, he was truly a bad dude, and once I met his angry, abusive father, I understood why. With a bully like that, my advice would be to stay as far away from him as possible.

 Q: What’s different about writing a coming-of-age novel like Ghost Grandma and writing a book like Tainted Legacy?

A: Oh, that is a really great question. In writing Ghost Grandma, I could rely solely on my imagination for the narrative. Fun! Except when I couldn’t for the life of me think of what should happen next. That was grueling—especially since I couldn’t just wait for inspiration, since I had to get my word count in every day. With Tainted Legacy, the fun came in doing the research. There were times when the truth I overturned made me feel absolutely surreal, as if I were living inside a novel. While in Missouri doing research, I kept calling my best friend back home in California to tell her everything, and I would often add, “I swear, I’m not making this up!” Of course, getting down to actually writing the memoir and formulating some sort of chronological coherence was challenging, as I was telling both my story and Bertha’s as well, so the process was completely different, but nonetheless equally satisfying.

Q: Who’s your biggest inspiration to write?

A: Harry Cauley, author of the award-winning novel, Bridie and Finn, said something in a writer’s group 20 years ago that has been my mantra ever since: “Writing is the loneliest work you’ll ever do.” Isn’t that just spot on? One of the reasons writers have a difficult time being disciplined—especially nowadays—is that once we sit down and begin, we know (at least subconsciously) that we are retreating from the world to be absolutely alone for a time, and that is a frightening prospect. It’s much more pleasant to scroll through Twitter to find out what’s happening in the world or Instagram to see yet another adorable dog or cat photo or Facebook to say hi to family members and beloved friends. Doing all those things makes me feel less alone in the world, and I live alone (except for Purrl and Thomas, my cat and dog), so I spend a great deal of my day by myself. I adore social media. But I have to make myself back out of that rabbit hole in order to work—and it is indeed lonely. When I heard Harry Cauley say that, he became my writer-hero for life, and I am blessed for that. I also have a handful of cheerleaders, including a couple of pushy Irish cousins, who keep reminding me that my gift is writing so I should be doing it.

Q: Are you working on any other projects right now?

A: Last spring, I finished a middle-grade urban fantasy novel. I have been looking—with no success so far—for an agent for it. In the meantime, I’m doing short writing projects. I will be starting on another book soon.

Q: Where can people find more information about you and your books?

A: All my books (except the first, which is out of print) are on Amazon. To get a sense of who I am and my worldview, I recommend scrolling through my blog until you find a post that resonates—about dogs or cats or the #MeToo Movement or gay rights or gender equality or whatever. It’s here: www.skaymurphy.blogspot.com. I am on Instagram (posting photos of food, as I am a vegetarian, and I love sharing all the gorgeous, delicious food I eat) and Twitter (where I follow back most folks who follow me—unless they’re a bot or a stalker). Handle for both is @kayzpen.

 Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

A: For writers: Write your heart out and never stop! You are not alone in the world, though you may feel lonely while you are ‘away’ in the world you are creating. Never let rejection slow you down; keep putting yourself out there. If you begin to feel like giving up, find a friend or a cousin who believes in you and ask them to set goals with you then check back to see if you’re working toward them. I did this with The Tainted Legacy of Bertha Gifford, and it is the only way that book ever got published. I wanted to give up, but my beloved cousin Danny wouldn’t let me. He’s the reason the book is in print, may he be blessed forever.

For readers: You are everything for those of us who write. You are the friends who listen as we speak—even if we never meet you. I feel so very blessed for every email I’ve ever received that has begun with these words: “Hi, you don’t know me, but I’ve just finished reading your book….” You make all the hard work, all the loneliness, all the nail biting and junk food indulging so very worth it. Thank you!

 

 

The View From Mars

Larsen 4

Many stories are about protagonists who somehow manage to balance completing schoolwork, falling in love, and saving the world all at the same time. But let’s be honest, that’s not how life usually works. The View From Mars by Seth Larsen and his twins, Dylan and Kai Larsen, presents the wonderfully crafted tale of a young boy named Mars who is trying to juggle living in a new state, protecting his family, and saving his parents’ marriage. Relatable, enthralling, and humorous—this coming-of-age story is one you definitely won’t want to miss!

Interviewer: Sophie Lin

**********

 Q: Why did you decide to write a book with your children?

 A: The seed was that I wanted to connect and spend more time with my twins Daylen and Kai, who were in fifth grade at the time. I knew they enjoyed creative writing—they sometimes write short stories just for fun, the same way I did when I was their age. I suggested the idea of writing a book together, and they immediately said yes. I cautioned that we’d have to meet regularly, and it would take a long time, but that didn’t temper their enthusiasm at all. We didn’t fully understand what we were getting into, but before any of us knew it, we were off and running.

Q: What inspired you to become a writer?

 A: I’ve loved writing stories ever since I was a kid. When I was eleven or twelve, I would hole up in my room to write ambitious stories, although I rarely finished them. I used to watch sporting events on TV and write articles about what I saw—then compare it to the article in the newspaper the next day, to see “who did it better.” I moved to Los Angeles after college to try and make a go of it as a writer. I was never really able to make a living from it, but I’ve never stopped writing in one form or another. It’s just too much of my DNA—I couldn’t stop if I wanted to.

Q: Who came up with the idea for Mars?

 A: From the outset, we spent quite a bit of time coming up with a catchy title for the book. We wanted it to be kind of a play on the character’s name—something that conveyed a specific point of view. After bouncing around countless character names and title ideas, we arrived at the name and title. It’s unusual to come up with the title first, but we wanted to have an idea and concept to keep returning to—something that would sustain our inspiration. We all agreed that we wanted a “fish out of water” character, because those were the types of characters my twins really enjoyed reading. My kids enjoyed the Diary of a Wimpy Kid book series, and I showed them some episodes of one of my favorite TV shows from childhood, “The Wonder Years.” We definitely wanted a mix of humor and real life. From there, most of the characters came from the minds of Daylen and Kai. I asked a lot of questions, and helped shape the overall story arc (and the grammar!).

Q: What was your process for writing The View From Mars, considering that you had three writers and two illustrators?

 A: My twins and I met up Wednesdays and Sunday nights. Initially, these were whiteboard sessions, and our ideas were all over the place. We focused on characters—developing people that would be fun to write…flawed people that you could take a journey with. Once we felt we had a strong set of characters that would generate conflict with one another, we developed story lines and character arcs for each of the primary characters. Nearly all of the story points were conjured up by Daylen and Kai. We jotted down countless ideas for specific chapters, many of which were based on things that had happened to my twins (or to me when I was their age), and things that we’d observed on the playground. My role was to help us connect these ideas into coherent story lines and themes…making sure the story was building toward something, with an effective set-up and pay-off. My other two kids, Savahn (aka Shiu Shiu) and Seth (aka Sumo), had been expressing an interest in being involved in the creative process somehow. Savahn loves art and drawing, so I suggested she illustrate—and she was really excited about that. Sumo isn’t necessarily wired toward art in the way my daughter is, but he has a great sense of humor and helped integrate that into the drawings. Besides, we couldn’t leave him out! Once we finished the first draft of the book, Daylen and Kai began describing the scenes to Savahn and Sumo so that they could start creating looks for each of the characters. After a series of revisions between the kids that was surprisingly collaborative and mature, they started generating drawings that could be used in the book. Then we all voted on which ones made the most sense to include.

Q: What was your greatest challenge while writing this book?

 A: Without question, the biggest obstacle was time. For the twins, balancing their schoolwork and activities with writing the book. For me, balancing the commitments of being a husband, a father of four, and fitting in my actual day job. That’s why it took a year and a half from our first meeting to having an actual book in hand.

Q: How did writing this book affect your relationship with your kids?

 A: Writing this book was easily one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. It benefited our relationship in ways I didn’t anticipate. The twins always really looked forward to our writing sessions, and so did I. I expected that. But the surprise for me was that it helped them see me as more of a “person” with actual feelings than just a robotic “dad.” When Daylen and Kai would toss out story ideas based on things they were dealing with, or things their friends were dealing with, it gave me the space to say, “Oh, yeah—that happened to me when I was your age, too.” I’d proceed to tell them these childhood stories, sometimes things that I hadn’t even thought about in 35 years. It gave them a perspective and an understanding of me that they would have never otherwise had. You could literally see their eyes widen—it blew their minds that I’d gone through many of the same emotions and feelings they’re going through now. And many of these things wove their way into our book, one way or the other. It was a special time that we’ll share for the rest of our lives.

Q: What advice would you give someone around Mars’s age to survive becoming a teenager?

 A: Life is messy. But it can also be full of beautiful moments if you choose to recognize them. Realize that you can work through life’s challenges, and there can be positive outcomes, even if they aren’t always wrapped up nicely in a bow.

Q: How was your publishing experience?

 A: Our publishing experience was very positive. We didn’t want to self-publish because we didn’t have money to spend upfront, and also didn’t want the stress of potentially carrying a lot of inventory that we were desperate to sell. So, we went the publishing-on-demand route. We used CreateSpace for the paperback, where you send them your files, and when people order through Amazon, the book is printed and sent. They, of course, take a healthy percentage of the profits, but we aren’t risking our own money—and it’s relatively easy and stress-free on our side. CreateSpace doesn’t do hard cover versions of books though. We knew we wanted a hardcover version because artistically they’re just cool, and also we found out that libraries prefer hardcover—and we knew we wanted to try and get our book in the LA County library (which we ultimately did!). For our hardcover version, we used Ingram Spark, who works with Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and most distributors. When someone buys the book through any of those channels, Ingram Spark prints the book, and it ultimately gets to where it needs to go.

Q: This book covers some pretty heavy topics, such as bullying and parental separation. Why did you choose to write about these issues?

 A: We wanted the book to include some daunting challenges for the characters because that’s more interesting dramatically, but we also wanted the book to be relatable. We wanted sixth graders and young teens to read the book and immediately identify with the characters and what they’re going through. We wanted to deal with these things honestly, and with humor where possible. In one form or another, my twins and I have wrestled with many of the things described in the book, or been close to similar situations. Real life, after all, informed the book.

Q: If there was one message that a reader could take away from reading your book, what would you want it to be?

 A: We have precious few family rules, but one of them is, “Always protect your family.” Sometimes it’s all you have, and the fabric of your family is only as strong as you make it. My wife and I drill this message into our kids all the time, because we believe it’ll carry them through life’s challenges into adulthood, long after we’re gone. That’s not to say the family isn’t full of its own complexities and conflict, but we have a deep desire for our kids to remain close. Thematically in our book, Mars and his siblings desperately want to get their parents back together, which is a beautiful thing, even if the way they go about it is naïve (and dishonest!). Mars’ brother and sister drive him nuts, too, but you can tell the love they have for each other.

Q: Are you working on any other projects (like a sequel!) that we should keep an eye out for?

 A: Yes, we plan on writing a sequel. Savahn and Sumo also want to work on spin-off books, focusing on the journeys of the siblings. Ideas aren’t fully baked, but we’ll get there.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

 A: Fun fact: Mars’ younger brother is named Sumo. The character was heavily influenced by their real-life brother “Sumo.” The character name was a placeholder, and we never found a better name, so it stuck.

 

Retribution

Margotta Cover

What happens when a 1,000-year-old goddess, a supernatural wolf, and an untested youth lead a band of heroes to fight against unrestrained violence in medieval Europe? It’s all part of the fantasy adventure for young adults in Retribution. Author Jenny Margotta (writing as J Margotta-Ferrara) shares her insights on the craft, what it was like to collaborate on a book with her spouse, and whether she’d want to cross paths and match wits with a witch, a werewolf or a vampire.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

Q: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

A: By the time I was ten, I was reading on an adult level, and one of the first adult-level books I read was The Day Must Dawn by Agnes Sligh Turnbull. It was set in the late 1700s in a frontier town near Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, which is close to where I grew up. There was a line in the novel about the sun shining through the overcast sky like a pewter plate and I knew, right then, that I wanted to write things like that, use words in unusual or memorable ways to capture the attention of readers and, hopefully, have my stories stay with them for decades, like those words of Ms. Turnbull’s have stayed with me.

Q: Who encouraged (or dissuaded) your dream of earning a living as a wordsmith?

A: Although I was encouraged by my mom and high school counselor to earn a degree in English —the thinking was that I would teach—no one really encouraged me to write until I met my late husband, John. He loved my writing style and pushed and prodded until I did something about it.

Q: What’s the first thing you remember writing? And have you gone back since then to read what you wrote?

A: I think I began writing as soon as I could hold a pencil in my chubby little hand. At least I know I began telling stories at a very early age. But the one I most remember—and that I have kept—is based on the Turnbull novel I’ve already mentioned. I was captivated by that story, and for a history project in fourth grade, I decided to write my own “diary” about a young girl captured by the Indians. Not only did I write the story, but I took some of my mom’s good stationery, soaked it in tea and dried it in the sun, bound the paper in a cloth covering, and wrote the story on the “parchment” using an old fountain pen. I still have that diary in my Things to Keep box.

Q: On the path to becoming a rich and famous author, a lot of writers pay the rent and put food on the table by having a day job. What was the first job you ever had and what did you learn from it that could be applied to what you really wanted to be doing?

A:  The very first job I ever had was picking strawberries for a nickel a quart. It certainly impressed upon me that manual labor was not how I wanted to earn a living. I didn’t know then what I wanted to do, but I sure knew what I didn’t want.

Q: Do you write full-time?

A:  No, and I’m not really sure I would want to. I spend most of my working hours editing other authors’ efforts—a process I absolutely love. But I also enjoy so many other facets of everyday life that I wouldn’t want to be tied down to any one thing. How boring would that be?

Q: How have your personal and professional experiences shaped who you are as a writer and influenced what you enjoy writing about?

A: I honed my writing skills while earning my degree in English/Language Arts and then spent many years writing industry-related HR documents, magazine articles, contracts, and software manuals. That required me to be very clear in my meanings without a lot of flowery speeches. But more importantly, I began reading at the age of three and have continued to read voraciously ever since in a wide range of fiction and non-fiction genres. I think that, more than anything, has helped me develop my writing skills. When I am spellbound by a story, I analyze why. When I’m having trouble with dialogue or a story issue, I go to my favorite authors and see how they’ve treated a similar issue. I can’t imagine being a writer without also being a reader.

Q: What was your inspiration for the plot and characters behind Retribution?

A: In all honesty, most of the plot and characters came from the very imaginative mind of my late husband, John, with whom I co-authored this book and two others. I did have some input into the main character, Luc, when I suggested we make him left-handed. I am left-handed, so I know how it can both hinder and be advantageous in a predominately right-handed world. I also added some of the softer, more feminine aspects of the female characters.

Q: From the time that storytelling first began, fantasy and adventure have had a hold on our imaginations. In your own view, what would you say accounts for our fascination with things that go bump in the night, return from the dead, and are not of this world?

A: Man is blessed with an imagination and an unquenchable desire to learn “what’s out there.” Also, we often feel our own lives are mundane and uninspiring, so stepping into a world of fantasy and excitement gives us that “kick” we need to make our lives more interesting. And the adrenaline rush of being scared or excited is quite addictive.

Q: A witch, a vampire or a werewolf—which would you feel the most comfortable dealing with in a winner-takes-all game of cunning, intellect and strength? And which one would scare you the most?

A: I think I’d deal best with the witch. Most of a witch’s arsenal is based on mental games—spells and tricks and such—and I live my life mostly in my head, as I have some mobility issues.  In a game of matching wits, I think I’d do pretty well. Vampires would scare me the most because they live in darkness and, if a lot of stories are to be believed, can be very persuasive in drawing you to them.

Q: What was the most challenging aspect of developing Retribution?

A: For me, the most challenging aspect of developing Retribution was making sure there were no anachronisms in the story. The story takes place in early medieval times; we don’t give a specific year, but we imagined it to be around 1100. There are so many things we take for granted that just didn’t exist in that timeframe. For instance, they have few references to time, so we couldn’t say, “They rode for eight hours,” or “Wait a minute.” And food was an issue, too. We originally had our heroes eating dried beef along the trail, but only the very wealthy ate beef at that time. We did a tremendous amount of research on clothing, boats, weapons, all aspects of day-to-day life in those times.

Q: It’s often said that two heads are better than one. In co-authoring Retribution with your husband, what did you learn about each other’s writing, project development and time management skills?

A: John liked to sit down every day and write for four or five hours. And he liked to move quickly from one plot point to another. He would very quickly turn out ten or more pages, then go back and start to flesh out what was, in many cases, almost an outline. He would often say something like, “Let’s see where the story takes us today.” I prefer to think about what I’m going to write—sometimes for several days—before I actually sit down in front of my computer. John would have multiple rewrites, while I often only had one or two, since I’d done all the “rewrites” in my head.

Q: Please share with us the process of how your co-authoring worked.

A: You can probably guess, based on my previous answer, how our team process worked. John would write the key story points then I’d take his work and begin to round it out. He didn’t like to use a lot of description and I do, so that was my job, to add the color and flavor to his raw action.

Q: Would you co-author another book together?

A: Unfortunately, John passed away in 2012 when we were only about halfway through the book. We originally intended to have only one book, by the way, but I ended up making it two by the time I finished the project in 2015. If he were still alive, I would definitely continue to partner with him—we made a very strong writing team—but I’m not sure I’d like to co-author with someone else.

Q: Did any of your characters ever surprise you?

A: Yes, the main character, Luc de Lassier, surprised us. He was only supposed to be in the first twenty or thirty pages, but he just wouldn’t go away. I remember John sitting at his computer and almost yelling at Luc. “What are you still doing here? You’re only supposed to be a minor character!” Luc just took over the story to the point where we gave in, stopped fighting him, and made him the hero.

Q: Who will Retribution appeal to?

A: Although it’s described as a fantasy adventure for young adults, I think the story appeals to older adults as well.  It’s a coming-of-age tale that deals with many aspects of society, injustice, and human determination to overcome adversity. We just wrapped it all up in a rollicking adventure. Readers can certainly just enjoy the first layer—the adventures—but there are also some very serious issues to think about.

Q: If Hollywood came calling, is there a dream cast you’d love to see?

A: Ving Rhames would be my choice now for the character of Otieno, although both John and I pictured the late Michael Clark Duncan when we began writing the book in 2009. And John most definitely developed the character of Edeva with Nicole Kidman in mind. Peter Dinklage would be a great fit for Aldwyn, but surprisingly, neither John nor I had anyone specific in mind for the main character, Luc. And then there’s Aatto, the wolf. I don’t know any famous actor-wolves.

Q:  When and where do you feel you are at your most creative at the keyboard?

A: Creative writing is almost exclusively a morning task. I’m definitely the most productive early in the day. Most nights I mentally lay out my schedule for the next day, and I always put my most difficult projects first, whether its editing or my own writing. By mid-afternoon I want to be doing lighter things, like working on a cover in PhotoShop or researching on the Internet. And when I’m editing others’ works, I need to switch between two or three manuscripts. I stay sharper that way. When I focus too long on a single project, I lose my objectiveness.

Q: What famous author (living or dead) would you most want to have lunch with and why?

A: I’d love to have lunch with Tobias Smollett. Smollett was an 18th century author—he died in 1771—who wrote, among other things, the satirical, very funny novel, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker. The book is written in the form of letters between the characters and, as such, is basically all narrative. I love to write descriptions, so this really appeals to me. I only wish I could be as humorous as he was.

If Smollett isn’t available, I’d invite W.E.B. Griffith. I’m a World War II historian, and in my opinion, Griffith is one of the best fiction writers in that genre.

Q: What would our readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: I certainly don’t look the part, but I rode a motorcycle for several years. I once made a trip of over 4,500 miles—through seven states and two countries—in just 18 days. I also dreamed of being a singer. I performed my first solo when I was three, sang in bars and nightclubs in college and later years, and still do karaoke when I get the chance.

Q: Tell us about the California Writers Club and how it offers support and resources for wordsmiths at any stage in their writing careers.

A: The California Writers Club has 21 branches and over 1,700 members statewide. I belong to the High Desert Branch. We host workshops by prominent professionals in the writing world, we have a variety of speakers at our monthly meetings—ranging from social media experts and marketing professionals to editors and authors—and our members can belong to one or more of many critique groups. Within our branch we have artists and illustrators, social media experts, website developers, professional editors, marketers, and writers from every level of skill. If one of our members expresses a need for a certain service or help with something, we strive to introduce them to another member who can provide that help or give them the tools to find their own answers. We also offer venues throughout the year for authors to showcase their work. (Visit www.hdcwc.com for more information.)

Q: How did you go about finding a publisher for your book?

A: I knew from what I’d learned in the writers club that self-publishing was the most viable option. I researched several online, on-demand printers and found that CreateSpace was the best choice for me.

Q: Best advice to aspiring authors?

A: Well, for one, don’t count on getting rich. Chances are you won’t. But if you want to write, then do it. Don’t worry about all the technical issues up front, just write your story. There are so many people out there who are afraid to write that first page because they don’t think they have anything to say. Everyone has something to say. Write your story. Then find the experts to make it publishable.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Most of my time is spent editing—that’s how I put food on the table. But when I can make the time, I’m currently working on two very different novels of my own. One, The Woman in Room 23, is very loosely based on my mother’s less-than-happy life and her 12-year battle with Alzheimer’s, a battle she lost in 2011. The other is a murder mystery set in Orange County, California, called The Red Braces Murder.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you and your work?

A: Two of my books—Retribution and the sequel, Resolution—are available on Amazon.com. Both books, along with the cookbook John and I wrote called Some Like It Hot … the culinary adventures of one hot mama and one cool dude, are showcased on www.writerslairus.com. I can also be contacted directly at jennymargotta@gmail.com

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: J Margotta-Ferrara is a combination of my name and John’s. He was a prolific writer who often wrote under the name John Ferrara (Ferrara was his mother’s maiden name.) Listing both authors individually can sometimes be a hassle, so combining the names just seemed like the natural choice. Although I now write alone, I continue using the name in remembrance of John.

 

 

 

The Fountain

The Fountain

We’ve all heard the joke about the guy who wished for “a million bucks” and awakened the next morning to the sight of a squillion deer grazing on his front lawn. As someone who happily wished her own husband into existence at the magic pool in Bath in 1994, I’m a firm believer in the idea the granters of wishes are a pretty literal bunch; if you don’t frame your desire accurately and precisely, any smidge of ambiguity will be seized upon with gusto. It also goes without saying that teenagers—such as those who populate Suzy Vadori’s debut YA novel, The Fountain—aren’t likely to think through all the ramifications of a wish made hastily in the heat of anger, frustration or disappointment.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

Q: Once upon a long ago time, young adults (previously known as teenagers) could be found with their noses stuck in Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries, The Hobbit, Phyllis A. Whitney and Mary Stewart. Today they’re more likely to be immersed in the darker fare of vampires, zombies and dystopian societies. What’s your personal take on this shift in themes and will the pendulum ever swing back?

A: Well, there’s a huge gap in reading level between books like Nancy Drew and The Hobbit – and I read both as a youth. This gap leaves young readers in the lurch that are looking for reading that challenges their intellect, yet has age-appropriate content.

I think what the Young Adult (YA) books of the past ten years have done is introduced a whole new set of adult-sized challenges to teens in a way that they can relate to more easily than stories of the past. Today’s YA is written from a teen’s point of view, and allows readers to experience a broad range of emotions that they may or may not have already experienced in their short lives.

The YA genre is definitely here to stay, though I don’t think the theme of the novels is important and will change with the tides of teen whims. Vampires, zombies, dystopian, mermaids and trolls… the characters and settings will change to keep it fresh.

Today’s teens expect more sophistication than the formulaic stories that Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys afford, but they might not be ready for the beauty of The Hobbit’s prose.

Whatever the subject of today’s YA books, there are certain things present that appeal to teens. And what’s really cool is that a YA novel done well appeals to all ages. These are elements that we all find intriguing.

  • Pace: The pace of today’s YA never lets up. While this may say something about today’s teens and their attention spans, I think it’s exciting that the written word has found a way to compete with, and even mimic the other media that teens have available to them now.
  • Challenge: This is something that both Nancy Drew and The Hobbit got right. Teens need to face adult challenges to capture the imagination of youths, and help them explore challenges beyond their years in a safe setting.
  • Emotion: Books are a safe place to explore new emotions and consequences. This is what drives much of my writing. If you come away feeling something, I’ve succeeded.

Q: What attracted you to writing for the YA market and how does it differ from writing for adults?

A: I’ve been starting novels since I was around 10, and I always wanted to finish one. But writing isn’t just about the process for me. I wanted to write something that would get read – something that would affect people.

I wrote many outlines over the years. But everything I came up with that I thought people would want to read was either drawing on something way too personal, or was a little too racy to fit with my persona as an executive (my day job) and more importantly, my role as a mom.

It wasn’t until YA emerged as a genre on its own that I became inspired to finally pursue writing in a serious way. Young Adult books explore raw emotion at the root of how it’s experienced – in ‘firsts’. First love, first loss, first time for taking major risks. These themes will never go out of fashion, regardless of the setting.

Q: When you were the age of your target readership, what did you want to pursue as a career?

A: My dad offered to buy me the car of my choice if I became a doctor. I found out that orthodontists didn’t need to do residency, so I negotiated the same deal for that, to which he agreed. I’ve always needed a lot of sleep – I knew that I wouldn’t survive working night shifts in a hospital residency.

Later, I found out I could enter the business world with only a 4 year university degree, and that’s what I did, hitting the ground running when I graduated at 21. Even when I could afford the fancy car, I never bought it.

I never looked back, but I continued to write as a hobby. When I took maternity leave with my third child, I finally realized I had the time to make my dream a reality. The Fountain Series was born.

Q: Who or what had the most influence on the choices you made as you segued into adulthood?

A: Am I an adult yet? I suppose I am. There have been many influences in my life, so it’s hard to pick just one. I think the fact that I moved a lot as a kid was the biggest influence. I was often the new kid, and had to make my way in new situations. I know that it shaped me into who I am, and made me ready to face any challenge. It was fun to channel some of that experience into Ava in The Fountain. Ava is the new kid at St. Augustus and has to make new friends and new ways… which makes her vulnerable in ways I think all teens can relate to.

Q: Tell us the inspiration behind The Fountain.

A: The setting for The Fountain was defined when I was a tween. I’d always wanted to write a boarding school novel. I just love the parent-less setting, with dorms and kids being able to sneak around at night unsupervised (disclaimer: I never went to boarding school, but this is the magical setting I’ve always imagined)

The story for The Fountain invaded my imagination when I became a mom. I love my children more than I ever thought was possible, but parenting today is interesting, to say the least. We are raising a generation that has been given every privilege that we parents can afford.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d give anything I could to my kids, but I started to wonder whether that was smart. We think we’re doing the right thing, but are we? What kind of lesson is it to get what we want without having to work for it? And The Fountain was born. A well-intentioned school founder leaves behind a legacy of a fountain that grants students the desire that they wish the most. The Fountain has unlimited power, and has the power to alter anything. What would a world that is designed to help the students actually look like, and what are the consequences?

Q: Do you ever make wishes yourself by tossing a coin into a well or a pool? If so, what’s your best tip for “smart” wishing?

A: Of course. General ones, anyway – ones for well-being of those I love. I’d rather work for the harder things in life than have them happen overnight.

Q: What governed your choice to develop this book as a series versus a stand-alone title?

A: The series format is very popular in Young Adult. No sooner had I released The Fountain than readers were asking for the next installment. I can’t wait to give them more in this world with The West Woods.

Q: Congratulations on The Fountain being nominated for an Aurora Award in 2016. How did this come about and what was your reaction when you received the news?

A: I was actually travelling in China on business when it was announced that The Fountain had been short listed for Best Young Adult Novel with the Prix Auroras. I found out in the wee hours of the morning, and raced outside to the foggy streets to take a selfie with a copy of The Fountain to share with the world. I was amazed that The Fountain got such terrific support from the amazing readers and writers who form the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association – most of whom aren’t in my demographic, but loved it nonetheless. It was an honor to be shortlisted by such a prestigious group. I hope they love The West Woods just as much.

Q: You teach at schools about themes of friendship, rivalry and love. What is the intersection of these timeless topics with the plot of The Fountain?

A:  Oooo, it’s my favorite to talk about these things. Teens can sometimes experience all three in a short period of time with the same person, and that can be… well, confusing.  Part of what I love most about writing is making readers feel something. And I know I’ve done it right when I get feedback from readers.

I love going to classrooms and teaching kids how to apply the feelings that they experience every day to their stories. Teachers are always amazed at what the kids are able to share through their writing during a session.

Rivalry is the most misunderstood of the three themes, and I think the ones that youth struggle with the most. Some in the book industry will dismiss this as “mean girl” stories, but it’s so much more than that. The story is never about what happens to the characters – it’s about how the characters react to their situation and grow as a result. Resilience is an important theme in many young adult books, and mine are no exception. I love teaching about it because every single class I teach is completely different.

Q: Book 2—The West Woods—will be coming out in September (2017). How and where does it take the students of St. Augustus?

A: The number one question I got from readers of The Fountain was, what is with Courtney? (She’s the girl who makes life impossible for Ava and gets wished away.) And she’s truly awful. But… there’s a really good reason that she was the way she appeared – a magical reason – shaped by her own encounter with the fountain at St. Augustus.

So, I was compelled to write The West Woods – which takes place the year before The Fountain, and is Courtney’s story about how she went from being a regular girl to being, well… the terrible friend readers meet in The Fountain.

It was really fun to vindicate Courtney in The West Woods, presenting a side that readers didn’t get to see of her. With Courtney as the protagonist, it’s easy to see how she made the choices she made when she met Ava.

Of course, it’s also full of the mystery and romance that are the hallmarks of The Fountain Series.

Q: Is it imperative that readers read your books chronologically or is there enough in Book 2 for them to understand the characters and dynamics from Book 1?

A: Both books were written so that they could be read as stand-alone books, and because Book 2 is a prequel, they really could be read in either order. However, Book 3 will pick up where Ava and Ethan left off in Book 1, and bring the whole series together, so it will make more sense if it’s read last.

Q: There’s no question that the publishing industry—like any other industry—has changed to accommodate a fluctuating economy. What has it been like for you to work with a small press?

A: Working with Evil Alter Ego Press has been the best decision I’ve made. Because they are small, they’ve treated The Fountain Series as if it were their own. My editor (based in New York), has challenged me and made the series better than I could have ever done on my own. Because the press is small and growing, I get to be involved in adapting and shaping the press to the changing publishing environment. I also get the chance to use my business and marketing knowledge to full advantage. In a world where self-publish and traditional publishing are changing daily, working with a small press has been a really great experience and I am grateful that they believed in my vision for the series.

Q: What are you doing to market/promote your work, and which strategies have been the most effective for you?

A: Being out in my community has gained so much traction for The Fountain Series. It’s fun, too. I’ve had an amazing 18 months meeting new readers at conferences, young writer’s events, schools and signings. I am so thankful for all the readers who love The Fountain and are waiting for The West Woods to come out.

As The Fountain Series grows, we’re focusing more on growing online reach, in addition to continuing to be active in my community. The response from book bloggers to the series has been really positive, and they are excited to help spread the word about the upcoming launch of The West Woods. I am truly grateful for the work that bloggers and reviewers do. Thank you all so much.

Q: There’s suddenly a knock on the door from Hollywood. Would The Fountain lend itself to a movie or a television series?

A: The Fountain Series would make a terrific movie or TV series and I’m actively looking for a home for it.

The layers of St. Augustus’ magic and the generations of students who have used it to change the world around them provides endless material for an ongoing series. I look forward to see where this leads.

Q: Authors often “cast” their characters in their heads while they’re writing so they can picture them moving through the various scenes. Was this the case with you?

A: Each of my characters is such a blend of complex layers, they’d be impossible to cast to just one person. It definitely keeps me on my toes to keep track of everything that makes them up, but that’s part of the fun.

Q: As an executive, mother of three and a writer, how do you make the time for your craft?

A: I couldn’t do it without the support of my incredible husband and wonderful kids who have all made sacrifices to help me find the time I need to make this dream a reality. I mostly write evenings and early weekend mornings. I carry the stories around in my head while I go about my day to day, so that when I do get those moments to write, everything is fully formed and the words come quickly.

Q: Planner or pantser?

A: Quilter! I start with an outline, but then write in sections as they come to me, and depending on my mood – not necessarily together. Then I take the sections and quilt them back together, creating a wonderful mess that eventually sorts itself into a complex mystery. The operations professional in me knows that this isn’t efficient, but I’m always happy with the result.

Q: You also travel a lot for business and for leisure. How does travel impact your writing and your perspective?

A:  Writing fantasy is centered on building believable worlds. Exploring different countries gives me lots of ideas and inspiration that I draw on. I try to take note whenever I visit somewhere new about the kinds of things I notice first. Are the traffic lights different? Are there people around, or are the streets empty? What sounds are different from North America. Those are things I add to a character’s first experiences somewhere new.

Q: Any new trips on the horizon?

A: We’ve been talking about taking our kids to Europe. They all speak French as well as English, so they’ve been bugging us to take them to France.

Q: Dream destination on your “wish list?”

A: Africa.

Q: You’re on the board for When Words Collide—a festival for readers and writers. What do you think the role of conventions and festivals have for authors and aspiring authors?

A: Writing is largely a solitary profession, but the writing community plays a vital role in supporting and growing writers careers. The publishing industry is changing daily, and collectively, writers who share information and work together to stay ahead of the curve are the ones who are going to make it.

I am so grateful to all the writers I’ve met and everything they’ve shared with me about their own experiences and careers have helped me immeasurably with building my readership. Giving back to the author community in any way I can is an absolute pleasure for me. I particularly love helping new writers get started.

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: I think readers would be surprised to know that I love math. I’m an Operations professional in my day job, and while that is very different from writing, my love of math and puzzles helps build tricky, layered mystery within my books.

Q: Oldest, weirdest or most nostalgic thing in your closet?

A: Fuzzy onesie pajamas. Great for when it gets down to -40 degrees Celsius here in Canada, but otherwise way too hot.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: I’m the only Suzy Vadori on the interweb, so Google away to find out everything you’ve ever wanted to know.

Website: https://suzyvadori.wordpress.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/suzyvadori/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/suzyvadoriauthor/

Twitter: @vadoris

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27426598-the-fountain?from_search=true

Book Links:

Amazon.com https://www.amazon.com/Fountain-Suzy-Vadori/dp/0994726643/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1497887586&sr=8-1&keywords=vadori

B&N https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-fountain-suzy-vadori/1123014750?ean=9780994726643

iBooks https://itun.es/ca/UWor_.l

kobo https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/ebook/the-fountain-13

Smashwords https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/594225

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I love hearing from readers, so feel free to drop me a line.

 

 

 

 

A Chat with Sandra Hurst

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000030_00047]

One of the ironies of childhood is that our first introduction to reading often comes in the form of fairy tales and myths in which magic, mysticism, fantastical creatures and mysterious realms appear with such frequency as to seem entirely plausible to impressionable young minds. Once we cross the threshold of adolescence, though, there’s no shortage of messaging from parentals and teachers that these make-believe worlds need to be summarily shelved in order to make room for the pursuit of fact-based realities.

Unless, of course, you were born with the imagination of a writer like Sandra Hurst and embrace the elements of YA fantasy—and infinite possibility—with full-fledged gusto. We’re delighted to welcome her to share insights on her new release, Y’Keta.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

Q: Given your childhood years in England and then Canada, would you say that you chose the genre of fantasy or that it, in fact, chose you?

A: What a good question, I’ve never really thought about it. I think I’d have to say that the fantasy genre is something I was drawn to, rather than something I chose because of my surroundings, since my brothers, who grew up in the same environment, have extremely logical minds and aren’t at all prone to what they call ‘fantastical fiction.’

Q: What are some of the favorite titles and authors we might have found on the nightstand of a very young Sandra Hurst?

A: Before Junior High, if you caught me reading at night, which my parents often did, I think that you would have found me huddled under the blankets with The Wind in the Willows, The House on Pooh Corner, or The Sword in the Stone.

Q: How about as a young adult (coincidentally, one of your chosen age groups for the Sky Road fantasy series)?

A: As a young adult, I read anything and everything, I still do. Some of the favourites that I remember from back then are The Mahogany Trinrose (Jacqueline Lichtenberg), Lord of the Rings, (J.R.R. Tolkein), and the Darkover series (Marion Zimmer Bradley).

Q: Like a lot of middle school students, you began your classroom writing career with poetry. How would you define that early style and what were some of the topics you liked to write about?

A: My first poems had lots of ‘Moon and June’ type rhyming patterns. The oldest one that I can remember was about snow coming down like a blanket on the town. Birthdays were always a big poem opportunity for me, I wrote poems in every birthday card!

Q: Is your passion for poetry still as vibrant as ever?

A: Poetry will always be important to me, it’s part of finding my creative space as a writer. There is a chapbook of my poetry in the works, although for right now, the prose has centre stage.

Q: What does writing verse teach you about writing books?

A: I think that poetry teaches prose writers to understand the rhythm and flow of language. One thing that I’ve learned from poetry and applied to my writing is to always read through my draft out loud. If I’m reading through a paragraph and consistently trip at the same place, I know that the rhythm there is off and I need to see if more explanation is needed for that thought, or if I’m overcomplicating the sentence.

Q: What was the inspiration behind Y’Keta?

A: The central question in Y’keta is about identity. Is Y’keta willing to give up his identity to please his father? Is he willing to risk being honest about himself, even though he may lose everything he has grown to love.

The inspiration for this came out of two unconnected events about four years ago, the first was a casual comment made by a relative on the reactions she dealt with when she came out as LGBTQ in the early 80s, the other was a long night sitting beside a campfire in Grande Cache, Alberta watching the Northern Lights dance over the horizon.

Q: One of the things that always fascinates me about fantasy novels and stories set in alternative realms/universes is how their authors come up with the unusual names for their characters, objects and settings. Can you let us in on your own approach to the name game?

A: The language I used for the People borrows liberally from several modern native languages which I have ‘aged’ in different directions to suit the Sky Road.  While I wanted to keep the feel of the original tongues, I tried to avoid having words that were too exact and would tie the story down to one tribe over another. So, for example, the Nehewak (Cree) word for Thunderbird (kitowak) becomes my race the Waki’tani and the Tlingit word for pig becomes a rude nickname that Siann calls her greedy little brother.

Q: What sort of myths are incorporated in the Y’Keta storyline?

A: Y’keta is based on several Indigenous myths from the Cree, Haida Gwaii, and Pacific Northwest areas. Each of these groups have legends about a people called by various names but all adding up to the Thunderbirds. It’s interesting to note that even now, the Nehewak don’t have a word for thunder. They say kâh-kitowak, “the Thunderbird’s call”. I’ve also incorporated parts of a several legends from the southern US to create my bad guys, the Utlaak, these legends feature scaly or serpentine bad guys who come from an underground world.

Q: Which scene was the easiest for you to write?

A: I think the easiest scene in Y’keta was the first one. The characters’ voices were so clear and I could visualize the ceremony where they all became a part of the village and started interacting with each other. The first draft, 15-20 pages, was written all in one shot in the course of an evening, while listening to Loon Echo Lake, on my headphones.

Q: And the hardest?

A: I hate killing people! The scene where one of my main characters is murdered in an Utlaak raid shattered me. I wrote it with tears pouring down my face, then re-wrote it, and re-wrote it, until I felt the hurt as much on the paper as it did inside me.

Q: On Amazon, the title is listed as Volume 1. How many volumes do you have in mind?

A: The Sky Road is planned as a trilogy.

In Book One, Y’keta, A young exile, searches for a place to belong, only to find his new home threatened by secrets from his past. If Y’keta reveals what he knows to the villagers, it will tear their history and traditions apart…but sharing his secrets may be their only hope for survival when the Village comes under attack.

Book two is at the necklace stage, that is the point in my writing process when I have ‘pearls’ written, but desperately need the thread of the story to tie them together. It will focus on the continuing war with the Utlaak and Y’keta’s unsettled relationship with his father.

In book three Siann struggles to accept the power that the Lightning Stones have given her. Power is not always a good thing, and she has some hard choices to make about using or abusing it.

Q: What governed your choice to develop a series versus a stand-alone title?

A: I don’t ever remember thinking ‘Hey! I’ll make a trilogy!’ The storyline just grew into one. I think it’s all D’vhan’s fault, he’s one of the lead male characters. He refused to stay in the background, and before I knew it I had an uprising of characters whose stories deserved to be told.

Q: More and more authors are seeking to control their intellectual property by going the self-publishing route. What have you learned about the challenges of this choice that you didn’t know before you started?

A: What didn’t I know? Is everything a fair answer? My decision to self publish was driven more by a need to put a physical copy of the book in my dad’s hands for his 90th birthday. I think that the learning curve for either type of publishing is terribly steep for someone like me, who knew nothing about the industry. Traditional publishing takes time, patience and a degree of luck to hit the right agent at the right time. Independent publishing takes all of that plus a substantial cash investment in editors, cover artists, printers etc. Social media is also crucial to an indie author, as word of mouth is often the only marketing tool we have access to.

Q: When and where do you feel you are at your most creative?

A: I’m most creative at night, when the whirlwind I call a mind has quieted down for the day. I put some music on and let my world go and step into Y’keta’s world. My family learned early that ‘I’ll be there soon’ really meant “I’ll see you in the morning.” At least 75 percent of the book was written between midnight and 5am. Other great creative places for me are restaurants like Denny’s, or Tim Horton’s. I often go to grab a coffee, plug in my tablet, hide behind my earphones and just blend into the crowds.

Q: Conversely, when does it feel the most challenging or frustrating to work at your craft?

A: Handling my own nature is the hardest part of writing for me. I tend to be very distractible and moderately obsessive. There is always that one more piece of research, a new book to read, and, Oh Look! I got a Facebook mention. My mind will bounce to anything new and shiny and sometimes when it lands on a topic I find it hard to let go and get back to the writing. There is a definite benefit to this type of mind though, once I start writing and the scenes are flying, I will keep going until someone pulls me out.

Q: Best personal cure for writer’s block?

A: I like to shake things up when I’m in a slump or struggling for ideas. I will sometimes take a side character and re-write a scene from their point of view. It helps me see with new eyes and often gives me the next question that I need to ask or the next move I need to make. Another good trick is to pick the one thing that my character would really hate to have happen, and make it so.  Are they afraid of water? Then maybe the boat sinks.

Q: Tell us a little about your family and whether they’re allowed sneak peeks at your work or have to wait like the rest of us until it’s all finished?

A: I live in Calgary, Alberta with my husband and son, both of whom I love dearly, and have put up for sale on e-bay when their behaviour demanded it.  My day to day life is a balance between my outside life as a paralegal counsellor and my inner life as an author/poet. I do try out scenarios and words on my family now and again, especially on my son, who is around the target audience for my books.

Q: What do you do when you’re not writing (i.e., day-job, hobbies, travel)?

A: When I’m not writing or doing double duty as a wife/mother, you can find me working as a paralegal in Calgary. On off days, or holidays we spend a lot of time out in the mountains camping, canoeing and just listening to the quiet. I also enjoy time with the other amazing writers in the Calgary and love going to the write-ins and open mic. events.

Q: What’s something quirky/unique/unusual about you that readers would be the most surprised to know?

A: Ooh, you really want to go there? I think that answer would depend on who you talk to. My son would cringe and point to ‘opera nights,’ evenings when I don’t speak and insist on singing my answers to any questions.  My husband might point to my fits of insomnia and my late-night Facebook addiction. But really! You meet the best people online at 3am.

If there is one thing I would say was unique or quirky about me it would be my breadth of interests, I’m a bit of a Hermione, a collector of odd facts and knowledge about anything from the Kaiju culture of manga Japan, to Shakespeare, to Opera, or the band Nightwish. There isnt much that I won’t listen to, read, learn about and find value in.

Q: Who is your hero and why?

A:I think the common thread in all my heroes, whether real or literary, is that they had the opportunity to quit, every reason to say I’m too old, too tired, it’s just easier to let it be someone else’s problem. This kind of hero, unwilling, often flawed, yet willing to step up, gets me every time. These heroes all have one thing in common. They are people very much like I am, broken and damaged people just trying to do their best with the time they are given.

As far as literary heroes, I love the authors who can make words dance and sentences mean things. This has led me to authors like Guy Gavriel Kay, and Don Dellilo. I would give my left ovary (not so dramatic a thing since at 54 those parts are hardly crucial) to sit down with either of these gentlemen, or even better their writing notes, for an afternoon.

Q: Who’s your favorite character in a book (other than your own)?

A: There is no fair way to give one answer to that question, but one of my favourites is Richard Lamb, from M.K. Wrenn’s sci-fi series The Phoenix Legacy. He is a young intellectual working to prevent the oncoming dark age.

Q: Have your own characters ever surprised you?

A: Constantly! No matter how well I think I know the characters, when I put two or three of them together the dynamics always amaze me.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Next up for me is When Words Collide in Calgary in mid August, then finishing up a romance novella which will be coming out in 2018, then back to Book 2 of the Sky Road.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A:  You can find more about me, or follow me on social meda at all of the links here:

Website:         www.delusionsofliteracy.com

Facebook – @SandraHurst.Author

Twitter –  @_SandraHurst Website:

Amazon Link:  https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N9V4M8C

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Christina, Thank you so much for letting me talk to your readers and introducing them to the Sky Road. I’m really enjoying Y’keta’s journey through this ancient land and look forward to meeting your readers as they walk the Road with me.