Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Author Lauren Gibaldi Talks Inspiration

Inspiration is a funny thing. It can come to us like a lightning bolt, through the lyrics of a song, or in the fog of a dream. Ask any writer where their stories come from and you’ll get a myriad of answers, and in that vein I created the WHAT (What the Hell Are you Thinking?) interview. Always including in the WHAT is one random question to really dig down into the interviewees mind, and probably supply some illumination into my own as well.

Today's guest is Lauren Gibaldi, whose debut THE NIGHT WE SAID YES will be available from Harper Teen June 16, 2015. Lauren is also a public librarian. She's been, among other things, a magazine editor, high school English teacher, bookseller, and circus aerialist (seriously). She has a BA in Literature and Master’s in Library and Information Studies, both from Florida State University.

Ideas for our books can come from just about anywhere, and sometimes even we can’t pinpoint exactly how or why. Did you have a specific origin point for your book?

Kind of. I wanted to write about a crazy night, that was the original plan. I like the idea of one night that can change everything, and the magic and possibility a night out with friends holds when you’re in high school. It evolved and changed quite a bit, but I like to think the original feel is still there. I do remember I thought of the title while driving on the interstate with my husband…I kind of just blurted it out, and that shaped the whole “saying yes” plot.  

Once the original concept existed, how did you build a plot around it?

I originally had the “then” idea – the one crazy night where the four teens say yes to every idea they have. So I thought about fun things they’d do, crazy places they’d go. But when thinking about it, I kind of wanted to see what would happen next – how the one night changes them and where they would end up one year later. So after writing the first “then” chapter, I went back and wrote a “now” chapter and it stuck. 

Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to paper?

I had a lot of plotting for it because I had to make sure each “then” chapter line up with a “now” chapter. But I threw a lot of that original plotting away and kind of wrote on the fly, which made it more fun, in a way. So, locations and motives changed and I was okay with that. I also realized that the characters evolved as I went on, so I had to go back and alter voices and such. 

Do story ideas come to you often, or is fresh material hard to come by?

Ideas come to me often…GOOD ideas do not. For instance, while typing this I thought: “You know what would be funny? A vampire retelling of The Great Gatsby.” You know what’s NOT a good idea? A vampire retelling of The Great Gatsby. 

How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating?

I’m facing this issue right now! I start writing the first that comes to me and see if it sticks. Sometimes I just don’t like it enough to go past the first chapter. I keep it around, in case I ever want to go back to it, and then start on something else. It’s not necessarily the best idea, but I like giving each possible story a shot. The hardest thing is putting an idea aside when I’m working on a story I’m really into. I’m always worried I’ll forget it. 

Sometimes when I’m cooking ground beef I get distracted by the fact that it definitely looks like a brain. Does that happen to you?

Can’t say it has. BUT NOW THAT’S ALL I’M GOING TO THINK ABOUT. A friend once told me that he feels his brain move every time he drives over a speed bump, and now that’s permanently in my head, too. YOU’RE WELCOME. 

Or, wait, was that a metaphor? 

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Fallacy of Competition

In high school it was who had better clothes, better hair, a cooler car, the hottest boyfriend.

I couldn't wait to exit the rat race, but life is life and people are people. No matter what age, we will compare ourselves to one another. And most of the time we're the ones that come up wanting, by our own estimation.

There a million ways to shortchange yourself as a writer. There's always someone with more marketing dollars, someone who got a better deal, a cover that you covet, a tour you didn't get to go on. We can check our Amazon ratings against someone else, compare shelf-adds on Goodreads -- and that's without mentioning reviews.

It's very easy to go down this rabbit hole. A writer can't use any social media without being highly aware of a book other than theirs that is getting a lot of attention.

And that's fine.

As a librarian I can say that there are plenty of reluctant readers that need one particular book to flick the switch in their brain that turns reading from a chore into a joy. It only takes one to change their minds - and if it's not mine, that's okay. The one book that turns them into a reader has done a service. Once the transformation from non-reader to reader takes place, there's always the option that mine might be picked up next.

Writers need to be aware of that when we feel a little stab of jealousy when massive exposure is being doled out - and not always in our direction. The book that's plastered everywhere may not be ours, but it's creating hundreds - possibly thousands - of readers.

And that's a wider potential audience for everyone.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Saturday Slash

Meet my Hatchet of Death (or, some other colorful description RC Lewis and I come up with at any given moment). This is how I edit myself, it is how I edit others. If you think you want to play with me and my hatchet, shoot us an email.

We all know the first line of a query is your "hook." I call the last line the "sinker." You want it to punch them in the face, in a nice, friendly kind of way that makes them unable to forget you after having read the 300 other queries in their inbox.

If you're looking for query advice, but are slightly intimidated by my claws, blade, or just my rolling googly-eyes, check out the query critique boards over at AgentQueryConnect. This is where I got my start, with advice from people smarter than me. Don't be afraid to ask for help with the most critical first step of your writing journey - the query. My comments appear in green.

Caetlin Lovelell and her family are shadow slaying tunnel guardians by night and socialites by day. It might be better to explain first what this means, rather than jumping in with a hook that has to be untangled. They protect their patrons is this the right word to use here? of the supposed city of prosperity awkward phrasing - are you saying it's supposedly prosperous, or supposedly a city? The phrasing right now could go either way, and the sentence structure is overly complicated in trying to get to the underground baddies, Dorme, against the shadeu— creatures lurking underground that live off human flesh.

When there is a sudden change in the behavior of the shadeu, don't need this comma and guardians start to go missing—including Caetlin’s own brother, Caetlin and her sisters will do whatever it takes to find their brother and protect their family from the war brewing in the underground tunnels, even if it means allying with a mysterious— and most likely dangerous—vagrant guard to do it. This whole paragraph is one sentence. There are plenty of good stopping points, definitely use them. 

I don't think you're getting what makes your plot and characters distinctive and new into this query. What is the sudden change in behavior? What kind of war is brewing in the tunnels? Humans versus shadeu? Hasn't that always been the case? Is it a secret that the socialites are warriors? What is Caetlin's personality like? Her brother? Is the guard a main character that needs to be named? And why would a vagrant be a guard in the first place? Get the individuality of your story into the query.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Book Talk & Giveaway: 45 POUNDS (MORE OR LESS) by K.A. Barson

My book talks are coming at you from a librarian, not a reviewer. You won't find me talking about style or craft, why I think this could've been better or what worked or didn't work. I only do book talks on books I liked and want other people to know about. So if it's here I probably think it won't injure your brain if you read it.

Ann has done all the diets, hit all the pills. But Aunt Jackie's impending wedding might be the kicker she needs to actually stick to it... this time. The latest info-merical promises things she can't believe at prices she can't afford, but Ann's willing to try anything that might push her size 17 down a little closer to mom's perfect size 6.

Shame keeps her hiding the new diet from the family, that and the fact that she knows if her mother encourages her she'll resent it and quit out of spite. Ann's only option to afford the food she hates eating is to get a job. And of course the only place hiring is the pretzel joint. Figures. She gets free refills as an employee. Of course. 

Still, the cutest guy ever works in the same mall and seems to remember her name for some reason, even though the last time he asked her a straightforward question the only answer she came up with was, "I like cheese." The fact that he might pop in to the store on his lunch break makes putting up with  a mean-girl co-worker a little easier... but so do the free refills.

The two and half months before the wedding are whittling away as Ann struggles through dieting and possibly dating. Along the way she learns a few things about friends, her not-so-perfect mother, and how to respect herself... even if she can't wear a bikini in public.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Erin Bowman On the Stunning Cover for VENGEANCE ROAD

I love talking to debut authors. Our experiences are so similar, yet so very different, that every one of us has a new story to share. Everyone says that the moment you get your cover it really hits you - you're an author. The cover is your story - and you - packaged for the world. So the process of the cover reveal can be slightly panic inducing. Does it fit your story? Is it what you hoped? Will it sell? With this in mind I put together the CRAP (Cover Reveal Anxiety Phase) Interview.

Today's guest is Erin Bowman, author of the TAKEN series, and the upcoming VENGEANCE ROAD. When not writing, Erin can often be found hiking, geeking out over good typography, and obsessing over all things Harry Potter. She drinks a lot of coffee, buys far too many books, and is not terribly skilled at writing about herself in the third person.

When Kate Thompson’s father is killed by the notorious Red Rose Gang for a mysterious journal that reveals the secret location of a gold mine, the eighteen-year-old disguises herself as a boy and takes to the gritty plains looking for answers and justice. 
What she finds are devious strangers, dust storms, and a pair of brothers who refuse to quit riding in her shadow. But as Kate gets closer to the secrets about her family, she gets closer to the truth about herself and must decide if there's room for love in a heart so full of hate.  
In the spirit of True Grit, the cutthroat days of the Wild West come to life for a new generation.  

Did you have any pre-conceived notions about what you wanted your cover to look like?

Western movies and literature seem to have a very passionate but narrow audience, so while I knew I wanted the VENGEANCE ROAD cover to immediately feel like 1877 Arizona, I also wanted something fresh and relevant to today’s YA landscape. No author wants a cover so fitting of their genre that it scares off readers who are hesitant to pick up that kind of story.

How far in advance from your pub date did you start talking covers with your house?

We started discussing cover art in the fall of 2014. So maybe about a year before pub.

Did you have any input on your cover?

I had tons of input, and I am so, so grateful because this isn’t always the case in publishing. Early on, I was asked what I might like to see on the cover, which resulted in big email exchanges and a few shared pinterest boards between myself and my editor. Once the design team at HMH came up with some preliminary concepts, I was allowed to weigh in on those. I think I saw about ten different directions for the cover, but I loved a highly typographic one best, which included some western-y illustrations framing the title. I told my editor it was hands-down my favorite, and luckily they were feeling the same way internally.

After HMH hired an illustrator to finalize the artwork, I got to weigh in again. There were a few different color palette options to choose between (I again stated my favorite, and it again aligned with HMH’s top pick), and I also requested a couple minor tweaks to the pistols to make sure they were historically accurate and better matched the model my main character carries in the book.

How was your cover revealed to you?

Via email, and I might have dropped an F-bomb when I saw it. In a good way. Because SERIOUSLY. This is the most gorgeous cover I have ever seen and I still can’t believe its the face of my book.

Was there an official "cover reveal" date for your art?

Yup. I first shared the cover over on Publishing Crawl.

How far in advance of the reveal date were you aware of what your cover would look like?

A few months, I think? Or maybe just a couple weeks…  I had a baby recently and the last four months have been a giant blur.

Was it hard to keep it to yourself before the official release?

Yes. Soooo hard. I wanted to share it immediately, because SHINY.

What surprised you most about the process?

How unique my cover ended up being. I can honestly say that I don’t think there is a single cover like it on YA shelves right now.

Any advice to other debut authors about how to handle cover art anxiety?

Whether you are involved every step of the way or end up as more of a spectator in the process (I’ve been both, and have loved my covers in either instance), remember that your publisher is the expert. They know what the market looks like and what gets people to pick up a book. And ultimately, that’s what you want. You can’t get sales if no one picks the thing up!

I’ve found that being flexible, open-minded, and polite is the best route to take when approaching cover designs. (It’s also good publishing advise in general). If for some reason you don’t dig your cover, call/email your agent before you shoot off a massive list of change requests to your editor. Your agent can help you formulate a plan to address your concerns.

Monday, March 16, 2015


It won't be out until October 6, but my ARCs of A MADNESS SO DISCREET came in the mail the other day... so I thought I'd give one away.

Grace Mae knows madness.

She keeps it locked away, along with her voice, trapped deep inside a brilliant mind that cannot forget horrific family secrets. Those secrets, along with the bulge in her belly, land her in a Boston insane asylum.

When her voice returns in a burst of violence, Grace is banished to the dark cellars, where her mind is discovered by a visiting doctor who dabbles in the new study of criminal psychology. With her keen eyes and sharp memory, Grace will make the perfect assistant at crime scenes. Escaping from Boston to the safety of an ethical Ohio asylum, Grace finds friendship and hope, hints of a life she should have had. But gruesome nights bring Grace and the doctor into the circle of a killer who stalks young women. Grace, continuing to operate under the cloak of madness, must hunt a murderer while she confronts the demons in her own past.

In this beautifully twisted historical thriller, Mindy McGinnis, acclaimed author of Not a Drop to Drink and In a Handful of Dust, explores the fine line between sanity and insanity, good and evil—and the madness that exists in all of us.

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Friday, March 13, 2015

Book Talk & Giveaway: THIN SPACE by Jody Casella

My book talks are coming at you from a librarian, not a reviewer. You won't find me talking about style or craft, why I think this could've been better or what worked or didn't work. I only do book talks on books I like and want other people to know about. So if it's here I probably think it won't injure your brain if you read it.

Marshall is the twin who lived, the one who walked away from the car accident that took his brother. Guilt follows him constantly, and the only escape he hopes for is finding a thin space - a place where someone has died, leaving the barriers between this world and the next a little thinner. It's a place you can pass through, but only if your feet are in contact with the ground.

This is why Marshall doesn't wear shoes, anywhere. He's not willing to miss an opportunity to find his brother again. But when his bed-ridden neighbor dies he knows he's got a chance... until a new family moves in, with a girl his age who he quickly befriends in order to get in the house. But once he starts making connections with the world of the living, it makes him question his dedication to the world of the dead.

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