Beginning January 1, 2013

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Monday, September 27, 2010

INTERVIEW: MARILEE BROTHERS


Aurora is pleased to welcome Marilee Brothers whose latest book Moon Spun, the third book in the Unbidden Magic series was released in August.

She told me that she's proud of all her books, but had a particularly good time in writing it. She had the opportunity to create a whole new world for the main character, Allie Emerson, who has been searching for her roots throughout the series. She discovers her maternal grandmother is a forest faery who desperately needs her help, so along with Ryker Matheson, a hot biker boy/red-tailed hawk, she enters the Land of Boundless.

"I had a great time creating all kinds of good and bad faeries," she said.

Marilee shared that when she was young, there were kids' books and adult books, but it was before the publishers started marketing books specifically for the teen audience.

"I soon tired of kids’ books and began digging into my parents’ stash," she said. "Consequently, at a very young age, I was reading mysteries by John D. MacDonald, romances by Katherine Woodiwiss and semi naughty epics by Frank Yerby. Didn’t hurt me a bit!"

Marilee has always been a voracious reader and dabbled in poetry and short stories.

"I was busy teaching, coaching and raising 3 sons," she said. "After the boys were grown and gone and I had more time, I began to take writing classes. My instructor said, 'You need to write a book!' My first reaction was, 'Who me?'"

Marilee is currently working on the next book in the Unbidden Magic series, which is tentatively titled Shadow Moon. Then, book 5 will complete the series and she will be writing one more standalone book for Bell Bridge Books, possibly a time travel or steampunk. She's also started writing a YA urban fantasy with a male protagonist, Gabe Delgado.

"What is your working environment like?" I wondered.

"We converted a bedroom into writing space for me. I love my writing room even though it’s always a mess. Three walls are painted sky blue, the fourth is pale burgundy. I have a corner desk (cluttered), two bookcases and multiple shelving all stuffed with book-related items. Opposite the desk, is a large, overstuffed chair and ottoman (also blue) that converts into a single bed. My desk chair has wheels, and since my dog is usually sleeping behind me, I have to be careful not to roll over her tail. I have a satellite radio and listen to music when I write. My two favorite stations are light classical and outlaw country. I know, pretty weird, huh?"

Marilee didn't start off writing YA fiction. She intended to become a romance writer, so joined RWA, Romance Writers of America. She was trying to sell her adult book, The Rock and Roll Queen of Bedla, and received tons of rejections. However, one of those rejections changed her life.

"An editor at Kensington included a personal note along with her rejection. She said, 'This book isn’t for us, but you have a natural voice for young adult. Get busy and write one.' I’d never, ever considered writing for the YA market but followed her advice. It turned out she was right. RWA has many wonderful, supportive programs to help new writers, including contests. When I started writing Moonstone, I decided to enter it in contests that had a YA category in order to get feedback. I had only about 60 pages done at the time. One of those contests, Dual in the Delta, was judged by Debra Dixon of Belle Books. Months later, she hunted me down, said she loved my voice and would I please send her the book because they were starting a new imprint called Bell Bridge. Book wasn’t finished. Oops! Long story short – I finished the book, they bought it and offered me a 5 book contract. Belle Books is a wonderful publishing company. I’m grateful every day for their support."

Marilee shared with me that she has to remind herself every day, when she sits down to write, that she is channeling the voice of Allie, her teenage protagonist.

"As you may have guessed, I’m far from fifteen, yet it’s the easiest thing in the world for me to go back in time and tap into the insecurities and angst of my life at that moment in time," she said. "Certainly, many things have changed, but many things have remained the same. This is just my theory, but I think it’s possible all women have a fifteen year old girl living inside them."

"What is the one book no writer should be without?" I asked.

"It depends on where you are in the process. Beginning writers who need inspiration should get Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. My favorite book is Write On by mystery writer Elizabeth George."

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

"Drop an email to your favorite authors and tell them you like their books. I love hearing from readers. It makes my day! I recently received an email from a reader who said, 'I’ve read all of your books at least ten times. It’s because of you I’m writing my own book.' Turns out she’s only fourteen!"

A former teacher and school counselor, Marilee lives in Washington state and writes full time. Her books include The Rock and Roll Queen of Bedlam, winner of the 2010 Booksellers Best award for romantic suspense and Moonstone, Moon Rise and Moon Spun, the first three books in the YA paranormal Unbidden Magic series. Castle Ladyslipper, a medieval romance with paranormal elements will soon be published by Awe-Struck Press. Marilee is a member of RWA, PNWA and the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Visit her website at http://www.marileebrothers.com/. and follow her on Twitter.

Monday, September 20, 2010

INTERVIEW: KRISTINA McBRIDE

Aurora is pleased to welcome Kristina McBride, whose debut YA novel, The Tension of Opposites, was released in May. Kristina wrote this story in response to the safe return of a child who was kidnapped while riding his bike to a friend's house. It has been nominated for the 2011 Best Fiction for Young Adults List from the YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association).

Kristina was a high school English teacher for eight years before quitting to stay at home once her first child was born. At that point she started writing seriously, with her first book being a suspense for adults. Although it didn't attract the attention of an agent and is still sitting on the computer, probably never to be published, it did teach her that she enjoyed teen characters more than adults.

"The two teen characters from that manuscript stood out more than the others, helping me open my eyes to my strongest point in writing," she said.

While she was growing up, she lived across the street from the library.

"I cannot remember a time that I did not want to create a fictional world, write a novel, get it published, and see my name on the cover," she told me.

She's currently working on the second book of a two-book deal with Egmont USA.

"That’s about all I can say for now," she told me. "Except that I’m getting pretty excited about this new book. I really like it!"

The first thing she bought after selling her book was a netbook—a small computer that fits inside her purse.

"It’s awesome," she said, "and I now use it for all my drafting. I still do like to use longhand for some scenes. It kind of just depends on how well everything is flowing."

She credits her agent, Alyssa Eisner Henkin, for being one of the biggest factors in Kristina's success.

"She worked with me on several drafts of The Tension of Opposites before it was ready to be pitched to editors," she explained. "Alyssa can ask one question and lead me in directions I had not yet considered. It’s wonderful, because when you’re so entrenched in a story, you often need a second eye to help ponder believability, etc. My family (husband, parents, kids, friends) has also been imperative to my success. Without their support, I would not be when I am today."

"What are some of your hobbies?" I asked.

"I love to be with family and friends. I also love to be in the woods – there’s something about hiking that makes me feel very at peace. I also love to read and write – obviously."

In fact, if she could be anywhere in the world right now, it would be a toss-up.

"Alone – a cabin in the woods so I could just write like a mad woman and finish this current novel," she said. "Or with family – the Caribbean . . . do I need to explain?"

I asked her about her favorite and least favorite words.

"When I really think about words – the power of words – I am overwhelmed," she told me."I mean, I wrote this book and it’s just a long string of words that I stuck together in a specific way. Someone could take all the words I used and mix them up to tell a completely different story. This fascinates me. Not enough to try it, but you get the point. Words are so very powerful, and such a part of me. I have no favorite. I love them all."

Kristina keeps note cards in her purse to jot down ideas for each chapter of her book so she can ideas whenever they strike. She gives herself the freedom , though, to not necessarily stick to the outline she's created. If ideas no longer fit, she changes or scraps them. When she starts her writing for the day, she grabs her netbook and reads the previous chapter to get steeped in the characters' world. Then she just goes. Sometimes she will turn on a fan to drown out any noise from the house. "The little ones can get a bit crazy at times," she confessed.

"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?"

"I feel like I’m cheating at life." She smirked. "I have this job that doesn’t feel like a job because it’s something I’d do regularly without payment. My hands just need to move to get the words out. That I can work from home based on each day’s specific schedule is awesome. The only problem is that there aren’t enough hours in a day to get all my thoughts down."

Finally, I asked Kristina, "Do you have any advice for young writers?"

"Write often. Read voraciously. And research the business – how to get an agent – how to write a query letter – etc. And develop a thick skin – there’s a lot of rejection in this business, and you can’t let it get you down. At least not for longer than one hot fudge sundae. Remember one thing, if you’re getting rejected, you’re in the game, and that’s a huge step in the right direction!"



Tagline: What happens when your best friend is kidnapped - and returns home two years later?

Short Summary: Two years ago Noelle disappeared. Two long years of no leads, no word, no body. Since the abduction, Tessa, her best friend, has lived in a state of suspended animation. She has some friends, but keeps them distant. Some interests, but she won’t allow herself to become passionate about them. And guys? She can’t get close—she knows what it is like to really lose someone she cared for.

And then, one day, the telephone rings. Noelle is alive. And maybe, just maybe, Tess can start to live again, too.

A haunting psychological thriller taken straight from the headlines, The Tension of Opposites is a striking debut that explores the emotional aftermath a kidnapping can have on the victim, and on the people she left behind.

Monday, September 13, 2010

INTERVIEW: HOLLY SCHINDLER

Aurora is pleased to welcome Holly Schindler, author of A Dark So Blue, which released in May, and the upcoming Playing Hurt, which will be released in March of 2011.


Holly told me she thinks the first book sold holds a special place in every writer's heart, since it the first labor of love that someone else loved enough to want to invest in. She admitted that her first sale didn't come easy.


"I had to give it full-time effort for seven and a half years before I finally inked my first deal! A BLUE SO DARK was the book that began to open doors, so I think I’ll always look on it fondly," she said.


While she was drafting her earliest manuscripts, Holly taught piano and guitar and her students really inspired her to try writing for the younger set.


"They were just so fantastic—so lively, so enthusiastic, so funny—that I knew I had to try my hand at writing YA," she explained. "I wanted to write for and about the same kinds of intelligent, thoughtful children and teens who filled my home with music."


Even before, though, Holly knew she wanted to be a writer.

"I started writing as a little girl, at my child-sized roll top desk. I was really painfully shy as a kid, and sometimes I think writing came about in some ways because it was an easier way for me to 'talk.' But I was also ALWAYS telling stories," she explained. "I remember making up stories when I played with my dollhouse…I wasn’t just posing my dolls, I was using them as actors in my own prime-time dramas!"

If she weren't a writer, Holly told me she would probably be a literature professor. Her initial plan was to obtain a PhD in lit, but by the time she got her master's degree she had to step away from school to pursue her writing. The desire and dream to write was everything for her. It's still on her bucket list, however, to go back to school to get her PhD.

"What is your working environment like?" I wondered.

"My environment reflects what stage my current WIP is in…I have a tendency to be a bit of a slob while drafting and a complete neat-freak while revising. Right now, I’m in the midst of outlining a few new projects—a stage during which I can let stacks of manuscripts start to mount. But I also just signed up for Skype, and I’m pretty sure this will force me to keep the old office in spick ‘n span shape from here on out."

At heart she says she is really being a low-tech girl.

"I prefer vinyl to digital music, have never texted ANYONE in my life," she admitted. "As I’ve sold more projects, and as I’ve begun to promote my work online, I really have grown more and more reliant on my new(er) computer…But I still do revise with a red pen and a notebook…A manuscript just reads differently in hard copy than it does on a computer screen."
Holly told me that she finds outlining essential, especially when an author has multiple works in development.

"You never know exactly when you’ll get the next email from your publisher, needing you to suddenly stop what you’re doing and revise or work on copy edits," she said. "If you’ve got an outline, you can feel safe stopping your current WIP and doing the work your publisher needs…When you complete your work for your publisher, you can return to your outline and jump right back into your WIP, never losing your momentum!"

I asked Holly to tell us a little bit about her debut novel, A Blue so Dark.

As A Blue So Dark opens, we find fifteen-year-old Aura Ambrose struggling to keep a secret. Her mother, a talented artist and art teacher, is slowly being consumed by schizophrenia, and Aura has been her sole caretaker ever since her dad left them. Convinced that “creative” equals crazy, Aura shuns her own artistic talent. But as her mother sinks deeper into the darkness of mental illness, the hunger for a creative outlet draws Aura toward the depths of her imagination. Just as desperation threatens to swallow her whole, Aura discovers that art, love, and family are profoundly linked—and together may offer an escape from her fears.


Holly told me that she didn't have personal experience with the illness so had to do research on it.

"I read all I could on the symptoms, treatments, etc. I also mined the YA nonfiction shelves in my local library…I wanted to find out how the disease had already been presented factually to teens," she said. "But once I sat down to start WRITING, I really had to put all my research away. I didn’t want my RESEARCH to drive the book—I wanted the plot and my characters to propel the story. I was writing fiction, after all, not nonfiction!"

She drafted A Blue So Dark late in 2006. The initial response to the book was positive—editors kept telling her the premise had potential. However, the manuscript itself needed work. After a cycle of revising and resubmitting, in 2008 she contacted Brian, the acquisitions editor at Flux. He asked to see the full manuscript and two weeks later, he and Holly were on the phone talking about the book.

"Right from the start, I clicked with Brian. I was ECSTATIC when the official offer came!"

Her next book is really quite different from her first.

Playing Hurt centers on two former athletes: Chelsea Keyes, a basketball star whose promising career has been catastrophically snipped short by a horrific accident on the court, and Clint Morgan, an ex-hockey player who gave up his much-loved sport following his own game-related tragedy.

Chelsea meets Clint (who’s working as a resort fishing guide) soon after arriving with her family for a summer vacation in Lake of the Woods, Minnesota. Sparks fly, igniting the pages, even though Chelsea has a boyfriend back home in Missouri…and even though Clint has sworn never to put himself in the position to be hurt emotionally again.

Their unlikely romance has the potential to heal their heartache and force Chelsea and Clint to realize just how timidly they’ve been living—but are they really ready to give themselves completely to one another? How will the weeks spent in another man’s arms play into Chelsea’s feelings for her boyfriend when she returns home? Will Clint allow himself to fall for a woman who’s bound to leave him at the end of her summer vacation? By playing hurt—entering into a romance with already-broken hearts—are they just setting themselves up for the kind of injury from which they could never recover? Will Chelsea and Clint pull away from each other before they have a chance to find out just how beautiful their story could be?


Finally, I asked Holly if she had any advice for young writers.

"Get used to criticism. It’s an inescapable part of the gig. You really have to learn to separate yourself from your project, so that you can look at it objectively, see where you can improve. That’s how you sell a book! You don’t sell the first draft of a novel, you sell the twelfth.

And these days, you don’t just get reviews from trade journals, you get reviews online from bloggers or Amazon shoppers or members of Goodreads…critique follows you as you try to sell a book and AFTER it’s published and hits shelves."

Monday, September 6, 2010

INTERVIEW: MICHAEL BRACKEN

Aurora is pleased to welcome Michael Bracken, author of more than eleven books, including the YA book Just in Time for Love, published by Hard Shell Factory. This is one of the books of which he is most proud, along with a completely different book: All White Girls.

Just in Time for Love is a young adult romance/coming of age story told from the boy’s point of view. It’s garnered strong positive reviews and was selected as a “Book To Live By” by the Dubai Scholars Private School, Dubai, U.A.E.

"I’m proud of Just in Time for Love because it tells the story of a young boy learning about different kinds of love—his first relationship with a girl, his father’s first relationship after the death of his mother, and his relationship with an elderly woman in the mobile home park his father manages—and how he deals with the conflicting emotions these relationships cause," he explained.

All White Girls, on the other hand, is a hardboiled crime story about a private eye searching for a missing girl. It’s sexual and violent, clearly intended for an adult audience, and has also garnered strong positive reviews.

"What the two novels have in common," he said, "is that, in both cases, they were the best writing I could do at the time I wrote them and they both achieved exactly what I set out to achieve."

Michael told me that he doesn't specifically write for young readers—his goal is just to tell a good story.

"Some of them just happen to feature young protagonists and are appropriate for young readers," he said

When Michael was a child, his favorite books were the Freddie the Pig books written by Walter R. Brooks. As he grew older, he read a lot of science fiction—Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein. In his late teens and early 20s, Judy Blume was his author of choice. Now, he reads mostly mysteries and crime fiction. His favorite authors include Carl Hiaasen—both his adult and young adult novels—and James Lee Burke.

Michael told me that he knew in the 8th grade that he wanted to be a writer.

"I wrote a story titled 'The 1812 Battle at Two Rocks,' showed it to my mother, and told her I was going to be a writer. Of course, this followed proclamations about my desire to be a fireman, astronaut, and cowboy, so she had every reason to think it was a passing fancy. Instead, she gave me my first two typewriters and encouraged me," he remembered.

"But I suspect my mother was shaping my future as a writer long before the day I wrote 'The 1812 Battle at Two Rocks'. She was a single mother in the early 1960s when that wasn’t common and we moved quite often. The first thing we did after we settled into our new home was find the local library and get library cards. There wasn’t a television in our home until I was in the third grade and by then I had found all the adventure and entertainment I could ever want in the written word."

His first published piece appeared in his junior high school's literary magazine when he was in the 9th grade. While he was in high school, he wrote for the school newspaper, the school literary magazine, and an underground newspaper distributed to high school students. He and his best friend published an amateur science fiction magazine containing their own stories and stories written by their friends.

"I was collecting rejection slips from professional magazines while other guys my age were catching touchdown passes, and I made my first professional sale while I was still a teenager," he said.

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

"I’ve worked in and around printing and publishing my entire life, so I don’t really know anything else. I’ve done almost every task involved in publishing, from writing copy to taking photos and drawing illustrations on through editing, typesetting, and page layout. I’ve operated high-end and low-end scanners, operated printing presses and worked in the bindery. I suspect if I wasn’t writing, I’d be editing or working for a printing company. Somehow, someway, I’d be involved with words and getting them to readers."

Michael is primarily a short story writer, having sold more than 800 of them over the years.

"I write and sell an average of one short story each week, and have had one or more stories published every month for the past 86 months with contracts for stories scheduled for publication on into next year. So I’m always working on something, and often I’m working on several things at the same time," he told me.

He admitted that his working environment is always messier than he wants it to be—he blames that on his cats.

"Every time I straighten my desktop, my cats come in and rearrange everything," he said.

He uses two bedrooms in his home for his writing.

"The larger room has several windows, two desks, bookcases with reference material, family photos, and trinkets that amuse me or hold some significance to me. I also have a CD player and a healthy collection of CDs because I often play music while I write.

"I have two computers. One is on my main desk where I do most of my writing and the other is a laptop that has a wireless connection to my main computer so that I can carry it around the house and write in other rooms if I tired of being in my office.

"The other room is primarily a filing room where I keep copies of all my published work and all my office supplies."

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

"I’m certain that every story I’ve ever written is based in some small way on my experiences, but some stories are more obvious that others. My first professionally published short story, “The Magic Stone” (Young World, November, 1978) was based on something from my childhood: For extra money my mother spent Saturdays cleaning the home of an elderly neighbor. I extrapolated from that to write a story about a young boy who has the opportunity to have one wish granted.

"Just in Time for Love is less obvious, perhaps, but the protagonist is the new kid at school—something I had experienced many times—and he lives in a mobile home park—which I did as a teenager and was doing as an adult when I first wrote the story."

Finally, I asked Michael for the best piece of advice he'd ever received about writing.

"Write. Submit," he said. "It’s pretty basic advice, but many beginning writers struggle to do these basic tasks. You have to write. You have to finish what you write. You have to submit your work to an editor. You have to keep submitting your work until somebody buys it."

His father writes confessions and jokes, and the biggest joke of all is his name—Justin Tyme. But Jay, as he prefers to be called, hasn’t had much to laugh about in the years since his mother died. His father retreats into an alcohol-hazed world of denial and self-pity, reversing their care-giver roles, and forcing Jay to grow up virtually on his own.

Then, the move to O’Shea, where his father manages a mobile home park, and Jay begins yet another year as the “new kid” in school. He has a lot to learn—about life, his father, and himself, but most of all, about love. And it all begins the day Jay meets Cindy Hamilton.