Posts Tagged ‘young adult’


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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I recently became acquainted with Gryffyn Phoenix through a mutual friend. As Gryffyn and I began to correspond, I knew this was someone I was going to be fast friends with. I’ve seen the work Gryffyn has done in various artistic fields, and I’m thoroughly impressed by her. It almost seems unfair that one person should possess so many talents! So… it’s my honor and privilege to be able to interview her here. Gryffyn is not only a great writer, but a fascinating and kind person. She is generous, open, and fun, and I look forward to getting to know her more and more. Her latest novel, Seat of God is the first of the Ethiopian Chronicles, and is available now. Visit Gryffyn at: http://www.gryffynphoenix.com

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Q: What would you say is the highlight of your career as a writer?
A: So far? First time I read an email from a major New York publisher which said, “Here’s a contract, we’d like to put out your book.” But in all honesty … whenever anyone says they like your writing goes up on the list, I’m not exactly picky.
Q: When did you start writing?
A: Does birth qualify? I was eleven when a friend complained she was bored. I suggested she “watch one of the stories in her head.” She informed me there was no such thing. I didn’t realize before then not everyone has a movie constantly playing in their mind. This was when I figured out I should probably be a writer.
Q: What childhood events have contributed most to your writing, if any.
A: I don’t know many writers who didn’t have dysfunctional childhoods. Complex imaginations are built because they’re an easy escape. Let’s just say mine is Technicolor with multiple worlds.
Q: What inspired Seat of God?
A: It started as all my books do, a movie inside my head. The real man Father Josephus is based on influenced the story, but it was definitely first a dream. After I finished, a friend told me “I wrote a love song to Ethiopia.”
Q: Where do your characters come from?
A: Very rarely are they based on real people. All others are my imaginary friends, who occasionally decide to drive me insane unless I get their story on paper.
Q: What are some of your favorite books by other authors?
A: I read around five books a week. This is actually impossible for me to answer.
Q: In your opinion, what is the most important thing an author must do to be successful?
A: Understand this is a business. If you want to be an “artiste”and write mind-blowing, experimental fiction, go ahead. Just don’t quit your day job. If you remember it’s your job to entertain and you are willing to research and learn about the industry, you’ll succeed.
Q: Do you prefer writing for adults, or young adults?
A: Equal. I believe you write the story inside you that needs to be told.
Q: Is it difficult for you to switch between these two genres?
A: Not at all. Different energies and motivation.
Q: What is your favorite part of being a writer?
A: I now get paid to go into my mind and explore those stories. That’s awesome. Second favorite is my commute involves walking down the stairs and across the hall.
Q: What is the most difficult part of being a writer?
A: Editing yourself. Blech. It’s like cutting off your limbs with a rusty, dull knife. Strike that. Cutting off your limbs would be more fun.
Q: Of your own fictional characters, who is your favorite and why?
A: You spend so much time with these people; you really have to love them all. In Seat of God, I love Gabriel. If he was a guy I knew in real life, I’d want to marry him. I adore Jasmine’s fierce determination for her family. Raffe’s sense of humor and patriotism is awesome. And Destiny? Well, Destiny is omnipotent. Who wouldn’t want to know and spend time with the leader of a mid-East crime ring who dresses like a female Egyptian pharaoh?
Even with my bad guys. In my young adult book I have a character named Willow. Any scene with her makes me giggle; she’s just so unabashedly rotten, and proud of it.
Q: What do you most hope your novels will do for your readers?
A: No matter what you believe, with Seat of God the thing to remember is it’s all possible. It doesn’t matter if you are a devout Christian or atheist or anything in between. Everything I write about, even the thing is called “miracle,” is actually scientifically possible.
Q: What is your writing process like?
A: First you move the cat off the laptop, and then you move the other cat off the chair, and then you pet both of them into a coma, and the writing can begin. Then you stop to check email, facebook, pet the cat some more, and go back to the writing.
Q: Do you have a “writing area?” What does this space look like?
A: Depending on the project, I’ve written all over the house.
Q: What is the first sentence of your latest work?
A: From my young adult novel, HAVEN AWAKENING, due out this Spring:
Aria ran into the middle of the junkyard and, horrified, skidded to a stop. It was gone. The gateway had disappeared.
Q: What is the last sentence you wrote?
A: I saved this question for last so I could say … this one. If you mean in my novels, the answer comes from the fifth book in the HAVEN AWAKENING series, “Just because you have a dick, doesn’t mean you have to act like one.”
Q: What advice would you give to beginning writers?
A: Listen to your parents, take those computer/accounting classes and learn something that pays actual money. If you reject that, my best advice is don’t talk about it until you finish a complete manuscript. Nothing makes a writer’s head explode faster than hearing someone say, “Oh, you’re a writer? I want to be a writer. It seems so easy.” Finish putting seventy to one hundred thousand words on a page, put it aside for a month, and then read it. Now tell me it’s easy.

     

     Me and my friends’ Kim (Williams-Justesen) and Joe (Ostler) talked about forming our own critique group for many months before we ever got together and actually did it. The trouble was that the project Kim and I were collaborating on was very high in gore and horror, and I, being the nice guy I am, didn’t feel comfortable corrupting poor Joe by subjecting him to the nastiness and raw morbidity of our story, (little did I realize at the time that Joe has his own unique brand of deviance ~ but hey, I was trying to be nice!) Just kidding, Joe. 😉

So, as Kim and I wrapped up An Evil Heart, we both began new (and far tamer)  projects which we used in our critique group of three. The interesting thing about our group is that I write Horror/Supernatural, Kim writes for Middle Grade and Young Adult, and Joe writes Sci-Fi/High Fantasy, so the contrast of our styles creates a fun dynamic. The three of us were only able to meet twice though. I am leaving the state in two days from now, but we plan to continue the group through Instant Messenger and e-mail, but already, in the short time I have been a participant of a critique group, I have learned a good deal.

A critique group is an assembly of writers who’ve come together for the purpose of gaining insight and feedback from other writers, and no matter how good a writer you may be, there can be no arguing the benefits of being part of one. Critique groups may be as large or small as the group desires. They may be done face to face, over the phone, or online.

The beauty of the critique group is that however polished a writer may be, he or she will undoubtedly overlook some necessary detail at some point in his or her story. The other member’s of the group will hopefully be able to see these snags and help the writer smooth them over. Editors, agents and publishers don’t want raw and sloppy rough drafts. They want polished, revised material that has been read and critiqued, preferably a few times over. A critique group can help a writer be sure that the material he or she sends to an agent or editor is clean, concise, and professional.

     There are however, those groups of writers who do not have their fellows’ best interests at heart. I’ve heard many horror stories about really nasty critique groups whose members were apparently more interested in stroking their own egos than becoming better writers. These kinds of folks undoubtedly run rampant in writing communities worldwide. These kinds of writers aren’t hard to spot and should be avoided at all times. When someone works up the courage to allow his or her work to be viewed by others, I think we need to respect the vulnerability of the writer. That’s not to say that honesty isn’t imperative, it absolutely is, but honesty in and of itself does not need to be cruel. Writer’s are up against enough rejection and damage without having his or her peers standing in line to take turns crushing him or her. Critique groups should be constructive and supportive, and if they aren’t, find a new one. End of story.

Critique groups are as good (or bad) as the members make them, and I am grateful to have a pretty good, albeit very small, group of trusted writers to share my work with. It’s a disconcerting and unfortunately very necessary thing to lay your heart out and ask to be critiqued. To find just a handful of people who I feel comfortable asking feedback from is a wonderful thing.

     The world in general loves to give its opinion and whether you ask for it or not, you are going to get it. The trouble is, you have to be very careful who you listen to. The way I see it, you can divide the world’s population into three groups. The first (and probably largest) group, are those who really just don’t much care whether or not you succeed or fail. The second group is what I call the “cockroaches”. These guys will go out of their way to try to sabotage your success and sense of self-confidence. And the third and final group is the group you need to stick with. These are the folks who want to be better people themselves, and who want to help you become a better person.

So if you are thinking of joining or creating  your own critique group, my advice is to be sure you are among good company because, as important as it is to get feedback from other people, it’s even more important that you don’t give up on writing at the hands of someone who took it upon him or herself to let you know how bad you suck. We all suck or have sucked at some time or another. Totally sucking is the first step of good writing, so if you have to suck, why not suck with the best of them? 🙂

Write on.