tgnahead

 

 

It’s Writing Wednesday over at The Great Noveling Adventure and I am so excited about today’s post! The idea for this craft post came to me a few months ago when yet, again, I was having a discussion about reading and why it was important for writers to be well-read.

Cue the excuses from some novice writer why they didn’t read/couldn’t read.

Cue my head exploding.

How could I get my fellow newbie writers to understand, to maybe see from a different perspective, how reading was not detrimental but essential to their growth?

This post entitled Variations of the Mona Lisa (Why Studying the Masters is NOT an Exercise in Futility) is my love letter to them, my misguided peers.

Here’s a preview:

Mona Lisa by Da Vinci (She's smaller because she IS small.)

Mona Lisa by Da Vinci

I consider myself to be a fairly open-minded individual. I understand that mine is not the only opinion on any given subject and that each person brings a different perspective to a discussion, shaped by their own unique life experiences. I’ve never met anyone that didn’t have something to teach me or that didn’t have an interesting story to tell.

That being said, there are some hot button topics that will put my strong sense of open-mindedness to its ultimate test. One of those issues is whether or not a writer needs to read books (and read a LOT of books) in order to be a good writer. Want to see me bend over backwards to restrain myself from mentally body-checking someone? Let me hear someone say, “I’m afraid I’ll take on another author’s style if I read too much” or “I don’t have time to read.”

Flames. Flames will shoot out of my eyes.

To demonstrate why these and other asinine arguments just don’t cut it, I thought I’d turn to another art form to demonstrate how studying your craft by studying the masters of your medium – which is what reading IS for writers – can not only lead to you mastering your craft, but it can also lead to you discovering your own artistic voice.

To read the full post, click here.

 

aristotle-and-dante-discover-the-secrets-of-the-9781442408937

How in love am I with this book?

Let me count the ways. From the very first page, I stopped to reread passages that took my breath away, that made me want to hug this book to me and never let it go.

I could have started a Twitter account dedicated to tweeting the entire text from beginning to end, and then when I was finished I would have had the pleasure of starting all over again. And I tell you I would not have regretted it one bit.

As it was, I had a hard time not broadcasting the entire book all over social media as I read along. I did pester my family quite a bit and read parts of it to them. After awhile, I’d just stop, wave my arms about and say, “This book! Damn!”

Here’s the first passage that stopped me in my tracks:

 

As far as I was concerned, the sun could have melted the blue right off the sky. Then the sky could be as miserable as I was.

 

Seriously?

And that’s from the very first page. Saenz is only describing the heat of summer. He’s literally just getting warmed up. He digs in deeper and deeper with his observations, told through a guileless, naked teen voice. He breaks your heart with his words. And you’ll want to thank him for it.

This is a book I will read over and over until its pages fall out.

 Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)

This simple summary doesn’t begin to do this story and this beautiful, complicated relationship justice. Aristotle, or Ari as he prefers to be called, isn’t just another angsty teen with anger management problems. He lives in a house filled with silences. His dad came back damaged after returning from Vietnam without the words to talk about it. Ari, for his part, wants nothing more than to hear from his dad. His older brother went to prison when Ari was very young and even his pictures have been banished from the walls. The silence of his absence is deafening. Ari is a big thinker. He’s always wondering about how the world works and why things are the way they are. Like in this passage:

I wondered about the science of storms and how sometimes it seemed that a storm wanted to break the world and how the world refused to break.

Dante has completely different problems. For one thing, he’s not Mexican enough. Compared to Ari, who is just the right combination, Dante thinks he’s too light-skinned and too into art and reading and doesn’t really like anything that “real” Mexicans like. Except for menudo, which Ari says makes him a real Mexican. He also gets along with his parents too well. And he’s afraid of disappointing them (they way he’s disappointed Ari). Dante over-shares his feelings, where Ari keeps his hidden, even from himself. Still, they find a kindred spirit in each other and manage to make their relationship work in a beautiful way.

The voice, the plot, the setting all worked together in harmony and kept me firmly engrossed in the world of Ari and Dante and I never wanted to it to end.

I read this book at the recommendation of a dear writer friend of mine, and now I’m recommending it to you, and to everyone who loves a great story and words and beautiful characters. You will take this story into your heart and it will never leave you.

Learn more about Benjamin Alire Saenz here and here.

Follow Benjamin on Twitter here.

 

SCBWI OK Logo

Next up in the series celebrating fantastic local SCBWI talent, I give you the dynamic Anna Myers. Anna is my first repeat interviewee on the blog, so she’s a pro at answering in-depth questions. I’m so happy to have her back!

Anna is stopping by to tell us all about her latest book, TUMBLEWEED BABY, which was just released this month. It is her 20th book. It is also her first picture book. (Stay tuned! At the end of this post, Anna is giving away a copy of her book.) There’s quite a difference between writing picture books and writing historical fiction novels – like her story set during the Tulsa race riots in TULSA BURNING or the one where she created a fictional character that existed during the time of Abraham Lincoln in ASSASIN.

But don’t take my word for it.

Before we get to the Q&A, let’s learn more about Anna’s debut picture book. One could say that this is the tall tale of how Anna herself came into the fold of her own large family. For those of us who know Anna and have had the pleasure of watching this story’s evolution, it is such a delight to see this become a living, breathing picture book.

The Book Tumbleweed Baby 2

TUMBLEWEED BABY written by Anna Myers, illustrated by Charles Vess

Published by: Abrams Books for Young Readers

Release date: October 7, 2014

Genres: Picture Book

A large, loving family in the 1930s Dust Bowl finds a “tumbleweed baby”—a wild baby—in the plains near their cozy farm home. The baby’s new siblings discover the ways she fits and doesn’t fit into the family, ultimately deciding that her wildness makes her one of them. The rhythm and voice of the text make this feel like a classic tall tale, and it pairs perfectly with the dreamy, warm art from master illustrator Charles Vess. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)

Tumbleweed Baby3

The Fabulous Kirkus Review

KIRKUS REVIEW

A family gets a new addition in a tall-tale sort of way.

The Upagainstit family (say it out loud) has five children in their “falling-apart house.” Coming home from school one day, they discover a baby in a tumbleweed, and they promptly bring her home. “She’s a wild-all-over baby,” says the “littlest-of-all girl,” and she is, with hair down to her little naked ankles. Tumbleweed Baby does not take well to bathing or to sleeping, although she is very enthusiastic about dinner—messily so. The next morning, the littlest-of-all girl is still insistent that the family cannot keep her, although the “biggish boy,” the “not-so-big girl” and all the other siblings find ways that they can help to do so. When Tumbleweed Baby kisses Papa’s cheek, it’s all over but finding the right name for her. Much later, the littlest-of-all girl shares a secret that will not surprise adult readers and will probably delight the younger ones. Myers’ consistently idiosyncratic nomenclature is charming, as is her matter-of-fact tone. Vess does the most expressive hair—each Upagainstit has distinctive locks, but none more so than Tumbleweed Baby’s. As usual, his color and line are expressive and rich while staying within a gently rainbowed palette.

An adoption story, a feral child story, a foundling story, a child-of-difference story—perhaps any and all of these; certainly wise and full of delight. (Picture book. 4-8)

The Interview
Anna Addressing the troops at the SCBWI OK 2014 fall retreat.

Anna addressing the troops at the SCBWI OK 2014 fall retreat.

Valerie Lawson: What was the inspiration for this book?

Anna Myers: I was born in west Texas, and my big brother always told me that he found me in a tumbleweed.

VL: And I bet for years, you actually believed him. Aren’t older brothers wonderful?

After writing 19 novels, what was the biggest challenge of writing a picture book? How did you go about learning to write a picture book?

AM: Getting a story down to picture-book length is hard. I had some help from writing buddies during the writing. One friend told me I didn’t leave enough to the illustrator in my first draft.

Another friend gave me an idea for the ending.

VL: That was a surprising thing to learn about picture book writing, that you needed to leave part of the story out so the illustrator could fill it in.

What surprised you most working in this different medium?

AM: I am surprised how excited I am about this book. Only my very first book made me more excited. I love having my words turned into such beautiful pictures.

VL: Working in a different medium invigorated you, that’s so wonderful. We should all strive to remember to keep trying new things.

Tell us about the difference between how you imagined the illustrations and how they turned out. What did you learn about the art of illustration?

AM: If I had been choosing illustrations, I would probably have chosen bright colors and a cherub-like baby. Neither of those would have been right for the story. Charles Vess knew what colors went with the story and how the characters in a tall tale should look. I learned writers should have nothing to do with the illustrations.

VL: And what gorgeous illustrations – those southwest landscapes! Vess really knows how to evoke a mood.

Tell us about your story of the Tumbleweed Baby.

AM: On their way home from school, five siblings find a baby in a tumbleweed. The smallest girl declares that the baby is a “wild-all-over baby” and that they should

put her back. They take her home. The baby is indeed wild. The question is whether or not the family can keep such a baby. Of course, they do keep her, and the story

ends with a surprise revealed by the girl who used to be the smallest.

VL: Your use of language is just so playful and perfect for the setting, like the Upagainsit family. I love it. 

What are you currently working on?

AM: I am revising Trashy Women, a book for adults about three teachers who form a garbage company to supplement their teaching income. I thought the book was

finished, but I don’t want it to be a pretty good book. I want it to be the best book I can make it.

VL: I’m so excited about TRASHY WOMEN! I’m glad you’re working on it. And it’s your first novel for adults, too. More playing with new mediums.

What has been your favorite book to read/book you’ve been most excited about over the past year?

AM: I think my favorite book this year has been The Book Thief. 

I have also read lots of books written for adults and have loved all of the books by Alice Hoffman.

VL: THE BOOK THIEF is just wonderful, isn’t it? And I do like Alice Hoffman. I’ve read about four of her adult novels. I didn’t even realize until recently that she wrote teen novels, too.

What would be your dream assignment/what would you most like to write about?

AM: I would like to write another picture book, but I have to find the right story. The idea for a picture book needs to be unique.

VL: Thank you stopping by, Anna, and for sharing TUMBLEWEED BABY with us. We wish her a very successful journey.

For those of you lucky enough to be within driving distance of the Oklahoma City area, Anna is having her book launch party, today, at Best of Books in EdmondThe fun starts at 5:30pm, where I’ve heard tale that there will be a readers’ theatre, answers to weedy questions, and refreshments with tumbleweed tea. Meet Anna and pick up an autographed copy of her book.

For those not so lucky, you can still order your own copy here:

indieboundbn-24h-80amazon

 

 

Learn more about Anna Myers here.

Follow Anna on Facebook here.

The Book Giveaway

Anna has graciously donated a copy of TUMBLEWEED BABY to giveaway here on the blog. To enter, simply click on the link below and follow the instructions. Contest is open to everyone! Deadline for entering is Tuesday, October 28th.

Tumbleweed Baby 2

Win a hardback copy of Tumbleweed Baby by Anna Myers

ENTER HERE!!!  ➤➤➤ Anna Myers Rafflecopter giveaway

SCBWI OK Logo

Continuing our celebration of phenomenal local talent plucked from the branches of our SCBWI Oklahoma family tree comes debut author Jennifer Latham. Her first novel, SCARLETT UNDERCOVER, comes out this spring on May 19, 2015, and I for one am thrilled. I met Jen a few years ago at a local Tulsa schmooze and immediately took to her. I’ve had the privilege of getting a sneak peek at some of her manuscripts for critique sessions and I love the way she writes fully developed characters and scenes that evoke a mood. I’m so glad she was able to take time out of her hectic schedule and stop by to answer some probing questions.

First, a little bit about her upcoming novel.

The BookScarlett Undercover

SCARLETT UNDERCOVER by Jennifer Latham

Published by: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Release Date: May 19, 2015

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Mystery

When 15-year-old Muslim-American detective Scarlett agrees to investigate a local teen’s suicide, she figures she’s in for an easy case and a quick buck. But it doesn’t take long for that suicide to start looking a lot like murder, and for cults, ancient artifacts, and a very private billionaire to figure into things. To save the scared little girl who hires her, Scarlett has to face her family’s brave past, her own future, and maybe even a jinni or two. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

So many things to love about that! I am a sucker for a great detective novel. And throw in a great female character and I’m pushing people out of the way to grab it off the shelf. (Well, maybe, kindly nudging them, and at the same time pointing out what fab book I’m reaching for.)

Let’s hear some details about how this creation came into being, shall we?

Jen LathamFBThe Interview

Valerie Lawson: What was the inspiration for this book?

Jennifer Latham: Honestly, I’m not sure there was any one particular inspiration – it’s more like my brain spent a long time gathering bits and pieces and then, when I started playing around with actual words on a page, they collided and made a book. Some of those bits and pieces were: a little girl playing in a giant sandbox at the state fair with her biker-dude grandfather (they became Scarlett and Manny); my obsession with hardboiled detective stories; my disappointment over all the vitriol aimed at Muslim-Americans; the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy; and the sudden rash of jinn sightings across the country.

 Well, OK…I made that last one up.

VL: Ha! you had me worried for a moment. It sounds like Scarlett was a great conglomeration that came together at just the right time, with just the right ingredients.

I love the idea of a young female detective and Scarlett sound like my kind of sassy; tell us more about her.

JL: This seemed like such an easy question when I first saw it. Then I realized it is so not. Because, corny as this may sounds, talking about Scarlett is like talking about my kids. I mean, to me, she’s amazing. Brave. Imperfect. Generous. Stubborn. Kind. Short-tempered. Strong. And entirely capable of being a complete pain in the ass. But I have no clue how other people are going to see her. My one great hope is that she’ll be more to readers than just a smart aleck, or a black, or a Muslim. I want them to see her for what she is: a complex teenage girl

 

VL: In essence, she’s feels very real to you. I’m sure this will translate to your readers. 

How much research did you have to do to create an authentic character of such a diverse background?

JL: A lot. I’ve worked really hard to be accurate and respectful when it comes to Islam, Middle Eastern folklore, and religious texts. I even hired a Muslim PhD student in English Lit to consult on the manuscript. There were some tricky issues to navigate; as I mentioned, Scarlett is complex. She’s not a “perfect” Muslim. But when she’s doing things that a more devout Muslim wouldn’t, I’ve done my best to point the discrepancy out.

VL: Fantastic! Extensive research for something like this is so vital. I’m thrilled that this book will add to the much-needed diversity landscape H2cWxknS_400x400in our literary world. I also love that although her Muslim heritage and her struggle with it is part of her, and it does come into play, but it’s not the main focus of the story. The mystery is the focus.

What has been the most surprising thing you’ve learned during this process to get your first book to publication?

JL: How long everything in traditional publishing takes. And that there is nothing – nothing — you can do to change it.

VL: Amen to that!

Thinking back to your childhood heroes /role models when you were a kid, who were they? What drew you to them? What powers/abilities did they have that you wished you could have? Do you still feel that way about them now?

JL: True confession: most of my heroes were authors. Their power was that they could tell stories that people wanted to read. And I feel even more like that now. My favorite writers are rock stars.

VL: Mine, too! I’d stand out in the rain to see an author I love, probably not for my favorite bands – priorities!

When did you know you wanted to be a writer? When did you start pursuing that seriously?

JL: I always knew, I was just afraid to really try. So I worked a lot of strange jobs after college. Then went to grad school (I’m half a dissertation short of being a PhD in Psychology) Then had babies. But when my older daughter turned three and it still felt like she was brand new, I realized how fast babies grow up. That was ten years ago. And it’s when I started drafting my first (still unsold) manuscript.

VL: Tell me about your most memorable adventure you had with your friends outside of school.

JL: Hmm…there was the time Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which used the tesseract to transport me across space. And the time that mean girl at school dumped a bucket of pig blood on me at prom…
Oh wait. That’s right. I didn’t actually have a lot of friends. My best adventures were the ones I lived through books.

 

VL: Ha! That sounds eerily familiar.

What was the scariest thing that you ever experienced as a kid?

JL: I don’t think anything was really scary. Hard, yes. But not scary. The really bad stuff has happened to me as a grown-up.

VL: My teen-aged daughter would agree that becoming an adult IS the scariest thing.

Tell me about the most interesting place you have ever lived. What did you like/hate most about it?

 

JL: So here’s where I’ve lived: NYC; San Francisco: West Point, NY; Augusta, Georgia; Buffalo, NY, Philadelphia; Madrid; Rhode Island (4 different towns); and Tulsa, OK. Honestly, Tulsa wins. Maybe its because I’ve been here longer than anywhere else. Or maybe it’s because this place refuses to be defined, and manages to both frustrate and surprise me (in good ways) every day. Someone once told me, “It’s a great place to live, but you wouldn’t want to visit.” And that kind of fits.

VL: That is some serious globe-trotting. I’ve never thought of Tulsa like that before, and yet, I totally see it.

In your bio, you mentioned that you’ve had some really weird jobs, tell us about the worst job you ever had while going to school?

 

JL: This is a tie. Both jobs came after I’d graduated from college. The first was cleaning up in a virology lab at Brown University. It wasn’t so much the work (though autoclaving test tubes is a joy, let me tell you) as the nasty woman I worked for. I thought the job would give me an inside track if I decided to apply to the med school there. It didn’t. And I didn’t apply, either.

The second was working for this nutball guy who ran an interior decorating business. I literally spent days peeling stickers off the backs of carpet samples and gluing new ones on. See, he didn’t want customers to be able to find the same carpet at other stores, so he changed the product info. Again, it wasn’t so much the actual work as it was the way he treated me. No matter how menial the job, people who work hard deserve respect. And neither of those two crazy bosses gave me that.

VL: Bored to tears and no respect? Sounds like my idea of hell on Earth!

What are you currently working on?

JL: Well, I’ve been fiddling around with a second Scarlett mystery, and a historical fiction story set in Tulsa. I’ve also finished about 1/3 of a noir mystery for older young adults that’s kind of The Black Dahlia meets Oklahoma!

VL: What has been your favorite book to read/book you’ve been most excited about over the past year?

JL: I loved GOING BOVINE, by Libba Bray. And MY SISTER LIVES ON THE MANTLEPIECE by Annabel Pitcher. But those are just the first two that popped into my head. There are so many amazing books out there. It blows me away.

VL: GOING BOVINE was fantastic! (Of course, I love anything Libba Bray writes.) I will have to add the other to my must check out list. Always looking for interesting titles.

What would be your dream assignment/what would you most like to write about?

JL: Not a clue. I guess I’ll just keep writing until I figure that out.  :)

VL: Jennifer, thank you for so much for joining us and sharing your story with us, today. I wish you well with your debut of SCARLETT UNDERCOVER and look forward to its release date this spring.

Learn more about Jennifer Latham here.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter here.

Follow Jennifer on Facebook here.

Follow Jennifer on Tumblr here.

You can preorder SCARLETT UNDERCOVER here:

bn-24h-80indiebound

tgnahead

 

For this Travel Tuesday over at The Great Noveling Adventure, I’m sending everyone to a few fantastic sites that will help ignite their imaginations and get those idea engines cranking.

Looking for some new story generating sites? I’ve got some great suggestions for you. Stop waiting for that next big idea to hit you upside the head. Find it yourself, today.

Have some fun and play with your imagination. After all, that’s what it’s for.

Stop on over and join in the conversation!

 

TweetRemember, when you start working on that next big idea, I host AM #sprints every weekday morning on Twitter over at @Novel_Adventure. Join me if you need some motivation to get started or if you just need some companionship as you work on your own great novel.

 

SCBWI OK Banner

October is all about celebrating the fantastic local talent here within our SCBWI Oklahoma group. I’ll be sharing great insights from our phenomenal fall retreat and highlighting some of our brave authors who allowed me to interview them here on the blog.

doug-solterFirst up is YA author Doug Solter.

No stranger to this blog, back in early August, Doug shared the cover reveal of his latest book with us. Doug’s third self-published book, RIVALS (SKID #2), is celebrating its book launch this week. Doug really knows the business of self-publishing and knows how hard one has to work to take this challenging route to publication.

Now for the even harder part, answering my probing interview questions.

(Make sure you stay tuned. There’s a chance for awesome prizes at the end.)

 The Interview

Valerie Lawson: Your protagonist in RIVALS is a female racecar driver, what unique challenges did writing about her world from her POV present for you?

Doug Solter: Well, one big challenge was writing from a teenage girl’s POV. Honestly, I couldn’t have done that without reading piles of young adult novels by female authors. This allowed me to step inside Samantha’s head and present her in what I hope is an honest representation that other girls can empathize with. Another challenge was exposing female readers to the world of racing without turning them completely off. Maintaining a balance between Samantha’s person life and racing was crucial is this regard. Based on feedback from readers of the first book, many were surprised how interested they were in the racing scenes. I think it was because they were experiencing it through the eyes of a character they’re invested in and so they’re willing to open themselves up to that strange world of racing.

VL: Tons of research and engage the reader by making them care about the character. Very sound advice.

What was the inspiration for this book?

rivals_large

DS: Rivals is the second book of my Skid young adult racing series. The inspiration for Skid was initially a screenplay I wrote called Season of Speed. I wanted to do a racing story involving someone from Oklahoma who moves away from a small town and steps into a much larger world. One big thing was that I wanted the driver to be a young woman instead of the usual guy. When I made the switch to writing young adult novels, this screenplay became a book and I knocked down Samantha’s age to 17 instead of 23. Rivals is a continuation of Samantha’s story, dealing with her second season in Formula One.

VL: We’ve personally talked about your background in screenplay writing and how you’ll write screenplay adaptations for your novels. I love how you do this just as an exercise and how it helps you write more visually. 

 

 When did you know you wanted to be a writer? When did you start pursuing that seriously?

DS: It happened in two stages for me. My brain was always filled with creative juices leaking out in the form of day-dreaming and thinking about “what if”. But then I didn’t know how to channel that creativity in some form of art. Creative writing itself seemed too daunting at the time. But in my twenties I worked as a production assistant on a local film that a friend of mine at the time was producing. The script was awful. Bad dialogue, cardboard characters, predictable ending. It caused me to think about writing my own screenplay. I did write one and it got me hooked on screenwriting. After my fourth script made the semi-finals in the prestigious Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting, I finally believed that writing was something I did do well and I should really pursue it.  Stage two. I wrote eight scripts and submitted those to film production companies and Hollywood agents with some interest here and there but no deals. And then the economy in 2008 tanked and the screenplay spec market dried up. No one was buying scripts from unknown writers, so I switched tactics and decided to write my first book. And here we are.

VL: Switching gears a bit, let’s talk about your formative years. What was the worst job you ever had while going to school?

DS: I didn’t work during high school, but on one summer break from college I worked at a telemarketing company. I would call people using the phone book (pre-internet) and tried to convince them to buy passes for a charity event that was suppose to help local kids. It was awful and I hated it. Plus I wasn’t sure if the passes we were selling actually did raise money for the kids. I quit after like a month or two.

VL: Yikes. That definitely qualifies as an awful job. I applaud you for lasting that long.

Tell me about the most interesting place you have ever lived. What did you like/hate most about it?

DS: After graduating college, I lived in Fairfield, Iowa for two weeks to work at a video production company that did info-commercials. What I didn’t know was that Fairfield is the center of the Maharishi Transcendental Meditation movement. Almost everyone there is a self-proclaimed “meditator” so I instantly felt like an outsider, especially when people were constantly asking me if I was one of them. The town was out in the middle of nowhere and there was nothing to do there but…meditate. The only good thing was meeting Dawn Wells (Mary Ann) of Gilligan’s Island fame when she came to do an info-commercial about rice cookers.

VL: That is completely surreal. And sounds like the plot of a great story.

Tell us about your self-publishing experience. What’s harder/easier about this path to publication? Why was this path right for this story?

DS: Self-publishing takes more work. It’s all up to the writer to handle all the publishing steps and to maintain a level of quality that the reader expects when they hand over their money. The book must go through beta readers, a thorough editing process, and finally a proofread to purge as many errors as possible. I can distribute the eBook quite easily on-line and also have a paperback version available for giveaways, local signings, and those readers who prefer paper. Do I get into Barnes & Noble? No. But 90% of my sales are through eBooks anyway so it’s not that big of a deal.

I went the traditional publishing route with my first book Skid. Queried over 60 agents. Sent out manuscripts to publishers and all that. I did receive positive feedback from a few people, but not enough to take on the book. So after that process, I decided to try the self-publishing route as an experiment in order to learn the process and see if it was a viable last option. The process was harder than I thought going in, but I’m still glad I did it. I’m convinced that Skid or Rivals would have never been published otherwise.

VL: Any tips you’d give other writers considering self-publication?

DS: You still must act like a professional. That means don’t take short cuts with your work. Hire out professionals to do your book cover and editing. If you can’t create the eBook or paperback yourself, you can hire those professional services too. The eBook revolution is not a gold mine. You must publish a lot of books and readers must find them among the sea of titles that are available. You must build up a fan base from scratch. This takes time, good marketing, and patience. You must think and act like an entrepreneur because your writing is a business and you must treat it as such.

VL: Very sound advice. And it looks as if you followed it to the letter. Your covers are so captivating and from the pages I’ve read, you’ve really taken the time to craft your story. I love Samantha. We need more characters like her.

What has been your favorite book to read/book you’ve been most excited about over the past year?

DS: I finally read Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell this year and loved it. The setting took me right back to school in the 80’s. I was on that very same bus that was described in the book. Perfect representation of that time period. I loved both characters and the story itself felt more down to earth and real. Not so much plot driven but character driven in many aspects.

VL: Loved, loved, loved, that book! I felt my hair getting bigger as I read each page.

What are you currently working on?

DS: The next book I’m working on is Skid #3 which I hope will be out by early spring of next year.

VL: Doug, thank you so much for sharing your time and your knowledge with us.

Good luck with your book and the rest of your tour!

Book Tour Itinerary

To Learn more about RIVALS (SKID #2) and to follow Doug on the remainder of his launch tour or to catch up on stops you may have missed, here are stops:

September 29th – Guest Post – BC Brown – http://bcbrownbooks.blogspot.com

September 30th – Character Post – Jess Mountifield – http://www.jessmountifield.co.uk/

October 1st – Guest Post – Mandy Anderson – http://twimom101bookblog.blogspot.com/

October 2nd – Guest Post – Skyler Finn – http://randomofalife.blogspot.com/

October 3rd – Author interview – Valerie Lawson – http://valerierlawson.wordpress.com/

October 6th – Character Interview – Jessica L. Brooks – http://www.coffeelvnmom.blogspot.com

October 7th – Character Post – Melissa Robles – http://thereaderandthechef.blogspot.com

October 8th – Author interview – Dani Duck – http://daniduckart.blogspot.ca

October 9th – Gif Interview – Kate Tilton – http://katetilton.com/blog

October 10th – Guest post – Jasmine  – http://bookgroupies2.blogspot.com

Learn more about Doug Solter here.

Follow Doug on Twitter here.

The Giveaway

Doug has a fantastic launch-wide giveaway that you can enter right here. He’s giving away two autographed copies of his books – one copy of SKID and one of RIVALS.  Click on the link below to enter.

Win an autographed paperback copy of Book One

Win an autographed paperback copy of Book One

Win an autographed paperback copy of Book Two

Win an autographed paperback copy of Book Two

ENTER HERE!!!  ➤➤➤ Doug Solter’s Rafflecopter giveaway

 

scbwi la banner 2014

 

photo courtesy of Official SCBWI Conference Blog, photo by Marquita Hockaday

photo courtesy of Official SCBWI Conference Blog, photo by Marquita Hockaday

Maggie Stiefvater (or steve·otter, as she pronounced it) author of the NY Times best-selling SHIVER series gave an excellent workshop on character at the SCBWI LA Conference. Her novel THE SCORPIO RACES was a Michael L Printz Honor book. Her most recent series is THE RAVEN CYCLE.

She’s also a Character Thief.

This came about because she discovered that she could not create anything unique from scratch, the least of which was a believable character that could actually walk and breathe on their own. To create her own unique characters, she has to start with real, live human hearts. She moves on to create what she calls people portraits. Using her background as an equestrian portrait artist, moving on to people just made sense.

She wanted to create characters that you’d still be able to recognize as Stiefvater characters, not unlike pointing out master painters’ pieces, just from their style, from across a gallery floor.

Before she tells you how she creates her characters, she tells you some basic rules. Although she’s not big on rules herself, she did know the rules first. If you break the rules after you know them, then it’s experimenting.

Character Rules

  1. The narrator should be the character who shifts the plot the most.
  2. The narrator should also be the one who changes the most – a more intriguing character is one where the change is both internally and externally symbiotic.
  3. Characters have to be sympathetic/relatable – Maggie doesn’t actually believe in this rule, herself. She feels you should understand the motives of your characters, but you don’t have to agree with their choices.
  4. Writing as if you are the character – it’s bad writing to write self into a character. Especially if it’s accidental or if you’re having a character deal with a problem you yourself are facing at that moment. Ex: “When I’m angry, how do I react?” You should be wondering, “When my character is angry, how does my character react?” However Maggie also disagrees with this rule to a degree– if you accidentally do this, it’s bad, if you do it on purpose, then you’re creating a portrait of yourself.

 

How she steals characters is she begins with first impressions – like how you meet a person for the first time in real life. What you first notice about them.

Look past the first observations; look for something that contradicts your idea of who you think that person is. “Look at the moment when you change your mind about a character.”

She’s not a fan of character questionnaires – they don’t really tell you anything important about them. What they physically look like is mostly irrelevant. Doesn’t tell you WHY.

Character interviews can be helpful for voice. “I learn about my characters by moving them through the plot. I may throw out the first 10,000 words because I’m just using them to get to know the characters.”

Everything should be a character. This includes the setting, which can even have its own character arc. The forest in THE RAVEN CYCLE series, for instance, is a distinct character. It is sentient and plays a vital role in the series. The weather/setting arc in SCORPIO RACES mirrors the character arcs.

You want to lie as little as possible when creating your characters. The more fantastical you settings, the more realistic your characters should be.

Villains often have very clear motivations. Most people aren’t like this – not as clear-cut. For villains, whatever they want in life gets in the way of what the protagonist wants.

I had a chance to get a book signed by Maggie at the end of the conference, and true to her artistic roots, she had a little something extra for her fans who bought SINNER, the stand-alone companion to the SHIVER series. An original Stiefvater artwork book cover. Sweet, right?

Learn more about Maggie Stiefvater here.

Follow Maggie on Twitter here.

Follow Maggie on Tumblr here.

Sinner Cover 1Sinner Cover 2Sinner Cover 3