Authors & Inspirations: Sandi Van

Today on the blog I’m thrilled to have my friend and fellow Buffalonian, Sandi Van! Her debut YA verse novel, Second in Command, was released last month from West 44 Books. A brief synopsis of the book is below. Welcome, Sandi!

Sixteen-year-old Leo dreams of becoming an Eagle Scout and, someday, a police officer. He makes sure to always do the right thing and be responsible. With his mom deployed and his dad constantly working, Leo is often left in charge of his two younger siblings. Then Leo’s brother, Jack, gets caught up in a dangerous plot that rocks the community. Can Leo keep his promise to stand by his brother no matter what, or will he stand on the side of justice?

 

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

Yes, I usually listen to music while I write, especially if I’m someplace noisy like a coffee shop or indoor soccer center. It helps me focus. It can also be great if I’m trying to create a certain mood, like if I have to write a heartbreaking scene I’ll loop a really sad song on repeat.

If you do listen to music while writing, share a few songs on your current writing playlist:

Normally I’ll chose a particular artist or genre to stream depending on my mood or the mood of the story. If there’s no wifi available, I’m stuck playing whatever is saved on my laptop, which is mostly techno and electronica songs. I love the beat and energy. Two of my favorites are My Way by Calvin Harris and The Greatest by Sia. I did create a playlist for Second in Command: https://open.spotify.com/user/jcix7v3qr7zd8dhc856jummqb/playlist/2b92iRMAar9paHXFwBAlxx?si=ax1FNX6MR0WYMf7g1gHNSw

What band is on your bucket list to see live?

James. I regret not seeing them live when they were big in the US. They only tour in the UK now it seems, although I did see a date in Greece this summer. That would be a fun trip. I watch their concerts on YouTube sometimes, and Tim Booth is an amazing performer. Unfortunately, my husband hates live music, so we don’t go to many shows. I’m going to Mumford and Sons with some friends in March though, and I’m really excited about that.

What TV shows are you loving lately?

I’m a sucker for This is Us. The writing is beautiful and I have yet to make it through an episode without crying. I also loved Sex Education on Netflix. So smart and funny.

What are your all-time favorite movies?

Real Genius. The Goonies. The Princess Bride. Better off Dead. Everything by John Hughes. Basically, I love 80’s movies.

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

I used to live on the west coast and we took a road trip down to Oregon and hiked some of the waterfalls off the Columbia River. It was incredibly beautiful and inspiring. I’d love to rent a cabin out there somewhere with a view of a waterfall out my window. Get up in the morning, go for a hike, then come back and write.

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

My son and I read Pax by Sara Pennypacker. It tore me apart; it was so beautiful and sad. I love books like that. My son adored it as well – he’s listened to the audiobook more times than I can count.

What are your very favorite kinds of scenes to write?

Oh, the heart wrenchingly sad ones. They are not easy to write, but I tend to lose myself in them completely and really feel connected to my characters after we’ve gone through a difficult moment together. They are emotionally draining but also very therapeutic.

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

Books. The language of a well written story will often kick start my creative flow. If I’m stuck in a rut, getting into nature or performing menial tasks (like painting a room or cleaning windows) will often help as well.

If you could have a drink/cup of coffee/beverage of choice with any three people alive in the world right now, who would you pick?

First I want to say that if it was someone no longer alive it would be Shirley Jackson. Because she wrote some crazy stuff and I’d love to have been able to pick her brain. Margaret Atwood for sure, and Emma Watson. They are both amazing, smart, trail blazing women and I am totally in love with listening to them talk.

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

I’ve been going back and forth between two stories lately. One is an adult novel about a young woman who gets stuck in a snow storm and her experience on the road helps her deal with the guilt of her brother’s death. The other is a major revision to a previously finished novel; that one is YA and it’s about a girl whose father gets deployed during Desert Storm and she’s on a quest to find her mother. I recently had an idea for some changes and am excited to try and weave those into the manuscript.

 

Sandi Van is a writer, counselor, and former special education teacher from Buffalo, NY. Her nonfiction piece, “Labor and Delivery” was featured in Adoptive Families Magazine and her poetry won recognition in the Elmira Star-Gazette and the PennWriters’ In Other Words contest. Sandi is also a proud Navy wife. Her debut verse novel, Second in Command, was inspired by and dedicated to military families facing deployment.

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Audiobook news!

I’m thrilled to announce that The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel is also going to be available on audio! It will be released at the same time as the print book. This will be the first of my books to have an audio version, and as I’m an audiobook fan myself, this is super exciting for me!

I’ll share more information (on narrator, etc.) as I have it!

THE SPELLBOOK OF KATRINA VAN TASSEL – Cover Reveal!

I’m SO excited to finally reveal the cover of my third novel, The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel, out October 2nd, 2018 from St. Martin’s Press. Also below is the synopsis of the novel, to give you a better idea of what exactly the book is about! My publisher really worked with me to make sure the cover had the exact vibe that I wanted, and I so appreciate the work everyone at St. Martin’s put in on this. The result is a cover that I am absolutely thrilled with.

Without further ado, here it is!

I absolutely love the creepy, spooky vibe here, with the blue and the tree branches and the misty forest and the blood-red letters. I also love the figure of Katrina at the bottom, how her posture looks both hesitant and determined. She – and her journey throughout the novel – are captured perfectly in that image. I also love the way this is heavy on the text, as it reminds me of covers or title pages that I’ve seen from Washington Irving’s time.

I hope you all love this cover as much as I do!

Synopsis:

When Ichabod Crane arrives in the spooky little village of Sleepy Hollow as the new schoolmaster, Katrina Van Tassel is instantly drawn to him. Through their shared love of books and music, they form a friendship that quickly develops into romance. Ichabod knows that as an itinerant schoolteacher of little social standing, he has nothing to offer the wealthy Katrina – unlike her childhood friend-turned-enemy, Brom Van Brunt, who is the suitor Katrina’s father favors.

But when romance gives way to passion, Ichabod and Katrina embark on a secret love affair, sneaking away into the woods after dark to be together – all while praying they do not catch sight of Sleepy Hollow’s legendary Headless Horseman. That is, until All Hallows’s Eve, when Ichabod suddenly disappears, leaving Katrina alone and in a perilous position.

Enlisting the help of her friend – and rumored witch – Charlotte Jansen, Katrina seeks the truth of Ichabod Crane’s disappearance, investigating the forest around Sleepy Hollow using unconventional – often magical – means. What they find forces Katrina to question everything she once knew, and to wonder if the Headless Horseman is perhaps more than just a story after all. In Alyssa Palombo’s The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel nothing is as it seems, and love is a thing even death won’t erase.

 

Pre-order The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel now at:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

 

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.

 

An Ode to Florence: The Church of the Ognissanti

In my An Ode to Florence series I’ll be posting pictures and information about my favorite places in Florence, including those that figure into The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence.

 

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The Church of the Ognissanti – or Church of All Saints – sits facing the river Arno in Florence, right across from the riverbank. The Franciscan church was originally built in the 13th century but has since been remodeled. It was the parish church of the Vespucci family, the family into which Simonetta Cattaneo married.

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In The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence, Simonetta mentions attending Mass in this church with her husband and his family; they lived not far. Also in the neighborhood was Sandro Botticelli’s workshop.

Simonetta Cattaneo Vespucci and Sandro Botticelli are both buried in this church. Botticelli asked to be buried at Simonetta’s feet when he died, and his wish was granted. This was the detail that truly inspired me to write The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence.

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The above shows the area where Simonetta Vespucci is interred.

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Just a few feet away is the grave of Sandro Botticelli, pictured above. People regularly leave flowers, letters, and notes on his grave. It was a very moving experience for me to visit the burial sites of my two main characters. I asked for their blessing, and can only hope that my novel did them justice.

This concludes my An Ode to Florence series. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading along and that you’ve learned some things you didn’t know before! I highly recommend visiting Florence in person if you are able at any point in your life.