Art & Fear – An Exploration, Part I

We all have to face fears in our lives at one time or another.

My daughter drops whatever she’s doing and runs inside at the sight of any flying insect with a stinger (mostly bees, but on occasion she has run from butterflies by mistake). My husband has to put on his iPod and listen to Pink Floyd whenever he goes to the dentist. What can I say? He had a bad experience with a dentist overseas once who didn’t use anesthetic. I don’t really blame him for that one.

I recently faced one of my fears around Halloween. This one had to do with my son, Trevor.

I had been dreading Halloween for weeks. I remembered the year before how Trevor had been so much bigger than most of the kids going around the neighborhood and even though he went out with a family friend who was in grade school – something of a holiday tradition – we still got some puzzled looks. No one said anything mean, but I felt uncomfortable all evening. And I knew this year, with Trevor being even bigger and older, things would only feel more tense. I couldn’t get Trevor to understand that he was too big for Halloween and I’d tried the year before to have him stay home and help me pass out candy, but that didn’t work out.

My fear was that he would be turned away. Shunned. That he would receive hurtful stares or ugly comments – not that he was likely to notice (unless he didn’t get any candy), but I would. And it would hurt. No one wants to see their child be rejected.

So, I thought of a different strategy. I’ve been doing some part-time work for our local autism group and that inspired me to do some outreach of my own.  I’d open up and let our neighbors in. THIS WAS WAY OUTSIDE OF MY COMFORT ZONE. I am not good at asking for help or reaching out to people, so this step was huge. But then, it wasn’t for me. It was so my neighbors would understand who my son was and welcome him.

Here’s the message I posted on our Neighborhood Association Facebook page:

Trevor Halloween Story

There was such a huge positive response to this post that I was overwhelmed. And even one other family in the neighborhood told about their young child with autism, too. They hoped to have their child be able to leave the comfort of his stroller and go door-to-door this year. (Stretching the boundaries of social difficulties that accompany autism.) How nice was that? Finding another family who shares our same issues?

When we went out trick or treating, Trevor was recognized several times by neighbors who went out of their way to introduce themselves.  Later people posted how nice it was to meet Trevor and how sweet and polite he was. Now, when we take our dogs for a walk, more of our neighbors say “hello” than before, and more greet Trevor by name. We even met an actual firefighter who invited us to bring Trevor down to his station for a tour. That made Trevor’s night.

One fear conquered.

Fear & Art

When it comes to dealing with fear in our writing or any medium of art, it can have a crippling effect. Even keep us from making art altogether.

Being a writer can be so thrilling when everything is coming out just right. The words are flowing, the characters are bending to my will, I am the master of my imaginary universe!

YES! YES! YES!

And then that tiny little voice of doubt creeps in. This isn’t working. I suck, my writing sucks, my characters suck, nobody will ever want to read this drivel. EVER!

Creative Process Pic

Sound familiar?

During our SCBWI OK Fall Retreat in September, Romney Nesbitt did a workshop on Conquering Procrastination & Self-Sabotage. One of the first things she had us do was name off all the different ways we procrastinate.

Some of the examples tossed out were fairly typical:

The Serial Projects excuse (“Just as soon as…then…”)

The “I don’t have time excuse” (too many responsibilities)

Perfectionism (waiting for the right conditions/right moment)

Social Media (worse than television)

So I voiced my own reason. The one thing that holds me back from moving forward on projects more than anything?

Fear of Failure.

Romney responded that this is actually a “problem with expectancy”.

That answer surprised me.

Expectancy meant it was coming from me. It made me realize I was in control of that fear. And that meant I could change it.

I also knew I wasn’t the only one who grappled with creating art and fear. Not just of failure. But of what others would think of what we created. Even of success.

I wanted to explore this further.

So, this month, I’m doing just that. I’m forcing myself to do some things to push past this fear.

One thing I’m doing is taking the NaNoWriMo plunge and vowing to actually complete the 50,000 words in one month challenge. I’ve participated for a few years now, but I’ve never made it to the finish line.

I’ve also started reading ART & FEAR OBSERVATIONS ON THE PERILS (AND REWARDS) OF ARTMAKING  by David Bayles & Ted Orland. I’ll be sharing some of my insights from that book later in the month. So far it’s quite enlightening.

How about you? What are you afraid of as far as your art is concerned? What do you do to combat that fear?

Insights from our SCBWI OK Fall Retreat

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Wrapping up the month-long celebration of our local SCBWI Oklahoma group, I’m going to share some of my insights from our Fall Retreat. It was a relaxed, 3-day event packed full of inspiring, helpful information.

The first day was all about craft. Which is something all writers are never too advanced to brush up on, if you ask me. There were so many great workshops, it was a harrowing decision just narrowing down the choices, let alone finalizing a selection.

 

AnnaMyersphotoCI sat in on a workshop by Anna Myers about point of view entitled “The Real Difference Between First and Third Person” where I learned that this difference is more than a matter of pronouns. To begin with, she told us that first person is the easiest and the hardest POV to write. It’s all about voice. Character drives the story in first person, in every word, in every sentence. “If you don’t have a strong voice, you shouldn’t write in first person.” Voice is still important in third person, but the story’s success is not as dependent on it. The great thing about third person is that not every word has to come from the viewpoint character. Anna walked us through a great exercise with a movie camera, demonstrating how the different aspects of third person – from third person intimate to third person distant – could move you in close or take you out wide of a scene, depending on how close you wanted the view to be – on how much you wanted the reader to experience.

 

sonia-gensler-225In another craft workshop, this one led by Sonia Gensler entitled “Kidlit Romance and Friendship: Keeping it Real”, we learned how important it was to develop the main characters separately. You have to make the readers fall in love with the characters individually before asking readers to fall in love with them as a couple. “They must have an identity separate from the relationship.” Character is key. To attain this, Sonia suggests you start with an in-depth understanding of your characters before you start writing. It is especially helpful to know the answer to the fundamental question of what your character wants versus what your character needs. She gave the example from THE HUNGER GAMES using the main character Katniss. What she wants more than anything is to keep her sister safe. That is her motivation for volunteering as tribute in her sister’s place. But what she needs to survive in the games is to learn to let people in, to trust.

 

Pati Hailey taught us in her workshop entitled “Building Memorable Worlds” that every story has a need for world-building elements, even those populated by ordinary humans. What makes a world memorable is when the elements of the world are put into perspective and introduced throughout the story. Elements need to be specific, authentic, and distinct. A great way to add some of these elements is through the use of similes and metaphors that are not cliché, but specific to your world. Use them as an opportunity to tell something about the character or the world. When describing a room, be specific. Don’t give a laundry list of items; give things meaning and connect them to a character. Also be more original with body movements – wide eyes and shoulder shrugs are over done. Pay attention to what people really do.

After a complete brain workout with  the amazing crafts, our day wasn’t even finished, we got a little introduction to our wonderful featured speakers. I tell you, our SCBWI OK group knows how to spoil us.

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Our first featured guest speaker was Minju Chang, literary agent with Book Stop Literary.

Minju comes from a small agency based in San Francisco that doesn’t do much advertising. They do work very collaboratively and they love SCBWI. She represents MG and YA of all genres and some PB as well. Minju was just brilliant and so enthusiastic about the business of books.

Minju said, “Rejection is inevitable.” She said she and her colleagues understand the frustration. They deal with rejections all the time as well.

She then decoded some editorial rejections for us:

“Not right for my list”     This is an umbrella form rejection

“I love the idea, but I didn’t make a connection”     View this as a bell curve. This means your manuscript is hitting the middle.

“I love this, but I couldn’t get my team on board”     May have already tried to sell similar book and it wasn’t successful.

“I like the concept/character, but there’s not enough story”    Quiet. This is a dangerous word. This means it’s difficult to sell.

Minju then said when she has a client receive this last type of rejection, she may suggest setting that manuscript aside to try again later. Maybe after they’ve made a bigger name for themselves and a quiet book won’t be so scary to publishers.

 

Tracy DanielsTracey Daniels from Media Masters Publicity was our next featured speaker.

She was there to teach us everything we didn’t know about publicity. That, my friends, was a lot. After talking with us for awhile about everything that goes into promoting a book and showing us all of the different social media options out there, she said the important thing was not to get overwhelmed.  (Oh, I was overwhelmed. I didn’t recognize half of the social media logos. And there were at least thirty of them!)

You have to be realistic with your books and with your goals. Know yourself. Be honest about what you want to do to promote your book. Do what is right for you and your book. Not every book needs a big tour splash. The publicity budget your publisher allots for your book may not be as big as you’d like. You may have to invest some of your advance or your own money to do some publicity yourself. Whatever you decide to do on your own, make sure to communicate clearly with your publisher’s publicity department. You may be surprised how much they can help you.

The most important publicity tip she gave us was to create an on-going contact database. This should be a detailed excel spreadsheet with every industry contact you’ve ever made – past and present. This will be an invaluable tool as you move to the publicity/promotion part of your career. Be meticulous! Keep city, state, and zip codes in separate columns. This allows you to search your database by location.

She had so many fantastic ideas for making connections and generating ideas, it was astounding. I wish I could share them all with you.

Our second day was all about the featured speakers. We were finally introduced to our third speaker, Brett Duquette, editor with Sterling Publishing. His appearance was delayed due to the fire at the O’Hare airport, or rather the fire set at the traffic control center near Chicago that grounded hundreds of flights. Yes, that fire. Brett had a less than stellar travel experience and yet he was still in great spirits when he arrived. He was just delightful. (Even though he announced being a proud Cornhuskers fan while deep in Sooner country, I think we’ll still claim him as an honorary member of the SCBWI OK tribe.)

Brett spoke to us on the elusive subject of voice.

Best surprise of the retreat was when Brett Duquette met Tammi Sauer while praising her book.
Best surprise of the retreat was when Brett Duquette met Tammi Sauer while praising her book.

Voice, Brett said, is the cornerstone of the creation of the narrative. “Everything comes from the voice. It’s where we begin to build something out of nothing.”

Brett went on to explain that in his mind, all parts of the story are the voice, really. Narrative isn’t just the beige carpet, it has a voice, too. The language used is in harmony with the character, narrative, setting, etc. Each piece has a voice which adds up to the capital “V” Voice.

Most people forget about the narrative and when they are told they need to work on voice, they only focus on dialogue. Voice is so much more than that.

Consistency is key to voice and good writing. Without it, the story feels unreal or boring.

It’s much more apparent in illustration when voice doesn’t work. You see it immediately. To avoid this, you shouldn’t over explain the action in your text. Make sure to leave room for the illustrators. Brett brought out CHICKEN DANCE by Tammi Sauer. “This is perfect picture book writing because it allows the illustrator room to do their job.” Brett discussed a series of pages spreads where the chickens were trying to pick a talent for the talent contest.

Bowling was out. So was juggling. And tightrope walking.

With concise language choices, Tammi set up the joke and let the illustrator deliver it.

Much to his surprise, Tammi was in the audience, just a few feet away. Brett then said it was a good thing he only had nice things to say about her book. It was a fantastic moment to witness. Then it was back to business.

He said the way you learn to do what Tammi did, to leave those spaces for the illustrator to be creative and tell part of the story, is you have faith that the editors will be able to envision a great book and the illustrator can do their job and create great illustrations.

Brett had so many great writing exercises for us to work through to help us really understand what he was telling us. It was an awesome session on voice with a capital “A”.

Anna and her Quilt of Many Book Covers
Anna and her Quilt of Many Book Covers

 

The final day was for wrapping up, a speaker panel, and for saying goodbye. Some goodbyes were more tearful than others.

Our dynamic leader of 14 years, Anna Myers, passed the torch on to Helen Newton with many tears spilled, but not before she received some love back in return. We all pitched in a gave her a quilt made with all 20 of her book covers on it, including her latest release, her first picture book. Anna will still be a part of our SCBWI OK family as an Regional Advisor Emeritus.

Although I don’t see how this retreat could ever be topped, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if the next one was even better.

If you somehow missed this awe-inspiring event, make sure to mark your calendars now for the spring conference on March 28, 2015. You will not want to miss it.

Thank you to all of our guest speakers who traveled so far to be with us and to all of our fantastic local talent that made the craft day such a wonderful success. I learned tons of new information that will stick with me and I know I’m not alone there. This great event wouldn’t have been possible without all of you.

 

Anna Myers TUMBLEWEED BABY – The Interview & Book Giveaway

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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.)

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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:

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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

CONGRATULATIONS TO STEPHANIE THEBAN!

She won the the autographed copy of Tumbleweed Baby!

Jennifer Latham – Author Interview

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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:

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Doug Solter – Author Interview & Book Giveaway

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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?

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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

Cover Reveal – RIVALS

Doug Solter is a delightful addition to our local SCBWI family and he has to be the hardest working author on the self-publishing front. I read all his notices about the daily word counts he pushes to achieve after a long day at work and I see him all the time on the Twitter chats interacting and encouraging his fellow writers. So when Doug asked if I’d liked to be a part of his cover reveal, I didn’t hesitate.

There’s also a giveaway for those paying attention, so make sure you’re one of them!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

doug-solter

Growing up in Oklahoma, Doug Solter began writing screenplays in 1998 and became a 2001 semi-finalist in the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences’ Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting. His script Father Figure was one of 129 scripts left from 5,489 entries. Doug made the switch to writing young adult novels in 2008. Doug is also a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Doug respects cats, loves the mountains, and one time walked the streets of Barcelona with a smile on his face.

ABOUT RIVALS

Eighteen-year-old Samantha Sutton is back for a new racing season in Formula One. The hot new racing star of Wolert Porsche has everything she wants. An awesome team. An awesome car. And the perfect boy. But her optimism sinks when her boss steals arch-rival Emilio Ronaldo away from Ferrari and makes the jerk her team’s number-one driver.

Stressing about Emilio, Samantha struggles with her new public life as a teen sports star. Finding time to be the best girlfriend to Manny proves more and more difficult. It also doesn’t help that Manny’s ex-girlfriend Hanna shows up. The girl treated at a mental hospital for poisoning his grandmother’s dog.

The pressure on Samantha becomes unbearable. Paranoia, mistrust, and jealousy take over. She lashes out at everyone as the world seems determined to bring her down.

Can Samantha rise above it all and win the world championship? Or will this be the end of everything she’s worked so hard for?

This novel is the sequel to Skid which is available for free download in either eBook or Audiobook form when you sign up to the author’s free email list.

RIVALS RELEASE DATE

Tuesday, September, 23rd

EXCERPT FROM RIVALS:

“Are you ready to meet your new teammate?” Benito asks.

            Not really.

            Outside the main garage, the three of us take the little sidewalk that leads to the scenic overlook near the back of the office building. The overlook is this cozy spot with chairs and benches. Lots of Wolert Porsche employees walk over here to have lunch or to take a break from work to stare at the pretty view of the deep valley and the pointy tops of the Alps surrounding it.

            A slight breeze runs up the valley and smacks the side of the mountain we’re on. The sun spreads Emilio Ronaldo’s shadow over the molded-stone pavement as he leans against the wood safety rails that prevent people from falling over the steep drop.

            I join him along the rail.

            Emilio takes a long drag from a cigar, blowing out a large plume of smoke. He tucks his hand inside his sport coat and pulls out another cigar. “Do you smoke?”

            “Seriously? You’re offering me a cigar?” I ask.

            “They’re very good. Very strong. Grow hair on your chest.” Emilio grins.

            Yeah, right. Smoking a cigar is a macho-guy thing. They need it to feel like men. Hmm. I wonder if little-old me is intimidating him again. The same girl who made him flinch during that race at Spa. That would be awesome if I’m getting under his skin.

            Emilio slips the cigar back into his coat. “But if you don’t feel adventurous I understand.”

            Wait a second. Is he saying I’m too timid? That I can’t handle a cigar just because I’m a girl?

            “I’d love a cigar,” I say, acting like it’s no big deal.

            Emilio pulls out the cigar. I snatch it and place it in my mouth. The foreign object lays heavy on my tongue and feels like I have a wad of paper stuffed in my mouth.

            “You need to cut off the end first.”

            “I know that.” I pull the cigar out and notice the round end that isn’t cut off. I bite into that and rip it off with my teeth. I taste flakes of pure tobacco on my tongue and it’s like ash and it’s disgusting and I spit it all over the stones at my feet.

            Emilio smiles and holds up some rectangular-looking tool with a round hole in it. “I have a cutter. You don’t have to bite the end off.”

            Now I feel like an idiot. Emilio must be enjoying this. Another genius plan to embarrass and humiliate me. Too late to stop now. I hold out the cigar and he cuts off the end. I put the cigar back in my mouth.

            Emilio takes out a lighter and flicks. The flame licks the end of my cigar. “You must inhale to draw the flame in and light the tobacco.”

            I breathe in and smoke fills my lungs.

            Oh My God! I cough hard and bend over, belching smoke from my mouth like a dragon. I feel my eyes watering. A definite sign my body is yelling. What the hell are you doing to me, Samantha?

            Enjoying my discomfort, Emilio inhales his cigar, the end of which glows bright red. Like a demon.

            I take another drag on the cigar and my lungs belch out the foul smoke again. But I try to stand casual. Like the smoke doesn’t bother me.

            “I would like to begin,” Emilio says. “By mentioning that our past grievances should be left in the past. We are both competitors. We both fight to win. But starting today, we will be teammates. Do you understand? When both of us do well, the team does well. The team will always matter more than one driver. I look forward to working with you. Not against you.” Emilio takes a moment for a puff on his cigar. “What is your opinion on that?”

            My opinion? Someone actually wants to hear my opinion? It’s a mountain of cow puke. That’s my opinion. This is still my team and Emilio is not going to come in here and take it away. All this crap about team this and team that. It’s only to put a pacifier in my mouth so I won’t complain. Be the good little girl, Samantha. Play nice and get along with the boy who stole your place on the team.

             I puff the cigar and cough. Jeez. That’s what this cigar is. It’s a pacifier. Make baby Samantha shut up.

             I take the cigar out of my mouth.

            “Is it too strong?” Emilio asks.

            This guy can read people crazy-well. He read me like a book right before our final race at Spa. Emilio detects weakness in others like a hawk drifting over a limp sheep, patiently waiting for it to fall over before attacking.

            I won’t let him read me ever again.

            “I agree. We so got into it last year and it was insane.” I use my sweet girlie voice that fools most guys. “And there were times I actually wanted to kill you. Like that time at your home in Brazil?”

            “I remember,” he says. “I mentioned something about how you could never win the world championship.”

            “Because I was a woman and didn’t have the killer instinct or something like that.”

            Whoa. Easy, Samantha. Don’t lose it. Stay under control. Do not let Emilio beat you.

            “Yes. Something like that,” Emilio says, his voice quieter. “You proved me wrong. The way you hunted me those last few laps at Spa. You were ruthless. Unyielding. You chased me down like a cunning animal that had learned patience and the art of intimidation. My observations please you?”

            Crap. He caught me smiling.

            “It was impressive. We are teammates now so I can mention this. You are not some female racer who shows off her body more than her racing skills. You are quite different.”

            If that’s his version of a compliment, I guess I’ll take it.

COVER REVEAL

Now that we’ve built up plenty of anticipation, without any further ado, here it is…

rivals_large

Jealousy is a powerful emotion, it can destroy even good people.

I hope you’ve enjoyed being a part of this reveal. For participating, you can enter the Giveaway below to win either a signed copy of RIVALS, SKID 2 or a signed copy of the first book, SKID. Simply click on the link and follow the directions.

Learn more about Doug Solter here.

Follow Doug on Twitter here.

➤ ➤ ➤ ENTER GIVEAWAY HERE!!! a Rafflecopter giveaway

SCBWI OK Fall Retreat Now Open for Enrollment

 

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Our SCBWI Oklahoma fall events keep getting more exciting every year. Just when you thought we couldn’t top last year’s Agents’ Day, along comes this year’s Fall Retreat. You pay one fee and attend as much or as little as you’d like, but trust me, this will be so packed full of literary goodness, you’ll want to be there for the whole thing.

OKLAHOMA 2014 FALL RETREAT
Three Days of Workshops and Speakers
September 26-28, 2014
Friday: 9:00 am – 8:30 pm
Saturday 9:00 am – 8:00 pm
Sunday 10:00 am – 1:00 pm

Best Western Motor Lodge, Stroud, Oklahoma
Exactly between Oklahoma City and Tulsa

LIMITED TO 90 Participants (AND ALREADY HALF-FULL!!!)


REGISTER NOW

The Speakers
Brett Duquette – Editor, Sterling Publishing

Brett Duquette

 

Tracy Daniels – Founder of Media Masters

 Tracy Daniels

 

Minju Chang – Agent, BookStop Literary Agency

 minju_chang

 

Christa Heschke – Agent, McIntosh and Otis, Inc.

Christa Heschke

 

The Workshop begins on Friday with the basics.

Want to brush up on core skills? Getting started on your writing  journey? Not sure where to begin? This will cover everything you need. You’ll get to choose from several sessions and pick the ones that are just right for you. Here are some of the topics for the Friday craft sessions:

        • Creating Graphic Novels
        • Picture Books that Sell
        • Romance/Friendship in MG and YA
        • Query Letters
        • Writing Nonfiction
        • Creating Easy Readers
        • Successful School Visits
        • Unusual Techniques for Developing Character
        • The Real Difference in First and Third Person POV
        • More than Pronoun Use
        • Plotting That Works
        • Digging Deeply Enough for Story Ideas
        • Using Acting Techniques in Writing
        • World Building Elements for All Genres
        • Showing Character
        • Proportion Issues
        • Lessons for Beginners

- PLUS: A Creative Coach will give tips for conquering
procrastination and self-sabotage.

Doesn’t that look great?

Saturday and Sunday the guest speakers will give in-depth talks on various subjects like voice, publicity and promotion, and much more.

There will be manuscript critiques and editor/agent pitches available as well.

For details – and to register for the workshop – head on over to the SCBWI OK website.

UPDATE: On July 24, 2014, NewsOK wrote an excellent article on our conference which really gives a complete picture of what to expect. Great information.

 

Questions and Contacts:

- Anna Myers: amyers_author@yahoo.com
– Helen Newton: helennewton@cox.nt