Author Interview: Alicia J. Novo

Pen Friends ~ Please welcome YA Author Alicia J. Novo talking about her upcoming debut, UNWRITTEN, publishing journey, writing tips, favorite books & book-crushes, launching a book during COVID, and so much more! Do NOT miss her book cover. *It is beyond gorgeous and made by my favorite cover designer, Micaela Alcaino.

Alicia J NovoSP: Hi Alicia! Thanks for joining us! Before we start talking about UNWRITTEN, can you share a bit about you and your writing journey?

Absolutely! I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was six. I remember the exact moment. After I won an inconsequential writing contest and saw my story printed in the school newspaper. This is what I’m meant to do, I thought. But it took a long time and many turns before I decided to embrace writing professionally. I told myself I was too practical. Now, I think I was too scared. Instead of English or History, I studied Economics and became a technology executive. Not that I regret it. I enjoyed it. I’ve lived and worked in different countries and learned a lot about business, and people, and the world. Stories are in my blood, though, and eventually I had to accept writing is my calling. The journey since then has been bumpy but also satisfying because there is nothing I’d rather be doing than immersing myself in stories.

SP: Now, congrats on, UNWRITTEN, which will come out in March 2021!Unwritten_Cover
Here is a blurb: 

Books whisper to Beatrix Alba. But they aren’t the reason she has never fit in. Bullied at home and school, she keeps a secret—a power of violence and darkness.

When the spell that keeps her hidden fails, she’s catapulted into the Zweeshen, a realm where all tales live, and her dream of meeting her favorite characters comes true. But wishes are tricky, and behind its wonder and whimsy, the Zweeshen is under attack. A character is burning bookworlds in pursuit of a weapon to rule both stories and storytellers. To succeed, he needs a riddle in Beatrix’s keeping.

Now he’s hunting her down.

Joining forces with William, a cursed conjurer, Beatrix must face an enemy who knows her every weakness in a realm where witches play with time, Egyptian gods roam, and Regency heroines lead covert operations. And with her darkness as the only weapon, she may have to sacrifice everything to save a world that rejects her.

SP:  How long did it take you to write UNWRITTEN and how did this story come about?

I began writing this book almost seven years ago. It sounds crazy long. In truth it was a discovery process, and I feel I’ve written three different UNWRITTEN novels during that time. The final version, the UNWRITTEN which is being published, is about three years old, and it’s the best of that exploration. It contains what I’ve learned, not just in terms of writing, but life as well. Even though UNWRITTEN is not an issue novel–it does touch on concerns that feel pressing today, such as bullying, discrimination, and tolerance. So it was enlightening to find some answers through Beatrix and her challenges.

The original idea for UNWRITTEN is even older. Remember the six-year-old who wanted to become a writer? Well, she didn’t have a lot of friends and adored book characters. So she invented a place where they all went after the end of their books. I picked up that old concept and used it to develop the Zweeshen, a universe where characters from all stories live. UNWRITTEN grew from there in ways that surprised me.

SP: What has been your favorite process about launching this book? Any marketing tips you can share with debuts?

My favorite part was growing a community on Instagram. I wasn’t active at all on the platform before UNWRITTEN, but it has proven such a boon, especially because COVID has limited the impact of other more traditional channels. The bookish world on Instagram has been so fun and supportive!

In general, playfulness works for me. It’s one of the reasons I like fantasy so much. Because as a writer you get to play. Subvert the way of things. For marketing, I’m a huge fan of bookish swag. I had a great time creating bookmarks, finding props and designing a charm and a keychain. I even have a funko pop based on amazing character art of Beatrix Alba. But I am also a planner. I created a marketing plan and put every single idea I could find in there. The goal isn’t to do them all but have the pressure out of my head. I take it one day at a time. One action per day at least. And I try to have fun with it, turn it into a game.

SP: What was your favorite part about writing this book? Which character surprised you most?

My favorite part was discovering the world of the Zweeshen through Beatrix’s journey. I always try to challenge my main character to the breaking point, so the Zweeshen had to evolve to test Beatrix. The Zweeshen would be a completely different place if not for her particular issues. It ended up becoming a much richer world than it was originally.

The character who surprised me the most was Emma. She’s younger than Beatrix, so I had planned to keep her on the sidelines. Emma wouldn’t have it. She kept taking over scenes and expanding her role. In time, I stopped fighting her because she made Beatrix better. Emma has changed the least too. She was fully-developed and idiosyncratic from the start. Now she’s one of my favorites.

SP: Writing tips and revision– what helps you stay focused on finishing a book?

I think a book is no different than a painting in that you have to expect multiple passes. You have to let the paint dry before adding the next layer to create a specific effect. I’d say embrace the process, try to enjoy each step. My biggest writing tip is to get stuff down. Whether for a first draft or a scene or even a paragraph. Often my first try is full of Xs. They stand for a word or a sentence I know I’ll have to include. Something that would force me to slow down to get it right and would break the momentum. Let ideas flow first. There will be time to revise. To agonize over the perfect word or sentence structure.

You asked about staying focused. For me, it’s less about focus and more about maintaining the right distance. That place where you can still assess the work with a level of objectivity, detached enough to prioritize. If I’m revising for plot, every comma shouldn’t stop me, and I have to let some things go. One of my biggest challenges is cutting too much. It’s the opposite of struggling to kill darlings. I have a murdering bent. Feedback is mana to me, so all someone needs to say is “that portion dragged a little”, and I will chop a whole chapter off. Learning to cut more judiciously is one of my goals.

SP: As an author, what have you learned about the publishing world that you think is important to share with upcoming authors?

Here are my top 3:
1) You already heard publishing is slow. Well… It’s slow. Slower than slow. So slow you want to pull your hair out. Slower than the sloth from Zootopia. So make sure you arm yourself with patience and keep yourself busy while you travel through whatever stage you are in.
2) Expect things to work differently than you hoped and differently from everyone else. Even though there’s a process, each journey is personal. Have faith and believe you will get there. There is no one way. This is your jungle. Love the path you’re clearing. When in doubt, get yourself a bigger machete.
3) Speak up. Ask. Question. Do not suffer your uncertainty in silence. If there’s something you feel strongly about, request it. I had always envisioned UNWRITTEN having a map, so I was disappointed when it wasn’t mentioned in the planning discussions. I agonized over it. When I finally brought it up, my publisher loved the idea. I’m delighted with the final map in the book.


SP: Launching during COVID 19 must be an interesting experience- in which ways have you seen positive things come of it? 

A huge challenge, yes. COVID forced me to accept changes, delays and a feeling of constant flux. Everyone is doing the best they can, but we all work with limited information and make the best choices possible on any given day. I had to make friends with that relinquishing of control. It’s a work in progress 🙂 The cancellation of live events and signings is the saddest loss from my perspective. I really like interacting with people. Still, there are silver linings. Small bookshops have been forced to develop their online presence, which will help them long term. As a reader and local shopper, I love that.

For writers, the move to online has opened up possibilities to participate in events that would have been out of reach. Not everyone can travel constantly for conferences. I recently participated in the SCBWI Summer Spectacular which was amazing. If it had taken place in person, I would have missed it.

Also, and It is too early to tell if this will be a permanent shift, I think COVID has served as an equalizer. Small and independent presses struggle to get into the limited shelf space in bookstores which is dominated by Big 5 releases. The internet is more democratic. The online focus is a win for readers’ chances to find quality books that would have otherwise gone under. Bloggers, online reviewers and cool sites like the Spinning Pen help with that too because people turn to them for honest recommendations and that is more important than ever during COVID.

SP: Now, to lighten things up!

Is Alicia a…

Plotter/pantster?

Plotter without a doubt. I have outlines, lists, mindmaps. I have charts of my charts. But I am willing to blow them all up and go with something a character wants because, in the end, the best laid plans…

Last book you read?

I just finished rereading Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor, and I love it more every time. The prose is lyrical and the story is rich, enthralling and full of mystery. And it’s a book about books–I can never resist those.
Current dream vacation spot?

Bali. I crave sun and sand and turquoise water. I’ve always wanted to stay at one of those huts that sit on stilts in the ocean.

Something always in your fridge?

I feel like I should say something cool and healthy like avocado (which I love) or Kale (which I kind of tolerate) but actually diet coke. Not cool and not healthy but my vice. Especially when on a deadline. And champagne. There always has to be a bottle in there just in case. Either to celebrate a surprise success or enjoy just cause.

Would you rather be a professional: Kick boxer? Archaeologist? Dog Groomer? Mechanic? OR?

Archeologist. Hands down. I’m fascinated by history and trying to recreate the stories of the past, to reconstruct the world as it used to be. It requires imagination, logic and quite a bit of detective work. It sounds mesmerizing to me. There’s a character in UNWRITTEN, Jane, who used to be an archeologist before arriving in the Zweeshen. I had lots of fun working on her backstory.

Any recent fictional crushes?

No, not lately. It’s a question I’ve been working on from a writing perspective. What makes a character dreamy? Why do we fall in love with him or her? Especially for male supporting characters, how do we create a love interest that is attractive and strong in his own right, while being respectful; masculine without having to save the damsel or become too overbearing? As a mom of a son, finding that answer matters to me.

Favorite childhood book?  

Anne of Green Gables. I admire Anne’s positivity, lack of fear or self consciousness. The willingness to be herself at all times regardless of what anyone thought. Plus, she loved stories and ended up a writer, so a kindred spirit.

SP: Thanks so much for sharing with us, Alicia! We are eagerly anticipating your book!
Be sure to connect with Alicia!– 

www.alicianovo.com

Instagram: @authoraliciajnovo

Twitter: @aliciajnovo

facebook: alicianovoauthor

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/20323098.Alicia_J_Novo

 

Signing off, NOVA MCBEE Author of Calculated and 2020 PitchWars Mentor

Author Interview: Kara Swanson

Pen Friends~ today’s interview is with YA Author, Kara Swanson, talking about her latest release, DUST, a peter pan sequel/retelling coming out with Enclave Publishing  this July (2020.) Kara’s path to publishing is really unique and I believe will be helpful for those in both traditional and self publishing. Her cover art has won awards and guys- she has friends & readers that create the most stunning fan art. See all below!

Kara Swason | Floral HeadshotSP: Hi Kara! Thanks for joining us! Before we get into book stuff, we’d LOVE to know a bit about you and your writing journey? 

Hello there, friend!

It’s such a pleasure to be here with you today!

I’ve been writing since I was a young teen. I grew up overseas in Papua New Guinea as the daughter of missionaries. I was first published at seventeen, and that small taste of being an author was what made me realize I wanted to pursue this as a career. Several years later, while I was dealing with the worst season of having Lyme Disease (a sickness I still battle to this day), I wrote The Girl Who Could See, a novella that helped me process the unique perspective I had as a young person transitioning back to the US after having spent most of my life in another culture. It was a way to work through this sense that I’d had of always standing between two worlds, never quite a part of either. I continued writing and now at twenty-three, I have a Peter Pan retelling/sequel that releases with Enclave Publishing this year. 

SP: Dust will come out with Enclave Publishing in July 2020. Dust-by-Kara-Swanson-1331x2048

Here is a blurb:

The truth about Neverland is far more dangerous than a fairy tale.

Claire Kenton believes the world is too dark for magic to be real–since her twin brother was stolen away as a child. Now Claire’s desperate search points to London… and a boy who shouldn’t exist.

Peter Pan is having a beastly time getting back to Neverland. Grounded in London and hunted by his own Lost Boys, Peter searches for the last hope of restoring his crumbling island: a lass with magic in her veins.

The girl who fears her own destiny is on a collision course with the boy who never wanted to grow up. The truth behind this fairy tale is about to unravel everything Claire thought she knew about Peter Pan…and herself. Continue reading

Author Interview: Sarah Allen

Pen Friends ~ Get ready for a stream of amazing interviews this coming week. We’ve got Agents, Editors, and a bunch of mega talented debut authors!

Next up is Middle Grade Author, Sarah Allen, my dear friend and fellow 2016 Pitchwars Alumni. Her book, What Stars are Made of, will come out with Macmillan in March, fyi, its open for preorder now. (link above!)

sa111SP: Hi Sarah! I’m so excited to have you on the Spinning Pen to talk about your debut, What Stars are Made Of! Before we get to all the book questions, can you tell us a bit about yourself and writing journey? Continue reading

Social Media – Our Best Frenemy

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Today we have Jenni Claar, a social media manager, sharing a very basic, go-to, take on Social Media–the pros and functions on how to use the major ones like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. Take a look!

  1. If you want to….

GATHER YOUR COMMUNITY, use:

Facebook

It is useful for:

Business/Author Page (affected by algorithms – will only reach roughly 10% of your audience without paying for more…don’t waste your money!)

Algorithm tips:
Post daily (mornings and evenings have the highest audience traffic)

Comments, likes, and shares increase audience.

1/3 Audience Engagement Posts, 1/3 Self-Promotion/Product Promotion, 1/3 Audience Care

*Images carry more weight in Facebook algorithms than links – share links in comments

Other ideas for Facebook-

*Facebook Groups Street Teams

*Launch Teams

*Book Clubs Personal Blogs/Newsletter

 

2. If you want to….

FIND YOUR READERS use:

Instagram – #bookstagram

or

YouTube – BookTube

 

3. If you want to….

NETWORK, FIND YOUR PEERS, MENTORS, AND ROLE MODELS use:

Twitter

Lots of community happens here, be kind, active, and engage. Twitter circles grow quickly.

Continue reading

Author Interview: Jennieke Cohen, Dangerous Alliance

Pen Friends  ~ Our author interview today is with Jennieke Cohen, (who I met through the 2016 PitchWars gang.) Not only does she share about her debut, Dangerous Alliance, (which you can pre-order!) but about perseverance, Jane Austen, favorite books, fictional crushes, publishing, and more. Enjoy.

JenniekeCohen Headshot

SP: Hi Jennieke! Thanks for joining us! Before we get into book stuff, we’d LOVE to know a bit about you and how long have you have been writing?

JC: Thanks so much for having me! Even as a child, I liked telling stories and acting them out, and by high school, I thought I wanted to work in the film industry. I wrote my first screenplay—a dark, suspense story about a serial killer—in high school and even made it into a movie for one of my classes. After college, I started my first novel, which would later become Dangerous Alliance. Having ruled out working in the film business, I decided to intern with a literary agent (I later got promoted to her assistant), and then at Prima Games (then an imprint of Random House) while I pursued a master’s degree in professional writing from the University of Southern California. Nowadays, in my spare time, you’ll find me re-watching and over-analyzing old movies (a hard habit to break!), singing opera arias and show tunes, or discovering new foodie spots with my husband.

SP: Your debut, Dangerous Alliance, will come out December 3rd, 2019.

Here is the blurb:DA

Lady Victoria Aston has everything she could want: an older sister happily wed, the future of her family estate secure, and ample opportunity to while her time away in the fields around her home. But now Vicky must marry—or find herself and her family destitute. Armed only with the wisdom she has gained from her beloved novels by Jane Austen, she enters society’s treacherous season.

Sadly, Miss Austen has little to say about Vicky’s exact circumstances: whether the roguish Mr. Carmichael is indeed a scoundrel, if her former best friend, Tom Sherborne, is out for her dowry or for her heart, or even how to fend off the attentions of the foppish Mr. Silby, he of the unfortunate fashion sensibility. Most unfortunately of all, Vicky’s books are silent on the topic of the mysterious accidents cropping up around her…ones that could prevent her from surviving until her wedding day.

SP: Can you tell us a bit more about how this idea came about?

JC: This may sound somewhat cliché, but when I was twelve, I read Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre and they had a much bigger impact on me than I could have guessed. I was expecting them to be dry and boring because they were “classics,” but the witty intelligence Jane Austen brought to her novels spoke to me in a way not many of the other books I’d read had. And I simply loved the romance and mystery elements of Jane Eyre. I found myself looking for all the historical novels I could find. That led to reading a lot of adult fiction and nonfiction because, at the time, there were very few European-set historical novels written specifically for teens and young adults. With Dangerous Alliance, I wanted to create the kind of novel I would have really enjoyed reading as a teen. Continue reading

Author Interview: Annie Sullivan, Tiger Queen

Pen Friends ~ Today’s interview is with YA Author Annie Sullivan talking about her latest book, Tiger Queen! We also just learned that she and Lauren Mansy (from our last interview) will go on tour together promoting, The Memory Thief, and Annie’s Tiger Queen, (& her debut, A Touch of Gold!) Be sure to check them all out!

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SP: Hi Annie! Thanks for joining us! Before we get into book stuff, we’d LOVE to know a bit about you and your writing journey? 

AS: Thanks so much for having me! I’m the author of fairytale and fantasy young adult novels. I love taking stories readers are familiar with and giving them an unexpected twist—whether that’s a new character or a new ending. I have a master’s degree in Creative Writing from Butler University and have been writing seriously since college. It’s always been a dream of mine to be a published author, and now, I’m so excited that it’s come true!

SP: Tiger Queen was just released into the world! Congrats! Can you tell us how this idea & its characters came about?tgg

AS: Tiger Queen is actually a loose retelling of Frank Stockton’s infamous short story “The Lady or the Tiger,” which has a cliffhanger ending. Ever since I read the story in grade school, I’ve always wanted to give that story the ending it always should have had (in my opinion.) So I’m so excited that I was finally able to make that happen in Tiger Queen as we follow Princess Kateri as she fights suitors in an arena to win her right to rule.

Here is blurb:

In the mythical desert kingdom of Achra, an ancient law forces sixteen-year-old Princess Kateri to fight in the arena to prove her right to rule. For Kateri, winning also means fulfilling a promise to her late mother that she would protect her people, who are struggling through windstorms and drought. The situation is worsened by the gang of Desert Boys that frequently raids the city wells, forcing the king to ration what little water is left. The punishment for stealing water is a choice between two doors: behind one lies freedom, and behind the other is a tiger.

But when Kateri’s final opponent is announced, she knows she cannot win. In desperation, she turns to the desert and the one person she never thought she’d side with. What Kateri discovers twists her world—and her heart—upside down. Her future is now behind two doors—only she’s not sure which holds the key to keeping her kingdom and which releases the tiger. Continue reading

Author Interview: Joanna Hathaway

Pen Friends, I’m so excited to introduce you to debut YA Author, Joanna Hathaway who will talk about her YA Fantasy (with Historical aspects), Dark of the West, which comes out February tomorrow, the 5th!!! Let’s hear what she has to say about books, publishing, marketing and more!

JHSP: Hi, Joanna! Thanks for joining us! Congrats on your debut coming out in February! I bet you’re getting excited!  But before we dive into all the book stuff, can you please tell us a bit of who are you and how long have you have been writing? 

JH: Thanks so very much for having me! Yes, it’s getting very exciting, and as you mentioned, Dark of the West is my debut. It’s my first book to be published — but it’s also the first book I’ve ever finished! I started working on it when I was in university, over a decade ago, and it was the only story that stuck with me through the years. I like to say that I “grew up” as a writer with this book. I’ve revised it so many times, and in so many different ways, that it’s taught me most of what I know about craft at this point. I know many authors write a few different books before they reach The One, but for me it took agonizing over countless drafts to makeDark of the West become The One!Dark of the West

SP: Your debut, Dark of the West, will come out February 5th! From the first moment I read your description, I knew I would LOVE this book!

Here is a blurb:

Aurelia Isendare is a princess of a small kingdom in the North, raised in privilege but shielded from politics as her brother prepares to step up to the throne. Halfway around the world, Athan Dakar, the youngest son of a ruthless general, is a fighter pilot longing for a life away from the front lines. When Athan’s mother is shot and killed, his father is convinced it’s the work of his old rival, the Queen of Etania—Aurelia’s mother. Determined to avenge his wife’s murder, he devises a plot to overthrow the Queen, a plot which sends Athan undercover to Etania to gain intel from her children.

Athan’s mission becomes complicated when he finds himself falling for the girl he’s been tasked with spying upon. Aurelia feels the same attraction, all the while desperately seeking to stop the war threatening to break between the Southern territory and the old Northern kingdoms that control it—a war in which Athan’s father is determined to play a role. As diplomatic ties manage to just barely hold, the two teens struggle to remain loyal to their families and each other as they learn that war is not as black and white as they’ve been raised to believe. Continue reading

Author Interview: Kara McDowell

Pen Friends~ today’s interview is special because I was along side YA debut author Kara Jean McDowell as a fellow 2016 PitchWars mentee, witnessed her get an agent, and then a book deal, and now her book, Just For Clicks, will come out in February!

kara mcdowell author photo 1

SP: Hi Kara! Thanks for joining us. Before we dive into all the book stuff, can you please tell us a bit of who are you and how long have you have been writing?

KM: Hello! Thanks for having me! My name is Kara McDowell. I live with my husband and three young kids in Arizona. When I’m not writing or reading, I like to boat, bake, go on road trips, and watch Netflix.

SP: Your debut, Just for Clicks, will come out Feb 2019. First, we LOVE your incredibly adorable, genius, and timely idea!

Here is a blurb: Continue reading

The Querying Show: Episode 5 “Standing Out in a Crowd”

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Welcome to The Querying Show’s 5th Episode!

Until the New Year you will witness every juicy (or completely stagnant) detail of our SP Staff Member’s querying life in the SLUSH PILE!

(Check out our rules and reasons in our intro post here!)

Will CR’s/Write_Or_Left achieve AGENT success? Or will it result with a querying and MS reboot? Dying to know? Follow us to see how Write_Or_Left ‘s querying journey will end up!

***Note: There will only be two episodes in November & December!*** 

SO…..Today is the 9th week of CR’s journey. On the last episode, we broke down his query to show you the most essential parts that a Query should have. Today, we will hear from CR and standing out in a crowd.

Let’s check in our with brave querying fellow and see how things are progressing. (Click here for Episode 1 & 2 & 3 & 4.)   Continue reading

Marketing & Social Media Tips Part 2

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Thanks for coming back to read “Marketing Tips Part Two!” (Find part one on Social Media here if you haven’t read it yet!)

The tips I have below have come from different authors I’ve met, or agents who gave certain advice, or just research itself. Hope they help!

What the Pros have done: 

One night I went to an event to listen to an indie author talk about marketing. She is a cozy mystery writer, who was determined to be such a good author that Amazon would knock on her door and make her an offer. And they did. Did that get your attention?

What she told the audience about marketing was very gripping.

Her first story recounted the author of the DaVinci Code. Dan Brown and his publicist decided to take a risk and send copies of his book to over 300 major newspaper-book reviewers. Well, the risky strategy paid off! It was reviewed and he became a best-seller overnight!   Continue reading