Monday, February 27, 2017
I was really happy to see that the quiz I did a few weeks ago was popular with everyone, and after thinking about it, I decided to do another! Now that you've taken a look to see how our work styles, etc. might mesh, I thought it would be fun to see if our writing and story preferences are a match, too!
Monday, February 20, 2017
Query critique time! For everyone who enters (and those who don't) spread the word so that even if you don't submit a query, you encourage others to read and comment. Thanks :)
If you're not familiar with how to enter, take a look at my previous post to read the rules. Good luck! And don't forget to post any questions you want me to answer in the comments section with the hashtag #IHAVEAQUESTION!
Monday, February 13, 2017
This month's query critique has been moved to next week because tomorrow is the pub day for Suzanne Kamata's THE MERMAIDS OF LAKE MICHIGAN! Check out the gorgeous cover (and be sure to buy a copy of the book!)... I'm excited to be interviewing Suzanne and incorporating some of the questions you told me you'd most like to have answered by my authors!
First off, how did you come up with the idea for THE MERMAIDS OF LAKE MICHIGAN and where did you draw inspiration for the characters and plot?
Originally, I wanted to take the material at hand -- my bland Midwestern upbringing -- and turn it into something magical. I grew up in a small town on the shores of Lake Michigan, and by the time I was in high school, I couldn't wait to get out of there. One of my teachers told us that one day we would realize what a great place we lived in. I didn't believe him then, but after I'd left, I did start to feel nostalgic for everything I'd left behind - the dunes, the lake that was as vast as a sea, the musical fountain, the summer Coast Guard festival, and the iconic lighthouse. I guess I started with the setting. The characters are loosely based upon people that I knew, but it's not an autobiographical book.
I tend to throw everything I'm interested in at the time into the story or novel that I'm writing. I've always had an interest in mermaids, for instance. While on foreign study in France, I became fascinated with the Rom women who tried to read my palm in front of the train station in Avignon, and the communities of Rom in Camargue. Later, I was excited to read about female wreck divers on the Great Lakes, so I found a way to incorporate one into the story.
For everyone who doesn't know, tell us a little bit about yourself and what led you to start writing.
I started writing stories as a child, as a lot of us do, and never grew out of it. I wrote for my high school newspaper, took a creative writing class in college, and wrote a couple of never-to-be-published romance novels in my spare time. After I studied literature in college, my writing became more "literary." I didn't really start sending out my work until I found myself living in rural Japan. I'd come here to teach English "for one year," and then I fell in love with a local guy. Before I could commit to living on a relatively remote island in the Pacific, I decided that I had to figure out whether or not I could somehow have the literary life I'd always dreamed of. I started a literary journal for expats in Japan, wrote and published my own short stories, and started writing for English-language newspapers and magazines in Japan.
What has your experience been like after finding an agent (shopping to publishers, dealing with contracts, etc.)?
Having an agent allows me to concentrate on writing. I also really, really appreciate your editorial feedback! Also, I'm basically a non-confrontational kind of person, so it's good to have someone else on my side who's willing to follow up on things and deal with contracts.
What was the hardest part of getting your book published that most people don't realize? Also tell us a bit about your publisher!
I actually wrote the first draft of this book before the publisher, Wyatt-Mackenzie Publishing, even existed! When I thought it was finished, I sent it out to a bunch of agents and regional publishers. I got a lot of encouragement, and helpful feedback, but I didn't really know how to revise it at the time. Every now and then, I would dig it out of the drawer, slash some pages, and add some more. Still, it took a while for the perfect publisher to show up. Nancy Cleary, at Wyatt-Mackenzie, acquired and published a nonfiction anthology on multicultural mothering that I put together a while ago. At the time, she wasn't publishing fiction, but over the past few years she's published some interesting novels with touches of magical realism, such as Lemongrass Hope by Amy Impellizzeri, and Piper, Once and Again by Caroline E. Zani. As it turned out, The Mermaids of Lake Michigan fit right in! Nancy is really fun to work with because she has a lot of energy (like you, Carrie!) and is always pursuing interesting publicity opportunities. Thanks to her efforts, my anthology was featured as a movie prop!
What kind of marketing have you done for THE MERMAIDS OF LAKE MICHIGAN?
I reached out to maritime and historical museum gift shops and some bookstores in Michigan, and I've also set up a blog tour. I presented the book in Tokyo at an SCBWI event earlier this month, and I expect to do more talks, and hopefully a bit of a tour to brick and mortar stores this summer.
Do you have any quirks when it comes to your writing process (e.g. do you have to write at night or while wearing lucky socks)?
Not really. I used to think I needed an entire day of peace and quiet to write, but after having kids, I can write just about anywhere, and in any situation.
Anything that new authors can learn from your experiences?
Well, if I can get published while living on an island in Japan where hardly anyone speaks English, you can, too! Be persistent! Read and write a lot! Believe in yourself! And connect with other writers. In the early days, before there was Internet access in Japan, I connected to other writers via the literary journal I started. Now, I meet up with writers on-line and at conferences.
Monday, February 6, 2017
Tomorrow is the pub day for the second book in Shana Figueroa's Valentine Shepherd series, RETRIBUTION, which follows Valentine Shepherd, a Seattle P.I. who can see the future by using a very unusual paranormal talent. Take a look at Shana's interview below and be sure to get a copy of the book!!
This is the second book in the Valentine Shepherd series. Tell us a bit about it and where it picks up the story.
When VENGEANCE ended, Max and Val were, sadly, broken up due to Val’s inability to deal with the turbulent future she knew they’d experience if they stayed together. They’ve both tried to move on with their lives, but they’re failing miserably at it. Then Val gets a case only Max can help her crack, and though the two try to keep things between them professional, of course it doesn’t stay that way…
How was writing this book different than writing the first? Now that you are writing under contract, do you have to think differently at all?
Whenever you write the second book in a series, you need to make sure someone who hasn’t read the first can pick it up and understand the basics of what’s going on. In practice, this means you need to reintroduce the characters and summarize the major plot points of the first book without turning it into a jarring info-dump. It’s harder than it seems. JK Rowling is the master at this, so I tried to emulate the way she did it in her Harry Potter series. Writing under a contract isn’t different than the way I wrote before. I got contracted to finish stories I was already working on, and I write constantly because it makes me happy. I’m lucky in that I don’t need to rely on my writing for a paycheck. I always write what I want to write.
How do you think your manuscript and/or series has changed since you started working with your editor?
My editor does a very good job of telling me things I don’t want to hear. From her, I get a better understanding of things my readers might not like, and I have the option of choosing to keep those elements in the story or not. For instance, in RETRIBUTION, both Max and Val become involved with other people while they’re broken up. Val in particular falls into a cycle of self-destructive behavior that includes less-than-romantic relations with a, well, less-than-savory character. I knew I was taking a big risk giving Val significantly more flaws than the average heroine, and my editor told me so. After thinking long and hard about it, I decided to take the risk because it was true to the character. I tend to write very flawed, very strong characters, especially heroines. You won’t get any Mary Sues from me. I know some readers won’t like it, but that’s who I am as a writer. It’s part of my brand. Take it or leave it.
What is one of your favorite plot twists in the book?
Toward the end of the book, things are looking up for both Max and Val. They’re ready to leave all their (many, many) problems behind and run away together to finally have their HEA! …Until Max goes back to his condo alone to pack his bags for their trip, and then—well, you’ll have to read the book to see what happens, but my editor wrote “OMG NOOOO!!”
You've gotten some great reviews for the first book, VENGEANCE! What has been the most fun thing about seeing reader feedback? The least fun?
My favorite thing about reader feedback for VENGEANCE were all the comments about how different the book was from anything they’ve read before. I wanted to give people a story they’d never experienced, and based on the feedback it seems I succeeded. The least fun thing is not yet having the opportunity to engage with my readers (except for my friends, and my mom). So far, my reader engagement has been pretty one-sided; I’ll write stuff on my blog or on Facebook, and no one will respond. I’d love to interact with my readers, find out more about what they like and what they didn’t, or where they’d like the story to go…but I guess my author brand isn’t big enough yet. I’ll admit—I suck at social media. But building a fan base takes time, so I’m being patient.
Are you doing any exciting promo that we should keep an eye out for?
I’m considering doing some kind of giveaway for an advanced copy of RETRIBUTION, or a $25 Amazon gift card, something like that, in exchange for people signing up for my author newsletter…Yes, I have an author newsletter now! It’s probably the best author newsletter you’ve ever read, if I’m being honest. You can sign up for the newsletter on my homepage: www.shanafigueroa.com!
Tell us what's coming next with Book 3!
Minor spoiler – by the end of Book 2, Val and Max are together again, living in holy matrimony (they finally get their HEA!). As Book 3, RECKONING, begins, they’re enjoying their new lives of domestic bliss…except for Val’s lingering thirst for vengeance, that is. She can’t forgive and forget the people still walking free who killed her fiancé and terrorized her and Max not that long ago. When a string of mysterious deaths cuts too close to home to be a coincidence, she knows her enemies have finally returned, and she’ll do whatever it takes to protect her family.
Any advice that romance author hopefuls can learn from your experiences so far?
Don’t despair. I mean this in more ways than one. I’m currently serving in Afghanistan, fighting what many might call an unwinnable war. On one convoy outside the wire, we drove by a garbage truck. “Hey, look at that,” one of my veteran squadmates said, pointing at the truck. “You didn’t used to see those here.” The US has been in Afghanistan for fifteen years, and a garbage truck is a major sign of progress. The internet is so terrible here, I can barely communicate with my family. Sometimes I close my eyes and try to remember what my daughter’s hair smells like. Around Thanksgiving, my stepbrother got terminal cancer. Then I watched Donald Trump become my new boss and leader of the free world. What I’m saying is, sometimes you have big dreams for a better world or a better life, and you have to watch those dreams get crushed to a fine powder underneath the foot of harsh reality. The worst thing you can do is give up. When one dream goes up in smoke, don’t despair. Move on to another. Always have lots and lots of dreams to fall back on, and work—fight, dammit!—every day to make those dreams a reality.
What's a fun fact about yourself?
I’m planning on running for office when I retire from the military. Yes, I’m serious (for some reason people always think I’m kidding). I’ll probably return to my hometown of Seattle and run for mayor, or governor, or Senate, or something. I’m very passionate about making the world a fairer and more just place. I write romance because I believe in the power of love, and I want to bring that power into the real world. I’ll be the sword and the shield of the destitute, the downtrodden, the good people who get stomped on by the powerful. It is the duty of the strong to protect the weak, and I want to continue doing my duty long after I’ve hung up my uniform.