Author Interview: Sam Taylor

Pen friends~ So happy to introduce you to another of my 2016 PitchWars alum gang, Sam Taylor, who will release her debut, We Are the Fire in February 2021!

SP: Hi Sam! Thanks for joining us! Before we start talking about your debut, We Are the Fire, can you share a bit about you and your writing journey? 

ST: One of the most unique things about my journey is that I landed my book deal for WAtF before signing with an agent! That’s definitely not the usual order of events, at least for traditional publishing. WAtF was the third manuscript I’d seriously queried. It wasn’t having good luck with agents, but my wide pool of early readers loved it, and this story means so much to me personally. So I began exploring alternate paths to publication. That was when I turned to Swoon Reads (more on them below). I thought to myself, “Agents aren’t responding to this book right now, but readers love it. Maybe readers can help me get it published.” And they did!!!

SP: Can you tell us a bit about your PitchWars experience AND Querying & Agents?

ST: My Pitch Wars journey was completely unorthodox in that I was an unofficial mentee (which I don’t think they do anymore) who was made official right before the showcase. I worked on the sidelines with Kip Wilson (author of the powerful novel-in-verse WHITE ROSE) on a YA fantasy inspired by Babylonian culture and magic. It was a phenomenal experience, I learned so much from her, and turned into a dream when right before the agent showcase I was invited to become an official Pitch Wars mentee and have my story included in that showcase. But then… I didn’t get a single agent request during the showcase week. That was really hard; talk about a whirlwind of emotions! But I found so much support and strength among my fellow Pitch Wars mentees, some of whom have become good writing friends. That support kept me going as I went on to query that Babylonian fantasy–most Pitch Wars mentees still get their agents through regular querying! Alas, that book did not land me an agent, though I did come very close. WAtF was the book I worked on after Pitch Wars, by the way. Sometimes achieving that publishing dream just takes a different project.

SP: Now we want to hear all about your upcoming novel, We Are The Fire releasing with Swoon Reads/Macmillan on February 16, 2021.

Here is a blurb: 

Two magical, fire-wielding teen soldiers in love, pitted against each other as they fight to tear down the empire who kidnapped them. It’s An Ember in the Ashes with fire magic, twisted alchemy, and ash-gray morals.

SP:  How did this story idea come about?

ST: I was trapped in a work environment with some very corrupt people. No matter how much I wanted to fix things, I didn’t always know how to make the situation right, and definitely wasn’t rewarded for my efforts. I was frustrated and angry and wanted to watch something burn. So I had the idea of these characters who, with a breath and a spark, can ignite bonfires. And they have to figure out how to use this magic forced onto them to win back their freedom. The right choices aren’t always clear for them, either, and often they don’t come without steep cost. But these characters keep fighting anyway to take back their lives.

SP: Swoon Reads is very unique, can you tell us more?

ST: Swoon Reads is an imprint of Macmillan (one of the Big 5 publishers), but it is unique in that the books it publishes are selected from a website where writers are invited to post their YA manuscripts. Anyone can read these manuscripts for free, and readers are invited to rate and comment on the ones they like best. Stories with strong ratings and reviews can grab the attention of an editor at Swoon Reads. A few times a year, they’ll select manuscripts that would work well for their list, and extend an offer of publication to those authors.

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

ST: I loved the romantic and moral tension between Oksana and Pran! It was so challenging to write these two with such different perspectives on their world, yet they are united by their dedication to each other. Even–and especially!–when it seemed like they were tearing apart their world and each other, there was always that yearning for them to be together again. Emotions were always high, and that made it easy to be deeply invested in their story, even when writing it pushed me to the limits of my abilities.

Sepp surprised me the most, of all the characters! Over the course of a few drafts, she went from an extremely minor character to one who’s crucial for the story. I think readers get to see this a bit, in how on both Oksana’s and Pran’s side of the story, she goes from being a character mentioned in asides, to someone who’s always at their sides!

SP: What excites and terrifies you about your book coming into the world?

ST: I’ve been invested in all the manuscripts I’ve written, but I had a passion for this story that did not exist for my previous two manuscripts. Maybe because it came out of such a painful time in my life? This was a story I was deeply invested in, yet there was a long span of time when querying was not going well, and I really thought this book would never find its way into readers’ hands. So I’m thrilled that it does get the chance to be a real book out in the world, and it feels right that this is the book I debut with, the one that launches my author career.

As for what terrifies me… this book does get quite dark in places. There are scenes that were particularly divisive among early readers. Yet when this book is deeply exploring moral ambiguity, and the characters are trying to outsmart people who have zero scruples, and dominoes are lined up along precarious paths… there come points when the characters only have intensely difficult decisions to make. And I didn’t shy away from having the characters make them. That wouldn’t do this story justice. I just hope that I’ve done the actual writing justice, so readers can understand what I’m doing on the page, even when the story events turn dark and difficult.

SP: Writing habits — can you let us into your process/writing life? How do you get the job done? Any tips for us?

ST: My process has changed quite a bit since becoming a mother! I’ve been getting up at 5am to have some quiet time to myself while Little T still sleeps. Though I’ve always been a morning person, I never used to get up that early, and it’s definitely been challenging to stick with. But I’ve found that early morning time is crucial to getting enough work time in, especially once I had a book under contract. I also write during Little T’s naps (and thus, have kept him on a pretty strict nap schedule. He needs that sleep time to be in his best mood, and I need the break during the day to recharge and be my own person through my writing).

My advice to others is that if they want to write, they’ll need to make time for it. Find what works for you! Someone else’s schedule won’t necessarily fit, and there’s no one “right” way to make writing time happen. Doesn’t have to be early morning, or even every day. But make time for writing, and honor that time. Learn to tell other people ‘No” and defend anything that would infringe on that time (there will always be something!) Even a little time, regularly taken, can add up to a lot of words after a while.

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

ST: It’s certainly changed the experience I’d been picturing! For instance, I’d planned on attending BookExpo in NYC this past May. That’s a huge book conference lots of industry professionals attend, with so many opportunities for networking! It’s been on my radar for six years; I’d promised myself I’d attend when I had a book to promote. Early this year I’d bought my first ticket for it… alas. Next year, maybe? But a lot of online events have sprung up in place of in-person, including conferences, workshops, book festivals, and launch parties. And I have to say, I’m loving these online events and the accessibility of them all. For myself, traveling is no longer so easy, since I’m mom to a toddler, and as I write this, my second baby is a month away from being born. But with these online events, I’ve been able to participate in conferences I’d never have been able to travel to this year, even without the virus. I’ve joined in the launch parties of friends who live many states away. And I’m looking forward to organizing some of my own online events next year to promote WAtF. I do hope that this a trend that keeps up even after COVID-19 finally leaves us, that there are increased opportunities for online events (or, options to tune in online to in-person events) to include more people in bookish activities.

SP: Now, to lighten things up! 

Is SAM a…

Plotter/pantster? 

Planster! Haha. I always have an outline–can’t draft without it. But every time, as I actually start writing a new story, I’m struck by new ideas that come to me as I sink into the story world and characters’ lives. I always give myself the freedom to explore these new ideas, especially in the first few drafts, because often they result in my best and most creative story elements.

Last book you read?

Just finished Nafizaa Azad’s The Candle and the Flame (amazing and atmospheric! Gorgeous writing, stunning world-building, a compelling romance, and food descriptions that will leave you drooling). Currently, I’m reading an ARC (advance readers’ copy) of Louisa Onomé’s Like Home, a contemporary YA novel about gentrification and friendship on the rocks. Look for this book next February!

Current dream vacation spot?

Iceland! Took a short trip to Reykjavík in Spring 2019 to explore the setting of another one of my books. Mostly I stayed in the city; now, I’d love to go back and see more of the country. You know, when traveling is safe again…

Something always in your fridge? 

Almond milk! Is that a boring answer? I switched over to drinking it while I was pregnant with my first child (Little T)… then realized I liked it so much better than cow’s milk, so I kept on drinking it.

Would you rather be a professional: Marine Biologist? Spy? Opera Singer? Brain Surgeon? OR?

I think being a spy would be thrilling! Don’t know that I’d be any good at it–I’m such a nervous person! But sneaking around uncovering useful secrets seems really empowering.

Favorite childhood book?  

The Velveteen Rabbit. I just love the gorgeous writing, and the meditation on the question, “What is real?” What does it mean to be a real, genuine living being?

SP: Thanks so much for sharing with us, Sam! We are eagerly anticipating your book!

Be sure to connect with SAM!

ADD social media links here.

Buy links:

Nova, Signing off

Nova McBee, author of Calculated & The Never Vows

Guest Post: “Beginning in the Middle” by Author Laura Moe

In the monthly writing workshop I conduct at a local library, the other night I talked about Write Your Novel From the Middle by James Scott Bell. The concept is described as “like popping open the hood and showing writers how they can be intentional about the story.”

In this book, Bell claims that for a book to be effective, there must be a “mirror moment” where the main character can literally or figuratively look in the mirror and questions his/her beliefs about himself. It helps enormously to know the middle moment/mirror moment, because knowing this moment “illuminates the entire book you’re trying to write. It’s the “deep tissue of the story,” (or the engine that drives it.) which many writers don’t discover until much later, sometimes after several drafts or even once the book is published.

Continue reading

Author Interview: Dante Medema

Pen friends ~ Another fantastic interview from debut author, Dante Medema, talking about her upcoming book, The Truth Project, coming out with Harper Teen this fall! She also shares about her querying journey, her 5-editor 6 figure auction dream acquisition story (& the crazy event that followed that news!), and her thoughts on dreamy Alaska settings.

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

DM: Thanks for having me! I’ve always loved writing. I took a creative writing course in college and I remember thinking “I can’t believe how much fun this is!” Then after my husband and I started our family, I stayed home with the kids, and it became my outlet. Somewhere in there I thought “maybe I could try to do this for real” and I made a go of it! Continue reading

Agent Interview: Hannah VanVels, Corvisiero Literary Agency

Pen Friends ~ Today we have a very special guest, Hannah VanVels, once an acquisition editor for Harper Collins Blink, and now a literary agent. Don’t miss her thoughts on publishing, tips on querying, thoughts on the slush pile, and her current wishlist!

Hannah VanvelsSP: Hi Hannah! First, congratulations on joining the Corvisiero Literary Team! I’m excited to have you on the Spinning Pen for our first ever AGENT interview!  Continue reading

Storyboarding 101

After teaching on Storyboarding Monday night a few of you asked me to put my notes online. Here they are! If you want a more comprehensive teaching on Storyboarding, plus access to the template I use, and more, sign up for my newsletter on novamcbee.com 🙂 I’ll be sending this out and more.

Link to various templates

(Note: my template is not online. This is a generic one.)

The Basics of Storyboarding

~It’s an outlining & plotting tool.

~It’s a calendar-type template that has an outline of 25-50 Chapters. Each row has 5 boxes. * I always print on both front and back because my novels are more than 50 chapters.

~Make sure there is a turning Point every fifth chapter.

~Black Moment in 23-24

~Realization in 24-25

~Build your scenes from notes and/or synopsis

~Show conflict

~Illustrate Character Arc, can show both internal & external conflicts and resolutions

Here is how I optimize Storyboarding

It’s December 3rd. Many of us just finished NanoWrimo. Fact: I almost never get 50 thousand words. But I do get 30 thousand words.

In general, I outline the plot and character arcs and all major things I think will happen before I sit down to write. Then I write and play. In that way I am both a plotter and pantster. I write and write until the first draft is done. THEN, I storyboard. I write again. Then I storyboard a second time, and revise again. Let me give you more detail.

What I love to write & how Storyboarding relates:

•First Chapters

•First lines, first paragraphs

•Hooks, inciting incidents

•Tension, mystery

•Raising Questions

•Character Introductions

•Last lines & pay-offs

The way I write that first chapter, even first few chapters is crucial to get readers to turn the page. So, after my first draft, I use storyboarding asa way to check my scenes and overall pace of the story and story arc/character arc to see if it has that first chapter standard. Is the scene telling me something new? Moving me forward? Is there tension? Pay-offs? Did I foreshadows enough?

Another cool aspect isthat I can see if there are scenes that slow or sections that have far too much intense action or mystery. I can rearrange the board to fit better. I can move scenes and events, and then I can plan better pay-offs.

Overall Visual Representation  

•Scene Checklist (I check for “First Chapter Standards” in voice, hook, etc)
•Story Progression & Character Arcs
•Holes
•Tension
•Pace
•Setting

Then I read over those 50 boxes in about 20 minutes and I see the story as a whole in a very short amount of time. It’s very useful.

I always do this exercise with a pen and paper.My friends do it on their computer. Both are fine. I do all my novel writing on my laptop, but all my brainstorming is on messy notebooks and even messier storyboards.I love them, and they help me get a clear plan. Then, once I sit down to write, I accomplish much more, much faster. And I hope you can too.

Let me know if you have any questions.

Nova

Author Interview: Jessica Olson, Sing Me Forgotten

Pen Friends ~ I am so excited for you! In this interview you get to meet the lovely, writer mom, Pitch Wars Alum, YA Author Jessica Olson and hear about her incredible her debut, Sing Me Forgotten, out with Inkyard/Harper Collins in 2021. As you know, we are huge fans of championing author’s debut work, so click here to add it on Goodreads and enjoy all of the amazing gems she has shared in this interview!

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

JO: I’ve been writing books since kindergarten, and I’m pretty sure my parents still have stacks of the books I wrote and illustrated as a kid moldering up in their attic. Compelling stories about little girls that got castles for Christmas and went on picnics and ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. When I fell in love with Harry Potter as a young teen was when I moved on from writing (terrible) picture books to writing (even worse) novels. I was constantly scribbling stories in notebooks instead of paying attention in class during middle school and high school, much to my teachers’ frustration.

I started pursuing publication in college with a YA contemporary issue novel that I thought was the best thing ever written but was actually a pile of stinking garbage. I obviously was not able to get an agent with that manuscript, but I did not give up. I queried twice more over the next few years with two other manuscripts, slowly getting more and more interest in my stories—which showed I was improving—but no bites quite yet.

It wasn’t until I submitted Sing Me Forgotten to PitchWars in 2018 and was chosen as a mentee that things kind of took off. I received several requests from the PitchWars showcase, and I had my first offer of representation within 48 hours. After multiple offers, I chose to sign with Christa Heschke of McIntosh & Otis, and we went on submission shortly thereafter.

SMF went on to receive multiple offers from publishers, so Christa conducted an auction, which was a surreal and insane experience. I didn’t sleep or eat basically that whole week! Though all of the editors who made offers were wonderful, and they all seemed to be so excited for SMF, we decided to go with Lauren at Inkyard because she felt like the best fit for the book and shared the same vision I had for what the story could be.

smf2.jpg Continue reading

7 Killer Approaches to Writing a Killer Opening Line

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As we know, a good first line of a book (and chapter) can do much more than just begin the story. It grabs our attention, sets the tone, reveals something to come, lets us taste the narrative & voice, gives the first impression, and can be locked into our memory for years to come IF it is done well.

Look at the 7 approaches below and study them. (FYI: Thanks to Lorie Langdon for sharing these with us!)

I’ve also added links to some of the most popular first lines in YA Literature. Compare, enjoy, and then mentally put them into their correct categories. Then look at your own first lines. Where does it fit? Practice rewriting your first sentence. And if you are so bold, share it in the comments!

  1. A statement of eternal principle

– Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

– Paper Towns by John Green: “The way I figure it, everyone gets a miracle.”

 

  1. A statement that conveys the narrative

– Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa: “I had a farm in Africa.”

– Stardust by Neil Gaiman: “There once was a young man who wished to gain his Heart’s Desire.”

 

  1. Characterization

– Stephen King’s 11/22/63: “I have never been what you’d call a crying man.”

– The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway: “He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish..”

 

  1. Start mid-action

– Lorie’s current WIP:A brisk gale whipped the sea into peaks that pitched the Skylark around like a leaf in a flooded stream.

– The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner: Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting.

 

  1. A statement of paired facts

– Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo:Joost had two problems: the moon and his mustache.

– A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

  1. 6. Statement laced with significance and/or conflict

– Heather Webb’s Becoming Josephine: The missive arrived in the night.

  • DOON by Corp and Langdon:I skidded to a halt in the crowded corridor, totally unprepared for a showdown with the evil witch of Bainbridge High.
  1. 7. Start with setting that evokes emotion, establishes mood, or raises questions

-A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas:The forest had become a labyrinth of snow and ice.

-Maria V. Snyer’s Poison Study: Locked in darkness that surrounded me like a coffin, I had nothing to distract me from my memories.

 

LINKS:

https://www.bustle.com/articles/164702-20-ya-novels-that-will-hook-you-from-the-first-line

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/teen/15-of-the-best-opening-lines-in-ya/ 

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/38-best-first-lines-in-no_b_8836484

 

Thanks Lorie, for sharing your tips with us! *Find Lorie’s books on amazon here & her website.

Nova, signing off!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When to Make the Leap to a New Series

fmd_cru6otk-cathryn-laveryHave you ever written a note from yourself to yourself?

I did.

It was back when I first started writing. I wasn’t convinced I could finish writing an entire book, much less beat the odds and get published.

So I wrote a note to myself promising my future self that I would not give up on writing until I’d received over a thousand rejections for my manuscript.

Fast forward to heavy rewrites, beta readers, countless vacations spent editing, and slashing my word count like a ruthless ninja, and my novel still isn’t where I want it to be. The second book in the trilogy is nearly written, the characters loveable and the plot thickening, and yet… the first book in the series is still not query ready.

Ever found yourself in this boat?

The pressures of new jobs, moves, injuries and more steal you away from your love of writing and you can’t quite seem to get where you need to be?

That’s where I was.

Then a major life event happened. I moved from Texas to Beijing! Continue reading

Pen Name or Not? What Authors Say…

Behind the scenes in my author circles there’s been an ongoing discussion:

Do I choose to have an ALIAS or not?

What are the pros and cons of a PEN NAME?

Alias.jpg

 

So, I asked a group of authors to give me their opinions on pen names. Here are their responses.

Tobie Easton Ya Author of the Mer Chronicles

“I like that pen names give authors more chances to write in different genres and connect with readers who have a variety of interests. It’s also always fun when you find out an author you love has another pen name for you to check out!” Continue reading

Author Interview: Astrid Scholte

Pen Friends ~ As a 2016 PitchWars mentee, I’m giddy to tell you that my fellow 2016 PW tribe member, and YA debut author, Astrid Scholte‘s incredible, fast-paced, and highly anticipated fantasy, FOUR DEAD QUEENS will be out in the world in February! Her story of perseverance and hard work is inspiring. Enjoy the interview!

 

marketing_astridscholte

SP: Hi Astrid! Thanks for joining us! Before we get into book stuff, we’d LOVE for you to share with our readers a bit of your inspiring (never-giving up) writing journey. Who are you and how long have you have been writing? 

AS: Thanks so much for having me! Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be an author, writing my first “novel” at age 5. Another love of mine was drawing so I thought a picture book illustrator would be the dream job. Back then, I thought I could illustrate my own books. It wasn’t until much later that I found out most authors don’t also illustrate their work.

While my passion for writing was there from a young age, I pursued a career in 3D animation and visual effects as I also had a love for the magic of movie making. I studied 3D animation at university and have worked (and still do!) in the film, TV and animation industry for the past 10+ years. Working in film production is a taxing job, with long hours, so my writing took a back-seat for a few years. It wasn’t until 2012 that I finally finished a novel. It was a YA paranormal romance and I thought for sure it would get published!  Continue reading