Authors & Inspirations: Caitie McKay

My second Authors & Inspirations interview is with young adult author Caitie McKay. Caitie and I go waaaaayy back – we first met in college, in our first creative writing class (which was taught by the awesome young adult author Janet McNally). We liked each other’s work immediately as we read it for workshop, and quickly became friends. We’ve stayed friends and have continued beta reading each other’s work since!

Caitie’s debut novel, a young adult novel in verse entitled Every Little Bad Idea, came out this summer. It’s a beautiful, gorgeously written story about the pains of growing up, falling in love, and deciding what you want your life to be. I’m thrilled to have Caitie on the blog today. Welcome!

 

Do you listen to music while you write? Why or why not?

Not usually! I can’t concentrate on anything if a song has lyrics. Sometimes I listen to something instrumental, though.

Are there any musicians who have had a big impact on your work?

Take all the angst and real-ness of early 2000s Avril Lavigne and make it into a book…that’s all I aspire to do. One of my books was based around the AMERICAN IDIOT album from Green Day and another was heavily influenced by the Beatles.

What was the last live concert you attended?

Judah and the Lion!

What’s the farthest you’ve ever traveled for a concert?

I drove to Pittsburgh to see the Mountain Goats. WORTH IT.

Share some of your favorite song lyrics:

And oh my God, what a world you have made here

What a terrible world, what a beautiful world

What a world you have made here

– “12/17/12” by The Decemberists

Your favorite band is going to write a song based on one of your books. What band is it, and what should the song be about?

I have so many favorite bands, but I’d want the Alabama Shakes to write a song about my book EVERY LITTLE BAD IDEA. The song would be about leaving behind the people who put you down, and finding your inner badass.

What band is on your bucket list to see live?

Oh man, don’t judge me…the Spice Girls.

You are magically going to be granted the ability to be a virtuoso on one instrument. Which do you pick?

Piano! I love watching people own the piano. I took lessons, but that left hand never truly learned to keep up…

What are your all-time favorite TV shows?

Gilmore Girls, Parks and Recreation, The Office, Call the Midwife

What TV shows are you loving lately?

I’m obsessed with the Masterpiece Theater show Poldark. I also just watched all of Great News. I think that show was written about my mother and me.

Is there a TV show that’s had an impact on you as a writer?

I aspire to write the wit, quirk, and heart of Gilmore Girls.

If you got the opportunity to write an episode for one show (past or present) what would it be?

Anything Tina Fey has been involved in—30 Rock, Great News, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt—because the scripts are just perfectly hilarious and ridiculous.

If Netflix were to option one of your books for a TV series, which book would you choose, and who would play your main characters?

Well, I only have one book out, so I’d have to go with…EVERY LITTLE BAD IDEA! I’d want the main character, Skyler, to be played by teenage Gina Rodriguez (love her) and Cole to be played by a young Jonathan Rhys Myers.

What are your all-time favorite movies?

I watch the movie ABOUT TIME multiple times a year. Same with AWAY WE GO. And I’m a sucker for anything Nora Ephron.

Who are your favorite actors/actresses?

Meryl Streep forever. I also LOVE Kate McKinnon in everything she does.

Is there a movie that’s had a big impact on you as a writer?

ABOUT TIME has had a huge impact on me as a person. It’s taught me to live each day mindfully and find the extraordinary in the ordinary. WHEN HARRY MET SALLY has impacted me as a writer because I’m just in awe of the script, and will try my whole life to create something so wonderfully complex and terribly relatable.

Are you a theatregoer? If so, what was the last play/musical you saw?

I love live theater but haven’t been in a very long time. However…I’m going to HAMILTON in December!!!

What are your top five favorite musicals?

Hamilton

Fiddler on the Roof

Sound of Music

Cabaret

Sweeney Todd

What authors have most inspired you in your own work?

I’d have to say Sarah Dessen, Deb Caletti, and Ellen Hopkins. Sarah Dessen and Deb Caletti write such beautiful, honest books about what it is to fall in love for the first time. And Ellen Hopkins puts the teenage experience to sharp, edgy verse poetry.

Are there any visual artists you’re a big fan of?

I love Banksy. I love the idea of art making a statement. I love the idea of art being anonymous. I love the idea of art existing not only in a museum, but on the street.

Do you ever draw on visual art in your work?

In one of my books (which was sadly never published), the main character is a street chalk artist. For that book, I went to a chalk art festival and was completely blown away by the skill of the artists. And the idea that you can make something beautiful, and let go of it when the rain comes.

Has a place you’ve traveled ever inspired you in your writing?

I always set my books in a city like Buffalo (where I live). But many places have inspired parts of my books—Chicago, Northern California, Ireland—if not in setting, then in energy or anecdotes of adventures I had there.

You can go on a two-week, all-expenses paid writing retreat to the location of your choice. Where would you go, and why?

Always Ireland. I’ve been there three times and I never get tired of it. The ground itself just holds so much creative energy—you can’t help but feel inspired.

Are you a podcast listener? If so, what are some of your favorite podcasts?

I’m more of an audio book person! However, I do love GETTING CURIOUS WITH JONATHAN VAN NESS. He can narrate my life, thanks.

What was the last book you read?

The last book I read was ZEN AND GONE by Emily France. The last book I listened to was ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE. Woah, that book just blew me away.

What’s your favorite book you’ve read recently?

I loved the book EBB AND FLOW by Heather Smith and MISSING MIKE by Shari Green. They are both gorgeous middle grade novels in verse, and so perfectly written.

What’s a book you’ve loved that you feel more people should be talking about?

There are just so many good verse novels out there that need attention. LONG WAY DOWN by Jason Reynolds, THE POET X by Elizabeth Acevedo, THE CROSSOVER by Kwame Alexander.

What are your very favorite kinds of scenes to write?

I love scenes where characters first meet. There’s so much to talk about—first impressions, awkward dialogue, body language. There’s so much possibility there.

When you need to recharge your batteries/refill the well as a writer, what forms of media do you most often turn to?

I watch a lot of Masterpiece Theater! Nothing like a British period drama to take me out of my world for a little while.

What artistic/creative talents do you have outside of writing?

I have very limited painting talent, but I still love to do it. I also play guitar and sing (but just for fun!).

What artistic/creative talent do you wish you had?

When I was in high school and college, I wrote a ton of songs. I wish I’d kept writing songs, and gotten better at them. I’ve just never gotten over my stage fright!

If you could have a drink with any three people alive in the world right now, who would you pick?

Lin-Manuel Miranda, Tina Fey, and Sarah Dessen.

Let us know what’s coming up next for you: new books, new projects; what are you working on?

Right now, I’m actually working on multiple projects—a young adult verse novel, a young adult prose novel, and a middle grade verse novel. I’m really feeling middle grade lately!

 

Find out more about Caitie and her work at her website!

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Authors & Inspirations: Dee Romito

I’m very excited to announce my new interview series, Authors & Inspirations! In it, I’ll be posting interviews with authors from all different genres in which I ask about the art and media that they enjoy and that inspires them in their work. As an author, I love talking about my favorite art and artists, and love hearing other creators talk about their inspirations as well, so I thought this would be a fun series – hopefully for both readers and for the authors I interview. Enjoy!

My first interview is with middle grade and picture book author, Dee Romito. Dee and I became friends a few years ago, and I just adore her books – they’re so fun to read but always have an inspiring message at their heart, whether you’re a kid or an adult! Her most recent release, the non-fiction picture book Pies from Nowhere: How Georgia Gilmore Sustained the Montogomery Bus Boycott, tells the story of an unsung hero of the Civil Rights movement, and appropriately enough released on Election Day this month. Welcome, Dee!

Do you listen to music while you write? Why or why not?

Not usually. My preference is a quiet writing space, and when I’m out somewhere writing I can usually block out the noises around me. If it’s really loud, I might listen to classical or Top 40 type songs.

What was the last live concert you attended?

My kids earned tickets for our local “Kiss the Summer Hello” concert with various artists, including Alessia Cara. Before that, I think it was Garth Brooks. His concerts are the BEST.

You are magically going to be granted the ability to be a virtuoso on one instrument. Which do you pick?

Piano. I love watching people play piano, and those fast, hitting-lots-of-keys songs are incredible!

What are your all-time favorite TV shows?

Friends, Seinfeld, 24, White Collar.

What TV shows are you loving lately?

This is Us! And the last season of The Big Bang Theory. I love sitcoms.

Is there a TV show that’s had an impact on you as a writer?

Not necessarily a specific show, but TV shows in general have for sure. I find that as a writer I often don’t just watch shows, I study them. Even my husband will say, “Ooh, they wouldn’t have shown that if it’s not going to be important later!”

I once binge watched the series Hart of Dixie and when I finished the four seasons, I started it all over again. I knew I loved it, but I wanted to figure out why I loved it so much. (It was the quirky characters and their friendships!)

If you got the opportunity to write an episode for one show (past or present) what would it be?

Ooh, this is a tough one. I’d pick Friends or Seinfeld except I don’t think I could do them justice. Maybe Parenthood or Party of Five. I really loved those shows because of the complicated relationships between the characters.

If Netflix were to option one of your books for a TV series, which book would you choose, and who would play your main characters?

The BFF Bucket List would probably best lend itself to a TV series. But if I get to cast the main characters, let’s go with No Place Like Home so I can have George Clooney or Josh Duhamel play the dad. 😉

What are your all-time favorite movies?

The answer to this has always been Grease and Field of Dreams, but I have now officially added The Greatest Showman to that list. LOVE it.

Who are your favorite actors/actresses?

Anyone who follows me online knows I have a massive crush on Hugh Jackman. So much so that a friend recently sent me a cardboard cutout of him. (Okay, I might also have been sent a cutout of Josh Duhamel.

Is there a movie that’s had a big impact on you as a writer?

I got the idea for No Place Like Home while watching the movie Up in the Air. It’s about a guy who travels all the time for work and I wondered, “Could you do that if you had kids?” From that, the seed for a middle grade book idea was born.

Has a place you’ve traveled ever inspired you in your writing?

Definitely. I have always loved to travel. Several of my books have travel themes and take place in cities I’ve been to. I have one manuscript I got the idea for while sitting in Trafalgar Square in London (Someday I’ll get back to working on that one!). Of course, sometimes places I haven’t been to inspire me too. My most recent book, Postcards from Venice, takes place in Venice, Italy where I have yet to venture to.

You can go on a two-week, all-expenses paid writing retreat to the location of your choice. Where would you go, and why?

Santorini, Greece. I have always wanted to go there and OH MY GOODNESS it’s beautiful.

Are you a podcast listener? If so, what are some of your favorite podcasts?

I wasn’t until this past year, but now I really enjoy them. My favorite kidlit podcast is Literaticast and my favorite just for fun is Dax Shepard’s Arm Chair Expert. Although don’t listen to it with kids in the car!

What’s your favorite book you’ve read recently?

I read a lot of picture books, especially nonfiction and biography. I love learning about people in history. One of my recent favorites is A Lady Has the Floor by Kate Hannigan about Belva Lockwood–an amazing woman I didn’t know about!

What are your very favorite kinds of scenes to write?

I like writing fun scenes that make me laugh, but I also like the ones that tug at the heart strings and make you feel the character’s emotions. Those are usually the hardest to write, but they’re so important to a story.

When you need to recharge your batteries/refill the well as a writer, what forms of media do you most often turn to?

I’m supposed to say books or music to sound official as a writer, I know, but my real answer is TV. I’m very visual, so TV shows and movies are my ultimate comfort spot when I need to recharge.

What artistic/creative talent do you wish you had?

Oh how I’d love to be an illustrator! But there are so many talented illustrators out there, it’s actually more fun to see what they do with the books.

If you could have a drink with any three people alive in the world right now, who would you pick?

Well first of all, I’m allergic to alcohol, so I’d just be ordering a water with lemon. Hugh Jackman, Ellen DeGeneres, and Michelle Obama.

Let us know what’s coming up next for you: new books, new projects; what are you working on?

I have a chapter book series coming out with Aladdin/Simon & Schuster in 2020 called Fort Builders. It’s about a group of kids who start a fort building company to earn money. Inspired by my own box fort builders at home. (Yes, there is currently a box fort in our play room.)

 

Dee Romito lives in her hometown of Buffalo, New York. You’re likely to find her on adventures with her husband and two energetic kids, at the local ice cream shop, or curled up in a comfy chair with her cats. She loves to write, travel, and giggle like a teenager with her friends.

Her middle grade books include The BFF Bucket ListNo Place Like Home, co-authored Best.Night.Ever, and Postcards from Venice (Aladdin/S&S). Her debut picture book, Pies from Nowhere: How Georgia Gilmore Sustained the Montgomery Bus Boycott (Little Bee Books) is now available. You can visit her website at DeeRomito.com.

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The Author-Editor Relationship

A little while ago I tweeted a bit about working with an editor and taking and using constructive criticism to make your book better. The initial tweet in my thread gained quite a bit of traction, and even as I was tweeting I knew this was a topic deserving of its own blog post, where I could lay out my thoughts in greater detail. Well, here is that blog post!

As a sort of disclaimer, I want to make it clear that what I’ll be talking about here is working with an editor at a publishing house who has acquired your novel. I do not personally have experience in working with freelance editors, etc., so I can’t speak to what that process is like specifically, nor do I know how the editing process goes for nonfiction. But I think the general spirit of what I’m saying here can apply to working with anyone providing edits/constructive criticism, be it your agent, your editor, a freelance editor, etc.

The absolute key thing to know about the author-editor relationship is that it is, it should be, a partnership. I think that often this isn’t something that is generally understood by aspiring authors and even debut authors when their book is first acquired. Which isn’t surprising; if you’ve never had a book published and never worked with a professional editor before, you wouldn’t know! But, again, that relationship is meant to be a partnership. An editor is not there to rewrite your book; to demand that you remove certain scenes or plot points or characters; to tell you how to change your book. No, what you and your editor should have is a collaborative relationship, an ongoing conversation on how to make your book better. They are helping you make your book better. Isn’t that what we all want?

I’ve heard, many times, aspiring authors react with dread and even anger to the idea of an editor “changing” their book. I cannot stress enough that this is the wrong attitude to have. A little tough love here: your book is not perfect. (Okay, technically no book is perfect, published or not, but you get my point). Your book can absolutely be made better. Especially in their earlier stages, books can ALWAYS be made better. And here’s the thing: there is only so much the person writing the book can do to improve it. I have seen this time and time again in my own work, and in feedback I get from critique partners, agents, and of course, my editor. When you’ve been working on something for so long, you lack an objective view; you’re so entrenched in the plot and characters and the world that you can’t see it as clearly as an outside reader would. This where your outside eyes (critique partner, agent, editor) come in. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten feedback/notes on one of my manuscripts with a suggestion that will so greatly improve the book that I slap my forehead and say, “Why didn’t I think of that??” These things oftentimes seem so obvious once someone points them out. But that’s the key: once someone points them out. My books have been improved so much by the ideas and feedback of others that I would never in a million years have thought of or seen myself. Because I’m too close to the work, I can no longer see it as clearly as it needs to be seen to be improved.

So, personally, I look forward to getting my edit letters. I look forward to hearing what thoughts my editor has on how to improve my books. It’s exciting to me, to know that there are ways and ways to improve the book that I haven’t thought of. I mean that sincerely.

Now, certainly, the editorial process can be scary and anxiety-inducing the first time you go through it, as a debut author. That’s normal! You’ve never done this before, and no amount of blog posts/articles/interviews with authors can prepare you for all the feelings you’ll go through when it’s YOUR BOOK going through edits. But! We can certainly talk about what that process looks like. Of course, every editor is different, but the standard process – based on my experience and that of the other traditionally published authors I know – looks something like this:

1. Once your book is acquired/turned in, your editor will go through to do his/her first edit. This results in them sending you, the author, what’s called an edit letter. The length of these can vary widely based on a lot of factors, but basically in it the editor gives you his/her thoughts on the book overall: what’s working well, what isn’t, what needs to be addressed in the next draft. They will then give you thoughts on specific scenes/plot points/character arcs/etc., as well as specific suggestions on how to fix what they feel isn’t working well, or what they feel needs to fleshed out/cut down/given more detail. These suggestions are meant to guide you as you revise. Maybe some of them work for you and you do exactly what the editor suggested; maybe some don’t, but they prompt you to think of a different way to address that same issue.

What an edit letter is NOT is a list of things your editor is DEMANDING that you change about the book. It is about areas that they want you to address, and as I said, they usually give suggestions on how you can do that, but how you address those things is entirely up to you. Again, we’ve acknowledged that your book is not perfect; you know there are ways it can be made better. And remember, editors are publishing professionals; this is their job, to make books better. They know what makes a book successful, both in connecting with readers and commercially. If you are publishing traditionally, the market is always going to be a consideration. That’s just the reality. So it’s very possible that your editor’s notes and suggestions may be geared towards making sure your book adheres more closely to certain expectations of a genre.

2. Once you get this edit letter, your best bet is to read through it a few times and sit with it for at least a few days. There may well be suggestions in it you don’t like, or you may disagree with your editor as to where the problem areas are. Trust me, take some time to digest their feedback. I have absolutely gotten certain suggestions that made me say “No way!” Yet after thinking about it for a bit, I’ve realized that they are exactly right, and that character can in fact have a much reduced role, or the book can do without this chapter entirely, or what have you.

You may also, after sitting with the edit letter for a few days, want to hop on the phone with your editor and talk things through. You can go over how you plan to address the problem areas/rough spots in your manuscript, get your editor’s take on how you’re thinking of putting his/her feedback into play, and brainstorm together if you’re feeling stuck. It can be super helpful to just bounce ideas off of each other. Remember, your editor loves and is excited about this book too; that’s why they bought it! And editors are generally very happy to jump on a call to talk things through at any point in the editing process – again, this is their job. That’s what they’re there for. Especially if you ever feel that you are your editor are not seeing eye to eye on something, a phone call will be the best way to work through that. Perhaps they did not initially understand why you made a certain choice, and if you can explain it they may then rethink their original feedback; this might then be a point in the story that can be made clearer but not necessarily majorly reworked.

3. You’ll usually be given a deadline to have your revised manuscript back to your editor, and so once you’ve turned in this first edit, things vary depending on the book and how strenuous a revision was needed. Your editor will read it over again and see how you addressed the identified problem areas. They may come back with more suggestions for another round of revisions, which doesn’t necessarily mean that you did anything wrong or that the book is “bad”. Some books are more difficult to get right than others; some have lots going on and lots of layers and so it’s easier to address different areas one at a time. Again, this process will vary based on the editor, the author, and the book. So, you may go back for another round of revisions. I know for myself, when making my edits to The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence, there were some scenes that I reworked per my editor’s notes, but I wasn’t sure how well I had pulled it off. Your editor will review and let you know, and you can go back and rework again if you want. But once that’s done…

4. Once all bigger picture things with the manuscript have been addressed, it’s time for line edits. This is when your editor goes through the manuscript thoroughly and, using some kind of tracked changes, will indicate where things on the sentence level should be cut, added, and reworded. This, for me, is usually when my word count comes down. There are often lots of things on the sentence level that can be cut; extraneous words and even whole sentences that just aren’t necessary. For example, “I walked up and knocked upon the door” can simply become “I knocked on the door.” That’s a very general example; a lot of this will depend on your writing style and your editor’s editing style. But you get the idea. This is also where your editor will catch things like word repetition, someone standing in one sentence that’s sitting the next with no mention of them moving, phrases you use 500 times in the manuscript, and the list goes on.

Again, as with the edit letter, just because your editor indicates a change doesn’t mean you HAVE to make it. This is why you go over these edits very carefully and thoroughly. There have been times where my editor indicated I should cut a line or even a word that I really liked, and so I just left it. That is totally fine. These are suggestions; you are not obligated to take every single one (though if you’re like me and use the phrase “in truth” practically every time a character speaks, yeah, you’re gonna want to get rid of some of those). But it bears repeating that editors know what they’re doing, and line edits are meant to make the book, overall, much cleaner (and sometimes shorter, which, if length is an issue, will be something you and your editor have talked about). And, again, if there’s anything going on in line edits that you’re really unsure or perplexed about, hop on the phone with your editor and talk it through.

And, of course, at any point in this process you can still be tweaking and reworking things that you’ve thought of that you’d like to change. It’s always a good idea to give your editor a heads up when making any major changes if you haven’t previously discussed them, though. Remember, you want to both be on the same page.

5. You’ll probably have multiple rounds of line edits – I usually have one big one, then a second and maybe a third just to clean up any last little things – and after that, the book goes to copyedits. Copyedits are not done by your editor; this is done by a member of the publisher’s copyediting team in house. You will need to review these edits as well, but what is being addressed here is grammar, typos, any word repetition that remains, consistency, etc. I actually had my copyeditor for Most Beautiful point out some words and phrases that weren’t in use yet in that time period – for instance, at one point Simonetta had used the phrase “in one fell swoop”, and the copyeditor pointed out that that phrase originated in a Shakespeare play, which obviously hadn’t been written yet in 1472 (or whatever year that exact scene took place, I forget, haha). I would never have imagined that – and the vast majority of readers would never have noticed either – but it was still a cool thing to know and be able to fix. Copyeditors are truly publishing’s unsung heroes, ya’ll.

This, as I said, is generally how the process goes. Your editor loves your book – they have to, to have acquired and read it all the many times they will read it through the process above – and wants it to be the best it can be. As I mentioned several times, this is all stuff you and your editor can talk about and hash out. It’s not a list of demands with which you must comply for your book to be published. You DO have to work with your editor in good faith and consider their suggestions, and your editor DOES have to think about what you are trying to achieve with the story, and not steer it in a direction you did not mean for it to go. Miscommunications and misunderstandings can arise, certainly. But, as in any collaborative partnership, you talk and work through those together.

For myself, as I am drafting and revising on my own before turning in the book to my editor, I’ll lean on her in the sense that: maybe I know a scene needs something but I’m just not sure what –  that’s something she can take a look at for me. In book 4, which I just turned in, I left notes for my editor aaaaallll throughout the manuscript for specific things I want her take on. I know she’ll address all those and find other areas for improvement that I hadn’t even thought about. And I seriously can’t wait to see what those are.

I’m sure there are horror stories of editors who have tried to rewrite an author’s book or been completely inflexible about changes, but I have certainly not experienced that personally, nor have any authors I know. That is definitely not the norm. The author-editor relationship is one that is mutually beneficial and should be creatively exciting for both parties. You are working on this book TOGETHER. Your editor wants your book to be the best it can be, and so do you. You’re a team. You’re on the same side. Your editor is your partner, not your adversary. It’s okay to ask questions, to be a little nervous. But ultimately, other than your agent, your editor is your book’s best and strongest advocate and biggest fan.

 

Announcing My Third Novel: The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel!

I am BEYOND excited and thrilled to finally be sharing with the world the news of my third novel, The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel. It’s a retelling of Washington Irving’s classic short story, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, but told from Katrina’s point of view. In addition to being a retelling, it’s also something of a sequel – it continues on past the point where the original short story ended.

 

This is, as the saying goes, a book of my heart, and for many reasons. The first is that I love all things creepy and spooky; Halloween is by far my favorite holiday, and I’ve always been interested in ghosts and the paranormal and so on. This novel has allowed me to play with those things, as well as with elements of magic and witchcraft, and what was defined as witchcraft in that time and place (as you’ve maybe already guessed by the title!). I’ve been obsessed with “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” in particular since I was a kid; I used to watch the cartoon version all the time, and to this day Tim Burton’s movie version, Sleepy Hollow, is one of my all-time favorite films (with my all-time favorite film score). I also love the Sleepy Hollow TV show on Fox, and thus far my editor and I have mostly communicated about this book in GIFs of Tom Mison as Ichabod Crane 🙂

This book is just SO ME in its spookiness that when I first told my mom I was writing it, she just looked at me and asked, “How was this not your first book?”

There are lots of other reasons this book is very close to my heart, though. Like my first two books, it has a strong female friendship, though in Spellbook that friendship, between Katrina and a character I’ve invented named Charlotte Jansen, really takes center stage. I have such wonderful, close, supportive female friends in my life who really inspired me to try to render the full truth of that relationship on the page, and show how our friendships can really anchor and support women through our most difficult times. I’ve seen this play out in my own life so much that I knew it was something I wanted to explore more deeply in my writing.

In addition, Katrina is also the first character I’ve written who is a writer herself. Through much of the book, she tells stories; she tells the local ghost stories and legends of Sleepy Hollow and the Hudson River Valley, and eventually she starts writing them down. This, plus the fact that this novel is based on one of America’s most famous short stories, really makes this a story about stories.

And that’s another thing: this will be my first published novel set in the United States, in my own country. I learned so much about the history of my country that I never knew while researching this book, and while I’m certainly not done writing about Europe and Italy in particular, it was a wonderful and meaningful change of pace for me to write an American story. It won’t be the last!

Music also plays a part in this book (though not so heavily as it did in Violinist), and Katrina is also my first heroine who has a dog! As a dog lover myself, I just couldn’t resist giving her a handsome, ferocious, but sweet canine companion. And for my fellow dog lovers, please note: ABSOLUTELY NOTHING BAD happens to the dog over the course of the book, I promise!!

You can check out my Pinterest inspiration board for the novel here.

I love this book so much and it is so meaningful to me in so many ways that I’m thrilled to be able to share it with the world at last! I can’t wait until it is on shelves for others to read, but in the meantime stay tuned for more updates on the book – such as the official release date, synopsis, and cover – as I have them. I am so excited for you all to meet my Katrina!

In Which a Pantser Makes and Writes from an Outline

As I mentioned a few posts back, my current work-in-progress is my most ambitious undertaking yet (and if you read my most recent post then you know that I’m actually almost done!). In order to get started with it, I was forced to make an outline, which is something I had never done before (I had never outlined an entire book, at least). For someone who usually falls into the “pantser” category of writers, this was a new challenge in and of itself.

I found the actual writing of the outline itself to be somewhat tedious – necessary though I knew it was, I just wanted to be writing the actual story and digging into the characters and relationships and dialogue. It didn’t help that the outline took much longer to finish than I’d anticipated (though given what the overall length of the book will end up as, that shouldn’t have surprised me). But then once it was done, I was ready to get writing, and embark on this strange new journey of writing from an outline.

I wondered whether writing from an outline would help me to draft faster. I’m told I write pretty quickly, but I would always like to be faster (well, as fast as is reasonable without writing a draft that is a complete and utter mess). This has most definitely been the case; I’m at about 104,000 words right now in something that I started back in March (though, full disclosure: I did have the prologue and a few chapters already written, since I originally started playing with this idea some years ago, so I probably had around 5000ish words to start). That is the fastest I have ever written a draft of this length to this point in my writing career, and I can only conclude that it is because of the outline.

Because, of course, making an outline has removed that element of pantsing wherein I sit down in front of my computer and say “Okay, what next?”. No need to try to figure it out as I sit down to write; I can just refer to the outline. It has prevented me from getting really stuck or hung up on plot elements, since I’d already mapped all that out in advance.

That’s not to say, of course, that I haven’t had difficulties and roadblocks in writing this draft. Oh, have I ever. It’s just that those difficulties have been more along the lines of character arc and development and the subtleties of the characters’ relationships with one another – which run the gamut from loving to tricky to downright dysfunctional. Getting those sorts of things right, of course, is no easy task in writing any novel, whether you’ve got an outline or not. On the flip side, though, one of my two POV characters was being a bit more elusive, and what I found as I wrote the outline is that some of her motivations and the way she thinks became clearer to me. She’s been a bit of a tough nut to crack overall, and only recently do I feel like I finally have all the keys to her as a character. And that is something else that often comes with the drafting process.

And certainly not all of the spontaneity of my pantser’s soul has been eliminated. There were a few events that I originally included in the outline that I decided to cut, both to keep the length of the book manageable and also for the overall flow/arc of the story. Then there have also been events and scenes that I added in that were not in the outline, or scenes that ended up becoming bigger and more fleshed out than I had originally anticipated while outlining. Parts of the story and characters are still revealing themselves to me as I write, which is one of the things I love about pantsing. I like to be surprised (at least a little bit) when I’m writing, and that has still happened in this book.

Along those lines, another of my concerns was that, since I already knew everything that was going to happen and had already sketched it out, would I get bored with the actual writing of the book? The answer, thankfully, has been a resounding no. Quite the contrary, actually: since mapping everything out in brief I’ve been itching to get at many of the scenes and really dig into them. I was very glad to find that!

So, overall, much as it may pain me to admit it, writing from an outline has actually been a really good experience, and I think it has helped me draft this book more successfully in many ways. Do I see myself making an outline again in the future if I don’t absolutely have to (as I did with this book)? Hmmmm…maybe, maybe not. I don’t know that I could make myself sit down and write a whole outline again if the story did not absolutely require it, as in this case. I do still like discovering and unearthing the story as I go along. So while I wouldn’t say I’ve been converted from pantser to plotter altogether, writing from an outline has been a much better experience than I thought it would be.

 

The Howling

I have that buzz in my veins. That excited, almost anxious fizzing in my blood that comes when I am closing in on the end of a draft. The howling of words that are scratching and clawing and trying to get out and onto the page. It makes it hard to focus on other things (like work, conversations with actual people, etc.) because everything in me just wants to be writing and writing and writing until I’ve finished. I start to resent anything and everything that takes me away from writing.

It’s a good feeling. A frustrating, exciting, energizing feeling. A good one.

I’m forgetful. I leave things behind. I walk into rooms and can’t remember what I went into them for. I can’t always hear the daily thoughts I need to function over the howling of the words in my ear. It’s a miracle I show up anywhere on time, given that while my body might be here, now, in the present, my head is in Rome circa the late 1490s.

Once the draft is finished, once I get all the words out of me and onto the page, the howling will quiet. It will fade away for a time as I finish my research and start to make revision notes and get feedback from my agent and critique partners. Then it will start up again: the sound of the words, now they are on the page, clamoring to be polished, to be gilded, to be made to sing where before they only howled.

All of us writers must hear this, the calling of the words to be put down and placed in a certain order and made to shine. That must be why we write, in answer to this siren song. The urge to tell a story, even when it’s not perfect, because it’s bubbled up within us to the point where we can’t not tell it anymore. And then the clamor continues, urging us to, now that we’ve told the story, to tell it well. Because if we don’t, then haven’t we wasted our chance to tell this story? Because if we don’t, who will?

As I write this, I’m about 96,000 words into my current work-in-progress. If I had to make an estimate, I would say that this one will end up at around 120,000 at this point. (It will probably get longer in revision). That’s still a bit of a ways to go, but I’ve got that downhill momentum going. I’m in the last third, and I’ve started rolling.

It doesn’t feel like this book has gone as fast as it has. It’s been a difficult one for many reasons. And while the buzzing, the fizzing, the howling is always the same, it always happens for me at this point in every first draft of everything, this time I think it does feel a little different, because of the challenges I’ve faced. The ones I am still facing. Because of the desire to just be able to say that “It’s done”, so I can go about fixing it. So that I can begin to imagine what it may finally look like. So that I can begin to imagine what it would be like to achieve what I meant to with this book.

I can’t quite imagine it yet. But soon. Because beneath the howling is a whisper that maybe I can do what I set out to do after all. The first draft is only the first step, but perhaps the biggest one. And so the howls and whispers alike prod me on.

 

Historical Novel Society Conference 2017 – Recap

I spent Thursday, June 22nd through Saturday, June 24th in Portland, Oregon, at the 2017 Historical Novel Society Conference – or, as you may have seen it on Twitter and Instagram, #HNS2017. I had the most awesome time and learned so much! It was my first conference, and I’m incredibly glad that I went.

Since it was my first conference, I wasn’t presenting or speaking on any of the panels, just attending to learn (though I did participate in the author signing on Saturday, and both of my novels were for sale in the conference bookstore). I attended lots of panels and took pages and pages of notes – they were all excellent, and during certain time slots there were two or even three panels that I wanted to attend. Hard choices had to be made! I made my decisions based on which sessions would be the most helpful to my career at this point or to my current work-in-progress.

Some of the ones that really stood out to me were the session on historical clothing with Isobel Carr; a panel on hopping among different eras as a historical fiction writer and planning your research and marketing accordingly (this panel was with some of my favorite authors: C.W. Gortner, Heather Webb, Kate Quinn, and Stephanie Thornton); a panel on writing the male perspective with Margaret George, Stephanie Cowell, Stephanie Thornton, and C.W. Gortner; a panel with agents and editors called The State of the State of Historical Fiction, about current, past, and possible future trends in the genre; and a workshop on writing twin-stranded stories with Susanna Kearsley. All of these (and many others I didn’t list!) provided me with super interesting and useful information that I can immediately apply to my career overall or to my current works-in-progress, or indeed to future works-in-progress.

A few industry updates/facts I learned or had reinforced for me during the conference:

-Fiction set in the ancient world (Egypt, Rome, Greece) is largely out – editors and agents are finding it doesn’t sell as well in the North American market compared to Europe and the UK. This was surprising to me as I’m aware of several new releases set in these eras, but it seems like perhaps publishers are starting to shy away from the ancient world at large – I heard this mentioned at a couple of different panels I went to.

-Fiction set in the Tudor era is a tougher sell these days as well, given that the market is so oversaturated with that time period. If you are writing in that period, you’ll want to have a twist or a new character that hasn’t been done before to make it stand out.

-Fiction set in the earlier part of the 20th century seems to be hot right now; I noticed authors who previously wrote in earlier eras have made the jump to more recent time periods (turn of the century, WWI, WWII, etc.).

-Readers of historical fiction in the US are 95% women, so this has given rise to the perception in the publishing industry that women do not want to read the male perspective. At the panel I went to on this the panelists and audience (myself included) felt that this is not necessarily true (while as a woman myself I do tend to relate more to female narrators, I will read and have read historical fiction from the male POV; like with any novel, if it’s a character/figure that interests me and is a good story, I’ll pick it up no matter the gender of the narrator. Excellent examples of recent historical fiction I’ve read with male narrators would be The Confessions of Young Nero by Margaret George and Feast of Sorrow by Crystal King – both of which I highly recommend, and both of which are set in ancient Rome, despite that time period being allegedly “out”!) In any case, if you are writing a historical with a male narrator, know that this will make for a harder sell to an agent and publisher and do your research accordingly: have comp titles ready to go (the two I referenced above would be good places to start) and, as always, make sure the story is so compelling and well done that it’ll be hard to resist, no matter who the narrator is. This was all valuable information for me as my current work-in-progress has a male narrator, though it is dual POV and alternates with a female narrator, so it seems that will help me out in the marketability of the work.

-The historical YA market seems to be growing, which I think is wonderful – the more historical stories for people of all ages, the better!

Of course, different editors, agents, and authors all have different opinions and views on topics such as those above, but I wanted to include some of the information that I heard and found interesting, helpful, and eye-opening.

 

Then there was the Hooch Through History session. This was one for which attendees had to register separately and pay an extra fee, but boy, was it worth it. Also presented by Isobel Carr, we sampled six alcoholic beverages from six different centuries, accompanied by an entertaining and informative PowerPoint about what other beverages were produced and consumed in those eras. The crowd was a bit rowdy by the end, as you might imagine, but I learned a lot in spite of all the alcohol coursing through my bloodstream.

One of the things I learned is that absinthe is NOT GOOD. I do not recommend.

Then, of course, the social aspect of such a conference is always great fun and always worthwhile. I got to meet authors in person with whom I had been chatting on social media for some time; authors whose works I greatly admire (I fangirled a bit over Margaret George, I will admit), AND two authors who were kind enough to blurb The Violinist of Venice for me but whom I had never met in person: Kate Forsyth and Stephanie Cowell. Both are absolutely lovely ladies, and I was thrilled to be able to thank them for their support in person.

The end-of-conference banquet was followed by a Regency masquerade ball afterparty, with free domino masks and instruction in English country dancing and whist. I think I got the hang of whist for sure and will be teaching it to friends and family. Sadly, I had to leave earlier than I would have liked due to an early flight out the next morning.

Now that I’m home and have been digesting all the information I’ve learned, I feel like I need a year to just shut myself away and write with all my new inspiration and motivation (and to read all the great books I brought home!). I’m super excited to continue working on my work-in-progress, and I have a lot of ideas for how to improve both my writing and my research, as well as some promotional ideas for my next book. And I’m already working on brainstorming panels/sessions to submit for the 2019 conference!

The Historical Novel Society Conference is one I highly recommend if you are an author or aspiring author of historical fiction, or a book blogger. The information is top notch, the people are lovely, and the experience is a great one.

As one of my closest friends lives in Portland, I actually spent a whole week out there visiting with her, catching up, and sightseeing. We went to Powell’s Books, of course, and in between that trip and my conference book haul packing all my purchases into my suitcases was NOT EASY. I also visited Cannon Beach on the Pacific Coast (one of the most beautiful spots I’ve ever been), the Portland Rose Garden, and took a tour of the Portland Underground Tunnels. I also had some great local food, wine, and beer. I’m really into wine, and I was excited to find that Oregon Pinot Noirs, which I hadn’t tried much in the past, definitely live up to the hype. I also had some of the best rose wine I’ve ever tried!

Voodoo Doughnuts is definitely worth the trip, but I HIGHLY RECOMMEND Blue Star Donuts. Personal favorite.

All in all, it was an absolutely great week away. Hope everyone else is enjoying their summer so far!