Welcome to Literary Rambles! While you’re rambling around and exploring the site enter for a chance to win:

GROUNDED: THE ADVENTURES OF RAPUNZEL through May 2nd

AN EMBER IN THE ASHES through May 9th

SABAA TAHIR INTERVIEW AND AN EMBER IN THE ASHES GIVEAWAY

Happy Monday Everyone! Hope you had a fantastic weekend. I did a presentation on blogging for our SCBWI meet-up group on Saturday. It went really well. Of course, I mentioned Captain Alex's name and his blog quite a bit. It was my first presentation like that and I was really glad it was really well received.

I have a winner to announce.

The winner of DRAGON OF THE STARS is Jeremy Hawkins!

Congrats! E-mail me your address so I can send you your book. Please e-mail me by the end of Wednesday or I'll have to pick another winner.

Today I’m jumping up and down with excitement that debut author Sabaa Tahir is here with us to share about her super fantastic YA fantasy AN EMBER IN THE ASHES that releases today. I LOVED this story and am going to be sobbing when I give away my ARC that Sabaa was so incredibly kind to send to me.
Laia and Elias are such sympathetic characters. Right away Sabaa shows us their intense internal struggles which drive what they do and want. I loved the diversity in the world building that felt like a Mideast desert setting and the characters. It’s so important in our world today to have more books like this. But the world Laia and Elias live in is so brutal that it’s hard to see how either of them will do anything but fail. I couldn’t stop turning the pages because I had to see what would happen next. I absolutely can’t wait for the sequel. And trust me you want to read this book.

Here’s a blurb of AN EMBER IN THE ASHES from Goodreads:


Set in a terrifyingly brutal Rome-like world, An Ember in the Ashes is an epic fantasy debut about an orphan fighting for her family and a soldier fighting for his freedom. It’s a story that’s literally burning to be told.

LAIA is a Scholar living under the iron-fisted rule of the Martial Empire. When her brother is arrested for treason, Laia goes undercover as a slave at the empire’s greatest military academy in exchange for assistance from rebel Scholars who claim that they will help to save her brother from execution.

ELIAS is the academy’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias is considering deserting the military, but before he can, he’s ordered to participate in a ruthless contest to choose the next Martial emperor.

When Laia and Elias’s paths cross at the academy, they find that their destinies are more intertwined than either could have imagined and that their choices will change the future of the empire itself.

 
Hi Sabaa! Thank you so much for joining us today. I can’t tell you how excited I am to have you here.

Thank YOU. I’m so excited to be here!


1. Tell us about yourself and how you became a writer.

I’ve always loved reading, particularly fantasy books. Writing was a natural extension of that love. I started writing down stories when I was in first grade and continued doing it all the way through school. When I was 11, I had this big binder with a whole fantasy story in it—maps, character backgrounds, everything. Later, I wrote mostly contemporary short stories—but never with a major aim to publish.
When I got into journalism after college, I left fiction behind for a little while. But then in 2007, I got the idea for EMBER and jumped right back in.

2. I love fantasy books and started writing them too. Where did you get the idea for AN EMBER IN THE ASHES? And how did your own childhood inspire the story?

I grew up in a small, sort of insular town in the Mojave Desert. Early on, I knew I didn’t really fit in. I always felt like an outcast—lonely, voiceless. My only solace was books. When I decided to write one, I knew that it would be about people who, like me as a kid, feel voiceless and powerless.
At the time I was working at the Washington Post and I read a story about Kashmiri women whose brothers, sons, fathers and husbands are taken by the military and never seen again. I asked myself what I would do if I were one of those women, and that was the springboard for EMBER.

3. That's awesome how you drew on your personal and work experiences to get the idea for this amazing story. I read that you did a lot of research for this book, including interviews. Share about who you interviewed and why you felt the interviews were important to your story.

One of my characters, Elias, is a warrior. I, however, am not. To characterize him (and other warriors in
the story) authentically, I interviewed modern day warriors: a West Point cadet, police officers, soldiers and an FBI agent. Interviewing these people helped me get into the headspace of a warrior. I used what I learned to inform Elias’s actions, dialogue, skills, thoughts, etc.

4. That's a great idea to interview the people that you did. You really are so talented in creating both Laia and Elias as tortured and incredibly sympathetic characters. What’s your character development process like and what advice do you have for the rest of us?

Aww, thank you! I write by iteration, and my characters revealed themselves over time. So while I had a general sense of who they were going in, I didn’t really start to understand them until I’d written an entire draft. Every draft help me understand them better, and hone in on the things that fit with their personalities, as opposed to the things that weren’t in character.

My advice on characterization is to keep an open mind. Your characters will often surprise you. But never subvert their personalities to that your stories will go in the direction YOU want. Let your characters’ natural actions guide you.

5. I read that revising was the most challenging part of writing AN EMBER IN THE ASHES. Funny because that’s the part I love the most. Share about your challenges and what you learned from them.

I actually love revising too—to me, revising IS writing. But after a few years, revising was discouraging, because I started to wonder if my editing instinct was leading me down the wrong path. I start wondering if I knew what I was doing.

While I revised, I learned a million things, but here are the two that stick out: First, always leave a few weeks between major drafts. I usually leave 4 to 6 weeks. Second: have other people who know your genre but who aren’t your family or close friends read your book. It’s good to get an outside opinion. That’s why CPs are so great.

6. That's such great advice. I must ask you about Elias’ mother, the Commandant. I totally hate her! How did you think up her character and all her cruelty? Was she hard to write about?

The Commandant, like so many villains, is a product of her history. I thought up her back-story first. She was difficult to write at times because I wanted to protect my characters from her cruelty. But that’s not what would actually happen in life, so I had to learn not to pull my punches.

7. Your book is getting incredible buzz. I think it’s one of the most anticipated debuts coming out in 2015. And you’ve already been interviewed by many bloggers and in other media. How are you handling all the attention and is it and what Penguin Random House is doing to market your book pretty much marketing it for you?

I’m very thankful that EMBER has gotten such a lovely response so far. I feel super fortunate, but I actually try not to think about it too much and focus on all the stuff I focused on before I sold the book—so: family, writing, eating chocolate and buying ugly socks. ;)

8. What are you working on now?

Another YA fantasy!

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Sabaa. You can find Sabaa at:


Ember site: www.anemberintheashesbook.com
Twitter: @sabaatahir
Instagram: @sabaatahir
Tumblr: http://sabaatahir.tumblr.com

Sabaa generously offered an ARC of AN EMBER IN THE ASHES for a giveaway.  To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment through May 9th. I’ll announce the winner on May 11th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, please leave it in the comments.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. This is for US and Canada.

Here's  what's coming up:
 
On Wednesday I have an interview with agent Brent Taylor and a query critique contest.  

On Saturday I'm participating in the May I Suggest Giveaway Hop. I'll have lots of great newly released YA choices or a $10 Amazon Gift Card for you to choose from.

Next Monday I have an interview with debut author Krista Van Dolzer and a giveaway of THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING, her MG historical contemporary story.

Next Wednesday I have a guest post by Donna Galanti and a giveaway of her MG fantasy, JOSHUA AND THE LIGHTENING ROD. Donna was an intern with an agent and has lots of great advice to share on querying.

The following Monday I have an interview with debut author Jenny Martin and a giveaway of her YA science fiction TRACKED.

Hope to see you on Wednesday!

Agent Spotlight: Heather Flaherty

This week's Agent Spotlight features Heather Flaherty of The Bent Agency.

Status: Open to submissions, actively building her list.

Heather_Flaherty About: “Heather Flaherty represents authors who write children's, middle grade, and young adult fiction and non-fiction, as well as select new adult fiction, and pop-culture or humorous non-fiction.

“I grew up in Massachusetts, between Boston and the Cape, and started working in New York City as a playwright during college. This pushed me towards English as a focus, and after a lot of country-hopping in my early twenties, I wound up finally beginning my publishing career in editorial, specifically at Random House in the UK. That's also where I became a YA and Children's Literary Scout, which finally landed me back in NYC, consulting with foreign publishers and Hollywood regarding what the next big book will be. Now as an Agent, I'm thrilled to turn my focus on growing authors for that same success.” (Link)

About the Agency:

“At The Bent Agency, we work with authors to map the publishing career of their dreams and work with them to make it a reality. We pay careful attention to every detail, from the terms of a first contract, editorial work and cover design, to the publisher's marketing and publicity plan, royalties and sales figures. We offer the kind of representation that can only be born of years of agent experience in the atmosphere of a smaller boutique firm where every client gets our combined and total focus.

“We pride ourselves on nurturing and discovering authors whom we can help propel to the top of their category. We have represented over 30 New York Times bestselling titles, with many more on USA Today, Publishers Weekly, and other regional lists.” (Read more)

Web Presence:

The Bent Agency website.

Bent on Books (agency blog).

Twitter @HeddaFlaherty.

Publisher’s Marketplate page.

QueryTracker.  

What She's Looking For:

Genres / Specialties:

Middle grade and young adult fiction and non-fiction, select new adult fiction, and pop-culture or humorous non-fiction. (Link)

From the Website (as of 4/2015):

“Currently I'm looking for YA fiction across-the-board, though my heart does sway towards issue-related YA with humor and heart - not depressing, or mopey. I also love love love hard, punchy, contemporary YA that’s got no hesitations when it comes to crazy. I'm also always up for seeing contemporary stories with Sci-Fi or Fantasy elements, as well as a clever respin of an old or classic tale. And then, lastly, really good horror and ghost stories… not gory-for-gory's sake or overly disgusting, but cringing, dark, bloody twisted, and even lovely. That said, the one thing I love above all else in a YA novel, regardless of sub-genre, is a strong and specific character voice. A real person, not another ‘everygirl.’

“As for the Middle-Grade I'm looking for, I want it stark, honest, and even dark; either contemporary or period, as long as it’s accessible. Coming-of-age stories, dealing-with-difficulty stories, witness stories (adult issues seen through the child’s p.o.v kinda thing), anything that makes you want to hold the narrator's hand… for your own comfort, as well as their’s. I am also ok with these stories having slight magical or fantasy elements as well – as long as they're subtle.

“In New Adult, I like to see story… not just romance and/or erotica. For me, it should pretty much be a great YA novel for an older audience.

“On the non-fiction side, I'm looking for strong teen memoirs about overcoming crushing situations.” (Link)

From the Agency Blog (02/2015):

“Dying for some dripping, twisted, ghost stories and horror — I really want to see something like ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD done so sickly well they make a video game out of it – a la American McGee’s Alice Madness Returns.

“Issue-related MG/YA that’s stripped and real… not broody or self-indulgent. Can be straight or humorous. Along the lines of Nic Sheff’s SCHIZO, Corey Ann Haydu's LIFE BY COMMITTEE, and Meg Wolitzer’s BELZHAR.

“I want to see more extreme contemporary stories with hard punch and a twist. Hot-Pink, Punk-Rock, Fangirl, Totally Unreliable Narrator, Space-time Continuum, you-name-it-you-own-it YA.

“Contemporary YA with sci-fi elements – not high sci-fi, but as part of a contemporary story, like Kimberly Derting’s THE TAKING.

“For MG/YA fantasy, and historical or period fiction, I’m looking for worlds that feel real, not obviously fabricated — a place you’re immediately part of, without any use of brainpower to get you there. Like Vicky Alvear Shecter’s CURSES AND SMOKE, or Saaba Tahir’s EMBER IN THE ASHES. I also enjoy cleverly respun classic tales like Gregory Maguire’s CONFESSIONS OF AN UGLY STEPSISTER or WICKED.

“I love teen memoir about overcoming traumatizing situations, especially when they involve bullying. One of my must-reads is POSITIVE by Paige Rawl.

“But above all, GIVE ME VOICE! I crave authentic teen voices, a unique personality, no faceless ingenue the reader can “fit themselves into.” Let’s hear about a specific boy or girl that the reader can actually relate to instead (even if it’s in the smallest way).” (Link)

From an Interview (04/2015):

“I want YA contemporary with a weird, crazy, or twisted situation the characters are dealing with. Something that makes the reader go, ‘What?’ I also want to see some super-solid, twisted Horror, with a great protagonist voice. (Other than that: Contemporary YA and MG, Fantasy or light Sci-FI YA, Period MG and YA, and Teen Memoir).” (Link)

Editorial Agent?

“Yuppers, yup, yup, yup. It's such a competitive industry at this point - everyone and their mother is writing - so you have to get your client's manuscript (especially a debut) up to snuff in order to expect publisher interest.” (Link)

Clients:

There is a list of clients on the Bent Agency website.

Ms. Flaherty’s clients include: Jessica Mason, Evelyn Okray, among others.

Query Methods:

E-mail: Yes (only).

Snail-Mail: No.

Online-Form: No. 

Submission Guidelines (always verify):

E-mail a query letter with the first ten pages pasted into the body of the e-mail. No attachments. Include the title of the book in the subject line. Do not simultaneous query other agents at the agency.

For complete, up-to-date submission guidelines see The Bent Agency website and Ms. Flaherty’s PM Page.

Query Tips:

Check out Ms. Flaherty’s interview with Adventures in YA Publishing.

Response Times:

The agency tries to respond to all queries within a month. If you do not receive a response within this time, resend your query and indicate you are resending. Stats on the web show a range of just hours to a couple months.

What's the Buzz?

The Bent Agency is a well-established and highly respected agency with a fantastic roster of clients. Ms. Flaherty is actively building her list and eager to find new talent.

I recommend following her on Twitter @heddaflaherty.

Worth Your Time:

Interviews:

Agent Heather Flaherty of the Bent Agency Defines Voice and Shares Her Wish List at Adventures in YA Publishing (04/2015).

A Cafe Chat with Agent Heather Flaherty, by Lindsay Bandy at EasternPennPoints (04/2015).

A Conversation with Heather Flaherty at Bent on Books (03/2015).

Around the Web:

The Bent Agency at P&E ($).

The Bent Agency thread at AbsoluteWrite.

Quick link to Ms. Flaherty’s blog posts at Bent on Books.

Check out the agency’s regularly hosted #askTBA sessions on Twitter.

Success Story Interview with Evelyn Okray at QueryTracker (03/2015).

Contact:

Please see The Bent Agency website for additional contact information.

Profile Details:

Last Updated:  4/23/15.

Last Reviewed By Agent? 4/23/15.

***

Have any experience with this agent? See something that needs updating? Please leave a comment or e-mail me at agentspotlight(at)gmail(dot)com

Note: These agent profiles presently focus on agents who accept children's/teen fiction. They are not interviews. Please take the time to verify anything you might use here before querying. The information found herein is subject to change.

MEGAN MORRISION GUEST POST AND GROUNDED: THE ADVENTURES OF RAPUNZEL GIVEAWAY

Happy Monday Everyone! I have good news to share. Literary Rambles made the Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers list. Casey and I are so excited and honored!

 Contest Alert

Brigantine Media is announcing a brand-new contest for writers -- with a twist. Entries to the Publish or Perish contest include both a manuscript and a marketing plan. Winners receive a publishing contract for the book and a $2,000 advance against royalties. The deadline to enter in August 15, 2015. Writers can enter the contest at  www.PublishOrPerishContest.com.


And I have a few winners to announce.

The winner of Samantha Lien's consultation is Suzanne Warr!

And the winner of ZEROBOXER is Stephanie Garber!

Congrats! E-mail me so I can have your book mailed to you and the consultation set up. If I don't hear from you by the end of Wednesday, I'll have to pick another winner.

Today I'm thrilled to have debut author Megan Morrison here with a fantastic guest post and a giveaway of her YA fairytale retelling, GROUNDED: THE ADVENTURES OF RAPUNZEL. I loved fairytale retellings and Cheryl Klein is Megan's editor, so this is a must read for me.

Here's a blurb from Goodreads:

Think you know Rapunzel's story? Think again, because the tower was only the beginning..." -- Jennifer Nielsen, New York Times bestselling author of THE FALSE PRINCE

In all of Tyme, from the Redlands to the Grey, no one is as lucky as Rapunzel. She lives in a magic tower that obeys her every wish; she reads wonderful books starring herself as the heroine; her hair is the longest, most glorious thing in the world. And she knows this because Witch tells her so---her beloved Witch, who protects her from evil princes, the dangerous ground under the tower, even unhappy thoughts. Rapunzel can't imagine any other life.

Then a thief named Jack climbs into her room to steal one of her enchanted roses. He's the first person Rapunzel's ever met who isn't completely charmed by her (well, the first person she's met at all, really), and he is infuriating-- especially when he hints that Witch isn't telling her the whole truth. Driven by anger at Jack and her own nameless fears, Rapunzel descends to the ground for the first time, and finds a world filled with more peril than Witch promised ... and more beauty, wonder, and adventure than she could have dreamed.


So here's Megan! 

I HEART MY EDITOR
“Editors are looking for books they love. Writers are looking to find editors who can help their books be their best . . . And almost nothing is better on both sides than making that connection and finding that match.” – Cheryl B. Klein, SECOND SIGHT

My debut novel, GROUNDED: THE ADVENTURES OF RAPUNZEL, is coming out next week. That is an
amazing thing to be able to say, and I can say it in great part because of my awesome editor, Cheryl Klein.

It’s been eleven years since I first submitted GROUNDED for Cheryl’s consideration. She liked it, but not enough to want to publish it – yet. She gave me some very critical, very important feedback, and sent me off to try again.

Smash cut to 2012. After a lot more writing and many life changes, I finally revised GROUNDED to my satisfaction. Even so, before asking Cheryl to read it again, I stopped to take one more step.

In 2011, Cheryl self-published her own book, SECOND SIGHT: AN EDITOR’S TALKS ON WRITING, REVISING & PUBLISHING BOOKS FOR CHILDREN AND YOUNG ADULTS. (She actually did a guest post about it right here on Literary Rambles!) I bought her book, read it, and tried some of the techniques therein to help prepare GROUNDED for submission. I did this for a few reasons:

1) It would be insane not to consider the editorial advice of the editor I wanted to work with. After all, if by using her strategies I could better my work, maybe she’d decide that my work was worth publishing.

2) By letting Cheryl’s book guide me, I could get an early sense of whether we were really a good author-editor fit.

3) I needed to get some distance from the draft in order to decide whether it was really ready, and I hoped that the exercises in SECOND SIGHT could help me be a little more objective.

In particular, I used the following exercises from SECOND SIGHT:

• I charted the plot
• I wrote the flap copy
• I cut most of the adverbs
• I read aloud dialogue that wasn’t quite working and tweaked until it did
• I made a playlist for inspiration (here it is on Spotify)

Finally, even though I already knew Cheryl, I carefully read her chapter on query letters and paid close attention to her pet peeves. I crafted a query, sent it, and ultimately my dream came true. Cheryl acquired the book!

Even after the book was officially a go, Cheryl and I continued to use techniques outlined in SECOND SIGHT to get the book from where it was (good) to where it needed to be (better, tighter, stronger). We kicked off the editorial process for GROUNDED with two great exercises:

1) Write a letter about the book

Cheryl asked me to write her a letter answering these questions:
- What did you want to do with the book? What did you want the book to do?
- What is the story (briefly)?
- What is the book about in a larger sense?
- What do I love about the book?
- What do I suspect needs some work?

This was an excellent strategy for many reasons. It allowed me to articulate my hopes and dreams and wishes, and it asked me to identify my darlings (so that later, when Cheryl inevitably asked me to kill some of them, she would be able to make a diplomatic approach). It also pushed me to admit what I already knew were the weaknesses of the story, so that Cheryl would know exactly where I most needed and wanted assistance. It opened important lines of communication between us.

2) Make a book map

Cheryl suggested that I make a chapter-by-chapter “map” of GROUNDED. This is essentially an outline of the book, just a few sentences per chapter, capturing the most important plot moves and emotional points in the story.

This was enormously useful to both of us. For me, writing out the key moments in each chapter helped me to see that some chapters were acting as filler, while others were repetitive (revealing similar information, striking similar emotional notes, etc.) For Cheryl, the book map provided a short, easy-to-swallow version of the whole book that allowed her to see the whole arc at once so that she could more immediately determine which beats in the story were missing, which were excess, and which needed to be rearranged.

In the end, it turned out that Cheryl and I were a very good fit for each other as author and editor. She is a note-giver; I am a note-taker. Her detailed, 18-page editorial letter and the frighteningly thorough line edit that came afterward were just right for me. As much work as it was, that level of attention and care made GROUNDED a better book.

In fact, just before sitting down to write this post, I got to hold a hardcover copy of GROUNDED in my hands for the first time. I opened it to a random place and started to read, and – here’s the amazing part – I was able to keep reading without flinching. Nothing made me cringe (and you writers out there know just how big a deal that is).

I am endlessly grateful to Cheryl for helping me to make my debut novel a book I’m truly proud of, and I strongly recommend SECOND SIGHT to anyone out there who is working on a children’s book and is ready to take that manuscript to the next level.


Megan Morrison is a mom, a middle-school teacher, and the author of GROUNDED: THE ADVENTURES OF RAPUNZEL (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic). GROUNDED is the first book in the Tyme series, co-created with Ruth Virkus. Visit her at meganmorrison.net.

To order a copy of GROUNDED: THE ADVENTURES OF RAPUNZEL, visit Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or IndieBound.  

Megan is generously offering a signed copy of GROUNDED: THE ADVENTURES OF RAPUNZEL and a limited edition chainmail bookmark to one lucky winner.  To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment through May 2nd. I’ll announce the winner on May 4th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, please leave it in the comments.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. This is an International giveaway.

Here's  what's coming up:
 
On Monday I have an interview with Sabaa Tahir and a giveaway of AN EMBER IN THE ASHES, her YA fantasy that is one of the books getting lots of buzz. 

Next Wednesday I have an interview with agent Brent Taylor and a query critique contest.  

Next Saturday I'm participating in the May I Suggest Giveaway Hop. I'll have lots of great newly released YA choices or a $10 Amazon Gift Card for you to choose from.

The following Monday I have an interview with debut author Krista Van Dolzer and a giveaway of THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING, her MG historical contemporary story.

Wednesday that week I have a guest post by Donna Galanti and a giveaway of her MG fantasy, JOSHUA AND THE LIGHTENING ROD. Donna was an intern with an agent and has lots of great advice to share on querying.

The following Monday I have an interview with debut author Jenny Martin and a giveaway of her YA science fiction TRACKED.

Hope to see you on Monday!

ALEX CAVANAUGH INTERVIEW AND DRAGON OF THE STARS GIVEAWAY

Happy Monday Everyone! Hope you are getting some of the beautiful spring weather. I'm loving it. And I can't believe it, but Anna Li is 18 today! Hard to believe my daughter is an adult.

I have a few winners to announce.

The winner of BLUE BIRDS is Jennifer Rumberger!

And the winner of the Fools for Books Giveaway Hop is Katie Watkins who picked the $10 Amazon Gift Card.

Congrats to the winners!

Today I’m super thrilled to have Alex Cavanaugh here to share about his new book DRAGON OF THE STARS that released on April 7th. If you don’t follow Alex’s blog, you really should. He’s part of a great community of bloggers where you can make good blogger friends. And he’s the founder of the Insecure Writers Group, a group that blogs the first Wednesday of the month and is a great group to connect with, and co-host of the A-Z Challenge, which is a month of blogging this month.


I haven’t read an adult book since I read Alex’s CASSASTORM over a year ago. So I was a bit nervous. But I really loved this story. Aden is such a great character. We see what he wants and his struggles and have to read on to see what happens. Alex really keeps the plot moving and is really mean to Aden in terms of the choices he must make. It made me like Aden even more. I really like Alex’s writing style too. He makes all his words matter.


Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:


The ship of legends…


The future is set for Lt. Commander Aden Pendar, son of a Hyrathian Duke. Poised to secure his own command and marriage to the queen’s daughter, he’ll stop at nothing to achieve his goals.

But when the Alliance denies Hyrath’s claim on the planet of Kavil and declares war on their world, Aden finds his plans in disarray. Entrenched in battle and told he won’t make captain, Aden’s world begins to collapse. How will he salvage his career and future during Hyrath’s darkest hour?


One chance remains–the Dragon. Lost many years prior, the legendary ship’s unique weapon is Hyrath’s only hope. Can Aden find the Dragon, save his people, and prove he’s capable of commanding his own ship?


Hi Alex! Thanks so much for joining us.

1. I know you were thinking of not writing anymore. But then you wrote this fantastic book, DRAGON OF THE STARS. Where did you get the idea for your story and why did you feel like you had to write it?


CassaStorm was supposed to be the last, wasn’t it?


This story came to me over ten years ago when I heard a song by Ayreon called Dragon on the Sea. The song has to do with Queen Elizabeth I sending Sir Francis Drake to face the attack by the Spanish Armada. I envisioned a spaceship with no equal defending against invaders. Using most of the lines of the song, I crafted an entire story around this Dragon ship.

2. Awesome that you got the idea from a song since you're a musician too.You’re really good at keeping your plot moving. There’s no sag anywhere. And I know you outline. Share your outlining process. And do you have any advice for those of us who don’t like the idea of outlining?


I don’t used index cards or a board or Scrivener. The ending always comes first, so I just work my way backwards, trying to figure out the path the character took to get to that point. I’ll spend months playing it in my head, like a movie. Then I start jotting down the basic plot on paper. When I start adding so much it’s as if I’m writing the story, that’s when I begin working on the manuscript.


Basically, I outline to death. And hate writing the first draft. The payoff is I enjoy the edits and they don’t take long.


3. I don't like the first draft either, but I don't outline like you do. I loved the world building. And there was a lot of it because Aden doesn’t stay in one place. How did you create this whole universe that is Aden’s world?


I did more research and world-building for this book than for any other. I spent a lot of time planning the
details of Aden’s home world, Hyrath–environment, social structure, politics, resources, etc. (Want to know about sea kelp? I can tell you!) I knew each planet required details as well. World-building is not my strong suit, so good to know I pulled it off. I do better with characters than setting.


4. You’re a musician and that pulls at you too. Do you have plans to write anything else


I do have ideas. Perhaps I’ll try some short stories. I do have an idea for an adventure for Bassan, Byron’s son, from CassaStorm. But I am really focused on my music and don’t want to let my band down.

5. I'd love to learn more about Bassan! So I want to move on to talking about blogging. Since I interviewed you in September, 2013, people have been cutting back on blogging a bit, often to once or twice a week. But those days seem to still be good days where lots of people visit each other’s blogs.

You’ve cut back too. So have I. I blog every Monday, but try to limit the Wednesday’s to twice a month. I really like this change because we’re all so busy in our non-blog lives. We still stay in touch, but it doesn’t take as much time. What are your thoughts on it?


I’m happy with once a week on Monday, with one Wednesday for Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. I still spend a lot of time during the week checking on fellow bloggers, as some post different days. And I still enjoy the connections. A lot have vanished, but new bloggers continue to appear.



6. When we last talked, you had 2000 followers. You were reading about 100 blogs a day and were spending three to six hours a day reading blogs. Are you still doing that? Why do you think it’s important to be friends with so many bloggers?

Certain days of the week, I spend a lot less time now. Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays are quieter, so I take advantage of it. But otherwise I try to connect as often as possible.


I just know friendship is important. I have so many friends here and I want to be there for them. And that’s part of why we’re here–to make life better for others.


7. I've cut back on reading blogs on those days too. I'm finding I need a break from it and am glad those are quieter days. What struggles do you see bloggers facing and what’s your advice to them?


Right now I’d say it’s bloggers who post and don’t know why no one visits and bloggers who have lost heart. To get visitors, you must be a visitor. Once you make friends and build a following, then comments will come. But the ones who’ve lost heart are the saddest. They post sporadically or toss posts up without visiting anyone. If someone gets to that point, take a break and reassess. Find the spark again. Try something new.


8. So agree that visiting and commenting so we know you've stopped by is critical. There are periodic discussions on this topic: Is blogging dead? I don’t see it that way at all. Do you think blogging is still thriving or do you see it dying out? Where do you think it will be in five years?


Blogging isn’t dead, it’s just changing. People don’t have as much time anymore, so they have scaled back. That just means when we do post, it needs to be quality content. Or very short doses. I think the days of frequent, medium-sized posts are gon


Then again, I am posting daily this month for the A to Z Challenge… But the posts will be short and easy to digest!


9.  Glad you just see it as changing too. I know you’re on Twitter too. Do you feel like you interact with people there? And how do you advise the rest of us to get involved on Twitter?


I have almost four thousand followers and I still have no idea what I’m doing on Twitter!


I’d advise people to make lists. Group followers into categories. It’s easier to keep up that way. And be willing to share blog posts and re-Tweet what others send out. Again, it’s all about connecting and sharing. And you don’t know where those connections will lead. Tweeting a review of a live RiffTrax show led to them following me on Twitter which led to me interviewing two of the members. (A dream come true for me!)


Thanks for sharing all your advice, Alex. Good luck with your book release!

Alex J. Cavanaugh has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and works in web design, graphics, and technical editing. A fan of all things science fiction, his interests range from books and movies to music and games. Online he is the Ninja Captain and founder of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. He’s the author of Amazon Best-Sellers CassaStar, CassaFire, and CassaStorm.

You can find Alex at:


Purchase:

Alex's publisher, Dancing Lemur Press, generously offered an ARC of DRAGON OF THE STARS for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment through April 25th. I’ll announce the winner on April 27th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, please leave it in the comments.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. This is for US and Canada.

Here's  what's coming up:

Next Monday, I have a guest post by Megan Morrison and a giveaway of GROUNDED: THE ADVENTURES OF RAPUNZEL, her YA fairytale retelling. 

The Monday after that I have an interview with Sabaa Tahir and a giveaway of AN EMBER IN THE ASHES, her YA fantasy that is one of the books getting lots of buzz. 

Wednesday that week I have an interview with agent Brent Taylor and a query critique contest.  

Saturday that week I'm participating in the May I Suggest Giveaway Hop. I'll have lots of great newly released YA choices or a $10 Amazon Gift Card for you to choose from.

Hope to see you on Monday!

FONDA LEE INTERVIEW AND ZEROBOXER GIVEAWAY

Happy Monday Everyone! For those who celebrate Easter, I hope you had a fantastic holiday.

I have a winner to announce.

The winner of BLACKBIRD FLY is Mary Holm!

Congrats! E-mail me your address so I can send you your book. Please e-mail me by the end of Wednesday or I'll have to pick another winner.

Today I’m thrilled to have debut author Fonda Lee here to share about her futuristic YA science fiction novel ZEROBOXER that releases on April 8th. It’s gotten fantastic reviews and sounds like an action packed story with secrets that I’m hoping to read.

Here’s a blurb:
 

A Sci-Fi Thrill Ride Set in the Action-Packed Sports Arena of the Future

A rising star in the weightless combat sport of zeroboxing, Carr the Raptor Luka dreams of winning the championship title. Recognizing his talent, the Zero Gravity Fighting Association assigns Risha, an ambitious and beautiful Martian colonist, to be his brandhelm––a personal marketing strategist. It isnt long before shes made Carr into a popular celebrity and stolen his heart along the way.

As his fame grows, Carr becomes an inspirational hero on Earth, a once-great planet thats fallen into the shadow of its more prosperous colonies. But when Carr discovers a far-reaching criminal scheme, he becomes the keeper of a devastating secret. Not only will his choices place everything he cares about in jeopardy, but they may also spill the violence from the sports arena into the solar system.


 Hi Fonda! Thanks for joining us.

1. Tell us about yourself and how you became a writer.

When I was about eight years old I told my parents I wanted to be a writer. They told me that was nice, but I’d better get good grades and a “real job” first; I could be a writer “later in life.”

I wrote novels on the school bus, during high school biology class, and late at night during my college years and afterward. In the meantime, I majored in business and went to work in management consulting and corporate strategy for nearly a decade. A few years ago I had a epiphany that leaving my real passion for “later in life” was a terrible idea. So I made the conscious decision to finally get serious about my goal of writing novels for publication.

2. That's great how you decided to follow your dream. Where did you get the idea for your story?

Zeroboxer was inspired by a number of things: my love of science fiction, martial arts, and action movies, combined with my background working in a sports company and seeing first hand the enormous amount of marketing, money and emotion involved in the athletics industry. It all came together in my mind as a nascent idea about a futuristic prizefighter who ends up inspiring and representing Earth. Everything else fell into place.

3. That's cool that you could draw on your work too. Carr is a champion in zeroboxing. You’ve been into kung fu and karate for a long time. How did this help you, if at all, in crafting the zeroboxing scenes? And did you have to do any research into boxing?

Having a martial arts background definitely helped when it came to creating the sport of zeroboxing. I know a lot about how much fighters rely on weight, rooted stance, and footwork, so it was a lot of fun for me to imagine how combat would happen in a zero-gravity situation—what constraints would have to exist, what moves would or wouldn’t work, what new ones would develop. Since my education is in traditional Asian martial arts, I did a lot of additional research into boxing, MMA, and jiu-jitsu. I watched a lot of fights.

4. Sounds like you learned a lot. I’ve read reviews that say that your world building is “well thought out in its everyday details.” Share about your world building process and how you crafted the day to day details of Carr’s life.

One thing to remember about world building: a fictional world feels real not because of what is different,
but because of what is the same. So even though Zeroboxer takes place far in the future when people live on space stations and other planets, the day to day details of life are very familiar. Sporting matches still have rowdy fans and loud announcers, athletes still have to deal with marketing and press attention, people are still people. So my world building process involves researching and figuring out what is different (space travel, genetic engineering, nanotechnology, etc) and then letting it exist as context around the far more recognizable aspects of our society.

5. I think that is fantastic advice to keep some things that are familiar when creating a new world. Did you have any challenges writing from a guy’s POV? If so, how did you overcome them? And what tips do you have for women authors who want their main character to be a male?

Honestly, no, I don’t find it any more challenging to write from a male POV. I am a female writer with very stereotypically “masculine” tastes. I drag my husband to action movies and MMA fights; you would have to pay me to see a romantic comedy. When it comes to writing fiction, characters come into my head as male or female, but I don’t ever approach them thinking, “I’m setting out to write a male (or female) character.”

As for advice, I would say: don’t force it. Trying hard to make a character “more” male or female (or of a certain race or culture or age) risks playing into shallow caricature. Regardless of their age, gender, or race, tap into the essential part of each character that is in yourself (and all of your characters are in you, to some extent). Carr is driven, competitive, loves what he does, and doesn’t want to let people down—those things come from me, and once I identified them, it was easy to write him; no matter that he’s a young man living centuries in the future.

6. Your agent is Jim McCarthy. How did he become your agent and what was your road to publication like?

Jim became my agent off of a regular query in August of 2013. We did a round of revision and went on submission in October. We got interest pretty quickly and sold the book to Flux (the YA imprint of Llewellyn) just before Christmas.

7. It's reassuring to know that regular querying does work.  I saw on your website that besides your launch party, you’re also doing a joint book signing with Susan Adrian and Cat Winters. And you went to the ALA Midwinter in Chicago in January. How did these events happen for you and what was your experience at the ALA conference?

ALA Midwinter was a fantastic experience; I was on the Dark Fantasy & Science fiction panel, as well as the Diverse Debuts panel, and I had the opportunity to sign books, meet librarians, and spend time with fellow authors. ALA was an event I was invited to by my publisher, Flux, who also helped set up my launch party. With other events, such as the bookstore signing with Cat and Susan, it was a case of partnering and collaborating with other authors to make something happen.

8. You also having training as a corporate strategist. Has this helped you at all in your marketing strategies? And what else are you planning to do to promote your book?

I don’t know how much it helps; marketing and promoting your book is not rocket science and certainly doesn’t require an MBA. A lot of it is simply work and common sense and what you have the appetite and bandwidth to do. That said, having been trained to think strategically about marketing has helped me to focus on being consistent and effective in what I do as far as promotion goes. I have a pretty laser-sharp vision of what kind of books I want to write and what I want my brand to be, so I do try to make sure everything I do, from my website to my book trailer to my swag, reflects that.

9. What are you working on now?

I’m writing a fantasy novel for adults, and I have another YA sci-fi in the works. I won’t say much more about them right now, so as not to jinx them.
Thanks for sharing all your advice, Fonda. You can find Fonda at

AUTHOR LINKS:

Website: www.fondalee.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/FondaJLee
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/fonda.lee.94
Tumblr: fondalee.tumblr.com
Goodreads profile: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7705004.Fonda_Lee
Add Zeroboxer to Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20320562-zeroboxer


ZEROBOXER BUY LINKS:

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Zeroboxer-Fonda-Lee/dp/0738743380
Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/zeroboxer-fonda-lee/1119693789?ean=9780738743387
Indiebound - http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780738743387
Powell’s - http://www.powells.com/biblio/62-9780738743387-0

Fonda generously offered a copy of ZEROBOXER for a giveaway.  To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment through April 18th. I’ll announce the winner on April 20th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, please leave it in the comments.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. This is for US and Canada.

Here's  what's coming up:

Next Monday, Alex Cavanaugh will be here to share about his new adult science fiction book, DRAGON OF THE STARS, and to give advice about social media and blogging. 

The following Monday I have a guest post by Megan Morrison and a giveaway of GROUNDED: THE ADVENTURES OF RAPUNZEL, her YA fairytale retelling. 

The Monday after that I have an interview with Sabaa Tahir and a giveaway of AN EMBER IN THE ASHES, her YA fantasy that is one of the books getting lots of buzz.

Hope to see you on Monday!