First, here's a reminder that WriteOnCon starts tomorrow. Are you going? I'm planning to as much as I can with work. You can find the schedule HERE. It sounds awesome so I recommend you check it out. And don't forget. WriteOnCon is free!
I have a few winners to announce.
The winner of SHIP OUT OF LUCK is JessWiz!
The winner of MY CHEMICAL MOUNTAIN is Cait!
And finally the winner of the my Summer Giveaway Hop is Andrea at TheBusy Bibliophile who picked THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US.
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 another winner.
Today I’m excited to have Ellen Booraem here to share about her new middle grade novel TEXTING THE UNDERWORLD, which releases on August 15, 2013. It’s about Conor, a less than brave kid, who must confront his fears and the underworld to save his family. Ellen is also the author of her debut novel, THE UNNAMEABLES, which was released in 2008, and SMALL PERSONS WITH WINGS, which was released in 2010. I was excited when Ellen contacted me for an interview because her book sounds really good and I know she’ll have lots of great advice for the rest of us.
Here’s a blurb about TEXTING THE UNDERWORLD from Goodreads:
"Got your cell?"
"Yeah . . . . Don't see what good it'll do me."
"I'll text you if anything happens that you should know."
"Text me? Javier, we'll be in the afterlife."
"You never know. Maybe they get a signal."
Discover why Kirkus has called Booraem's work "utterly original American fantasy . . . frequently hysterical." This totally fresh take on the afterlife combines the kid next door appeal of Percy Jackson with the snark of Artemis Fowl and the heart of a true middle grade classic.
Hi Ellen. Thanks so much for joining us.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a writer.
I’m happy to be here, Natalie!
My first recorded composition was a Valentine: “I love my mother. I will never have another.” A career in greeting cards appeared to be a certainty. The closest I got, though, was writing and editing college publications and corporate newsletters, which I did the first decade after college. In 1984, my partner Rob and I moved to coastal Maine. I started writing and editing rural newspapers, and that was such a hoot I forgot all about greeting cards. I worked for local papers for almost 20 years.
I’d written short stories in my twenties and early thirties, but newspapering was so much fun I forgot all about fiction. Then in 2003 the urge came rushing back in, and I went insane—I up and quit my favorite newspaper job to write THE UNNAMEABLES. I’m ridiculously lucky that it worked out.
2. That’s awesome how it worked out for you. Your first two novels were fantasies. This seems more like a paranormal novel. Where did you get the idea for this story and why did you decide to try a slightly different genre?
Oddly, this is the first time I’ve considered that TEXTING might be paranormal! I suppose you’re right—we are dealing with a banshee, the ancestral Irish spirit who wails before the death of a family member. The thing is, my banshee Ashling is so . . . so . . . friendly. She puts the “normal” in paranormal.
I came up with her while reading ABBEY LUBBERS, BANSHEES & BOGGARTS by the late British folklorist Katharine Briggs. I’d known about banshees all my life—the one in Walt Disney’s “Darby O’Gill and the Little People” scared the pants off me in 1959—but this was the first time anyone told me they could be the spirits of maidens who died too young.
I got thinking about this poor dead girl and how much she’d miss the world. Before I knew it, there she was telling poor Conor that she needed somebody in his family to die so she could do her banshee thing and earn a new life.
3. You can tell I’m a fantasy lover too. I have one of Katherine Brigg’s books and like to refer to it for ideas too. Share a bit about how you developed the underworld setting in TEXTING THE UNDERWORLD and what your world building process is like.
Because both Ashling and Conor are Irish, I started out researching the Irish afterlife. But it wasn’t long before I realized that—duh—the Irish aren’t the only ones who die in this world. So I started looking for death spirits and underworld deities from other cultures.
If I have a world building technique, it’s to take the culture back to its original function— in this case, the processing of souls from death through reincarnation and into a new life. It made sense to me that the underworld deities would be glorified paper-pushers, overtaxed by the increasing world population. It also made sense that they would have absolutely no insight into how life, death, and the universe actually work—all they know is their immediate task. I had fun figuring out their various reactions to the fact that they’ve been doing the same jobs in the same place for literally eons.
4. That’s a great suggestion for world building. Getting the voice of a character right is always important, but especially so in middle grade novels. What were some of the challenges in developing Conor’s voice and what tips do you have about getting a character’s voice right in general?
The main tip is that you do have to think about voice—it doesn’t just happen, for characters or for the
Conor’s more kid-oriented than Mellie, but he is very much influenced by his grandfather and in general he’s not quite comfortable in his skin. So he’s less breezy than his feisty younger sister Glennie. But both he and Glennie will say something like “holy macaroni,” an outdated expression they picked up from their beloved Grump.
When you have a third-person narrator, that’s an additional consideration. For THE UNNAMEABLES, for example, I wanted a formal, slightly archaic narrative voice, so I read a chapter of Jane Austen every morning before I started writing. For TEXTING, I stole what I think was J.K. Rowling’s technique—her books all read as if the narrator is a kid Harry’s age, who gets older with him. So the narrator of Conor’s story is, in my mind, a 12-year-old boy, although a pretty smart one with a good vocabulary.
5. So interesting how thoughtful you are to the narrator’s voice as well as the character. What’s your plotting process like? Has it changed at all through the three novels you’ve written? If so, how?
Early on, my technique was to get the idea, write the first chapter in a white heat, then hit a wall and concentrate on developing characters. Within a few days, I generally knew the last line of the book but not how I was going to get there.
For TEXTING, I gave my editor five chapters and a synopsis before I’d written the book. So when I started on chapter six, I already knew how the plot was supposed to proceed, which in some ways was comforting. But it also felt as if I’d already told the story. I had to learn to forget the synopsis as much as possible and follow the story as it unfolded chapter after chapter—sometimes, things don’t work out on the page the way you think they will, and it’s a mistake to force a story into a predetermined shape.
Now I think I’m addicted to writing a synopsis first, just because it’s nice to know the plot can work out somehow. But then I have to make sure I ignore it.
6. I like having a general idea where my story is going too. Your agent is Kate Shafer Testerman. Share how she became your agent and your road to publication.
Kate submitted the book to six publishers, who declined it but offered excellent advice. I revised the manuscript accordingly, and Kate sold the revised version to Kathy Dawson, then at Harcourt Children’s Books. THE UNNAMEABLES was just published when Kathy jumped to Penguin and Dial Books for Young Readers. Like Kate, she let me tag along. Now she has her own Penguin imprint, Kathy Dawson Books!
7. Wow! What an amazing publishing story. Marketing middle grade novels can be a bit more challenging than promoting YA novels because they seem to get less buzz in the blogsphere. Share what you’ve learned about effective marketing middle grade novels from having three books published.
I’m hardly a good role model for marketing—blowing my own horn does not come naturally. The major thing I’ve done right, though, is engaging in collaborative marketing efforts. As a debut author, I joined the Class of 2k8, and now I’m a member of The Enchanted Inkpot group blog as well as Scene13, a group blog whose members have books coming out in 2013.
In each case, the blog has been a great way to get exposure, but equally helpful has been the Yahoo group that each group set up for internal communications. The original purpose was to keep us organized, but we also solicit help or advice from one another and discuss questions like how to increase racial diversity in our books (a recent topic for the Inkies). We’ve formed lasting friendships and collaborations—I’ve even done bookstore appearances with fellow 2k8ers and Inkies.
8. That’s great advice to join groups. And I love The Enchanted Inkpot. I hadn’t heard of Scene13, but it sounds like a great idea. What advice do you have for authors during the year leading up to the release of their debut book?
Definitely join a debut authors group—I would have gone nuts without 2k8. Also, take a hint from my godmother Sherry, who used to spend six months of every year traveling off the beaten path: “Take all the precautions you can in advance, then stop worrying and have fun.” Do all the stuff your publisher recommends—the website, the blog, whatever—and once that’s done do not allow yourself to fret about how the book’s doing. You’ve had a book published, for heaven’s sake—what more could you possibly want out of life?
This is all easily said, of course. There isn’t an author alive who hasn’t obsessed about that Amazon ranking.
9. I love Sherry’s words of wisdom. What’s your favorite way of social networking? Why?
I love reading Twitter, for some reason, and I try to tweet a couple of times a day. So I guess that’s my favorite, even though I make absolutely no effort to gain followers.
10. That’s my next place to join. And soon. What are you working on now?
Several things. One is a companion book to TEXTING THE UNDERWORLD, but I don’t know yet whether it will fly. I have another middle-grade fantasy idea I’m developing and a book for younger kids that needs a total overhaul. I’ve also gotten back into writing short stories for adults.
Thanks for sharing all your advice, Ellen. You can find Ellen at ellenbooraem.com, enchantedinkpot.com, and scene13ers.wordpress.com/Tomorrow’s stop on the TEXTING THE UNDERWORLD blog tour is Kid Lit Reviews. See you there!
Ellen and her publisher Penguin have generously offered two copies of TEXTING THE UNDERWORLD 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 August 24th. I’ll announce the winner on August 26th. 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. You must be 13 or older to enter. This is for US residents only.
Marvelous Middle Grade Monday was started by Shannon Messenger and you can find the rest of the blogs participating HERE.
Here’s what’s coming up:
Next Monday I’m interviewing author Dianne Salerni’s (author of THE CAGED GRAVES) 16-year old daughter about how she finds out about books and the writer’s club she started at her high school for my Ask The Expert series. And I’ll be giving away a copy of ICONS. It’s another sci-fi/dystopian story I really enjoyed. I was struck by how different it is from THE 5th WAVE that I spotlighted last month.
Next Wednesday, I’m interviewing Darcy Pattision and giving away a copy of her new book, START YOUR NOVEL-SIX WINNING STEPS TOWARD A COMPELLING OPENING LINE, SCENE, AND CHAPTER. Darcy’s the author of picture books, non fiction books, and a YA novel. And she’s also the author of NOVEL METAMORPHOSIS: UNCOMMON WAYS TO REVISE NOVELS, a fantastic book that I found really helpful when revising my novel. I know she’ll have lots of great advice to share with us.
The following Monday I’m thrilled to have C.J. Redwine back to talk about her new book, DECEPTION, the sequel to DEFIANCE. I really loved how C.J. took the story in a totally different direction I didn’t anticipate. And of course, I’ll be giving away an ARC of this.
Wednesday that week, I’m giving away a copy of ITCH, THE EXPLOSIVE ADVENTURES OF AN ELEMENT HUNTER by Simon Mayo. He’s a very popular DJ in England. It’s a middle grade story about a boy who needs his science know how to keep him ahead of a malevolent corporation and a top-secret government agency. It’s gotten great reviews and I’m hoping you and your middle grade kids might enjoy it.
The following Monday is Labor Day and I’m doing a Sequels Blog Hop. I'll have lots of great sequels by popular authors for you to choose from. Don’t worry if you’re busy on Monday having fun. The contest will run through September 9th.
Wednesday that week with an interview with Mari Mancusi and a giveaway of SCORCHED, a dystopian/fantasy/time travel story. I’ve been excited about this book since I read the book sale blurb in PW Children’s Bookshelf. And I was not disappointed. It’s fantastic and I can’t wait to share it with you. I’m sure Mari with have lots of advice for us because she’s also the author of another 8 book series.
And don't forget our Tuesday Tips and Casey's Thursday agent spotlights.
Hope to see you on Monday!