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Hi Everyone!

Some of you from last week asked me to tell you how my daughter did at the State swimming championship this weekend. She did great! She swam her backstroke in the relay in 29.10 seconds, which was her personal best. Their team was seeded last at 26 but came in 17. They were pleased, but a little disappointed not to come in 16 so they could have come back for day 2. 

She had so much fun staying at the hotel with her team and the meet in general.

I was glad she just did a relay the first time so she could see how fast she has to get to come back for day 2 in the 100 backstroke. She's at 101 seconds and needs to get to about 57 seconds to come back for day 2. As good as our girls are as swimmers, you really see at a State championship how amazingly fast some of the swimmers are. 

So now we move back to her club swim team, USA swim meets, and it being a little quieter winter swim season. Yay!

Before we get to my awesome interview, I have a few winners to announce.

The winners of THE SPINDLERS are Jill and Beth!

And the winner of CONJURE is Tessmania Anastasia!

Congrats! E-mail me your addresses so I can send you your books. Please e-mail me by the end of Wednesday or I'll have to pick a new winner.

Today I’m excited to interview Victoria Strauss about her new YA book PASSION BLUE that releases on November 6, 2012. Victoria has also written several adult books and is the co-founder of Writer Beware, a publishing industry watchdog group that watches and reports on literary fraud and scams.

Victoria’s book interested me because of the blurbs her books received by Robin McKinley, Jane Yolen, and Megan Whalen Turner that she mentioned in her e-mail to me asking for an interview.  It’s something to consider mentioning if you’re asking for an author interview on someone’s blog. I really enjoyed that this was set in Renaissance Italy and spotlighted the limited choices women faced. And Victoria had an amazing attention to detail in showing Giulia’s experiences with convent life, the painting workshop, and painting techniques used during that time period.

Here’s a description from Goodreads

"Be sure you know your true heart’s desire, or you may find yourself surprised by what you receive."

This is the warning the Astrologer-Sorcerer gives Giulia when she pays him to create a magical talisman for her. The scorned illegitimate daughter of a Milanese nobleman, Giulia is determined to defy the dire fate predicted by her horoscope, and use the talisman to claim what she believes is her heart’s desire: true love and a place where she belongs–not likely prospects for a girl about to be packed off to the cloistered world of a convent.

But the convent of Santa Marta is full of surprises. There are strict rules, long hours of work, and spiteful rivalries…but there’s also friendship, and the biggest surprise of all: a workshop of female artists who produce paintings of astonishing beauty, using a luminous blue mixed from a secret formula: Passion blue. Yet even as Giulia begins to learn the mysteries of the painter’s craft, the magic of the talisman is at work, and a forbidden romance beckons her down a path of uncertainty and danger. She is haunted by the sorcerer’s warning, and by a question: does she really know the true compass of her heart?

Set in Renaissance Italy, this richly imagined novel about a girl’s daring journey towards self-discovery transports readers into a fascinating, exotic world where love, faith, and art inspire passion–of many different hues
Hi Victoria. Thanks so much for joining us.

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

I come from a family of academics and authors--my father was a history professor who published numerous books and articles, and my mother published a well-received novel when she was in her 20s. Writing was in the air when I was growing up. I was always writing poems and stories as a child.
Even so, I never thought of writing as something I could do as a career. Then, when I was 17, two things changed. A wonderful English teacher challenged me to get serous about my writing (with her encouragement, I produced a handful of decent short stories); and my dad got a research fellowship in Germany. My family planned to live there for a year; I wanted to take a gap year before college and go along. My parents were fine with this--as long as I had some kind of educational project to keep me busy. So I decided to write a novel. 

Did I really think I could sit down and bang out a whole book, on the basis of the very limited writing experience I'd had before then? Not really. The novel was mostly a ploy to get me my gap year. I thought I'd give it a try, toss it aside after few months, and spend the rest of the year doing what I wanted. The joke was on me, though--by the time I was a few chapters in I was totally hooked, and knew I'd found what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. (The book I never thought I'd finish, The Lady of Rhuddesmere, did finally get published, many years later and in much-revised form.)

2.  How awesome you discovered your career right out of high school. And I know the feeling of getting hooked by writing. I really enjoyed experiencing Renaissance Italy, the convent life, and the painting workshop through PASSION BLUE. Share about the history weaved into your story, including in creating your characters and what research you did to make it so convincingly accurate.

I've always loved Italian Renaissance art, but, like many people, I never thought twice about the fact that almost all of the paintings of that period are by men. It wasn't until I got to college, and began taking art history courses, that I discovered that there actually were a few women who managed to establish and maintain painting careers during the 16th and 17th centuries. 

Renaissance Italy was an incredibly restrictive time and place for women. For most, there were few options other than becoming nuns or wives. I became fascinated by this handful of female artists, who somehow found a way to bypass the cultural roadblocks of their time. What enormous challenges they must have had to overcome in order to follow their talents; what intense prejudice they must have encountered from their male colleagues, most of whom would have dismissed them as dabblers or labeled them freaks of nature.

Giulia's teacher, Maestra Humilità Moretti, is loosely based on one of these women--a painter nun named Plautilla Nelli, who headed a painting workshop in a Florentine convent during the early 16th century. She became quite famous, with her paintings in demand outside the convent. Sadly, most of her work has been lost. 

I did a lot of book research for Passion Blue (I'm lucky to live near a large university, with a terrific library) as well as visiting as many museums as I could. I was also lucky to find an artist who paints in the Renaissance style, and who shared many of his techniques and processes with me. Because of that, I was able to get a hands-on feel for a Renaissance painter's workshop, which was essential in helping me portray what Giulia would have seen, smelled, heard, and done as she began training as a painter.

3.  I'm always fascinated learning how women found a way to be independent during earlier times when there were so few options open to women. And Wow! You did so much research for this book. 

Giulia is such a sympathetic character. At the beginning of the story, her father’s just died but given her the means to actualize her dream of becoming a wife, the best a woman could hope for back then. And then it’s all snatched up from her and she’s forced into convent life she doesn’t want. What did you enjoy most about writing about Giulia’s story?

I'm so glad you found Giulia sympathetic! She's one of my favorite characters in any of my books.
I'm always drawn to writing coming-of-age stories, where the protagonist is thrust into unfamiliar and difficult situations and must find his or her way past mistakes and setbacks to new understandings. It's important to me that these changes are character- as well as plot-driven--Giulia's external circumstances are certainly dire, but she also makes false assumptions and impulsive decisions that bring unintended consequences. Ultimately, she finds a path to pursuing her dreams--though the path isn't one she ever imagined she would take, and her dreams aren't what they were at the start of the book.

Giulia is separated from readers by 500 years of history. She's a girl of her time, with beliefs and attitudes that are not of today (I really dislike historical fiction where the characters are just modern people in fancy dress). Yet her situation and her choices, what she fears and what she longs for, speak to things everyone experiences. That's one of the aspects of writing her story that I loved most: creating a heroine of the past in whom (I hope) readers will see something of themselves.

4.  Awesome that she's one of your favorite characters. I was intrigued about the elements of astrology and the talisman Giulia buys from a sorcerer. How did you come up with including them in your story?

As practiced in the Renaissance, astrology was very different from what we're familiar with today. Contemporary astrology has a psychological focus--it's all about discovering your inner self. Classical astrology was about prediction. Renaissance astrologers believed the stars influenced events on earth, and that star charts--horoscopes--could predict the future, assign auspicious times for important events, and be used as a guide to answering questions (as Giulia does in Passion Blue). Astrology wasn't entertainment or superstition, as it is today, but a real science practiced by trained experts. Astrologers were also astronomers; many of the important discoveries of astronomy during the Renaissance were made in service of astrology.

There was also a branch of astrological magic, one aspect of which involved the creation of magical talismans to harness the power of the stars. That actually was the seed idea for Passion Blue, based on the suggestion of an editor who'd read one of my other YA novels, and mentioned that she'd love to read an astrological fantasy in a Quattrocento setting. But you can't research Renaissance Italy without encountering the wonderful paintings--and as my research progressed, I found myself drawn more and more toward art and artists, which in turn re-kindled my long-standing interest in Renaissance female painters. So Passion Blue became a novel about painters and painting, with astrology and the magical talisman woven in as a fantasy element.

All my books change between initial conception and actual writing--but I've never had a book morph as much as Passion Blue did!

5.  So interesting how astrology was different back then. You also write adult fiction. What did you find different about YA vs. adult stories? 

The only difference, for me, is length (my YA books are considerably shorter than my adult books) and the age of the protagonist. I don't set out to write a novel for adults or a novel for teens; it's the idea for the book that tells me who the protagonist should be, and whether it works better for the YA or the adult market. The research, the writing, the enthusiasm and commitment are all exactly the same, no matter which audience I'm writing for. Passion Blue is a YA novel with a 17-year-old heroine, but I think it has a lot of crossover appeal for adult fans of historical fiction.

One of the things that annoys YA writers most is for people to assume that writing YA must be easier or simpler--or even "dumbed down"--because it's for a younger audience. This is completely untrue. YA is one of the most vibrant markets for fiction these days, with some of the most amazing writing coming out of any genre. There's a reason why so many adults are reading it!

6.  I think most of us are annoyed with the idea that YA (or middle grade) is somehow easy to write. Okay, I have to ask this question. How did you get blurbs from Robin McKinley, Jane Yolen and Megan Whalen Turner? What advice do you have to authors and debut authors wanting to request author blurbs?

The blurbs were a result of a joint effort by me and my wonderful editor, Melanie Kroupa. She approached writers she’d worked with in the past, including Robin McKinley. I approached Jane Yolen, who lives just a couple of towns over from me. And because I admire her books so much, I emailed Megan Whalen Turner through her publisher’s website. I didn’t really think she’d respond—but she was kind enough to do so (as it turns out, she knew of me because of my work with Writer Beware). I’m very grateful to these wonderful authors who took the time to read my manuscript, and to say such lovely things about it.

Many people (including readers) say that author blurbs don’t sell books. That may be true (though I know for a fact that some people have picked up Passion Blue because of Megan Whalen Turner’s blurb), but they’re a convention of publishing and even if their presence doesn’t help much, they will be conspicuous in their absence. Your publisher, and your agent if you have one, should make an effort to obtain blurbs, but not everyone who is asked to read will say yes (and not everyone who says yes will provide a blurb), so in many cases it makes sense for authors to be pro-active--both in suggesting potential blurbers to their publishers, and, often, in approaching authors themselves (this should be cleared with the publisher first, though).

If you do request a blurb on your own, be polite, professional--and personal. Nothing turns an author off like an impersonal, spam-style approach. Tell the author why you would value their opinion (do you love their writing? Do you feel it’s similar to your own?). Acknowledge that you’re asking them for a favor and that their time is valuable. Thank them even if they say no, and if you don’t get a response, don’t try to hunt them down.

7.  We'd all love to get blurbs like yours. That's great that your editor helped you get them. Your agent is Jessica Regel and your publisher is Marshall Cavendish Children’s books, a part of Amazon Children’s Publishing. Tell us how Jessica became your agent and what it’s been like working with your publisher. Has there been any change since it’s now Amazon?

Jessica is with the Jean Naggar Literary Agency. I’ve actually been with the agency since my first novel. For many years, Jean Naggar was my agent (I was one of her very first clients—she took me on when she was transitioning from being an editor to founding her own agency); she sold my YA books and, later, my books for the adult market. When I switched back to YA with Passion Blue, Jessica, as a YA specialist, was the best fit for the manuscript.

Amazon bought Marshall Cavendish a year after Marshall Cavendish bought Passion Blue. From my perspective, the transition has been pretty seamless--I’ve continued working with Melanie, my editor, and when the Amazon transition happened the cover design and marketing process were just beginning, so I went right into the Amazon system. The system is centralized, so there’s just one email address I use to contact everyone, which certainly makes things more efficient.
Other than that, working with Amazon Children's Publishing has felt--so far--like working with any of the traditional publishers I’ve published with. The people at Amazon are great to work with, very responsive and enthusiastic about Passion Blue. They've given me some wonderful marketing support. 

8.  What marketing advice do you have for authors who are marketing their first and second books?

Self-marketing is no longer optional for authors—it’s a necessity. Some writers love the entrepreneurial spirit of it all. For others—especially introverts like myself—it’s very difficult.
There’s a bewildering array of self-marketing channels, and an even more bewildering array of advice on which ones to use and how to use them. I think the key is not to try and do everything—and to remember that, contrary to what some self-marketing gurus will tell you, there is no marketing method that’s mandatory. Do you hate to blog? Then don’t. Do you loathe social media? Then limit your exposure. Research the options, consider them, decide what you are comfortable with, and focus on those things. A limited number of marketing strategies done well will serve you better than a large number done poorly. 

Of course, just as nothing is mandatory, nothing is certain. One reason book marketing is so confounding, even to publishers and professional publicists, is that what works for one book and author simply can’t be guaranteed to work for another. Beware of anyone who tells you that doing X or Y is guaranteed to get you results, or who wants to sell you some kind of sure-fire service or method. There's a growing number of scams aimed at self-marketing authors.

9.  I've heard your advice to not try to do it all from other authors too. That's reassuring because it all feels very overwhelming.

Okay I want to ask you a few questions about Writer Beware. For those who don’t know about it, can you tell us about what Writer Beware does?

Writer Beware is the public face of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America's Committee on Writing Scams. Like many genre-focused professional writers' groups, SFWA is concerned not just with issues that affect professional authors, but with the problems that face aspiring writers. Writer Beware, founded in 1998, reflects that concern.

Our mission is to raise awareness of literary fraud, and to provide information and warnings to help writers avoid it. The Writer Beware website offers general information and warnings about writing-related schemes, scams, and pitfalls. The Writer Beware blog provides up-to-the-minute information on specific scams and schemes, along with advice for writers and publishing industry news. And the Writer Beware Facebook page is updated (almost) daily with links to news, advice, opinion, and other items of interest from around the Web. 

We’ve also assembled an enormous database of complaints and documentation on questionable literary agents, publishers, independent editors, writers' services, contests, publicity services, and others. Writers can contact us with questions, and we’ll pass on any information we have. 

10.  What kind of frauds and scams are you particularly watching right now?  What’re a few common mistakes you see authors make that leads them into these situations?

When Writer Beware was founded, the main forms of writer-related fraud were fee-charging literary agents, dishonest vanity publishers, and paid editing kickback schemes. 

The rise of digital publishing and self-publishing has really shifted that. Digital technology has enormously expanded the small press world, by making it easy and cheap to become a publisher. Self-publishing has opened a new path to readership for authors, so that they no longer perceive literary agents as an essential first step in a writing career. Years ago, complaints about scam and amateur literary agents were by far the most frequent, but now, most of the complaints we receive involve small presses and schemes that target self-published authors. 

One of the things I’ve been focusing on at the Writer Beware blog recently is high-entry-fee awards programs. These awards can charge $50, $70, even $100 for entry. They rarely name their judges, offer little in the way of actual prizes, and, often, try to sell additional merchandise to entrants. They promise to provide prestige and validation, but in reality their purpose is to make money for their sponsors. Their main target is small press and self-published authors, who are especially hungry for exposure.

The single most common mistake I see among authors is failure to do enough research. I can’t count the number of authors I hear from who are attempting to find a publisher without having first educated themselves about the publishing world, or who are writing to ask about the reputation of an agent only after they’ve gotten an offer of representation (which makes even a bad offer much harder to refuse), or have chosen to self-publish on the basis of misleading PR. Writers really, really need to take the time to educate themselves about the publishing world before jumping into it. Not only will this protect them from schemers and scammers, it'll help them focus their goals and to make choices on the basis of knowledge, rather than on rumor, myth, or hype.

Thanks Victoria for all your great advice. You can find Victoria at http://www.victoriastrauss.com/

Other links of interest:
Excerpt: http://www.victoriastrauss.com/books-2/young-adult/passion-blue/
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/14843862-passion-blue
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Passion-Blue-Victoria-Strauss/dp/0761462309
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/victoria.strauss1

Victoria generously is providing a copy of PASSION BLUE 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 by midnight on December 8th. I’ll announce the winner on December 10th. If your e-mail is not on Blogger, please list it in your comment.

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

And don't forget to enter my giveaway contests for ROOTLESS, RENEGADE, and WRITING IRRISSISTABLE KIDLIT. The links are at the top of the blog.

Here's what's coming up:

On Monday, I'm interviewing Corrine Jackson and giving away a copy of her new book, TOUCHED, a great paranormal story. And she just had her debut book, BEFORE I LIE, release in September. So it'll be an interesting interview.

On Wednesday next week I'm participating in Lisa and Laura Roecker's  blog tour and giving away a copy of their new book, LIES THAT BIND.

The following Monday I'm interviewing  debut author Kasie West and giving away a copy of PIVOT POINT, a fascinating dystopian novel I couldn't put down.

Tuesday that week I'm doing my annual Holiday Hop Book Giveaway. I can't wait for you to see all the great choices. 

And don't forget our Tuesday Tips and Casey's Thursday agent spotlights.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving! Hope to see you next Monday!



S.A. Larsenッ said...

Fantastic interview, ladies! I'm hosting Victoria next week. Can't wait! I also am excited to start reading her book. Many congrats, Victoria.

Kristin Lenz said...

Victoria's book sounds fascinating, and her work on Writer Beware is much appreciated. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Martina Boone said...

Fantastic interview, Natalie and Victoria! I've got this on my TBR list and really, really am looking forward to it. It sounds fantastic. Also echo what Kristin Lenz said -- Victoria is a force of nature and a gift to the writing community!



Anonymous said...

I've been reading a lot of historical fiction and fantasy lately and have really enjoyed it. I think it's a great way to learn about different time periods. I can imagine it means a lot of research for the authors though!

MeganC said...

Wow! I love all the research that went into the novel, and so impressed with such a knowledgeable author. The passion for her topic really came through in the interview. Great job!

Linda Gray said...

Loved this interview with Victoria, Natalie, thank you! What a great story of how she became a writer, and really good advice, too. I'm a follower and would love to win a copy of Passion Blue! (p.s. many congrats to your daughter)

LTM said...

That's a great quote! I love it--like "be careful what you wish for." :D

Yay for Victoria! She is amazing and Writer Beware is such a helpful tool for writers. The cover of Passion Blue is so beautiful. It sounds amazing.

Great interview. I'm kind of the same way approaching YA or adult, although I don't really write adult per se. But I just try to write the story that's in my head.

Best, and Happy Thanksgiving! :o) <3

Christina Kit. said...

LOVE the historical period and all the art in the story!

I'm a follower GFC Christina Kit.

I tweeted https://twitter.com/christinafiorio/status/270594010291240960

ccfioriole at gmail dot com

Thank you:)

cleemckenzie said...

Renaissance Italy is such an interesting period. Would love to read this book.

Vivien said...

This is probably my second favorite time period (French Revolution is first). It is utterly fascinating. Passion Blue sound really engrossing.
GFC: Vivien

deadtossedwaves at gmail dot com

Steve MC said...

Victoria Strauss is a class act. I've long seen her posts at Absolute Write, and she's always helpful and knows what she's talking about, as with her tips here on blurbs and marketing.

Stina said...

That's awesome about your daughter's swim meet, Natalie.

So that's why Victoria's name is familiar! Thanks for the great advice. Now self published writers have to worry about scam editors. :(

Lydia Kang said...

Her work with Writer Beware has been so important. Good to know her move to Amazon via MC went well!

Melodie Wright said...

This book sounds really great. I love stories set in different times...especially when the readers can learn something. (That's the teacher in me!) This is one I'll definitely put on my watch list for my students. Thanks for sharing - and for the informative interview.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Tammy Theriault said...

love the interview!

Ali Cross said...

I love books set in unique places, and I've only ever read one other book set in Italy. I'd love to read this one! Thanks!

Christina Farley said...

This book is definitely one I'm anxious to read. I'm a huge fan of books set in other places. And the cover is striking. And I've heard of Writer's Beware before. Nice to put the pieces together.

Beth said...

Congratulations to your daughter! And thanks for the book - I can't wait to read it!

Rachna Chhabria said...

Passion Blue sounds wonderful. I can't wait to read it.

Hinata said...

Great interview, really interested with the book :O

I've followed you on GFC and the name is Hica_sama

Shared on twitter : https://mobile.twitter.com/Elma_bony/status/274836037052796928?p=v

Email : Hica_sama(at)yahoo(dot)com

Kayley said...

Thanks for the giveaway!
GFC: Kayley Freshman-Caffrey

Natasha said...

Thanks for the chance to win!
I follow by email.
natasha_donohoo_8 at hotmail dot com

Jana said...

Thank you so much for the chance to win!
GFC: Jeanne

Christina Marie Morales said...

Sounds like a great read for an amazing writer can't wait to get my hands on it. Tweeting and Facebook about this contest and this awesome book

Eli Yanti said...

thanks for the giveaway, love the cover and enjoy the interview

gfc : eli_y83