Beginning January 1, 2013

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Monday, March 29, 2010

INTERVIEW: JUDITH GRAVES

Aurora is pleased to welcome Judith Graves who, in addition to writing YA fiction is a singer, songwriter, and makes daytime appearances as a library technician. Her fist book in the Skinned series, Under My Skin, was released this month by Leap Books She also collaborates with another Leap Book author, Kitty Keswick, on the Origins series.

Judith's favourite novel as a tween/teen was Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, and it’s still one she re-reads when the mood strikes. Her father was in the military and, when she was a little girl, they were stationed in Summerside, PEI, so the Anne books and Prince Edward Island hold a special place in her heart.

"How does Anne hold up today? She still kicks butt," Judith said. "She’s daring, smart, questioning, rebellious, but vulnerable. Anne is a character that will ring true indefinitely. And if someone were to re-tell Green Gables with a little zombie/vampire/man-eating potato action…I’d still love it."

She told me she always knew she wanted to be surrounded by words, music, and knowledge.

"As a singer/songwriter, fiction author, and library technician working in an elementary school – I kind of get to do it all," she admitted.

"If you could be anywhere in the world right now," I asked, "where would you be and why?"

"That’s easy. It’s -31 Celsius outside right now and snowing. I’d go to any hot spot where they’ve never heard long johns (and if you have no idea what long johns are, I so envy you right now). Also in this ideal hot location, I’m tanned, and thinner."

Judith is participating in several big events with the Class of 2k10, a group of the hottest debut authors of Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction. 2k10 is planning book signings and author panels in New York during Book Expo America (May 2010). Judith encourages everyone to check out the for updates and information about these awesome new young adult and middle grade titles out in 2010.

Some of Judith's hobbies, when she isn't writing, include playing guitar and bass, singing, songwriting, watching movies, and hanging out with her crazy Labrador retrievers.

"If you could give any advice to your readers, what would it be?" I wondered.

"My mother-in-law gave me this wonderful stone paperweight (I have many loose stacks of paper in my office that need taming), and it bears the inscription: 'If you can dream it, do it.' ’nuf said."
And for writers, she believes the two books no writer should be without are a dictionary and thesaurus –assuring me, "I'm not talking about the ones in Word." And, if young writers are reading this, her advice to you: "Go and write this very instant!"

All her parents wanted was for Eryn to live a normal life...

The town of Redgrave had had its share of monsters before Eryn moved to town. Mauled pets and missing children. The Delacroix family is taking the blame, but Eryn knows the truth. Something stalks the night. Wade, the police chief's son and Regrave High's resident hottie, warns her the Delacroix are dangerous. But then so is Eryn--in fact, she's lethal.

But Eryn can't help falling for one of the Delacroix boys, dark, brooding, human Alec. And then it all goes bad.

A normal life? That's the real fairytale.

Monday, March 22, 2010

INTERVIEW: MELISSA WYATT

Aurora is pleased to have Melissa Wyatt with us. Melissa's latest book, Funny How Things Change, has been named a 2010 YALSA Best Book for Young Adult and a Kirkus Best Young Adult book of 2009.
Melissa told me she credited Tom Petty in the acknowledgement of Funny How Things Change, because the tone and feel of his early music suited the feeling she wanted for the book and main character. You can see the soundtrack on Melissa's blog.

She loves doing research and shared with me some of the research she did for Funny How Things Change.

"I visited a so-called 'reclaimed' strip mining site that had been turned into a golf course. I also did a lot of reading about snakebites and the treatment of snakebites because originally the main character was going to be bitten by a snake (thank goodness that ended up on the cutting room floor!) But I’m very squeamish, so I’d read a little bit about snakebites and then have to put my head between my knees to keep from fainting and then read a little bit more, head back between knees."

I also asked Melissa to tell us a little about her latest book.

"Funny How Things Change is a classic coming-of-age story and at the same time, I think it’s something we don’t see much in YA lit, and that’s a frank look at socio-economic class and questions of worth. Remy Walker is a decidedly blue-collar guy in a small dying coal town in West Virginia, torn between wanting to follow his long time girlfriend when she leaves for college in Pennsylania and his deep attachment to his home and way of life."

"As an adult, how do you keep your finger on the pulse of today’s kids?"

"I reach to the left and touch my son’s wrist. Ha! But having kids around helps. Nieces, nephews, neighbors. And just keeping your eyes and ears open, keeping the sensible grown-up voice at bay long enough to understand what’s going on with them."

The books that moved Melissa the most were YA books. That age group is also the one that interests her the most, so it was a no-brainer for her to write YA.

"That time of life is all about change and choice," she explained. "and change and choice are conflict, and conflict is the basis of a great story."

Her favorite author as a teen was K.M. Peyton, a British author best known in the United States for her Flambards series.

"Her contemporary novels are necessarily dated in some ways but also still wonderfully immediate. They were the first books I read where I felt the shift from the storyteller voice of mid-grade fiction to that confidential voice of someone my own age, telling me about themselves," Melissa explained."Her historical fiction remains outstanding, with a vigor to it that is rare in historical novels for teens."

Melissa is currently working on The Novel That Will Not End.

"It’s totally different from my other two books, which were both contemporary realistic boy books. This is historical supernatural and very very girly," she told me. "I am not very good at branding myself as a writer!"

She shared with me that she always loved stories and telling stories.

"Okay, telling lies," she confessed. "I used to lie like crazy when I was a little girl, but what I was really doing was making up stories about myself so that I would seem more interesting to people. Turns out, it was very good practice for being a writer. But I didn’t start to think about writing until eighth grade, when Mr. Bailey made us read The Outsiders. From then on, I was hooked."

"If you weren't a writer, what would you be?" I wondered.

"Olympic figure skater? Yeah, I didn't think so either."

She didn't want to share a picture of her writing environment, telling me, "It's an awful mess."

And, she admitted that her writing process is just as messy.

"Seriously, I need to get a new process but I don’t know where you get them. I tend to write in spurts and need a lot of down time in between, which is not very efficient, but I find that when I try to push, I end up writing myself into snarls."
"Do you believe in outlining?" I asked.

"I believe it exists, just not in my world. I’m mostly a 'plunger,' starting with a character and a situation and some vague idea of where the whole thing will go."
One thing she doesn't do is base her writing on her own experiences.

"I'm a firm non-believer in 'write what you know.' I can't think of anything more boring than writing about my own experiences because really, I was and am a very boring person. I like it that way. It's a comfortable way to live. And I get all the excitement I want out of writing."

"What was your big break in writing," I wondered.

"Two things: One, I won a scholarship to a writers conference that gave a big boost to my confidence. You know, you get to that point where you wonder if you are wasting your time and don’t know if you should keep going or not. To me, that said 'Yes, keep going.'

"Two, I entered the Delacorte Press Prize contest for a first young adult novel. I didn’t win, but I got the attention of the editor who eventually bought my first book."

That editor gave her the best piece of writing advice she ever received. "She really taught me to revise. She said 'You write the first draft for yourself. Now you have to think 100% from the point-of-view of the reader.' That clarified the whole process for me."

On a personal note, here are some things you might not know about Melissa:

~~favorite movie: "I love old movies, and my favorites are The Heiress, All About Eve and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."

~~favorite word: "Apple dumpling, pickle relish, elbow, and windowsill. (Fellow old movie lovers will know what I'm talking about!")

~~least favorite word: liver

~~She's an avid bird watcher and she keeps a life list of birds she's seen.

"If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you be and why?" I asked.

"Somewhere warm! I’m freezing. But it would have to be somewhere warm where there are no earthquakes, hurricanes or very large bugs."

Finally, I asked, "What's the one question you wish an interviewer would ask you (and the answer)?"

"Q: 'More gooey chocolate cake?'
A: 'Why, yes, thank you. I think I will.'"

Bio: Melissa Wyatt is very boring. She still lives in the same town in which she was born and raised and has never lived anywhere else. She has never had any great adventures. She doesn’t climb mountains or wrestle alligators or anything cool like that. But if she was doing all that cool stuff, she wouldn’t have time to write, and that’s what she does when she isn’t raising her two sons or hanging out with her husband.

At seventeen, you're not supposed to already be where you want to be. You've got a whole world to make your way through, and you start by leaving the dead-end coal town where you grew up. That's what Remy Walker plans to do, to follow his girlfriend when she leaves for college. It would be the start of everything they ever wanted. Even a fascinating young artist from out-of-state who shows Remy his home through new eyes isn't going to get in the way of those dreams.

Over the course of a summer, Remy learns how much he has to give up for a girl, and how much he needs to give up for a mountain.

A 2010 YALSA Best Books for Young Adults

Kirkus Best Young Adults Books of 2009

Capitol Choices Noteworthy Books for Children and Teens 2010

Monday, March 15, 2010

INTERVIEW: MICHELLE LEVIGNE

Aurora is pleased to have Michelle Levigne visiting with us this week. Michelle has been writing since junior high—first rewriting her favorite TV shows and books, then graduating to fan fiction.

She didn't consciously set out to be a writer, though, she told me.

"I've always loved to read, and then my daydreams kind of took over and got in the way of studying -- and that's a problem when you have semester exams! I had tried writing down stories before, and they always died. This one time, I started writing and kept writing -- and I haven't stopped since. My friend Barb, says we started out as word or reading addicts, and graduated to 'pushers'," she said with a grin.

She told me she was writing for publication for ten years before her writing was good enough to be published in fan magazines.

"I entered writing contests and listened to the feedback people gave me, and then I finally won a big contest -- and it was another ten years before I made my first professional book sale," she said.

During this time, when it might have been very easy to give up, she discovered "fandom"and found out people wanted to read stories about favorite TV show characters, she learned she could write stories people wanted to read.

"That encouragement kept me going through all the years -- and years -- when paying markets were giving me form rejection letters," she shared.

"Writers are known to set their own schedules and work at their own pace," I said. "Do you enjoy that kind of spontaneity in your life? How great is it to be able to take a vacation or just take a day off without calling in sick?"

"HUH? Who told you that?" she replied. "Well, maybe the big-time authors who get 5-figure contracts and advances and don't have to worry about paying the bills. As for the rest of us, we have day jobs and families and chores. We have to steal time for writing. A lot of people get up really early every day to crank out a page or two -- or stay up late after everyone else is in bed, to create a couple pages. I have to create every day. There's always pressure to produce something. Yes, writing and playing in my own private universe is fun, but it's work, too.

"I was laid off last summer, a year ago. Fortunately, I was already earning money doing freelance editing, so I was able to transition to doing that full-time. Honestly, staying in my pajamas all day got really old, really fast! Yes, it's tempting to take the day off, to go to the movies and sit around reading instead of working, but I'm the boss now, as well as the only employee, and I sure would fire someone who did that to me too often, wouldn't you?" she asked with a grin.

Michelle has over forty novels and short stories published, but admitted to me she's most proud of The Dreamer's Loom, which was originally published as "The Dark One" by LTD Books and is now released through Amber Quill Press.

"It's the proverbial book of the heart that every writer has, the dream (or daydream) that won't go away," she explained. "I loved Greek/Roman mythology in elementary school and junior high, and I was fascinated with the old Kirk Douglas movie, Ulysses and Penelope. I had just learned that movies are often based on books, so I found The Odyssey and read it straight through -- in junior high! -- and eventually created my own version of Penelope's side of the story. Some good friends 'dared' me to write it, and the book took me 2 years to write, and then another 10 before I sold it."

She writes both romance and Young Adult fiction, and I asked her what drove her to write books for kids and teens.

"It's not so much that I chose the audience, but the 'feel' and subject matter of the story are more suited for that age level. Shatter Scatter is a fantasy set in my part of Ohio, in areas I've known all my life. It just made more sense to have the main characters be younger and have areas of concern more 'suitable' and 'powerful' for younger readers -- as opposed to my romances," she added, grinning. "Questions of what we are in the world, where we really belong, who we really belong to -- and how very different people can make a place for themselves. For instance, how does a girl with very vague memories of living in another world, where magic is real, deal with living in a suburb of Cleveland -- and knowing she can turn into a wolf whenever she feels like it?"

"How much of your writing is based on your own experience as a child or teenager?" I wondered.

"I want to say none at all -- I was a pretty boring kid, picked on, harassed by the bullies in school and my brother, awkward and fat -- and always in a dreamland." She grinned again. "Honestly, probably a lot of stuff is in my subconscious and slips out into various villains and adventures, all the daydreams I had wanting to escape or get revenge on the jerks who picked on me and told me I'd never amount to anything. All my heroines are the way I wanted to be -- able to say the right thing, fight back, know what to do, and winning out over the bully/villain in the end."

"What is the one book no author should be without?"

"Umm, this isn't a smart-alec answer .... but I'd say a blank notebook, because you never know when you're going to get a cool idea, maybe the answer to a big problem with a character or plot or something else."

"Do you think the Internet will ultimately change the publishing industry?" I wondered.

"It already has," Michelle asserted. "Look at the price wars between Amazon and Wal-Mart. Look at the struggle over electronic rights, and the constant childish bad-mouthing of e-publishers and e-pubbed authors by so-called 'real' writers and writing groups. Look at the morons who pirate books and music, because they claim anything available on the Internet is public property. Look at review sites like yours, which make it so much easier for authors to communicate with our readers -- and where a bad review or a social gaff or a stupid remark on a blog can trash someone's career in a day, where battles over plagiarism and 'art' go on and on in public view, and anyone can claim to be an author or a publisher, without any investment other than time and software and web access. Publishers are no longer little kings of their own kingdoms."

Finally, I asked Michelle what advice she would give to young writers.

"Read. Lots of genres. Fill up your head with stories and ideas and images. Explore multiple universes in your imagination. Don't be afraid of failure and making a big mess with your first dozen -- or your first hundred -- attempts. We learn by doing and by failing and figuring out what we did wrong and trying again. And again. And again. It takes time -- don't get discouraged if you don't sell right away. Just keep working and trying and improving."

Aggie, Lara, Brody and their friends triggered more magic than they intended and fell through into another world, filled with shadows of home. Was it their original home? And if so, were the people who tried to kill them 10 years ago waiting to finish the job?

Monday, March 8, 2010

INTERVIEW: JACLYN DOLAMORE

Aurora is pleased to welcome Jaclyn Dolamore, whose debut novel Magic Under Glass was released by Bloomsbury this past December. She's just finished the synopsis and is polishing the partial pages of the proposed sequel, Magic Under Stone.

Jaclyn enjoys writing books for teenagers because she feels that they tend to be a generally maligned group.

"I think it's too bad," she said. "It can be a hard age, but also a wonderful one full of creativity, discovery, and growing self-awareness. Kids and teenagers make the most enthusiastic fans."

She always wanted to write, with occasional diversions into wanting to be a comic book artist or an actress. In all of those desires, however, the goal was to be able to tell stories.

She's working on one story that she keeps trying to get right.

"It contains a magical Mafia and doll people and telepathy and a lot of cook stuff that is really hard to explain in a blurb," she said, "which is one reason I worry about that story…"

If she wasn't a writer, though, she said she would probably be a librarian, admitting "I'm so predictable."

What's not so predictable is where her writing comes from. Not much of it is based on personal experience, but a lot of it is based on stories she loved as a child or teenager.

"There are things I can trace back to Final Fantasy games or Xanth books or Elfquest comics," she told me.

Dade, her partner, is a creative guy himself.

"He does my website; he did my trailer; and he designs all the bookmarks, posters, and things like that I need," she said. "He's is awesomely supportive. One of his passions is building scale models, so I read him everything I write while he builds models."

Along with Dade, Jaclyn said her parents, her sister Kate, her agent, and her editor have all helped her with her career.

In addition she said, "I have to mention Sarah Cross, the author of Dull Boy. I've been friends with her since I was 14, and for most of that time we haven't even talked that much. Like, I hardly heard from her in my late teens and early 20s. But she was always really determined to be published, and she always encouraged me and told me my stuff was really good. I never really pursued publication because I had trouble finishing books and I was really intimidated by querying agents. But, about four years ago, I started writing more seriously, and I started to think I could really finish novels. But agents and editors still intimidated me. She reentered my life at that point, gave me a well researched list of agents, answered all my questions, and then she got an agent offer herself, which made me think it was really possible. It took several more years, and we mostly faded back out of each other's lives, but she came in and was exactly what I needed at that moment in my life. I really owe her one."



She learned many years ago that she has to outline her books, or she will never finish them.

"With that said, I never follow the outline," she confessed. "I think of it like a destination. I need a map that shows the path, and I need to know where I'm trying to get to. But along the way, I might try a back road, or a shortcut, or I might stop to see if that diner has good pancakes. Sometimes the ultimate destination might even change. But there has to be one to start, or I won't get very far to begin with."

Jaclyn loves to do research for her books—usually, she said.

"There are some things I hate to research, and I try my best to avoid putting those things in a book to begin with! One of my favorite things to do is prowl used bookstores looking for books I've never heard of on different times and places. I try to have a book already in my collection for every place or time or situation I would need. For instance, the last time I was in New York, I spent hours in the Strand and I bought a book about the history of the English country house, and one about shops in 19th century America, a history of posters and a book about Berlin in the 1920s. I mostly write fantasy set in another world, but I like to ground it in something real, and I never know when I might need these things."

Along with prowling bookstores, she enjoys cooking, collecting vintage clothing, as well as home furnishings when she can find them, drawing the characters in her novels, and history. She also goes through sporadic waves of studying Japanese.

One of her favorite meals is good German sausage with mashed potatoes, red cabbage with apples, and linzer torte for dessert.

"I would not want to eat that every often," she confessed, "but when I do…oh heaven!"

On the other end of the spectrum is mayonnaise. Jaclyn told me, "It borders on a phobia."

Finally, I asked, "What do you envision happening within the YA field in the next five to ten years?"

" Right now young adult is really exploding in popularity and creativity. So, like all good things, at some point it's going to get oversaturated... well, that point might already be here. And the genres might become a little more set, like the adult market. I really hope it doesn't lose the magic. I do think, though, that we have some really wonderful talent that's going to be around for a long time, and the tight writing will continue to attract readers in this busy world. I also think there will be a slow trend for young adult to encompass more college and early twentysomething stories."

Jaclyn Dolamore spent her childhood reading as many books as she could lug from the library and playing elaborate pretend games with her sister. She has a passion for history, thrift stores, vintage dresses, David Bowie, drawing, and organic food. She lives in Orlando, Florida, with her partner and two black tabbies who have ruined her carpeting (the cats, not the boyfriend, that is). This is her first novel.

Monday, March 1, 2010

INTERVIEW: Nancy Coffelt


Aurora is pleased to have Nancy Coffelt visiting with us this week. Nancy's debut novel, Listen, was released by WestSide Books this past fall. Listen is not, however, Nancy's first book. She's also written several picture books for younger readers, winning the Horn Book Honor Award for Fred Stays With Me. She's currently revising a YA novel and is in the middle of a first draft of a new one. She's also working on a couple of picture book projects.


Nancy had a list of things she wanted to be when she grew up: teacher, veterinarian, concert clarinetist, and artist. Writing and reading were activities she just did.


"It wasn’t until I had my own studio gallery and found that my artwork’s titles were getting longer and longer, did I explore really working on that craft," she told me.
"I don’t play music so much anymore and I found out that I can’t stand the sight of blood so veterinarian was out. But I do teach as writer and artist in residence, and still illustrate and show my fine art in galleries."


She can't imagine not writing or drawing. "That’s about the same as imagining I had gills instead of lungs," she said. "But if I had another separate lifetime I would have wanted to be a physicist and a professional tennis player."


Nancy has an office/studio where she draws and writes. A large drafting table is covered in mountains of oil pastel stubs, a computer, TV, and a stereo. It's also filled with books, her teaching files, empty tea cups and diet Dr Pepper bottles.


"Twig, the min-pin puppy’s toys cover the floor as well as the paper scraps she loves to shred," Nancy said. "I don’t let anyone see my messy room!"


She sometimes writes down ideas for picture books in longhand, but she confessed that she writes so fast that her handwriting is almost illegible, even to herself.


"I’m a two finger typer but do okay," she said. "I got a netbook to write my latest novel. I wanted to be able to write outside of my studio if I wanted. "


Nancy told me she needs an extra day in the week.


"Because I don’t have a 'regular' job, I need to have lots of jobs to make up for that fact. So I’m usually scheduled within an inch of my life. I get up super early to get my own writing in before running off to a school or teaching an online class."


"How do you keep your finger on the pulse of today’s kids?" I asked.


"I read a fair amount of YA and I also am in the schools a lot. Right now I’m teaching 2nd through 5th grade in one class and also a couple of other classes with middle schoolers and high schoolers. Plus, I am highly immature."


When Nancy's not writing, she enjoys cooking and admits to being a tennis freak. "I play on a team and try to get out there on the courts a few times a week," she explained.

Her favorite word? Lackadaisical. Least favorite? Moist.

"What's the one question that no one asks you that you wish they would?" I wondered.

"Would you like me to give you a million dollars?"

The lives of three people intersect unexpectedly in this unique, compelling story. There’s Will, an eighteen-year-old living alone since his mother died and his drug- and alcohol-addled brother was put in jail. Then there’s Kurt, a troubled, fourteen-year-old loner still reeling in the aftermath of his mother’s abusive boyfriend’s death, and his part in it. And there’s Carrie, a middle-aged schizophrenic who “hears” the thoughts of the abused and neglected neighborhood animals she rescues and brings home. When Carrie and Kurt connect, she agrees to pay him for each “stray” cat or dog he delivers. But when her “rescuing” goes one step too far, events spiral dangerously out of control. Told from alternating viewpoints, Listen is the haunting story of three people dramatically thrown together by fate, each struggling to come to terms with their harrowing past.