Tag Archives: author interviews

Interview: Alex Cavanaugh Talks About His Writing Process


I recently had the opportunity to talk with Alex Cavanaugh, author of CassaStaR, about his writing process, and I’m very pleased to feature the interview here today!

CassaStaR is a debut sci-fi novel about which the Library Journal wrote, “…calls to mind the youthful focus of Robert Heinlein’s early military sf, as well as the excitement of space opera epitomized by the many Star Wars novels. Fast-paced military action and a youthful protagonist make this a good choice for both young adult and adult fans of space wars.”

This interview, like all the interviews I’ve held here at MsBookish.com, focuses on Alex’s writing process. As most of you know, I find the writing process SO interesting: the details behind how an author pulls together various bits and pieces of life and imagination, the tools used to help along the way. There’s such inspiration in seeing how a writer creates; I enjoyed this interview with Alex, and hope you do too!

MsBookish.com interviews Alex Cavanaugh on his writing process:

Alex Cavanaugh MB: In other interviews, you’ve mentioned that the idea for CassaStaR came from an idea for a novel that you originally started writing when you were younger. Do you remember what initially served as the “trigger” for this story idea? What were your thoughts when you pulled out that original first draft? Was there a defining moment when you realized, “This is the story I’m meant to write”?

AC: The idea sparked from watching Battlestar Galactica and Star Wars. I created an outline, wrote several scenes, and then forgot about it. When I pulled out that old notebook, I realized the story was lame but the characters were strong. That’s when I decided to take the plunge and reinvent the story.

MB: Being a writer wasn’t necessarily always your big dream. What lead you to start thinking about writing a novel?

AC: It wasn’t a childhood dream, just something I enjoyed. But I started to wonder – could I really write a novel?

MB: You’ve mentioned that during the writing of the first chapter, you had a big “aha!” moment where you realized you could do it. I really loved reading this, but would love to know more about this moment. Why that moment, that chapter? Could you elaborate?

AC: It was at that moment the characters came alive. The story felt real. And I’d written one chapter – I knew I could write the rest!

MB: CassaStaR is, in many ways, a character-driven story. Could you give us a peek into your character-creation process? Did you do anything pre-writing, like character profiles or research? Or did you just wing it as you wrote, letting the characters surface as they desired? Or somewhere in between?

AC: I don’t do anything in life without a plan! I created detailed character profiles before writing any of the story. Since the main characters remained even when the story changed, their personalities and traits just fell into place.

MB: Let’s talk a bit about world-building: how much world-building did you do before you sat down and started writing? What kind of world-building did you do as the writing progressed? What “tools” did you use: charts, notes, images, maps or anything else? How did you keep all the components of your newly created world organized?

AC: I’m not as intensive a world-builder as most authors. I took notes on the basic structure, using a few science fiction movies as guides for the overall feel and details on spacecraft and alien vessels.

MB: This is the question I love asking: Do you outline? Or plunge in and write by the seat of your pants? Or somewhere in between? Tell us about your planning and preparation process. If you outline, how in-depth do you go? Any specific software you use? How do you organize everything?

AC: I couldn’t function without an outline! (My manuscripts would take weird turns if I winged it.) I write down the basic plot, with details on key scenes. Often names don’t come until I’ve finished, though. So filling in the correct blanks later can be a challenge.

MB: How long did it take for you to write CassaStaR, from start to finish? Number of revisions and edits? Do you edit as you go, or blitz through the first draft all in one go and then settle down to revise?

AC: It was almost a year before I completed the first draft, just writing straight through. (Yeah, I’m slow.) I edited and revised as I typed it out in Word and edited a few more times from printed copies before my test readers got a hold of the story. There were many revisions after that!

MB: How do you motivate yourself to write? Do you have a writing schedule, or a goal in terms of word count or time spent writing?

AC: Even with an outline, I still don’t know all the details. I write so I can see how the story unfolds! I don’t have a set schedule although I probably need one. I’m participating in NaNo this month and that’s really kept me on target with the sequel.

Alex's guitarMB: Where do you write? Why do you like to write there? Would you say it’s your ideal writing space, or do you have a dream writing space in your mind?

AC: I do most of my work in my office. It’s my comfort zone. Everything I need is nearby – my computer, TV, stereo, and of course, my guitar. Just needs a fridge!

(This is a picture of Alex’s guitar, which resides in his office. He always plays for 30 minutes before writing. Nice way to invite the muse in, I say! – MB)

MB: Describe a typical writing day.

AC: I work full time and occasionally have time to write during the day. But the bulk of my work is done in the evenings, after I’ve chilled with a sports show and some guitar playing.

MB: It doesn’t seem to matter much whether you’re a hardcore outliner and plotter, or whether you love the uncertainty of never quite knowing where you’re going – sooner or later, something unexpected happens as you’re writing that makes you sit up and say, “Where did that come from?” What was one development, whether plot or character or setting, that took you by surprise while you were writing that first draft?

AC: Nothing really surprised me, although it was interesting to watch the characters develop. Byron’s attitude turned very sour at one point. It was challenging to evoke sympathy for him. In contrast, Bassa grew more pleasant and stable – probably to bring balance!

MB: Writing rituals and superstitions: most writers have them. Tell us about some of your writing rituals or quirks.

AC: I’m not superstitious, but I do like everything just so before I write – water bottle in place, music playing, and my mood relaxed.

MB: How do you balance writing with your day job and your family life? Any tips or suggestions about keeping balanced that you’d like to pass on to other writers?

AC: Balance is difficult. You just have to let everyone know what you’re trying to accomplish. Remember what’s really important in life and keep communications open.

MB: Anything additional you’d like to add?

AC: Readers have enjoyed the book, but many are surprised it’s such a character driven story. CassaStar isn’t hard core or high tech – it’s about friendship. It’s the story I wanted to write and I’m happy so many have enjoyed the friendship aspect. Of course, now the pressure’s on for the sequel!

Thanks, Alex, for this peek into your creative writing process! Those of you who have yet to read CassaStaR, here’s the book trailer, to give you an idea of what you can expect:


About Alex Cavanaugh: Alex J. Cavanaugh has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and works in web design and graphics. He’s experienced in technical editing and worked with an adult literacy program for several years. A fan of all things science fiction, his interests range from books and movies to music and games. Currently he lives in the Carolinas with his wife.

You can visit with Alex at his blog and on Twitter! CassaStaR is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Amazon UK and Amazon Kindle.

Interview: Erick Setiawan Talks About His Writing Process

Of Bees and MistErick Setiawan’s Of Bees and Mist is a richly woven, lyrical novel; it creates a magical, mystical world in which you can so easily immerse yourself. From the back cover:

Of Bees and Mist is an engrossing fable that chronicles three generations of women under one family tree and places them in a mythical town where spirits and spells, witchcraft and demons, and prophets and clairvoyance are an everyday reality.

And here’s the first paragraph:

Few in town agreed on when the battle began. The matchmaker believed it started the morning after the wedding, when Eva took all of Meridia’s gold and left her with thirteen meters of silk. The fortune-teller, backed by his crystal globe, swore that Eva’s eyes did not turn pitiless until Meridia drenched them in goose blood three months later. The midwife championed another theory: The feud started the day Meridia held her newborn son with such pride that Eva felt the need to humble her. But no matter how loudly the townspeople debated, the answer remained a mystery — and the two women themselves were to blame. Meridia said little, and Eva offered conflicting explanations, which confirmed the town’s suspicion that neither one of them could actually remember.

Lovely! Want more? You can read the first chapter here (but wait! Read this interview first – it’s really good!).

MsBookish.com interviews Erick Setiawan on his writing process:

MB: You’ve mentioned in previous interviews that OF BEES AND MIST grew out of your childhood recollections of family stories and cultural fables. What was the spark that made you realize these various memories were a novel in the making? Was there a defining moment when you thought to yourself, “Wow, I’ve got something here”? Or was it a more gradual process?

ES: Growing up in Indonesia, I always thought my family had enough drama to fill up several books (and that’s just my dad’s side of the family), so I knew I had the story. But whether or not I thought I could turn it into sentences and paragraphs, let alone a book, was a different matter. I wasn’t a born writer. When I was five, I wanted to be an invincible swordsman, not a writer. When I was twenty-five, I still wanted to be an unbeatable swordsman, not a writer. So I had this story to tell, but more often than not, I didn’t have the words to commit it to paper. A lot of the writing process for OF BEES AND MIST was just that—searching and begging the universe for the right words and convincing myself from day to day that I could do it. That was the part that was gradual, painstaking even. The good thing about it is while I agonized over how best to tell the story, the story itself grew and took on a life of its own, sprouting up channels and avenues that weren’t there before. I suppose there’s something to be said for allowing something to develop in its own time, instead of rushing it to the finish.

MB: The novel is set in a mythical town richly infused with a sense of the magical. Was any research involved in creating this setting? Did you create maps, boundaries or sketches?

ES: I did draw a rough map for the various locations in the book, just to remind myself where the characters lived and how their geographic location related to their social status. I started with a map of San Francisco, the city I love and where I currently live, and I remember putting Monarch Street in an affluent part of the city, and Orchard Road, just as the name implies, in a humbler neighborhood. As Daniel and Meridia improve their lot in the book, I move them closer and closer to the good part of town, so to speak. I found this method incredibly helpful in keeping things sorted out, at least in my own head.

I read everything I could get my hands on when I was writing the book, from literary fiction to mystery and fantasy and also folk stories and fairy tales. I also used a lot of things I encountered during my childhood in Indonesia to create the magical elements in the book—the superstitions, the belief systems, the supernatural phenomena. This is not to say that I didn’t make a lot of stuff up, and it was an absolute delight to mix the real with the imagined.

MB: You majored in psychology and computer science. Did you find yourself drawing on your experiences and education in either field as you wrote OF BEES AND MIST?

ES: The two fields of study contributed to the writing in different ways. Psychology helped me understand the characters better. Eva, for example, is a textbook psychological case study: she’s borderline, paranoid, self-deluded, and very destructive, and I don’t think I would have understood her as much if I hadn’t studied her type of disorder in school. Computer science, on the other hand, while fairly useless when it came to writing the book, gave me the discipline to keep going. In software development, until you iron out every last bug in the program, there will always be problems, and I think with a book it’s a similar process. You may leave room for ambiguity, but until you fix every loophole and every gap in the story, it is not yet a full-fledged work. At least not to me.

MB: And now for one of my favorite questions: outline? no outline? a little bit of both? Tell us about your planning and preparation process, what you do (if anything!) before you actually sit down and start to write.

ES: I prefer manic, random scribbling on napkins and bits of paper to rigorous outlining. I always start with a rough outline in my head—I know approximately what’s going to happen and how I’m going to get there—but I never spell this out on paper. I think if you do that too much it can kill something valuable in the process, and you’ll lose that spontaneity. So I like to just let it flow, see where it goes. I know I will take a wrong turn many, many times, but I might discover something wonderful while making that mistake.

MB: I think one of the most delicious things about writing is that, whether one outlines thoroughly or just writes by the seat of the pants, there seem to always be surprises along the way, whether it’s a subplot that suddenly shows up, or a character who comes to life in a way you never expected or a symbol that takes on a much deeper meaning. What were some of the surprises along the way for you in the writing of OF BEES AND MIST.

ES: Malin is one character that most surprised me in the book. Her arc, when I planned it in the beginning, was rather modest. But she surprised me by being a much stronger and more complex character. She showed me that she was a lot more than the thin sketch I had for her, and she made me see that as a writer, I was far from being God or a dictator to my characters. If you listen to them, they will tell you what you are doing wrong. I love her journey from a spoiled little girl to the woman she becomes at the end of the book.

The other element that took me by surprise was the magic in the book. I didn’t plan it that way—the first fifty or so pages of the first draft of the book had none of the magic—but it kept rearing its head onto the pages. At one point, it became undeniably obvious to me that the magic was inseparable from the book, and I couldn’t place these characters in any other setting. Without the magic, the book would not have been complete.

MB: How long did it take you to finish writing OF BEES AND MIST? How many rewrites? Are you an edit-as-you-go writer, or a get-it-all-down-first writer? Or somewhere in between?

It took me five years to write OF BEES AND MIST, five or six rewrites. As to what kind of writer, I’m somewhere in between. I’m a perfectionist in a sense that I can’t go to bed until I get that one sentence perfect, but I also know that until I get to the end, the manuscript will be littered with mistakes and plot holes and impossible character developments, so I’ve learned to let them be until the next rewrite. I think it’s a good thing. Otherwise, I’m going to keep rewriting and never getting to the end.

MB: What’s a typical writing day like for you?

I try to write a page a day, which doesn’t seem much, but it’s a lot for me. I’m that slow. On a good day, it’s only afternoon and I already have that page written—I’m done. On a bad day, it’s midnight and I still haven’t finished that page. As you can imagine, writing is both a joy and a pain for me.

MB: Writing rituals and superstitions: most writers have them. Could you tell us something about yours?

ES: Thankfully, I don’t have any rituals or superstitions. I can write anytime, anywhere, without having to chant or pray or burn incense first. I like writing in coffee shops and restaurants, but not when they’re playing loud music or someone is looking over my shoulder. One thing that I absolutely cannot do is write when I’m angry. I find anger a fairly useless emotion when it comes to writing. Even when a scene that I’m writing demands righteous indignation, I can’t be angry when I write it. And unlike some writers, I can’t write when I’m drunk either. I imagine it would be a lot more fun if I could write when I’m both drunk and angry.

MB: Do you have a writing schedule or goals in terms of words written or time spent writing?

A page a day, however many hours that takes. But if it doesn’t happen, I don’t force it. One thing I’ve learned about writing is that it is a long, arduous process, and you need to forgive yourself a lot if things don’t go your way. You can’t always keep the momentum going, and there are days when your writing just, well, stinks.

MB: I read in another interview you did that the first novel you wrote received a particularly blunt (and rather nasty, I thought) rejection from an agent. Luckily for readers, you persevered and kept writing. Do you have any words of wisdom for those of us still on the road to publication?

Ah, you must be talking about that one agent who said that my characters were “silly, shallow, and superficial” and that she couldn’t imagine anybody on earth wanting to read my book. Harsh words, indeed, but I took whatever lesson I could from it. It was devastating at the time, because I was young, and it was the first novel I’d ever written and sent out to agents, but she meant well (I think), and I thanked her for taking the time to reply. Did I query her for my next book? Absolutely not. But did she make me a better writer in some way? I think so.

One thing I do believe in is that in order to write and finish a book, a certain delusion or chutzpah or whatever you want to call it, is necessary. In order to keep going, I think it’s vital to tell yourself from time to time that out of the billions of people in this world, only you and you alone can tell this story. Because if there’s another person out there who can write it, then why bother? Let them do it. For better or worse, I think every writer needs to get to that place where they can shut out the world and create stories on their own terms.

MB: Anything additional you might want to add (what you’re working on, when the next book is coming out, etc)?

I’m working on the next book, which, as you can probably guess, is going at an excruciating pace. All I want to say about it now is that just like OF BEES AND MIST, it will also take readers to a place they have never encountered before, and introduce them to characters that are, hopefully, unforgettable.


A huge thanks to Erick for taking the time to answer my interview questions! This interview is a part of a TLC blog tour for OF BEES AND MIST – click through to read the rest of the links in the tour!

Erick has a lovely website too; and if you’re on Facebook, he’s also got a Facebook page (I’m a fan!).

An Interview with Author Trilby Kent on Her Writing Process

Trilby Kent

I’m so thrilled to have had the opportunity to interview author Trilby Kent! Trilby’s debut novel Medina Hill, was released on October 13th and I had a great time talking with her about her journey to publication and her writing process.

What is Medina Hill about? Set in 1935, Medina Hill is the story of 11-year-old Dominic Walker, who has stopped speaking. Life with an ailing mother, an unemployed father, and unanswered questions about the war that haunts his family have led him to retreat into a world of silence. But everything changes when his Uncle Roo invites Dominic and his little sister Marlo to spend the summer on the Cornish coast. Dominic soon finds himself taking a stand for justice and the victimized Travelers community, armed only with a treasured copy of Incredible Adventures for Boys: Colonel Lawrence and the Revolt in the Desert. In doing so, he learns what it truly means to have a voice.

I’m always so curious about authors’ writing processes, and I think the tale of how Medina Hill was created will definitely interest those of you out there doing NaNoWriMo. No, Trilby didn’t write Medina Hill for a previous NaNoWriMo, but she very well could have!

I also ask sone of my favorite questions: plotter or pantser? Revision process? Writing quirks and habits? Trilby answers all!


Medina Hill MsBookish: Medina Hill is your first book. Could you tell us a bit about your publishing journey?

TK: I spent a couple of years working on my first children’s novel while I was at university. It was actually three books squashed into one, with storylines ranging from fifteen-century Venice and Egypt to nineteenth-century India and present day New York. Because I really didn’t know anything about the children’s market at that stage, I ended up with a beast of a book: it was about 400 pages too long and a structural nightmare. I had enough encouraging feedback from a couple of agents to know that the writing wasn’t bad, but it soon became clear that The Travels of Maris Fauré was destined for the bottom drawer. It was a really useful apprenticeship, though.

I spent a couple of weeks grieving before starting work on Medina Hill. Within a month, I had a first draft; a few months later, I started sending it out to publishers. I didn’t have an agent at that stage – it would be another three years before I signed up with Judith Murray at Greene & Heaton – and I knew that the chances of having a book picked up from the slush pile were incredibly slim, so I’d almost given up hope when I received an email from Kathy Lowinger at Tundra asking if we could talk. The rest, as they say, is history.

MsBookish: You chose an interesting time period in which to set Medina Hill: it’s 1935, on the Cornish coast. What drew you to this time period?

TK: I find the interwar years absolutely fascinating. There’s a delicious dichotomy at work: people were still coming to terms with the horrific losses of the Great War by the time the Depression hit, and yet there was also an incredible outburst of creative expression, a weird exuberance that accompanied groundbreaking social change. By 1935, you also have the dawning realization that another global conflict might be just around the corner, so there’s a real tension in the air. The long, hot summer before the storm has been a popular motif for many writers over the years, because it’s so ripe with creative potential. It’s a great time in which to set a coming of age story.

MsBookish: In addition to being set in 1935, Medina Hill also involves the story of Lawrence of Arabia, whose adventures serve to inspire your protagonist, Dominic. It’s an intriguing storyline. How did the idea for the novel come to you?

TK: I’d been interested in Lawrence ever since I saw David Lean’s epic 1962 film as a teenager, and I was already toying with the idea of writing a piece of fiction about the Arab Revolt when the idea for Medina Hill cropped up following a trip to Cornwall. By that stage, I knew that I wanted to write in the voice of a child with selective mutism. Somehow, these rather disparate ideas converged, and the book was born.

MsBookish: Whenever I think about writing historical fiction, the first thing that comes to mind is the research. Could you describe your research process? How long did you spend on research before you began writing your first draft? Was there a moment when you knew you had everything that you needed, or did you find that you continued to research even after you began writing?

TK: I love research. Typically, I spend a lot of time reading around a subject before putting pen to paper, but the research also continues throughout the writing process. Now and then, I’ll hit a point where I simply can’t continue until I’ve managed to clarify some historical detail, and it’s incredible how often I’ll start to look into something and discover some bit of information that throws a whole new light on things, or provides the inspiration for an unexpected plot twist.

I can’t remember how long I spent on research before starting to write Medina Hill – I wrote the book four years ago, and I’ve done a lot of unrelated research and writing since then! – but it was probably a few weeks in total.

Shortly after returning from a few days in Cornwall, I saw a documentary on selective mutism, and things started to come together very quickly after that. I make notes all the time, so I already had quite a few ideas in store that were waiting for a home. The idea for Birdie’s character was already there, for instance, inspired by an artist called Madge Gill whose work I’d discovered months earlier.

MsBookish: How long did it take you to complete Medina Hill, from the very beginning of your research to finishing your final draft?

TK: I’m slightly embarrassed to admit it, but very little time at all. The book came out in a great whoosh over a couple of weeks – I was only able to write in the evenings in weekends, so that concentrated me even more. It’s pretty atypical for me, actually. I spent a year researching my first novel for adults, and two years writing it. I’m currently revising another novel for children which took a year to write, and several months to research. To be honest, I’d love to get back into the “whoosh” style of writing, because I think there’s a lot to be said for working with that kind of momentum.

MsBookish: Some writers are plotters, and swear by outlines. Others start with a spark or an idea, and write to see how the story ends. Where would you place yourself along this continuum?

TK: Oh, I’m a plotter. Definitely. Partly because I enjoy it, and partly because, if I’m going to dedicate loads of time to a project, I’d much rather know that I’ve got a watertight plan at the outset, rather than start to discover leaks when I’m already 50,000 words into the thing. That was the lesson I learnt from my first failed attempt at a children’s novel. When I’m writing short stories, I’m much happier to start with an idea and see where it leads.

MsBookish: I’m fascinated by the writing process. Could you talk a little about your writing process during the writing of Medina Hill? Did you have a writing routine? Particular writing quirks or habits? Favourite places to write? How would you describe your revision style?

TK: When I wrote Medina Hill, I was working full-time, which meant that writing was pretty much limited to evenings and weekends. I believe quite strongly that there’s a lot to be said for having limited time to write, because it focuses the mind. I’ve been writing full-time for almost four years now (first as a freelancer, now as a PhD student), and I find it absolutely crucial to have a structure – otherwise there’s a real risk of wasting an entire morning on YouTube (this always starts as “research” but can quickly devolve into watching the entire first series of The Lawrence Welk Show).

I’ve always written on the computer in my study, surrounded by loads of books – reference material, but also novels that inspire me to be a better writer – and various fond possessions, such as my 1910 tabletop letterpress, a pink seashell from Juno Beach, and a silver samovar from a friend who lives in Oman.

MsBookish: What are you working on now? Is your writing process any different now that you’re working on a second book, with your first one now published?

TK: Since finishing Medina Hill, I’ve completed a novel for adults, a few short stories, several articles, and another two novels for children (one is now with my editors at Tundra; the other is sitting in a drawer). I’ve recently started a PhD, which will require me to produce another novel as well as a critical commentary, so I’m starting to write in a much more systematic way; at the moment, I’m working with a target of 500 words a day. Otherwise, the process hasn’t changed very much – it’s just intensified! I’m having a lot of fun, and I feel very lucky indeed to be where I am today.


Thanks, Trilby, for a great interview! Interested in hearing more about Medina Hill? Check out all the other stops on the Medina Hill blog tour, sponsored by Tundra Books!

Interview: Author Joy Preble Talks About Her Writing Process

Dreaming AnastasiaUpdate: This page wasn’t loading properly, but all is fixed now. Enjoy!

Anastasia Romanov, the daughter of the last Tsar of Russia, is believed to be dead by the world, but she is alive. And when she sleeps, she dreams …

Anne Michaelson doesn’t know much about Russian history; she is more worried about getting into a good college. But then the dreams start …

Dreaming Anastasia is a fun young adult fantasy that takes the reader back and forth from current-day Chicago to the time of the Romanovs, and throws in elements of a Russian folktale for added chills. I am so thrilled to have had the opportunity to interview Joy Preble, author of Dreaming Anastasia, about her writing process! Joy is so smart and funny (something that pops out at you right away if you read her blog); I hope you all enjoy reading her answers to my questions as much as I did.

I’m fascinated by writers’ processes, how each writer has such a personal way of approaching the writing of his or her book. Could you talk a bit about your own writing process?

JP: You mean after the ritual goat sacrifice, right? Just kidding. You know, it’s probably less of a process than a ‘ooh, I’ve got a spare twenty minutes here so let’s use it wisely rather than checking Facebook.’ But in terms of inspiration – each book I’ve written has come from a different place. Dreaming Anastasia came from both my fascination with the Romanovs and my sense that like me, I had this character who was aching for something to change her life.

Another novel that I hope you see fairly soon, developed from two things – the suicide of someone I knew, and my endless fascination for Texas high school football, spurred of course, by the fact that my son was an offensive lineman and his buddies pretty much sprawled on my furniture for a number of years, gossiping like a bunch of girls and eating me out of house and home. (One time at eating group – which rotated houses each week the night before the big game and involved the parents feeding groups of seven players – Jake and his buddies consumed over eight pounds of brisket, three apple pies, untold amounts of potato salad, a couple loaves of bread and at least a gallon of ice cream.)

A third book is a love story set with the back drop of a family bakery – not too different from the one my aunt and uncle ran in Chicago for many years. (Okay the family breakups and the main character’s crazy and disastrous love life is all from my head.)

[MsBookish notes: That is an amazing amount of food!]

Some writers like to outline everything, some like to outline a bit, and some like to just start with the first word and where it takes them. Which type of writer are you? Have you always been this type of writer, or did you try a bit of everything before you found your groove?

JP: I’ve tried and tried to be an outliner. But I’m just not. Mostly I start with either an idea or a character and kind of noodle around from there, writing bits and pieces and seeing what I have. At some point later – maybe thirty pages in – I do stop to create at least a rudimentary bullet point outline. Especially with Dreaming Anastasia, which has a mystery element to it, eventually I needed to know where I was going or I was going to write myself into a corner. Even with the other books that I’ve written now, there is always a point where I do have to know where I’m going to end up – with the caveat that I don’t have to really go there if the muse decides that I need to make a detour.

Do you have an writer’s rituals or writing quirks, things that you absolutely must do or have around you before you start writing?

JP: Nope. I know a lot of people who do, but I think because I began writing seriously while I was still actively parenting a high school aged son and teaching high school at the same time, I was thankful to carve out time to write wherever I could get it. If I stopped to brew up my half-caff latte with soy milk in my special mug first, I’d have used up the spare ten seconds. So I pretty much find that I can write on demand most days.

The original title for Dreaming Anastasia was Spark. Could you talk a bit about the change in the title? What inspired your original title, and what led to the new title?

JP: Well, to be perfectly honest, once money changes hands between you and a publisher, they can pretty much title it ‘Jo Jo the Crazy Boy Goes to Camp’ and you’ll probably say, hmmm, sounds good to me. That being said, the original title did relate to Anne’s magic as well as to the nature of her role in the story – she’s the ‘spark’ to move everything from the stasis that it’s been in while Ethan’s been searching for the girl who can rescue Anastasia. However, my editor ultimately felt that Dreaming Anastasia more clearly branded the story with its historical fiction element. People would know what they were getting. And honestly, it would match the cover art Sourcebooks had been playing with. Once I thought about it for awhile, I realized he was right. Plus, it really is reflective of the dreams Anne and Anastasia both have. So I do think it was easy to embrace the change.

[MsBookish notes: Dreaming Anastasia definitely gives the reader a good idea about the historical aspects of the book. It also has such a beautiful ring to it.]

In Dreaming Anastasia, the narrative voice changes from that of Anne, to Ethan, and then back in time, to Anastasia. What led you to use this narrative structure? Were there any challenges to switching between the three different voices as you wrote?

JP: Interestingly, I wrote the first draft of this novel in third person. But I always alternated between the voices of Anne and Ethan and Anastasia. At one point, I’d even contemplated Viktor having a voice as well, but I discarded that idea early on. Every time I attempted to tell the story any other way, I ended up at a dead end. Each character brings such a specific point of view to the telling that I just wanted the reader to have that. Anne is such a snarky, funny, contemporary voice. Ethan has more of the gravitas of history behind him, and he’s just so serious and earnest much of the time. (okay, plus hot) And Anastasia gets to have this sad, mystical quality to her telling. I loved having all of that collide, but I would be lying if I said it wasn’t challenging. Sometimes if I’d been away from the manuscript for awhile – such as the lengthy time between when I finished the final revisions and we finally headed into copy edits, which was a long number of months – I’d have to sort of warm up and just write dialogue between the characters for awhile until I knew I heard them. Anastasia was always the easiest to nail because she is so trapped in the past, more or less. And Anne is funny, although not nearly as funny as Tess. But she’s got that contemporary cadence that I hear every day. Ethan was always a little harder. I always wanted him to have something a little stiff and old-fashioned about him, even as he was trying to blend in. Sometimes that was tricky.

[MsBookish notes: Joy did an excellent job managing the three narrative voices; I can imagine how it could be tricky at times.]

What writers have influenced you the most as a writer?

JP: You know I don’t think there’s any one person who comes to mind but rather everyone. I think we all sort of stand on the shoulders of the greats, so to speak. Plus honestly, every writer I read rubs off in some way. So I guess the better question would be who hasn’t influenced me! I do think having studied the classics helps me get a sense of the roots of story telling. Those horrendously sad Greek tragedies. Shakespeare’s sense of the human condition. But I’m influenced by so much more than that. John Irving and Anne Tyler and what I see as her contemporary YA counterpart, Sarah Dessen. All three of those writers have taught me about what it means to be human as well. About the crazy patchwork of people that sometimes collide and fall in love or suffer or just live life large. JK Rowling taught me how to spin a tale over many, many volumes and make it work! So amazing. Judy Blume taught me that I need to reflect what it’s like to be sixteen even if someone might complain that it’s too edgy. That it’s important to honestly tell the story that needs telling. (Oh! I have such issues at school sometimes when teachers will tell students writing a personal narrative, “Well, if you can’t think of something, just make it up.” And sit there thinking, no! You are telling that student that his experiences, whatever they are, are not of value. That bothers me so much) And just so you don’t get the wrong impression, let me end this answer by adding that I’ve also learned a lot from television writers. I mean seriously – I think I owe a serious debt of gratitude to the Palladinos and their Gilmore Girls. And if Joss Whedon hadn’t combined westerns and sci fi in the late, great Firefly, I might not have had to guts to do a little genre bending myself!

[MsBookish notes: I for one am very glad that Joss Whedon  inspired Joy to do a little genre bending! I agree totally with Joy; television writers really are amazing. I’ve learned a lot about how to tell a riveting story from television, as well as the big screen. I love that Joy has included television writers as one of her influences!]

Thank you so much, Joy, for this wonderful interview!

To find out more about Joy and Dreaming Anastasia, visit Joy Preble. And make sure you stop by her blog, Joy’s Novel Idea – it’s a very fun blog, and she’s been sharing her publication journey there with her readers. You can also follow Joy on Twitter.

Kaleb Nation, Author of Bran Hambric, Talks About His Writing Process

Bran Hambric: The Farfield Curse"What if your mother was a criminal? What if her crime was magic? What if magic ran in the family?" This is the intriguing premise of Bran Hambric: The Farfield Curse, a middle grade fantasy novel written by Kaleb Nation.

Kaleb initially got the idea for Bran Hambric when he was fourteen years old; he wrote almost five hundred pages of the book in six to nine months, and then over the next four years, he rewrote the book multiple times. The result? A fun and fast-paced read that middle graders who love magic and fantasy will be sure to enjoy.

I had the opportunity to interview Kaleb about his writing process. It was fun and exciting to learn about what went into the writing of the book, and I hope you all enjoy this interview as much as I did!

In an interview with Sourcebooks, you talked a little about how the idea for Bran Hambric came to you. When you began writing, were you writing toward an ending that had already come to you, or were you writing to find out where your idea was leading you? Can you describe how your original idea grew to become Bran Hambric?

KN: When I first wrote the story, I didn’t really plot it out much. All I had was a big idea, and I knew basically where it was going and who it would include, and what happened to some of the characters at the end. So as I wrote the book, many of the characters totally surprised me! I think I wrote about 5-600 pages in the six months following the first big idea. After I had all of that, I rewrote the book many times over the following years, until it was transformed into the book it is today.

You originally wrote 500 pages of the book in six to nine months. Could you describe your writing process during the writing of this first draft? Did you outline, or did you just start writing and let the story tell itself to you? Did you develop your characters first, or did they develop as you were writing? What were some of the things that drove you to write that first draft?

KN: I didn’t outline it much with the first draft: I really just wrote it out for a long time, and kept going with the characters leading the way. I did get stuck somewhere, and at that point I started plotting out bits and pieces of the book, just so I had a road map of where I was going. It was very much character driven for that draft though.

You spent six years working on Bran Hambric. I’d love to learn more about your editing process, the ways you refined your initial draft into the completed book. Did you have an "aha!" moment, when you knew the book was complete?

KN: I had a strange editing process. For the first few years, I just kept rewriting the entire book, and I’d get so far in it, then suddenly go back to the beginning and start over editing there again! I am a perfectionist when it comes to writing, so I wanted the beginning to be really clean. I didn’t really have an "aha!" moment when I realized the book was finished, because I wasn’t even really sure it was: but I was ready to start hunting for an agent, so I sent it off!

[MsBookish: Just wanted to stick my nose in and say that Kaleb definitely accomplished a very clean beginning – the prologue that starts Bran Hambric: The Farfield Curse is incredibly exciting, and pulls you right into the story.]

There is a lot of humor woven throughout Bran Hambric. Can you talk a bit about the humor in the book?

KN: I think my humor is derived from a lot of the radio dramas I listened to when I was very young, especially shows like Adventures In Odyssey and Jungle Jam And Friends, and from my dad, who was always making us laugh as kids. I think that having humor in a book makes it a far more enjoyable read!

Other than Bran Hambric, which of your characters did you enjoy writing about the most?

KN: Sewey was my favorite character to write about other than Bran. Sometimes even I find myself laughing as I write about his antics. He’s one of those characters that takes over the scene, so that it’s not like I’m even writing it at all, I’m just trying to keep up with what he’s doing.

[MsBookish: Sticking my nose in again to say that Sewey is very definitely a fun character; Kaleb has caught him so vividly, and I’m not at all surprised that writing the scenes with Sewey in them was more a matter of trying to keep up with what Sewey was doing!]

What are you working on now? Do you find your writing process is different than it was when you initially wrote Bran Hambric?

KN: I’m working on the sequel to The Farfield Curse right now. My writing process is quite different than with the first: far more organized, with a good amount of plotting and notes. That way I don’t have so much trouble with writer’s block… and I don’t take six more years on this one!

[MsBookish: I’m very glad to hear this, because I think once readers have read Bran Hambric: The Farfield Curse, they’re going to be looking forward to the sequel.]

What authors have influenced you the most as a writer?

KN: Lemony Snicket! I think his humor has affected mine greatly, because I loved his books growing up.

[MsBookish: I thought one of the most engaging things about Bran Hambric: The Farfield Curse was the humor – it added such fun to the excitement.]

Thank you, Kaleb, for taking us for this behind the scenes look at the writing of Bran Hambric: The Farfield Curse!

You can read more about the book at Bran Hambric and visit Kaleb Nation at his blog, Kaleb Nation. He is also the Twilight Guy, and if you enjoy videos, be sure to visit his YouTube channel. And that’s not all! Kaleb’s composed a soundtrack for Bran Hambric, and you can listen to some of the tracks here!

Author Interview: Barbara Levenson (and a Giveaway) Part 2

Due to a glitch in my blog theme, it turns out I can’t go over a certain word count per post, so I’ve had to post my interview with Barbara Levenson in two parts. Here is Part 2 of Barbara Levenson’s interview (and here is part 1 of the interview).

MB: You had a rich and rewarding career in another field before turning to writing. What words of advice would you have for the aspiring novelist who is currently making a living in another profession?

BL: Most authors have had other professions before turning to writing.  It is rare that a person decides he or she is going to support themselves by writing alone.  Work in another field enriches an author’s writing.  For one thing, it brings an understanding of people in real situations.  (I am not sure what profession prepares you to write about vampires or other paranormal subjects.  Maybe a strange boss who reminds one of a werewolf?)  My advice is to steal as much time as possible to sit down and write.  It doesn’t matter whether you write short stories or plays or descriptive paragraphs.  The more that you write, the more your writing improves.  Secondly, aspiring writers should go to as many conferences and seminars as possible.  Interaction with other authors is very helpful.  These gatherings offer the opportunity to learn about the industry of publishing.  Publishing has its own set of quirks.  Preparation for dealing with a whole new profession puts the new writer ahead of the game.  Thousands of people are writing books, most of which won’t get published.  By studying the industry and learning from other writers, chances are good that you will be published.  The best things to keep in mind are that there are no set rules for being a good writer except the rule that says, “You will not get discouraged.”

MB: Could you talk a bit about the events leading up to getting the publishing contract for Fatal February? I was thinking that must be such an exciting moment in an author’s life.

BL: No moment can be more exciting to an author than an actual contract to publish a book.  It means that someone out there likes your work enough to gamble on readers liking it too.  It validates the hours spent slaving over a hot computer.

I began attending writing classes, seminars and conferences when I began working on my novel.  I was fortunate enough to be admitted to the Kenyon College summer wrting institute where I first gained valuable information about the world of publishing.  Two years ago, I attended Sleuthfest, the Florida Chapter of Mystery Writers of America’s annual conference.  Agents and publishers attend this event and share knowledge regarding how to contact them and others, and how to write a query letter that stands out from the thousands publishers and agents receive.

At the luncheon at Sleuthfest, I was lucky to be seated at the table with the editor and president of Oceanview Publishing.  We had a great discussion and they told me when my book was finished to contact them.  In early 2008, Fatal February was ready for the push to sell.  I had heard horror stories from other authors about the amount of letters necessary before publishing became a reality; one author said it took 250 letters.  Undeterred, I started with six letter, one of which was to Oceanview Publishing.  Five of the six responded promptly.  Four of them asked for a few pages, or a few chapters.  Oceanview asked for the full manuscript.  A few weeks later I heard from the editor at Oceanview saying she was sold on Fatal February, but had to have others of their readers sign off on it as well.

The next month, February in fact, there was another Sleuthfest.  While there, I talked to an agent and shared with him what was happening.  He happened to be a lawyer, as well.  He gave me excellent advice.  “You don’t need an agent.  You are a lawyer and have access to other lawyers to look over any contract.”  He also confirmed my impression of Oceanview as being an excellent small publishing house.  The next month, Oceanview offered me a contract and by April, I was signed up.  The first thing I did was to sit down and cry.  All the tension was released, but little did I know that there would be brand new tensions.

New authors need to understand that the process of bringing a book to the bookstore is long, arduous and needs preparation.  Art work, website design, advanced reader copies, blurbs for the cover , advance reviews, and finally a launch date.  It is easier and quicker to have a baby!  I must give Oceanview Publishing a big thank you for turning out quality products and for being a guiding hand every step of the way.  I never felt alone or without resources to guide me.  Also, I will always attend Sleuthfest. It started the process for me.

Fatal February Giveaway

A huge thank you to Barbara for such an insightful interview. This is Barbara’s first stop on her book tour for Fatal February. Check out the link to see other stops on the tour, which includes several guest posts and reviews of the book.

You also have a chance to win a copy of Fatal February. It’s a little bit more complicated than most giveaways, as you need a PIN number. If you’re clicking through to the giveaway link (the form is at the bottom of the page) before noon tomorrow (February 18), use this number: 6126. If you’re a little bit late, don’t despair! You can still enter the giveaway – check out the most current tour stop for a valid PIN.

Author Interview: Barbara Levenson (and a Giveaway)

Fatal February is the first book in a new mystery series featuring criminal defense attorney Mary Magruder Katz and written by Barbara Levenson.

In addition to being a writer, Barbara is also a senior judge in the circuit court of Miami-Dade County; prior to her election to judgeship, Barbara was a criminal defense and civil rights litigator. Fatal February is her first book, but she has already finished her second Mary Magruder Katz mystery and is hard at work on the third book in the series!

I recently had the opportunity to interview Barbara, an interview I enjoyed very much -it was interesting learning more about Barbara’s process in writing Fatal February, and how she manages to balance her career as a judge and her writing career.

An Interview with Barbara Levenson

MB: You’ve mentioned that the idea for Mary Magruder Katz popped full-blown into your head. How did her stories come to you? And what motivated you to put pen to paper to capture these stories?

BL: I guess that Mary had been in my subconscious for a while.  I have mentored young women attorneys and new judges over the years.  Mary is a compilation of their thoughts and problems, along with my own experiences as a new litigator.  Additionally, Mary personifies the melting pot people who populate the Miami area.  Something wonderful is afoot here. We have learned to appreciate our differences or to overlook those we can’t appreciate.  I wanted to share these areas with readers, and to tell the real Miami story that isn’t about tourism.  It’s about day to day living.  It’s just done in fabulous weather.

MB: Carlos is such a charismatic and interesting (not to mention sexy!) character. How did you get the idea for his character? Did you know right away that he would be perfect for Mary?

BL: The idea for Carlos actually occurred to me at the car wash that I go to.  I was there one day when I saw this amazingly handsome guy.  We chatted while we indulged in the free popcorn.  He was very charming.  Then I observed him being absolutely rude to the attendants and cashier; two personalities.  He fit right into the stories swimming around in my brain.  I thought he was the one person who could keep up with Mary (at least most of the time).

MB: You’re currently working on the second Mary Magruder Katz novel. Could you describe your writing process? How do you start each writing day? Do you have any writing rituals that you follow?

BL: Actually, the second book is finished and will be published in June,2010.  My writing process is simple;  sit down in front of the computer and write. Writing is not a job to me.  I love to write and look forward to the time spent doing it.  I usually try to get rid of the mundane things in my life early in the day.  things like straightening out the house, brushing the dogs, or going to the grocery.  I answer e-mails and then close my brain to anything but writing.  This may mean two hours or six hours of pleasurable time writing.

MB: You’ve spent 32 years as a litigator and then a circuit court judge. How have your experiences enriched your writing career?

BL: Being a lawyer or a judge requires many of the same traits as being a writer. Lawyers and especially judges must be excellent listeners.  You must concentrate on hearing what a client is saying or what witnesses are presenting.  When an author creates a book, she must listen to the characters.  Are their voices authentic?  After listening closely to so many voices in courtrooms, it gives an author the ability to develop voices of characters that readers can relate to and feel the characters emotions. A litigator must be immersed in her case and must create the story of the case in language that a juror can readily understand.  This is the same job that an author has in creating the plot and characters for the reader.

MB: Your writing style in Fatal February is very engaging – the reader is immediately drawn into Mary’s world. Was the transition from the dryness of legal language to the richness of fiction difficult or did it come easily?

BL: I never subscribed to the theory that legal writing must be wordy and boring.  My writing style has always been to be brief and clear, so I didn’t have to cleanse my writing style.  I believe more lawyers are moving away from verbosity as they understand that when you want a judge to find in your favor, writing clearly and persuasively will win the day.

Due to a glitch in the blog template I’m using, I’ve just discovered I can’t exceed a certain word count per post. My interview with Barbara Levenson is therefore divided into two parts: please click here for Part 2, and information regarding the giveaway.