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Monday, April 26, 2010

INTERVIEW: Steven Philip Jones

Aurora is pleased to welcome Steven Philip Jones, author of Talisman: the Knightmare Knife, his new YA novel recently released from Mundania Press. Steve is also the author of another YA novel—Wizard Academies: The House with the Witch’s Hat—and over sixty comic books and graphic novels, including the original series Nightlinger, admittedly the work he’s most proud of to date.

“I created it in 1983 and it was published for only two issues by Caliber Comics in 1993, but I created Nightlinger to be a series where I could tell any sort of story: horror, adventure, fantasy, spy, human interest…you name it,” Steve told me. “I think it is the best thing I have created or will create, and I’m hoping I’ll eventually get the chance to write more Nightlinger stories in the future.”

“What drives you to write books for kids and teens?” I wondered.

“I’m not sure, outside of enjoyment. I have written books and comics for adults, but even then I usually aim for all ages. Who can say why anyone enjoys doing anything, but maybe it’s because I have such strong memories from when I was a kid and a teenager. I mean, I knew when I was nine years old that I wanted to be a writer, but even before that I was telling stories to other kids, or so my report cards from elementary school say. I had friends, but I have always enjoyed spending time alone--not a bad thing when you’re a writer--and my early stories were based on when I’d go off to the playground or the cemetery or the city dump by myself and concoct ideas for adventures while playing pretend. I just never lost the thrill of creating the same kind of stories now that I did then.”

His favorite book growing up still remains his favorite, and he lists its author as being one who has greatly influenced his own work: Arthur Conan Doyles' Sherlock Holmes. In fact, he could pick any character to be, it would be Sherlock Holmes himself, hands down. Other authors who have influenced him include Edgar Allan Poe, Dasheill Hammett, Clive Cussler, H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, Brian Daley, Stephen King, Chris Claremont and Mike Grell.

"My greatest influence, though, has to be the classic Universal horror films," he said.

He told me that the best piece of his advice he'd ever gotten on writing was to copy your favorite writer.

"Many writing teachers will tell you to be totally original and never copy another writer's style, but I disagree," he said. "You can learn so much and save so much time experimenting by reading and copying a successful writer's style and stories early in your career, just so long as you are careful to develop your unique voice over time. And I'm speaking from experience here. Dasheill Hammett is a big influence of mine, but I didn't read my first Hammett story until I was in my early 30s. My style was already pretty established, but Hammett’s style was so similar to mine that I learned a lot from him even at that point."

He pointed out that H.P. Lovecraft was like that.

"People like to point out that his style is similar to another writer named Lord Dunsany, who was a major inspiration of Lovecraft’s, but Lovecraft’s earliest stories were already pretty similar to Dunsany’s style for a good two years before Lovecraft ever read a Dunsany story. Dunsany was an older and more polished writer, though, so the younger Lovecraft learned a lot by reading Dunsany’s stories."

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

"Well, right now, apparently a call center representative because that’s my day job. If I had been thinking more clearly when I was younger, I would have done the necessary things to teach creative writing at a college level. I would love to do that. Maybe some day."

Steve usually writes his first drafts by hand, then he does the second draft while inputting what he wrote into the computer.

"I haven’t used a typewriter in I don’t know how long, but I have I’ve kept the typewriter I used to write on beginning when I was 12. It was a birthday present from my folks and I treasure that thing," he told me.

Right now, his writing environment is kind of unsettled, because he and his wife separated last year. "It's tough being married to a writer," he admitted.

He told me he needed to set up a new working office. "My old one was a basic library setting, nothing special except for knickknacks that only mean anything to me, like Iowa Hawkeyes and Universal Monsters and Denver Broncos stuff. Lots of books, too, of course."

"Before we leave, if you could give any advice to your readers, what would it be?" I asked him.

"Tell all your friends about my books and how much you enjoy them! I need all the word-of-mouth I can get! Oh, and never miss a dental appointment. Take it from someone who lost a bunch of teeth in less than two years."

Colin Sinclair, Reggie Sinclair, Ollie Steele, and Timmy Shannon have never had a dream in their lives, but on their twelfth birthday they share the same nightmare about a vicious dragon and a mysterious orange-haired girl.

The next day strange things begin happening to the boys. Monsters appear in school water fountains. A hellhound prowls city streets. And a green man dressed in gold stalks the boys. Danger is suddenly everywhere and it is closing in all around them. Fast.

Talismen: The Knightmare Knife is the first in a series of illustrated Young Adult fantasy adventures that follows Colin, Reggie, Ollie and Timmy -- four boys from Earth -- as they discover they are exiles from the Plain of Imaginings, the land where all dreams and nightmares come from. With the help of a dream warrior name Pratt and his young daughter Jennifer, the four exiles must find their talisman, magical objects that can protect the exiles from the green man, who has a dark and secret need for vengeance. Pratt and Jennifer also hope to guide the boys to a great destiny IF they can master their talismans. For instance, Colin must master a knife that assaults his mind with nightmarish images each time he draws it. Images that include the recent murder of Colin’s father by a mugger with a knife.

With beautiful illustrations by co-creator and co-plotter Barb Jacobs, Talismen: The Knightmare Knife is a fantasy for people of all ages who are young in heart and ready for action!

Monday, April 19, 2010


Aurora is pleased to welcome Linda Kage, whose first book The Stillburrow Crush was released in February by The Wild Rose Press. I asked her to tell us a little bit about the book.

It’s about sixteen-year-old Carrie Paxton who grows a crush on—go figure—the football quarterback, Luke Carter. But she’s not too popular, and, well, he is. She doesn’t want to be so predictable as to fall for the best-looking, most popular super jock in the entire school, but when she interviews him for the school paper, she’s surprised to realize he’s just not a pretty face. What’s even more shocking is that he seems to like her in return. But coming from different social circles makes their hooking up feel like the impossible, and just when Carrie thinks she and Luke might actually make it, drama in her brother’s life interferes with everything.

She admitted it's not the first she ever wrote, but it's the first she was ever proud enough that she actually let family and friends read it. "I was just so amazed I was able to tie all the little subplots into the main story," she said.

"What drives you to write books for kids and teens?" I wondered

"You usually know if you’re going to be a reader when you’re in middle grade or high school; that’s when the obsession struck for me anyway. And a person always remembers their firsts. So, some of the first books you read are going to have the biggest impact on you and stay with you the longest. I think it would totally awesome if one of my stories was something that stuck with a young reader, something that will someday be one of their fond favorites because they’ll remember reading it 'back when’."

Linda started reading adult romance when she was a freshman in high school. She has three older sisters and they were always reading and discussing authors like Sandra Brown, Nora Roberts, Linda Howard, and Julie Garwood.

"I always wanted to be like my wonderful older sisters, so…I had to try one," she told me. "After just one book, I became addicted, and those first adult romance authors I started on remain among my favorites today."

She was bitten by the writing bug early. When Linda was in the first grade, she wrote a poem for a class assignment: "From up in the air, to down on the ground, a beautiful rainbow appears. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple. A pretty, pretty rainbow."

"Sure, it was way lame," she said. "But it must’ve been good for a first grader. Either that or my teacher was a pro a boosting a child’s morale. She praised my pseudo masterpiece in front of the entire class, making me blushingly flattered. From that moment on, I wanted to a writer. It took me three or four years to actually get into reading. But once I became hooked on The Baby-Sitters Club, I wanted to be an author even more."

Recently she's been trying her hand at adult romance and, in fact, has two adult books scheduled for release later this year with The Wild Rose Press.
"My head is constantly buzzing with a handful of stories ideas," Linda told me. "It’s a total mess up there. If The Stillburrow Crush goes over well, I have a few more YA book ideas I could focus on…but beware: they’ll all have romance in them. I’m a romance junkie; I just gotta have that happy ending where the hero and heroine end up together forever. But for some very strange reason, two of my most favorite movies are The Fugitive and Shawshank Redemption, and in both, the hero’s wife is gruesomely murdered, while the hero is falsely accused of killing them. Huh, I wonder why I like those two movies?"

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

"Sure. Read lots, and don’t give up. I honestly believe you have to really love to write to keep with it too. That way, at least you’re happy telling stories to yourself in case it takes a while to sell anything. I finished my first full novel when I was sixteen but didn’t sell until I was 29. But since I love to write, I just kept at it, even though I figured I’d probably only be entertaining family and friends, instead of the entire world, with my stories."

Sixteen year old, Carrie Paxton, isn't the most popular girl in her small town. But that's never concerned her before. Her life revolves around her writing and she loves her job as the student editor of the school paper.

But when she gets assigned to interview the football team's beloved quarterback, she takes one look into Luke Carter's blue eyes and is a goner. Suddenly, she doesn't like her lowly rank so much.

Then her dreamy, popular crush surprises her when he starts to act as if he likes her in return. But there's no way Luke Carter could possibly ever like a nobody like Carrie Paxton.

Is there?

Monday, April 12, 2010

INTERVIEW: Rhonda Hayter

Aurora is pleased to welcome Rhonda Hayter, a member of the Class of 2K10 debut authors. The Witchy Worries of Abbie Adams stars Abbie Adams, who is a regular eleven-year-old girl with normal problems like a really strict fifth-grade teacher. (Meet Miss Linegar. Rhymes with vinegar.) She's chronically behind in homework, forced to keep a big secret from her very best friend and hoping like heck she can remember all her lines in the drama club play. But Abbie also happens to be a witch and in addition to everything else, she has to cope with stuff like her little brother morphing into a werewolf and trying to eat his first-grade teacher…not to mention figuring up exactly what is up with her very, very peculiar cat.

Rhonda is now working on the sequel to The Witchy Worries of Abbie Adams. She told me that she's discovered that, for her, second books are much harder to write than first books.

I asked her to tell us a little about this new book.

"Though it keeps changing with each new draft, Abbie 2 will definitely involve Abbie confiding the secret that she’s a witch to her best friend Callie...and Harriet Tubman figuring in...and Abbie’s little brother Munch causing some major difficulties."

Historical characters, like Harriet Tubman, will appear in each of the Abbie books, so as part of her research Rhonda likes to read biographies and, if possible, collections of letters so she can try to capture a particular voice and personal characteristics. She loves the research she does for her books and told me that the Internet makes it easy.

"I have a historical character in Abbie Adams, who comes into the present day and I wanted him to get excited about the fact that somebody invented rubber soles for shoes," she explained. "All of a sudden, I realized I had no idea when rubber soles were invented, so I just Googled, 'invention of rubber soles' and there the answer was."

Rhonda told me she didn't always want to be a writer.

"I always wanted to be an actress and I was too, for a long time but when I quit acting (actually, it quit me) I found that writing gave me exactly the same thrilling sensation of being completely in the moment in an imaginary world," she said. "All the ex-actors I know who write (and there are a lot of them) say the same thing."

Even when she wanted to be an actress, though, she always wrote. However, somehow she never managed to finish anything. Then, once she had kids (she has two boys—Duncan and Ethan) she couldn't seem to find any time to write at all.

"My life was fantastically full and happy and immediate and I was so caught up in their growing up that their behavior and experiences started bubbling up in my mind like a witch’s cauldron. Once they got to the ages of 10 and 7, I managed to steal some time to start filtering it all into a novel," she told me. "Kids are all I thought about for years and now kids are whom I write for."
"If you could give any advice to your readers, what would it be?" I wondered.

"Read in the bathtub, in bed, on the bus, in the car, with your cereal, with your after-school snack and every other minute you’re not doing important stuff like running around with your friends, relating to your family, doing homework, acting in plays, singing, playing sports."

The best advice she was ever given on writing, she gave to herself.

"Keep telling yourself it’s the most brilliant thing that’s ever been penned...until you get a first draft down. That fends off your inner critic until it’s an appropriate time for her or him to pay a visit."

Her husband, Stephen, is the only person who is allowed to read any of her works in progress, because she can rely on him to tell her that what she's writing is utter genius---and laughing at all the right spots.

"This inspires me to stifle my inner critic and keep writing, because I have a duty not to deprive the world of my brilliance."

Stephen is so proud of her that she told me she has to give him a little kick on the ankle now and then to stop him from telling people they've just met about her book.

"What's your favorite word?" I asked.

"Apparently, it’s the word, 'well'. I didn’t know it was my favorite word until I started revisions on The Witchy Worries and discovered that I had made Abbie start just about every second line with it, as in, 'Well, I guess I shouldn’t have cast that spell after all.' One whole round of revisions consisted of going through the manuscript deleting wells as if there was no tomorrow."

It may come as no surprise that her least favorite word is also 'well.'

I questioned Rhonda about her writing process.

"First I yell at myself to stop playing Internet Scrabble. Then I yell at myself for checking my e-mail yet again. Then, I try not to get my eye caught by the latest celebrity scandal...and fail. Can you believe that Tiger Woods? Then, I finally buckle down and enter my book’s world for two to three hours at a clip. Then, I reward myself with a little game of Scrabble."

Rhonda and her family also share their home with a poodle-terrier mix who, last June, wandered onto the campus of the school where Stephen teaches.

"I resisted it assiduously for years and at first I only agreed to foster...but you know how that goes. Now, after loftily rolling my eyes at 'dog-people' for years, I’m the most dyed in the wool dog person you ever saw. I can hardly restrain myself from hauling out photos and cooing over the adorableness. Today in fact she was especially cute because she was learning how to use her doggy door...and she kept... Shall I go on? No?"

Rhonda Hayter was born in St. Jean, Quebec. She was an actress for some time, appearing in plays on tour and in New York and Los Angeles. Now, she works as a story analyst for a famous movie producer. When she and her husband found themselves with two little boys, one of whom morphed into a werewolf one day, The Witchy Worries of Abbie Adams was born. Rhonda now lives in Los Angeles with her family. This is her first book.

Monday, April 5, 2010


Aurora is pleased to welcome Jo Ramsey, whose debut YA novel, Connection, was released this year from Jupiter Gardens Press. Connection is the first book in her Reality Shifts series, a proposed ten-book series. The second book in the series will be published in October.

Shanna, the main character, is relatively autobiographical, and Jonah is based very closely on a close friend of Jo's. She told me a little about the book.

Shanna Bailey, who’s spent most of her life being verbally abused by her mother and picked on by schoolmates, meets Jonah Bailey on her first day of high school. Her entire life begins to change as she and Jonah become friends. Jonah’s considered weird at best by the other kids at school, in large part because he does things like meditating in the school lobby and talking to “invisible things” (his guides). When Kaylie Sturbridge, the “queen of eleventh grade,” starts seeing things, Jonah and Shanna discover that a demon is trying to possess her, and they’re the only ones who can help her.

As I mentioned, Shanna is very autobiographical, although my home life was nowhere near as bad as hers. Several years ago, I became friends with a man who practiced energy healing and channeling. He helped me cope with some things I’d gone through in my life, and did a lot to help me improve my self-image and my life. He also taught me the things he’d learned. He was the model for Jonah. I chose to make Shanna and Jonah teenagers rather than adults because I felt the story would work better as a young adult series.

Jo said normally an idea for a story will pop into her head as a "what if" or a brief scene. Once she has the idea, she might make a few notes about the characters and a few things I'd like to see happen in the course of the story. Then she starts the first draft and she usually aims for a certain word count a day until she's finished.

"Once I finish the first draft, I put it aside for a little while and work on something else," she told me. "When I come back to the story, I’ll use the 'find' tool to highlight a few words that I tend to overuse, like but and was. I go through and change sentence phrasing to get rid of most of those words, then go back to the beginning and go through to make sure the story is clear, that I’ve shown the characters’ emotions and reactions, and that I haven’t made any mistakes or contradictions. Once those are taken care of, I read through again to catch anything I might have missed."

"Do you believe in outlining?" I asked.

"Believe in it, yes. Use it in my own writing, no. I’m what they call a 'pantster,' meaning that while I might jot down a few quick notes about the characters and what I’d like to have happen in the story, for the most part once I sit down and actually start writing, I have no idea where the story will go until it gets there. However, I know that outlining works very well for some writers."

Jo told me she always wanted to be a writer.
"I can remember being two or three years old, making up stories with my imaginary friends and wanting to see them in books like the stories I read," she said. "Yes, I learned to read that early. My kindergarten teacher got me started by letting me write stories during reading time. She made it part of my reading program. My tenth-grade English teacher gave me a huge boost by encouraging me to write and allowing me to keep our required journal as a character I’d created for some short stories. In adulthood, my editor at Jupiter Gardens, Mary Wilson, and my writing friend Lex Valentine, along with other writers I’ve met, have taught me a great deal about writing and revising, and I feel that their guidance has helped me improve about a thousand percent just in the past several months."

Jo told me that she does all her writing on the computer now, but until she was about 27 she wrote everything in longhand.

"I have a filing cabinet drawer filled with old spiral notebooks containing stories that may never see the light of day because they’d take too long to type," she confessed.

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

"Until about a year ago, I worked in public high schools. I’m now the mother of a high schooler, and she and her friends are pretty tolerant about letting me listen in on some of their conversations and about answering random questions from me."

Finally, I asked Jo if she thought the Internet would ultimately change the publishing industry.

"I think it already has. E-books are becoming more widespread; in fact, Connection was released as an e-book and print book simultaneously. Even some of the major print publishers now have e-book programs. Books are easier than ever to buy, because regardless of whether they’re print or digital, they can be purchased online. Unfortunately, that’s led to a lot of book piracy and other sorts of illegal activity (anything that violates copyright is illegal), so I think the publishing industry will take stronger measures to prevent that."