Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Interview: Leigh Talbert Moore

A few weeks ago, I was skiing in the mountains with my family, and I ordered up ROUGE by Leigh Talbert Moore on my Kindle to read over the weekend.  I started it late Saturday night, barely managed to put it down for skiing on Sunday morning, read it all through the car ride home (ignoring my family), and finished it up on Sunday night.

Then I emailed Leigh for an interview.

1. What was your inspiration for ROUGE? Where did the story begin for you?

Rouge began with the musical Oliver! I wanted to write a story about orphans, and I liked the dynamic of this one “artful dodger” taking care of the little innocent with close calls and bad things happening all around them.

I saw Oliver! when I was very young, and the darkness of it—particularly the bad guy Joe—really upset me. It scared me knowing the orphans had developed this false confidence since they’ve done so well on their own. Then in the end, they realize they’re not as tough as they think. It’s heartbreaking, too.

I grew up in Baton Rouge, La, so I set the story in New Orleans, which can be very dark, and went from there.

2. Are you a plotter, a pantster, or something in between?

In between. I write out a “synopsis,” which is basically the beginning, middle, climax, and conclusion of the story in my head. If I can get that all down, and I feel strongly about it, I hit the chair and start typing.

3. ROUGE had scenes with strong sexuality and some dark themes – including prostitution, sexual predators, voodoo, poison, and murder. (Of course, this is what made it such a riveting book for me!) Do you see the audience as YA, NA, or adult?

I wrote it as a YA novel originally. Then it was bought by Simon & Schuster, and they wanted it to be adult. So I made those revisions, increased everyone’s age, opened the doors that were closed on certain scenes… and then I parted ways with S&S. And I wanted to get it back to YA.

But as I was going through it again and removing scenes I’d added (or re-closing doors), I decided to leave a few additions and a few doors slightly open. So it’s now more “Mature YA” or “new adult.”
But I think adults can enjoy it, too!

4. How did you do your research? What details were hardest for you to pin down?

The hardest details were period things, like men smoked cigars instead of cigarettes at that time. Roland was always a smoker in my mind, but I didn’t see him as a cigar smoker. To me, that conjures a different image. So I had to verify that cigarettes did exist back then!

Also things like gas lamps—there was no electricity! Popcorn had just been invented, the cash register was something new… So things we take for granted that I would just write into a scene without thinking, I had to fact-check or couch as “new.” Luckily I had the lovely Kitty Howard to help me with that. She was the best New Orleans time-period resource for me.

5. Were there any characters who surprised you in the writing of the book – characters who became different people than you expected? Which character was the most fun to write?

I can’t say there were any surprises. I knew going in everyone’s backstory and what their motivations were and what they would do under pressure. (I have the backstory written, actually, and I’m thinking of releasing it at some point as a novella!)

By far, the most fun character to write was Roland. He was the first character in my head, and he sort of told the story to me. I know that sounds weird, but he was the compass of where we were headed in my mind.

6. I know you had a deal with a big house for ROUGE, and you walked away for some very good reasons, which you explained in a blog post. What’s the hardest part of going it alone, without that publishing house behind you?

Marketing is the hardest part of self-publishing for me. Without a traditional publisher, it’s more difficult to be taken seriously and to get the reviews from big names like Kirkus and Booklist. (Kirkus will review self-published books… for a $500 fee--!)

Marketing done right is a huge, additional job, and it doesn’t always seem to be “working.” It also eats up writing time, which is frustrating. But I’ve made a ton of new reader- and writer-friends through marketing, and I’ve been told as more of my books are released, it gets easier.

7. Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about ROUGE or your other books?

Well, my next book coming out is The Truth About Letting Go, which is a companion book to my book The Truth About Faking. I started it in 2010, right after TTAF, and when that book became so popular and readers asked for more, I decided to dust off that partially finished manuscript and finish it.

After that, Rouge #2 will be released—closer to summer. And then, I guess I’ll see what’s going on with sales and see what readers seem to want next!

Thank you so much for having me here, Dianne! And thanks for reading my books!

Leigh, Thanks for the interview!

FYI, Purchase links:

Monday, January 28, 2013

Themes That Call to You

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of participating in a Creativity Retreat with Susan Kaye Quinn, Rebecca Carlson, and Adam Heine. This retreat was held online via Google Hangout, which is pretty amazing when you consider I’m on the U.S. East Coast, Sue’s in the Midwest, Rebecca’s in Hawaii, and Adam’s in Thailand.

If you’d like to know more about how the retreat was organized, check out Sue’s post here. I wanted to talk about one particular activity, which Sue discovered at a workshop given by Kat Falls, author of DARK LIFE.

Sue asked us to make a list of 10 books or movies we LOVED, which were related in some way to our WIP. Then, with the help of our fellow participants, we looked for similarities in theme, characterization, plot, etc.

Since I’m working on the second book in the EIGHTH DAY series, I made a list of MG books I love – and when I say "love," I mean "use in my classroom year after year and never get tired of."

  1. Everlost
  2. Gregor the Overlander
  3. Airborn
  4. The Teacher’s Funeral
  5. A Long Way From Chicago
  6. Star Hatchling
  7. The Power of UN
  8. Save Queen of Sheba
  9. No More Dead Dogs
  10. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle

In this list, I found these recurring themes:

  • an MC who makes a big mistake and has to undo or correct the consequences
  • a missing or absent father who nevertheless plays a large role in the story because the MC tries to live up to (or live down) the father’s reputation
  • big brothers protecting siblings
  • characters who make sacrifices for the sake of someone else
  • characters who discover hidden talents under the pressure of necessity
  • surprises in characters we thought we knew – whether it’s a devastating betrayal by someone we trusted or an act of selflessness/courage from someone we’d written off
  • loyalty among friends
  • light, sweet, and puppy romance

Perhaps it shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did: Many of these themes can be found in THE EIGHTH DAY and are already developing in the sequel. Sue (and Kat Falls) are right: These are the themes that call to me. And now that I know it, I can work at teasing them out of my subconscious and helping them blossom in this work.

Do you have your list of ten?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Spirit Game Film

I'm thrilled that I am now allowed to share this Behind-the-Scenes video about THE SPIRIT GAME, the short film based on my book WE HEAR THE DEAD. This was a fascinating glimpse into the production, and I have to thank Amy Green for prominently mentioning my book as the inspiration. It is exciting to see an actor like Charles Shaughnessy enthusiastic about the project and to hear actress Katie Boland talk about the role of Maggie Fox, the main character in my book. I was also very amused to hear Liberty Ross talk about Leah Fox in a personal way. Some people might consider Leah to be the villain of my book. Clearly, Liberty understands she is more complicated than that.

And, having seen director Craig Goodwill's films PATCHTOWN and ARTIST UNKNOWN, I can't wait to see how he visually conceives this project. I'm sure it will be stunning.

Along with the video, I also got my first look at the official movie poster this weekend. See my name at the bottom, next to the director's name?  Another squee-able moment.

BHS TSG copy from Craig Goodwill on Vimeo.

Monday, January 21, 2013

A Dream Contest for Middle Grade Writers

Martin Luther King dreamed of sweeping social reform.

Some of us have smaller, more personal dreams, and for many of my blogging friends, it’s the dream of being published. 

If you’re a middle grade writer with a manuscript ready for querying, then you need to visit Project Mayhem today where there is an awesome contest going on – just for MG.

Michael Winchell is organizing the contest. He and Shannon O’Donnell are taking submissions of queries and first pages until Thursday. They will each choose 3 submissions and request more pages, looking for a promising manuscript that would interest their agents: Alyssa Eisner Henkin of Trident Media Group and Terrie Wolf of AKA Literary. Michael and Shannon will each send one winner's manuscript on to their agent with their personal recommendation.

Some of the other Team Mayhem authors have offered up secondary prizes, such as a query critique by Matt McNish and a three chapter critique from me.

Best of luck to everyone who enters, and special thanks to Mike Winchell for the idea!

In other news,
a) I’ve still got one spot open in February for a first page critique.
b) THE CAGED GRAVES is one of Richie’s Picks on the Rutgers Children’s Lit newsletter.
c) I will have some awesome stuff to share on Wednesday about the SPIRIT GAME short film.
d) I skied the heck out of Jack Frost Mountain in Blakeslee, PA this weekend. In fact, depending on when you read this post, I might still be doing it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

My First Book

Sometime people ask me how long I've been writing or what my first book was.

Well, the answer is I've been writing -- or at least making up stories -- for a long time. My first book, I'm afraid, had a derivative plot and characters who were thoroughly mired in gender stereotypical roles.

But hey, I was four. Or thereabouts. Nobody thought to date the story.

I do know I cut the pages from art paper by myself and pasted it all together with Elmer's Glue -- the clear, yellowy kind that was applied with the chiseled rubber top of the bottle.  The title is written in my father's handwriting.

This is my first book, THE GIRL AND THE DRAGON.

Not exactly ready for Amazon, but it always makes me laugh.
Get a load of her shoes!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Interview with Sarah Fine

I've met a lot of writers through blogging, but one who continues to amaze me is Sarah Fine, author of SANCTUM (Amazon Children's Publishing 2012), SCAN (Putnam & Sons/Penguin 2013), and FACTORY GHOST (McElderry/Simon & Schuster).

Sarah, you have to be one of the most prolific writers I know. During the 2012 calendar year, how many new books did you write? How many books received editorial revisions? Copy-editing and proof-reading? Any novellas or short stories on the side?

Whew! I didn’t write as many new books as I’d planned in 2012, but I think I did okay. Let’s see:
New books: 2
Books revised: 4
Copy-edited/final pass pages: 1
Novellas: 2
Short stories: 3

(Not as many books as she planned???)

You’re a child psychologist as well as an author. How many hours a week do you spend at the “day job” and when do you write?

When SCAN sold, I went from 4 days/week of psychology to 3 days/week. After FACTORY GHOST sold in June, I realized I couldn’t even keep up with that, and so now I do that job 2 days/week and am working at home, writing, the other 3 days. And I still feel like I never have enough time. But: I’m grateful to be able to have dedicated days for writing, and I do treat it like a job. On writing days, it’s an intense 8am-5pm. So intense that sometimes I forget to eat.

Are you an outliner, a pantster, or something in between?

Something in between. I write out a synopsis for every project but rarely go back to it. When I write, I always outline the next 2-3 chapters, with the events that mark the end of each chapter, so I know where I need to go.

You once said on your blog that you have so many upcoming projects, your agent made you a color-coded schedule for what to work on when. Can you tell us a little about that? (And have you ever had to rebel and work on something else because your muse had hold of you?)

She gives me a schedule coded with revision due dates, submission dates for new projects, and pub dates. It requires constant revision because things are always getting shuffled around. AND because, if there’s a delay in an editorial letter or something, I do have a tendency to wander off and write a book while I’m waiting. That’s happened a few times. Kathleen is very patient with me.

You co-authored SCAN, your upcoming YA thriller with Walter Jury. Can you share a little about that collaboration process?

Walter is the coolest. He writes the synopses—like, 20-30 page synopses—and I write the book. We work together on revisions and discuss issues that come up along the way. It’s been a pleasure because he’s always willing to hop on the phone and talk through a scene or a world building issue if I need it, and because he’s totally flexible in integrating my ideas into the story.

You are currently under contract with three different publishing houses. What is that like?

It’s lovely (especially because I have a color-coded schedule and an agent who looks out for me like nobody’s business). I feel like I’m learning a lot, and in a few years, I’ll have a very well-informed understanding of this business. I’m working with Amazon Children’s Publishing, Putnam/Penguin, and McElderry/Simon & Schuster, and each of them has different timetables and styles. One thing they have in common: super-smart and dedicated editors who help me make my books better in ways I could never anticipate. It’s a privilege to work with each of them.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us, about SANCTUM (available now) or any of your upcoming books?

Well, in December I launched my Malachi’s Journal project on tumblr ( His journal entries will be posted regularly throughout the publication of the series, and I am incredibly excited about that.

Thanks, Sarah, for sharing your incredible journey with us. I think you are an inspiration to a lot of us! If you don't already follow Sarah at her blog, The Strangest Situation, you really should. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Me and First Drafts

It’s a love/hate relationship.

I mean, there’s nothing like the exhilaration of completing a brand new chapter, and I’ve been known to stay up WAY past my bedtime because the words are coming and I can’t stop them.

But in between those Ta-Da! moments, I usually stumble over a lot of plot holes, characters with multiple personalities (and not because they’re supposed to have that particular disorder), unnecessary baggage, and oceans full of self-doubt.

Since my current WIP is a sequel to THE EIGHTH DAY, there are other issues, too. This isn’t the first time I’ve written a sequel, but it’s the first time I’ve written a sequel under contract. (The first time I wrote a sequel, I only had to satisfy myself.)

Writing the second book in a series presents a new set of things to be insecure about. Your cool premise is no longer original. Readers are familiar with it from the first book, and they want to know: What else have you got? And although I DO have new things for the second book, I worry whether readers will find them as interesting and exciting as everything that went into the first book. (Luckily, I have a ready-made and eager test audience in my fifth grade students. I might hand pick some student beta readers once I reach the second draft stage.)

I started this manuscript December 4, and over Christmas break alone, I wrote about 14k, doubling the word count. Right now, I’m at 30k words and the middle of the story.

The middle is the worst. Ugh.

What’s your first WIP of 2013?

By the way, I'm a proud new member of the Project Middle Grade Mayhem team! If you have any interest in reading, writing, or teaching MG literature, please check out Project Mayhem and add us to your blog roll!

Monday, January 7, 2013

First Impressions: DEMONBORN

The final First Impressions post for the month of January comes from Lauren Ritz. This is the first page for DemonBorn, an adult fantasy. 

Shadyel turned her head to let her side-set eyes focus on a space in the circle, the place of least prestige immediately in front of her. Her hands moved in the familiar ameso signs, larger than normal because she was angry. Where is Tiyet? she asked, and the others' hands fluttered without meaning.

Sunlight sprayed in curious ripples from the surface of the lake above them, obscuring some motions and accentuating others. Trees wavered beyond, two moons almost indistinguishable from the clouds.

They floated in the traditional circle in the deep water shadows, Shadyel in the center where the priestess should have been. Only one priestess agreed to come with them, and she had died at the beginning of this campaign against the humans.

Not able to get away, Giyac reported, his hand-signs very small as if he wanted to avoid her notice. He held a position on the human Blod Lord's team, hunting the ameso. The identifying pattern of scars along his arms in ameso form were not something which could be easily duplicated. The humans seemed unaware that the ameso took on the memories of their targets when they chose another shape, so they had created "safeguards" which rested in the memory rather than the flesh. This made it very simple to replace humans when the team felt it necessary.

Three of the humans rested under rocks at the bottom of this lake, and ameso had taken their places. Three of the ameso on the team had been discovered, tortured and killed.

Shadyel indicated her contempt for the absent ameso woman, fingers almost shouting the words. No excuse.

In her submission, Lauren noted to me that the ameso are aquatic and use sign language. I decided not to mention this until after the sample, because I wanted to see if other readers picked that up from the description alone. I thought it was very clear, and I liked how the size and confidence (or hesitancy) of the gestures took the place of intonation in speech. This was well handled (pun not intended!) and probably my favorite part of the page.

The first line could be tweaked for clarity. I had trouble picturing a space in the circle, the place of least prestige immediately in front of her.  And if Shadyel’s eyes are side-set, would turning her head focus both eyes on a particular spot, or just one?

There is a lot of explaining on this first page.  I was interested in Shadyel and Giyac and the missing Tiyet. I wanted to see their conversation play out and find out why Shadyel is so angry, but the fourth paragraph diverted from the dialogue and action to give me information that seemed like too much all at once. My recommendation would be to tell us Shadyel is in the center of the circle where the priestess should have been – but don’t tell us yet why the priestess isn’t there. It’s okay to mention the scars on Giyac’s arms if they’re important – but avoid the lengthy explanation of what they mean. These things can be revealed later.

I have a tendency to put information like this into the early chapters of my first drafts because I am the one who needs to know it in order to write the story. In later drafts, I go back and take it out, because by then I have discovered other places to convey the same information.

So in summary, I was intrigued by the setting, by the ameso, and by the situation. I’d like to see Lauren completely immerse us in this world and veer away from explanations and backstory on the first page.  Lauren, thank you so much for sharing your page! Readers, please chime in with your thoughts, say hello to Lauren at her blog Eclectic, and check out Marcy Hatch’s feedback on the same page.

Friday, January 4, 2013

First Impressions: TSAVO PRIDE

Our second submission for First Impressions comes from Laura Diamond. This is the first page of TSAVO PRIDE, a short story spin off to her YA paranormal novel SHIFTING PRIDE.

The world split before me, torn open by a road of steel slicing its way through the countryside and arcing across the Tsavo River. This was my land, my territory, that the outsiders were digging up, claiming it as theirs to further their own agenda. Only a fool would allow such an invasion and I was no fool. Problem was, the more I cleaned the fields of foreigners, the more showed up to take their place.
Then Patterson came. The Colonel and Engineer who promised to rid the Uganda Railway project of the scourge attacking it. He made Lutalo and I sound like monsters when all we were doing was defending what was rightfully ours. It wasn’t our fault we had to use extreme measures. Anyone else would do the same.
The only difference was that we’d be successful.
Patterson thought he could defeat us. He was wrong. Lutalo and I were invincible. Invincible gods with the power to do anything and everything we wanted. The local tribes knew it. So did the Indian immigrants (un)fortunate enough to labor for the British to build the railway bridge.
The workers—who stayed in camps littering along the thirty miles or so of the ever-lengthening railway—feared us.
As it should be.
But Patterson didn’t. His foolhardy narcissism would be our playground.

I’m intrigued by the setting and the opening premise. I know from reading the summary of SHIFTING PRIDE that the narrator is probably a shape-shifter who takes the form of a panther. The local tribes and possibly the Indian immigrants know what they’re up against, but not the British imperialists. This is setting up a very clear and interesting conflict.

Some phrases could use tweaking, and there are places where less words would have more impact.

The “road” of steel threw me, since ultimately I learned it was a railroad. Could “road” be placed with some other metaphor?

Secondly, the juxtaposition of these sentences – Problem was, the more I cleaned the fields of foreigners, the more showed up to take their place. Then Patterson came. – made me think that Patterson was going to be the solution to the narrator’s problem, but in fact he worsens it.

Next, I wonder if you need these sentences at all:
He made Lutalo and I sound like monsters when all we were doing was defending what was rightfully ours. It wasn’t our fault we had to use extreme measures. Anyone else would do the same. The only difference was that we’d be successful. Patterson thought he could defeat us. He was wrong. Lutalo and I were invincible. Invincible gods with the power to do anything and everything we wanted.

This isn't specific and doesn't give us much information. In my mind it would be more effective to skip that internal monologue altogether and keep only the specific details of the conflict – which are all the more chilling for what they convey without spelling it out. See if this works (I changed some punctuation and one word in the third sentence):

Then Patterson came -- the Colonel and Engineer who promised to rid the Uganda Railway project of the scourge attacking it.

The local tribes knew better. So did the Indian immigrants (un)fortunate enough to labor for the British to build the railway bridge.

Readers, what do you think?  Laura, thanks so much for sharing your first page with us! You can visit Laura at her blog, check out SHIFTING PRIDE on Amazon, and don’t forget that Marcy will have a critique of this same page at Mainewords today!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

First Impressions: KEEP AWAY

Woo Hoo! Welcome to 2013 everybody! I’m awfully glad the world didn’t end in 2012! There's all kinds of great stuff happening this year.

We’re starting off with First Impressions and a submission from Joanne R. Fritz.  This is the first page of her MG contemporary mystery, KEEP AWAY.

Jake never expected to be standing on this bridge again. Not after what happened last year. The rough cement scraped his bare feet. He clung to the wire fencing behind him and shivered in his swimsuit. Luckily for him, the August sun was playing Hide and Seek behind thick clouds. Maybe he could pretend his goose bumps were from the weather.
Next to him, Flip Farrell balanced on the narrow ledge as lightly and easily as if he were standing on solid ground. He didn’t even need to touch the high fence behind them. “Kankowski, are you nervous?” Flip laughed. “I thought you grew up here. I thought everyone did this. I figured it was some sort of Pocono Mountains rite of passage.”
Jake shook his head. Half the time when Flip talked Jake didn’t understand him. “If my parents knew we were jumping off the Ledgedale Bridge, I’d be grounded for life.”
Flip shrugged. “Aw, who cares about parents?”  
Far below the two boys, the choppy water of Lake Wallenpaupack looked almost black. Murky. It made Jake think of horror movies, of drowning and death and pale limp bodies. No. Not that. A strong breeze carried the high-pitched whine of boat motors and the bitter fumes of their exhaust. He swallowed hard. The three cinnamon rolls he had wolfed down for breakfast were threatening to come back up. He choked back the acid taste and wondered why he’d said yes to Flip’s idea.
A guy’s thirteenth summer was supposed to be more fun than this. 
A car rattled over the bridge behind them and a deep voice yelled, “Go for it!” Jake shuddered but didn’t release his tight grip on the wire. His palms were starting to hurt. 
Flip laughed softly. “You’re chicken, aren’t you? Come on, Rock, Paper, Scissors. Loser jumps first.”

Yay! The Pocono Mountains! I love the Poconos – set two novels and two short stories there, in fact. I can vividly picture this setting: the bridge over the lake and the chill air when the sun goes behind the clouds.  I think you’ve given us the exact right amount of setting description for a MG opening page.

I don’t have much to critique. It’s very well done! Hide and seek should not be capitalized, I think.  And “wondered why he’d said yes to Flip’s idea” seems a little weak of a phrase, considering what they’re about to do and how scared Jake is. I think you could come up with a stronger way to put that. Especially if something bad happened here last year.

As for the car that passes behind them and the driver who calls out, “Go for it!” – TOTALLY believable in the Poconos. It should be a pickup truck, though, LOL!

I wish I had more to suggest, but I really like this the way it is. Do my readers have any suggestions?  Thanks, Joanne, for sharing your page with us! Please visit Joanne at her blog My Brain on Books, and don’t forget to check out Marcy’s critique of the same page.