Posts Tagged ‘California’


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Nine months ago, something happened that I’d been working very long and hard for: Beautiful Monster got published. It was picked up by Damnation Books, a wonderful publisher in California that I absolutely adore. There was much to be excited about as Monster went through the process of publication, and I didn’t want to waste any time. I immediately started planning my future as a writer. I began revising The White Room, a manuscript I wrote before Beautiful Monster which needed some work before being an acceptable candidate for publication. On top of this, I began an equally exciting top-secret side project—that I can’t really get into at this point—that I’m totally stoked about. Things were going swimmingly—my days and nights absorbed in the fictional worlds of my own creation—until, about three months ago, something else happened: I hit a brick wall. And it wasn’t writer’s block.

This brick wall was far scarier than writer’s block because at least there are things you can do to lubricate a stubborn story. What I faced was something I never expected to: doubt… and not the doubt that I could be a writer—that’s a given—but the doubt that I wanted to be a writer.

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So, I stopped writing—which given my life circumstances at the time—wasn’t all that hard. I was in the middle of moving—again—and I’d met some fascinating writers from the old-school who made me feel like one of them. It was easy to coast for a while, but in truth, I wasn’t coasting at all. I was thinking. I was wondering how, after so many years of dreaming of this, of working toward this, I could possibly feel this way once those dreams were finally coming true. But that’s where I was at, and it wasn’t very fun.

After a while, the people around me started asking questions. They wanted to know why I wasn’t writing. I never told them the truth. I didn’t want to be influenced in any way because I knew this was something I needed to figure out for myself. I was working, just not in any way that was visible. In those months, I produced nothing that would help my career in any way, but I did strip down the layers of who I am, and I did figure a few things out.

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I figured out that the glitter is gone, the shine has dulled, and reality has cast its shadow over the dream. I have a different understanding of what it means to be a writer now—it’s not a better understanding—just a different understanding. I figured out that writing is—in truth—a lot of time spent sitting in front of a computer. It’s picking up the thousands of little pieces of a scattered story and spending hours, days, weeks, and months trying to fit them together in the most cohesive, relatable—and salable—way. It’s sacrificing a lot of time with friends and family. It’s being asked outright in public settings how much money you make. It’s work. It’s a daily decision to sit down and create something that may or may not ever even see the light of day. It’s the choice to devote a lot of time and effort to an entirely unknown outcome. It’s a risk.

I realized that the glamour of being a writer—if there ever was any—doesn’t shine quite as brightly as the world would like to believe. I’ve met my heroes, and they’ve now become my friends—people I talk to on the phone, exchange emails with, and discuss the most tedious details of my life with. This doesn’t make them unglamorous, this simply makes them real. It makes all of this real—and that’s not a bad thing—it’s just a different thing.

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In the beginning, when this was still a dream, I made some conscious choices. I would steer clear of any unattainable expectations. I would not put anyone on a pedestal or hold my heroes to superhuman standards… and in truth, I’m neither disenchanted by the path nor in any way disappointed in anyone I’ve met. But the dream, as it manifests into reality, is grating and unsettling… it feels a little like walking off a ledge. It made me decide I needed to take stock. I needed to step back and look at writing from a realistic perspective. I needed to then ask myself if this was ultimately going to make me very happy. So, that’s what I did… and the past couple weeks have finally brought things into enough focus that I can proceed in what I’m confident is the right direction.

Ultimately, nothing has changed for me except my approach to it. The dream is still intact. Somehow, I still want this, but now I know that only the love of this—and nothing else—is strong enough to withstand the demands and lack of certainty that writing requires. There isn’t enough ego to uphold this—there isn’t enough money to justify it—and there isn’t enough comfort to sustain it. But at the core of who I am, this is what I do—what I’ve always done—and it gets me closer to happiness than anything ever has before. And perhaps the greatest persuasion has been the incredible and unbearable gnawing, gnashing need to write even when I’ve given myself permission to break from it for a while. If nothing else, this has slowly convinced me that my writing days are far from being over. I’ve made some great self-discoveries these past months, but that hasn’t stopped the stories from tumbling in, the characters from blathering on, or the fingers from seeking the keys.

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I now have what I believe is a deeper, more accurate understanding of being a writer. It’s not pretty anymore, but it’s mine, and it’s real. I’ve learned that even when I’m “not” writing, I’m still writing, and so—at the risk of sounding melodramatic—how can I possibly not write? I can’t, but I do have a choice in how I proceed. I can either gather up the scattered pieces of story, glue them all together, and try to make something out of this that matters… or I can return to the days when jotted-down descriptions, disjointed dialogue, and fragmented portions of plot and poetry haunted me from hundreds of loose scraps of paper that invaded and overran any space within ten feet of me.

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For me, that choice is clear. After giving my soul a thorough strip-search, I’m realizing there isn’t really anything else I can do and be happy. The dream may be over now… the real world may have settled in… but there are still stories to be told.

And I’ll do my best to tell them.

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I met QL Pearce through a mutual friend, and have since become a great fan of her work. While reading Blood Moon Harbor, a compilation of her short stories, co-authored with Francesca Rusackas, I realized I could learn a lot from her. Since 1985, Q has written over one hundred and twenty five books for children, including eight scary middle grade collections, as well as film tie-in books for the Fox animated film Titan AE and the Universal animated series Land Before Time.

Q is not only a great storyteller and writer, but a good friend. For Christmas I received an unexpected and very sweet card from her, which was very exciting for me. Also, she has–whether she knows it or not–given me some very good pieces of advice. I just feel bad I didn’t get her a Christmas card, too. Next year, Q… I promise.

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Q: You started out as an editor at Lowell House Books in Los Angeles. How has your editorial experience helped and/or hindered your creative writing?

 

A: When I’m working on my first draft I experiment with the plot and characters and I become emotionally invested in everything. I talk to my characters and they often respond in surprising ways.

 

As an editor I learned to read a manuscript objectively and that skill is invaluable when I’m doing the first rewrite. I distance myself emotionally and turn on the inner editor. She’s brutal but effective when it comes to cutting elements I may love but that don’t serve the story.

 

Q: Your series Scary Stories for Sleep-Overs has done very well among middle grade readers. What prompted you to begin these stories?

 

A: I’m Canadian, born to British parents so ghost stories are in my DNA. When I was a child my family lived on an island in Florida’s Tampa Bay. There were about a dozen kids on the island and we were a nation onto ourselves. We hung out and watched TV shows like Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Twilight Zone. We traded old House of Mystery comics, and made up our own ghost stories. My dreams were filled with swamp monsters, haunted houses and aliens. When I started to write, those stories bubbled up and spilled onto the pages. Scary Stories for Sleep-Overs was such a fun series to write. It didn’t hurt that it sold in the millions!

 

Q: Do you have a favorite story among the Scary Stories for Sleep-Overs collection?

 

A: My favorite is Swimming Lessons, the first story in More Scary Stories for Sleep-Overs. It is based on something that really happened on the island when I was a kid. Somebody’s dad had built our group a large raft and anchored it about fifty yards offshore. The water was deep but visibility was only a few feet and I always worried that there was something just below the surface waiting for one of us to stray too far. One day I accepted a dare to swim to the bottom. To prove that I had done it I had to bring up a handful of mud. I took a deep breath and dove in, following the anchor line down. I always swam with my eyes open so, although couldn’t see detail, I saw the darkness below getting closer with each kick of my skinny legs. When the dull, greenish bed came into view I was almost upon it. I reached out to grab some mud and my hand sank in several inches. Nearly out of breath, I closed my fingers, turned and kicked for the surface. I was probably halfway back when I realized I was holding something slimy and very much alive. I screamed, losing the last of my air and taking in a little water. I could see the bright, flickering light above me and swam for all I was worth. Nothing felt so wonderful as breaking the surface and taking in a huge sputtering breath. I didn’t win the bet because I had let go of whatever was in my hand. Swimming Lessons is my story about what lurked in that deep, dark water.

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Q: How does it feel to have scaring the hell out of children as part of your job description?? LOL

 

A: It’s delicious. From the time that I was about nine years old I read all the scary stories I could find. I know that there are still plenty of young readers who, like me, love to be scared and I’m happy to oblige.

 

Q: Where is the most unusual place a new idea has struck you?

 

A: Behind my left ear.

 

Q: You met horror novelist Tamara Thorne at a book signing and have remained good friends with her since. What book signing was it, and what has kept the two of you remaining such good friends?

 

A: We were at a signing at a winery in Rancho Cucamonga, California. We started talking and we haven’t stopped. We share an interest in ghosts, monsters, mythology, books, animals, unusual weather, anything purple, puns, haiku and snarky movies.

 

Q: You’ve also written a lot of non-fiction in recent years. What is your favorite non-fiction topic to write about and why?

 

A: I love to do research so my favorite topic is whatever I’m working on at the moment. I enjoy science and nature topics as well as biographies, but I love writing about the legends and myths of ancient cultures. I get ideas for fiction from everything I learn.

 

Q: You’re currently working on a Celtic mythology series. What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned about Celtic mythology?

 

A: My parents were both from the British Isles so, to a certain extent, while researching this book I learned about my own distant ancestors. As children we’re taught that the Greeks and Romans viewed the Celts as barbarians, so what surprised me most was discovering how advanced the Celtic culture really was. For example, the Celts were competent traders and they built a network of roads across Europe predating the Roman roads. They had a sophisticated justice system, were skilled farmers, and were excellent at crafting metal. They were among the first cultures to use chain mail, iron plows and soap, and they had the guts to wear plaid. The mythology of the insular Celts of Ireland and Wales includes heroic tales that are absolutely outstanding, such as the Táin Bó Cúailnge, or Cattle Raid of Cooley. It’s filled with magic, intrigue, pageantry, and features a hero unlike any other, Cú Chulainn, son of a god and nephew of the king of Ulster.

Q: You’ve written some titles about mysterious disappearances and ghost hunting. What are some interesting things you’ve learned about ghost hunting?

 

A: I’m fascinated by the early days of ghost hunting. One of the first groups formed to investigate ghostly topics was the London’s Ghost Club started around 1862. Over time it included some famous members, such as William Butler Yeats, Charles Dickens, and Arthur Conan Doyle. In 1927, Harry Price, the “father of ghost-hunting” joined. Appropriately, membership in the club was forever. The group split up for a while and reformed in 1882. Another group formed around the same time, the Society for Physical Research. Some members belonged to both organizations.

 

I’ve tried my own hand at ghost hunting. Tamara and I have gone on a few research field trips to hotels and other sites rumored to be haunted.

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Q: Do you believe in ghosts?

 

A: So much of what we believe is based on personal perception and there are differences in how each of us experiences life. The term ghost is a catch-all and there are many definitions, but sure, I remain open-minded about ghosts because I believe in a universe of possibility. I do think that if what we call ghosts exist, they are subject to laws of physics. Still, there is so much we don’t know yet about the world we live in. I just love the books of Michio Kaku because he proposes so many ideas to consider.

 

Q: Where do you think most “monsters” really come from?

 

A: Monsters are the product of culture and they take many forms. There are are living, breathing monsters who walk among us and find satisfaction in harming the vulnerable. Mythological monsters were often created to serve as warnings. For example, Algonquian stories of the Wendigo reinforced the taboo against cannibalism. The myth of the Qalupalik was a frightening story that kept children in the Arctic from playing on hazardous sea ice. A Greek who swore a false oath or killed a parent would be punished by the monstrous Erinyes. In my opinion, cryptids such as Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster are creative fiction or misinterpretation of evidence, but I would love to be proved wrong!

 

Q: Which monster is your favorite and why?

 

A: European dragons!! I have been fascinated with them since I was a little girl. I love the way they are depicted. They can be evil or honorable. They breath fire, fly, have armored scales, underground lairs, and they look great in silhouette on a flag, shield, or t-shirt. I have stone dragons at the base of the downspouts in my garden and little dragons stare down from most of my bookshelves. My favorite is a large dragonhead with flaring wings that hangs over my office desk.

 

Q: You are an active member of SCBWI. What is SCBWI and what do you love most about it?

 

A: The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is an international, non-profit organization that provides opportunities for writers and illustrators to improve their craft, network with their peers, and learn how to market their work. SCBWI is made up of dozens of regions that offer local events that enable people to get together to discuss their work or to hear industry professionals speak. I have been a volunteer with one of the Southern California regions for over a decade. What I love most about it is that through SCBWI events I have met people from around the globe who love children’s literature.

 

Q: Red Bird Sings, your non-fiction picture book with co-author and illustrator Gina Capaldi, has received many honors, such as the Carter G. Woodson Award gold medal, Moonbeam Award gold medal and a Eureka silver medal. How does it feel to know you’ve written something that so many people really care about?

 

A: I feel privileged to have been part of bringing the story of Zitkala Sa to the attention of educators and to tell it in such a way that young readers can learn about her achievements. Zitkala Sa was born as Gertrude Simmons on a Sioux reservation the same year that the battle of the Little Big Horn took place. She endured life in an assimilation school but refused to accept the dismal future that was planned for her. Instead she developed her musical and literary talents to become one of the first Native American writers to achieve worldwide recognition. She used that acclaim to gain attention for her work as an activist for Native American rights. It’s a story of survival and empowerment. The thought that other people feel the same way and have honored us with such awards is amazing.

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Q: What are your plans after the mythology series?

 

A: Gina Capaldi and I have several proposals out for nonfiction picture books, and a fun scary picture book for early elementary. I’m also working on a Young Adult novel. With Francesca Rusackas, I am testing the ebook waters. We have written a collection of short stories under the title of Blood Moon Harbor.

 

Q: You’re a writer and your husband is a scientist. What do you guys talk about?

A: We talk about anything and everything. After many years of marriage I still think that my husband, Bill, is one of the most interesting people I know. He is a physiologist and a professor to his core so he loves learning and enjoys sharing what he’s learned. He’s always curious about my latest research when I’m working on nonfiction.

 

In general we talk about politics, music, cooking and the dogs! There is one topic of conversation where our writing and science meet. We are both fans of science fiction. He likes high tech and I’m drawn to dystopian. My all time favorite is Fahrenheit 451. I’ve decided that if I were a character in the story and had to be a book, I would be another of my favorites, Animal Farm.

 

 

Q: What has been your proudest moment as a writer?

 

A: My favorite moment was when I met a school librarian who told me that my scary story collections had to be replaced often and that the spines always had to be taped because they were read so often. They are all out of print now but that story still makes me smile.

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