Author Hayley Stone on Being Published, Romance in Sci Fi, and Feedback from Readers

I’m thrilled to share with you a fun Q&A with the talented writer who was my critique partner for INCONCEIVABLE. Hayley Stone’s debut novel, MACHINATIONS, is on fire, and knowing how awesome this story is, I’m not the least bit surprised! After all, it’s got a strong woman as the main character, plenty of action, and a touch of romance. Thanks to Hayley for taking the time to talk to me about life since the release of MACHINATIONS.

Wren: What’s been the most surprising aspect of being a published author?

Stone: The unpredictable cycle of highs and lows. One day, you feel as though no one will ever read your book and why didn’t you listen to your parents and get a real job and oh god you’re going to die poor—and the next day you get an email from your publisher about attending San Diego Comic-Con and joining NYT bestselling authors at an afterparty.

For a while, everything is cloud nine and surreal and wonderful, but then you gently—or sometimes not so gently—float back down to earth and the cycle starts over. You start worrying again. Something goes wrong, while something else goes right, and nothing’s happening, and everything’s happening, and so on and so forth.

Being a published author isn’t about coasting through non-stop success. It’s about finding your rhythm in a club where the music is constantly changing, and sometimes you can’t find the right beat.

It’s madness. Wonderful, terrifying madness.

Wren: Tell us about some of the feedback you’ve received from readers.

Stone: A lot of readers seem to really connect with Rhona, and enjoy her brand of snark, while also acknowledging her impulsiveness and fallibility as the story’s heroine. I’m glad that both her strengths and flaws appear to be coming across, because that’s the purpose of her character: I wanted to portray a realistic woman dealing with horrible circumstances far beyond the pale of normal human experience. Sometimes she does a good job; other times she sucks. Just like most of us.

Readers also seem to adore one of the secondary characters, Rhona’s best friend, Samuel Lewis. This comes as no great surprise as Samuel is a precious cinnamon roll, too good for this world, too pure. Except, as we come to find out in book two, he’s more than capable of making some tough, and questionably ethical, decisions, too. I think Samuel fans will be especially interested to learn more about his past in the upcoming sequel, Counterpart. *teaser!*

Wren: I love the fact that your book has a romantic storyline included in the narrative. Why did you decide to include that in a sci fi novel?

Stone: I set out to explore humanity and identity in Machinations, and relationships play an understandably large role in people’s lives. One of the things the sci-fi genre does best is take a relatable experience (like being in love) and position it inside a unique “What if?” scenario. In the case of Machinations, that turned out to be a troubled romance between the main character, Rhona—a clone who inherits all of these memories and emotions—and her progenitor’s lover. It asks the questions: could you love someone who looked and behaved identical to the person you’d lost? Should you?

Wren: Writing a book is one thing. Selling it is another. What have you done to get the word out about MACHINATIONS?

Stone: I’ve done quite a few interviews like this one! My favorite, by far, has been this post I wrote for Chuck Wendig’s blog about the five things I learned writing Machinations. I also attended San Diego Comic-Con as an author and had my very first book signing there, which was pretty awesome and hopefully got Machinations some nice publicity!

I’m also fortunate to be a part of a great reading and writing community on Twitter and Facebook, so I reached out to my friends there and they’ve helped me spread the word. At this point, an author really can only hope their work is connecting with some people and that they’re telling others to read it, too!

Wren: What have you learned through your journey to publication that you want to share with other writers who are still querying?

Stone: One rule: It takes as long as it takes.

In our driven world, it’s advice that seems easier said than done, but it holds especially true for this industry. Professional deadlines and personal goals notwithstanding, don’t try and put a timer on your success. Querying takes times, submission takes time, edits take time. What might happen quickly for one person could take a year for another; it’s not a sign of failure and it’s almost never a reflection of the quality of the work either. Comparison is the thief of joy. Keep your eyes on your own paper, keep writing and putting your work out there, and you’ll be fine.

Additionally, learn to recognize the signs of burnout, and take care of yourself. Seriously. You’re important. So relax once in a while.

Wren: What projects do you have in the works?

Stone: Currently, I’m working on a short story that takes a more generous view of artificial intelligence. It’s a nice break from novel-writing. Sometimes you just need a change of pace, you know?

And in terms of long-form work, I’m developing ideas for book 3 of the Machinations series, and have begun tinkering around with an epic fantasy as well. Lots of exciting things in the pipeline!

You can buy MACHINATIONS at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo.

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Cover reveal: Blackbird Summer by Em Shotwell

One of the best aspects of Twitter is its ability to help writers connect. And I’m so grateful the little blue bird helped me connect with the author of Blackbird Summer, Em Shotwell. I simply can’t wait to read her book, which arrives April 5 from Owl City Press! And I’m thrilled to be participating in her cover reveal today! After you enjoy the coolness of her cover (I mean, it’s so, so cool!), add her book to your to-be-read list on Goodreads. Check out the synopsis for her book; it promises elements of magical realism and romance with Southern Gothic undertones.

Blackbird Digital MEDIUMSynopsis:

When people hate the unknown, being Gifted is a curse.

In the cornerstone of the rural south, Brooklyn, Mississippi, no one dares make eye contact with the strange Caibre family. Until the rewards are worth the cost. The townsfolk come, cash in hand, always at night, to pay for services only a Gifted can provide.

No matter the Gifts prevalent in her family, at twenty-one, Tallulah is expected to follow the path laid out for her: marriage, babies, and helping her mama teach the family home school program. She’s resigned to live the quiet life and stay out of trouble…until she meets Logan.

An outsider and all around rebel, Logan doesn’t care about her family’s reputation. Yet after a tragic loss wreaks havoc on the crumbling relationship between the Caibres and the townsfolk, Tallulah must decide if love and freedom are worth risking everything.


 

I asked Em what emotions she wants her cover to evoke and why. Here’s her response:

First, I have to say that my cover designer is amazing! I originally had a different idea for the cover, but once she showed me the mock-up ideas for her vision, I was hooked!

For me, the girl sitting under the tree, looking at something that we, the readers, can’t see, gives me the heebie-jeebies. That same feeling that we all get when we are home alone and hear a strange noise. When your brain says you are over reacting—but your heart speeds anyway.

Blackbird Summer is a tale of first love and friendship and sisterhood. But it is also about loss and heartache and what it means to be different in a place that views different as wrong. I feel that the cover does a wonderful job encompassing all of these things, and I hope readers do as well!

Em ShotwellEm Shotwell lives in South Louisiana with a husband who spoils her and two mini-superheroes who call her mom. Em thinks the most interesting characters are the ones who live on the sidelines, and that small towns often hide the biggest secrets. She is inspired by tall tales and local legends. When she’s not writing about misfits and oddballs, Em enjoys being outdoors hiking, and debating Doctor Who facts with her obsessed ten-year-old son.

Author Kate McIntyre Talks Fantasy, Grief in Fiction, and Sequels

The-Deathsniffer's-AssistantI don’t remember exactly where I first met Kate McIntyre, whether it was in our publisher’s Facebook group or through Twitter, but I do remember being impressed with her and the synopsis for THE DEATHSNIFFER’S ASSISTANT from day one.

It’s an imaginative fantasy set in Edwardian England with a frighteningly unnerving murder mystery at its ooey gooey center. There are also flourishes of magic. And did I mention the flying carriages? Oh, my. There’s so much to love about this novel!

Many of you know that I go to the gym to read. Sure, my legs are churning away on the elliptical, but it’s really my mind that’s getting the workout as I devour wonderful works of fiction. Well, I was heading to the gym A LOT when I was reading Kate’s book because I Just HAD to know what happened next. I give this highly addictive read five out of five wrens. (Want to buy it? Get it here on Amazon!)five wrens1

I’m delighted to be hosting Kate on my blog today because reading her responses to my questions is like slipping into the back of a writers’ master class. I learned so much from interviewing her, and I’m really excited to share the conversation with you. She talks about exploring grief in her novel, world building, and character development.  I know you’ll enjoy hearing from this writer whom I so admire. (Incidentally, Kate interviewed me on her blog, and asked some questions about INCONCEIVABLE! that I haven’t previously discussed on any other blog. So, check it out here!)

Tegan: Describe the process of creating your own version of Edwardian England. How did it all come together?

Kate: I started building my world with exactly two things in mind. I wanted it to be full of magic and wonder and everything to constantly be oozing enchantment. I also wanted it to be humdrum and workaday, with the characters living in the midst of all this fantastic city not really seeing it as they hurried off to work.

That idea, the fantastic melding with the mundane, is the backbone of my work. I think it’s relevant to us, because there’s so much wonder and excitement in our world but how often do we notice it? It’s too familiar to get worked up about and we’re too busy to really care.

In my desire to capture that feeling, I knew that the world had to be a lot more modern than a lot of fantasy, so I aimed for the feel of the period between 1903 and 1922. I didn’t actually know much at first so I did a lot of research to get a sense of the aesthetic and the feel of the era. The Edwardian period was when the modern really began melding with the historic, and it isn’t uncommon to see a fine lady in full skirts walking a few steps from a dirty factory girl in trousers in photographs taken at the time.

Of course, my book isn’t set in Edwardian England, but in Darrington City, Tarland. So it wasn’t as simple as just carrying things over. I loved the fictional nation of Toulene in Inconceivable! and really enjoyed how it was such a neat melding of its bordering nations. It really felt like something that you’d built from the ground up, and that’s how it was for Darrington, too. I had to think about what technology Tarlish folks had available thanks to their magic. At the same time, I thought about where they wouldn’t have innovated. So there are no cars yet, but there are flashbulb cameras! A fully operational telephone-like network, but no steam engines. Some readers don’t even notice things like that, but it all helps make the world feel real!Kate McIntyre2

Tegan: I loved the interactions between Olivia Faraday (the deathsniffer) and her assistant, Chris Buckley. They each have their own quirks and hang-ups. How did you go about developing these characters and where did you look for inspiration?

Kate: Olivia was the first character I came up with. Immediately after deciding I wanted to write a fantasy murder mystery, I had my detective: a pint-sized hellion with no concern for anything but the chase, as elegant and brilliant as she was mocking and heartless. Chris grew into the spaces around Olivia. Despite being the narrator of the book, he’s the one who was built to compliment her. I made him mannered to match her crudeness, empathetic for her insensitivity, and kind for her cruelty. He also ended up as kind of a cringing, snobby dope to contrast Olivia’s fearlessly unapologetic intelligence.

It’s always been a priority for me to write characters human first and likeable second. And humans are a mostly flawed bunch. Even my favourite humans have things about them I can’t stand! So I really wanted readers to see Olivia and Chris as real people. That’s why they can sometimes be small-minded, petty, or obtuse. It’s also why they bicker constantly.

But I know your secret, everybody! Most everyone secretly loves to watch frustrating people bickering. Why else would reality tv have gotten so huge? So I let myself have a lot of fun with the way the two of them go back and forth. Sometimes he’s in the right and sometimes she is. Their relationship can be deep and insightful one moment and then the next they’re picking at each other over incredibly dumb stuff. Olivia and Chris’s relationship is at the core of the whole series of books. It’s my favourite element to write, and it always makes me happy when someone enjoys it!

Tegan: Chris Buckley lost both of his parents in an accident, and understandably, it was life altering for him and his sister. You do an incredible job of using that event as a filter that colors Chris’ thoughts, actions, and reactions. Have you had any personal experiences that informed this aspect of the story? And I’m asking because I think it’s handled in a very authentic way.

Kate: My parents are still alive and well, but I’ve definitely experienced loss. Sometimes in minor ways, and sometimes in major ones. And I’ve absolutely used that loss to construct the heart of Chris’s character, which is the abscess loss leaves behind if not properly grieved.

The loss I drew on the most was losing my grandfather when I was barely eleven. He lived just one street away from me growing up, and I spent at least half my time with him. Like Chris, I was too young to know the right way to grieve, and like Chris, it just seemed easier to wrap it up and put it away. Anyone who’s lost someone precious to them knows how grief feels – like something is being ripped out of your chest and leaving a sucking hole behind. It’s the worst feeling in the whole world. And it’s a lot easier to shove it as hard as you can and tell yourself that you’re better and move on. You can go years without feeling a thing where that infected wound is, until something brushes against it and destroys you for days.

Grief is a major theme of The Faraday Files. It’s something that’s rarely written about in genre fiction because it’s the worst thing ever, and genre fiction is supposed to be for escapism. But just like Hatty and John’s struggles with infertility in Inconceivable! stands in defiance of traditional HEA romance tropes, I wanted to write something with more pathos than your average genre novel. So many fantasy protagonists are orphans, but how many really get down and unpack that? Chris isn’t looking for justice for his parents and he isn’t trying to do honour to their memory. He just misses them. Every day. Constantly.

Chris is a lot younger than I am, so he’s still struggling where I learned how to grieve right. I’ve slowly cleansed and bandaged the wound the loss of my grandfather left. Chris isn’t where I’m at yet, but I want to help him get there.

Tegan: Tell us about the sequel to The Deathsniffer’s Assistant and when we might be able to get our hands on it.

Kate: The sequel is called The Timeseer’s Gambit! It’s hopefully going to be out at the same time the first was in mid-July, and we’re hoping to keep an annual schedule for the four book series! Hopefully I can keep up the pace writing.

Where The Deathsniffer’s Assistant takes place in spring, the second book is set in the summertime. I had a tough time writing it because Darrington is in the middle of a crazy heat wave during the book and I wrote most of it this past winter, when the snow here in Atlantic Canada was so high we had to dig out way out of our houses. Every time I sat down to write and saw Chris or Olivia complaining about the heat, I wanted to let them have it. You guys are lucky! I have a blanket over my legs at friggin Starbucks, here!

Olivia has been assigned her first true serial killer. She’s excited and Chris is appalled, but it’s been three months since they started working together and they’ve established a rapport. Chris has grown some spine and Olivia has softened her razor sharp tongue thanks to being around each other so much. Their back and forth is as bicker-heavy as ever, but they tease each other more now and are starting to really care about one another.

In book two readers are going to learn a lot about categorization, the method by which Tarlish citizens unlock their magic gifts. They’ll also find out how Chris supposedly knows the mysterious timeseer, William Cartwright.

As one last tease, things are heating up a bit. Chris has two potential love interests and things take a definite turn away from just-friends with both of them. Of course, Chris is still awkward, easily flustered, and kind of a dope, so nothing goes especially well!

Tegan: Now that your novel has been published and has been in readers’ hands for a few months, what have you learned and how have those lessons changed the way you write now?

Kate: The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that I’m not just some upstart pounding at a keyboard. I’m a writer! People have paid cash money for my book and effused over how much they liked it! I’ve signed books for grinning fans in other countries! I have tons of five star reviews and people making grabby hands for the next book!

And that all feels great. I’ve always believed that the most important parts of writing are confidence and momentum. I’m using my newfound confidence in my ability as a writer to build momentum. It only took five months to finish The Timeseer’s Gambit, almost unbelievable after the three years I spent on The Deathsniffer’s Assistant. The third book, The Heartreader’s Secret, will hopefully glide right onto the page, too! And after that… who knows. I’m only in my early thirties and have tons of books left in me. I want to keep sharing my stories with the world.

Kate McIntyreKate McIntyre was born and raised in the frigid white north, having spent her entire life in Moncton, New Brunswick. She learned to appreciate the quintessential Canadian things: endless winters, self-deprecating jokes, the untamed wilderness, and excessive politeness. Somehow it was the latter that she chose to write about. Kate loves crochet, video games, board games, reading, and listening to bad pop music very loudly.

The Heir and the Spare: Book Review and Author Q&A

Heir and SpareFrom the first moment I read the synopsis of Emily Albright‘s forthcoming novel, THE HEIR AND THE SPARE, I was intrigued. As the author of a royal romance, I was eager to read one that dealt primarily with the spare heir to the throne.

I absolutely adored this novel. Anyone who enjoys INCONCEIVABLE! is sure to enjoy THE HEIR AND THE SPARE. This is a fun, entertaining, and well-written story about an American college student’s first year at Oxford. It’s a year that’s full of surprises as she follows clues to discover some secrets about her late mother’s family. And whom does she happen to meet along the way? None other than the handsome prince who is the spare heir to England’s throne, a version of the UK’s Prince Harry. The story is full of humorous asides, plot twists, and obstacles that prevent our pair from getting together. Even though I wasn’t sure how it was going to wrap up, the story had a very happy and satisfying ending that’s worthy of a royal ceremony. My full review is posted on Goodreads. I give it five out of five wrens! BONUS: You can already pre-order this novel on Amazon. five wrens1

Emily kindly agreed to answer a few questions about her forthcoming novel, how her travels inspired the story, and how she finds time to write.

Tegan: How did you get the idea for the plot for THE HEIR AND THE SPARE?

Emily: The idea came to me when Prince William married Kate Middleton. All the craziness and press interest in their day made me wonder about Prince Harry. I was curious how his life might differ from his older brother’s. With that seed planted, the story just evolved from there. Originally my working title was, The Spare, but as it evolved and the story came to me through Evie’s eyes, The Heir and the Spare fit perfectly.

Tegan: Like a lot of writers, you’re a parent. How did you make time to write this book and how long did it take you?

Emily: Every free moment I had I spent writing. It took me four years total to get The Heir and the Spare to where it is now. Initial draft was probably around a year. Then multiple rounds of edits and revising. But in the early days it was definitely tough to squeeze writing time in with a preschooler. I remember sitting in my car in the parking lot of my daughter’s preschool with my laptop just typing away. Now that my kidlet is in all day school it’s a little more manageable. Unfortunately, my writing tends to come easier to me at night after everyone’s gone to bed, but for the sake of not being a zombie during the day and getting much needed sleep, I’ve had to adjust to being creatively productive in the mornings, which took quite a while. I’m such a night owl. I think I’ve finally adjusted, thank goodness.

Tegan: Any tips for balancing writing time with family time?

Emily: Squeeze the writing in whenever there’s a free moment. Even if it’s just scratching it on a piece of paper until you can get to your computer later. I wait until the kidlet’s in school or in the evenings after she’s gone to bed. When my family’s around I try to be present and in the moment with them. I do keep something to jot notes down at my side pretty much all the time, just in case I have an idea that I can’t do anything about until later. I’ve found that if it’s important and you love doing it, you’ll make the time for it, even if it’s just in the tiny moments in-between life’s bigger commitments.

Tegan: The book’s infused with a wonderful sense of place. Have you spent time in England and/or any other parts of Europe?

Emily: I have. The hubby and I got to spend two weeks in England and Scotland as a college graduation present. It was fun and fabulous and so not long enough. I loved how the history is so ever present and palpable there. It’s very different from the States. They tend to embrace their old buildings where we’ll knock an old building down and build something new in it’s place. It’s really wonderful to be someplace where generations of people have passed through and lived their lives. Then again, I’m a bit of a history nerd, so I love that kind of stuff. We’re definitely going back someday.

Tegan: Have you ever met any royalty? If so, tell us about it. If not, who would you most want to meet?

Emily: Unfortunately, I haven’t. As for who’d I’d like to meet? Hmm, Probably Will and Kate or Harry. They seem more down-to-earth and more approachable than the older generation of royals.

Tegan: Who is your target audience for this book?

Emily: Well, definitely upper YA, but honestly, anyone who looks at it and thinks, hey, this might be fun, then it’s for you. I’ve never bought the idea that you had to be a certain age to read YA books. To me, YA holds a special sort of magic, it brings with it the ability to experience firsts again, through fresh eyes. It’s fun for adults to slip back into the memories of their youth and YA books, in a way, facilitate that.

Tegan: What do you hope readers get out of your story?

Emily: My goal is pretty simple. I just want readers to have a good time and get a bit of an escape from reality when they read my story. Growing up, reading was such a great way to slip into a new and wonderful world, heck it still is. If a reader closes my book and gives a happy sigh, then I feel I’ve accomplished what I set out to do.

Emily AlbrightEmily Albright is a major bookworm, a lover of romantic movies, a Netflix junkie, wife, mother, and owner of an adorable (yet slightly insane) cockapoo and a very intolerant cat. She’s a member of Romance Writers of America (RWA) and the Young Adult chapter (YARWA). Emily is represented by Jess Waterson of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agent. Emily is hard at work on her next book.

DROWN: Author Esther Dalseno’s Retelling of The Little Mermaid

drownI was a kid when Disney released its version of The Little Mermaid. My friends and I were warbling our own versions of “A Part of Your World” at the same level little girls today sing “Let It Go” from Frozen. So, when I saw Esther Dalseno‘s novel DROWN and discovered that it’s a new version of this classic tale, I was intrigued. More than that, I had greedy hands for her book. (I mean, just look at that amazing cover!)

You can pre-order DROWN now on Amazon, and it will arrive on your e-reader on October 31. To celebrate her release day, Esther agreed to talk with me about her book, her journey to publication, and why she’s eager to read INCONCEIVABLE!

Tegan: Esther, how did you get the idea to do a retelling of The Little Mermaid?

Esther2Esther: It’s always been my favorite fairy tale all of my life, it’s so gorgeous and sumptuous and bittersweet, and I kept waiting and waiting for someone else to do it.  I am a big traveler, having left my country Australia nearly ten years ago, and at the time of writing in 2009 I found myself in a very lonely situation in third-world Laos.  Having been in the South East Asian region for some time, I had become a very enthusiastic scuba diver, and my love for the underwater world led to DROWN.  Everything about the atmosphere in the depths influenced DROWN’s dream-like narrative voice and pacing, and I found myself inspired by every little thing – the way light fractured when it hit the water surface and fell on sand beds, the way octopus ink jets and stains the water in cloud formations just for a moment, the tiny popping noises in your ears during breeding season, when the water is filled with fish spawn.

Tegan: Who do you think will most enjoy your book and why?

Esther: Readers of all ages, especially those who enjoy a more literary approach to a story.

Tegan: Often, fairy tales leave readers with some kind of lesson. Do you have a particular idea or two you hope readers take away from your book?

Esther: The Little Mermaid has always been a character who gave up life as she knew it not just for a man, but for a chance at humanity.  The theme of DROWN is how precious humanity is, and how readily it is taken for granted.  I live in Europe and currently there are thousands of Syrian refugees seeking safety and a new home here.  They have crossed land and sea in perilous conditions – the old, the young, small children and newborn babies, just for a chance of belonging to a society that respects human life.  In a way, DROWN’s protagonist has motives similar to that of refugees, and she seeks safety and value in the human world.

Tegan: The cover of your book is gorgeous–eye-catching and it certain piques my interest. Who designed the cover for your book, at what levels were you involved in its design, and is there anything you want to tell readers about?

Esther: Thank you, Tegan!  It is gorgeous, and I feel very fortunate to have such a cover for my book!  Let me tell you, this design was not at all what I had in mind for DROWN, as I had very set ideas regarding all aspects of the novel!  In fact, that cover was the very last option I would consider.  However, it grew on me so rapidly, and the public’s reaction has been so positive that I’ve once again reached the conclusion that it’s best to leave such things to the professionals!  Here is a lesser-known fact that only advance readers know: the character on the cover is not at all who you think it is.

Tegan: Tell us about your journey to publication.

Esther1Esther: I sent out query emails immediately after finishing DROWN, and it was on a beach in Thailand that my little Nokia travel phone rang.  It was Holly Root of Waxman & Leavall, yes, THE powerhouse agent Holly Root, whose client list includes V. E Schwab and Rae Carson among many other bestselling authors, offering little old me representation.  I had just had another offer the day before, but after our conversation, I knew Holly was the right agent for DROWN.  Sounds easy, right?  Like a recipe for success?  Not entirely.  Then came the storm in the guise of the Big 6 publishing houses, who had difficulty placing the novel.  “The fairy tale aspect screams YA,” they said almost simultaneously, “but the writing feels so adult!”  I can confidently say that in the year 2010, there was not a Young Adult or Fantasy editor in any of the big publishing houses who had not read DROWN.  We held our breath, as we were so close to a significant book deal with a certain house we could practically smell it.

After that fell through, DROWN was rebranded from Young Adult to Adult Literary Fantasy.  We never found a publisher who wanted to take a risk on an indefinable genre and an unknown author at that point in time.  After five years of radio silence, DROWN is now being released by a baby indie press and I have never been happier.  I never, ever thought DROWN would see the light of day after what happened in New York. All I ever wanted was for people to read my writing, and now that dream is coming true.  My advice to aspiring authors is this: that the face of publishing has changed, and there is no guaranteed set path to success any more. There are many, many ways to get there. And no matter how long you have to wait, never, ever, ever give up.

Tegan: You and I connected when our books were featured together by a reader on Instagram. I think we were both instantly intrigued by the other person’s novel. I was drawn to Drown because The Little Mermaid is a longtime favorite story of mine. Also, that cover! What drew you to INCONCEIVABLE?

Esther: Tegan, I’d actually been interested in INCONCEIVABLE before that Instagram post!  Obviously that cover draws in any eye that beholds it!  But when you read the synopsis, you see there is far, far more beneath the surface than the promise of a gorgeous, frothy, whisk-me-away-from-my-real-life romance.  I think themes of woman’s reproduction and infertility being written about in mainstream fiction is the way forward.  There is a great deal of shame and an expectation for women to hold their tongues and not bring up their struggles with conception, or God forbid, miscarriage.  As someone who has experienced the latter, when I was thinking about how to respond to this question, the first thought that crossed my mind was: my friends and acquaintances will feel immediately uncomfortable reading this, seeing the word “miscarriage” and equating it with me.  And that’s what made me decide to include it.  I don’t think people truly understand the devastation of miscarriage unless they experience it themselves.  The hopes you have for that child, the bond you feel when their body flutters inside yours, and the day the flutters stop and everything becomes still.  Doctors blame you: something you ate?  Exercised too much?  Or in my case, they blamed my age.  And then everyone who knew you were pregnant begins to avoid eye contact for a little while.  It is this shame and aversion to the subject that requires more brilliant writers like you, Tegan, to include these themes into your work.  It’s so people like me can look others in the eye and say:  “That’s right, I lost my baby.  No, I am not okay.  Yes, I do want to talk about it.

Esther DalsenoEsther Dalseno was born in rural Australia, and has traveled the world writing and teaching. She lives in Berlin, Germany with her husband, daughter, and dog. She was previously published in the acclaimed short story collection, We All Need a Witness, by Pan Macmillan. Her second novel, Gabriel and the Swallows, is due for release in 2016.

All images provided by Esther Dalseno

Knights, Dragons, Turncoats: A Conversation with Author Keith Willis

traitor knight coverMeet Keith Willis. He’s into dragons, knights…you know, normal stuff like that. Keith and I first connected on Twitter last year when we were both looking to get our debut novels published. Keith’s book, TRAITOR KNIGHT, is available for purchase from Amazon as an e-book. It begins with Morgan, the main character, saving a woman from a dragon, which does not earn her gratitude. From there, Morgan goes undercover to discover the traitor who’s threatening the kingdom. It sounds like a fun take on knight tales. I’m looking forward to reading this because it’s quite different from many of the books on my to-be-read list. And if I’m anything, I’m an omnivorous reader.

Tegan: Keith, thanks for taking the time to celebrate your book’s release earlier this fall by answering a few questions.

Keith: Hi Tegen, and thanks so much for having me on your blog. Congrats on your upcoming release! For the record, I’ve already preordered my copy of INCONCEIVABLE! It comes out on November 16, which is my anniversary, and I can’t wait to read it.

Tegan: That’s so cool, and thank you for pre-ordering my book. I bought yours and look forward to reading it! You write about knights…so, are you a knight or do you play one on the weekends?

Keith: No, I’m afraid I’ve never been knighted, although I have been benighted on occasion. And, I’m sorry to report, I don’t play one on the weekends either. My weekends are generally taken up with camping and canoeing in the summer and lots of reading, writing, and Scrabble during the long NY winters.  I’ve just always been fascinated with the romantic chivalric legends—one of my early favorite books was TH White’s The Once and Future King—so I guess it was foreordained that my first novel would be about a knight.

Tegan: How did you get the idea for this book?

A Knight's HelmetKeith: The idea for the book that would eventually become Traitor Knight actually started out as just a humorous take on the traditional knight vs dragon fantasy trope. I wanted to do something a bit different, and I kept getting scene playing in my head where my knight only managed to defeat the rampaging dragon because the beast came down with a case of hiccups (l loved the notion of a hiccupping dragon, I think perhaps from too much Looney Toons in my formative years). Then I realized that the damsel in distress he managed to save was fiercely suspicious of her rescuer, although I didn’t know why at the time—just that she would have rather have been rescued by anyone else. And things snowballed from there, as my characters told me what happened. I had no notion of where things were going, or even of my characters’ backgrounds, goals or motivations when I started the story. In case you can’t guess, I don’t outline or plot things out. Definitely a pantser, all the way.

Tegan: Many of us fell in love with creative writing as children. When did you begin writing fiction?

Keith: I’ve always done a bit of writing, but the most part it was always just throw-away pieces done for the entertainment of my friends, or poems for my wife. I honestly didn’t start writing seriously until I turned 50. At that point I had the opening scene for Traitor Knight in my head, and decided ‘it’s now or never’. That if I was going to achieve my goal of having a book published, I’d best get moving and actually write the darned thing. And it really wasn’t until this point that I really felt I had the time and energy to devote to writing. And my wife was very supportive of the idea, which definitely helps. Although I try not to take too much of ‘us-time’ for writing. I tend to do my writing either early in the morning  or during my lunch breaks at work. I actually seem to get some of my best work done during that time, oddly enough.

Tegan: Do you have a professional life outside of writing? If you don’t mind, tell us about that. (I think readers are sometimes surprised to find out what some writers do for their “day job!”)

Keith: I do indeed have a professional life, also known as The Day Job. While I’d love to spend my days writing or doing something much more fun than working, those pesky bills aren’t going to pay themselves. And I don’t think my writing career is going to be at the level where it’s paying those bills, so for the time being I’ll keep working. As far as what that job entails:  I manage an eclectic group of database content editors for a global information technology firm. So after spending ten years in the banking industry and fifteen years in retail management, for the last eleven years I’ve finally been able to utilize my English degree, at least to some extent.

Tegan: Tell us about your journey to publication and what you learned along the way.

Keith: My journey to publication was a pretty long one. It took almost exactly seven  years from the time I first wrote the opening scene of Traitor Knight until the day it was released by Champagne Books this past September. It took just over a year to write the first draft (which actually was so long it ended up being two books, with Vol. 2 in revisions at the moment). Then came five years of rejection, revision, rinse, repeat.

fingers typingOver the course of my time in the Querying Trenches, I received a total of 86 rejections. The early ‘no’s’ certainly were justified—both the plot and my writing were pretty awful. My initial efforts were plagued by lots of ‘telling, not showing’, and by a lack of conflict within the story—I got my hero up a tree, but then instead of throwing rocks at him, I handed him a ladder. If everything goes the hero’s way, there’s no real conflict, no journey, and no real stakes to engage a reader.

As I gained experience and got feedback from various sources, those endless rewrites turned the story into something that began to garner more frequent requests for pages or full manuscripts. And while I still was getting rejections, now there were fewer form rejects, and more “Wow, I really like this, and wish I thought I could place it”, or “I’ve take this, but I’ve just signed someone with a very similar book.”

And then came Twitter.

When I initially engaged with Twitter, I viewed it as just another rather time-wasting social medial platform. But then I caught wind of a contest called #NewAgent. I was intrigued, and figured ‘what have I got to lose?’. I entered, and was hooked. I found a community. The writers on Twitter are amazing—supporting, sharing, encouraging, commiserating one another. I’ve met so many great friends through these contests—like yourself—who have helped me to polish my pitches and queries and pages to the point where when I entered #AdPit in September, 2014, I ended up with a publisher.

I got a favorite in that contest from Cassie Knight, who was at the time Senior Editor for Champagne Books. She requested the full manuscript on Sept. 9. While I was excited about the request, I had a number of other fulls and partials out with various agents/editors, so it was really just one more in the mix.

Then on September 30 I got a request for a promotional plan from Champagne. This sounded like it might be the real deal. I sent it in that day, and the next day I received an offer of contract. To say there was dancing in the streets would be an understatement. However, I didn’t just sign on the dotted line. I had agents reading material, and to be fair, I needed to alert them. I also wanted to have my attorney review the terms of the contract, to make sure I wasn’t giving the shop away. And finally, as this was an offer from a small press I’d never heard of, I wanted to research it.

After I signed the contract, it wasn’t all just beer and skittles. I had a lot of work to do. A clean, revised ‘final’ draft. Marketing and cover art data. In May I got my cover art (which I think is amazing), and in July I received editorial notes from Nikki Andrews, my fearless editor.

I got the ARC, with 10 days to review it for any errors. I went through it once more with my wonderful wife and proofreader, Patty, who I owe peacocks, apes, ivory and chocolate—along with all my royalties—for how hard she worked through this entire process. She was the eagled-eyed one who found things like quotation marks going in the wrong direction. Amazing.

And finally, on 9/7/15, the book was unleashed on an unsuspecting public. Although if they’d been paying attention, they would have suspected.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

Tegan: Wow! What a journey you’ve had. Who is your target reader for this book?

Keith: I think anyone who loves The Princess Bride will enjoy my book. Actually anyone who enjoys fast-paced adventure and intrigue tinged with a dash of romance and a dollop of wit will enjoy it. And while the target market is adults, it is definitely suitable for the YA audience. In fact my wife works in a high-school library, and one of the librarians is mentioning the book in all of her orientation sessions, so in essence about 800 kids have heard about my book so far, and hopefully a few of them will read it.

paparazziTegan: How has your life changed since your book was published?

Keith: Well, I can’t say that paparazzi are stalking me or anything like that. But it is a great feeling to be able to tell people “I’ve published my first novel.” And it’s made my life a lot busier. Most authors, especially indie/small press published ones, are their own marketing department. I certainly am, and I’m constantly trying to promote it (while not being obnoxious about it). I’m donating copies, along with lots of swag, to charity auctions. I’m slated to do several book fairs in November, and I have a spot in a village Winter Market/Victorian Stroll in December. And once I actually come out in print I’ll be on tour going to libraries and bookstores in the upstate NY and New England area to do readings/signings. It’s a never ending process, it seems, and my wife has been even better about telling people about the book than I have. I couldn’t have done this whole process without her awesome support and encouragement (and proofreading).

Tegan: Any new projects in the works?

Keith: I have more ideas than I know what to do with. I just wish I had time to write ‘em all. Right now my main focus is book two of the Knights of Kilbourne series, tentatively titled DESPERATE KNIGHTS. It was essentially done, until I ended up changing TRAITOR KNIGHT so much that much of what I’d written for book two was out of sync. So now my goal is to figure how to reconcile those changes and get DESPERATE KNIGHTS finished and ready to submit to my publisher. I also have a number of short stories set in the same universe that I’m collection for a companion volume, and I have ideas and a bit of writing done on book three, working title BEWITCHED KNIGHT.  And there are other projects that I’m in process on as well, like a series of cozy mysteries. As I said, way too much going on for a guy who works full time and has a family.

Keith WillisKeith Willis, is a graduate of Berry College in Rome, Georgia, having earned his bachelor’s degree in English Literature and French. He’s a member of the Hudson Valley Writers Guild, the Latham/Albany/Schenectady/Troy Science Fiction Association, and the Mythopoeic Society. He primarily writes fantasy/romance fiction with a side of cozy mystery.Keith’s home base is the Saratoga Springs, New York area.

Top image via Flickr by aperture_lag

Knight helmet image via Flickr by Bryn_S

Fingers typing image via Flickr by Key Foster

Paparazzi image via Flickr by Todd Huffman

Author photo provided by Keith Willis courtesy of The Daily Gazette

Enter to Win a Signed Paperback of INCONCEIVABLE!

The first Goodreads giveaway for a FREE signed paperback copy of INCONCEIVABLE is underway! How do you get in on this contest? There are two easy steps:INCONCEIVABLE Cover.jpg

  1. Head over to Goodreads and enter to win. As long as you have a Goodreads account, it’s really that easy. And if you don’t, you can set one up with an email address or through your Facebook account. You know you want this book. It’s SHELF CANDY!
  2. Pre-order the e-book on Amazon. Yes, the contest is for a physical copy of the book. And it’s signed! But, let’s be real. Most of us enjoy the convenience of reading an e-book. So, don’t miss out on having the e-book automatically delivered to your beloved e-reader on release day, November 16.

That’s it! That’s all it takes to be plugged in to all the contest goodness. To clarify, you don’t have to purchase the e-book to be eligible to win the paperback.