Hi! Today we’re celebrating Liz Czukas’s debut, ASK AGAIN LATER, which came out today!
Before we start — why are they called Thrice interviews? The original titles for the Cahill Witch Chronicles were THRICE BLESSED, THRICE CURSED, and THRICE FATED. I have a tattoo with the word thrice, which is partly to remind me how joyful writing that first book was, back when it was just mine, and partly because I like threes. Cate Cahill is the oldest of three sisters, as am I. My birthday is May 3; my anniversary is Sept 30. So there’s a natural theme to these interview questions…
They say: Despite what her name might suggest, Heart has zero interest in complicated romance. So when her brilliant plan to go to prom with a group of friends is disrupted by two surprise invites, Heart knows there’s only one drama-free solution: flip a coin.
Heads: The jock. He might spend all night staring at his ex or throw up in the limo, but how bad can her brother’s best friend really be?
Tails: The theater geek…with a secret. What could be better than a guy who shares all Heart’s interests–even if he wants to share all his feelings?
Heart’s simple coin flip has somehow given her the chance to live out both dates. But where her prom night ends up might be the most surprising thing of all…
I say: Well, I do love theater geeks. And check out this quote from RT Book reviews: “Fans of Stephanie Perkins and Jane Austen will swoon.” Seeing as how those are two of my favorite authors – how can I resist?
Now for our interview with Liz:
1. Describe your main character in 3 adjectives + a noun.
Heart is an anti-romance, opinionated, theater geek. (JS: *theater geek fistbump*)
2. Describe your book in 3 adjectives + a noun.
ASK AGAIN LATER is a fun, reality-bending, romantic comedy.
3. Describe yourself in 3 adjectives + a noun.
Liz is an intelligent, hilarious, and apparently not humble geek.
4. If you could travel to any 3 countries, what would they be?
England, Bali, Australia
5. If you could take any 3 non-writing-related classes, what would they be?
Belly dancing, massage therapy, special effects makeup
6. If you could have any 3 alternate careers, what would they be?
Actress, Time Lord, purveyor of action-movie style one-liners (JS: Ha!)
7. What are your 3 favorite flowers?
Roses, lilacs, hydrangeas
8. What are your 3 favorite foods?
Salsa, spaghetti, mutter paneer
9. What are your 3 favorite books?
WORLD WAR Z, THE STAND, CODE NAME VERITY
Happy book birthday, Liz! Thanks for stopping by!
She is generously giving away one signed copy of ASK AGAIN LATER to a lucky winner in the US or Canada. The contest is open till next Tuesday at midnight. Please fill out the Rafflecopter below to enter!
Whitney A. Miller is the first-time author of The Violet Hour (Flux, 2014). From the promotional copy:
Some call VisionCrest the pinnacle of religious enlightenment.
Others call it a powerful cult.
For seventeen years, Harlow Wintergreen has called it her life.
As the adopted daughter of VisionCrest's patriarch, Harlow is expected to be perfect at all times. The other Ministry teens must see her as a paragon of integrity. The world must see her as a future leader.
Despite the constant scrutiny, Harlow has managed to keep a dark and dangerous secret, even from her best friend and the boy she loves. She hears a voice in her head that seems to have a mind of its own, plaguing her with violent and bloody visions. It commands her to kill. And the urge to obey is getting harder and harder to control...
Could you describe both your pre-and-post contract revision process? What did you learn along the way? How did you feel at each stage? What advice do you have for other writers on the subject of revision?
The Violet Hour was the second novel I attempted to write, so I wasn't completely naive. I knew that a first draft was just the beginning of a very long process, but woah mama...did this book ever have it in for me!
In the beginning stages, I didn't really know what the book was about. I had this amazing main character (Harlow Wintergreen), this iconic cult-like religion (VisionCrest), and this edgy, pop-culture altiverse in which it all existed. But I didn't have a story just yet - details shmeetails.
At that time I never wrote with an outline so I meandered about the manuscript, surprised and delighted by every crazy left turn Harlow took. I've since learned my lesson on that front, but as I once said in an early draft of The Violet Hour to explain away a plot that made no sense, that is a story for another day. I would throw in wacky details because they sounded cool or seemed spooky - a mysterious necklace! a sinister voice! a Cambodian temple!
But then when I had to tie it all up with a bow at the end, I realized I had created a monster.
It was a process. One that could have been significantly shortened by a little bit of pre-planning. But I'm a hard-way learner, what can I say?
During the time that it was out on submission, I came to realize that the last third of the book just didn't feel right. At that point I had stripped the story down to the studs multiple times, torn it into shreds and put it back together until my fingers bled and my eyes crossed (okay, maybe I'm being melodramatic).
I was exhausted. I didn't even want to look at it anymore, much less tear it apart again. But once it sold (oh happy, happy day!) I knew I owed it to myself and my future readers to make the story the absolute best it could be.
So, I ripped it apart once again, this time with the expert guidance of my editor. I took things out, added new stuff in, and fixed all the things that I knew didn't work but hadn't wanted to admit before. And then I revised it, and revised it, and revised it some more.
I lost count, but I was finally finished around draft 17. And I was really proud of it. The story I wanted to tell was finally on the page, and I didn't give up before I got there.
So what did I learn from this and what advice would I give to other writers around revision?
Here it is:
- Do a little pre-work. You don't have to have a detailed outline, if that doesn't work for you (it doesn't for me). But a one-page synopsis can help you think the story all the way through before you throw in a magical necklace that has no business being there.
- Take breaks between drafts. My rule of thumb is at least two weeks, but more is better. Renew. Refresh. Get some perspective. Then dive back in.
- If you have a lot to fix, break it down into bite-sized pieces. Do a pass through for a certain element (say, fixing a specific plot thread). Consider that a draft. Then, after a break, come back for something else. Thinking about it as a whole can be daunting - just take it one step at a time.
- Give yourself the gift of time. This isn't a race. There's no prize for finishing fast, but there might be one for finishing strong.
- Hang in there! Persevere! Commiserate! Most writers will tell you that revision is a big part of their process, and some will tell you they've even come to enjoy it.
- Enjoy it. Seeing your manuscript improve, become even better than you imagined it could be, is one of the most gratifying parts of the process. The journey is the reward!
As a horror writer, going in, did you have a sense of how events/themes in your novel might parallel or speak to events/issues in our real world? Or did this evolve over the course of many drafts?
|Visit Whitney A. Miller|
For example, I am curious about belief in all its forms. Religions. Cults. Science. Politics. The process of deciding that a certain thing or person holds the answers to the unanswerable is one I'll never tire of exploring.
As human beings, we are often willing to believe the most outlandish, unseeable things and simultaneously incapable of believing the clear and obvious (if there is any such thing).
What makes us think our perception is the only reality? What creates certainty in the absence of evidence? What happens when those things occur? These are the things that were always present in The Violet Hour, and became honed over the lengthy process of revision.
At a certain point I had to ask myself: okay, this is a cool story but what am I trying to say? That's when I really got down to the meat of it.
I hope the result is a rich subtext that both fascinates and frightens.
One of the really wonderful things about my last two school visits was that in both cases, the principal was really excited and involved with my visit. Not only did I meet them, but they came to my presentations and talked to the kids about writing themselves.
It says a lot when the principal does that. Here's a blog entry from the principal at Groton, MA.
- Current Mood: pleased
I've had three contemporary young-adult novels published. All are realistic novels written in first person. Despite those similarities, I tried to cover somewhat different ground with each. I've written about romance and friendship and enmity, break-ups and make-ups, loss and gain, grief and joy. Some of the endings are happier than others. The parental characters run the gamut from neglectful to overprotective. The protagonists come from different socioeconomic backgrounds. I've used male and female narrators, past and present tense.
I could keep exploring these worlds--there are are more stories to tell within the territory I already inhabit--or I could try to break even newer ground.
I currently have nothing new in the publishing pipeline. So it's a good time to take stock. The question is: What next? And so this post by Kelly Bennett, part of Janni Simner's blog series on "Writing for the Long Haul" seemed rather timely. For example:
"After deciding that I wanted—want—to be a writer, I visualized what I wanted that new writing life to be."
"And while I don’t recommend doing anything as dramatic as calling it quits, I do suggest doing what I should have: in the same way you take your car in for servicing, schedule regular career check-ups."
It was taking stock a few years ago that led me from literary short stories to YA novels. I don't foresee a genre shift of this magnitude in my future right now, but it's good to ask ourselves, from time to time: Is there anything I want to try to do differently now?
I am exceedingly glad that I picked it up again in the past few weeks. It is marvelous, with plenty to think about, both in terms of the books that Will Schwalbe and his mother, Mary Anne, shared during her chemotherapy treatments and hospice care, and with respect to life (and death) in general. I must confess that of the books that make up the chapter titles, I have read precious few, and that holds true for the lengthier list in the Appendix in the back. But it doesn't matter if I didn't read the books, because that's not the point of this book at all.
It is a beautiful, beautifully written book, a tribute to the author's unique and remarkable mother, but a tribute, too, to the lasting power of books. Here are two quotes about books that I especially liked. The first one is from the chapter about Daily Strength for Daily Needs, by Mary Wilder Tileston. It was a used copy of a book of daily devotionals, and became one of Mary Anne Schwalbe's constant companions.
The very physicality of this little book provided part of the comfort. I think Mom liked that her copy was at least secondhand, if not third or fourth. The text had been providing wisdom and solace to people for well over a hundred years, and this one particular book had been doing the same for seventy-three of them. It was printed the same year Mom was born. Other people had turned the pages, had put their own bookmarks in and taken them out. Was it crazy to think that all of them had somehow left on the pages traces of their own hopes and fears?
The owners of the book were born and died; what remained was the physical book itself. It needed to be handled with increasing delicacy and care as the binding grew loose with age, but you knew that it was the exact same book that others had read before you, and the you had read in the years before. Would the words have inspired Mom the same way if they had been flashing on a screen? She didn't think so.
This next one is a hybrid, from the chapter about Geraldine Brooks's People of the Book. It says something I love about kindness first, then talks about books and religion, and the importance of books in general.
"I don't know what other people think--but I know what I think," my mother replied. "I think everyone needs to be kind--especially doctors. You can be a very great doctor and still be kind. That's partly why I like Dr. O'Reilly so much more than the first oncologist I saw--not because she's a woman but because she's kind."
"But you always taught us that sometimes people aren't nice because they aren't happy."
"Yes, but maybe those people shouldn't be looking after other people. And I'm also talking about kindness, not just about being nice. You can be gruff or abrupt and still be kind. Kindness has much more to do with what you do than how you do it. And that's why I didn't have much sympathy for Hanna's mother in People of the Book. She was a doctor and a mother and she wasn't kind."
"But did that make you like the book less?" I asked.
"Of course not! That's one of the things that made it interesting. But the thing that made it most interesting is what it had to say about books and religion. I love how Brooks shows that every great religion shares a love of books, of reading, of knowledge. The individual books may be different, but reverence for books is what we all have in common. Books are what bring all the different people in the novel together, Muslims and Jews and Christians. That's why everyone in the book goes to such lengths to save this one book--one book stands for all books. When I think back on all the refugee camps I visited, all over the world, the people always asked for the same thing: books. Sometimes even before medicine or shelter--they wanted books for their children."
Finally, this bit of advice from Schwalbe's mother, from the chapter entitled Suite Française, in response to the author's feelings of guilt for not doing more in the world. The conversation is largely in reference to the plight of international refugees, on whose behalf Mary Anne Schwalbe had worked tirelessly for decades.
"... Of course you could do more--you can always do more, and you should do more--but still, the important thing is to do what you can, whenever you can. You just do your best, and that's all you can do. Too many people use the excuse that they don't think they can do enough, so they decide they don't have to do anything. There's never a good excuse for not doing anything--even if it's just to sign something, or send a small contribution, or invite a newly settled refugee family over for Thanksgiving."
A wonderful, thoughtful book about books and relationships, life and death. Not one I plan on giving away, but one I plan on rereading down the line.
- Current Mood: thoughtful
- Current Music:Wrecking Ball by Miley Cyrus (brainradio)
...we had D's bball celebration on Saturday. The boys had a great time playing hoops (at D's bff's house, which is on two acres) and having a monster snowball fight with the snow which fell Friday evening/night.
...E had a bday party on Sat, as well. She was late, but since it went for 6 hours, we figured missing one wasn't so bad ;) Funny thing: the bday girl is in E's class, but she used to go to a different school. She invited a few girls from each of her 'classes,' and one of the moms from the other group was visiting with A's mom. Anyway, A's mom wanted me to meet her -- and it turns out she's married a to a boy (well, man) I used to be in a musical group with. He has an unusual last name, and when she introduced herself, I was like, "You mean Tony B?" Such a small world...and weird hearing about him from an adult perspective (he's a few years younger than I, and nowadays, that's no big deal, but when you're kids, those years seem like decades sometimes).
...I also went to a book signing for jennifer_d_g -- her book, The Secret of Ferrell Savage, has been out for about a month now, and it's such an awesome middle grade (tween, really). She's a talented writer, and there's so much of her gentle and humorous voice in everything she writes that I know she's going to have tons of very loyal fans. :)
...yesterday, I caught up on a couple of late papers (late from the students rather than me). The kiddos played tennis with their auntie, and then we played a couple rounds of D's favorite game, 7 Wonders.
...today, I'm taking advantage of the amazing weather and going hiking with another mom from school. Should be fun (and very nice).
Blame it on the SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators).
When I joined SCBWI over two decades ago, I’d already sold a middle-grade and was interested in writing young adult books, too. Yet most of my writer friends wrote picture books.
Whenever I went to SCBWI conferences, I attended many presentations by talented picture book authors and illustrators. I listened to so many picture book talks that I joked I could teach a picture book writing class myself.
But write a picture book?
Nope. Not interested.
2009 was the year I sold my 37th book, Buried, a YA mystery (Flux)—and the year I wrote a picture book. This picture book idea struck with no warning—like summer rain or falling in love.
I was driving to a SCBWI retreat with authors Verla Kay, Danna K. Smith and Linda Whalen when my thoughts jumped to the childhood photo Verla had showed me of a snow dog.
A word storm of inspiration flooded my head. When we stopped for lunch, I grabbed a napkin and wrote a story that began:
More than anything, Ally wanted a dog—but dogs made her achoo. So Ally drew pictures of dogs….
|37th Book by Linda Joy Singleton|
How did this age-market hopping happen?
Thinking it over, it’s more of a surprise that I resisted writing picture books for so long. Whether I’m writing for big or little kids, I love the rhythm of lyrical, active and funny words. Studying the art of picture book writing has actually strengthened my novel writing. Sentences roll and sway like songs from thoughts to finger-tips.
For example (from a middle grade work-in-progress):
I’m squashed like a human pretzel and struggling not to sneeze at dog hair or freak out as I imagine creepy crawlies creeping and crawling all over me.
This is a sentence from a middle-grade book, yet fun words like "sneeze," "creepy" and "crawling" create a rhythm like when I’m writing picture books.
From Snow Dog, Sand Dog:
They heated popcorn and played fetch with straw brooms. They napped with a scarecrow then danced to the music of wind chimes.
I love the craft of word play; molding words like clay until they’re shaped into sentences that make children smile. Writing words for children brings out the child in all of us—and it’s fun.
|Snow Dog & Sand Dog|
It took five years for Snow Dog, Sand Dog to become a published book. It went through editors, agents, rejections and rewrites. I rode a roller coaster of disappointments and hopes.
The day it sold, my agent told me, “You’re now a picture book author.”
And this middle grade/YA author is very proud to be a picture book author.
My challenge: I live on a twisty, hilly dirt road, and once winter sets in, it can be very difficult to run on, especially when we get a very snowy winter like the one we've had this year. The road narrows, it's icy, and it's really just not safe to walk on, much less run. In fact the last time I went for a walk I had a very graceless wipe-out.
But we've had a few warm days and the snow banks have receded and it looks like the ice is mostly gone. So today, it's time to get back out there. Last September, I was able to run 6 (very slow) miles. But I'm afraid after a few months of not running at all, I'm back to square one. This happened last year, too. It's a bummer.
But last week, in a moment of inspiration (and perhaps delusion), I downloaded the training schedule for the Couch to Half Marathon plan. I meant to do the Couch to 10K plan, but for "some reason" I clicked on the half marathon link instead. My goal is only to run 7 miles. But there's this little dreamer inside me that says, Maybe you could do more...
So it is 6:52 a.m. as I write this and the training schedule is staring at me with a photo of this very fit lady at the top running like the wind and even though I know I will never look like her, with my frumpy body and my slow shuffle, somehow I'm still inspired to try. Today is the day.
On a parallel line here, I have been in a bit of a writing slump. Specifically, with a book that was technically or maybe just theoretically due back in November. That was the date we chose for the contract but I have been silently hoping no one else will remember.
Because I still haven't managed to finish the very rough first draft.
Last year I took on a teaching position and I also began doing more speaking engagements and traveling to more conferences and I had revisions come in for another novel and... all this meant I kept getting interrupted. Every time I tried to get back into my work-in-progress I felt I'd slipped more and more behind.
Like my running, the days I could finally get out there I felt I'd lost so much I could barely make progress. It was getting more and more frustrating and stressful. Eventually it began to feel hopeless. Eventually I more or less stopped.
But that's not really an option, is it? To give up your goal, your dream, just because it seems too hard?
On Friday, I had finished my school visit duties for the week. I finished an essay I'd committed to. I was done with all my student packets. I had a full day to write. It was like looking at a flat, ice-free road on a perfect-weather day and just standing there thinking, This is probably going to hurt, but you've gotta start somewhere.
Sometimes, opening my file, or putting on my sneakers, is actually the hardest part of getting back to the task at hand. It's the final commitment to starting again. Starting from what feels like the bottom of a very steep hill. So I told myself:
Just write one sentence. It can be terrible.
So I wrote one terrible sentence.
And then I told myself:
Maybe you could do more.
So I tried.
And soon I'd written 500 words. And maybe not all of them were so terrible. I felt myself finally stepping back into the story.
Today, I will write 1,000 words.
I'm also going to find my running shoes, buried under piles of winter boots and mismatched winter clothes at the bottom of the closet. My instructions say to jog 30 seconds, then walk 60 seconds. Repeat until you've gone 2 miles. It doesn't sound so hard, when you break it up like that.
One sentence. 30 seconds. It's possible.
I know a lot of you struggle too, so I wanted to put this little phrase in your head this morning, just like it lodged itself in mine.
Maybe you could do more.
I'm pretty sure you can.
Monday Morning Warm-Up:
Write to the prompt: "Maybe I could do more..."
If you want to try one, School Library Journal is currently collecting them to post on April 1st for National Poetry Month.
Here's the link to enter your spine poem: http://100scopenotes.com/2014/03/07/b
- Current Mood: cheerful