Tag Archives: Q&A

Getting “Literary” with Author & Tin House Editor Michelle Wildgen

Posted by February 20th, 2014

breadbutter_highThe restaurant business is at the heart of Michelle Wildgen’s most recent literary endeavor, BREAD AND BUTTER. Today we’re chatting with her about the new book, getting an MFA, and submitting to the prestigious Tin House literary journal. Michelle has some terrific advice for writers who’re interested in having their work in the magazine. 

NG: One of BREAD AND BUTTER’s main characters, Harry, compares designing a new dish to academic writing: “It was a lot like writing a thesis, actually, that same process of gathering information around a rough kernel of thought, a vague sense of flavor combination that might lurk in the back of the mind, and then the editing and revising and re-arranging.” How does your character’s process here mirror your own process as a fiction writer?

MW: Well, that sounds about right, actually. I’m not a writer who starts with an outline and a full plan. I start with a little thing, like an image or a moment, and I try to build it up layer by layer until it has enough complication to become a formative scene, and then I just take it from there, often writing with a lot of uncertainty, and figuring out how to rearrange and edit once I have something on the page to work with.

NG: In an essay for Tin House literary journal—where you’re also the executive editor—you write that editing others’ work has turned you into a writer who “who loves to cut.” How do you decide what to keep and what to cut?

MW: It’s mostly a gut feeling but it’s been honed over the years by discussing stories with other writers and editors. Sometimes you know a section has something in it that will be needed—even if it is just an idea you haven’t managed to convey effectively yet—and you hold on to it until you can figure it out and maybe just develop it elsewhere. Or until you lose your love of it, or you see that other sections are doing the same thing better, or you realize that something just lacks life and energy and you have to cut it to free yourself to create a more lively take on it. Especially early in my writing, in my teens and twenties, I often got sidetracked just listening to myself say pretty things, and I couldn’t always figure out how to make a nice line of prose be a part of the story. So as a defense against that failing of mine, I now go almost too quickly to saying, “Cut it! Hack it off!”

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“Good Guys Can Be Sexy, Too”: An Interview with New Adult Author Christina Lee

Posted by January 30th, 2014

Before You BreakWe’re happy to have rising star Christina Lee on the blog today. She writes sexy New Adult Contemporary Romance stories with college-aged protagonists for Penguin/InterMix. We really heart her post about the new adult genre, where she defines its theme as that of “new found INDEPENDENCE.” So if you write NA, swing by her site and check the post out!

The second installment of Christina’s Between Breaths series, BEFORE YOU BREAK, comes out in February, and here she is talking to us about the new book and her excitement to share it with her readers.

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NG: BEFORE YOU BREAK tells the story of gorgeous psych student Ella and star catcher of the baseball team, Quinn. Quinn is the type of brooding, sexy guy that girls go gaga over! Tell us, what’s your recipe for writing an irresistible NA male hero?

CL: Great question! Many romance readers love their dominant and bossy alpha males and I tend to write nice and respectable good guys. Having said that, I’ve been told by my readers that my virgin hero from ALL OF YOU was one of the sexiest guys they’ve ever read. So the recipe I aspire to is off-the-charts sexual tension balanced by meaningful actions. Because let’s face it, good guys can be sexy, too. So I aim for plenty of angst and build-up, along with good pacing and an engaging plot. The kisses, sexy language, sensual touches or looks—I love writing all of that. And that’s the kind of confidence I like my male leads to exude.

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Avoiding Cliches + Using Specific Details: Natalie Baszile and QUEEN SUGAR

Posted by January 16th, 2014

QUEEN SUGAR coverI’m such a nut for Women’s Fiction featuring characters who overcome emotional struggles and find quiet but satisfying resolution. That, to me, is epic fiction. When I found out about Natalie Baszile’s forthcoming novel, QUEEN SUGAR–which would fit beautifully unto a bookshelf next to THE HELP or THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES–I knew I wanted to know more about this author, who’s already winning fans with her ambitious, assured debut. QUEEN SUGAR is a smart and inspiring read, not to mention a perfect tutorial in avoiding cliches when writing about family and the American South.

LS: QUEEN SUGAR’s main character, Charley, is a single mom recovering from two devastating losses, trying for a fresh start. As a writer, that’s a lot of heavy stuff to take on. Yet your take was fresh, and nuanced. How did you make Charley’s heartbreak seem so realistic?

NB: First, thank you very much for the kind words. I always love when I read a book that makes me feel something bigger is possible, so I’m glad you found the story inspiring.

I was terribly concerned about clichés in the early drafts. I wanted Charley to face a lot of real-life challenges and I wanted her experience to reflect what so many people, particularly women, face as they raise children, loose spouses, take care of sick and aging parents, even battle depression. The best way to avoid clichés is to be particular, so I tried to imagine how Charley’s struggles felt to her specifically. So, for example, when I wrote about her father’s cancer, I tried to include details that would reveal that disease as Charley experienced it. When I wrote about her depression, I tried to show how that dark period felt to her.  But I also wanted to show Charley coming through those challenges to create a new life for herself, so it was enough that some of those problems were behind her; in her rearview mirror. A few brushstrokes were sufficient.

Thinking a little more about clichés, I was also very conscious of creating an African American character who couldn’t be pigeonholed. I wanted Charley’s life story to reflect what I knew to be true:  that the range of African-American experience is vast and broad and nuanced. Yes, some people have had more urban experiences growing up, but others, like Charley, were raised in the suburbs, and had childhoods that were more integrated. I think we are seeing more examples in so many aspects of our culture now, more than ever before, and I wanted Queen Sugar to reflect that reality.

Natalie Baszile author photoLS: Homecoming is a big theme in the book—several characters are coming back home to Southern Louisiana so that they can have a new beginning. Do you have a personal connection to this part of the US?

NB: My dad was born in Southern Louisiana and lived there until he moved to Port Arthur, Texas, for high school.  Most of his siblings and their families– my aunts, uncles and cousins–still live in Lake Charles, Opelousas, or Baton Rouge, and my great aunt, who must be in her late eighties, still lives in the little town where my dad was born. So even though I’m a California native, I feel that I can claim Southern Louisiana as part of my personal history. Continue reading

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David Anthony Durham on His Landmark Epic Fantasy Trilogy

Posted by January 9th, 2014

acaica trilogy

I am so thrilled to have author David Anthony Durham on the blog today. His ACACIA series made me fall in love with the epic fantasy genre: The trilogy’s breathtaking, multi-layered story, innovative take on magic, and daring vision of human frailty meant we had to add it as an epic fantasy Landmark Title on our genre map — next to titles by George R.R. Martin and Patrick Rothfuss. 

Here David answers questions about craft and genre in the ACACIA series.

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NG: In the first ACACIA book we encounter a dynasty that ruled the known world for 22 generations. We’re talking about a large canvas: a complex geography, a slew of different cultures, and quite a bit of history to invent and deploy. It’s a truly “epic” fantasy. How did you manage to keep track of all this information as you were writing? Where do you start when you have such a huge task on your hands?

DAD: I start in several places at once. At the core of it all is the Akaran family, the father and his four children and the reality of the dynasty he’s leaving to them – and the guilt and unease he has about the horrible legacy that their wealth is built on. I knew from the start he was sitting on some major secrets, and what could be worse for a father that loves his children than knowing that his empire sells children – other people’s – into slavery? Once I had that idea I had to figure out who they traded with, and why those people would want an unending supply a child slaves. So, one thing – family dynamics – quickly expanded into larger and larger issues.

Map from the first Acacia book.

The map featured in the first Acacia book.

Also, there was the map. Wouldn’t be an “epic” fantasy without one, right? Doodling it out was another way the world took shape. Filling in the continents and the climates and features all gave me clues to the types of societies and races that would live there. The more I doodled the larger the map got. I tried to circle the continent with oceans, but then I got to wondering what was beyond those oceans. And so I got the ships out – big ones – and went sailing.

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Q&A with GOLDEN BOY Author Tara Sullivan: “Books with heavy moral overtones are unpleasant for all ages”

Posted by December 19th, 2013

GOLDEN BOY coverTara Sullivan took time for a chat with us about her debut Middle Grade novel GOLDEN BOY. GOLDEN BOY is a harrowing story of 13-year-old Tanzanian albino named Habo, whose family is forced from their small village due to prejudice and misunderstanding. This book stood out to me as a serious and fascinating example of the powerful work that Middle Grade authors are writing. Read on to find out more about how GOLDEN BOY fits into the Middle Grade genre, but also strongly resonates with older teens and adults.

 

LS: You are a high school Spanish teacher, as well as an author. Tell me about how your experience in the classroom affected your writing.

TS: I have to say, I don’t know that there was much interaction between the two worlds—I write for middle grade readers and I teach high schoolers. The kids are always excited to hear book updates, though, and that’s fun.

LS: GOLDEN BOY has been embraced by the Junior Library Guild and School Library Journal. How do librarians play such a big role in the success of books for younger readers? What about teachers and librarians in the schools? Continue reading

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Member Spotlight: Meet Writer Aira Philipps

Posted by December 16th, 2013

Aira_Philipps_finalJoin us in welcoming writer Aira Philipps to the member spotlight this Monday! Aira is a recent Book Country convert who writes YA, loves Stephen King, and is the mother of three boys. Check out her book RISE OF THE WHITE RAVEN and get to know her as she talks about writing YA characters and unleashing her creativity in her fiction. 

NG: Thanks for chatting with us, Aira! Start by telling us a little bit about yourself & how you landed in the crazy world of writing!

AP: Thanks for having me, Nevena. Gosh, I can’t remember when I wasn’t writing something. I wanted so badly to be able to tell a story like Roald Dahl, or Jean Merrill. I had a pile of notebooks with stories in them I never shared with anyone. I just liked to write. My creative mind took me in so many directions, so my writing was just one of many. I was taking private art lessons and doing community theater, even playing the cello, I never took my writing seriously. Then I settled down raising my three boys, and about the time I found the internet, I started writing again. This time it was much easier to focus and organize my thoughts. I just ran with it.

NG: THE RISE OF THE WHITE RAVEN is the story of a not-so-ordinary 17-year-old girl who has to face supernatural forces and an old prophecy. What’s your favorite part about telling this particular tale?

AP: I really like Deidra as a character. Because she started out being an outcast when she was younger, she became strong and independent. Deidra is able to fit in without giving into peer pressure, and doesn’t need a boyfriend or to wear the latest trends to feel good about herself. I think Deidra is what we all wish we could have been in high school.

NG: Blending paranormal elements in a contemporary setting can be tricky. What is your personal approach to grounding magic in the book?

AP: It all comes down to the first advice given to a writer. Write what you know. I am a big fan of Joseph Campbell, and read any kind of myth I can get a hold of. It’s also the fiction I am drawn to, so the paranormal part is easy enough. The story was already in my head, much of it from my own experiences. I just began to write. For bringing the characters up-to-date, I can thank my boys and all their friends — my house is always full of clowns.

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Exploring Middle Grade Fiction with Razorbill Editor Gillian Levinson

Posted by December 12th, 2013

Gillian LevinsonToday our guest is editor Gillian Levinson. Gillian edits books for young readers at the Razorbill imprint of the Penguin Young Readers Group. We wanted to talk to her because she’s an expert on Middle Grade Fiction, one of the Young Adult categories that is getting more and more popular within the Book Country workshop. Check out what she has to say about her work and its place within this fascinating genre.

LS: You are a passionate editor of Middle Grade Fiction at Razorbill, which to me says you are the perfect person to define for Book Country what “Middle Grade” really means. What’s your working definition?

GL: Well, technically, a middle-grade book is one for readers 8-12 years of age in which the protagonist of the story is also around that same age. One mistake that rookies often make is thinking that because children regularly read up, a novel’s protagonist can be quite a bit older than the target readership (say 14 or 15 years old). Unfortunately, however, that’s typically not how books are shelved in stores. If a particular novel’s protagonist is in high school, for instance, many stores will not stock that book in the Middle Grade section.

In terms of genre or subject matter, Middle Grade can really be anything, but all the best Middle Grade books give the reader a real sense of escape—it could be into a fantastical world or into a historical period or into the life of a child whose life experience feels somewhat removed from that of the reader—while integrating universal emotional experiences (e.g. wanting to belong, wanting others to heed one’s opinions, wanting to feel loved, etc.). Of course, the argument could be made that most great works of fiction, irrespective of target audience, offer that same combination of the personal and the unfamiliar, but in Middle Grade, it’s absolutely central.

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Behind the Scenes of a Literary Dystopia with Chang-rae Lee, Author of ON SUCH A FULL SEA

Posted by November 21st, 2013

 Chang-rae Lee (c) Annika LeeAward-winning Riverhead Books author Chang-rae Lee took the time to answer a few behind-the-scenes question for us about his new literary dystopia, ON SUCH A FULL SEA, which comes out in January 2014.

Lucy: The titles of your books (NATIVE SPEAKER, THE SURRENDERED, ALOFT) are easy to remember, but also poetic, evocative. Tell us how you choose titles in general, and how this title was chosen.

Chang-rae Lee: Choosing a title is rarely easy. I start thinking about possible titles early on in the writing, testing out candidates as I go along, for meaning and a certain ‘music’ – both have to feel right. ON SUCH A FULL SEA was especially difficult, and came quite late in the process. I happened to be reading JULIUS CAESAR by Shakespeare and came across the phrase in a famous quote by Brutus, in which he advocates via metaphor the seizing of an opportunity. I simply liked the ring of it, too, immediately picturing my heroine on the ‘tide’ of her adventure, and so leaped on it. Continue reading

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Member Spotlight: Meet Book Country Author Charles Dyer

Posted by November 4th, 2013

Charles Dyer Author PhotoBook Country member Charles Dyer is an incredibly prolific and varied writer—he has published 12 books with Book Country, in Fantasy, Romance, Historical Fiction, and Science Fiction. Hailing from South Africa, Charles has many interests and hobbies, including archery, gardening, computer programming and gaming, and visual art. We caught up with him to find out more about his creative process, as well as to hear his perspective on self-publishing and its challenges.

LS: What led you to join Book Country? Has it helped you?

CD: I can’t remember the details but I saw the site on the Web and it had more appeal than many others. Especially as I considered the possibility that it might expose my work to the editors at Penguin. My ultimate goal is to have best-selling paperback books out there in preference to eBooks. Book Country has helped insofar as exposure goes. My work is now distributed to a wider range of retailers than before.

LS: 12 is a lot of books! You must have some kind of brilliant time-management technique! Share with us how you are able to accomplish so much writing.

CD: Ha, ha, I wish that I did have some brilliant technique. Some of these books were written in the last century, starting in 1996. All of them have been polished several times.

I use spreadsheets to ensure that I don’t inadvertently change hair or eye color halfway through the story or any other little detail. Typically, a spreadsheet will have plot, synopsis, timeline, character details, world details, chapter details, etc. As I write, I update the spreadsheet and cross-reference it to ensure consistency.

One might say that it pays to be a methodical plodder– a plodder is a person who dogmatically knuckles down and works at whatever they are doing until it’s done.

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Member Spotlight: Meet Romance Writer Samantha Jane

Posted by September 30th, 2013

Samantha Jane photoRomance writer Samantha Jane has been on Book Country right from the site’s launch in 2011, workshopping books and eventually going on to publish her first novel, PHYSICAL THERAPY, via the Book Country publish tools. PHYSICAL THERAPY, a contemporary romance, was released two weeks ago. I wanted to chat with Samantha to find out what life’s been like since she published her debut, and what’s next for her writing.

LS: You’ve got a lot of different genre interests as a writer: Contemporary Romance, Regency Romance, Romantic Suspense . . . very impressive! What draws you to these 3 categories, and are there other categories you are planning to try next?

SJ: I have always been big on variety, especially as a reader. While I love to see the struggle of couples of today and how everything plays out, I’m a person who tends to live in the past—and the historical novels with pirates and gypsies and lords and ladies definitely fit that bill.

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