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Monday, May 24, 2010


Aurora is pleased to welcome Sandra Cox, a multi-published author who, in addition to YA, also writes paranormal and historical romances and metaphysical nonfiction. Her latest YA book, Grounded, is now out with Class Act Books. I asked Sandra to tell us a little bit about her new release.

On the surface, Gillian Stone has it all: wealth, beauty, and the freedom to come and go as she pleases…at least from sunset to dawn. From dawn to dusk, she’s grounded in several hundred pounds of marble. And if that’s not bad enough, her life expectancy is preordained to be short…unless, she can find a certain genie and reverse the wish-spell.

I asked her a little about her other YA novel, Vampire Island.

Zoe Tempest lost both of her parents in a bizarre murder. She moves in with her Uncle Julian Kilmer who lives on a remote island in the Bahamas called Vampire Island. That is when her life changes in a manner more terrifying than anything she could have imagined."

If Vampire Island was made into a movie, she believes Dakota Fanning and Robert Pattinson would be excellent choices for the main characters.

Sandra didn't picture herself as a writer for several years, but the passion for writing was always lurking in her soul. She always had her nose in a book, living in a make believe world. Now, she writes paranormal and urban fantasy and creates her own worlds.

She has one piece of advice to readers: don't get locked into reading just one type of book.

"Try different genres and different authors," she said. "Hopefully, you'll discover new, exciting reads."

Sandra prefers to write on a computer, but when her brain stagnates, it helps to change her surroundings. She will get out the laptop and move to her screened-in porch to write during the summer, or she'll write in the car when she's on a road trip. She also always starts with an outline.

"My muse frequently takes a side road and I tag along," she said with a smile.
Many authors have inspired her in her own work, including Stephanie Meyer, Nora Roberts, Harlan Coben, and Elizabeth Peters. Growing up, though, her favorite author was Louisa May Alcott.

"What an amazing writer," she told me.

When Sandra's not writing, she likes to shop, read, garden, walk and hike.

Some of the challenges that youth face today that Sandra didn't include drugs, AIDS, and hepatitis.

"On the flip side they also have a lot of awesome tech items we didn't: laptops, ability to text, iPods, XBoxes, Playstations, e readers, all kinds of fun stuff," she said.

"Do you have any advice for young writers?" I asked.

"It's never too early to develop your craft. Join writing groups, enter contests, keep a daily journal, write every day. And, above all, don't quit. Don’t give up."

Monday, May 17, 2010

INTERVIEW: Heather Beck

Aurora is pleased to welcome Heather Beck, author of What Legends Are Made Of. She's been writing professionally since she was sixteen and had her first book published when she was nineteen. Since then, she's written seven well-reviewed book and she's still just twenty-four.

I asked Heather what she would be doing if she weren't a writer.

"Writing is a large part of my life but I’ve never depended on it as my career," she explained. "I recently graduated from the University of Toronto where I earned an Honours Bachelor of Arts, English specialist. I would love to do my Masters in English and, after that, a Ph.D."

She shared some exciting news with me.

"I’m proud to announce that I’ll be launching my publishing company, Treasure Cove Books, this summer of 2010. I have five middle reader books slated for publication with a tentative release schedule of one book per year. My company will also have a young adult and adult imprint."

In addition to writing books, she's also a screenwriter. Her short film, Young Eyes, had a theatrical premiere a few months ago. She also has three television shows in development and she's currently writing the pilot script and treatment for a fourth show. She has two feature films in development as well.

"One goal I’d really like to pursue is my own make-up and perfume line," she told me. "I’d also love to host my own fishing show where I travel to different lakes and oceans. I suppose these are more pipedreams than ambitions but one never knows."

I asked Heather to tell us what she's currently working on.

"I am nearing the completion of editing for my scary story series. They are the spin-offs of the bestselling Ten Journeys Through The Unknown and include: Haunted, The Sands Of Time, Shivers, Twisted Tales Of Terror, and When Darkness Falls. I really love these stories because they are fun, fast-paced and unpredictable. Currently, the TV adaptation of this series is in development."

As a screenwriter, Heather has been able to, in addition to writing original features and television shows, adapt her own books. One of the TV shows she has in development is based on her scary stories for kids. The other TV show she's working on is from her adult paranormal romances. One of her feature films, as well, is based on her young adult novel.

"I did the casting for the project that’s already reached that stage," she said. "When choosing the actors, I looked for similarities between my character and the actor. While experience is great, I also respect training. The deciding factor was the auditions and the callback performances. I definitely find it more exciting to discover new talent than to book a big name."

Heather shared with us a little about the stories included in Haunted, her latest anthology of scary stories for kids which will be released this summer. Below are the descriptions of the stories which are included in this unique collection.

Ghost Park

Chase discovers an old playground in the woods that’s home to a group of pale children who say very odd things and take an unnatural interest in her.

A Haunting Past

Truce’s class trip to an old native reserve turns deadly when Bear, an infamous chief who died two hundred years ago, blames him for the tribe’s extinction.

The Manor Upon The Rocks

Grey, damp, and surrounded by jagged rocks, Calla Lily’s new home isn’t only unpleasant, it’s also haunted by the world’s most evil boy.

A Medieval Nightmare

When Ellie and Brandon get trapped in a medieval museum that’s a bit too real, they fall under a spell and become pivotal players in a ghostly regime.

A Watery Grave

A camping trip becomes a heart-pounding race for survival when Justine meets a ghost who’s determined to change her fate by trading bodies with a living entity.

A new anthology of paranormal romances, Whispers in the Shadows, has been slated for publication. Heather will begin working with the editor on this shortly.

"These tales include: jilted ghosts who seek revenge, a sexy Egyptian tour guide with a deadly secret, cunning mermen who emerge from the ocean, a mystical forest where love truly can last for eternity, and a colony of perfect men who exceed reality."

Her works-in-progress include Last Werewolf Standing, which is a paranormal romance that includes three stories chronicling several generations of a werewolf clan, as well as Siren Island and Fairy Dust, both paranormal young adult novels.

"Which of your books are you most proud of and why?" I asked her.

"My goal as a writer is to always improve upon my craft. Thus, my answer to this question will frequently change. As of right now, I’m very proud of What Legends Are Made Of. I believe it is a high quality product and, quite honestly, I’ve been blown away by the rave reviews."

Most of Heather's YA writing is autobiography masquerading as fiction, she admitted.

"I’ve had many unique experiences in my life so far and always incorporate them into my work. Some of the situations I write about are obviously not based on my life. Rather, they are issues I deem important to address, analyze, and attempt to resolve."

Monday, May 10, 2010

INTERVIEW: Jacqueline Houtman

Aurora is pleased to welcome Jacqueline Houtman who spent much of her life learning to be a scientist (27, if you count kindergarten). The best part of all that school is that some people, especially her parents, call her Dr. Houtman. In the rare moments she did not spend in the lab, she did theater to feed the rest of her brain. Then she came to her senses and started over as a freelance science writer, writing for audiences from middle school to medical school. She most enjoys writing “sciency fiction” for kids, where real science is integral to the story.

"My science training has definitely had a positive effect on my writing," she told me.

Her debut novel, The Reinvention of Edison Thomas, was released recently by Front Street.

Science geek Eddy Thomas can invent useful devices to do anything, except solve his bully problem. Eddy Thomas can read a college physics book, but he can’t read the emotions on the faces of his classmates at Drayton Middle School. He can spend hours tinkering with an invention, but he can’t stand more than a few minutes in a noisy crowd, like the crowd at the science fair, which Eddy fails to win. When the local school crossing guard is laid off, Eddy is haunted by thoughts of the potentially disastrous consequences and invents a traffic-calming device, using parts he has scavenged from discarded machines. Eddy also discovers new friends, who appreciate his abilities and respect his unique view of the world. By trusting his real friends, Eddy uses his talents to help others and rethinks his purely mechanical definition of success.

Jacqueline told me if she hadn't started writing, she would probably still be working in science.

"You write grants, they get rejected, and then you write some more. A lot like writing books, actually, except with biohazards," she said.

She does most of her writing at a coffee shop around the corner from her home.
"I even got 'the call' there," she shared. "I spend so much time there that I’ve been known to get phone calls there. Not on my cell, on the coffee house landline."

Jacqueline confessed she does all her writing on computer, mainly because if she wrote it in longhand, she wouldn’t be able to read it. She does, however, prefer to do her editing on paper.

"Are you working on anything now?" I asked.

"Yes, I'm answering a lot of questions! I'm also working on another sciency middle grade novel. With rockets."

Her husband is a great help when it comes to checking Jacqueline's writing for scientific accuracy.

"He's been very supportive, in so many ways," she told me. "He serves as a technical advisor. I'm trained in biology, but my husband is very knowledgeable in chemistry and physics and electronics, subjects that my characters know more about than I do."

So far, Jacqueline said she doesn't have much in the way of fan stories, but she's had a few cases of people telling her that reading EDDY has increased their empathy or understanding for people on the autism spectrum or opened long-suppressed conversations on the subject.

One question she wishes an interviewer would ask her is "Why are the words autism and Asperger’s syndrome not used anywhere in your book?"

"I wrote EDDY from the point of view of a boy on the autism spectrum, and people who are familiar with the spectrum recognize Eddy’s autism, or more specifically, Asperger’s syndrome. I didn’t want readers to label Eddy before they got to know him as a character. Labels separate us. Autism is only one part of what makes Eddy who he is; it is not the only part."

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

"Kids today are so plugged in. They have instant access to every form of entertainment or information. In a way, that’s great, but I think it presents a lot of challenges, too. Lack of exposure to the nature. Short attention spans. More avenues for bullying and exploitation. Repetitive motion disorders."

When Jacqueline's not keeping her butt in her chair writing, she shakes it at a Zumba class.

"Active hobbies are a necessity in this profession," she explained. "That’s why I have a Wii. Crossword puzzles help keep my mind flexible, too."

Jacqueline and her husband don't have any pets, because she has allergies and her husband grew up on a farm where animals didn't belong in the house. If she could have an ideal pet, though, it would be one that didn't poop.

Finally, I asked, "As an adult, how do you keep your finger on the pulse of today's kids?"

"I sit on them and grab their wrists so I can feel the radial artery. Sometimes they complain about that technique. I also eavesdrop."

Jacqueline will be at the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books June 18-19 and would love to have any of our readers who are in the area to stop by and say hello.

Monday, May 3, 2010

INTERVIEW: Chris Stevenson

Aurora is pleased to welcome Chris Stevenson, author of Gate Walker, a YA novel published by Lyrical Press.

Chris has been writing on and off for twenty-six years, solidly for about eight years.

"I never thought that I would be a writer," he confessed. "Even with my father’s success as a non-fiction author, it never occurred to me. I wanted to be an airline pilot, a paleontologist, and even a veterinarian at one point. I fell into writing—it was an accident, right around the age of 26."

As a matter of fact, if Chris hadn't become a writer, he probably would have become a paleontologist.

"I have a deep, fanatical interest in the primordial past, especially when it comes to dinosaurs and Ice Age mammals," he told me. "That fascination with the core sciences gripped me as a small child, and I hope one day to write a book about our distant past. Perhaps the Hobbits of Flores Island needs to be put into a narrative fiction format. I would love to explore this race of tiny hominids, much the same way that Jean. M. Auel tackled Clan of the Cave Bear."

His fascination with Ice Age mammals showed up in the favorite of his books, The Lupus Strain, which recently sold to LBF books.

"I wanted to do a different werewolf book that hadn’t seen it done before. The Lupus Strain (thriller) is my dedication to Michael Crichton, plain and simple. It’s about a DNA experiment that goes terribly wrong. A geneticist attempts to cross the genes of a man-eating ice age dire wolf with a contemporary. But the genome soup is contaminated. Poof! We end up with a very strange litter, one of which is a Paleolithic female who carries the genes of her ancestors, but also has a good amount of wolf in her. Another littermate is a ferocious monster bent on mating with her, and will kill anyone who gets in his way. A lonely forest ranger finds her, and spends the entire time in the story trying to keep her out of the hands of law enforcement, the crazed monster, a warped cryptozoologist, and every nut case vigilante in state of Wyoming. It’s a total twist on the werewolf tale—a gender reversal of Beauty and the Beast, mixed with shades of The Island of Doctor Moreau."

Gate Walker is the second favorite of the books he has written. "I didn't know I had it in me to write a YA novel, using a teenage protagonist," he told me. "It was a surprise to me."

Chris is currently working with a new agent who is interested in his entire inventory of books.

"I’m particularly proud of a book called Diane Nine and the Fusion Machine," he said. "I could think of nothing more appealing than creating a female Iron Man story, with no fantasy or anything derivative from the original graphic comic/movie idea. It landed me four agent offers, three referrals, 28 manuscript requests, and tons of compliments. I just finished a final version for my agent. My newest book is a SF thriller, about a rescue involving a Stone Age race that refuses to leave their organic sponge island because they think it is a God. Plus, they’ve never set their feet on soil before."

"What authors have influenced you the most?" I wondered.

"Crichton, of course, with the addition of Joseph Wambaugh, Alan Dean Foster, Poul Anderson, Clive Cussler, Heinlein, and many more who are known for large SF epics and off-planet tales. Joanne Rowling is my favorite YA writer because she is so adept at world-building skills. She makes her own environment with absolute clarity, unafraid of naming her props, devices, and elements that appear within her story. She has that whimsy factor that allows the reader to be transported to another world, and she does it so effortlessly."

Chris told me that he believes in outlining—up to a point. When he's stuck and doesn't know where the plot is going, he knows it's time for a serious bullet point outline.

"It’s only happened twice in my career, because I do prefer to write straight off the cuff and let the characters lead the story. Characters are unpredictable. They’ll often do things you never expected, so in a sense, the author is just along for the ride like a chaperone, discovering the adventure right along with the characters. They call it organic writing."

He doesn’t use his own experiences too much in his stories, because he's afraid of author intrusion. He does have an extended family with children and teenagers, though.

"All I have to do is watch them, monitor their activities, and seriously pay attention to what they have to say, to get a real feel for how the young, and young at heart reacts to this world. Children and young adults are gems. All you have to do is study them and you’ll find all of the story meat and conflict you’ll ever need in your plots and themes."

One of his favorite themes when it involves young adults is escaping from tyranny.

"My favorite movie of all time is Logan’s Run. A futuristic society that thinks you have to die and ride the carousel before you hit the age of 30, is a puzzlement to me on one hand, and a fascinating dilemma on the other. Escaping from tyranny is one of my favorite themes when it involves young adults, who have to find their way in life, sometimes clumsily, but ultimately break out of the mold to save themselves and their culture."

Chris' first big splash in the limelight came when his first non-fiction book, Garage Sale Mania, was published.

"I was the only one in the country who dared create a book about garage sales for both the seller and the consumer," he said. "It was a glossy trade paperback, and I received my first big advance for it. It took me to the BEA, wearing an author’s badge. I was hosted on several major TV network and news stations. I must have participated in 20 live radio reviews, and had over 30 interviews and articles written in the major magazines and newspapers. One 6 O’clock news interview was particularly memorable—that was a real paper bag moment for me. I knew then, that I had arrived. My next challenge was breaking into the fiction world. So far, it’s happening. But I wish it would happen faster!"

It's this "moving slowly" that's difficult for Chris' extended family to grasp when it comes to the writing life.

"They have no idea that conception to publication might take two years or more. My sister, niece, and nephew are my biggest fans and are very excited when one of my books come out. My brother-in-law has a dim view of the writing life in a financial sense—he doesn’t understand why an agent doesn’t shower the writer with bags of money, and why I’m not on TV anymore. I have to suffer through the negative outlooks, as well as take solace in the positive reinforcement. Strangers have no concept of how publishing works, so I don’t even bring up the subject with them. Explanations would take hours, maybe days to describe the process."

He also has a gaggle of fans in his writing group who can't wait to purchase his new book.

"They’re so easy and gracious with the comments, about what they like, or what drove them mad. I think every writer lives for this type of vindication and adoration—it’s why we do what we do. If I can change someone’s life through my themes that I occasionally sneak into the narrative, I’ve really done my job to better someone’s lifestyle and outlook. No amount of money and exposure in the world could replace that."

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

"Boy, I wish an interviewer would ask me why I think it’s so important to write a 'breakout' novel today. I would say that it’s not enough to write a good book in this economy and climate, it has to be a great book that blows everything off the shelf. It’s much harder today to grasp the attention of the publishing elite—you have to have something that stands out, when millions of writers are competing for that same publishing slot. I do blame the internet because it makes it so much easier today to craft words and send off a huge file via electricity. That’s why I strive to explain that concept/premise is the most important factor in crafting a story today and it can be found in your most important piece of writing—the query. I believe voice/style follows a close second. I have to charm the reader from the first page on. There’s no other way to do that than to show how stylistically superior you are to the average writer. I go out of my way to show this side of my prose, and so far it’s worked. Particularly in Diane Nine."

Finally, I wondered if Chris had any advice for young writers.

"I think my best advice for young writers would be to hang in there in spite of all the rejections and disappointments. Writing is a craft that can be learned and polished. This business is not filled with instant gratification—it’s a long, difficult haul to publication and success. Determination and patience play an important part in keeping a sane and well-adjusted mind. Never give up, never get discouraged. Something I wrote to remind myself in times of woe and loneliness:

A Writer is…
A humble, receptive student and negotiator
But the heart that beats within his breast
Is a determined savage
Unfamiliar with surrender

Don’t drink and drive, especially when traveling the space-time continuum highway.

Avalon Labrador is convicted and sentenced to die for her husband's murder. In a twist of fate, before the sentence can be carried out, an odd priest informs her that she is being given a second chance to right the wrongs of the past. Avalon must die, but before she does, she must also give birth to a part of herself.

Avy Labrador doesn't know what to make of the odd twists life has thrown her way since she turned eighteen. All she knows is that something isn't right and it has to do with the death of her mother and her husband many years ago. As if an odd priest, powers she never knew she had, and a brand new magician boyfriend aren't enough to turn her life upside down, she finds her own life in danger as she tries to solve a crime that happened more than three decades ago and prevent a new one from occurring.

Will Avy accept her fate and learn to become a Gate-Walker in order to clear her mother's name and find the real killer?