A Writer’s Process (10)

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Friends often lead to new friends. I’ve said that before in a post. Here on the blog with me is Martha Moore—author extraordinaire. I met Martha through a friend, Sharon Van Zandt. Martha is the author of Under the Mermaid Angel, Matchit, and Angels on the Roof.

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At the end of the post, I’ll announce a special giveaway. For now, let’s welcome Martha to the blog.

El Space: Welcome, Martha. And now, please share four quick facts about yourself.
Martha: When I was four, I found it exciting that an old tin door pressed into the grass could open a buried room protected from the Texas hot sun. I could follow my grandmother into this damp, chilly underworld and retrieve my favorite treats: watermelon pickles and sweet pickled peaches. When I was five, I met my first children’s author, Edna Walker Chandler, when she talked to my grandmother’s third grade classroom. I could not believe that this ordinary woman wearing a house dress and black shoes, had such stories buried inside her.

p-LighthouseWhen I was ten, I looked out our kitchen window one early morning and saw that during the middle of the night, my father had filled the backyard with boats, old peeling paint kinds of boats, including a wooden houseboat, or what seemed like a small house, to me. My mother cried at my father’s new venture, but my sister and I saw a playground. As a teen, I loved exploring caves dug into the rock at Palo Duro Canyon, a beautiful canyon that magically opens up in the flat stretch of land and sky near Canyon, Texas. Today, I still enjoy the magic of the unexpected. Recently, a giant sunflower miraculously sprung up in the midst of the zucchini plants in my backyard garden.

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El Space: Great stories! So what inspired you to write Under the Mermaid Angel?
Martha: When I was about eleven, the woman next door became my friend. My mother did not like her. She was too flamboyant and wild. Sometimes she drank beer and she stood at the ironing board ironing playing loud music on the radio. I was amazed that she even ironed her panties. She laughed a lot and she was funny. I loved her. Many years later, I began writing stories, or I suppose scenes, with someone like this woman and a thirteen-year-old girl named Jesse. At the same time, I was intrigued by a mystery at the junior high where I taught. The teachers were talking about a young girl who refused to remove her long coat even though it was very hot both inside and outside the school building. I wondered why a girl might find it hard to let go . . . of a coat . . . or perhaps something deeper. That girl became Jesse.

After a time, I realized the stories fit together, but something was not working. Why was Jesse the way she was—somewhat isolated and bereft of imagination? For example, she looked at the moon and saw it as a barren, vacant place. Her older friend, Roxanne, saw it as magic. I could not figure out Jesse’s problem. I heard a writer say to write about your deepest pain, the thing you could never tell anyone. I searched within myself and found a deep buried secret. That became Jesse’s secret, the thing she could never tell anyone. I let my own emotional “fuel” drive the story, the longing, the loss and the final emerging into a world where imagination can remember the past.

El Space: For those of you who are curious, here is the synopsis of Under the Mermaid Angel:

Thirteen-year-old Jesse leads a pretty boring life in just about the most boring place in the universe — otherwise known as Ida, Texas. She cannot forget the death of her baby brother seven years ago, and how she just couldn’t pray for him when he was sick. She never talks about it though, not even to her best friend, which is something she doesn’t have, anyway. But all that changes when Roxanne moves into the trailer next door. Thirty years old, with her fake fur coat, wild red hair, and romantic notions, Roxanne is a revelation to Jesse. Why has she moved to Ida, of all places? Their growing friendship will change Jesse’s life, giving her back a vision of hope beyond the mundane world around her.

Martha, have you noticed a theme in your writing? If so, how does it play out in Under the Mermaid Angel, Matchit, and Angels on the Roof?
Martha: I suppose all of my books have themes of loss, of love and friendship, of starting over. Jesse has the “hidden” loss of her baby brother which is fueled by guilt. Her friend, Roxanne, is kind of a flawed guide, leading Jesse into a better future. Like a female Moses, or a teacher, or parent, or any other kind of leader, it is a future that she, Roxanne, cannot enter herself. In the book Matchit, Matchit, the bad luck boy who got his name from his father’s good luck in a poker game, too has loss. He finds himself living for a time in a junkyard. Even in the junkyards of our lives, we can discover goodness. We may have to go back into a flawed life, but we can enter a future armed with treasures that give us a new start. Shelby, in Angels on the Roof, feels the loss of a father. She is disgusted with what she sees as a loony mother, who is obsessed with the artist Georgia O’Keeffe. It takes a while and a guide in an old woman to help Shelby uncover a truth that reveals her mother’s love.

El Space: What excites you about middle grade fiction?
Martha: I do not have anything wise to say about middle grade fiction. I just like being on that bridge. The middle grade self inside of me feels alive and real. It’s about getting in touch with the deepest roots of ourselves where life feels most raw and painful and at the same time, most hopeful.

El Space: What advice do you have to help fiction writers step up their game?
Martha: A writer once told me to “write what you can write.” I think there is truth in this.

Thanks, Martha, for being my guest! Thanks also to everyone who stopped by to read this interview. I read and loved Under the Mermaid Angel (Laurel-Leaf Books), and I want someone to have a chance to get this book. So, here’s what I’m gonna do: I’m giving away a $15 Amazon gift card to a commenter who must agree to purchase this book. And yes, you must be a follower or a regular commenter of this blog. So, folks, the comment lines are now open.

UPDATE: Since I have two giveaways this week, I will announce both winners on Friday.

Palo Duro Canyon photo from tpwd.state.tx.us. Sunflower from Wikipedia.

A Writer’s Process (9)

And now from the ridiculous (see last post) to the sublime. Today on the blog is the chic and sensational Sandra Nickel, another good friend from VCFA. Get out your magnifying glass and your deerstalker, ’cause we’re talking about mysteries and ghosts. Mwahahahahahaha!!!!

Sandra at Shakespeare & Co

Sandra at Shakespeare and Company in Paris

El Space: Please share a few facts about yourself.
Sandra: I like to think that my writing is the reason my husband fell in love with me. Friends wanted to set us up, but he was living in Moscow, and I was living in New York, so I sent him an email every other day for three months until he was so intrigued, he hopped on a plane to New York so we could meet and have dinner. We did have that dinner, and I have lived a surprisingly European life ever since—two-and-a-half years in Moscow, four years in Paris, and now Switzerland. All because of those notes I wrote. The power of writing. See what it can do?

El Space: Wow! You must have sent some amazing email! Where is your writing taking you now?
Sandra: I’m working on my first middle grade novel, Saving St. Martha’s, a mystery set in a Swiss boarding school. A sort of Nancy Drew meets the first Harry Potter. I just received my critique group’s last comments, so I’m revising.

El Space: Please tell us about it.
Sandra: The heart of the story revolves around two twelve-year-old girls. Lorna is all logic, and Jeannette all mystical ideas, but when their parents ship them off to St. Martha’s to get rid of them, they become best friends; the school, their sanctuary; and Martha, the ghost of the former headmistress, their protector.

But the school is in trouble. Its old abbey is falling apart and the school is in terrible debt. A prized painting—the last gift from the school’s patroness—was never found. And worse, the girls discover that the hard-hearted Corbett Rast and his bank are going to take the abbey and shut down the school unless St. Martha’s comes up with $1,000,000 in 10 days. The girls and Martha vow to find the long-lost painting. But Corbett Rast wants it too . . . and will stop at nothing to get his hands on it.

Martha, the ghost, is quite snarky, so the story is fun—part mystery/part boarding school story, and a lot about friendship. The great news is that Saving St. Martha‘s has had a nice reception so far. It was named as a finalist for the Katherine Paterson Prize and Hunger Mountain selected the first two chapters to be published in its upcoming “Mentors & Tormentors” issue.

El Space: That’s awesome! What inspired you to write Saving St. Martha’s?
Sandra: A couple of things, really. First came the setting. My daughter used to go to school in this truly amazing place—a Swiss chalet that had been built for the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris and then taken apart and rebuilt piece by piece on a hill above Lake Geneva. The chalet is all dark wood and tall, sloping roofs, and inside there is this gorgeous staircase worn smooth and glossy from all the girls that have run up and down it. The moment I saw that chalet, I wished I had gone to school there and knew it would be the perfect setting for a middle grade story.

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Sandra and her daughter at the chalet that inspired Saving St. Martha’s

At this same time, my daughter and her best friend were so taken with mysteries and hidden treasures, they formed their own two-member club, a sort of private detective agency that solved the small and large mysteries around them. I put the school together with their private detective firm, a hidden treasure, a mystery, and came up with Saving St. Martha’s.

El Space: What drew you to write for the middle grade audience?
Sandra: Well . . . I wasn’t drawn to write middle grade. Not really. That whole story of what inspired me to write Saving St. Martha’s was a someday, down-the-road sort of inspiration. A long, long way down the road. I could imagine writing for young adults—and I did—and I could imagine trying my hand at picture books—and I did. But middle grade? There was something eminently frightening about it. My own middle grade years hadn’t been wildly happy, and I had clouded over my memories to the point of remembering very little. How was I to write for an audience living out the years I felt least connected to?

But then, I was accepted into the MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts and someone—I don’t remember exactly who—tossed down the gauntlet of: “Why don’t you try writing a middle grade?” So, I did, mostly because I like to pretend I’m not scared of anything, other than heights and mice. I went through hypnosis to reconnect to my middle grade years. I hung out with middle grade kids. I read any and every middle grade book recommended to me. I wrote. And what fun it all has been!

El Space: Sounds like you were well prepared. What was the most challenging aspect of writing a mystery?
Sandra: In a way, mysteries are easier to write than other stories, because the broad arc of the story is already there. You set up the mystery, and then the mystery must be solved. Easy, right? The problem is that the small arcs that make up that broader arc can be tricky. New mystery writers—and this was certainly true for me—often believe they must hide the hints and clues and truth from the reader. But the opposite is true.

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Mystery writers must reveal every detail for the reader, but then use sleight of hand, distraction, or an unreliable character to make the truth difficult to discern. This is the tricky part, where mystery writers strive to hit the sweet spot of revealing enough, yet not too much. For this, having a critique group or beta readers is essential, since they are coming to the story for the first time. You want them intrigued, but not confused; you want them to have just enough information to keep reading, but not so much that they put down the book because they’ve already figured it all out.

El Space: What authors inspired you when you were growing up? Which inspire you now?
Sandra: There were so very many who inspired me. I was a big reader! But since we have been talking about middle grade, let me say: E. L. Konigsburg, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Roald Dahl, Louise Fitzhugh, Norton Juster, Madeleine L’Engle, and C.S. Lewis. As for now, this blog isn’t long enough to name them all. But I guess I can say: Ditto for all the above, and add a few of my “new” discoveries: Kate DiCamillo, Katherine Paterson, Louis Sachar, David Almond, and Grace Lin.

Some Middle Grade Books That Have Inspired Me

Books that inspire Sandra

El Space: Do you stick to one project or work on more than one? What tools are helpful?
Sandra: I’m an immersion writer. I absolutely love submersing myself completely in one story-world at a time. That’s not always practical, however. Right now, in addition to Saving St. Martha’s, I’m working on a young adult Gothic ghost story and a storyteller’s poem about a female Paul Revere. When I need to quickly switch from one story to another, the best tool I have found is to freewrite my way into a character’s world. I start by having the character dress herself, noting every detail from the scratch of her wool skirt, to the cut of her socks’ elastic into her calves, then move onto other details like the woody-lead smell of her pencil and the squeal of a violin in the room next door. Five minutes of these kinds of specifics are enough. The wormhole is created, and just like that, I’m pulled from one story-world into the other and am ready to write.

Sorry, that about wraps it up! Thanks, Sandra, for being such a great guest!

If you have questions for Sandra about her book or her process, please comment below.

Magnifying glass from trenchesofdiscovery.blogspot.com.

Write from the Heart

crossroadEver find yourself at a crossroads? Sure you have. I didn’t have to ask. (Silly me.) But I don’t mean the literal fork in the road you reach by car, bike, or on foot. I mean the point where life could go in one direction or another.

I’m at a crossroads now as I contemplate my writing thus far and current publishing trends.

twilight-coverBack when the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer had become the in thing and I’d heard that agents and editors searched for books of that ilk, I decided to jump on the bandwagon and write a young adult vampire novel. After all, I’d read several. I could do this, right? Well, after four dismal pages and no discernible plot—just a scene in which the characters sat on a couch watching a horror movie for some reason—I called it quits. My heart simply wasn’t it in.

200px-Hunger_gamesAnd when Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy hit the bestseller lists, I considered revamping my stalled science fiction novel into a dystopian novel. Sure, my plot was full of holes and my system of government threadbare, but I just needed to work harder at ironing out the kinks. Or so I thought. I lasted until page 107 before putting it aside. Couldn’t make the plot work. Again, my heart wasn’t in it.

So where is my heart? Where it always has been: tucked away in a fantasy land sprinkled with magic and populated by elves, dragons, and quirky humans. I love a fantasy world steeped in mythology and dripping with tropes. I have six fantasy novels in various states: two complete; four others in the works.

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Yet when I hear that more and more humorous, contemporary middle grade books (which I enjoy) are being acquired at publishing houses, I have to ask myself: Write to the trend or not?

There are all sorts of practical reasons for doing so—lucrative ones. Yet as I consider ideas for crafting a humorous, middle grade story, the only ideas that come to mind are those that will mean yet more high fantasy novels.

Must I abandon my elves to go trendy?

9781582970523_p0_v1_s260x420A quote from a craft book by Nancy Lamb helped me gain perspective:

Produce the best story you can. Write it, craft it, rewrite it, hone it, edit it and love it. (25)

“Love it.” That’s the key. Do I love the world I developed and the characters that populate it? Yes. Am I producing the best stories I can? I think so. And judging by the abandoned novels versus the finished novels on my computer, getting to the finish line on a novel is not as much of a hurdle when I’m writing from the heart.

So, I think I’ll keep going in the direction that I’m already going. An enchanted forest waits up ahead.

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Do you write to trends? I’d love to hear about that. Are you also at a crossroads? What brought you to this point? Where does your heart lie?

Lamb, Nancy. The Writer’s Guide to Crafting Stories for Children. Cincinnati, OH: Writer’s Digest Books, 2001. Print.

Images from amersrour.blog.com, sodahead.com, and freewallpapers4desktop.com.

Check This Out: Magic Marks the Spot (b)

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Arr, mateys! Caroline Carlson, Scourge o’ the Seven Seas, is back to answer more of me questions. Strap on yer cutlasses or hoist yerselves a tankard o’ grog and give a listen. Mind the parrot!

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Bear this in mind: This be part 2 of our chat about Caroline’s book, Magic Marks the Spot, book 1 of The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates trilogy. Ye can find part 1 here if ye missed it.

Magic Marks the Spot sails into port on September 10.

Later, I’ll announce the treasure that awaits one o’ ye. . . . Avast! I see ye trying to skip ahead. Heave to there! Wait for it or walk the plank!

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El Space: Why’d ye choose to write about scallywags like pirates?
Caroline: I have always loved pirates—and I should mention here that I’m referring specifically to the grog-swilling, treasure-burying, hook-wielding pirates of literary and cinematic tradition rather than real-life pirates, who were (and are) nothing like the pirates of popular culture. I think there’s something about this pop culture idea of piracy that’s very appealing, especially to kids—setting out in search of adventure and fortune, ignoring society’s rules, and never having to do your homework.

El Space: A fine life, if ye ask me! (Uh, but kids, stay in school.)
Caroline: I’d wanted to write a story about a pirate treasure hunt for ages, and when I visited the medieval Swedish city of Visby, which was once a pirate stronghold, I knew I’d found the perfect setting for my story. Gunpowder Island, the pirate stronghold in Magic Marks the Spot, is loosely modeled on Visby, though it’s really become its own place at this point.

It didn’t take long after that for me to decide that the heroine of this story should be a girl who dreams of being a pirate. Since characters can’t always get what they want, however, I had to come up with a way to keep my pirate girl from achieving her dream. I decided to give her the opposite of what she longed for: a stint at a terribly proper finishing school.

El Space: Yer a clever one and no mistake. How did ye come up with a talking gargoyle?
Caroline: He made his first appearance in my life during my senior year of high school, when he was a minor character in a story I was writing. The story wasn’t all that memorable, but the gargoyle was—he liked to read romantic tales of adventure on the high seas, and he stayed in the back of my mind for years.

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A gargoyle in Visby, Sweden. Photo from Wikipedia.

When I started writing Magic Marks the Spot, I realized that I needed someone for my protagonist, Hilary, to talk to in the first chapter as she prepared to go to finishing school. Who would be a better conversation partner than the gargoyle? So I put him over Hilary’s bedroom door and let them chat. Originally, I thought the gargoyle would stay behind and Hilary would recount her adventures to him at the end of the book, but by the time I’d finished writing that first chapter, I’d fallen utterly in love with the gargoyle. I couldn’t bear to stop writing about him! So he went off in Hilary’s luggage, and now he’s in nearly every scene in the book.

El Space: Arr! Glad I am that he is! Since yer character came into yer life when ye were a teen, what advice would ye offer a young writer?
Caroline: Everyone tells young writers to read as much as they can, and that’s great advice, so I’ll say that too. Read! And write as often as you can—school assignments, journal entries, letters, emails, blog posts—but don’t get discouraged if you can’t sit down and write out an entire story just yet. The important thing is to practice.

My biggest piece of advice, though, is to learn as much as you can about everything else in the world that’s interesting to you and that has nothing to do with being a writer. Find out about what’s going on in your town, in your country, and in the rest of the world. Learn a little bit about astronomy, archaeology, animals, architecture, archery, or anything else that’s interesting to you. Visit new places if you can, or take some time to explore your own neighborhood. Learn to play a sport or cook something delicious. All of the new things you learn will be your story fuel. They’ll get jumbled together in your brain, and months or years later, they’ll turn into a great idea for a book.

Sage words! A fine time I’ve had jawing with ye, Caroline! Yer welcome aboard the blog anytime!

For those of ye who signed on to this voyage, if ye haven’t clicked on the links below to preorder Caroline’s book, ye can do so now. And no, ye won’t be made to walk the plank if ye don’t!

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Powell’s Books
Anderson Bookshop

SPECIAL GIVEAWAY: One of you who comments below will win a $15 gift card (ecard) to Amazon so that you can preorder Caroline’s book. Ye read that right!!! A $15 ecard!

Just comment and ye’ll be entered in the drawing! Of course, this be the honor system, so I won’t be looking over yer shoulder nor can I make ye walk the plank if ye sneak and order something else. But this card is for a preorder of Magic Marks the Spot. The winner will be announced on Sunday. Winners of previous giveaways are not eligible for this drawing. Gives others a chance, ye understand?

Thanks for sailing with us!
Please note: This offer is for today ONLY.

parrotAuthor photo by Amy Rose Capetta. Pirate images from ewallpapers.eu. Parrot from animalinformations.blogspot.com.

Check This Out: Magic Marks the Spot (a)

Ahoy there! Here we be with the great Caroline Carlson, whose book Magic Marks the Spot—the first of a trilogy, mind ye—sails into stores September 10, thanks to the good folks at HarperCollins Children’s Books. Caroline is represented by Sarah Davies at the Greenhouse Literary Agency.

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She’s here today and tomorrow, mateys! And tomorrow, we have a special giveaway, so be sure and stop over. And no, I didn’t have to resort to pressganging. Caroline is here of her own free will!

I see that hand there. Aye, ye guessed it. I know Caroline from VCFA. Here be a synopsis of Magic Marks the Spot:

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Pirates! Magic! Treasure! A gargoyle? Caroline Carlson’s hilarious tween novel The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates #1: Magic Marks the Spot is perfect for fans of Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events and Trenton Lee Stewart’s Mysterious Benedict Society.

Hilary Westfield has always dreamed of being a pirate. She can tread water for thirty-seven minutes. She can tie a knot faster than a fleet of sailors, and she already owns a rather pointy sword.

There’s only one problem: The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates refuses to let any girl join their ranks of scourges and scallywags.

But Hilary is not the kind of girl to take no for answer. To escape a life of petticoats and politeness at her stuffy finishing school, Hilary sets out in search of her own seaworthy adventure, where she gets swept up in a madcap quest involving a map without an X, a magical treasure that likely doesn’t exist, a talking gargoyle, a crew of misfit scallywags, and the most treacherous—and unexpected—villain on the High Seas.

Written with uproarious wit and an inviting storyteller tone, the first book in Caroline Carlson’s quirky seafaring series is a piratical tale like no other.

pirate-cutlass-sword-721415El Space: Let’s start with four quick facts about yerself, lass.
Caroline: 1) I’ve worked as a library assistant, as a textbook editor, and now as a writer. 2) When I’m feeling stressed, I watch old episodes of Friends. 3) I am not sure there’s a point to a life without cheese. 4) I love swimming, baking, and being outdoors; I hate running, going to the dentist, and talking on the phone.

El Space: Arr, a fine list there. Plotter or pantser—which be ye? How’d ye make this discovery?
Caroline: I’m mostly a plotter. Before I start writing a new story, I need to know how the first twenty pages will go and what the climax of the story will be. I also usually have ideas for a few scenes that will take place somewhere along the way, though I don’t necessarily know how my characters will get from the beginning of the book to the end. Sometimes I’ll make an outline, but that only happens when I’m at least halfway through writing a first draft. I’m a fairly slow writer, so I try to make my basic story structure as solid as possible right from the start. Then, if all goes well, I won’t have to make huge structural revisions later on. But that’s a very big if.

Book two in The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates trilogy is sort of a mystery, so it required a lot of elaborate plotting. I had to know where the heroes and villains were at all times, what they were up to, and how long it would take them to travel from one place to the next. I discovered, though, that plotting a story to that extent can squelch some of the great spontaneous moments that come when you sit down in front of a blank page with no idea about what happens next. For the third book in the series, I’m planning to dive in without knowing too much about what my characters are in for. It’ll be scary, but I’m pretty sure it’ll also be fun.

El Space: How much is Hilary like ye? Different from ye?
Caroline: Hilary and I aren’t much alike, at least superficially. She’s brave and tough, and I am a total wimp. Hilary hates dressing up and learning to dance at finishing school, but I love dancing, and I’m more than happy to wear a fluffy, fancy gown now and then. I’m also pleased to report that my parents are much nicer than Hilary’s parents are.

What Hilary and I have in common is that both of us are passionate about following our dreams, and we won’t let anyone stop us from doing what we love. It turns out that being a pirate and being a writer both require a lot of determination and sheer willpower. We’re also both fiercely loyal to the people we love. Thankfully, I have never needed to use a cutlass to defend my friends, but I absolutely would if the occasion arose. And both of us can tread water for at least thirty-seven minutes.

El Space: Treading water is a fine trait for a pirate. Useful for when ye have to walk the plank. Now, what was yer favorite book growing up?
210329Caroline: This is a question that’s nearly impossible to answer! I loved stories about magic, mystery stories, and anything funny. Coincidentally, those are the same types of books I love now. Some of my all-time favorite children’s books are The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper, The Ordinary Princess by M. M. Kaye, I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, the Anastasia series by Lois Lowry, and pretty much everything by Edward Eager, Madeleine L’Engle, and Diana Wynne Jones.

Alas, that be all the time we have today. Stow yer grumbling! Caroline’ll be back tomorrow. Tune in then for the special giveaway. In the meantime, ye can comment below or click on the links below to preorder Caroline’s book. Be sure to check out Caroline’s website here. Ye can also hail her on Twitter.

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Powell’s Books
Anderson Bookshop

Author photo by Amy Rose Capetta. Amy Rose’s book, Entangled, debuts October 1, 2013. Watch for it! Book covers from Goodreads.com. Pirate sword from mrcostumes.com.

A Writer’s Process (3a)

Greetings! Jonesing for books about time travel? (I sure am.) With me on the blog today is another friend from VCFA who has written a book about—you guessed it—time travel. (Huzzah!) Put your hands together for the erudite and elegant Nicole Valentine!

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El Space: Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
Nicole: I’m a writer and techno geek with a deep and abiding love for all things literary. My day job has always been in technology. I’ve been the Chief Technology Officer to Internet startups since the mid-1990s. My first job leading a tech team was at CNN where my official title was Webmistress. Yes, my business card actually had that printed under my name. It was a great icebreaker at parties.

El Space: I’ll bet!
Nicole: Many who follow me on Twitter (@nicoleva) know me for my work at Figment.com, a community for lovers of YA fiction to meet and share their own writing. This was, by far, one of my favorite online communities I’ve had the pleasure of creating. All good things must come to an end though. I have since taken a much needed break to concentrate on my writing. I needed to give some time to the insistent voices in my head.

Most of my work is middle grade. I do have one YA novel waiting patiently on my desktop, and a short story for adults published in the Oermead Press anthology, Chester County Fiction. In 2012, I earned my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from VCFA. This makes me a Secret Gardener.

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El Space: Holla!
Nicole: I live with my caring husband, brilliant daughter, and two maniacal cats just outside of Philadelphia.

El Space: Cool! I’d love to stop by there at some point! But for now, I’m dying to hear a synopsis of your WiP.
Nicole: The Idle Tree is the story of Finn, who is about to turn thirteen in his sleepy Vermont town. It’s the kind of town where everyone knows everyone else’s business. Everybody knows Finn’s twin sister drowned when they were only three, and that his mother abandoned him and his father four months ago. It turns out they don’t know everything.

Finn’s Gran, right before she dies, reveals the family secret to him. All the women in his family are born with the ability to time travel. His mother had been battling The Others, a shadowy group intent on changing the timeline, when she disappeared. She didn’t abandon him. She was taken. Now, he must find a way to save her, even though boys can’t time travel. If only his sister were the one who had lived. It would all be so much easier, but no, it’s up to Finn and his best friend, Holly. They have to put together answers from what his mom left behind. He’ll need to find out who is leading The Others in order to save his mother and the world as we know it.

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El Space: That description gave me serious chills. I love a good time travel story. Are you a pantser or a plotter? Please walk me through your process.
Nicole: I was just reading the Donald Maass book on craft, The Breakout Novelist, which had a bit on the whole pantser vs. plotter thing. My first thought when reading it, was that the term pantser makes me uncomfortable. I immediately think of pulling a mean prank on someone in front of the entire cafeteria. I would say I probably begin most projects as a pantser, but would like to call it something more benign.

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My novels begin as characters and scenes written in notebooks. After awhile of doing this, they begin to form full narratives. The next thing I do is start the outlining, which I suppose isn’t very pantser-like at all. I’m a bit of both really. This particular novel has required a ton of plotting. You can’t write time travel without a lot of charts and timelines. Well, maybe some people can. I need charts.

El Space: I admire you for taking on the challenge. How has your process evolved as a writer? What tools have been helpful?
Nicole: My process has changed a lot over the last few years. I think an MFA will do that to you. Before the program, I found myself holding back my best ideas, thinking they needed to be delivered in some big reveal later on in the work. I’ve realized that a novel is made up of a constant reveal of brilliant ideas, and you should never hoard them. New ones will always keep coming along. Trust your inner genius.

The single best tool out there is Scrivener. I’ve been working with it for over three years now, and it’s truly indispensable to my process. I take my scenes from my journals, type them in, and begin to play around with them. I mold them, look at them in different ways, and move them around. Having different ways to view your novel is key for me. When I switch to corkboard mode, I inevitably think of something new. I also love having a repository for all my research in the same file. I keep images that inspire me, information on my setting, time periods, etc.

If I find myself stuck on a scene, I’ll leave Scrivener and open up OmmWriter. It has a zen feel that usually zaps me out of any writer’s block. I’ll write one or two scenes in it, and then copy and paste back into Scrivener.

Finally, if you’re a café writer like me, go to simplynoise.com to drown out the incessant background music and loud talkers. It’s white noise, so it works like a charm.

And judging by the music, that’s all we have time for today. But Nicole will be back tomorrow to chat, so please stop by. If you have questions for Nicole about her book or her process, please comment below.

Key and clock photos from eastonclass1.bltnorthants.net and cloudcentrics.com respectively.