Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Writers Wednesday


Meet Steven M. Booth, author of the new YA Fantasy Dark Talisman.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer and when did you finish your first book?
     I have always been an avid reader, but the drive to create fiction didn't hit me until I was in college.  I penned my first book during my senior year.  It was a SciFi tale about a huge spatial anomaly wiping out all the electricity on earth.
What did you learn about yourself in the process of writing your book?
     Publishing can be very challenging. I have discovered a depth a patience I never thought I possessed and I've discovered that creating a book is nearly impossible alone; you need a team of excellent people to succeed.
How did you choose the genre you write in?
     Writing is about pursuing passion.  I have always loved Fantasy, and in a very real sense, it was not I that was doing the choosing, but rather, the genre that called me to follow its
siren voice.
How does your career as a writer influence other areas of your life and vice versa?
     It is an unfortunate reality that most writers cannot survive on their craft alone.  Even though it may be their first love, it's always necessary to find employment in other vocations in order to survive.  In my case, my talents in the technical arena make that fairly doable, but I do find that there seems to be a notable absence in the technical world of people that can write and communicate well, hence I find my abilities as an author are quite valuable when I'm wearing my 'computer guy' hat.
What do you do when you are not writing?
     I'm a film devotee, and in particular, a lover of animation and all-things Disney.  Being close to the epicenter of that universe, I participate in events frequently.  I'm also a Ballroom Dancer, and have had the opportunity to compete nationally with some of the best. I love sailing, SCUBA, Photography, and mountain cabins, far from the noise of the city.
What other books have your written and published?
     Dark Talisman is my debut novel, and I have written two books in that series, and am currently working on the third.  I am also simultaneously working on a Science Fiction piece that is sitting idle, pretty much, at the moment, but I expect to return to that eventually.  I also have a serialized on-line prequel for DT that was publish last year that is in edits.
Of the books you have written, which is your favorite?
     Whichever one I'm currently working on.
Briefly, what's your book about?
     Dark Talisman is the story of a narcissistic, Dark Elf rogue who pilfers a gem, only to discover it's pretty much the most dangerous thing in the world.  Her thievery casts her into a desperate struggle to save herself, her people, and the world as she knows it.
How did you come up with the title?
     I wrestled with my editor for three weeks.  We discarded perhaps a dozen other titles before settling on Dark Talisman.
What led you to write the book?
     It's an interesting story, actually,  Chronologically, the first book I wrote in the series was The Emerald Guardian.  It's the tale of a young boy that gets thrown into the middle of a battle between two vast, opposing forces.  At one point in the tale, since the youth has no real talent as a warrior, I needed a stealthy comrade for him, to sneak into an enemy fortress, so I created Altira, the Dark Elf.
     When I was done, and I submitted the first-draft to Deborah, my editor, she came right back and said, 'Who is this Altira person? She steals every scene she's in.  You need to pull her out of most these chapters, or people will think the book is about her, and not about Therin!'
     Well, I mostly left her in, but did extensive revisions.  When the book was finished, I realized that I couldn't release Emerald as the first book in the series; it had to be Altira's story.  Dark Talisman fills that role, and was actually much more fun to write.
What would you like readers to take from it?
     There are two messages in DT.  First, all of our actions have consequences, good or bad, and we must take responsibility for the decisions we make.  Also, there are obstacles in life that we cannot overcome alone.  There are challenges that will break us if we try to surmount them without help.  We all need assistance from time to time; that's one of the great lessons of life.
What are your current/future projects?
     I am currently revising the episodic series, Legend of Talimar, to be released as a book , and I'm starting the final revisions on Emerald Guardian.
What motivates you?
     Great characters. I have often said that I don't create my books, they are dictated by the wonderful characters in them. Once you really understand where a character is coming from, they motivate you, not the other way around.
Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
     Albert Einstein said, "If I have seen farther that others, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants." That is even more true, I think, in literature.  I find two great sources of ideas: those who have gone before, and the marvels of the physical world around us.  I have drawn inspiration from physics and oceanography, feature films, great literature, and people that I have known in my life.
What is your writing process? Do you follow a regular routine?
     I do. I'm a morning person.  My most productive and creative hours of the day are right after I have arisen, and before the cacophony of the world intercedes.
How long does it take you to complete a book?
     Depends on the book.  It took me about eight weeks to write the first draft of Dark Talisman, but nearly four years to finish revisions on it.  Once again, let me stress that completing a books is a process that requires at least one editor, and many, many revisions.
What challenges did your face in getting your first book published?
     Learning. Since DT was my first book, I had to learn not only about the industry, but also about the people within it.  I had to discover how to avoid the many pitfalls, to actually fall into a a few and then drag myself out, and finally discover that an author's greatest talent is his belief in both the work and himself.  Dark Talisman wanted to be published.  I just had to learn how to accomplish it.
Are there certain characters you would like to go back to, or is there a theme or idea you love to work with?
     Altira is incredibly alluring, but actually, not the most attractive character in the series to me.  The Cirrian race, in the series, is an entire lighter-than-air civilization, consisting of creatures that never set foot on the ground.  I think that's fascinating, and I'd like to write a book -- or perhaps an entire series -- from their point of view.
If you had to do it all over, is there any aspect of your writing or getting published that you would change?
     Certainly not anyone in my current team; they are all fantastic, and I want to keep working with them for a very long time.  If there is anything I would like to 'skip around' it would be the entire, painful process of discovering them -- although I expect that's impossible.
What book(s)/author(s) have influenced your writing and how?
     There are three.  First, Tolkien. I think any high-fantasy writer has to admit that, up front.  Secondly, C.S. Lewis, whom I think has been almost entirely lost by the current culture, even though he and Tolkien were not just contemporaries, but good friends.  I believe Lewis' influence is sadly lacking from most contemporary Fantasy, and I'm trying to rectify that.  Finally, J.K, Rowling, for reminding me that the Phoenix is one of the most overlooked, misunderstood, and exceptionally powerful mythological creatures.  The entire series was inspired by Fawkes.
What do you think makes a good story?
     Characters you truly care about.
What are the most important elements of good writing? What tools do you believe are must-haves for writers?
     Mantra time: 'Show don't tell' & 'Less is More', with the emphasis on the latter.  Every great story engages the reader in the creative process. That means you must leave stuff out.
     Writing is, at the same time, a craft and an art. You must master the craft before you unleash your artistic freedom. You can't do anything you want and expect people to read it.  There are rules; follow them.
Do you ever suffer from writer's block? If so, what do you do about it?
     I do. I think we all do, but for me it's almost always caused by my trying to force my characters into places they shouldn't be and don't want to go, or it's caused by my not truly understanding my characters. Think about it, for a  moment.  If you discovered your best friend in a difficult situation, you certainly wouldn't have any problem journaling how they escaped, would you? We just need to become best-friends with our characters. Then, writing becomes more like journalism and less like creating something from nothing.
Talk about revising and/or suggestions about revising for upcoming writers.
     When you've completed the first draft of your book, it's 10% done.  Books are not written, they are revised into existence. Dark Talisman went through twenty-seven revisions, before it was done, and one of the first was to throw away a third of the book and re-write it. Embrace revision! It's the only path to excellence.
What's one additional piece of advice about writing or publishing you'd like to pass on to readers and writers?
     Do not accept someone else's vision of what your work is supposed to be! Only you know what you intended when you put pen to paper.  It may not sell; it may be read by only a few, but it's part of you.  It is you.  Believe in it, and let it live.
Anything else you'd like readers to know about you and/or your book?
     Dark Talisman was written with great respect for the younger readers of the world.  It's intended for youth, and yet contains some challenging words and concepts, but I trust you.  I believe you can be excellent. You are the future. Take charge of your life and be responsible for it.  You will discover that you have a great, uncharted, Land of Fantasy within yourself. Exploring it is why we are here, and in that exploration can be found some of the greatest joys in life.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Writer's Wednesday

Author and illustrator, David Derrick is my guest today and shares his thoughts and experiences in the following Q & A.
I had the pleasure of meeting David and hearing him read from another of his delightful books, "Animals Don't So I Won't."  I'm sure you'll enjoy getting to know him as much as I did.

David's newest children's book, "I'm the Scariest Thing in the Jungle" has just been released. 
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer/illustrator and when did you finish your first book?
I've always wanted to be a story teller.  Animation and movies came first.  At CalArts I made three short films, they were an incredible amount of work all hand drawn at 24 frames per second.  When I got hired at Dreamworks, I missed telling short visual stories and that's when I turned to children's books.  When you work in feature animation you work along with many other artists to create a story and work of art that is greater than anyone of you could produce alone.  It's really neat to be part of something like that and yet I still had an incredible itch to be my own author and artist.  I work as a story artist in animation drawing and visualizing the story and one of the most famous story artists was Bill Peet who was also a prolific author/illustrator.  Inspired by Bill Peet's work and wanting to continue to tell stories in a short format, I began writing and illustrating my own picture books.  The first to be published was Kadogo the Next Big Thing.  It is the story of a tiny tick tick bird who befriends the largest animal on the savanna, Tembo the elephant.  The story was part of an anthology published by Dark Horse Comics.
What did you learn about yourself in the process of writing/illustrating your book?
I learned that the book world is ridiculously slow and that I don’t have a lot of patience. Agents, editors take weeks even months to give notes. In animation and film making notes are immediate and turnaround is fast. In my experience getting notes back in two weeks is quick and a month the average.

How did you choose the genre you write in?
I only write or draw what I want to see, that’s my big rule. Someone might approach me with a killer idea but if it’s not something I’d like to draw or that I’d like to see I pass. More often than not I’m inspired by nature.

How does your career as a writer/illustrator influence other areas of your life and vice versa?
Stories with resonance even if they are comedic come from true experiences. I search for that inspiration in my life and my biggest inspiration is nature and my family. So I mash up my two inspirations by dragging my family all over the place to see wildlife, whether it’s bears, whales or sequoias. I always keep a notebook or a sketch book handy.  So whether I’m at church, on the train or hanging out if inspiration strikes I start scribbling away like mad.

What do you do when you are not writing?
Draw. Draw. Draw. Picture books are a visual medium much like short films. “Show it first” is a common mantra in animation and film and I feel it’s applicable in picture books.

What other books have you written and published?

Briefly, what's your book about?    I’m the Scariest Thing in the Jungle is the simple conflict between two alpha predators who think they are the scariest thing in the jungle. But as their boasting reaches new heights they both discover something that’s even scarier than them.

Is your book based on real life experiences or is it pure imagination? It’s based on the real life experiences of kids boasting and bragging but thrown into the lush jungles of India.

How did you come up with the title? The title came out of the creative process of boarding out the book and writing.

What led you to write the book? 
Tigers, I confess, have always been my favorite animal since I was a kid. I’ve wanted to make a fun story about a tiger for some time.
What would you like readers to take from it?
A smile.

What are your current/future projects?
I’m working on a prehistoric book which will come out next year, I’ve got a food based book and a monster book which are in consideration at a couple places right now and I’m working on a sequel to Sid the Squid.

What motivates you?
Other artists and authors and my family.
Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
From life, libraries and lizards.  I've actually been drawing a lot of lizards lately for my prehistoric book.  Honestly it depends on the story. I spend a lot of time at museums and reading books, for others I've gone to the zoo or national park.
What is your writing/illustrating process? Do you follow a regular routine?
I usually draw a character and an iconic image which may or may not make it into the book and I use that as a spring board into writing and illustrating the book. The writing for me is the icing, the illustration the heavy lifting. But it all boils down to discipline, you’ve got to sit down and torture yourself until you come up with a good story and good illustrations.

How long does it take you to complete a book?
How long does it take for an editor to read my book and give me notes? I'm usually pretty frustrated at how slow I'm forced to go.  The Scariest Thing in the Jungle had been kicked around for a while and held hostage at various places, for years even.  But the actual execution of the book took about four months to finish.  If I didn't have a full time job at DreamWorks, a picture book wouldn't take more than a month of solid work.

What challenges did your face in getting your first book published?
The biggest challenge was getting someone to read a dummy. It was surprisingly hard to find readers and people who could be soundboards for my ideas. It’s a weird chicken and egg thing. People don’t want to waste their time on an unproven commodity but you can’t be proven unless you convinced someone to waste their time and read your dummy or manuscript. For my first book, Kadogo, I skipped the agent, editor route and approached with my fellow colleagues the president of Dark Horse who at the time was giving a lecture at DreamWorks. It was a bit bold but it worked. He allowed us to send our work directly to him and his editor and after a little back and forth he wanted to do business with us.

Are there certain characters you would like to go back to, or is there a theme or idea you love to work with?
I never intended to go back to any of my stories but I recently received enough fan mail and nudging from my publisher that I agreed to make a sequel to Sid the Squid. I also have a really fun animated book app for Sid the Squid coming out soon.

If you had to do it all over, is there any aspect of your writing or getting published that you would change?
If you listen to too many people, take too many notes in an attempt to please them you run the risk of losing whatever artistic edge you as a person have. Early on I yielded too much to the opinions of others and have found that I’m more successful when I’m polite but firm in my vision and artistic objectives.

What book(s)/author(s) have influenced your writing and how?
Oh man this is hard, I’ve got a big list. Bill Peet, Tony Fucile & Wallace Tripp have influenced the tone and style of my work (two of the three actually worked in animation). Wallace Tripp has an incredible ability to caricature wildlife with expressive pen drawings that I’ve always been drawn to. Peter Brown, Suzy Lee, Federico Bertolucci, Chris Van Dusen, Dan Krall, David Wiesner, Mo Willems have all inspired me with their unique and individual stories and illustrations.
What do you think makes a good story?
Good characters. I’ve always liked the mantra “Simple plot complex characters”. In the case of picture books a great set up, a joke (usually told a few different ways) and then a fun surprise or reversal at the end.

What are the most important elements of good writing? What tools do you believe are must-haves for writers?
Elements and formulas are good but I try and avoid them. If there were a perfect formula there wouldn’t be bad movies or boring books. You have to find what you want to write about and hope other’s will enjoy it too. The most valuable tools are persistence, thick skin and dedication.

Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it?
When I hit a wall creatively I do something else. I juggle a lot of projects at once. When I hit a wall I work on another project, which is where I often get my eureka moment to break through the wall. Don’t waste time banging against a wall.
Talk about revising for upcoming writers.
As a story artist in animation I re-board scenes up to six or seven times.  Sometimes we call it story reboarding. Nothing is precious. The story is found and refined and ultimately finished in the revision process.
What's one additional piece of advice about writing or publishing you'd like to pass on to readers and writers?
Publishing is changing before our eyes.  Gate keepers are disappearing and traditional methods are being challenged and changed.  This, I believe and hope, is actually a boon for the creators and story tellers.  We will have less restrictions, it will be more about the artist and less about the middle man. Don't let one story define you.  I believe the most important thing is to keep creating.


Monday, October 21, 2013

Nonfiction Monday

Nonfiction Monday is hosted today by Abby the Librarian.
For Nonfiction Monday  --  "A Is For Autumn" by Robert Maass.
Author and photographer, Robert Maass provides young readers with an autumn-inspired alphabet book.  Rich colors fill the pages with images of the season as he draws upon themes of nature, family and friends.
Some of the images are to be expected -- A is for Apples, B is for Birds flying south.  Other choices are more thought-provoking -- D is for Daylight getting shorter.  Not every letter is autumn specific such as E is for Exercise, but even here the family is shown biking along a road amid trees wearing their fall colors. As with many alphabet books, X proves to be a challenge with the author opting for X is for train tracks.  Overall though, the book is a visual pleasure and offers many opportunities for conversations about the season.
  • Be sure to visit this Writers Wednesday to meet talented author/illustrator David Derrick.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Poetry Friday

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Merely Day By Day.

Singer takes her readers on an around-the-world tour to experience the full moon.  New York, Morocco, Hong Kong and even the International Space Station provide opportunities to learn about the moon's cultural and scientific significance and influence on earth and its inhabitants. Lyrical descriptions range across the globe from a harvest in Iowa to coral spawning in the Caribbean, from a lunar optical illusion in Australia to a camel fair in India.

Additional information includes world maps to identify locations and illustrations of the moon's phases in the North and South hemispheres.

Caims' colorful illustrations reflect and enhance the simplicity and joy of Singer's verses.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Writers Wednesday

Rewriting is the art of shifting your focus from the words you love to the story that inspired you in the first place.

I keep asking myself if these words are conveying the story I'm trying to tell. At first I needed a profound sense of ruthlessness in order to cut those beloved words, but repetition made the process easier. 


The question for me now isn't "Do I love it?" or even "Is it well written?"  For me the question is "Does my reader need that word or phrase or will their experience be the same or better without that bit of verbiage.

At the suggestion of an editor interested in my latest submission, I'm currently turning one book into two. 

It's all about the rewrite.

Here are a couple of thoughts on the subject from two authors you will recognize.

“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” — Mark Twain

“By the time I am nearing the end of a story, the first part will have been reread and altered and corrected at least one hundred and fifty times. I am suspicious of both facility and speed. Good writing is essentially rewriting. I am positive of this.” — Roald Dahl

Monday, October 14, 2013

Nonfiction Monday

Nonfiction Monday is hosted today at Perogies and Gyoza.


Amara provides aspiring young comic artists with an entertaining guide to developing their writing an drawing skills.  Among the self-help chapters are the following titles:
Starting a studio and the tools of the trade

Draw, partner? Illustration tips and tricks

Character creation: from superheroes to villains

Creating stellar stories: comic book scripts

Layout: putting it all together

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Writers Wednesday

Historical Fiction Writers -- this post is for you!

I'd like to direct your attention to an article at the Writing Historical Novels website titled: On The Use Of Politically Correct Terms In Historical Fiction, by Jane Kirkpatrick.

Jane Kirkpatrick is a very talented and generous writer and always has thoughtful suggestions to offer.

The Gingerbread Cowboy Book Trailer