NiFtY Author Ebony Joy Wilkins

Ebony Joy Wilkins is the author of Sellout, a young adult novel featuring an African American girl who undergoes the aching process of finding herself. It’s fantastic. You should go read it. In the meantime, learn a little bit more about Ebony and her writing.

March 9, 2011

BH: For those in our studio audience who have not read my review of your book, can you tell us a little bit about Sellout?

EJW: Sellout is the story of an African American teenage girl, NaTasha Jennings, who gets caught between two worlds: the white world she’s grown up in and the black world her grandmother wants her to embrace and experience for her own good. NaTasha gets herself into an embarrassing situation at home and flees to Harlem with her Grandmother Tilly for a few weeks to hide from her problems. Unfortunately for NaTasha there is a whole new set of problems waiting for her when she starts life with Tilly. Sellout is the story of a summer that will change the way NaTasha views her world forever.

BH: NaTasha endures some pretty intense bullying from her peers when she goes to Harlem . I thought this was horrible, naturally, but then started thinking about what NaTasha essentially puts herself through by trying to blend in with her all-white community in the suburbs. Which was the most difficult for you to write about from an emotional standpoint, and from a writing craft standpoint?

EJW: NaTasha is almost living a lie, by trying to fit into her world rather than leaving her stamp on it, like so many others feel they have to do. It was difficult for me to take a step back and allow NaTasha to navigate her own experience as an outsider, both at home and in an unfamiliar setting, without stepping in to rescue her. It was important for her to carve her own paths and I tried to remove myself in order for her to do so. This story is loosely based on my own experience, combined with stories of friends’ experiences, but reliving the feelings through NaTasha’s eyes was at times painful.

BH: Your next book is told from the point-of-view of a teenage boy. Is it hard to write from a male perspective? Do you have any tips for authors who wish to write from the perspective of the opposite sex?

EJW: I have three brothers and a host of male cousins and friends whose personalities I have stolen bits and pieces from to combine into one character, Jamal, who I love writing about so far. I started by developing a character plot at the suggestion of a former professor of mine, Sarah Weeks, and wrote down as much about Jamal as I could. At this point, I feel like I know him personally, what he thinks about and how he will react in most situations. When I sit down at my writing space, usually a comfy chair in my living room instead of my office desk, I put myself into his head as much as possible. At times it is a struggle to remove myself from his interactions with the other characters, but I feel it is going well so far. I guess we’ll see once I am ready to submit the story for publication.

BH: Tell us a little about your path to publication.

EJW: I completed an MFA in creative writing for children from New School University and Sellout started as my thesis project in the program. I worked and re-worked the story over many times, with great feedback from authors like Daphne Grab, Lisa Greenwald, Lara Saguisag, and Siobhan Vivian, who were in class with me. When I felt ready to submit, I sent the manuscript to David Levithan at Scholastic, who was a former professor of mine, and he expressed an interest in Sellout and said it was ready. In class we learned about the importance of having agent representation, and at the referral of Daphne, I found my agent Alyssa Eisner Henkin, and the rest is history!

BH: What does your workspace look like?

EJW: This is a photo of my official writing space, but I find I get more writing done in a comfy chair or lounging on a pile of pillows in my living room with the TV on mute in the background. At my desk space I have two bookcases filled with books on my to-read list, inspirational quotes, photos of family and friends who are super supportive of me, a 1960s-something typewriter that was gifted to me by my friend Claire, and all of my files that I probably don’t need to file anymore. The photo on the wall is of the NYC skyline, a.k.a. the concrete jungle where dreams are made of (Jay-Z).

BH: What are you reading now?

EJW: I read more YA lit than anything and recently finished The Hunger Games series, which honestly makes me want to bury my head in the sand –amazing storytelling! I also read my first graphic novel, Children of the Sea, which was a really interesting introduction into those types of stories. I just started The Neighborhood: Tiptoeing into poverty and finding hope by my friend, and former colleague, Leslie Alig Collins. I also am juggling many research texts, like The Handbook of Research on children’s and young adult literature, since I am back in school working on a PhD in education. My dream is to be teaching writing courses and writing full-time some day soon.

Ebony's 1960 Futura Typewriter

EJW: 1. Words don’t appear on the page on their own –WRITE! 2. There is no writer’s block, just excuses we put in the way of our own path 3. Write about what you know.

BH: Any words of advice to aspiring writers for keeping the hope alive?

EJW: 1. Completing a manuscript is the hardest part. Most writers come up with a lot of ideas, but ‘finishing’ and following through with a story is the key. You will have to revise a lot during and after, but if you don’t have anything to revise…keep going! 2. Put your work out there (contests, submissions, critique groups, etc.) for others to see. You can get feedback that will help push you along in the right direction. 3. Everyone has an opinion and you can’t please everyone. So, spend your time wisely and make sure you love your work first. 4. Get connected with other writers!

BH: Thank you so much, Ebony, for sharing your books and your advice on writing. I look forward to reading your next book!

For hands-down one of the best author websites I’ve seen, visit Ebony’s by clicking here.

Also, Ebony welcomes emails! – ebony@ebonyjoywilkins.com

NiFtY Author Caragh O’Brien

A few weeks ago, I read this excellent book. The first couple of chapters, though, were pure torture, and not for the reasons you might think. The eerie coincidences between the first chapter of this book, Birthmarked, and the first chapter of my own manuscript were so similar it was sickening. (To read my review, click here.)

After I got over my nausea, I really got into the story. Caragh O’Brien has crafted an excellent tale, and in the interview below, she’ll tell us a little about it, and a little about her writing in general.

Interview with Caragh M. O’Brien March 3, 2011

BH: We have a really exciting sequel to look forward to in November, but in the meantime, can you tell us a little bit about Birthmarked here (for those in our audience who haven’t already read my review)?

COB:  Sure.  Let me first say thanks, Beth, for inviting me by.  Your review made me laugh so much when I first read it.  I was completely drawn to your honesty and the awful coincidences between our books.  Birthmarked is the story of Gaia, a teen midwife who is compelled to “advance” babies into a privileged society within a walled city.  In a dystopian future after climate change, Gaia’s society is divided by the wall into haves and have-nots.  Justice is uncompromising, and Gaia spends much of the book trying to save her parents from the Enclave.  It’s a pretty dark, twisted, fun book.

BH: Tell us a little about your path to publication.

COB:  Starting when?  Ha.  The short version is that I wrote a lot, quit to become a teacher, started writing again because I couldn’t help it, and then wrote Birthmarked while I was on a leave of absence from teaching.  I sent out forty-five email queries to agents, received four offers of representation, and ended up with Kirby Kim of William Morris Endeavor.  He sent out the book, and a month later we had three offers.  The best was a three-book deal with Nancy Mercado at Roaring Brook, and I was delighted.

BH: When you wrote Birthmarked, did you plan to create a series?

COB:  No.  I thought Birthmarked was a stand-alone.  When Nan offered me a three-book deal, I discovered it was a trilogy.

BH: Your blog post about Birthmarked being translated and published in Spain is truly inspiring (click here to read it)—even more amazing is that you got to meet Eva Rubio, the woman whose blog and Facebook page started the fire. What can other writers learn from your experience here?

COB: It was such an unusual situation, and I was so fortunate to meet Eva and her friends in Salamanca.  It isn’t the sort of thing I could have ever prepared for.  I suppose it helped that I sometimes do a Google search for my book, and when reviews turn up in other languages, I’m willing to push that translate button to see what’s there.  As you know, I’ll sometimes write to express my thanks to a blogger who posts an outstanding review, and that follows for overseas bloggers, too.  I am genuinely grateful for the kind reviews Birthmarked has received.

BH: What other project ideas do you hope to pursue after the Birthmarked series is finished? (Um, not too many details please…although, what are the chances we’d have another duplicate Agnes birth scene?)

COB:  We are doomed to write identical books no matter what we do, Beth.  I’m pondering three different ideas, all YA, but they’re inchoate at this stage.  I need to finish up a solid draft of Book 3 before I can let my mind go play in a new place.

BH: What does your workspace look like?

Gerbils!

COB:  I have a MacBook on my lap.  Sometimes I sit on the plaid couch in the library where I can see the gerbils, and sometimes I sit on the brown couch in the living room where I can see the slope of the yard.

BH: What is your favorite book on the craft of writing?

COB:  I learned from Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. Other than that, I read a lot of fiction so really everything is a lesson in craft.

BH: What is the best writing advice anyone has given you?

COB:  I’ve been thinking about this lately, actually.  The most important writing advice I received was from Ed Epping, an Art teacher at Williams college, when he told me “Paint only what is interesting to you.”  It freed me.  It redefined what art was supposed to be.  I never again had to waste time on what I thought was unimportant, or if I did, I understood it was an assignment for someone else, not for me.  I can still do boring work for others if I must, but there’s no room for it in my own writing, ever.  On a practical writing level, this means I skip any sentence, paragraph, scene or book that doesn’t interest me.

Thanks again, Beth, for having me by, and good luck with your own writing.

BH: Caragh, thanks for visiting, and for laughing at the sad coincidences between our books. Now that I’m not throwing up about it anymore, I can laugh with you!

To visit Caragh’s website, click here. To check out Birthmarked on Amazon, click here.

The Space Between Trees by Katie Williams

The set-up: Socially-awkward Evie likes to stretch the truth as far as it will go. And then just a little bit more. Her childhood friend, Elizabeth, is found dead in the woods, and Evie’s stories start getting her in trouble.

Main character’s goals: I think Evie just wants a friend. The goal is simple, and she never actually says it, but that seems to be what drives a lot of her stories (read: LIES). Even when friendship isn’t a direct or predictable outcome to a lie, she often lies to make people feel better, so she has this desire to please, which stems from her loneliness.

My reaction: Evie’s observations and her voice are just amazing. She’s funny, and self-deprecating. As a teenager, I would’ve been scared of her, because she has this ability to find the nitty gritty flaws in everyone. As a mother, I want to give her a hug and tell her she is loved. Sappy, I know, but that’s what I got, people.

Of interest to writers: Who the H-E-double-hockey-sticks is the antagonist? This is one of those books where I really can’t find a single agent who is really all that terrible, although we do have some messed up people populating these pages (amen, alliteration). Is the antagonist Elizabeth’s killer, or is it Evie’s own issues with telling the truth, or is it her loneliness…or none of the above?

Bottom line: Read it, enjoy it, and think about it long after you’ve finished. Evie’s a character who stays with you.

To visit Katie Williams’s website, click here.

NEW FEATUREBecause my brain is constantly working (fine, spazzing out, whatever) and making new connections, this Reminds me ofnote might seem totally random. It will usually be a book, but you never know. I might write “Reminds me of” something that will have you wondering “what?” and that is fine with me. Feel free to ask why if you’re curious…or better yet, make a guess.

Reminds me of: Brave New Girl by Louisa Luna.


NiFtY Author Yvonne Prinz

Joining us today is Yvonne Prinz, author of young adult books The Vinyl Princess and All You Get Is Me (reviewed here and here on my blog). As a reader, I loved the instant connection I had with Allie and Roar, the main characters in each book, and as a writer I was thrilled at how well Yvonne created their voices and told their stories. Anyway, no more blather, let’s hear from Yvonne herself!

BH: Your latest book, All You Get Is Me, is getting glowing reviews online. What seems to be the element people like most about the book?

YP: I’m surprised but it seems that most readers seem to like the romance aspect of the book the best. If you had told me that while I was writing it, I’d have laughed out loud but Forest and Roar have become readers’ favorite summer romance.

BH: Your first book, The Vinyl Princess, was also a huge success. What do you think makes Allie so appealing? I need to learn your secret, and so do a lot of other authors out there!

YP: Well, I wouldn’t call it a huge success but it seems to have taken on a life of its own. I think readers are drawn to Allie’s work life, her weird comfort zone, and her honesty about who she is in the world. Also, falling for the wrong guy is always an appealing topic because we’ve all done it.  I don’t know that I have a secret. I think getting the voice right is paramount in creating characters but I probably heard that from a publisher. Here’s a tip but it’s not a secret: If you fall in love with your own characters I think you’re probably on the right track.

BH: I absolutely loved the setting for All You Get Is Me. I kinda want to move to that organic farm. Is the farm based on someplace you know? Is there really a monastery nearby? Can you give us a map with driving directions, as well as real estate information?

YP: The farm is in a fictional town. I plucked bits from several locations in Northern California. The Monastery is in Marin County (outside San Francisco) and the farm is in a place sort of like Brentwood CA’s farm community (East of the City) but it’s much smaller. I’m pretty sure you can get a house there for a song as the developers grossly overestimated the amount of development that could be sustained and there’s a lot of new houses sitting empty. As for old, lovely farmhouses, I think you need to head to the Sebastopol and environs area.  I sort of based the house on some great old farms I’ve seen in that area.

BH: Are you working on something new at the moment, and if so, can you share anything about it?

YP: I’ve just finished a thriller that takes place in a Northern California seaside hamlet. It’s foggy and gloomy and a girl named Georgia loses her brother to a surfing accident. Shortly after the funeral, a very charismatic stranger arrives in town who seems to know a bit too much about her brother…(Cue scary music here)

BH: Ooh, sounds exciting! And huzzah for Northern California settings! What does your workspace look like?

YP: I can’t post a photo because I’m away from home right now but suffice to say, it’s your usual writerly chaos. My imaginary workspace is spectacular, however, and features a massive fireplace and a big sleeping dog at my feet. I think it might be in Colorado or Montana.

BH: What is your favorite book on the craft of writing?

YP: I like Stephen King’s [On Writing] because it’s so easy to understand. I don’t write like him but he just makes sense.

Like me, he doesn’t think that there are any secrets involved. He’s a believer in hard work.

BH: I’m reading his book right now – so far I like what he has to say. Do you have any words or advice to aspiring writers for keeping the hope alive?

YP: Remember that publishing is a business and a rejection is only one person’s opinion of your work. Don’t take it personally.

Get out there and live. Get some great stories under your belt. Fall in love, get your heart broken, get in trouble, see the world. If you don’t have a book to write when you’re done at least you’ll be more interesting at cocktail parties.

BH: Thank you, Yvonne, for the interview. It has been a joy getting to know you and your books! Studio audience: for more on Yvonne, check out the links below. Also, I don’t know for sure, but Yvonne said she might be around to answer questions today in the comments section, so if you have any, feel free to ask!

links:

www.allyougetisme

www.thevinylprincess.com

www.caughtinthecarousel.com This is a website that the Vinyl Princess reviews music on.

Buy the Book:

http://www.amazon.com/Vinyl-Princess-Yvonne-Prinz/dp/B0046LUF4U/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1299180161&sr=1-1

Or visit your local Indie bookstore.

Spirit Bound by Richelle Mead

The set-up: After Rose failed to kill her ex-lover, Dimitri, who turned Strigoi (evil vampire) in a previous book, Dimitri sends her creepy-stalker death threat messages. Meanwhile, Rose graduates from the Vampire Academy and goes to the Moroi (nice friendly vampire) Court. From there, everything falls apart. Not the plot, really, although the thread of it winds around, but Rose’s life and handle on the world.

 

Main character’s goals: Rose wants to change Dimitri back from his evil vampire state (think Buffy wanting to save Angel), but failing that, she is determined to kill him (think Buffy wanting to stake Angel).

My reaction: BIG SPOILER HERE, BUT IT ISN’T REALLY A SPOILER BECAUSE THE BOOK DOESN’T EVEN HAVE AN ENDING….Please please please can we just have a beginning, middle, and end in a YA fantasy anymore? Please? I thought this was the last book. Imagine my surprise when instead of a happy ending we are left with Rose about to go to trial for murdering an important Moroi vampire. Imagine the swear words that poured from my mouth in a very un-mommy-like stream. Mmmkay, spoiler over.

Of interest to writers: You CAN write a sequel-begetting ending without cliffhangers. I have seen it done before and done well. Try Birthmarked by Caragh O’Brien, for one of my favorite examples, or The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan, which I have reviewed here and here, respectively.

Bottom Line: I love Rose Hathaway. She’s tough and gutsy and not afraid to call the Moroi queen a “sanctimonious bitch.” Bella Swan would pee her pants even thinking about doing that.

Second Bottom Line: I have had it with YA fantasies not ending. I am now all about the contemporary fiction. Well, after I read the last in the Vampire Academy series.