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Today I’m thrilled to have my critique partner and author Lori Sawicki here to share about THE POWER OF TWO, her middle grade story that released on July 31, 2013. I loved how Lori brought Jamie and Pru to life as characters. You can so see them and how they’re such different kids in everything about them, including their bedrooms. And Lori does a fantastic job weaving a story about bullying and upper elementary/middle grade girl popular girl issues without being preachy.

Here’s a description from Amazon:

When sixth grader Jamie Corman is kicked out of Sadie’s Too Cool Club, she discovers what it’s like to be an outcast. Bullied by Sadie and ignored by her friends, Jamie wishes for a way back in.

Then she meets Pru Wheeler—the strangest, smallest girl in sixth grade. Tiny Pru reads Robert Frost; understands Jamie’s self-centered sister and too-busy parents; and knows why Sadie holds all the power. After Sadie declares that both girls have Loser Syndrome, Pru and Jamie forge a friendship. And when Pru introduces Jamie to the game of lacrosse, they start a team that includes everyone who was ever shunned by the Too Cools.

But just as the game catches on, a sudden, horrible tragedy brings Jamie face-to-face with Sadie in the biggest confrontation ever to happen at Wheatland Elementary. Will Jamie’s friendship with an unusual student help her stand up, even if she stands alone?

Hi Lori! So excited to have you here!

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

Thanks so much for having me, Natalie! I’ve always felt the need to capture the world in words—first in short stories and then through poetry. It started early. I remember being at a lake once when I was about ten and feeling an actual physical need to describe the way the moon was hitting the water at night. I was an avid reader as a kid and loved Trixie Belden books. I dreamed of belonging to a secret club like Trixie’s. I wanted to have adventures that I could write about. I used to type out stories on an old Underwood in my basement, and my fifth grade teacher, Mr. Leonard, let me stay in at recess to work on those stories using his typewriter. After all these years, I still have them along with a box filled with spiral notebooks and folders of poetry from the time I was in grade school to now. Those stories and poems helped me survive all the angst of growing up. And the poems were useful when I discovered that my main character in The Power of Two wrote poetry, too (wink).

2. Awesome you wrote as a kid too. I wish I had too. Where did you get the idea of THE POWER OF TWO?

The kernel for the story was an incident that happened in my son Nathan’s second grade class. He’s a junior in college now, so it took some years for the idea to come to life. I watched a girl, a lot like Sadie, the bully in Power, exclude certain people from a game she was playing at recess. Girls stood at her locker with raised hands and waited to be chosen (or not). Like Sadie, this girl wasn’t nice, and she seemed to enjoy the power of ignoring and not choosing some of the girls. It was unsettling to see this one seven-year-old have that kind of control over an entire group of bright, energetic girls. So, Power became a fictional account of how that kind of power can manifest into something more. Exclusion is one of the worst types of bullying because it’s not overtly aggressive, but it’s still very damaging. I’m a bit of an anti-bullying advocate, so I always knew I’d write about what I saw that day. And while Power is definitely about bullying, it’s also about dealing with tragedy and, in the wake of something terrible, deciding how to take the best of a friendship, a relationship, or a person and use it to move forward. All of this grew out of that incident in my son’s class.

3. Any bullying is terrible. And something to be taken seriously. There was just a story in the news about a middle grade girl who committed suicide as a result of bullying by other girls. I love Jamie and Pru as characters. Jamie is the insecure dreamer and secret writer while Pru is so mature for being in 6th grade. And they have such different family situations. Share a bit about you developed them as characters. Do you have any advice on how to create unique characters so vividly? 

If anything helps my characters come alive it might be that I don’t try not to know them very well when I
first flesh out a story idea. I have a sense of who they are, but I don’t consider their motives or their behavior when I first put down the story because I’m basically just sketching out the plot points. For example, I could never fill out that character questionnaire about the people in my novels—although I tried and failed once at a writer’s conference workshop. I actually don’t want to know that much about my main characters before I start writing or even in the early drafts. If I do, I’m afraid of force-fitting them into the plot. And I could miss so much about them. I understand those questionnaires, but they don’t work for me. After multiple drafts, I still discover things about my characters I didn’t know at first. And for me, that’s really important. I even find surprises when I’m thick in revision. I think it keeps my characters honest because they react to the plot in a natural, realistic way.

4. Yay! Glad I’m not alone in not liking worksheets. And your characters are always so well developed that you don’t need a worksheet. One of things you do well as incorporate themes in your stories. In THE POWER OF TWO, you use the image of Aunt Judy’s CAKE that doesn’t taste well. How do you decide on themes for your stories and what tips do you have for the rest of us?

Thanks for that nice compliment, Natalie! One of my critique partners, Erin Fanning, described those themes as image systems. I’ve always thought of them as ‘threads.’ I usually find them once I understand my characters pretty well. When I understand what motivates them, what they’re afraid of, and what provides their greatest angst, I’ll often find or ‘feel’ a symbol to represent one of those things. In my next middle-reader book, WHEN TRUTH PUTS ITS SHOES ON, due out this winter, one thread is the protagonist’s hair, which he describes as an ‘uncontrolled poodle.’ Cyron’s hair evolves from a Frizz Level 1 to 5 depending on the situation. I use the ‘FL meter’ as a phrase throughout the story to symbolize Cyron’s state of embarrassment or uncertainty at that moment. Sometimes those threads come naturally; sometimes I have to go looking for them. In Power, all of Jamie’s relatives hate Aunt Judy’s cake because it tastes awful. They ignore it at every reunion. And because Jamie often feels ignored and left out, that thread came pretty easily. I like using threads for two reasons: One, it provides a common and familiar language to use with readers to highlight a certain personality trait about a character. Two, it’s usually visual, so it’s an easy connection for the audience to make.

4. I’ll have to see if I can use your technique. Share a challenge you faced in writing THE POWER OF TWO and how you overcame it.

I needed to make sure the bullying incident wasn’t over the top and the result too much for sixth grade—to find the right balance between drama and reality. Even though I knew something aggressive and BIG would probably be more interesting, Jamie wasn’t a character who would ever have a huge screaming match or fist fight with the bully, and she’d never respond with a perfectly scripted comeback. I needed something that kids could relate to without being too excessive or overblown. I worked hard to make the confrontation ‘scary enough’ so that readers would feel Jamie’s stress and anxiety, but not something they’d see on TV or in a movie. The incident needed to be real and age appropriate. It didn’t feel easy at first to find the right mix of tension and authentic. And I vetted this part in particular through a lot of beta readers to make sure it seemed realistic. Using ‘exclusion’ as the bullying technique has seemed to resonate with a lot of kids who’ve read Power but even more so with adults. They’ve told me they appreciated a story about this type of bullying, which is sometimes overlooked.

6. So you decided to self-publish THE POWER OF TWO and then within a few months your website was live and your book was on Amazon. What resources did you find helpful in setting up your website and doing all the essential steps of publishing your book?

For the first six months, I spent my life on Google. I researched everything I could about indie publishing. I can’t say one site helped me more than another, but there’s a wealth of information out there. I had to learn a lot of new stuff I call the ‘mechanics’ or guts of self-publishing. I taught myself how to use the Amazon CreateSpace tool, to create Mobi files for reviewers (had never heard of it, and I’m still not sure if I pronounce it right), to use PhotoShop elements, to create a website, and about a hundred other technical things needed to get the book ready. It’s been a lot of hard work. Really hard. More hours than a regular job. But I have to say, it’s the most fun I’ve ever had.

7. It sounds like a lot of work. But it’s awesome how many other self-published authors are willing to share what they’ve learned. And now I'll have you to help me if I ever get published. Share something you learned from self-publishing your story that would be helpful to the rest of us.

The most significant for me was how to revise my definition of credibility. It took a long time for me to be able to do that. My first book, Because Sometimes a Miracle is a Pussy Willow Tree, was published during a time when writers submitted directly to publishers. When Miracle was accepted by Tudor Publisher, Inc., that felt credible. I guess I felt credible.

Later, when writers submitted through agents, I had an agent who became very interested in Power, along with two of my other manuscripts. And so that felt like a credible path. But unfortunately, she kept Power and those other manuscripts for almost a year. And then, I learned through a friend that her agency had closed, and I never heard from her again.

At that point, so much was changing in the world of publishing, and I guess I felt the need to try something different. My family had been encouraging me to go in a different direction for a long time—to at least try a different approach because I’d received a lot of positive feedback about Power (I say humbly). I’d vetted it through many beta readers including a sixth grade teacher; a pediatric psychologist; an elementary school counselor; sixth grade students; and a lot of adults, so I decided to break out on my own. But first, I had to get past that old belief that self-publishing wasn’t legitimate. It took me almost two years to do it. And I actually feel a little late getting to that mindset. We’ll see how it turns out. But I know that I believe in this product, and that’s carried me through a lot of doubt.

A second lesson, but just as significant for me, was about being fearless. I’m not a bold person. It’s not my nature to wave my hands around and try to get attention. But I learned how to be brave when I solicited people for time, space on their book shelves, or support. I learned I could still be genuine while putting myself out there.

8. It’s an exciting time to be a self-published author and no one should feel less of an author by going that route. I was super excited when you told me you were going to do this. So you’re taking a different approach to marketing. You don’t blog and aren’t on Facebook or Twitter. How are you marketing your book and how’s it been going?

You’re right, Natalie. I don’t do Facebook or Twitter, and I don’t blog. The reasons for that are probably not all that interesting. But after setting up my website for Identity Novels, I had two marketing goals for this self-publishing (ad)venture: 1) Exposure; and 2) what I call “Feeding the Pipeline.” And I think they kind of go hand in hand. ‘Sales’ was not a priority, but getting people to read the book was. Right now, it’s about giving books away, selling them at a discount, having people visit my website, and getting Power into the hands of as many people I can—all in the hopes that they like it and might be interested in my next book, WHEN TRUTH PUTS ITS SHOES ON.

I did a lot of the basics: Getting Amazon and Kindle reviews, although I’ve resisted paying for reviews…asking friends to post a link to my site and Amazon…citing my new publishing company on Linked In…putting articles in local papers, etc. But beyond that, I researched bookstores and libraries that supported Indie writers and sent Power to them. It’s amazing, really, how many there are. And Power is now in places I would never have expected. I contacted many schools to get Power into the hands of school librarians and counselors. I’ve volunteered to speak at or participate in as many free events as I can. These events have been critical because before each one, the hits on my website shoot up like crazy. Do they equate to sales? It doesn’t matter at this point. It means that someone out there found out about Power who didn’t know about it before. And I have a page long more of strategies I haven’t even started.

One successful strategy was contacting a professor at a local university who, after reading Power, has agreed to use it in two of his Intro to Children’s Literature classes. I didn’t know this professor, so his enthusiasm surprised me. It’s been amazing to learn how many people are willing and want to support local authors. They’re not averse to self-publishing at all. They don’t really care where a book comes from as long as they like it. I didn’t expect that.

9. Awesome that you were able to connect with so many bookstores and libraries. I’ll have to pick your brain more the next time we go to lunch. What are you working on now?

I’ve got three books in the works right now, and I think you’ve edited and reviewed all of them, Natalie! WHEN TRUTH PUTS ITS SHOES ON is about an eighth-grade boy whose Best of Show win at the town’s annual cake bake-off sends the women in the community and one eighth-grade home ec (drama) queen into a revengeful frenzy. I also have two young adult novels that I’ve finished beta testing and should be ready late next year: I VOTED FOR THE FAT GIRL and THE HANGING MAN. All three books are part of my Identity Novels collection, which I launched in July.

Thanks for all your advice, Lori. You can find Lori at www.identitynovels.com

Lori has generously offered a copy of THE POWER OF TWO 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 November 9th. I’ll announce the winner on November 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. You must be 13 or older to enter. The giveaway will be a print book for US or an e-book for International winner.

Here’s what’s coming up:

Next Monday, I’ll be giving away my signed ARC of EXILE, book two in the MG fantasy series by Shannon Messenger and a signed copy of her YA fantasy, LET THE SKY FALL, and sharing about getting to meet Shannon. It was SO awesome!

Next Wednesday Kit Grindstaff will be doing a guest post and there will be a giveaway of her MG spooky fantasy, THE FLAME IN THE MIST. Kit’s interview was super popular so I’m excited to give you another chance to win this.

The following Monday I’ll be interviewing Meagan Spooner and Amie Kaufman and giving away an ARC of THESE BROKEN STARS. It’s a fantastic sci-fi story which really got me in touch with how similar sci-fi world building can be to fantasy, my favorite genre.

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

Hope to see you Monday!


Kristin Lenz said...

Congrats to Lori for your courage to self-publish - it sounds like your book is receiving praise and support, and glad to hear you have more books coming. Thanks for the interview, Natalie - I've never liked those character questionnaires either!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

She was smart to research for so long. The right information is there for those who seek it.

Lori, I'm guessing you wouldn't enjoy my characterization sessions either. LOL

PK HREZO said...

Big Congrats Lori!! It's such a great time to be a writer and have all these choices. Research is always key. That's why I took so long to decide if it was the right path--spent all this time collecting data.
And I used to read Trixie Belden too. My mom saved all her fave books and I loved reading them.

Unknown said...

Can't wait to read! This book sounds awesome!
And yep, I'm mentioning this contest on Twitter. :)

Unknown said...

I’m sure your sessions are really helpful! I just get so stuck. It’s more a point of my failure and inability to do early characterization. I’m just kind of a dud with them. I failed so miserably in the workshop—but the session itself was great! I’m sure yours are, too. 

Unknown said...

Thank you, Pk. I appreciate your support. Wasn't Trixie and her clan just great? Every once in a while on a snowy day, I'll go dig one of those books out and re-read it. Good luck with your publications!

Unknown said...

Thank you so much, Stefanie! I appreciate your support, and how wonderful of you to mention this on Twitter. That's really so very nice of you. BIG thanks.

Unknown said...

Thank you for your words of encouragement, Kristin! It's so nice to 'meet' you through LRambles. Yes, Natalie always puts together a great interview!

Heather said...

It just goes to show that the right teacher can make all the difference! Great interview ladies, I love how Lori became a writer. :)

Barbara Watson said...

How fun to promote and interview your critique partner! There's so much that goes into publishing, whatever route you take. Thanks for sharing your journey, Lori.

Crystal Collier said...

Wahoo! Here's to childhood writers! *high five* And way to go Indie! I love that you are getting out there in the real world, Lori. Some of us techno geeks need to follow your example. ;)

For a moment there I thought Lori and Natalie might be sisters--I mean, look at those author shots. Both beautiful ladies.

David P. King said...

Awesome interview, and congratulations on your release, Lori! :)

Gwen Gardner said...

Love your marketing tips, Lori. All my efforts go into social networking, but don't seem to be working. Plan B is to just keep writing books. Congrats on the release of your new book.

Hi Natalie! Wonderful interview :)

M Pax said...

Congrats to Lori! Getting out there and exposure is key. It's smart. Both Hugh Howey and Colleen Hoover say they gave a way a lot of books. I give away a lot, too.

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

Congrats, Lori!
There is as much joy for the writer getting to know their characters--however they choose to do this--as it is for the readers.

Danielle H. said...

I am inspired by how Lori grew as an author and as a confident professional in the children's publishing world! Wow! Congratulations! I can't wait to read your work. I will share on Facebook.

Wendy said...

I really felt encouraged by Lori's take on the character spreadsheets and questionnaires. Nice to know how so many different processes lead to great end products. wendy (at) wendygreenley (dot) com.

Unknown said...

Thanks for your support, Heather! When I think back to Mr. Leonard's willingness to let me stay in and write during recess...I sometimes want to get in touch with him to thank him. Truly a marvelous teacher!

Unknown said...

I appreciate your response, Barbara. The journey has been twisty, for sure! Hope your journey is going well!

Unknown said...

Thank you for your nice response, Crystal! No, we're not sisters...but Natalie often feels like one. She's also one of the best editors I've ever had. No bull. Really focused. And she sees all the problems. I really value her expertise.

Unknown said...

Thanks, David! I appreciate your comment.

Unknown said...

Thanks, Gwen! During all my research, I read somewhere that the best thing you can do to promote your book is write your second! I think your Plan B sounds right on!

Unknown said...

Thanks, M! Good luck with your publications!

Unknown said...

Thanks, Lynda!

Unknown said...

Thank you so much, Danielle! That's really nice of you to share on Facebook. I don't know how confident I am, but I guess you have to believe in yourself and your product before anyone else does! I appreciate your support.

Unknown said...

Thanks, Wendy! I am truly a dud with the character sheets. But I agree...we all get to our characters in different ways.

Rosi said...

This book sounds terrific. I really want to read it. Thanks for the interesting interview. Great stuff. I tweeted about the giveaway: https://twitter.com/rosihollinbeck/status/393447812127412224

Unknown said...

Thank you so much, Rosie! I appreciate your comments and willingness to tweet about the giveaway!

Mary Preston said...

It is a great interview thank you. All the best with your writing.

Unknown said...

Thank you, Mary! I appreciate your support!

Tracy Bilen said...

I loved Trixie Beldon! All the best with your book!

Unknown said...

Thanks so much, Tracy! I was very sad to discover I'd lost my copy of the first book one in Trixie Belden series: The Secret of the Old Mansion. I hope it turns up some day!

Pat said...

Great interview! Lori, your book sounds great. Good luck with it!

Donna K. Weaver said...

Love love love the sound of this book. Great interview. The thread concept has been really thinking.

Unknown said...

Book sounds good. Good luck with it.

Elizabeth McBride said...

This sounds wonderful! I would love to have a copy for us to use at school, and keep in our library! Thank you and best of luck!!!

Unknown said...

Thanks, Pat! I appreciate your support!

Unknown said...

Thanks so much, Donna!

Unknown said...

Thanks, Alicia!

Unknown said...

Let me know where to send you one, Elizabeth! I'd love to have it in your library.

Andrea Mack said...

Thanks so much for this inspiring interview! Sometimes I get overwhelmed by all the advice about social media and its nice to know there are other was. Lori, I really lie how you focus on getting your book read...and then writing more!