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Monday, August 30, 2010

Spotlight On: Shannon Rouchelle

Shannon Rouchelle was nominated in 2009 for the Dream Realm Awards for Alien's Revenge, best young adult.

Shannon lives on the Saskatchewan prairies with her husband Jerry and two sons, Matthew and Michael.

Her newest book, Quest for the Magic Stones, book one in her newest teen series, Leslie Burrows, was released last month by Devine Destinies.

Leslie Burrows, a young woman impoverished and living in a small cottage with her mother, is delighted when she attends her first royal ball and meets Prince Peter, the man of her dreams.

But the prince has a nasty secret and desperately needs her help. Leslie must complete a quest and defeat a wicked sorcerer to break the spell bestowed upon her beloved. She decides to risk her life and face the dangers that linger in the Spirited Forest.

Can love conquer all, or will evil prevail?

Monday, August 16, 2010

INTERVIEW: MARLENE PEREZ

Aurora is pleased to welcome Marlene Perez, author of the popular Dead Is… series, The Comeback, Love in the Corner Pocket, and Unexpected Development. The latest book in the Dead Is… series, Dead is Just a Rumor has just come out.

"It's the fourth book in the DEAD IS series and takes place in the fall of Daisy Giordano's senior year," Marlene said. "Here's a little blurb. As the creepy little town of Nightshade prepares to celebrate its 200th anniversary—on Halloween, of course—many of its paranormal residents are receiving mysterious blackmail letters. Psychic teen Daisy Giordano and her sisters set out to find out who is behind the threats."

Marlene is proud of every single book she's written, she admitted.

"I think it takes a lot to finish writing a novel and anyone who has accomplished that much needs to give themselves a round of applause," she said. "And after a book is written, it takes guts and persistence to submit that manuscript. And then there's reviews! So far, I've had the most fun with the DEAD IS series."

She told me that she's always loved teen literature and some of her favorite books are novels for teens. These include Lois Duncan's Down a Dark Hall and Judy Blume's Forever. She also enjoys Catcher in the Rye, The Outsiders, and Anne Rice's Vampire Lestat.

"It's hard for me to pin down one favorite of anything," she said, "because it's always changing."

Marlene likes writing in longhand for first drafts and the computer for editing. She'll write by hand, then type it up, print out a copy of what she has, and continue this process until the book is completed.

Her first novel, Unexpected Development, was based on her experience working in a pancake house during high school, and she credits Norma Fox Mazer with influencing her writing.

"In the late 90s, I heard her speak about her writing process and stifling that nasty internal critic at an SCBWI conference. She used the 'fedora' method and put a hat over her head, sat in front of her computer, and just typed for an hour, no editing allowed. That was how I was finally able to shut up my own scared, self-critical internal editor enough to finish the first draft of my first young adult novel six months later. I will be forever grateful to her for such good advice. I will be forever grateful to her for such good advice. I sent her an e-mail to thank her, at the nudging of a writer friend, and she sent me the nicest reply back. She died not long afterward. I was glad that I was able to tell her how much that speech meant to me."

"What is your writing process like?" I asked.

"My writing process is different for every book, but it starts with a tiny glimmer of something. Sometimes it's a title or a character who just starts talking to me or maybe when I least expect it, I remember a place I was and it starts me thinking. My problem is I always have lots of ideas and am torn about what to work on next. Usually, one story or the other will eventually win out. I open up a file on the computer and write those little bits down and go from there. I will sometimes show a few chapters to my critique group or my agent, but I like to write a first draft quickly and then I revise it and line-edit and then print it out and do the same thing again."

She working on the first book in a romantic paranormal trilogy and a stand alone right now.

"I'm definitely going in a different direction with the stand alone, but I'm very excited about both projects," she said. "Neither book is under contract at this time."

I wondered what her husband felt about her writing.

"My husband is fabulous," Marlene assured me. "He shoulders more than his fair share of household chores so that I can have writing time. I once heard another writer say that she wrote under her maiden name because her father had been so supportive of her writing. My father was not involved in my life, so it seemed wrong to use his last name for my writing career, but it made sense to use my married name (Perez) because my husband is supportive and always has been. The other reason is my maiden name is an unusual one and a little hard to pronounce."

"If your book was turned into a movie, who would you like to play the main characters?" I asked.

"I don't know. It's fun to think about, though! The first three books in the DEAD IS series have been optioned by the Disney Channel for television. I think Danielle Campbell looks a lot like how I pictured Daisy. It was kind of spooky actually. A fan sent me a message on my space and her avatar was a picture of Danielle Campbell and I was like 'That's Daisy!'"

"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?"

She laughed. "I don't work at my own pace because I'm a huge procrastinator and I'd never get anything done. I set deadlines, either real or artificial ones and I stick to them as closely as I can. And if you're a professional writer, you can't be completely spontaneous and work at your own pace because you have an editor and marketing people and your agent and a lot of other people who are expecting you to turn in a book by a deadline. I worked at a university for several years, but now I write full-time and I approach it like any other career. Butt in chair works for me."

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

"I think it already has. The one thing that really bothers me is the amount of piracy that's out there. My goal is to continue to write and publish books and to be able to make a living doing so. I don't think readers who download an illegal copy of a favorite author's book realize that it's NOT a victimless crime. Ultimately, that author suffers because if the sales aren't there for a book, the publisher might not buy another book. It's different if the author and/or the publisher willingly offers excerpts or even entire novels to their readers. But for someone to just TAKE my work really irritates me, especially when those sites are profiting from something they are not entitled to and legally, do not have the right to distribute."

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

"High school doesn't last forever. And please please be kind to each other."

As the creepy little town of Nightshade prepares to celebrate its 200th anniversary—on Halloween, of course—many of its paranormal residents are receiving mysterious blackmail letters. Psychic teen Daisy Giordano and her sisters set out to find out who is behind the threats. But launching an investigation isn’t easy for Daisy with her overprotective father watching her every move. Though she’s is happy to have him back after the years he spent being held captive by an anti-paranormal group called the Scourge, Dad is having difficult time adjusting to home life—and the fact that his little girl is now a senior in high school. He even disapproves of Daisy’s boyfriend, Ryan. Can their relationship take the strain?

And Daisy’s got even more on her plate: A talented amateur chef, she has won cooking lessons with celebrity chef Circe Silvertongue. After nosing around (with a little help from Circe’s pet pig), Daisy begins to suspect the temperamental chef’s secrets aren’t only in her ingredients. . . .

The fourth installment in this favorite series is full of surprises and scares!

Monday, August 9, 2010

INTERVIEW: Charity Tahmaseb and Darcy Vance

Aurora is very pleased to welcome two old friends, Charity Tahmaseb and Darcy Vance, whose debut novel The Geek Girls Guide to Cheerleading was released last year. This interview originally appeared on The Long and the Short of It: LASR.

Charity and Darcy have both been lifelong readers—loving stories and books. Charity would rewrite movies and books in her head (generally, she told me, because there weren't enough girls or girl power in the books and movies she saw), but it didn't occur to her until after her son was born that she could actually write down all those stories she had in her head. "Why it never occurred to me to do this before, I have no idea," she said. Darcy, on the other hand, had her first (very short) story displayed on Back to School Night by her first grade teacher. "My parents read it and gushed with praise," she told me. "That was the first time I remember thinking, 'Hey! This writing thing might be kind of cool!'"

Charity and Darcy first met ten years ago as part of an online writing group. They became critique partners and friends, then started writing together about two years ago. However, they've only met in real life two times, and the second was just a few months ago for the launch party for The Geek Girls Guide to Cheerleading.

The Geek Girl’s Guide to Cheerleading is about a self-proclaimed geek girl who, partly as a joke, and partly to support her best friend, tries out for varsity cheerleading and makes the squad. It’s the story of her season on the squad. As Darcy likes to say, it’s also the story of falling in love for the first time and being a good friend even when the other person isn’t being such a good friend back.

I asked them, "What comes first: the plot or the characters?"

Charity said, "For me, it's a bit of both, usually a character in a 'what if' situation," while Darcy admitted she used to be strictly a character first writer.

"For a long time I believed that if a writer understood her characters well enough, the story would grow from within them. I'd still like to think that but, more and more, I find that if I don't have a clear notion of plot my stories wander too much. I'm trying to become a more efficient writer and I suspect that paying attention to plot first, and maybe even outlining, (omigosh, did I just say that?) might be the path I need to take."

I asked Charity and Darcy about what inspired each of them to write their first book.

"You mean my very first book," Charity asked, "the one that won't ever see light of day (unless Darcy comes up with a way to turn it into a young adult novel)? My biggest motivation was writing a book I desperately wanted to read."

The premise for The Geek's Girl Guide to Cheerleading is based on something that happened to Charity her senior year of high school.

Charity said, "When I emailed the idea to Darcy, she sent this back to me: 'I will either steal your idea or kick your scrawny cheerleader butt if you don't write this.' Now that's motivation."

Darcy laughed and countered, "I seriously considered stealing Geek Girls when Charity had seemed to give up on it! And, though her cheerleader butt may be scrawny, I doubt I could kick it. Charity's tougher than she looks. I was inspired to work on the book with her because (1) I loved it from teh very first mention of the idea; (2) I couldn't stand the idea of Chariy pushing it under the bed or in the back of a closet." She added with a wink, "And (3) she let me."

Charity and Darcy each described their writing space for us.

"I don’t have a 'room of my own” or even a closet," Charity said. "My house has an open floor plan and my writing desk is pretty much in the middle of that. We turned the formal dining alcove into a 'library,' and that’s to my right. The kitchen is to my left.

When I write, I also hang out with the pets and the kids and generally speaking, it all works out."

However, Darcy said, "Now that my kids have grown, I do have a room of my own – but I almost never use it to write. I like to have my husband handy to bounce questions off so mostly I write at a desk in the living room. It’s glass and dark metal and holds my laptop, a candle, a desk lamp, a jar full of pencils, a vase of bamboo and a really cool tile a friend of mine gave me when Geek Girls was launched. It says: She believed she could so she did."

Charity and Darcy both still work full time so they don't have a writing schedule the same way many fulltime fiction writers do. Charity said, "I do what I can, when I can. I'll write during lunch, while my daughter is at dance or gymnastics class, on the weekends." Darcy agreed. "I either write or do something writer related every morning before I go to work. I also carry a notepad with me at all times so I can jot down ideas in spare moments. I try to do book promotion work for at least an hour every evening – but after a long day, it’s hard to maintain my focus."

On a more personal note, I asked, "Do you really really want a dog?"

"Dude. I already have the incredible shedding dog," Charity replied. "And with the amount she sheds each day, I can make a dog for everyone."

"Double dude," Darcy echoed. "We already had an 85 pound lab mix (who totally has my heart) then my brother moved in with us last fall and brought along his 50 pound semi-mutt. I feel confident that I can make a dog for everyone, every day."

They also have similar feeling about photographs. I asked, "Do you hate how you look in pictures?"

"Duh," replied Darcy. "Like Mr. Rogers used to sing, 'Some are fancy on the outside. Some are fancy on the inside.' Let's just say I'd rather be x-rayed than have my picture taken."

Charity concurred. "My goal in life is to always be the one holding the camera. I had to get my author pictures taken a second time because I was way too tense in the first set (that, and my agent thought I should show more cleavage)."

I told them, "You can erase any horrible experience from your past. What will it be?"

Charity said, "None. Here’s the classic geek reasoning: In Star Trek, Next Generation, Picard does just this, a wish granted from Q (an episode called "Tapestry"--yes, I know, geek alert, geek alert).

"After the wish is granted, Picard finds himself not the commander of the Enterprise but as some mealy-mouth second science officer in charge of mealy-mouth kinds of things. There’s a funny scene where Riker blows him off when Picard asks about potential leadership opportunities. (I recall far, far too much of this episode.)

"I don’t think you can remove those threads from your life and still be you."

"I don’t have a funny Star Trek allegory but I agree with Charity," Darcy said. "Even the absolute worst things in life bring gifts with them that you might not receive otherwise."

"What's a saying you use a lot?" I wondered.

"Ooh, here’s the chance to toss in my own geeky Star Trek reference!" Darcy exclaimed. "When my daughter turned twelve she started inserting the word ‘like’ into almost every sentence she spoke. It drove her dad and me crazy. We even resorted to bribing her to try to curb the habit. We offered to pay her for if she could say ten sentences in a row without a single ‘like’ in any of them. It didn’t cost us much. But, as time wore on, she rubbed off on both of us. Now I find myself saying ‘like’ way too often. My daughter, she’s like the Borg. Resistance is, like, futile."

"I often use the phrase 'going to town' when my daughter is working on some sort of art project, as in, 'Wow, you’re really going to town on that!'" Charity shared. "I never knew just how much I used it until the day she glanced up at me and asked, 'Am I going to town on this, Mommy?'"

Finally, I wanted to know the strangest thing they had each ever eaten.

Charity told us, "Puppy Chow. No, not the human variety snack food, but actual Puppy Chow, the kind you feed real puppies. It was one of those damned if you do/damned if you don’t situations.

"When you’re the new lieutenant and the section master sergeant offers you some Puppy Chow, which, oh by the way, he’s been snacking on for about fifteen minutes now, do you:

"1) Refuse the Puppy Chow? (Result: the section’s enlisted soldiers end up thinking: “The new lieutenant is a priss. She’ll never be one of us.”)

"2) Eat the Puppy Chow? (Result: the section’s enlisted soldiers end up thinking: “Wow. The new lieutenant is *really* stupid. We probably don’t want her to be one of us.”)

"In the end, I ate the Puppy Chow. Because that’s hardcore."

Darcy laughed and went, "*URP*. My mountain oysters incident pales in comparison to Charity’s."

You can keep up with Charity and Darcy on their blog, http://thegeekgirlsguide.com

Monday, August 2, 2010

INTERVIEW: Eileen Cook

Aurora is pleased to welcome Eileen Cook, whose latest book, Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood, was released in January. She has another book scheduled for release next January--The Education of Hailey Kendrick-- which takes place in an elite boarding school where an innocent prank goes very, very wrong. She also has a series for middle graders (ages 8-12) about a girl who is a part of a family that have been fairy godmothers for generations. Instead of granting wishes- she has a few of her own. All three books in this series will be out starting in spring 2011.

Eileen has always loved books and reading. When she was around 10, she checked a Stephen King book out of the library, even though her mother had warned her it would be scary.

"I thought it couldn't be that scary, after all I knew it was all made up. It was just someone's imagination," she told me. "Then I didn't sleep for three weeks because I was terrified. I remember thinking that even though I knew it was 'fake' what I felt was real. I wanted to be able to do that- create worlds that made people feel real emotions."

Not only did Stephen King's ability to make the reader feel real emotions inspire her, his On Writing is one of her favorite writing books. The other is Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. She has found both of these books to be a huge help.
"What advice do you have for young writers?" I asked.

"Read. Read a lot! Books are the best writing teachers. Read books you love and books you hate. Figure out why you loved them, why you hated them. Look at how that author chose to tell that particular story. Why did she tell it from that point of view? When did she reveal information? What sucked you in and kept you reading until it was way, way, way too late?

"If someone tells me they want to be a writer, but they don't read I don't understand them at all."

Even though Eileen loves writing more than anything, she said, "There are days when you would think it was torture. On those days I would rather clean the bathroom than write. You have to write through those days so you can get to the days when it is great."

And, sometimes when she finds herself stuck ("and there is a point in every book where it doesn't seem to be working," she assured me), she likes to leave her laptop, sit with her notebook, and handwrite different options.

"Something about using a pen and paper makes me feel closer to the project," she told me.

Another thing she does at those times is take a break and bake cookies.

"It's a chance to create something with my hands instead of my brain and the best thing is there are warm cookies when you're done!" she said.

It doesn't hurt that warm cookies are her all time favorite food. Her least favorite? Brussels sprouts.

"Bleah. I think they taste like the decapitated thumbs of the Jolly Green giant."

Eileen shared with me that when she first started writing, she never outlined.

"I would have a vague idea of the story I wanted to tell and I would just jump in and see where the story led me. Now that I have an editor she likes to know where I'm going. (Publishing people can be sooo picky). Now I spend at least a couple weeks working on an outline before I start. I think either way can work as long as you leave yourself the freedom to change your mind. No matter how well you think you know the story- sometimes it can surprise you."

That surprise is one of the things that makes Eileen admit that the book she likes best is always the one she's currently working on.

"When I am working on a new book it is like dating someone new," she admitted. "Everything seems exciting and anything is possible. I haven't yet discovered the things I don't like."

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

"I believe it's important to respect kids and teens. I try to never have that 'I know exactly how you feel' or 'don't make such a big deal out of this' type of attitude. I read a lot of YA fiction and I spend time with teens asking them about what's important to them and taking the time to listen."

She has recently finished Restoring Harmony by Joelle Anthony and is looking forward to reading the last book in the Hunger Games series, Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins.

When Eileen isn't reading or writing, she enjoys knitting.

"I have a yarn compulsion," she admitted. "I have piles and piles of it in my closet all waiting to be turned into sweaters or scarves. I also live near the beach so I like to walk there with my dogs. I spend most of the time yelling at them to stop digging up and rolling in dead things."

Eileen loves hearing from readers (in fact, you can email her at eileen@eileencook.com). She told me she once received an email from a reader that made her day.

"She told me how much she liked my books and how I had written exactly what she was feeling. She ended her email with 'you are so good at getting inside a teen head. It's like you were one once.'"

And, entertaining the reader is what it's all about for Eileen. When she was growing up, books were a great escape for her.

"I love hearing that someone started my book and couldn't put it down. It means I did my job well," she said.

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

"I think the biggest challenge is the change that comes with technology. If you write it down it can exist forever. When I was growing up there was no Facebook. If I did something stupid (and trust me I did plenty) it wasn't broadcast on the internet for the entire world to know. I've seen a lot of cases of cyber bullying. What used to be restricted to the hallway at school now follows people home. I've joined together with a group of YA writers and we're doing an anthology on the subject of bullying to try and draw attention to the topic."

If she could give just one piece of advice to her readers it would be, "There is life after high school. A life where you have control over where you live, what you do with your life and who you have in your life. Hang in there."



Popularity is the best revenge.

In the final weeks of eighth grade, Lauren Wood made a choice. She betrayed her best friend, Helen, in a manner so publicly humiliating that Helen had to move to a new town just to save face. Ditching Helen was worth it, though, because Lauren started high school as one of the It Girls--and now, at the start of her senior year, she's the cheerleading captain, the quarterback's girlfriend, and the undisputed queen bee. Lauren has everything she's ever wanted, and she has forgotten all about her ex-best friend.

But Helen could never forget Lauren. After three years of obsessing, she's moving back to her old town. She has a new name and a new look, but she hasn't dropped her old grudges. She has a detailed plan to bring down her former BFF by taking away everything that's ever been important to Lauren—starting with her boyfriend.

Watch out, Lauren Wood. Things are about to get bitchy.