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Kristy Hunter, Wednesday, March 22nd

JANICE HARDY INTERVIEW AND BOOK GIVEAWAY MARVELOUS MIDDLE GRADE MONDAY

First, I’m going to announce the winners of my two contests. The winner of EARTHLING HERO is:

LBDIAMOND!


And the winners of the signed copies of THE IRON WITCH by Karen Mahoney are:

PAM HARRIS!

And

PAULA!

Congrats! E-mail me your addresses so that I can have your book mailed to you.

Today I’m interviewing Janice Hardy. THE SHIFTER, the first book in The Healing Wars series came out in 2009 and BLUE FIRE, the second book, was released in October, 2010. The final book in the series, DARKFALL, will be released October 4, 2011.


THE SHIFTER is one of those books that I totally had to read from the cover alone. Don't you just love it? I remember seeing it advertised on PW Children’s Bookshelf. I didn’t know anything about Janice or her agent, but I knew I had to read that book. And I was so glad I did.

Hi Janice. Thanks so much for joining us.
Thanks so much for having me!

1. Tell us a little about yourself and your books.

I’m a former Florida gal who now lives in Georgia, though I couldn’t quite trade my oranges for peaches. I’m a movie buff, gamer geek, and lover of all things zombie. My teen fantasy trilogy THE HEALING WARS follows Nya, a war orphan who can heal by shifting pain from person to person, and when her sister disappears, this ability is the only weapon she has to stop her. In trying to save her sister, she’s pulled into a much bigger problem and ends up stuck in the middle of a war.

2. I’ve read that you started THE SHIFTER years ago and then pulled it out and reworked it. What made you decide to pull the manuscript out of the drawer and how did it change as you created THE SHIFTER?

I went back to it after a workshop at a conference made me realize the story I was pitching was never going to work. All the presenters kept stressing fresh, original ideas, and I had this been-there-done-that prophecy quest novel. I came home and looked through my old idea folder hoping to find something fresh and original, and there was THE SHIFTER.

It changed pretty drastically. The original idea was about a boy who accidentally healed people when he touched them, and sinister pain merchants were trying to exploit him, taking his pain and putting it into a box they could use as a weapon. (I shudder now at how bad that is) The one thing I did still like, was the concept of pain shifting— healing by moving pain from one person to another. And even though the pain merchants didn’t actually sell pain, that idea also stuck with me. I started thinking about a world that did buy and sell pain, where healing was done by moving pain around, and how that system could be abused and used for evil as well as good.

Giving healing consequences really fascinated me, and I found my original idea. I’d never really seen anyone approach healing that way before.

3. That’s great advice for the rest of us on how we might rework our stories in the drawer into something publishable. Nya is a strong, resourceful but vulnerable character. How did you develop her and did you draw from other characters you like or your own life?

I don’t base any of my characters on specific people, but traits of those I know do make it into my characters from time to time. I knew early on that Nya had to be a strong girl stuck in a bad situation, because I planned to do some pretty awful things to her. She needed guts to survive all that. As I threw her into trouble, her personality emerged. I wish I could say I did X, Y and Z to build her, but she really did just develop as I wrote her. I put her in impossible plot problems and then had to decide how she would get out of them and the choices she’d make. Those choices were often based on what made the most interesting outcome for the scene, and bits of her personality started building a whole person. She’d refuse to do something in the story and I’d have to know why, so I’d create reasons. She’d need to have things at stake and I’d come up with vulnerabilities for her so she’d have something to lose.

Once the first draft was done, I saw the type of person she had turned into, and that made it a lot easier to go back and further develop the aspects I liked and get rid of what wasn’t working. My character development is definitely trial by fire.

4. I love how you increase the tension and the stakes in both THE SHIFTER and BLUE FIRE? Do you do this through plotting the books out before you write or as you go? What are some tips for doing this?

I like to plan the major plot points before I start writing. That gives me a basic framework to work in, so I always know where a character is going. I also like to know what they have to lose in each scene, because then I know what to mess with. I don’t always know in the first draft what that is, though. I might have a scene, and I know it needs to be there for plot reasons, but I also know it’s not personal enough to my characters. So I’ll make a note to find something to tie back to that, and eventually it comes and I go back and edit that scene. I do a lot of back and forth sometimes, writing until I figure out how a scene or idea works, then going back to lay the groundwork for it.

Tips for tension and stakes:
1. Give your protag something to lose that’s personal. What’s conceptually high stakes (like blowing up a ship or killing a bunch of people) seems like great stakes, but the reader doesn’t care about those faceless people. They care about your hero. Something bad that will affect your hero personally is much more compelling than vague disasters.

2. Keep things unpredictable. Let your hero fail sometimes. Let them make mistakes and get things wrong. We all know how stories typically go, and often we write a scene knowing the hero is going to be okay. The scene becomes about Bob escaping the zombies, not Bob trying to escape the zombies. It’s a subtle thing, but if it’s clear what has to be done we don’t make the bad guys do what they might really do to stop the hero. But if you let your bad guys be as bad as possible, then you get some interesting problems to overcome. If you’re not sure how the hero will solve the problem, readers won’t be either. Don’t be afraid to write yourself into a corner. You might have to back out a little to make it work, but you often come up with great ideas because you force yourself to think beyond the obvious.

3. Never underestimate the value of internalization. Action can get boring because there’s no personal interaction between the reader and the character. But if you keep them in the heads of the hero, and they see the worry and the fear and the thoughts racing through that hero’s mind, then you keep the reader in the emotion. That emotional level is where the tension and stakes lives.

4. Great tips. And guys, you should seriously follow Janice’s blog if you don’t. She always gives awesome tips like this on all aspects of the craft of writing. Let’s move onto the business aspect of writing. Can you tell us about your road to publication and any struggles along the way?

It was pretty typical, actually. THE SHIFTER was the fourth book I tried to sell, and I had a stack of rejection letters for the others. When I first started submitting it to agents, my goal was to get one manuscript request. I felt if I could get past the partial stage, I’d know I was getting one step closer and I really wanted that validation of improvement. Signing with an agent at that point was still just a dream.

Well, I got my manuscript request, then another, and another, and then I started to freak out a little (grin). It was so real. I might actually get an agent. I went back that conference where I’d been inspired to write THE SHIFTER, and pitched the book to an agent (Kristin Nelson). She asked for the full, and ten days later I signed with her. I’d also gotten a few other offers in that same time frame, and it was so weird (and nerve-wracking, and amazing, and terrifying) to have to choose between agents.

I did several rounds of revisions to tighten the book up (the ending had to be redone, twice) then my agent sent it out on submission (this took about 4-6 months). Interest started coming in within a week or two, then the first offer, then the second, and then I was on the phone talking to incredible editors and hearing them gush about my book. It was surreal. My agent and I weighed the two offers and made a choice.

If I hadn’t tried and failed to sell my first few books, I’d think this whole publishing thing was easy. THE SHIFTER was astonishingly easy to both write and sell. But I’ve been through the struggles same as every other writer, and I know how it feels to cry over a rejection, feel like you ought it abandon it all and stop writing. I took time off for a while, but I couldn’t stop writing, and it pulled me back in. I just kept studying, kept learning and doing my best to improve and eventually I got it right.

5. Some middle grade authors have noticed that middle grade books get less attention and say it’s harder to market them through blogs. How have you marketed your books and what do you think has worked? How has this influenced your plans for marketing DARKFALL?

I’ve noticed that as well, but I think it’s more the online marketing that’s less. A lot of MG marketing goes on between teachers, librarians, booksellers and parents. I try to do events that get me out among readers where I can chat and meet folks. It’s the connections that work best, whether they’re on or offline. I do a lot of school visits, which are tons of fun. Book festivals are also great, and I hope to do more plus some conferences in the next year for DARKFALL. I do blog tours and guest posts, because even though my MG readers aren’t likely to be reading, parents, teachers, booksellers, and librarians are, and they’re the ones who do all the heavy lifting in promoting middle grade novels.

I also do business cards and postcards to hand out. The business cards are great because when folks find out I’m a writer they always ask about the books. I have an easy thing to hand them so they remember the title and information.

6. What are you working on now?

A YA fantasy about a deep cover spy who’s caught between love and loyalty when a political assassination exposes her true identity. I’m having a great time with it so far.

Good luck Janice. You can visit Janice at her website and her blog. I really recommend her blog. I’ve learned so much about how to improve my writing from it.

I’m giving away one copy of THE SHIFTER. All you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment by midnight on May 7th. I’ll announce the winner on May 9th. International entries are welcome.

Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays was started by Shannon Whitney Messenger to spotlight middle grade authors. Check it out here.

And check out these other Marvelous Monday Middle Grade Reviewers:

Joanne Fritz
Shannon O’Donnell
Sherrie Petersen
Brooke Favero
Myrna Foster
Anita Laydon Miller

Next week I’m interviewing Rosanne Parry and giving away a copy of her book, SECOND FIDDLE. And on May 16th, I’ll be starting my Ask The Expert series where I interview kids between 5th and 12th grades about how they find out about books.

I hope to see you next week!

56 comments:

  1. Fantastic spotlight, thanks for the giveaway!

    Vivien
    deadtossedwaves at gmail dot com

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  2. This sounds great, thank you so much! I totally understand what you said about the cover.

    Wendy Chen

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  3. Thanks Janice for letting me interview you. And Vivien and Wendy, I'm glad you enjoyed the interview.

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  4. These books look fabulous! I saw them recently at a conference and wish I'd gotten them. Thanks for the opportunity! Oh, and I am a follower through google reader.

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  5. Natalie, thanks again for letting stop by and chat with your guys.

    The covers are illustrated by the fabulous Brandon Dorman. He also does all the illustratins (inside and out) for the Fablehaven series. His use of color is just amazing. I'm so fortunate to have had him do my covers. I'm glad others like his work as much, too. :)

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  6. I love that you pulled this novel out of the drawer because it had a great idea behind it. I love the premise that you are working on now--sounds exciting!! Good luck!

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  7. I also love hearing that you this wasn't the first or second book you queried! Thanks for sharing. And for hosting your awesome blog!

    laurapauling@yahoo.com

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  8. Heather: Thanks! It just goes to show you never know what may work later on. I wasn't ready to wrote the book when I first had the idea. Now I check my old idea file a few times a year just to see if anything clicks.

    Laura: Thanks! Yep, I fit into the common "it tales 10 years or four books to sell a first novel." I did both.

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  9. Great interview: I love what you said about the value of internalization. That's something I need to remember. Ans SHIFTER sounds really neat!

    Thanks!

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  10. Thanks for this inspiring interview! It gives me hope for those drawer manuscripts. I've learned a lot from reading Janice's blog.

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  11. Ishta: Thanks! I really love internalization. It's where I really learn about a character. either reading or writing them.

    Andrea: I'm happy to hear that! Natalie asked some good questions.

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  12. I loved The Shifter! Janice, I thought you did an amazing job building Nya's world. Can't wait to read Darkfall!

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  13. Yay! Thanks so much--and great interview. :)

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  14. I have always been in love with these covers! Janice, your blog is so helpful--thank you for all you do for other writers! :-)

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  15. Jenna: Thanks so much! I really had fun with that.

    Pam: I'm glad you liked it.

    Shannon: Thanks, I really appreciate that. I do love writing it.

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  16. I'm checking out janice's blog a.s.a.p. I loved what she had to say about not being afraid of writing ourselves into a corner, in order to come up with some great ideas to extricate ourselves. (Corner writing is my specialty!)

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  17. I second that folks should follow your blog--you have a lot of concrete advice to help all writers improve, no matter where they are in their writing journey.

    How interesting that you switched from a Male lead to a Female one. I'd love to hear more about that--were you terrified, making such a drastic change? What was your motivation to make that gender switch?

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

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  18. Great tips, Janice. I'm coming off a self-imposed writing break and this was a great way to restart my drive. I especially loved the bit about writing your protag into corners and then figuring out how to get him out. I'm dealing with that very thing in a current scene and I can feel myself wanting to leave my protag an "out." LOL My new motto: "There's no way out." :)

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  19. The timing of this interview is very coincidental. I'm about two-thirds of the way through Blue Fire right now. I have it here at work to read during lunch.

    Janice, your new cover looks great. I can't wait to find out how Blue Fire ends and read Darkfall when it comes out!

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  20. Lots of awesome tips here- thanks so much for sharing Janice! I loved The Shifter and can't wait to read the following books in the series!

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  21. I heart Janice Hardy, in a very love-her-blog-excited about-her-books way. As an aspiring writer, I always love to hear great publications stories. Congrats to Janice and great spotlight Natalie.

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  22. Thank you for the fabulous interview, both Natalie and Janice! Just last Monday, I joined the MMGMers. I'm thrilled to spread MG love. This series sounds incredible, and the covers are gorgeous and intriguing.

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  23. I bought this book a while ago because the cover is just gorgeous, but I haven't read it yet. I discovered Janice's blog about a week ago and now this book has moved to the top of my pile. Funny how that happens sometimes :)

    Inspiring interview. Thanks so much!

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  24. Michael: I guess we work well under pressure ;) It does force you to think far and wide.

    Angela: Thanks! Actually, it was pretty easy. When I started looking at the world and who I was going to put into it, a girl just seemed more fitting. I thin it was because she was more sympathetic. A teen girl all alone brings out the protective side, where a teen boy is more of the protector. Though now you have me intrigued about doing a boy who needs protecting just to have fun with the gender switch.

    Birgitte: Cool! Glad I could nudge you back to writing. I love your motto :) I might have to tape that to my monitor.

    Thermocline: Oh neat! And thanks ;) I hope neither one disappoints.

    Katie: Thanks so much! I just got the DARKFALL ARCs in, so there will be contests on my blog in a few months.

    Barbara: Thanks! I'm all for spreading the MG love :)

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  25. Great interview! Thanks for sharing your path to publication - it's inspiring.

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  26. Oppsy, more comments came while i was answering :) I should really hit refresh before i post, huh?

    Solvag: Good to have you on the blog ;) Hope you like THE SHIFTER!

    BFAV: Aw, thank you so much :)

    Kristin: Most welcome!

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  27. Great interview! I adore Janice's amazing blog and really enjoyed her books--the premise is so incredible and really well developed through both books. I'm eager to read the third!

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  28. Thanks for a great post. As an aspiring middle grade novelist this was most helpful for me. In particular, the part about revising the book was of interest as I am in the midst of a major rewriting of my 1st novel for the very same reason that Janice cited.
    ella@ellaschwartz.net

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  29. Fantastic interview and writing tips, Janice. The premise for THE SHIFTER is fantastic, and I absolutely LOVE the covers for all three books. They're stunning.

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  30. I love the interview and writing tips.

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  31. Yes, the cover is awesome, on all the books but I especially like Shifter's. Also, the concept behind the book IS inventive. That's so hard to do! Really enjoyed this interview. You asked and answered so really important questions for me. Thanks!

    And - *ahem* Natalie, you might want to pay me another visit. ;D

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  32. Laurel: Thanks so much! I'm really happy how the series wrapped up so I hope you enjoy it.

    Ella: Good luck with those revisions. They can be a pain but they are worth it in the end.

    Casey: Thanks! I', so lucky. The covers for all versions of the books (it's also in the UK and Germany) has been great.

    Alicia: Thanks!

    Victoria: Glad you enjoyed it. It was a lot of fun to do. (both the books and the interview)

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  33. Great interview! I have to admit that nugget of an idea -- healing magic with a darker side -- is what got me to pick up the book. The pacing and stakes is what kept me reading it late at night...thanks for sharing your insights!

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  34. Lucky winners, congrats to all of you!

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  35. Megan: Thanks! That idea was a long time in the making but I do like how it ended up :)

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  36. Great interview. Janice, I love your blog. I've been a follower for a while and have learned lots from your posts. Thanks.

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  37. Great interview! Sounds like a great read. Best Wishes, Joseph

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  38. Ooo, I LOVE these books and can't wait for DARKFALL. Great interview, Natalie!

    Janice, I read your blog and it's really helpful for writers. There's a lot of great advice right here too! I especially love this line: "My character development is definitely trial by fire."

    Your experience in writing and selling your novels gives me hope.

    Natalie, don't enter me in the contest. I already own these books.

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  39. The interview and the premise of you book sound incredible Janice. I would love to read it!

    The covers on your books are beautiful!!!

    Michael

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  40. I discovered this book a couple weeks ago and LOVED it. I read it in one sitting. I've yet to read the next book in the series only because I haven't had the time, but I'm dying to see what happens. Exciting to hear that Janice Hardy is working on a YA. I can't wait to see what she comes up with next. Thanks for the great interview!

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  41. Great interview! Janice had lots of good tips. :)

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  42. Fantastic interview. I've followed Janice for a long time, but I didn't realize the Shifter was a reworking of an old novel. That gives me hope for some of my back-drawer novels!

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  43. Thanks for the interview! I didn't know that The Shifter was the fourth book she'd queried.

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  44. I've read her blog for months, and it's definitely been helpful. Thanks for the interview!

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  45. Paula: Thanks! Glad to hear it.

    Joseph: And thank you :)

    Joanne: Cool! I have a friend who said she wants to adopt Nya because I'm so mean to her. There is always hope. :) It takes work, but I do believe if you persevere and keep learning you stand a good chance at selling your work.

    Angela: Most welcome :)

    Michael: Thanks!

    Megan: Thanks so much! Glad you enjoyed it :) I'm almost halfway though the new YA and I'm having such a blast with it. It's a little ambitious, but it feels good stretch my creative wings so to speak.

    Sharon: Thanks!

    Anne: It's not an old novel per se, but an old ten-page outline I did. I never started the novel because I realized how bad the outline was, LOL. But I saved it anyway and years later I was able to do something with it. I bet you'll be able to as well with your old novels :) I think we reach a point where we finally have the skills set/inspiration/desire to find the missing piece to make those old stories work again.

    Myrna: Yeppers. I have a whole file full of rejections from the others :) Sometimes I go back and read them.

    Maine Character: Most welcome. Happy to be helpful :)

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  46. Excellent interview, Janice, both inspirational and pragmatic. Thanks also to Natalie :)

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  47. I love the cover too! Thanks for the interview. I enjoy hearing about cool, new stuff for the middle-grade set--my sweet spot!

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  48. Great interview Natalie and Janice! I loved your writing advice about writing yourself into a corner. I do that all the time, and then go, now what?! But like you say - if I don't know what's going to happen - the reader can't then either, can they? ;-)

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  49. I have been wanting to read Shifter for quite sometime now. An excellent interview and the YA book Janice is working on sounds like it is going to be oh so good. Thanks for the giveaway!

    I'm a follower.

    ~Briana
    thebookpixie[at]yahoo[dot]com

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  50. Read Anything: Thanks! So do I. Which is probably why my to-read pule is always so huge.

    Kiki: Exactly :) Once in a while I have to back out and try something different (some times you just can;t figure a way out) but it usually leads to neat twists.

    Briana: Thanks! I'm about half through now and I really enjoy it so far ( of course I'm biased, lol). I'm stretching creatively with this one and the new challenges are a lot of fun.

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  51. I am a follower and email subscriber. Please enter me in contest. Tore923@aol.com

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  52. I'm a follower :) I'd love to read Janice's book! I've had my eye on it for MONTHS, but my pocketbook has resisted the temptation.

    Definitely looking forward to that new YA idea, too. Sounds killer!

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  53. Great tips and great interview. Can't wait to read the book. Thanks!

    aliciacald(at)gmail(dot)com
    GFC follower Alicia

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  54. Tore: Good luck!

    Jessica: Thanks!

    Alicia: And thank you ;)

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