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Monday, June 28, 2010

INTERVIEW: Adam Selzer

Adam (left) with Hulk Hogan. They were guests on the same radio show in October, 2009

Aurora is pleased to welcome Adam Selzer, whose latest work I Kissed a Zombie and Liked It has recently been optioned for a Disney Channel Original Movie. Adam explained that the option doesn't mean a movie will definitely be made, however Disney has bought the rights to make one if they want. Either way, it's an exciting bit of news.

I asked him to tell us a little bit about I Kissed a Zombie and Liked It.

"It was my attempt to satirize paranormal romance, a genre that was certainly ripe for it," he told me. "All of my books are really satire at heart. In the world of this book, vampires had to admit to the world that they existed when they found out that Megamart was raising the dead to work as zombie slave labor. That was about three years before the book, so by now the 'omigod vampires and zombies are real' scandal is over and life is back to normal, for the most part, except that douchebag vampires who mope around acting all emo are the most popular guys in high school and the goth look has taken over as the style of the day.

"All the girls love them, except for Alley, a snarky girl who thinks dead guys have no reason to live. But then she finds out the goth guy she's crushing on isn't just pale and sickly as part of his goth look, he's just been dead for three years. After that, she has a whole bunch of new issues to deal with, like how much of herself and her plans she should sacrifice for a first love. I think a lot of YA (well, really a lot of romance, going back hundreds of years) ignores those sort of issues.

"As a satirist, my job is to jump on the bandwagon and stick a Garfield doll in the window, but I still have to be able to drive the wagon. So it's a satire, but it's also my attempt to write the most realistic paranormal romance that I possibly could."

He has another book set in the same world as I Kissed a Zombie and Liked It that will be coming out next year. The tentative title is Fairy Godmother and the heroine of the book tells us a little bit about it:

You probably all know me from the book Emily's Fairy Godmother by Eileen Codlin. But Eileen Codlin can go sit n a closet and suck moldy toenails. She didn't get ONE THING right. I'm no ditz who was desperate to go to the prom with a vampire, and my fairy godmother wasn't the least bit beautiful, and I'm not a princess (and I can't make you one, so kindly get off my lawn). Then, I talked to Alley Rhodes, this girl from my school who had a book, I KISSED A ZOMBIE AND I LIKED IT, written about her. She said that when she told her story to Adam Selzer, he made the Smart Aleck Staff wait on her hand and foot for a whole week and didn't change a thing (except for leaving out some scene in Doug the Zombie's car). So, well, long story short, the Smart Aleck Staff ROCKS (even the interns!), and Adam's new book will be out next year! Take that, Codlin!

I asked him how much of his books is based on his own life and he told me, "As little as humanly possible."

He tries to write book that he would have liked as a teenager, and he usually has a few things in common with his characters. He thinks it's more fun to write characters who aren't much like him.

He also thinks it's fun to make playlists of songs he thinks the main character would like, songs that have the right vibe for the book and songs that he's just into. As a matter of fact, he literally wrote a bunch of songs to go along with it, got them recorded, and put an album up for download here.

"What challenges do you think the youth of today face that you didn’t?" I wondered.

"Honestly, nothing. The big issues facing teenagers are disillusion, alienation, loneliness, and all that stuff. That hasn't changed in decades. They can't game the system all the ways that I did ten years ago, but there are always new ways to do it. The internet changes way the social structures work, but it doesn't really change the basic rules of the game.

"Most of the differences are in economics, I guess. Teenagers today pay a lot more for gas than I did, but I don't think they're paying $18 for a CD very often, and I can't imagine they need to spend as much on blank tapes as I did.

"Anyway, bottom line is that being a teenager was a pain in the ass in the 90s, and it's a pain in the ass now."

Not only has the internet changed the way social structures work, Adam thinks it's also changed reading.

"There were tons of books that I wanted to read but couldn't find anywhere when I was a kid, and now I can find a place selling them used with no trouble at all," he explained. "And when I was getting started, I never once sent a paper query anywhere. I did it all online. One of these days something will come along that will do to ebooks what Pickwick Papers did to serials. You'll know it when you see it. I don't think ebooks will take over books the way digital downloads took over music, but the publishing industry is always changing, anyway."

Some of the best pieces of advice when it comes to writing are "All writing is mystery writing" and "It's easier to fix bad writing than a blank page." His favorite advice, though, is to ignore "how to write" books.

"You can learn everything you could possibly want to know about writing by reading Roger Ebert's movie reviews," he said. "Seriously. One book no writer should be without is I Hated, Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie by Roger Ebert."

Adam Selzer is the author of I KISSED A ZOMBIE AND I LIKED IT, THE SMART ALECK'S GUIDE TO AMERICAN HISTORY, and seven other books. He lives in Chicago, where he spent several years making a living in the ghost hunting industry. He enjoys eavesdropping on people on the train, picking arguments with libertarians, and cooking.


Monday, June 21, 2010

INTERVIEW: Helen Ellis


Aurora is pleased to welcome Helen Ellis, author of The Turning: What Curiosity Kills, her debut YA novel and the first of a series. Even though she lives in Manhattan, she clings to her Southern accent like mayonnaise to white bread. She is also the author of the acclaimed novel Eating the Cheshire Cat.

I asked her to share a little about What Curiosity Kills.

Plucked from foster care, Mary Richards hit the jackpot with a loving family, an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and a spot in the elite Purser-Lilley Academy. But she might lose it all if people find out about the turning.
Something not human is inside Mary. Her mind is reeling and her body is rebelling. She succumbs to urges and desires she never imagined. And then there’s the bizarre physical transformation.
Struggling with her metamorphosis, Mary is sought out by two boys who share her secret. Will she reject the destiny they swear is hers? Or will she find our what curiosity kills?
You only get one chance to decide if you’ll never turn again.



When Helen was a kid, her only escape was a book. She wasn't old enough to drive. She wasn't a kid who would cut school or run away from school. In fact, if you don't count being dragged by the ankle around the basketball court in a blue one-piece gym suit by Regina Hinton because she was such a skinny, quiet girl, Helen had a relatively happy adolescence. But, still, she wanted to leave Alabama, mean girls, and her shyness behind and losing herself in books helped her "get out of Dodge early."

She told me that she's still out of breath from writing What Curiosity Kills because she took Stephen King's advice in On Writing. He says to write as fast as you can to outrun the self-doubt. Helen wrote What Curiosity Kills in less than six months. She is now working on the second book in The Turning series: The Turning: Swing the Dead. Mary must decide which side she’ll be on in the New York City turf war. Domestic or Stray? Then she finds out that there are more than two sides.

In between Eating the Cheshire Cat and The Turning, however, Helen wrote three books that never saw print. She credits her husband, Lex, with being incredibly supportive.

"I was ready to give up on writing," she admitted, "but Lex said, 'Keep going.'" She did, and The Turning: What Curiosity Kills was the result.

When I asked her about her writing process, she told me it was simple: no outlining, no research.

"My entire writing process is me asking myself: 'And then what happened? And THEN what happened?!' And, for What Curiosity Kills, if I didn't know something, I made it up."


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

"I would be a secretary. I was one for most of my day job life. I like filing, scheduling, opening mail, taking calls. Taking care of someone. Being a secretary enabled me to support myself while writing my first novel Eating the Cheshire Cat.

"If I were to choose another creative dream job, it would be designing the windows at Bergdorf Goodman. Every Christmas, I design a new tree. Themes have included Two in the Bush (all bird ornaments) and 'Fat Ho’s' (all Santas). I collect ornaments for years from estate sales and eBay. When their time is over, I give them away at our annual Christmas party."

Helen shared with me that she writes her computers on the computer, but for correspondence she prefers her 1969 Royal typewriter. You can learn how at Diary of a Luddite: How to use a typewriter. And, if you write Helen a real honest-to-goodness letter, she will write one back.

When Helen's not writing, she enjoys playing poker. In fact, she's a tournament poker player and just got back from Las Vegas where she took part in the World Series of Poker. She told me, "In Mississippi casinos, I am nicknamed The Velvet Terrorist."

She is a self-confessed Luddite and said her least favorite word is 'cellphone.' She does have an iPod but uses it solely for background music while she writes, so all of the tunes on it are jazz and big band: Glen Miller, Artie Shaw, Charles Mingus, and Count Basie to name a few. She does have one song with lyrics: "Yes" by Liza Minelli from Liza with a Z.

"What's the most embarrassing thing your mother ever did to you?" I wondered.

"My friend, Laurie Mundy, and I lied to a video arcade quarter jockey and said we’d lost a quarter in Ms. Pac Man. He keyed in a free game. I bragged to Mama about this the next day at the mall, and she made me walk back into The Barrel of Fun, walk up to a random worker, give him a quarter, and say, 'I owe you this.'"

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

"Be brave. That’s the message of The Turning. When you’re young, you haven’t failed as much as you eventually will. It’s easier to get your courage up – to talk to a kid you have a crush on, to apply to a college on the other side of the country, to backpack all by yourself across Europe, or to say what’s on your mind. My advice is: be brave now. The earlier you start, the easier it will be to brave the rest of your life.

Monday, June 14, 2010

INTERVIEW: WE HEAR THE DEAD

This post is part of Sourcebooks' “Do You See Dead People, too?” paranormal mystery giveaway! To have a chance to win one of 25 copies of this book, all you have to do is answer one of the following questions:

1. Do you believe that communication with the dead is possible?
2. Have you ever felt the presence of someone who was not physically present?

You can also receive an extra entry by tweeting about the contest, linking to either your blog or Sourcebooks' contest page: http://teenfire.ning.com/forum/topics/do-you-see-dead-people-too. PLEASE NOTE: Answers to the above questions MUST be entered onto the contest page, NOT this blog. However, feel free to leave comments to the author on this blog. Thanks and good luck.

The Long and the Short of It: Aurora is pleased to welcome Dianne Salerni, author of We Hear the Dead which has been optioned for film.

We Hear the Dead is a historical fiction novel that retells the true story of Maggie Fox, a young girl who, in 1848, accidentally invented “the séance” and founded spiritualism with a high-spirited prank. Maggie and her younger sister Kate caused an uproar in their small, upstate New York town when they revealed that they could communicate with the ghost of a murdered man they claimed was buried in the cellar. In actuality, it was only a joke designed to scare an unwelcome guest, but once the prank had snowballed into something bigger, neither Maggie nor Kate knew how to get out of it. When their older, divorced sister, Leah Fox Fish, realized people would pay money to communicate with dead relatives, she took custody of the two girls and set them up as spirit mediums in Rochester. Maggie and Kate became America’s first teenage celebrities – but fame came with a price. The girls were living a lie; they faced accusations of witchcraft, and when Maggie met the love of her life – the heroic and dashing explorer Elisha Kane -- her unconventional occupation stood in the way of their future happiness.

Dianne told me that she has no doubt that We Hear the Dead would still be sitting in the closet with the rest of her old writing if it hadn't been for her husband pushing her to get it to publication.

"He is my most ardent fan and supporter," she told me. "He was my first reader – and he was tough! He put up with me when I spent more time in the evenings with my 'dead friends' – ie: the Fox sisters and Elisha Kane – than with him, and he listens when I talk through plot problems, brainstorm future writing projects, or just bemoan about my insecurities. He has come to almost every author event I’ve had, stood behind me, and pushed me forward when I was too shy to speak. I absolutely could not do this without him!"

The book was originally self-published in 2007 under the title High Spirits. Dianne worked really hard to sell the book and sent out a lot of copies for review at her own expense. The more great reviews she received, the more Amazon featured her book in recommendations for readers. Two of those readers who checked it out were Kelly Barrales-Saylor, an editor at Sourcebooks, and Amy Green, producer and owner of One Eye Open Films. They checked out the book and, nearly simultaneously, made offers for the publishing rights and a film option on the book.

Most interviewers ask Dianne about Maggie and Kate Fox since they are the main focus of the book. However, Maggie's love interest, Elisha Kane, is also a fascinating individual. In his day, he was one of the most famous men in America.
"It’s an interesting testimony to American fickleness that he is now almost completely forgotten," Dianne commented.

He was also the character who gave Dianne the most trouble. On the surface, the bare facts of his life make him out to be a man of great heroics – and arrogance. She struggled when she reached the part of the novel where Kane was supposed to make his appearance, because she wasn't sure how she could make him an appealing romantic figure to her protagonist and to her readers.

"Clearly, the real Maggie had loved him desperately, but I just wasn’t seeing it. Elisha Kane caused me to lay the manuscript aside for over 6 months, while I tried to figure him out. In the end, he won me over with his own words. I read his book, Arctic Explorations, and I read his love letters to Maggie Fox. I discovered that this young man, the first born son of an aristocratic Philadelphia family, was ambitious, heroic, and – yes -- more than a bit arrogant. But he was also intelligent, good-humored, self-deprecating, and deeply, deeply in love with Maggie Fox. He fought it … struggled to overcome it … because in every respect she was totally unsuitable for his station. But he was unable to leave her. And once I understood this – I picked up the manuscript and didn’t stop feverishly writing until I reached the end."

When Dianne was a teenager, she read a lot of fantasy and science fiction, with two of her favorite authors being Roger Zelazny, and C.J. Cherryh.

"However, I also enjoyed trolling for treasures in my mother’s collection of gothic mysteries," Dianne said. "She had quite a stash in the basement from her own teenage years, and I became addicted to Mary Stewart and Mary Roberts Rinehart. I think those are the authors who most influence my writing today. As for my current reading, I still read science fiction, although not a lot of fantasy, and I’m still a real sucker for a good, gothic mystery."

Dianne was making up stories before she could write and continued writing all the way through elementary school and middle school, although sadly she threw out all the old notebooks in a fit of insecurity at some point. She still has a lot of stuff from high school forward and she admitted she's glad she has them.
"Even if some of the writing is fairly immature," she told me. "It’s good to see how far I’ve come!"

She advises any young writers who are reading this to never throw your old writing away!

"Seriously," she said, "the best advice I can give is to keep writing. Like anything, you get better with practice. Read and learn from the books that you love. Write and don’t be afraid to revise and change your work. Good ideas sometimes spring from mediocre ones, and long shots sometimes pay off! I grew up reading and writing science fiction, fantasy, and mystery. I never imagined that my first published novel would end up being historical fiction!"

Currently, Dianne has recently completed the screenplay adaption of We Hear the Dead for Amy Green and is waiting to hear if she needs to make any further revisions on it. She's also working on a historical mystery with supernatural elements and a modern paranormal short story.

"When I have time left over – which isn’t as often as I’d like -- I’m doing preliminary research and brainstorming for another historical mystery involving a unique cemetery in Catawissa, Pennsylvania," she shared with me.

Dianne writes mostly historical or paranormal fiction, so very little is based on her actual experiences as a child—although she is greatly influenced by her mother's gothic mysteries. She did, however, admit to basing characters on people she knew growing up.

"People’s basic characters are the same, no matter when they lived," she explained. "In fact I like to draw connections between the lives of teenagers in the past and the present. For example, when teenage spirit mediums Maggie and Kate Fox were elevated to celebrity status in the 1850’s, they faced some of the same temptations and stresses of modern teenage stars – Maggie’s romance was threatened by her fame as a spirit medium, and Kate developed a taste for alcohol."

I asked Dianne what she's currently reading herself.

"I recently finished Jekel Loves Hyde, which I really enjoyed, and I’ll soon be starting Bleeding Violet. In between, I’m reading Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities. It was a birthday gift from my sister-in-law, who once saw me reading Deadly Doses: A Writer’s Guide to Poisons and thought I might enjoy this one, too. I would really like to find a slow-acting, deadly poison in a common Pennsylvania weed. It’s for a story. I swear."

When Dianne is writing her historical mysteries, she first searches for some true historical elements to serve as the nuggets of truth within the story: the mysterious death of a 19th century psychic investigator, a girl apparently possessed by the spirit of young suicide victim, a haunted mansion, an Indian massacre, a grave enclosed in a cage. Then she weaves the "based on truth" elements into a fictional story.

"At this point, there will be some form of outlining," she explained, "including choosing names for the characters. Once I have a general sense of where I’m going, I’ll try to draft a first chapter, just to get a feel for it. I may end up changing it repeatedly, but I’ll keep coming at it from different angles until the story takes off on its own."

Dianne told me that she enjoys the research when she finds what she's looking for. She's a full-time elementary school teacher and mom, so she doesn't have the opportunity to do a lot of traveling. By necessity most of her research is done in books and the internet.

"Luckily you can find almost anything online," she said. "Recently, I needed to figure out how people would have treated arsenic poisoning around the turn of the century. After extensive digging around, I turned up a 1904 cookbook on Google Books which had a guide in the back titled: “What to Do Before the Doctor Arrives.” Apparently, arsenic was so commonly used in household products like rat poison and wallpaper glue that an emergency home remedy was included in cookbooks! In case you were wondering, the recommended treatment of the time was: 1) salt water purge 2) egg whites to coat the stomach and 3) rust to bind with the arsenic. Yes, rust."

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

"I’d be at the Sandals Resort in the Bahamas, lying out by the pool with a book. Of course, I’d have reservations with my husband for snorkeling later in the afternoon, but there’s no hurry in the Bahamas, and if we were late, they would wait for us. In the evening, we would have dinner at one of the restaurants, and then saunter over to the lounge for some snooker. Snooker is a complicated British version of billiards played on a giant table 5 feet by 10 feet. (I know this because, being 5 feet tall, I once lay down on the floor beside the table to prove it.) On the way back to our hotel in the evening, I’d probably stop some other couples to take romantic pictures of me and my husband, and my husband would take a few extraneous pictures of bizarre Bahamian electrical junction boxes because he’s an engineer and he can’t help himself."

Monday, June 7, 2010

INTERVIEW: PICTURE THE DEAD

This post is part of Sourcebooks' “Do You See Dead People, too?” paranormal mystery giveaway! To have a chance to win one of 25 copies of this book, all you have to do is answer one of the following questions:

1. Do you believe that communication with the dead is possible?
2. Have you ever felt the presence of someone who was not physically present?

You can also receive an extra entry by tweeting about the contest, linking to either your blog or Sourcebooks' contest page: http://teenfire.ning.com/forum/topics/do-you-see-dead-people-too. PLEASE NOTE: Answers to the above questions MUST be entered onto the contest page, NOT this blog. However, feel free to leave comments to the author on this blog. Thanks and good luck.


Aurora is pleased to have Lisa Brown and Adele Griffin, co-authors of Picture the Dead. Even though there something amazing about the first published work for each of them, Lisa and Adele admit that Picture the Dead is a big deal for them. They had collaborated on another project, The Book of Humiliations--a graphic novel of teen persecution and redemption that borrowed from the Salem Witch Trials.

"It was a really, cool, creepy book that we put aside to create our even cooler and creepier Picture the Dead. But the genesis of this idea—our heroine, some of the antagonists, a bit of the mood, came from this other project. So in a way, it’s been eight years in the making."

Adele told me that she loves how a young person's life can get so totally wrapped up in a book--to the point where nothing else matters. It's the reason she likes to write books for kids and teens.

"Pure book escape—that’s how I remember summer vacations, when I wasn’t scooping ice-cream and babysitting," she said. "So now I make up stories with the hope that they might fuel the escapism of someone else’s summer."

Lisa told me that, as a kid, she loved The Witch of Blackbird Pond "absolutely to death."

"To this day," she said, "I am completely and utterly obsessed with the Salem Witch Trials. I even took a course in college called “Witchcraft in Medieval Europe” just to feed my obsession. I aced it. And my crazy love for historical fiction persists. Just sped through Wolf Hall by Hillary Mantel about Thomas Cromwell and King Henry the Eighth and The Children’s Book by AS Byatt, about Victorian and Edwardian England up until WWI. Beautiful stuff."

While they were working on Picture the Dead, Adele and Lisa told me that they continuously referenced and plundered their memories for what it was like to be a teenager-- to be sixteen and in love, to be angry and yet powerless, to be frightened and alone. Then they had to make the leap to things they couldn't have known about-- living through the Civil War, the haunted house, being 1865.

Those types of things took a lot of research and Lisa admitted, "Research for Picture the Dead was an endless point of fascination and digression for me. The Library of Congress was a wonderful resource. In fact, the book is completely over-researched, which was why we needed to design the website. To present all those tidbits we couldn't fit into the book."

"What person has helped you the most in your career?" I asked.

Adele answered, "Our first and only agent, Charlotte Sheedy. She is just an excellent, first-rate mentor, a champion and advocate for great stories."

"Here, here," Lisa responded.

Both of them feel that with the internet, it's easier than ever to keep a finger of the pulse of today's kids and what they want in terms of reading material.

"Kids give us so much access to their critiques, their picks and preferences on their blogs, through their reviews and ning networks. We have more dossiers on youth than ever before."

It's a two-edged sword, however, because it also plays into one of the largest challenges the youth of today face.

"Generation Facebook makes it hard for kids to make their youthful mistakes and move on. Any text or jpg becomes a constant reminder. Your diary is up there for everyone in perpetuity."

Finally, I asked Lisa and Adele, "What's the most embarrassing thing your mother ever did to you?"

Adele answered, "She always made me sing at family get-togethers. With my reedy voice, it was like I was deliberately cursing the gathering. Such a bad call, Mom."

"I wish I could have seen that," Lisa said.



Lisa Brown is the bestselling illustrator and/or author of a growing number of books, including How to Be, The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming, and Baby Mix Me a Drink. Lisa lives in San Francisco with her son and her husband. Find her at www.americanchickens.com.

Adele Griffin is the critically acclaimed author of numerous young adult novels, including The Other Shepards, Where I Want to Be, and the Vampire Island series. She lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York. Find her at www.adelegriffin.net.
Find them together at www.picturethedead.com.