Ghost Maven

 

Ghost Maven cover

Author, television producer, award winning documentary film maker, and world traveller, Tony Lee Moral, has just completed work on his second published novel, Ghost Maven, and has generously offered to share a bit of insider scoop on his new book, what drives and motivates him, and what he has planned next. Despite an increasingly busy work life, as with everything Tony takes on, he remains focused and grounded while enjoying the creative journey he rides with each new project and challenge. Welcome Tony!

Interviewer: Debbie A. McClure
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Q: Your work spans several genres, including documentary film-making with your own production company, journalistic interviews with celebrities, and author of several books. Is there a common thread or arc in each of these endeavours? If so, what would that be?

A: Story! Story! Story! Whether it’s making a documentary film, writing a novel, or interviewing your subjects for a non-fiction book, each has the common thread of having a good story at the core. If I have something compelling to say, I will write, direct, produce, or find an outlet to tell my story.

Q: Your latest project, Ghost Maven, is a YA novel, which is quite a departure from your previous books on Alfred Hitchcock and murder mysteries. Can you share a little about this story to whet a young reader’s appetite?

A: In Ghost Maven, I blend mystery, with suspense and the supernatural. The central character, Alice Parker, moves to Monterey, California, with her father and little sister after her mother dies. Whilst kayaking in the bay, she paddles towards a mysterious island, but capsizes and is drowning when a young man, Henry Raphael, magically appears, delivering her safely to the beach. Against all rules, they begin seeing each other. It’s a love story with a twist.

Q: Why YA at this point in your career?

A: I’m inspired to write different genres, and as a compulsive communicator, I wanted to reach out to as many different readers of all ages as possible. The Young Adult readership is especially appealing to me, as I read many books in my teens and can identify with the hopes, fears and aspirations of being a teenager. It can be a very uncertain time for many teens, but I hope they identify with the characters in the book and want to share the journey with them.

Q: Have you ever encountered a ghost or spirit form in your personal life or travels? If so, what happened? If not, do you believe in ghosts?

A: I haven’t experienced ghosts or spirit forms, but I have had some intuitive dreams. Like Alice, I have experienced personal loss, and I use those feelings to create an atmosphere of reaching to the after life. I do believe that some things can’t be explained and science is still trying to unlock the answers.

Q: What surprising correlations or similarities have you discovered between film-making and writing?

A: Good storytelling is at the heart of both film-making and writing, whether it be shaping well-developed characters, creating emotional arcs and creating compelling situations. A good film or book takes the viewer or reader on a journey of discovery, enlightenment, or good old-fashioned entertainment.

Q: What dissimilarities have you discovered between film-making and writing?

A: With film-making, one should think in visuals, rather than relying on words or dialogue. You have a rectangle to fill with a succession of images to create an emotional response. Hitchcock said he wasn’t interested in photographs of people talking in his films, so I try to rely on visuals to tell my story when directing. In fact, I often think my novels are more like screenplays as I’m always thinking of the mise-en-scène, where the characters are, how they are dressed or what expressions they have on their faces. The advantage of writing is that you can really get inside your characters’ minds, what they are thinking and feeling, which you can’t quite do in a documentary film.

Q: What would you say fuels your imagination in writing?

A: Definitely travel – I’m lucky to travel with my day job as a film-maker, and I have been to some extraordinary places and have had access to some incredible situations and people. I’m like a sponge, absorbing human behaviour and thinking of how I can translate stories to the page or screen.

Q: How long does it take you to write a novel from first draft to final edit?

A: It depends on the publishing process. I first wrote Ghost Maven in 2010, so six years later it is being published. The last 18 months has been especially productive, as the novel was honed through various drafts, and I had some wonderful input from agents and copy editors.

Q: You are represented by a literary agency, Loiacono Literary Agency, in an age when many writers are choosing to self-publish. What has been your experience in working with an agent?

A: One of support and encouragement, which is invaluable as writing can be a very lonely process. The great screenwriter Jay Presson Allen, who I interviewed, described writing as a “divorcement from life”, which I can totally identify with. But having an agent is having someone to share the rewards and accomplishments with. What’s the point of being successful, if you have no one to share that success with?:

Q: Can you tell us a little about your production company, Sabana Films, and what you are trying to accomplish with your films?

A: I won the Special Jury award last year at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival, which was an incredible, inspiring moment, and has reignited my love for natural history. I’ve started filming a documentary movie which I’m very passionate about called ‘The Cat that Changed America’. It’s about P22, the mountain lion who is trapped in Griffith Park in LA, and the wonderful conservationists and Angelenos who are trying to help him.

Q: If you could sit down and spend an evening chatting with three people, dead or alive, who would they be, and why?

A: Alfred Hitchcock, because I’ve written three books on the Master of Suspense, and currently writing a fourth on his reputation. His films have inspired me and are text book examples of film making and screenplay writing.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, as he is my favourite author, his prose is elegant, simple and elegiac. I love The Great Gatsby, the world Fitzgerald lived through and created, and the characters who populate that world.

Winston Churchill, because he epitomizes everything great about being British, what I love about England, and the country where I was born. His stoicism and heroism is something to be admired.

Q: What’s next for you, Tony?

A: I’m looking forward to my book tour for Ghost Maven. On Labour Day weekend, Saturday 3rd September 2016, at 2 p.m., I will be in the Old Capitol Books store in Monterey, California, signing copies of the book. It’s very special to me to launch the book in the place where the novel is set and where I lived for two inspirational years.
Q Where can our readers find you online?

http://www.ghostmaven.com
http://www.tonyleemoral.com
http://www.alfredhitchcockbooks.com
http://www.thecatthatchangedamerica.com
http://www.sabanafilms.com

https://www.facebook.com/tonyleemoralfans/

 

The White Horseman

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Ancient artifacts, mad sorcerers and the prophecy of a human child makes for an intriguing, compelling fantasy tale in J.S. Graydon’s first published novel The White Horseman. Saving the world is no easy feat for one human child amidst a war of destruction when one powerful messenger is summoned by the enemy: The Horseman, who will bring forth a message of apocalyptic warnings: the world of humanity will end. With the right combination of magic, wizardry and action packed adventure, Graydon’s debut will surely be a treat to readers of all ages.

Interviewer: Christy Campbell

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Tell us about J.S. Graydon, fantasy young adult author.

I am originally from England. I was raised in a very little village. The same one that is in the book! I had a wonderful childhood there. In the countryside people really do still believe in magical creatures. I truly believed that there were fairies that lived at the bottom of our garden. We had a true white witch that lived less than a mile from us! When you are brought up with such colorful people, it is hard to contain your imagination! I have since moved to southwest Florida which is a fantastic place to live. When I’m not writing, I love to travel.

Tell us about the premise behind your debut novel, The White Horseman.

Good question! The book is about a young boy that gets a chance of a lifetime to join in an adventure that will ultimately save the world. A sorcerer, determined to obtain his place within the immortal realm has begun a chain of events that if not stopped, will bring about the very End of Days itself! His spell would unleash the first of the horseman of the apocalypse: The White Horseman.

The young boy is drawn into situations of magical manipulations and of enchanted forests that are not rooted in place. He encounters wondrous creatures drawn from the myths and legends of ancient lore such as centaurs, hobgoblins, elves, and celestial beings that intervene to try to stop an ancient evil from rising again.

But while the good try to repair the damage before it’s too late, there are others that plot to sabotage. Not all those that appear to help the boy are truly what they seem. There are creatures that would love nothing but for the plan to fail. Suspicion runs rampant as it becomes clear that there is a traitor amongst them. They can only hope that they can stop the one person that stands between salvation and hell’s gates before it is too late.

How long have you been writing fiction?

I’ve been writing most of my life. I have tons of unfinished manuscripts and plays that got started but never finished! This story came to me in a dream and it was important to finish it.

What makes your book unique from other fantasy adventures on the bookshelves today?

It’s unique because there are many other programs and television shows that are on the same page (no pun intended) as this novel. For example, the television show Constantine portrays a battle with demons and angels. This is also true within my book. There are celestial forces at play in The White Horseman that will keep you guessing until the end of book! Another example would be Sleepy Hollow: This show follows more closely the ideas that The White Horseman creates. The young man, Ben, is thrust into a magical journey to stop the horseman of the apocalypse from returning to earth.

The plots and subplots also make it unique. I just love weaving ideas around each other. There is more than one story being told within the pages of The White Horseman. The characters are complex and each brings to the table a strong personality.

Tell us about the main characters in the book.

Absolutely! Ben is the main character – he is the one that crashes through the protective barrier that hides the guardian world. A prophecy picks Ben to lead a group of local characters in an effort to stop the evil wizard that plans on ruling both worlds. His mentor is Gerhardt – an ancient sorcerer whose knowledge will help guide him on his quest. He is accompanied by some very colorful characters: An elf, a Scotsman, a centaur and a hobgoblin. He also has the unpleasant task of working with a Contrary – a person cursed to live his life backwardly. Not all are as helpful as they could be. Some are not his friends at all but plan to sabotage Ben’s efforts at any cost!

Some of the conflicts in the storyline appear to be ripped from the headlines. Can you elaborate on why you chose to go that route?

Yes that is true. Though this is not a religious book by any stretch of the imagination, it does touch upon problems and issues that the world is having right now. Problems within economies and religion do play into this story as a back drop. The fictional events in the novel play into a version of what people consider being the End of Days. I just took the story a little further and asked myself “what if there was a realm aside from our own that guarded us from this misfortune?”

Did you simply wing it when it came to penning the story or did you work from an outline?

Great question! I had a general idea of what needed to be written but it was mostly written free style. I had started the story years ago, writing on ledger books – I had tons of them. Eventually I had the task of transferring the written word into a computer. That took some time! The second half of the book was written directly on the computer which definitely sped up the thinking process. Now that the characters are fully formed I plan on using an outline for the second book in the series called the Red Horseman.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing your first book?

Probably it was finishing it! I started writing it many years ago but didn’t have the discipline to finish the novel. There was a two year gap between the first half of the book and the second portion. When I picked up the book the second time around I enjoyed the characters so much that I knew that I needed to knuckle down and finish it!

Also, originally I would go back and re-read the chapter in an effort to ‘fine tune’ it. This led to me slowing down and feeling that the chapter was stale. The second time around I just barreled forward and ironed out the small details much later. This allowed me to work quicker and keep the story fresh in my mind.

Which character did you find the most difficult to portray?

The most challenging character was writing in the Contrary. The Contrary is a person born of both the human world and the world of Wode Uplands. It is a highly unusual aberration. Because the Contrary is born of both worlds he is cursed to forever live his life backwards. I must say that trying to clearly write about a man that must live his life in reverse was difficult at best but he is a very important piece in the puzzle between the two worlds. The Contrary in essence becomes like a bridge that can see into both realms. His place in the book is a vital one.

Are you an avid reader of any particular genres/titles?

Yes, yes, yes! I love to read. I will read anything. Cereal boxes, ingredient lists, magazines, books, you name it! I caught the reading bug very early in life and I believe I’ve read hundreds of books. I love young adult and fantasy books, but I relish a good mystery or thriller too! Imagination is such a wonderful tool that the mind has. Mine works on overtime. In all the hundreds of stories I’ve read or written my mind conjures up new environments and colorful scenery each time.

Tell us what’s in store for fans of J.S. Graydon?

I plan to continue writing. The White Horseman is the first in a series of five books. I have already started work on the second book, The Red Horseman. I would love to get everyone’s thoughts and reviews on the book. I’m sure that it will help guide the next books on their way!

Where can readers learn more about you and purchase The White Horseman?

The book is available for purchase immediately. I am currently on Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/White-Horseman-J-S-Graydon-ebook/dp/B00OD00U76/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=8-1&qid=1415595865

and Goodreads.com: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23324262-the-white-horseman

I also have a new website: http://www.jsgraydon.com/. It has just opened but I plan on using it as tool to connect with my readers. I am thrilled to start this new chapter (pun intended) of my life and to be able to share it with others.

 

Porcelain Keys

Sarah_Beard

Over the course of the last year and a half, I have read more books than I had read in my previous years combined, and among those stories, I have my favorites. Sarah Beard’s debut novel, Porcelain Keys, is one of them.

Sarah put a lot of her own heart into her words, and though it took her five years to get the story to where she wanted it to be, the perseverance seems worth it. I was captured from the first sentence and the rhythm swept me up to the last page. Visit Sarah at http://sarahbeard.com.

Interviewer: Joanna Celeste

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Q: Porcelain Keys centers around Aria, a gifted pianist. As a music aficionado, was the process of writing fiction much like that of composing?

A: Since music is mostly a hobby for me, I generally don’t put too much thought into my piano compositions—I just sort of let my heart lead the way. Whatever I’m feeling or thinking about comes out as music. Once I get a melody down, I’ll usually add some depth to the piece, but for the most part they’re just simple, heartfelt compositions.

I guess the first drafts of my books are that way, too. I just write what I feel without thinking too much about whether or not it’s going to work. Then once I have the story down, I go back and analyze it to death. I tear it apart and rework it over and over until I get everything just right—plot, characterization, pacing, setting, dialog, conflict, tension, etc. Each element has to be considered separately, then together as a whole.

A book could be compared to a symphony or concerto. You have all the different instruments playing different parts, serving different purposes, and when all put together you have something grand and beautiful. I don’t compose musical concertos, just little solo piano pieces, so it’s simple and easy. My books, on the other hand, are literary concertos. If one instrument (pacing, plot, etc.) is out of tune, it sours the entire work. Only when all the instruments work together and complement each other can a literary concerto become a moving masterpiece.

Q: Yes, it’s an intense process with editing being the primary focus. Throughout thefiveyear journey of writing your novel, what are some key moments or pieces of advice that strengthened you to keep moving forward?

A: There were countless times I wanted to give up during the writing of this book. Like when my critique partners would point out plot problems that seemed too big to fix, or when I couldn’t pin down a character’s motivations. I would go home feeling discouraged and would want to scrap the whole thing. But a woman in my writers group, Shauna Dansie, once gave me a great tip. She suggested that when I come across a story problem that seems impossible to fix, that I should write it down on a little piece of paper and set it aside somewhere safe, then continue working on other parts of the story. The theory is that you know in the back of your mind that there is that big problem that needs to be fixed, but you don’t have to worry about it because you have it written down somewhere. So your subconscious does all the work. And one day as you’re folding laundry, the solution just pops into your head. Or you wake up in the middle of the night, and you know why your character did that stupid thing. It worked every time.

Another piece of advice that stuck with me was one I received at a writing conference. I was sitting across the table from a literary agent at dinner (great opportunity—or so you would think) and I told her a little about my book and asked her which genre it would be—YA or women’s fiction—since the story begins when my character is 17 and ends when she is 19. New Adult was not yet an official category, so she basically told me that no publisher would ever pick up my book because there wasn’t a market for it. My shoulders must have visibly slumped because author Stephanie Fowers, who was sitting next to me, leaned over and said something like, “Don’t worry, Sarah. Just write the story you want to tell and don’t try to fit into anyone’s definition of what makes a marketable book.” I took her advice to heart and stopped worrying about trends and categories, and just wrote what I wanted to.

Q: That’s brilliant advice, since we can’t really help but write the story that is there to be told. Without being outwardly religious, there is a certain quiet weave of spirituality in your writing. Life seems to hold its own essential divinity, as you would have experienced in giving birth, surviving cancer, and living in general – but did you seek to share a particular message, or was the writing organic?

A: When I first started writing Porcelain Keys, I didn’t set out to share a specific message or lesson, I just wanted to write a great love story. But I think on an unconscious level some of the lessons I’ve learned in my own life seeped into the story. I’ve learned from experience that it’s possible for people to change and overcome character flaws, and that damaged relationships can be repaired. I also know that grief can cause people to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do. So as I wrote the story and my characters did certain things, I used my own life lessons as a reference to help me decide whether or not their actions were realistic and believable. It wasn’t until after I finished writing the story and had to start describing it in query letters that I really thought about what messages it contained.

Q: That’s awesome. On your blog you shared the inspiration of Porcelain Keys but we didn’t read the particulars of the scene that germinated your book. If you remember, please share it with us.

A: Yes, I remember the exact details of the scene. In fact, I still have it saved in a first draft (it’s horribly written, by the way). I didn’t share it on my blog because my story changed over time and the scene ended up having no relevance to the story. But it was a scene where Aria comes home from college for summer break, and she is going through a box of memorabilia when she discovers a necklace that Thomas gave her before he left town. She is surprised to see it because she thought she had gotten rid of it, and it brings back all the memories of their time together and the painful events surrounding his disappearance. This is the scene that sparked all of the questions that led me to my story. I had to know who these people were, why Thomas had left, and why he hadn’t returned as promised. For me, it was like an intriguing mystery that needed to be solved. And as I discovered the answers to these questions, I fell in love with the characters and knew that I had to tell their story.

Q: Thank you for sharing that. This is perhaps like asking you to name your favorite child, but do you have a favorite scene from your book? One that, no matter how many times you read it, resonates with you?

A: This is a tough one to answer without giving away too much of the story, but one of my favorite scenes is in chapter nineteen when an unexpected visitor walks into the parlor. My heart swells every time I read it, even though I’ve read it five million times. I also love the scene where Thomas gives Aria a painting—it always brings tears to my eyes because I know how much it means to her. The hardest scene to write was in chapter twenty-two where Aria and Thomas have a long talk—I must have rewritten it at least a dozen times—but it turned out to be one of my favorites.

Q: I loved those scenes, too. That seems to be the hardest part of being a writer, or any artist—knowing when to step away from the story and let it out into the world. Porcelain Keys is published by Sweet Water, an imprint of Cedar Fort. You mentioned that they have been wonderful to work with – what have been some of your adventures in publishing?

A: I haven’t had too many adventures in publishing since this is my first novel, but I did spend about seven months querying literary agents before being accepted for publication by Cedar Fort. During that time I sent out a total of 45 query letters, and got a few bites, including a 2000-word email from an agent listing all the things she loved about my manuscript—and all the things she wanted me to change. I was on an airplane when I got her email, ready for takeoff, and I only got the gist of it before I had to turn off my phone. I spent the four-hour flight wanting to die, and then give up writing, and then die again. It’s the worst feeling, spending hundreds or even thousands of hours on a manuscript, only to have someone tear it apart and tell you all the things you should change.

But when I got home and got a good night’s rest, I opened the email and read it more thoroughly. I realized that she actually really liked my book and had a lot of great suggestions—which was a good sign. Literary agents don’t usually give that much feedback unless they’re really interested in your manuscript. So I took most of her suggestions and implemented them. But there was one big change that I didn’t agree with and felt would make my entire story collapse. Because of this, I didn’t feel she was the right agent for me. So I kept sending out query letters to other agents. Around this time, a friend lent me a book that was published by Cedar Fort, and I really loved it, so I decided to send my manuscript to Cedar Fort. And two months later I got an email from their acquisitions editor saying they wanted to publish it—just the way it was.

Q: Congratulations! You also mentioned that you look forward to a long working relationship with Sweet Water. Do you have a second book planned?

A: I’m working on another young adult romance right now. I don’t want to say too much about it, but it’s set on a California beach and involves chocolate, surfing, and supernatural elements. I also have detailed outlines for two more after that, both young adult romances.

Q: That is wonderful! What will you take from this launch, to utilize in your next release?

A: I’ve learned that when it comes to getting the initial word out about a book, bloggers and book reviewers are a writer’s best friends! Also, it’s pointless to stress about things that aren’t in your control, like which bookstores will pick up your book, or whether or not reviewers like your book. Stress kills creativity, so I’m learning to stop hovering and instead get back to what I can control: writing more books!

Q: Good plan! What, if any, is/are your life motto(s)?

A: I don’t really have a life motto, but there are things I try to remember everyday: That life is short and that I should make the most of each moment. That worldly success is enjoyable, but can’t bring lasting happiness. Only my relationship with God and my family can do that. They are the constant in the ups and downs of life. They will be there when fans and literary agents and publishers are not. So God and family always come first, because to lose my relationship with them would be to lose everything.

 

Loneliest Time of Her Life

LTOHL_Book_CoverFor a high school senior like Dakota Washington, the only thing worse than enrolling in a different school for her final year is the discovery that she already has a ruthless enemy cruising the halls and waiting to destroy her reputation. In her edgy new novel, Loneliest Time of Her Life, author Erika L. Banks skillfully juggles multiple points of view against the contemporary backdrop of a high school that every reader will not only be able to relate to but will also cause them to contemplate what their own choices might be in the same volatile situation.

Interview: Christina Hamlett

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Q: What inspired you to make bullying the cornerstone premise of your debut YA novel?

A: Bullying has reached epidemic proportions in our schools and communities.  The recent spike in bully-related suicides and violence among youth has inspired me to pen my first book, Loneliest Time of Her Life.

Q: How much research was involved in capturing the vulnerabilities of today’s young people as well as the cruel realities of what is becoming an escalating problem in schools throughout the country?

A: I, unfortunately, had a great deal of knowledge about the vulnerabilities of today’s youth prior to starting this project. I had spoken to and read stories of middle and high school students who experienced bullying first-hand. It was interesting to learn about the characteristics of these young people which are evident in each one of the characters in the book.

Q: What role do you believe technology contributes to the way that teenagers – and even adults – are interacting with each other these days versus earlier eras in which texting, iPhones and social media venues didn’t exist?

A:  Technology has taken bullying to a whole new level. There has not just been an increase in the number of bullying incidents, but the severity of the words and actions used to bully have increased significantly as well. Bullies now have a powerful platform to harass their peers with little to no chance of being caught.

Q: It’s often said that there are multiple sides to every story based on individuals’ respective frames of reference and interpretations of events. You’ve taken a unique approach in Loneliest Time of Her Life by not only mixing first and third person narrative but also advancing the plot through the viewpoints of four diverse individuals. Tell us about how you chose that structure and why you feel it works.

A: The structure in which the book was written gives the reader a well-rounded view of bullying. I felt that this was important because everyone is involved. Whether you are the bully, victim or bystander, everyone has an opportunity to impact any bullying situation. By presenting the story from the perspective of all involved, the reader is able to identify with and relate to the story in a personal way.

Q: Which of the characters do you relate to the most?

A: I relate to Brooklyn the most. I, like Brooklyn, am a very fair and impartial person. I stand up for what’s right and I am not afraid to defend something or someone if I think it’s appropriate. I value my friendships deeply and will do everything I can to keep the peace. However, when push comes to shove, I will walk away from friends who bring harm to others and relationships that are filled with drama.

Q: If Hollywood came calling with an invitation to adapt this compelling novel to a feature-length film, who would your dream cast be?

A: I would love to see Dakota Fanning play Dakota, KeKe Palmer play Brooklyn and Maia Mitchell play Paige. They are very talented actresses and I think they’d do a wonderful job bringing these characters to life. I pulled from them when I developed each of the main characters, so their personalities are reflected in the book.

Q: Your three teen females – Dakota, Paige and Brooklyn – have been raised by mothers and fathers with radically different approaches to parenthood. What influence do you feel each of those parents had on the volatile situations in which their daughters subsequently find themselves as seniors in high school?

A: I think the parents had a big influence on each of them. Dakota’s dismissive mother and uninvolved father, Paige’s clueless parents and Brooklyn’s uninformed parents hindered their ability to help the situation. They all, in their own way, felt like they had no one to turn to. I believe if the parents were more aware of what was going on in the lives of their daughters, things would not have gone as far as they did.

Q: What advice would you give a real-life young person in Dakota’s shoes if she felt she had no one to whom she could turn with her problem?

A: Although not always obvious, I believe that everyone has access to someone who could support and offer advice in this situation. Whether a doctor, pastor or neighbor, everyone always has someone to turn to. There are also a lot of great resources out there that people in this situation can use. Stomp out Bullying, The Trevor Project and Stop Bullying are three of many helpful organizations that one can contact for help.

Q: What type of impact and takeaway value do you want your readers to come away with by the final chapter?

A: I hope that everyone who reads this book will walk away with a deep understanding of each character’s emotions, feelings and reasons for their actions. Because everyone who reads this book will be able to relate to at least one of the characters, I hope that they will learn from the good and not so good decisions made by them. I would love for this book to open up a dialogue between students, parents and school professionals about this difficult topic.

Q: This book should be required reading in high schools – and even junior highs – as a starting point for discussions about how to treat one another. Are you taking steps to make that happen?

A: Yes, I am hoping to use this book as a basis for book clubs, workshops and informal discussions among high school students, teachers and parents.

Q: Although the book is clearly a stand-alone title, you deliver a positively chilling cliffhanger that begs us to ask, “What happened next?????” Do you have plans in the works to answer that question with a sequel or do you prefer readers to formulate their own conclusions?

A: Both. I do have plans for a sequel, but also want the readers to create their own conclusion. By imagining a variety of possible outcomes, I hope the reader will think beneath the surface and want to take action.

Q: Tell us what governed your decision to self-publish Loneliest Time of her Life.

A: My initial desire was to publish through a well established publishing agency. There are many books out there about bullying, and these agencies tend to favor already established writers. When considering self publishing, I realized that getting my book out there was the most important thing and how I did that didn’t really matter. I was happy to find several wonderful self publishing companies available to choose from to publish my work.

Q: What do you know now about the business of publishing and marketing that you didn’t know when you first set out to write the book?

A: Publishing through an agency has its advantages, but I learned that it may not always be the best way to go. Self publishing has come a long way and is much more respected today than it was years ago. I also learned that marketing is key. Whether you self publish or publish through an agency, you must be willing to devote time to marketing your work if you want it to be successful.

Q: Have you done other types of writing in addition to YA?

A: I have self published a second book called High School Graduation: What I Want For My Life. It is a book for high school seniors graduating without a plan.

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

A: You will find a little bit of Erika in Dakota, Paige and Brooklyn. In high school I was in each of their shoes at one time or another.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: In addition to my full time corporate job, I am working on a few projects. I am working with Georgia Tech to identify a way to effectively help high school students prepare for post high school life. I am also in the process of setting up The Margaret G. Banks Foundation, a non-profit foundation in honor of my mother. It will provide scholarships to high school students who would like to go to college but need financial assistance. I am also working on another book for high school students that will help them do what they need to do now so they can do what they want to do later.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Our youth have so much to be excited about when it comes to their future. Unfortunately, many of them are not. We need to do better in helping our youth not only prepare for their future, but provide bully free environments where they can focus on learning, creating and becoming everything they were meant to be. I’m excited about the future of our youth and it’s time to get them excited, too!

 

 

 

 

Angels Dawn

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Friends, cute boys and lots of fun are the usual expectations of a teenage girl’s birthday affair. Unless you are the key to a past crime that you can’t remember. In Komali da Silva’s debut novel Angels Dawn, one typical teen girl finds herself thrown into a world of intrigue and danger on her sixteenth birthday, with a dose of mysterious romance on the side.

Interviewer: Christy Campbell

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When did you first decide you wanted to be a writer?

Actually, it was never my plan. I always wanted to study sports medicine but that plan was destroyed because I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. I had to stop doing sports for a while and I found time to read. I found my life and dreams in those books.!I was always good in writing but never invested time willingly. One day, I was on my way to work. I was sitting in the train and this idea came rushing into my mind. First thing I did was take a piece of paper and write it down, so the journey began.

Tell us about Angels Dawn. How did you come up with the concept of this novel?

I just saw these three characters in my imagination waiting to come out. Then I started writing with the description of Dawn and the story began to write itself. It’s mainly written in Dawn’s point of view because I felt very close to her. She is a 15 year old girl, living in a small town in Florida. On her 16th birthday everything changes in her life. It’s a teenage love story with a bit of a dark twist in it.

How many books are there in your debut series? 

I’m planning for three but it could also be four J

When you sit down and get to work, what habits or routines to do you have?

I always read the last chapter I wrote, that way I can start at the same place where my thoughts left me. Sometimes I even read a chapter or two of a book I really like, so that I’m inspired to write.

What is it about the young adult market that nabbed your desire to write for that genre?

It’s strange, I’m a 30 some year old woman, but I love reading young adult books. It keeps me young in heart and mind. Toni Morrison once said, if there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it. So that’s what I did.

Who were some of the authors and titles that may have influenced your writing journey?

Becca Fitzpatrick: Hush Hush series, Carlos Ruiz Zafon: Shadow of the Wind, The Angel’s Game and the Prisoner of Heaven. J.K. Rowling: Harry Potter, all of them books And of course Lauren Kate: Fallen Series, Teardrop and not to forget Charles Dickens: Oliver Twist – It was the very first book I ever read.

Do you know where the story is going when you sit down to write it, or do you prefer to have an outline?

With Angels Dawn, I had a different ending planned but when I was almost there, my fingers typed something very different. I like that ending way more than the planned one so I polished it up and let it flow. I’m not an outline person. I like my imagination to play with my ideas. I think good books always need to have its freedom. I’m not the storyteller it’s the story, which tells the author what comes next. 

That’s how I feel with my books.

When it comes to leisure reading, what are some titles you might recommend for teens?

That’s a tough question. I love all the books written by Lauren Kate. I’m a crazy fan girl when it comes to my favorite authors. Lauren Kate visited Milano, Italy on her book tour and I traveled by train to Milano only to meet her. May be I should mention that I live in Bern Switzerland. So that’s like four hours by train to Milano. We got a lot of amazing authors out there; some of my absolute favorite authors include Cassandra Clare, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Cecelia Ahern, J.K. Rowling, Becca Fitzpatrick, Kami Garcia , Margaret Stohl, P.C. Cast and Richelle Mead.

What are the biggest challenges for authors attempting to break into the young adult market?

There are many good and talented YA authors in the market, so it’s very difficult to get the readers to see your work. There is so much of promotion behind the process and one got to have a lot of luck on her side as well. And of course, readers love to compare. That doesn’t help much but don’t we do that too? 😀

What’s up next for your adventures in writing? 

At the moment I’m writing Fight for Dawn, book two of the series. Then I hope on finishing the series. Then I also have an idea for another novel. But it’s going to be a stand-alone and not YA related.

 

Angels Dawn is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.

The Promise of Living

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Writer and mythologist Joseph Campbell once said, “Opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems most challenging.”

Today’s young adult novels provide readers with a flourish of paranormal characters, dystopian societies, and lots of new romance. What if readers had an opportunity to travel back to a time where there was no social media, obsessions with cell phones or flipping through the electronic pages of a book?

In J. Lee Graham’s young adult novel, The Promise of Living, you won’t run into any vampires, werewolves or wizards, but you will find a young man who perceives danger before it happens, and the impact it has on his life as a small town boy caught up in a world of dark mystery, self-discovery and the sensitive steps into first romance territory.

Interviewer: Christy Campbell

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Tell us about The Promise of Living, one of four novels you’ve published.

The Promise of Living is a young adult coming of age novel set in the small, bucolic town of Wilson’s Ferry, New Hampshire in 1975. Ryan Colton is sixteen, and he and his best friend Dave work on a farm. It begins in late June, their final week of their junior year at school. While milking the cows one late afternoon, Ryan has a vision, a premonition, if you will, of a townsperson hanging herself. Throughout the summer and into their senior year, he continues to have visions that reveal the dark secrets of the people in his hometown. In one of them, he sees a young girl being murdered, but he can’t see her face or stop its occurrence. At the same time, he struggles with an inner, hidden, more prevailing growing pain about his feelings for Dave.

You chose to set the book in the 1970’s. How do you think a young adult reader from 2013 might relate to that? 

I set the novel in the 1970’s to remove the easy distraction of electronic devices. For me, it’s harder to establish conflict when everyone in the novel has access to the Internet or a phone. Besides, a coming out/coming of age story is universal. Ryan’s feelings for Dave happen regardless of the times, and I wanted Ryan not to have, again, easy access to LGBT information; blogs, role models, etc. I wanted to emphasize his struggle, not from a moral or religious perspective, but from a personal, self-esteem perspective. Again, removing the superfluous details and distractions of smart phones and social media highlights Ryan’s journey. Ironically, even with today’s extreme use of electronics, there are still many young people discovering themselves, where the coming out process is just as powerful and transformational as Ryan’s.

The theme of authenticity is strong in The Promise of Living. How does that resonate with you? 

Authenticity is a strong theme in many of my novels and plays: the power that comes from recognizing the ‘clothing’ of honesty and self-worth that one chooses to wear. That’s a major experience for young adults, straight, gay, transgender, etc. Being honest about who you are and allowing that code of integrity to guide you throughout your life. It’s funny, but a lot of adults who’ve read the book, also comment on that theme. It is an aspect that resonates throughout all our lives.

Is this book in any way autobiographical? If so, fill us in.

I think there is an element of autobiography in every novel we read. How about that for a dodge? I think there is a percentage of autobiography that creeps into all our work even if one were writing science fiction. Ryan, I have to say, is definitely not me, I wish he were! Small town characters and small town mores are pretty common, and I did live in Boston for a while, but fiction is fiction.

In The Promise of Living, you juxtapose the beauty of the city of Boston with the ugliness of the small rural town of Wilson’s Ferry. Most writers do the opposite. Why? 

I know, we see that so often! The small town sanctified beyond belief juxtaposed with the brutal dirt and corruption of a large city. Many writers draw from the idea of the ‘journey’ where the hero leaves the small farm, home, family, etc. and ventures out into the world, usually symbolized by a metropolis or at the very least, a war near a metropolis. For me, I wanted to create a Wilson’s Ferry that was filled with dirty secrets and shame. I wanted to symbolize that with the run down appearance of the town, the Commons, the dilapidated homes near the polluted river, etc. (And truth be told, there are, sadly, many small towns that are very economically depressed and it shows.) I wanted Ryan’s perception of Boston to be one of promise and hope and I highlighted the beauty there: its sense of community, the cobblestone streets, the old but beautiful Colonial and Victorian homes, etc. Have you been to Boston? It’s a jewel of a city.

Ryan, the main character, goes on a journey of self-discovery. Do you think that type of journey is common with people his age?

The theme of ‘going on a journey’ is a powerful theme since before the Greek and Roman Myths. Joseph Campbell calls it ‘the hero’s journey’, where one starts out with one view, goes down into the darkness, confronts his shadow self and comes out a renewed person. It’s a reflection and a process that happens over and over in our lives. So, with Ryan, it’s a discovery of his gifts: his gift for visual perspicacity and acumen, his discovery of his own sexuality, his own authenticity in being who he is and not morphing or hiding it, are all elements of self-discovery and yes, that journey is common with people his age. It’s like the Vision Quests of the Native American culture. One leaves the tribe, faces his greatest fears, becomes stronger and realizes his own unique gifts which he then brings back to share with the tribe. That’s the important aspect. The sharing of one’s gifts with the tribe.

What authors have greatly influenced you as a writer? 

Wow, so many. I love the universal wonder and beauty of Thornton Wilder; the cliff-hangers of James Fenimore Cooper; the power of language in Hemingway and Fitzgerald and Toni Morrison, the creative visual genius of Willa Cather; the way Dickens can tug at your heart strings; the pathos of Forster, Maugham, Baldwin, Capote, and even Cheever. I respect them all, and there are many, many others. I feel like I stand on the shoulders of giants.

Your other novels involve a thirteen year old and a much different premise. What was it like switching from that type of genre to the young adult one?

Yes, my other novels are a time travel adventure series for Middle Grade. It wasn’t too hard to move ‘up’ in a chronological sense. The dialogue between Ryan and Dave allowed more maturity in their perspectives on life and I could use the cadence of their speech to reflect their intimate friendship.

When I ‘switched back’ after The Promise of Living to write my third time travel novel, there was a major shift that I could feel, a jarring like when one slams on the brakes of a car. I had to constantly revise my writing remembering to reflect a more adventurous tone and a different flavor with these characters’ dialogue. I actually re-read book number one and two to bring my brain back to that world that I had created. In book number three, the characters are now fourteen years old and I had to really be mindful of how their discourse would reflect their age. Plus, the readership of a middle grade novel is much different than the readership of a young adult novel and I had to remember that as I wrote as well.

Have you always want to be a writer? 

I have. Joseph Campbell said, “Follow your bliss,” and while I did do that in many other parts of my life, sadly, I didn’t do that with writing. I remember being shot down emotionally by my family when I casually announced at 13 that I wanted to be a writer, and I realize now how debilitating even that slight encounter has been.

What’s next on your plate? 

Well, as I’ve mentioned, I write middle grade time travel novels, currently a trilogy. In the Nick of Time, The Time of his Life, and just out this October, All the Time in the World. They are all available on Amazon.

I’m toying with a murder mystery series extracted from my work as a professional astrologer. Not autobiographical at all, just an extract, a seed where the mystery is created and solved with a slight astrological framework. It’s fun to think about, and create. It’ll be written for adults, so, we’ll see.

And of course, we must know. Who’s that on the cover?

That is my cousin! Actually, he did work on a farm.

Where can readers find out more about your work? 

The Promise of Living is available at Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/Promise-Living-J-Lee-Graham-ebook/dp/B00992NIT0/ref=sr_1_9?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1383928688&sr=1-9&keywords=the+promise+of+living

Readers can follow my blog at www.jleegraham.blogspot.com

 

 

 

 

 

Into the Unknown

Into the Unknown

What happens when a girl enters a city with no name, and a plan to change the future for all of its citizens? Dystopian fans who love mystery, action and a heroine who manages her own army will enjoy a journey Into the Unknown, the debut novel from German author Alice Reeds. The first in a series to come, Into the Unknown takes readers into the life of Bexx Kajan, a seemingly ordinary young woman who, as it turns out, isn’t so ordinary after all as she sets out on a dangerous mission to avenge the death of her sister and defeat enemies along the way.

Interviewer: Christy Campbell

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Tell us about yourself and how you decided to become an author.

My name is Alice Reeds, I’m from Europe and I started to write and read around the age of eight or nine. I started off with little, quite naïve stories, which mostly never got finished, but I somehow always knew that I wanted to do something with writing. Three years ago I wrote a twenty five page long novella as a Christmas gift for a friend of mine – more as a joke and not as serious novella – but now I think it was my first step into really getting into writing. I also wrote a story that has around one hundred seventeen pages in length but I never finished it as I came to the conclusion that it is too simple and too naïve. But as I started to write Into the Unknown, the dream of one day becoming a known author seemed real and so I decided that I really want to go down this road and prove myself in the writers’ world and show that my novels are worth reading.

Into the Unknown is your first novel. When did you come up with the idea to write it?

According to my first Word document that I created in order to write Into the Unknown, I started writing on the December 29th 2012. I remember that it was a gray day and I was walking down a street while listening to an electronic song by David Guetta and then it suddenly hit me. I had this whole picture in my head which in the end turned out to be the first scene in Chapter One. From that day on, the whole story started to come to life in my head and later also on paper.

Why did you decide to write a novel set in a dystopian world?

After I read Awaken by Katie Kacvinsky in 2011, I think, I started to really fall in love with the genre and this way of seeing the future, which just fascinated me from the beginning. I enjoy seeing how different authors see our future and how it all looks in their novels. This led me to think of my own vision of the future and as my ideas for Into the Unknown started to grow, a vision of a dystopian future in which my characters would live, started to form and develop.

In Into the Unknown you also talk about genetic engineering. How did you come up with the idea for that component of the story? 

I would say people in general always had this idea of manipulating animals in order to clone them. During the Olympic Games there were all those news stories saying that athlete XY is much too good he/she has to be on steroids or be somehow genetically different. Besides that, people also always had this thing for superheroes, like Superman who’s incredibly strong and so on.

I came up with the idea to actually make gene manipulations a thing in my novel. Of course, as I came up with the idea I had totally no idea of genes and all that, as I actually don’t take biology in school, so I had to do some amount of research on the Internet to find what I could more or less understand.

Your blog was first written only in German and later on also in English. Why did you decide to write a novel in English?

That’s a good question. For years I’ve been writing in German, as I feel I can express myself better in German, but then I started to be around people who only spoke English. Slowly but steadily my preference changed and now I feel like English is my writing language. I knew that if I wrote my novel in English, I could reach a bigger audience as there are more people who speak English then German.

In one of your chapters you talk about a song by Queen and its meaning. Is there a particular reason why you chose Queen and not another band or singer?

For me it was important to choose a band that would really stand out, as they are the band that represents the culture of the past in my novel. So I was thinking about it and one day “I Want It All” was playing on the radio and that’s when I knew it had to be this song and this band. Queen comes from a time when music was made due to passion and not predominantly because labels wanted to make music and singers really had to be able to sing as they didn’t have auto tune back then (so lucky). Besides that, Freddy Mercury was a wonderful, one of a kind singer with a voice that no one will ever be able to imitate or “out sing” and so I felt that it was the right choice, instead of musicians that people listen to today, who mostly just sing about how they want to party or have sex with someone.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing a novel?

As a student I always had the problem of finding time for writing between school and homework, but another thing that was quite challenging was finding the determination to really sit down and simply write. The first 20,000 words took me around seven or eight months because I had very long periods where I couldn’t get myself to write. I just didn’t quite know where I wanted my story to go. Yet the last 25,000 words, more or less took me between three to five days, which I still cannot believe. Somehow inspiration just hit me together with the determination to really write this novel and have it done. So I just sat down and wrote it all.

As a new self-published author, what are the things you know now that you wish you would have known before? 

For one, I wished I would have known just how expensive it is in terms of getting a professional editor/proofreader to go over your work. Another thing that I wished I would have known before is that if you want to get published the old fashioned way and you want to get published by the big ones like Katherine Tegen Books or Penguin, you need to have an agent. At first I thought okay that surely isn’t that hard, right? Wrong. The process is extremely long and nerve-racking and so it led me to self-publish because I decided that I just don’t want to go down that road. I wish I would have known that before in order to just save myself from all the sleepless nights and anxiety waiting for an answer.

Tell us about some German authors whose work you admire and why.

To be honest, I don’t read many German authors but the one I really love, and who is my favorite author of all, is Sebastian Fitzek. He’s a psycho-thriller author whose books always managed to surprise and fascinate me. I still remember the nights I read his book called Seelenbrecher (Soul Breaker would be the most accurate translation in English) and I was torn between I have to know what happens next and No, no, no! Put that book away, this is way too scary so you won’t be able to sleep. I was around fourteen years old when I read it and it’s quite a scary and gory book.

What genres do you enjoy reading?

Quite obviously I enjoy dystopian and post-apocalyptic books, but I also like to read books like The Fault in Our Stars by John Green or The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay, which are the type of books that will make you happy and cry and just give you this constant roller-coaster of emotions. I really love that.

When I was younger, I loved vampire books. I have a ton of those, but right now I cannot even look at them anymore as I’m just so fed up with vampire stories. They seem to be all the same, in a way.

You’re only nineteen years old! What are your plans for the future when it comes to writing?

Well, after high school I want to take a year off and just relax and give myself the time to write and do fun stuff. After that I’m planning to go to University in order to study journalism. My dream job would be to work as a journalist for one of the bigger music magazines, like Kerrang! I’ve always had a passion for music, and it’s also related to writing, so I could really picture myself in such a job. Besides that, I want to continue writing and maybe one day be able to call myself somewhat of a successful author. Right now, during NNWM (National Novel Writing Month) I’m trying to reach the goal of writing 50,000 words in less than thirty days, which I want to use in my second book for my Hunting Freedom-Trilogy, so we’ll see how that’ll go. Of course, I know that going down this road of being an author and publishing books will be a very long process, but I’m willing to take my chances and just see what will happen!

Into the Unknown is available for Kindle at Amazon.com

Visit Alice Reeds’ blog at http://www.alicereedsbettgeschichten.blogspot.de/

Seasons of Raina

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According to the National Education Association, It is estimated that 160,000 children miss school every day due to fear of attack or intimidation by other students. But as Oprah Winfrey once said, “It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from. The ability to triumph begins with you – always.”

Moving, finding oneself, learning to adjust to a large family . . . these are just a few of the curveballs thrown into one Colorado ninth grader’s life in Seasons of Raina, the debut young adult novel by Milissa Nelson.

A victim of bullying, Raina is sent to live with extended family in a small, rural town in Minnesota, quite the opposite of the metropolis that is Denver, where she hails from. Thrust into the life of a family of ten, Raina faces the crowding of eight cousins, the expectancy of a new school and new friends, yet a chance to discover herself. As it turns out, Raina is much stronger than she ever imagined. Sports, music and the adaptation to sharing rooms and problems with so many family members brings a surprising element of accepting change into Raina’s life. Seasons of Raina takes the reader on a warm, insightful journey into the struggling life of one young girl, who learns to balance the acceptance of herself, and the powerful effects that bullying can leave behind.

Author Milissa Nelson offers You Read It Here First a glimpse into Raina’s world, as well as her own.

Interviewer: Christy Campbell

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Q: In Seasons of Raina, you explore the effects of bullying. Why did you choose this topic?

A: I needed Raina to have a plausible reason for her to re-locate such a long distance from her parents. I wanted her to move in with a family that closely resembled mine, so that I could write about what it was like to grow up in a large family. I needed a convincing reason, and I chose bullying. I’ve lived in both Colorado and Minnesota and love both places. I just needed to get her to Minnesota where I had spent more of my youth growing up. In general, life is better when people treat each other kindly and I wanted to show it was possible.

Q: Do you have a specific age range you are trying to reach with Seasons of Raina, considering it is a young adult novel?

A: I am writing for the upper elementary and middle school audience mostly. The language in “Seasons of Raina” is family friendly. The cousins in my novel have an age range of 3 to 17, so there is someone for most everyone to identify with. I also tried to write it for the entire family to enjoy. It is my attempt at a 1970s era version of a Laura Ingalls Wilder novel.

Q: You chose to write Raina into a large family rather than a small one. What governed your decision to create that particular dynamic for her?

A: Being part of a large family is what I know. I am seventh and I meet very few other seventh children. I wanted to share what it was like to grow up with a larger than average family and the special uniqueness of that. I am extremely grateful for my family.

Q: If you could come up with your own marketing pitch for Seasons of Raina, how would you draw readers in to purchase your book?

A: It is a great chapter book for beginning readers who want to tackle a longer story. The family friendly wording allows for “Seasons of Raina” to be read aloud and enjoyed by all. It is a book about the bonds of family, the advantages of trying new things, and it also has both serious and funny moments.

Q: Interestingly, your book takes place in the 1970’s. Modern trends are mentioned in the story that are quite common nowadays. Did your family participate in those things during your childhood?

A: I set the story in the 70s, because that was the last time that my entire family lived under one roof and I wanted to include all of my siblings. The older ones started to leave to attend college in the late 70s. We did recycle way before it was convenient. We drove our newspapers, glass, food cans, and aluminum 25 miles to a recycling center where we dropped them off and sorted them into collection bins. We were taught that resources are finite and we needed to conserve them. We had several paper bags set up near our wastebasket to save the recyclables in, until we had enough to make a trip to the recycling center.  We also composted food waste, leaves and grass from the lawn and dug it into our garden occasionally. Our garden was organic and we never treated our lawn or used weed killer. My parents did most of the work, but we pulled the weeds and used a tool designed to pull up the roots, and a push behind cultivator.

Q: Give us a few of your favorite authors and why you enjoy their work.

A: My favorite authors are Lucy Maud Montgomery, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Willa Cather, and Carol Ryrie Brink. I love how they could make ordinary everyday lives, interesting. They were great storytellers and I love re-reading their books, even today.

Q: How was your own childhood similar or different to that of your young protagonist?

A: Raina became a combination of many different people. The biggest thing that I share with her is that I moved in high school and experienced a lot of new situations and took part in new and different activities. I am grateful for that move because I grew in many ways and became much more adaptable. I also learned that home can be anywhere there are people that you love.

Q: Did you find Raina easy to write? Describe her personality.

A: Raina is quiet, but when comfortable, has things to say. It was fun to write her part because I could compare and contrast her situations from before, with her new reality. She has a sense of humor and is respectful of others. I also gave her a drive to get better at things. She is someone who will put in the time necessary to see improvement.

Q: Bullying continues to grow into more and more of problem in today’s world. What advice would you give to children and teens about bullying?

A: I would say to try and treat everyone as kindly and respectfully as you can. Practice being nice to others even when they are not kind to you and try to not react to a bully, but sometimes by calmly talking through the criticism they have thrown at you, you can diffuse the bully from escalating the situation. When the bully stops finding any fun in being a bully, they start to feel silly. A caution though, is that this is not always possible when there is a potentially dangerous situation and sometimes adult intervention is needed.

Q: What hobbies do you enjoy in your spare time?

A: I like to participate in sports. Because of the size of the school I attended, they did not cut those who wanted to participate, so I was allowed to play volleyball, basketball, and I ran for the track team. I had a lot of fun. To this day, I would much rather participate than watch. I also have played the trumpet since elementary school and have sung with my family since I was very small. Even as an adult, opportunities to participate in making music are plentiful.

Q: When did you develop the desire to begin writing?

A: I have always enjoyed writing and find it to be very relaxing. I took a creative writing class in college where I majored in music education and I enjoyed it a lot.

Q: If you could jump into any piece of fiction out there today, which character would you like to be?

A: I enjoy reading about Anne’s adventures in “Anne of Green Gables” and “Anne of Avonlea”. She is a very sincere girl, who has great intentions but somehow things don’t always go as hoped for. I love her fanciful use of language too and how she usually sees the good in things.

 

Seasons of Raina is available at North Star Press (http://www.northstarpress.com/products/seasons-of-raina) as well as on Amazon.

 

A Conversation with Loulou Szal

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Loulou Szal, a teacher and homeschooling mother, is passionate about advancing the vocabulary of children and teenagers, and inspiring the same love of reading that has been part of her life through a wide range of experiences. She makes a point to personalize the books she signs, to engage young readers in the story from the first page. She believes that “as adults, we should show children how precious books are” and she follows through on that philosophy in many ways. It was a pleasure to talk with her and discover her perspective.

Interviewer: Joanna Celeste

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Q: What inspired you to self-publish The Diary of Arnmore?

A: I had had my writing published in my high school newspapers and university papers. I loved having my work out there. After I graduated I went straight into teaching and so was busy.  I didn’t write as much ‘till my husband and I moved to Papua New Guinea for two years and ran out of books to read and borrow. He asked me to write something and read it to him, so I started The Diary of Arnmore.

When I finally asked family and friends to read it, they loved it and asked for copies when it was published. So, I began to look for a publisher. This is going back 24 years. The publishing market in Australia was small and limited. Back then you had to send printed copies by mail, with SASEs and this could take 6-8 weeks. I got some rejections and some encouragement from publishers who liked the story but didn’t publish what I wrote, which was fantasy [this is pre- Harry Potter].

So I decided to try overseas… it was even harder and more daunting to mail my story to people I would never see face-to-face and perhaps wait for a rejection. It was expensive and stressful. I didn’t trust an agent, was unsure of copyright, so I put it on the back burner.

We had children. Then came the Internet, so I tried to send my story off electronically, which seemed easier. One of the American publishers, Xlibris, kept up a steady contact. One of their reps called to say that they had been bought into by Penguin Books and would I be interested?

I checked the Internet for information of this merger and discussed it with my husband. He really believed the novel was a good one and we decided to go with self-publishing as it seemed to be fast and would cut out all the middle-men.

They had the published book in my hands within 10 weeks and it was a dream come true. It was just a long process and a mix of time, energy, emotion and trust to let the book go. Even to worry about what people might say. I had to be willing to take the good comments with the bad. So far, the comments have all been good.

Q: Congratulations. Your son, Jeremy Szal, is also an accomplished writer. What are some of the ways your shared passions have brought you closer?

A: My son is a great guy, he has always had loads of energy and so from the time he was a toddler, I always directed him to books to satisfy his restlessness and keep his attention. He is now 18 and writing is his hobby. We talk about books all the time. Books we are reading, writers and their styles, scripts, and books turned into movies. We talk about what we are writing, we critique each other and he often emails me his latest work to read. It doesn’t have to always be about books but the open communication is there. Since he was home-schooled most of his life, I have always been there and so we are close. He has other friends of course, but he and I are usually on the same page when it comes to books, even though he prefers Sci-Fi and I don’t.

He has actually thanked me on a few occasions for showing him how to enjoy books and writing and for sharing the high regard I have for these things, with him. I take it as a great compliment!

Q: That’s wonderful. I enjoyed your post “What I’m Reading…” (http://loulouszalbooks.wordpress.com/2013/07/24/what-im-reading/) that shared some of your experiences homeschooling your daughter on the classics. As a school teacher, who also homeschooled your children, what are the benefits and pitfalls that you experienced teaching your kids at home?

A: Not many pitfalls at all really. When they were younger it was hard to make an appointment for a hair-cut or dentist for myself. Personal time comes only at 11pm, but we are a close family and that’s always meant a lot to us. I have been able to enjoy my career and be at home with my kids at the same time.

They also had the unique experience of traveling the world with us, exposed to tremendous culture: visiting places from the Eiffel Tower and the Leaning Tower of Pisa to the Swiss Alps, the Pyramids, and the Colosseum. They completed a year of school in Europe and became fluent in German. The school system there was different and based more on how many ‘failures’ you made in class, not how many things you got  ‘right’; this is completely in contrast to my training and the sense that a child should be given positive reinforcement, not negative. It also curbed our sightseeing and so we took them out after a year [and they were grateful].

I have always taken care to see that my kids had the social activities to help their skills in that area. Hence my home has always been the base for group classes with other home schooled kids, and my kids were always involved in classes like piano, tennis, gymnastics, etc. for a decade, and we also held picnics in the park and the beach.
Q: Cool! Another fascinating post from your blog was “Reading and Writing Has Changed” (http://loulouszalbooks.wordpress.com/2013/08/14/reading-and-writing-has-changed/). How do you think our digital age has impacted education?

A: It certainly has. The digital age has had a huge hand in this. Of course, I want my information faster now too, but not at the expense of the beauty of the English language, or the written word in any language.

A friend, a young 21-year-old man, showed me a brilliant antique book he had bought in a sale, Cassell’s Household Guide of Every Department of Practical Life, being a Complete Encyclopaedia to Domestic and Social Economy, printed in 1869. It’s a step-by-step guide to daily living for the middle and upper-middle classes of British society. Guidance and instruction on every aspect of life, ranging in subject matter from bread-making to death in the household, even the treatment of insanity. It’s beautiful and hilarious at the same time but it is written majestically.

Page 49 discusses acceptable employment for women: “the opening of the situation of a librarian to educated gentle-women… in either public institutions or in private families of rank or wealth… the work is such that a lady of good attainments and education could undertake to enjoy. It requires no great physical exertion, no exposure to the weather and no hardship which the most delicate would shrink from.” Yes, the subject matter is outrageous, but how beautifully and poetically written. This quote is taken from a time when conversation was an art, which ranked quite high on the list of accomplishments. But today, children and many adults wouldn’t understand the way it is written, nor grasp the meaning. What is a “lady of good attainments?’ ” Yes of course, all this could today be said in a faster, more succinct manner, with words of fewer syllables, but what a pity.

As long as people are reading, it doesn’t matter, but we are losing the descriptive, larger words and replacing them with simple abbreviations, like LOL.

Here in Australia recently there was a lot of discussion about how students write essays for exams and whether they should be allowed to write in abbreviated form, just as they do in SMSes and emails. The answer was no, for now…. the world is moving too fast and many good things are falling by the wayside; good vocabulary and good spelling are some of the victims.

Q: It will be interesting to see where we go from here. In your post “Why Writers Write…” (http://loulouszalbooks.wordpress.com/2013/07/17/why-writers-write /) you shared some of the reasons why you write. Why do you teach?

A: I love it, always have. I am the second child in a line of six children. I’m the oldest girl. My youngest siblings are younger than me by 8-10 years. I spent a lot of time looking after them when they were babies and playing with them when they got older. Our parents were immigrants and we never had much so our school holidays were spent in local areas and playing in the back yard. Funnily enough, I found myself building little huts and dragging a table and chairs beneath it and playing schools with my siblings. I must have been only 10 or 12 at the time but we all enjoyed it, read a lot, did maths, played games, and became close. We still are. So teaching is all I ever wanted to do (apart from writing).

Q: Having self-published books for the Children’s and YA markets, how do you promote?

A: It’s difficult now to promote my writing, I have a few distributors who represent me and take my books around to schools and libraries. This week I was asked by one of these libraries to join their town’s annual book promotion festival, called ‘Paint the Town Read’. It is designed to encourage young children to enjoy reading and so I am thrilled to be a guest and visit. They have asked me to read Hungry Mr. Croc. So at the moment I can do small things like that, but my priority is my daughter’s education and I don’t want to take away from that.

Q: What age group is Hungry Mr. Croc meant to be for? I usually think of picture books as the 3-5 or 4-6 range but per U.S. guidelines the language would be far too advanced.

A: It’s an interesting point that you brought up. The book is too advanced for 5-6 year olds to read on their own, but it is good for parents to read aloud to their children. I suppose the level of understanding would depend on how much the child has been encouraged to read by both parents and teachers by that stage.

When I initially discussed the illustrations with the publishers, I did specify that the illustrations should not be too cartoon-like as the book was not written with very young children in mind, even while the concept is simple.

We discussed the realism I wanted as the writing was not meant to be for very young children. They sent me some preliminary drawings and I actually loved them, so decided to go with it. I do however tell people that they should read it to their children first.

I feel that the larger words are set into the story in such a way that the meaning of the words can be discerned by the construction or syntax of the sentence. The writing itself was advanced and I did that specifically because I like to bring a child’s reading level up, encourage a wider vocabulary, not lower the standard to suit the common speech of everyday life as some school reading kits had been doing here. These books were not platforms to better reading, but were unimaginative and stagnant.

I based my work on examples of writers like Dr Seuss, whose books have great pictures and also great vocabulary, and are advertised as “classics with zany stories, silly rhymes and crazy drawings for young readers everywhere.”

Or even the beauty of Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes.

These books were written when children read more and had a better vocabulary.

So I guess I’m old-fashioned like that, but as a teacher, I know it can be done: to raise the level of a child’s comprehension and reading ability by simply adding in a few new, bigger words. I read all of Dr Suess’s books to my son when he was a baby and I know that his comprehension of these books was good by the time he was 2 or 3. In fact by 3 he was reading The Cat in the Hat on his own. We took Dr Seuss with us everywhere (before iPads).

I just think we as adults aren’t trying hard enough or raising the bar, we have just lowered the bar and kept it there, from what I can see. There is nothing wrong in explaining the big words and reading on, the next time the book/ big word is read it, the child’s brain will make the connection.

Of course, I can simplify my writing, but I feel I would be letting the kids (and myself) down a little, when I know we could all do better.

There is my philosophy…

Q: That’s a fascinating approach. I love how you mentioned that writing allows you to travel in your head. How have your travels enhanced your writing?

A: I have always traveled in my head because in a crowded home (and quite a violent one) I needed my space and privacy and it was in my head. Better worlds where fathers were kind to their children and wives (hence a love of Enid Blyton stories). It’s calming to travel in your head and it’s a great escape with very little expense.

When I actually began to travel, I kept diaries. Traveling gives you the added advantage of really knowing a place, knowing the style, the customs, the smells—then you can bring them to life easier. I have written a novel about a school teacher working in The Solomon Islands in the early 1900s. Having been to P.N.G. I know how the weather is, the water, the customs, the lifestyle, the vegetation. Yes, I can Google it, but nothing beats being there. It’s like eating an apple and writing about it, or watching someone else on T.V. eat it and then trying to write about it.

I wrote another story about a holiday on the Spanish island of Mallorca. I know the town and even the street and house I set my story in. Traveling is a great investment for writing, it isn’t the answer to everything, but it certainly enhances your ability to be descriptive.

Q: Anything to add?

I wish more parents, adults, older siblings, and teachers knew the value of reading and the benefits in all areas of life that a good book can give… it is underestimated. No one read to me as a very young child, but I thank God for good teachers and libraries!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Earth Girl Trilogy

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Ms. Janet Edwards is an English author whose debut novel (Earth Girl) made waves across the world; she has managed to combine her love of make-believe with her knowledge of science to craft a marvelous style of writing that stays with the reader in many more ways than one.

In my book review for Earth Star (http://blogcritics.org/book-review-earth-star-by-janet-edwards/), I wrote this about Ms. Edwards’ work: “It reminds me a little bit of why I love Doctor Who, because while it is full of things that are brilliant and fun, it has an undertone of what makes humanity human, and gives us both sides of the coin. It manages to convey socially important messages in marvelous wrapping, and I am very glad that it is one of the pieces of literature to be welcomed both sides of the pond.”

Ms. Edwards is as warm and generous in person as her writing is witty and deep, and it was a treat to connect with her for this interview. You may find out more about her and her “Earth Girl Trilogy” on her website (www.janetedwards.com). You may also contact her via her Twitter (@JanetEdwardsSF) and Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/JanetEdwardsSF).

Interview by Joanna Celeste

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Q: Your debut novel, Earth Girl, was the first in the “Earth Girl Trilogy” and it garnered much acclaim, including being named as among the best Young Adult books of 2012 by both Amazon.co.uk and Kobobooks.com; did you know, starting out, that this would be a trilogy? (If so, how did you pitch something that you had not yet completed?)

A: I wrote Earth Girl to be a book that would stand alone, but by the time I finished it I had ideas about how it would fit into a trilogy, what would happen in book two, and what the end of the third book would be. I pitched Earth Girl as a single book without mentioning sequels. When my agent suggested trying to sell it as a trilogy, I spent a couple of days trying to turn my rough ideas for the next two books into something more detailed and coherent.

Q: Smart! How did you deal with the double-edged sword of so much acclaim?

A: I don’t think it’s exactly acclaim but I was certainly lucky that Earth Girl got some attention and some praise. The biggest problem for an unknown debut author is that people have no idea that you or your book exist, and it’s wonderful when people help by spreading the word.

Q: That’s a great way to look at it. What were you most concerned with, when dealing with the trilogy as your debut?

A: I’d actually written two more unrelated books in the nine months between finishing Earth Girl and getting publication offers. That meant I was fairly confident I could write more books. The big difference was that I’d written Earth Girl without any real expectation that anyone would read it.  Now I knew I’d be writing books that people would read which was a bit of a scary thought.

Q: Yes, writing something that you actually know will be read changes things. Will you publish the other books?

A: I haven’t any immediate plans for publishing those two books, but I may do if the opportunity arises.

Q: Do you have any plans for other series or genres?

A: I’m working on some ideas for series which would be science fiction like the Earth Girl trilogy, set in future worlds and walking the grey area between Young Adult and Adult. I’ve also some ideas which are a bit nearer to fantasy.

Q: That sounds wonderful! You mention in your guest post on world building [http://shusky20.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/guest-post-on-world-building.html] that you created an alternate timeline for the “Earth Girl trilogy”, imagining each of the steps as Earth fell from grace—how did you organize this? (Did you storyboard, or keep a notebook, or have a huge chart on a wall?)

A: It’s actually just a timeline in a word document, a list of dates and what happened on them. I did it that way because if I wrote on a chart or in a notebook it would get incredibly messy when I kept adding things. There are also individual timelines for each book with the date and time of each scene.

Q: I love that about Word; it cuts down on so much of the mess from when we had to do everything by hand or typewriter or index cards. What was your process for writing the trilogy?

A: It was different for each book. In Earth Girl I just journeyed along with Jarra discovering the story as I went along. I have to be careful how I say this not to give any spoilers, but there’s a point nearly three quarters of the way through the book when she walked towards a portal and I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen. For me, a lot of the writing process happens on a subconscious level, and it was only when Jarra walked towards that portal that I found out what my subconscious had planned to happen, and exactly why I’d written several earlier scenes.

Earth Star was rather more consciously planned in advance, but there were still several points where Jarra did things that surprised me. The final book, Earth Flight, has taken some serious planning of plotlines to bring everything in the trilogy together for the conclusion.

Q: I think I stopped breathing when Jarra walked towards the portal. Do you have any books you would recommend to new writers that helped you through the different processes?

A: The book I’d recommend to other writers is Stephen King’s On Writing.

Q: Your second novel, Earth Star, was published this month in the UK and around the world (Those in the US, sadly, have to wait until April of 2014). What resources do you find you have now, that you didn’t have with Earth Girl?

A: With Earth Girl I was a complete unknown. This time round there are some bloggers and reviewers who have already read and enjoyed Earth Girl and are interested in Earth Star. That’s a big help.

Q: With writing like yours, it’s a pleasure, and you’re a lovely person to work with as well. Could you please share with us your experiences working with traditional publishers: was it what you expected, why or why not?

A: I knew very little about the publication process beforehand. As the author, I was mostly involved with the text of the book, working with my editor to improve it as much as possible. I’d expected that, but I hadn’t realized how many other things had to be done when a book is published and how long in advance they have to happen. Long before the release date for the first book, various people were quietly doing their jobs and making things happen. I was constantly surprised by things like my book appearing on online bookshops for various countries.

Q: That’s a neat way of putting it—like it takes a village to raise an author. In your experiences working with UK publishers and having your work also sold across the pond, what has been the most challenging?

A: Earth Girl was published in the UK in August 2012, and in the USA in March 2013. That meant most of work on the text had been done for the UK launch and I really only had to check the proofs for the USA. I had interviews and blog pieces to do for the UK launch, and then there was a sense of déjà vu doing more interviews and blog pieces to launch the same book in the USA.

Q: It’s almost too bad you can’t keep up a Word document with all the questions and blog posts so you can just tweak and recycle them. You mark Earth Star (and indeed the trilogy) as for Young Adult and Adult. What do you consider the strong points of a YA novel, as opposed to an adult novel?

A: I think the distinguishing thing about YA novels is their theme. Their stories involve first experiences, and characters discovering not just their world but the person they are themselves. That theme can appear in a huge range of stories, and many YA novels tackle very challenging subjects. There’s no strict boundary wall between Young Adult and Adult books, and many adults of all ages find a lot of the books they enjoy are labeled YA.

Q: Yes! Some of my favorite books are YA, but I have never seen it phrased quite so elegantly. In your guest post about becoming a writer [http://authorallsorts.wordpress.com/2013/05/13/the-journey-from-fan-to-author/], you shared with us your love for reading as a child. Since your first publication, have you had anyone contact you to thank you for being their inspiration to write?

A: It would be delightful to have that happen, but my debut Earth Girl hasn’t really been out long enough to have been the inspiration for someone else to take up writing. I have had a few deeply moving messages from people with disabilities, including invisible disabilities, who’d really identified with the book because they’ve been the target of insults in the same way as Jarra.

Q: Please elaborate on what you mean by “invisible” disabilities.

A: Invisible disabilities are ones where someone couldn’t tell you have a problem just by looking at you. Disabling illness, deafness, agoraphobia, epilepsy, there are a huge range of these that can have a damaging impact on someone’s daily life. A person with an invisible disability can find themselves in something very like Jarra’s situation, because they have to decide whether or not to tell people they meet about their problem. If they’ve told someone about it in the past and met with a bad response, disbelief, insults or jeering (sadly this really does happen with some disabilities) they may be wary of risking that again. However, not telling someone about their problem may be a risk too, because they can get into embarrassing or even dangerous situations when they can’t do something or need help. I’m sure there are more detailed and expert explanations online.

Q: Ah, Jarra faces a couple of those in Earth Star. I liked your portrayal of both sides of those “handicaps”—the socially labeled and the invisible—and the realistic limitations and potentials for overcoming them, even if by compromise. I also enjoyed your futuristic military, which are featured much more in Earth Star. How did you build up that aspect of your world?

A: My ideas for the military in the Earth Girl trilogy came from their history and the work they did. In the year of 2789, humanity lives on 1200 colony worlds spread across six sectors of space. There hasn’t been a full scale war since before the exodus from Earth started in 2310, though humanity came close to one during Beta sector’s split from the rest of the sectors during its Second Roman Empire period. There are, however, occasionally small scale conflicts limited to one planet. The separate army, navy and air forces of the past have merged into one military that’s cross-sector, recruited from every planet. These military aren’t fighting wars, they’re peacekeeping, they’re running solar arrays, but their biggest job is opening up new colony worlds.

So when I was thinking of this future military, my ideas were coming from peacekeeping forces and emergency services. I felt the future military would probably take more ideas from the air forces of the past than other forces, though I’ve deliberately used a mix of ranks from a variety of forces. I threw in a couple of other factors from the military of today. Many career soldiers in the armed forces come from families with a tradition of military service, and people leaving the armed forces can sometimes have problems adjusting to civilian life or because of the aftereffects of traumatic events. I gave my future military a strong family tradition, with most of them born into military families, and made joining the military a lifetime commitment. This is a military with its own culture, operating as both a professional force and a family, so conversations can be formal including ranks, or informal casually using first names.

Q: Awesome! It can be so fun, imagining futures and playing with current realities. What brings you the most joy as a writer?

A: Hearing that someone, somewhere, has read something I’ve written and enjoyed it. All my life I’ve had great joy in reading books and it’s wonderful when someone says that I’ve given that same feeling to them. If you ever read a book and love it then consider letting the writer know by sending them a message or writing a review. Positive feedback helps inspire authors to keep writing. Reviews spread the word to new readers, which helps authors get more books published.

Q: That’s very true; I have experienced that as a writer and as a reviewer. Your writing was quite inspiring to me, and I’m glad that we will have the chance to read more of your work. Is there anything else you would like to say?

A: I’d like to thank you for doing this interview, and to thank everyone who takes the time to write reviews. It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to comment on individual reviews to say thank you, so I like to say the occasional general thank you when I get the chance.