Goodbye, Lovely Readers

Goodbye Graphic #21You might not be aware that when this blog was created, the original group of posters agreed to keep it going for 843 days exactly. We had done some pretty complicated calculations on the shelf-life of a blog about speculative fiction for teens and pre-teens, with some assistance from several persons (and a robot) who arrived from the future to warn us about impending utopian conditions.

So here we are at Day 843, feeling compelled to say goodbye so that we can enjoy the sudden utopia we have been informed is about to be created on Earth. (We’ve been told there will be free iced coffee and several Harry Potter sequels for everyone.) We’d like to thank you, blog readers, for following us for so long (two and a half years! over 500 posts!). We’ve appreciated your comments and silent visits alike. We feel this has been a great opportunity to explore our thoughts on various topics important to us science fiction- and fantasy-lovers, and to chat with people we otherwise would never had known existed.

We hope that you will continue to visit us on other places on the web so that we can chat about books and hear your recommendations for what we should be reading and share thoughts about writing and publishing. You can find links to our websites here. Thanks, lovely blog readers, and Happy Reading!

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Filed under Chris Eboch, Greg Fishbone, Joni Sensel, K. A. Holt, Linda Joy Singleton, Nick James, P. J. Hoover, Parker Peevyhouse

Interview with Louise Spiegler

Today I’m chatting with Louise Spiegler, author of two great speculative books that aren’t traditional fantasy or science fiction. They’re—well, I’ll let her explain.

CE: Tell us about your books.

The Amethyst Road is a fantasy set in an alternative Pacific Northwest where Serena, a mixed-race girl, must fight hardship and racial hatred to find and reunite her scattered family. In this world, the Gorgios, a settled people, control the power and money. The Yulang are travellers who are regarded with contempt by the Gorgios. Within the Yulang, there are tribal divisions and strict rules and expectations. Serena is cast out of both groups when her sister Willow has a child out of wedlock. She ultimately succeeds in reuniting her family and discovering her own path in life, but not without a lot of struggle and heartbreak. The book was a Junior Library Book Club selection, and a finalist for the Andre Norton Award (Hugo-Nebula award scheme).

The Jewel and the Key (due out August 29) is set in the present day, as the U.S. is embarking on yet another war in the Middle East. Addie, a stage-struck girl, frustrated in her dream of becoming an actress, becomes deeply involved in saving a derelict theater called The Jewel from demolition. Her best friend Whaley has just been expelled from school and is obsessed with fighting in the war. An earthquake and the discovery of an antique mirror unleash forces that jolt Addie out of her time and into 1917 Seattle, just as America enters World War I. Here she finds a world in as much turmoil as her own. However, in this past era she finds fulfillment working at the Jewel in its hey-day, and in her relationship with its owner’s son, Reg, who in his own way is as much a trouble-magnet as Whaley. As she unravels the connection between the two times she discovers that in both, the Jewel is under threat, war is looming and someone she cares about is determined to fight. In the end, only Addie holds the key to saving the Jewel and her friends’ lives.

CE: Your first book, The Amethyst Road, was set in an alternate reality in the Pacific Northwest. Your new book, The Jewel and The Key, involves time travel between two realistic eras. What draws you to this type of almost-realistic speculative fiction?

I’m drawn to the imaginative and the fantastic—there’s nothing I love better than a good ghost story—but am also deeply involved with the world around me. When I was about seven or eight, I believed there was always something magical just out of reach, around the corner, in the other room, in the old house up the hill. You had to creep up on it and surprise it. I still can have that feeling, especially in places which are old and have a lot of history. So that’s the psychological, ‘it all goes back to my childhood’ explanation.

Nonetheless, I find the struggles of the real world completely compelling. I’m fascinated by the nitty-gritty of how people live, what they have in their pockets to pay for their food, what they do when they can’t pay, what stories they tell about themselves, what they dream about, what they do when the world they live in is dangerous or unjust. For me, fantasy needs to engage all of this. In fact, I think it’s the true substance of good fantasy, no matter how much it bends the rules of time and space.

The Jewel and the Key

CE: What inspires you? Do you start with character, plot, situation, or an issue you want to explore?

In The Amethyst Road, character came first. Serena was so real to me from the very start that I could almost feel her tapping me on the shoulder.

With The Jewel and the Key, I had a vague idea of a time travel novel set in a theater, but it never came together until the day the U.S. started bombing Iraq: “Shock and Awe”. I’d gone to demonstrations, talked to people, emailed my Congressional representatives, because I saw us hurtling towards this conflict I was sure could be avoided. I was convinced from the get-go that there were no weapons of mass destruction. And then, to see the bombs falling!

I’ve mentioned that I teach history. If you teach, you’re also learning all the time. So I’d been studying World War I—inspired by Pat Barker’s amazing novel Regeneration—and had developed a real empathy for the generation who fought in the First World War, a war with such horrifying casualties. The appalling sacrifice just didn’t seem justified by the reasons given for fighting. I saw my own students going off to fight. And then, later, I started having students in my class who were veterans, returning with PTSD—what my World War I characters would have called “shell shock”. Not to mention the effect on Iraqi civilians. I felt there was a powerful mirror between World War I and Iraq and I wanted to explore this in fiction.

I wanted the place that was the conduit between the two times to be a theater, because theaters are so magical in and of themselves, and because of the transformative power of the stage. And Seattle has gorgeous old theaters, many of which have been ‘brought back to life’ as the Jewel is in the story. I saw this theme of rebirth as a strong and positive counterweight to the theme of war.

From these starting points, the characters just started leaping out at me: Addie with her intense imagination and intoxication with the theater, her best pal Whaley, so troubled but so good-hearted, wanting to go off to war for all those idealistic reasons. And then the inhabitants of the Jewel in 1917: Reg, that intense and talented boy, who Addie falls for almost at once, Meg, the director, and the fugitive Wobbly, Gustav Peterson, on the run from the law after the Everett Massacre. I knew there would be a connection between two boys, Reg and Whaley, trying to go off and fight two different wars for their own reasons and there would be others seeing the war quite differently, and passionately trying to stop it.

CE:  You started writing The Jewel and the Key shortly after the US invasion of Iraq, but because of publishing delays it’s just now coming out. Did you have to change the story because of the delays? Do you still feel this is a timely story?

As far as I know, we’re still at war. And even if the wars had ended, I would still feel that story was timely. We are a country which has enormous military might, many strategic and economic interests. War is endemic in our history. We need to think about it more, not just accept it as a natural part of our national life. I’d love to see people question if it has to be this way and be willing to stand up and be counted if they think we’re embarking on a war of aggression.

Another plot thread in the book has to with the Wobblies—the raucous, rip-roaring union whose real name was the Industrial Workers of the World. Part of the backdrop of the events at the Jewel in 1917 involve the conflicts between workers in the timber industry here in the Pacific Northwest who wanted to gain bargaining and free speech rights and the corporations and politicians tried their best to stop them. I.W.W. members were demonized, incarcerated and (if foreign-born) deported, in the Red Scares following the war. If you look at what’s happening right now in Wisconsin and other states, where the governors are attempting to strip unions of bargaining rights, the book couldn’t be more timely.

CE: Do you outline? How clearly do you know where your book is going before you start? Do you surprise yourself along the way?

I never outline! Or at least, not until I’m half-way through the book. At that point I might jot some notes for myself about where I’m going. The story is generated on the page. That’s why I end up with so many storylines and have to be ruthless about cutting. My process is messy. But you have to use what works for you. I love it. It’s like rummaging around in an attic full of boxes full of strange and wonderful objects.

CE: The Amethyst Road—your first bookwas a finalist for The Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy. How did that feel?

Amazing! Exciting. I felt incredibly honored.

CE: If you could live in a sci-fi or fantasy world, which would it be? Why?

One in which time travel is possible. Need you ask!?

CE: What would readers find surprising or interesting about you?

I’ve seen a ghost, attended a Korean shaman’s funeral and been arrested for civil disobedience. Even more astonishing, I don’t own a functioning television!

Thanks for visiting The Spectacle! The Jewel and the Key is due out from Clarion Books on August 29 . You can pre-order it now.  Louise is currently constructing a new website. Until it’s functional, you can visit the Amethyst Road site, which will soon have a link on it to the new site.

Leave a comment to be entered in the ARC give-away for The Jewel and the Key. (U.S. and Canada only, please.)

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Book Talk: CHIME by Franny Billingsley

We hope some of you had a chance to read CHIME since we announced our Book Talk about a month ago. CHIME has received six starred reviews and has garnered a lot of praise around the web. The story follows Briony, a young woman living at the start of the twentieth century in Swampsea, where the swamp is being drained to make way for train tracks–and the monsters who lurk in the mud are angry about losing their home. In order to save her twin sister from a curse brought down by the Boggy Mun, Briony must stop the swamp from being drained, all while balancing her self-hatred and her new-found love for a boy who has just come to town.

Today, Joni Sensel and Parker Peevyhouse chat about the book. We hope you’ll comment with your own opinions on some of these topics. We’d love to hear what you thought of CHIME.

Joni Sensel: So, let’s talk about CHIME! I haven’t read it yet, but I’m intrigued by the swamp setting. Is it used well?

Parker Peevyhouse: Yeah, the swamp was COOL. The setting was fab. I loved the swamp, and all the creatures were varied and wondrous.

Joni: What’s the main character like?

Parker: Briony. She was really into hating herself — she took it to a new level. Okay, well, not Black Swan level. But high up there. When she was young, she used her “witchy” powers to knock her twin sister, Rose, off a swing. Rose hit her head and suffered some kind of brain damage. She’s since been rather off–but Rose is a wonderful character. I loved her. She has a great way of talking, very blunt, and always, “I don’t prefer to do this or that.”

Joni: That’s an interesting twin contrast — like one “good” personality and one bad in two bodies?

Parker: Well, Rose isn’t exactly “good.” She’s rather rude and always runs off. They’re both pretty mischievous. But it was hard for me to love Briony or connect with her, although I found her sense of humor sharp and creative.

Joni: How important do you think that kind of connection is for enjoying a book?

Parker: For me, it’s key. I liked the setting of CHIME, I liked a lot of the characters, and I liked the magic, but Briony wouldn’t let me get close. She has this STRANGE way of talking, of narrating. At one point she’s looking for Rose, is desperate to find her in the swamp and wants Rose to call out to her. She says, “Jab your scream into my ear squish.” I honestly don’t understand why Briony talked the way she did.

I thought maybe Briony is just so crazy with self-hatred that she can’t quite keep a hold on her sanity, but it’s hard to say. Briony is just an unusual girl, I suppose, and I like unusual, but there’s a fine line between unusual and un-relatable. I love to read an unusual book, I really do, but it’s got to have an anchor in that main character. This isn’t to say that Briony is categorically unlovable. I think her relatability will vary from reader to reader.

Joni: Was that kind of language something that took you out of the story?

Parker: I didn’t like most of the language, to be honest. There were some lovely bits swimming around in all these strange bits, some really beautiful descriptions. Briony kept saying that Eldric’s eyes were “switch-on eyes,” alluding to the electricity that is new to the time period of the story. I loved that.

Who’s to say what’s lovely and what’s strange? But a lot of it was a little too strange for me.

Joni: I understand the book has a romance. Was that satisfying?

Parker: The romance was wonderful. Many of the love interests of YA fantasy are brooding boys whom the main character finds instantly, irresistibly attractive. In contrast, Eldric is a somewhat ordinary young man whose relationship with Briony builds very slowly. (I suspect too slowly for some, but not for me.)

I was relieved to find that the author didn’t give Briony this “lust at first sight/soul mate” guy. Eldric was a nice guy with a great sense of humor, and he was really kind to Rose, Briony’s sister. And he and Briony played off each other well. The interchange of dialogue between the two was one of the book’s best aspects.

Joni: Kind of a “guy next door?”

Parker: A “Guy From the Big City Could Fit Right In With Us Swamp Folk.” He moves into town, they plan to share a tutor, so it makes sense that they fall for each other–they’re always around each other, and they get along well. Eldric has this great habit of toying with little novelties, like paperclips. Briony comes to appreciate that about him.

They really become friends first, which I like, even if it’s not as exciting as something like him hungering for her blood or her organs or whatever you see in other romances.

Joni: I just noticed the sisters’ names: Rose and Briony, like Rose and Briar. Is there a noticeable fairy tale underpinning in the book?

Parker: The author really points out that Rose and Briony both have flower names, but that Briony is a poisonous plant. The magical creatures play up that fairy tale aspect, too. There are witches — flying-naked-on-a-broom witches — very folksy.

Joni: Awesome!

Parker: There are also creatures like brownies, mud-things, and most importantly, the Chime Child. The Chime Child is a person born at midnight with connections to both the magical world and the real world. The story takes place early in the twentieth century, in a place where people still accuse young women of witchcraft and then hang them to see if they’ll burst into flames (if they don’t–oops! they were innocent after all). Because the Chime Child can see and interact with magical beings, she has an important role to play.

I think the title, CHIME, tells you that there’s going to be a lot about the play between the two worlds—magic and non-magic. Even Briony and her love interest, Eldric, follow this theme–she lives in a world where the Boggy Mun can infect children with swamp cough. He’s from a place where electricity and trains and paperclips are the norm.

Joni: It sounds very unusual. Not high concept. More complicated.

Parker: Yeah, it’s totally literary. Weird literary. My kind of book, usually!

Joni: Without spoilers, was the ending satisfying?

Parker: It’s hard to say, because Briony ends up having all her problems solved for her, but in a legitimate way. It works with the rules of the story world, and I was relieved to find an answer to her dilemma, but since I saw that answer coming, I didn’t get that last minute feeling of “Phew!” More like, oh good, that’s tidy.

Lots of secrets are revealed at the end, but there are quite a lot of clues all along the way. Some I picked up on, some I didn’t. Still, I never really believed Briony was in danger because there were hints that her dilemma could be worked out in the end.

Joni: Overall, it sounds like you’d recommend CHIME?

Parker: There is a lot to love, but it’s certainly different. I’d say read it, but don’t hate me if you don’t like it!

Joni: Ha ha! I won’t. Is there anything else you’d like to mention about it?

Parker: There are some lovely turns of phrase, and you know, it really is very fairy tale-ish: a stepmother, an emotionally absent father, deals made with dark creatures… What more can you ask for?

Joni: Not too much! Thanks, Parker. You’ve definitely piqued my interest in CHIME!

What did you think about CHIME? Were you able to connect with Briony and her experiences? How do you feel about her relationship with Eldric? What comments do you have about the setting? Did the ending meet your expectations?

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More on Networking

My brother just mentioned that he covered networking on his blog for screenwriters. My brother (the original writer for Sweet Home Alabama) is a pretty smart guy, so check it out.

How Not to Network.

How to Network.

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Networking

One of the big concerns for authors is networking (often a bigger concern than writing well, which is bad but another topic, covered bluntly in this post).  Networking is important whether you’re trying to find a publisher for your work or readers for a published work, whether you’re publishing traditionally or self-publishing. And today social networking reigns.

Some people love it, some people hate it, many people debate what, if anything, is really successful. Obviously it’s hard to track. How many people have bought one of my books because of seeing my posts here? Any? But that’s not always the point. Social networking is more like real-life making friends. It takes time, it works better with some people than others, and you’re never sure quite where that friendship is going to lead.

I met Joni Sensel through our roles as SCBWI Regional Advisors and she later invited me to join The Spectacle, where we got to know each other better. Since then we’ve shared self-publishing information and exchanged a manuscript critique for proofreading. I’d call that a success, not because I can track hundreds of books sold due to the relationship, but because it’s been fun and interesting and educational.

Then there’s the woman I “met” through the Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Chat Board. I mentioned that my Haunted series had been dropped by the publisher, so I was thinking of self-publishing the fourth book, The Ghost Miner’s Treasure. I was just asking for a bit of feedback on how middle grade e-books were selling, but I got a message from the editor of a small press who is interested in publishing the book. We haven’t signed a contract yet, but we are discussing specifics (and they’re even offering a small advance!). So there is a networking connection that may put money in my bank account.

But did you notice, that wasn’t my goal? Those of you who are long-time followers of this blog are probably here because you enjoy reading about and discussing speculative fiction, not because you want to hear sales pitches. Cynthia Leitich Smith’s blog has thousands of followers not because she occasionally talks about her new books, awards, etc., but because she covers all kinds of children’s book publishing news and features many other authors talking about their new books. It’s like a big, informative cocktail party.

So don’t be afraid of social networking, and don’t network just because authors are supposed to or because it’s the key to riches and fame. And if you’re not a writer — if you’re a librarian or a reader who loves to talk books — we love hearing your voice too.

So get out there and make some friends.

Chris Eboch with the Haunted series

Chris Eboch is writing an article on “How to Use, Not Abuse, Your Social Networks.” Any advice?

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Interview with Sara Grant, part 2

Today we continue the chat with Sara Grant, whose YA dystopian novel DARK PARTIES comes out later this year.

Tell us about your writing journey. How have publishers reacted to your work?

DARK PARTIES started as a short story, which I submitted to the SCBWI British Isles (www.britishscbwi.org) UNDISCOVERED VOICES anthology (www.undiscoveredvoices.com). I let a writer friend and my niece read a very early draft. They both wanted to know what happened next and encouraged me to write the rest of Neva’s story. I told myself that if my story was selected, then I would write the novel. And, luckily it was included in the anthology.

The anthology was sent to UK-based editors and agents who focused on children’s fiction. I received calls and emails from editors and agents who were interested in what they’d read. I signed with an agent from Andrew Nurnberg Associates because we hit it off immediately and within moments I knew she understood my work and would be an amazing partner in the crazy world of publishing. And I was right. We worked together for about a year before she submitted my novel and about five months later I accepted an offer from Little, Brown in the US.

Another benefit of writing dystopian fiction is the ease with which it can cross borders and appeal to readers around the world. I intentionally didn’t identify the country in DARK PARTIES. In my mind, it’s a mixture of my two homelands – the US and UK, but it could also easily represent other countries. DARK PARTIES has sold to the US, UK, Germany, Poland and China.

How about readers? Have you found any special challenges reaching people with this genre?

My book isn’t released in the US until August in the US and October in the UK but I have started to be approached by book bloggers who have read advanced copies of DARK PARTIES. Because DARK PARTIES is my first novel, I must admit it’s a very strange experience to have something you’ve written out in the world. What I’m most fascinated by is watching this story take on a life of its own. It’s very gratifying to have people read something you’ve written and even more exciting to learn what they’ve discovered in the pages of your novel.

DARK PARTIES was published in March in Germany under the title NEVA. I was lucky enough to visit Germany for the launch and attended the Leipzig Bookfair where I got to meet my very first readers. It was an overwhelming experience for this small town girl to be signing copies of her book in a country she had never before visited and being so graciously welcomed by enthusiastic readers.

What are some of your favorite speculative fiction books for young people?

I love The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. The first book in her trilogy is a master class in deftly creating a world but not letting the world take over. She blends a compelling love triangle with page-turning action.

I’ve also recently discovered China Mieville. I’ve heard him speak and read a few of his short stories but he’s definitely an author I intend to read more of and study.

If you could live in a sci-fi or fantasy world, which would it be? Why?

Oh, this is a difficult one. I will have to go with my earliest influences in TV and film – Star Wars and Star Trek: the Next Generation. I suppose I couldn’t resist a trip on NCC 1701-D. I love the idea of being able to be beamed anywhere. I would also spend endless hours on the holodeck. Oh, and of course work with Jean Luc to bring peace, love and justice to the universe!

What would readers find surprising or interesting about you?

If I thought the last question was difficult….hmmmm…I find personal questions like this even more tricky to answer. Am I honest and tell you that I think the most perfect food in the universe is mashed potatoes and I will eat them for any meal? Does that make me sound too bland? It’s true but is it interesting? Maybe I should mention that I can say my alphabet as quickly backwards as forwards. Surprising but is it too trivial?

A relevant fact: I remember writing my first story at eight years old. It was written on notebook paper and tied together with three pieces of string. It was dedicated to Farrah Fawcett Majors. (Um, yeah, I was writing under the influence of an extreme obsession with the TV show Charlie’s Angels at the time.) Too weird?

What if I shared that I quit my job as director of communications for one of the biggest foundation in the US and moved to the UK to be with a British man I met standing in line for a ride at Universal Studios in Florida?

Maybe that’s interesting but it certainly isn’t the whole story. So maybe I’ll just say that I wrote my first story for children when my niece Megan was born and I got my first book deal the year she turned seventeen. Oh, I don’t know. I think I should just stick with something simple so how about I just say: orange is my favorite color.

Thanks, Sara! Best wishes for the success of Dark Matter.

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Interview with Sara Grant

Today I’m chatting with Sara Grant, whose debut novel comes out later this year.

Sara, please tell us about your book.

DARK PARTIES is a dystopian novel for young adults.

Sixteen-year-old Neva was born and raised in an isolated nation ruled by fear, lies and xenophobia. Hundreds of years ago, her country constructed an electrified dome to protect itself from the outside world. What once might have protected now imprisons. Her country is decaying and its citizens are dying. Neva and her friends dream of freedom. A forbidden party leads to complications. Suddenly Neva’s falling for her best friend’s boyfriend, uncovering secrets that threaten to destroy her friends, her family and her country – and discovering the horrifying truth about what happens to The Missing…

DARK PARTIES will be published this year by Little, Brown in the US on August 3, Orion in the UK in on October 20.

Why did you choose to write in this genre? What inspires you?

It may sound strange but I didn’t choose the genre. I found an issue and characters that interested me and I let the story evolve. I’d just moved to London, England, from Indianapolis, Indiana. I was immersed in the paperwork of immigration and uncovering news stories on both side of the Atlantic about who and how many should be allowed to enter a country. That got me thinking….what if a country closed its borders to people and ideas?

This question led to more questions of national and personal identity. The citizens in my fictitious country grew more and more alike. Their population dwindled. How would a teenager rebel in this closed and homogeneous society?

DARK PARTIES started as a short story about Neva and her best friend Sanna who host a party for their friends in the pitch black and secretly plot a rebellion. I was intrigued – some might say obsessed – by this idea. I spent the next three years writing and revising DARK PARTIES.

What inspired you to tell the story of a society cut off from the rest of the world?

As I mentioned above, I had just moved from the US to the UK and wanted to explore issues of national and personal identity. You don’t have to look far to see countries, cities and individuals questioning how to maintain their cultural identity in a global society. What does it mean to be American or British when the cultural make up of your country is changing? I definitely believe that diversity of cultures and ideas makes a country stronger. DARK PARTIES was my way to explore all these issues.

I also think DARK PARTIES was influenced by growing up in a small town where it often felt as if I was living in a fish bowl. Everyone knew everyone else – which has many benefits but if you are a teenager, it makes it next to impossible to rebel.

Are there special challenges in writing speculative fiction? How do you deal with them?

I love the freedom of writing speculative fiction – not only the freedom to imagine the future and make the rules, but also the freedom that I can afford my teen protagonist. In contemporary novels, teens are confined by so many rules, and the adventure is limited when the protagonist can pick up a cell phone, search the internet or turn to a responsible adult to solve problems. In speculative fiction, you can break all the rules, raise the stakes, and allow your teens a greater sense of action and adventure.

But the challenge of writing speculative fiction is also the freedom. You create a world and make the rules, but changing one thing can have a nearly endless rippled effect. For example, closing the borders influences how my characters think, speak and act. It’s exhilarating to have that kind of freedom but also daunting. All you can do is think and analyze and ask questions about this world you’ve created and construct it in a way that’s believable to your readers.

I believe less is better. I have to know more about the world than I share with my readers. It’s tempting to write a lot of ‘look at me’ passages where you share with your readers all the weird and wonderful things you’ve imagined, but I believe the world you’ve created must serve the story. You must give your readers enough detail to navigate the world, but not so much that it detracts from the story.

Great advice! We’ll continue the interview tomorrow, so stop back to learn more about Sara’s writing journey, along with some fun facts about her.

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Interview: P. J. Hoover Talks About E-Publishing SOLSTICE (Part 2)

P. J. Hoover answers more of my questions about her new YA e-book, SOLSTICE, which she e-published with the help of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. (Read Part 1 of this interview.) SOLSTICE blends teen romance with dystopian elements with Greek mythology.

Parker Peevyhouse: What about marketing–is that all up to you or will the agency help with that? We friended your book on Facebook, by the way. :)

P. J. Hoover: Thanks. I think they will do what they can to help market the book as far as advertising on their Facebook page, and Laura Rennert will be talking about it at a panel at BEA.

Parker:  I would guess it’ll get press just from the angle of “ABLA takes psuedo-publishing role.”

PJ: I hope so.

Parker: What specifically will you do to market SOLSTICE? You’ve got the book trailer, your blog, this interview…

PJ: I plan to really focus on the online. There is no book party at a store to plan, no postcards to mail. So I am going to focus on blog tours, twitter… I’m going to Dallas Comic Con. I made trading cards to hand out with secret content–each card has a special QR code.

Parker: Those weird boxes that you take pictures of with your phone?

PJ: Yes, with a barcode scanner app. It takes you to a hidden website link with maybe a secret vlog or a deleted scene or a chapter from another character’s POV. That sort of thing.

Parker: So I will get one of these cards, when?

PJ: I’ll mail you some! Teens are totally savvy about these things. I handed out cards last Saturday at an event and had hits on my hidden links before I got home.

Parker: Wow. So your marketing will target teens, not gatekeepers like booksellers, librarians and teachers.

PJ: Librarians are definitely in the mix because you can loan out e-books.

Parker: How will sales of your e-book affect future sales of other projects to publishers?

PJ: I think with as much as the market is changing, my options are wide open. I also think, for my career, marketing is very important. I don’t think it’s enough for an author to e-publish a book and put it on Amazon and expect it to just take off. I really think author marketing is huge. HUGE.

Parker: Did author marketing work well for your EMERALD TABLET books [which were published by a small press, CBAY Books]? Is there a difference here?

PJ: There are a few differences. First, those books were middle grade. MG readers are not online, so online marketing is very hard. So much depends on librarians and bookstores. Also, the CBAY books are hardcover and priced at $16.95. Some parents are reluctant to spend that on a book for their kid. SOLSTICE is priced at $2.99. So now I have a book aimed at teen readers who are online and moms who are online. And it is less expensive than a cup of coffee.

Parker: Are you going to aim any marketing specifically at older women?

PJ: Yes, I would like to. It has enough romance in it that I think older readers will enjoy it, too. There are lots of blogs for teens that readers of YA love, and then there are writers, and romance blogs.

Parker: What’s your next project?

PJ: Well, I do plan to write a sequel to SOLSTICE, and I’m also working on another standalone YA but I’m not going to talk too much about it except to say that it’s the first thing I’ve written without mythology in it.

Parker: I ask because with Hocking and others it seems like the strategy is to get as many e-books out there at one time as possible to up visibility and keep the hype going. That’s not your strategy?

PJ: I would love to be able to write that fast, but I can’t. :) I do see the genius behind doing that, though. I may work on some short stories in the same world.

Parker: What if a publisher sweeps in and wants to publish the sequel(s)? Would you do that or stick with e-books? Is getting a contract with a “Big 6″ publisher your end goal?

PJ: For SOLSTICE?

Parker: For any book at all.

PJ: I certainly wouldn’t say I’m sticking with e-books forever and never traditionally publishing, but I’m not in the mindset that I have to be at a traditional publisher either. I think so much is changing that even in a year, it will look different.

Parker: So SOLSTICE is not a stepping stone?

PJ: No! It’s just an awesome way to get the book in the hands of readers.

Parker: Before the mythology/dystopia trend dies.

PJ: I think with dystopia we see so much of the same type of thing–the government is bad or the world is destroyed. But what I love about SOLSTICE is that it is a totally new take on the subject.

Parker: I happen to know what that take is and it is pretty cool :)

PJ: Thanks!

SOLSTICE is available now on Amazon and Smashwords, and will be available soon on Barnes&Noble.com.

Parker Peevyhouse

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Interview: P. J. Hoover Talks About E-Publishing SOLSTICE

With the explosion of chatter online about authors who make their careers by self-publishing e-books, I was eager to talk with former Spectacle contributor P. J. Hoover about her new YA novel SOLSTICE, which has just been e-published with the help of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. This is a new model for literary agencies who are interested in finding a place in the e-publishing process, and P. J. explains here how that partnership worked in her case.

SOLSTICE is set in a future plauged by a Global Heating Crisis and is about a young woman who becomes entangled in a love triangle of Greek mythic proportions. It’s available now on Amazon and Smashwords, and will be available soon on Barnes&Noble.com.

Parker Peevyhouse:  It’s been a while since we’ve seen you here! Looks like a lot has been happening since then. Let’s hear about why you chose to self-publish. Why this book?

P. J. Hoover: This book is really timely for right now. It’s a mythology-based dystopian novel, and right now both of those elements are hot. I think the tipping point was really looking at the market and seeing the books that were coming out and knowing that even if we did sell to a traditional press it could take over a year to come out. Like even into 2013.

Parker: Which means you might miss the trend for dystopian or mythology-based novels.

PJ: And also, given how exciting all the e-book news is these days, it seemed like a really fun thing to do.

Parker: Had you previously submitted the manuscript to publishers?

PJ: My agent [Laura Rennert] and I had subbed a very different version earlier (about a year ago) with minimal dystopian elements. We got close to selling but never found the right fit.

Parker: How did you talk to your agent about self-pubbing?

PJ: I didn’t. I had a phone call scheduled with her to talk about what our submission strategy would be. We talked about that a bit and then she said, “Well, there is another option.” And she suggested the self-publishing route.

Parker: Was this before or after Amanda Hocking’s success with self-publishing?

PJ: This was two months ago–so after her news went viral.

Parker: Had the agency ever suggested self-publishing to their other authors or was this a new view they were taking?

PJ: I’m not sure if they had suggested this to any of their other clients or not. But once I decided I wanted to go the indie pub route, they took the ball and ran with it. We did another round of edits. And then a copy edit, and two proofreading edits.

Parker: Is that more editing than an e-book usually gets? I guess it probably varies.

PJ: We did many rounds back and forth. My agent and her reader are some of the most gifted people I can imagine when it comes to editing.

Parker: Were you always cool with the suggestions?

PJ: There are definitely some things I stood against changing. For example, the character of Piper’s mom–I really had an idea of how I wanted her to be, and though it was mentioned a few times, I didn’t change her (too much). I think in some ways, they imagined a happier world in the world of gods, and I viewed the world of gods as a bit of a cruel and deceitful one.

Parker: The agency did a lot more than editing, though, right?

PJ: They chose the cover picture and found a cover designer. (The POD book should come out a while after the e-book.) So, the agency arranged for cover design and layout and editing, and they are getting their regular 15% of royalties.

Parker: Did you get to approve the cover? How much say did you have? You like to think e-pubbing gives you more control…

PJ: They sent me the cover photo, which I loved, and then they sent me the actual cover and really, it was so gorgeous, I never would have even thought to say anything should change. I was in love with it the second I saw it.

Parker: That worked out well!

PJ: It really did.

Parker: It is a really great cover!

PJ: Thanks!

On Tuesday, I’ll talk with P. J. about marketing and more…

Parker Peevyhouse

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Parker Peevyhouse Chats With Joni Sensel

We continue our interview series today with Parker Peevyhouse and Joni Sensel, who met up online to chat about books, the internet, and e-publishing.

Parker Peevyhouse: So, I’m anxious to hear how you’re going to tackle the next book in your Farwalker series. How are you going to prepare it for e-pubbing?

Joni Sensel: I talked to an editor who knows my work, and she’s going to edit the third book at a rate I couldn’t refuse. That will happen in another couple of months, so I hope to put out a POD and ebook around September or so… assuming the revisions don’t take longer.

Parker: What about the cover?

Joni: I have an illustrator friend, Kirsten Carlson, who created the telling dart for my bookmarks and website. She’s going to do the cover.

Parker: That dart is pretty cool. I love how it starts off the adventure. Very intriguing.

Joni: I’m really just doing it to have something for those who ask. And for psychological closure. :) I think it’s important for writers to find the rewards where we can.

Parker: I think that last reason is more important than people would guess.

Joni: I’m also working hard on a YA sci-fi thriller. I hope it’s thrilling, anyway. What are you working on now?

Parker: I’m between projects, really. And writing some short stories I hope to turn into a collection.

Joni: That might be an interesting e-project — worth experimenting with, anyway.

Parker: You know, P. J. Hoover is e-publishing a YA called SOLSTICE. It’s dystopian with mythological elements. Her agency is helping–they helped her get an awesome cover.

Joni: YES! I heard. I’m dying to know the story there–

Parker: I’m going to interview her in a couple of weeks for the blog, so you will soon have that story.

Joni: Cool. It seems to me that blogs and so forth have built up the writing community and a lot of support for each other even in just the last couple of years.

Parker: Yeah, I would say it has built up support, but has it “made” writers’ careers? I mean, with Amanda Hocking, it’s clearly a case of the Internet making her career. She would not be published or rich without it. But it’s hard to say if it will now be the norm for writers to find fame solely through online marketing.

Joni: Do you have any insights or conclusions about our Spectacle blog experience?

Parker: The blogging is fun, and I like chatting with commenters. I don’t know that it did a lot to increase book sales for our bloggers. So the real value is getting to talk about stuff we like to talk about! And meeting new people online.

Joni: Our readers have been very loyal. But I’ve seen several not-very-scientific studies that suggest the same thing–blogging and social networking are fun but probably don’t sell books.

Parker: If you’re already selling, then it helps, I guess.

Joni: Yeah, it troubles me a little that when it seems to work, maybe it’s not the books that sell, it’s the author’s personality. That only works if you’re funny!

Parker: I posted about that once on the Spec. I don’t really want to sell myself, charming as I am :) I just want to sell my stories.

Joni: I don’t think anyone would buy me, ha! :)

Parker: I’d throw in a few dollars for you…

Joni: We like to think a good story will do it in the end… I’m not convinced. But I don’t want to be pessimistic, either!

Parker: That question haunts me. Does a good book ALWAYS sell? USUALLY sell? Depends on LUCK?

Joni: Do good books ever languish? Undoubtedly, I think.

Parker: But why? Why doesn’t word of mouth always work? I read an article in WIRED magazine [Jan 2010] that said people are more likely to like what’s popular, even if it’s not to their taste.
Maybe part of the problem is that great books sell, and popular books sell, but books that are just pretty decent have a harder time than they should?

Have you read any SF YA lately that you love?

Joni: Oh, I’m always so far behind. I just finished MOCKINGJAY, which I liked with some reservations, and am reading THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO and enjoying it… what are you reading?

Parker: I’m reading NEUROMANCER, if you can believe it. From the ‘80s.

Joni: Classic!

Parker: I tried reading it when I was much younger and couldn’t understand a word of it.

Joni: I’m waiting for when we can just put a book drip IV on at night, or a download… and know the story when we wake up! Then we could read so much more…

Parker: That would be my dream come true.

Joni: I think that’s a good place to end — looking forward to that utopian day!

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