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

Author Interview: Laura Taylor Namey

Pen Friends ~ I’m so pleased to introduce you to a new friend and talented YA author, Laura Taylor Namey  talking about her writing journey, her first book, The Library of Lost Things (Inkyard) and her upcoming novel, The Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow (Atheneum) out in October.

laura TSP: Hi Laura! Thanks for joining us! Before we start talking about The Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow, can you share a bit about you and your writing journey? 

Hi Nova, thanks so much for chatting with me! I’m a San Diego native and I’ve been writing for about six years. Right now I’m loving the world of young adult contemporary with a coming of age bent and plenty of Latinx rep.

SP: First, congrats on your debut, The Library of Lost Things, which came out last October by Inkyard! What was your favorite process about launching your first book?library lost

Thanks so much! I will never forget the feeling of walking into a bookstore and seeing my book, face-out on the shelf. That, as well as getting to meet so many readers, made last fall one of my favorite times.

SP: Now we want to hear all about your upcoming novel, The Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow that will come out with Atheneum October 6, 2020.

Here is a blurb:

cubanFor Lila Reyes, a summer in England was never part of the plan. The plan was 1) take over her abuela’s role as head baker at their panadería, 2) move in with her best friend after graduation, and 3) live happily ever after with her boyfriend. But then the Trifecta happened, and everything—including Lila herself—fell apart.

Worried about Lila’s mental health, her parents make a new plan for her: Spend three months with family friends in Winchester, England, to relax and reset. But with the lack of sun, a grumpy inn cook, and a small town lacking Miami flavor (both in food and otherwise), what would be a dream trip for some feels more like a nightmare to Lila…until she meets Orion Maxwell.

A teashop clerk with troubles of his own, Orion is determined to help Lila out of her funk, and appoints himself as her personal tour guide. From Winchester’s drama-filled music scene to the sweeping English countryside, it isn’t long before Lila is not only charmed by Orion, but England itself. Soon a new future is beginning to form in Lila’s mind—one that would mean leaving everything she ever planned behind. Continue reading

7 Tips to Write Better Fantasy with History

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7 Tips to Write Better Fantasy with History

So you think you have an original fantasy world? That may be so, but creating something from nothing is nearly impossible. Much of what we create is repackaged. We borrow. We polish. We add a flame. Some of the greatest writers borrow from history to create their fantasy worlds. And more are doing so with a desire to branch out of the European Fantasy trope that’s long dominated the fantasy world. Let’s take a look at a few famous fantasy worlds based on real historic events or places:
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo – 17thcentury Amsterdam

Lord of the Rings by Tolkien– Rohan is the epitome of Anglo-Saxon England

Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin–based on historical events like the Wars of the Roses and the Glencoe Massacre, etc.

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir – Ancient Rome

 

All of these are Fantasy novels, not Historical Fantasy even though they are inspired by real history. I mean Amsterdam and Ketterdam are pretty close! The degree to which history inspires the worldbuilding varies with each of these examples. The worlds are more rich and alive when based on something real whether it be a place, a battle, a character, or a culture. But in order to write Fantasy well (and know where history fits in) you must first decide on the base for your fantasy world:

 

  1. Imaginative World (General Fantasy) – An Ember in the Ashes (What if I invent my own world?)
  2. Alternate World (General Fantasy) – Harry Potter (What if England had witches?)
  3. Real-World (Historical Fantasy) – Temeraire by Naomi Novik (What if Napoleon had dragons!)

 

The degree of association with the real-world increases with each category, as does the need for historical research. What separates Historical Fantasy, such as Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series, is the perfect blend of real history and the fantastical. Historical Fantasy is set solidly in a real-world setting with historic characters of significance and in real time, but with a touch of the supernatural. Fantasy inspired by history is simply fantasy with a rich world informed by aspects of history. But regardless of your fantasy subgenre, I would argue that it’s never too late to be a history buff! Now that you’ve seen some amazing novels inspired by history, here are some tips to improve your fantasy writing with history:

 

  1. Characters NOT Caricatures: Some AMAZING characters have been plucked from the pages of history. Lady Eboushi from Princess Mononoke, Alice from Alice in Wonderland, Indiana Jones was based on Hiram Bingham III, and Severus Snape. The list goes on to prove that history can inspire great characters. But unfortunately, it can also result in caricatures. If you are going to reinvent someone from the pages of history be sure to do so with respect and make it your own.
  2. Startling Events: History is full of the weird and wonderful, the beautiful and the cruel. Did you know that human pillars were used to build bridges in some places? Or that there was a nerdy botanist who joined a rebellion and fell into a tragic love story? How about the secret life of the man who invented the tea party? History is a wonderful playground for the imagination.
  3. Worldbuilding: History provides ancient maps, languages, artifacts, culture, and myth. A rich well of inspiration for the fantasy world. Myth is most often the one writers pull from when researching as its closely related to fantasy. But consider that back then it was believed to be real. How did this change the way people acted? What system of law did people adhere to? Also, magic is in the history books. People have already created whole worlds built on magic systems. Use them to dream and build your own magical world. Dig deep to imagine the day-to-day of your fantasy landscape. And when drawing inspiration from real-world cultures, past or present, please do so respectfully and with care.
  4. Go on Tour: Explore old houses and historic places for inspiration. It doesn’t need to be fancy. You can visit local sites, graveyards, museums, anything that sparks of history! I’ve found weapons that traveled the globe, baby shoes made of glass, and mossed-covered books that begged whole stories to be written about them. Explore history in tangible ways by visiting places and ask questions.
  5. Read nonfiction: Biographies are a favorite pastime of mine. I find the most unusual stories and observations from minds long since passed. People who saw sea dragons in Meiji era Japan, the woman whose carriage lost a wheel in a thunderstorm, the little girl who couldn’t walk but changed lives by growing flowers. Lost and forgotten stories from otherwise ‘boring’ biographies. Read the information plaques at the historic sites you visit, read the small print for names and notes. You’ll be surprised at the treasures you find.
  6. Lists: I’m a sucker for details. I have a list of plant species in my fantasy world based on real plants in Hokkaido, Japan. A list of the smells in different seasons, the types of fish people caught. Makes lists from history and then use those details to create a real and palatable world.
  7. Make it Yours: Let history be your sandbox. Play in it. Roll ideas around and make roads to new places. Write your story and use the pages of history to bring it to life in the best ways.

 

Ellen, signing off!

*I just joined IG, so if you hung out there come find me!

TRANSITIONING GENRES

TRANSITIONING GENRES?

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Three tips to ensure a smooth move

It all started with a room in an abandon park…

It wasn’t just any room, but a particularly large, spacious and strangely unearthly one. It was as if the room was originally built for giants of men and heroes of old. After that day, I never saw that space again, but it remained etched in my memory. That was the room where the story first came to me.

At the time, I was already deep in the writing trenches of my YA fantasy novel. When this futuristic world began to reveal itself to me in that room, I couldn’t help but start frantically taking notes. There was a future world that existed out there and was waiting to be written.

I promised myself I’d finish up my current work in progress but after that, I would be switching to sci-fi. Though switching from fantasy to sci-fi sounded daunting, this past year was the year I made that jump.

If you’re considering changing genres, here are a few things I learned along the way that I hope help you:

Think about why you’re switching genres and if you’re a good fit

Hopefully, if you’ve completed another manuscript, you know what your strengths are. Do you write page-turning plot, life-like characters, or mind-blowing worlds? Take your list of strengths and weaknesses into consideration as you’re picking your new genre.

If your number one strength is developing deep characters and you really struggle to write anything fast paced, a thriller probably isn’t the best fit for you. Make sure that your strengths fit the new genre you’re about to tackle.

Think about what you’re passionate about

What makes you come alive? You may be the most gifted horror writer in the world but if you feel queasy at the thought of gore, is that really the story you want to tell? Writing is incredibly hard work. But it’s also fun! Write something that’s going to excite you and keep you up at odd hours because you love it.

Think about where you draw inspiration from

One more thing to take into consideration is your current environment. When I moved to Beijing a year and a half ago, I was in awe of city and curious about how it worked. I used my phone to pay for everything, scanned my face to get on planes, and had toilet paper delivered to my door by men on bikes. It wasn’t hard for me to begin extrapolating the world around me and converting it into a novel.

“I could see stories enfolding on every corner.”

That’s when I knew it was time to write the sci-fi novel I had stored away at the back of my brain since I first saw that room. It was a hard decision because I was about to start querying my other novel. I didn’t want to delay that any longer. But I also knew, I’d only have one year in Beijing and I’d never find inspiration like this again.

If you’re traveling, just moved, or are facing some other life change that is compelling you to write something new. Go for it! I typically wouldn’t advise completely neglecting your other WIPs but, especially if it’s a short stretch of time, take advantage of the inspiration around you! Tackle that new genre while the warm fuzzies last.

Just don’t forget, keep going even when they stop. Nerd out, turn it into a game, get organized, or keep wanderingbut do whatever it takes to keep writing.

 

Candace signing off to go hiking and get more inspiration.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author Interview: Natalie Mae & The Kinder Poison

Pen Friends~ I’m so excited to introduce you to Young Adult Author, Natalie Mae, who will talk about her upcoming book, The Kinder Poison, out in just ONE WEEK, from Razorbill.

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SP: Hi Natalie! Thanks for joining us! Before we start talking about your debut, The Kinder Poison, we’d LOVE to know a bit about you and your writing journey?

NM: Thanks so much for having me! I’m a Colorado author who graduated with an

Information Technology degree from CU Boulder, because I didn’t think writing books could be an actual job. (I guess I thought authors just “existed” out there? Like stars?) Very happy to say that I soon found out anyone could pursue authorship, and the rest is history! It’s taken about 8 years to get where I am now. It took me 2 of those years to get an agent, and though we sold my debut (a YA sci-fi) within months, it would be another 4 years before I sold The Kinder Poison. And another 2 1/2 years from then until it would publish! So it’s definitely felt like a long journey, but I’m so grateful to be published at all and to be able to write for a living.

SP: The Kinder Poison will come out with Razorbill next week! TheKinderPoison_web

Here is a blurb:

Zahru has long dreamed of leaving the kingdom of Orkena and having the kinds of adventures she’s only ever heard about in stories. But as a lowly Whisperer, her power to commune with animals means that her place is serving in the royal stables until the day her magic runs dry.

All that changes when the ailing ruler invokes the Crossing. A death-defying race across the desert, in which the first of his heirs to finish–and take the life of a human sacrifice at the journey’s end–will ascend to the throne. With all of the kingdom abuzz, Zahru leaps at the chance to change her fate if just for a night by sneaking into the palace for a taste of the revelry. But the minor indiscretion turns into a deadly mistake when she gets caught up in a feud between the heirs and is forced to become the Crossing’s human sacrifice.

Now Zahru’s only hope for survival hinges on the impossible: somehow figuring out how to overcome the most dangerous people in the world. Continue reading

Book Giveaway & Author’s Note!

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READERS:
WHO WOULD LIKE TO WIN A CRAZY AWESOME PETER PAN RETELLING?

You? Your daughter? Your best friend whose birthday is coming up? Your long lost cousin in Brazil? Your sister who is driving you crazy during lockdown?

 

Fantastic! You’re in the right spot! The SP is partnering with YA Author Kara Swanson to do a GIVEAWAY for her upcoming book, DUST!

*Intriguing summary below!*

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.

TO WIN:

Who is your favorite Peter Pan character? Comment & share –here on this post OR on your social media, use the hashtag, #SPDustgiveaway and you will be entered twice!

We will monitor this post on Twitter, Instagram, and here.

Winners announced FRIDAY on an IG live with Kara! Good luck! Continue reading

Author Interview: Shannon Dittemore

Pen Friends ~ I’m super excited to have YA Author Shannon Dittemore on the blog today talking about her upcoming book, WINTER, WHITE, AND WICKED, which is just my kind of book and fell in love with the moment I saw the cover and read the blurb. See below!

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

Thank you so much for having me! I’m excited. SO! My journey. I think probably the best place to start is this: I’m not a debut author. A lot of folks out there are thinking that WINTER, WHITE AND WICKED will be my first published book, but that’s not true at all. 

My first book came out in 2012 with Thomas Nelson fiction. By the time August of 2013 came around, I had three books on the shelf, ANGEL EYES, BROKEN WINGS, and DARK HALO. As a writer, I’ve grown a ton since these were published, but I love these stories and I’m so glad they’re a part of who I am.

I started writing my first novel as a young mom. My son was four and my daughter was three months old and I missed being creative. I had a background in theatre and I really wanted to go back, but I found myself unwilling to give up my nights and weekends. I didn’t want to be away from my little family, so in a moment of frustration I found myself telling God, “I just wish I could tell stories from home!” 

And then it dawned on me that I could.

Writing wasn’t new to me. I’d always fiddled with it, but as a mom I think I’d picked up a valuable trait that made sitting in a chair and writing an entire book possible. Patience. I was learning to be patient with myself and the process, and while waiting isn’t my favorite, the ability to do so has come in handy. 

winterSP: WINTER, WHITE & WICKED will come out with Amulet Books in October 2020. 

Here is a blurb: 

Mad Max: Fury Road meets Frozen in this striking YA fantasy Continue reading

Author Interview: Suzanne Park

Pen Friends~ Hopefully this interview finds you well and safe during this crazy season. Many of my author friend’s book launches and book release’s have understandably been cancelled and/or have gone virtual. Let’s try to support them as much as we can during this time! SO…

It’s my pleasure to introduce today’s debut YA (& adult) author, my friend and fellow Pitchwars 16′ alum, Suzzane Park! Sadly, her time in Seattle (where I am based) was also cancelled, but that won’t stop us from celebrating her and her upcoming YA book, The Perfect Escape!

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SP: Hi Suzanne! Thanks for joining us! Before we get into book stuff, can you tell us a bit about you and your writing journey? 

I was a kid who loved reading, but was limited by the types of books we had at our school library and public library system. I grew up in a small suburb in Tennessee with underfunded schools and libraries, so you can imagine how limited the selection of books were for a curious Korean-American girl! Continue reading

Author Interview: Hanna Howard

Pen Friends ~ Today’s interview is such a treat! Debut YA Author, Hanna Howard, shares about her upcoming novel, IGNITE THE SUN and her beautiful (and somewhat painful) journey to becoming an author. Don’t miss the blurb to her novel. The premise is entirely captivating!

hhSP: Hi Hanna! I’m so excited to have you on the Spinning Pen to talk your upcoming debut, Ignite the Sun. But first, can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you started writing? Continue reading

Author (& Agent) Interview: Caroline George

Pen Friends ~ You are in for a treat! We have the lovely Caroline George, both an agent and YA author, with us today for an inspiring and insightful interview talking about her upcoming book, Dearest Josephine, her 3 book-deal with Harper Collins/TN, social media, agent life and the hardcore pursuit of writing!

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SP: Hi Caroline! I’m so excited to have you -for the second time- on the Spinning Pen! And, with more amazing news! Congrats on your 3-book deal with Harper Collins/TNZ! Before we get into all the new juicy book stuff, here is  Caroline’s new bio:  Continue reading