Monday, September 30, 2013

Author Interview: Christy Dorrity

Today I welcome Christy Dorrity to the blog and interview her about her new release, Awakening. I haven't read her book yet, but I'm intrigued; I love mythology, and her cover is awesome!

I love what she had to say about crappy first drafts (TRUTH, people!), and that she enjoys my good friend Robison Wells' work. Enjoy!

About the Book
. . . because some Celtic stories won’t be contained in myth.

A little magic has always run in sixteen-year-old McKayla McCleery's family—at least that’s what she’s been told. McKayla’s eccentric Aunt Avril travels the world as a psychic for the FBI, and her mother can make amazing delicacies out of the most basic of ingredients. But McKayla doesn't think for a second that the magic is real—it’s just good storytelling. Besides, McKayla doesn’t need magic. She recently moved to beautiful Star Valley, Wyoming, and already she has a best friend, a solo in her upcoming ballet recital—and the gorgeous guy in her physics class keeps looking her way.

When an unexpected fascination with Irish dance leads McKayla to seek instruction from the mute, crippled janitor at her high school, she learns that her family is not the only one with unexplained abilities.

After Aunt Avril comes to Star Valley in pursuit of a supernatural killer, people begin disappearing, and the lives of those McKayla holds most dear are threatened. When the janitor reveals that an ancient curse, known as a geis, has awakened deadly powers that defy explanation, McKayla is forced to come to terms with what is real and what is fantasy.

A thrilling debut novel based in Celtic mythology, Awakening is a gripping young adult fantasy rife with magic, romance, and mystery.

Our Interview
AL: How long have you been writing and how did you get started? (When did the bug bite you?)
CD: Funny, it really was like I got the bug. I was pregnant with my fifth child, five years ago, and all of a sudden, I had this itch inside of me that I couldn't get rid of. I started writing and now, if I go a day without working on writing, I feel unproductive.

AL: Where did the idea for Awakening come from?
CD: My husband bought us tickets to go see Riverdance, an Irish dance show, and I was fascinated by the music and the rhythms. I began taking lessons and soon became enthralled with the Irish culture and mythology as well. When I began seriously writing, it was natural for me to write about something I felt so much passion for.

AL: What research did you have to do for the book? What was the most interesting thing you learned?
CD: Much of the research that I did for Awakening had to do with learning about Celtic mythology. I suppose you could count my Irish dance training as research, and that's the best kind of research, in my opinion. I would have to say that the most interesting thing I learned about is the geis—a complicated curse that I drew on for inspiration in this first novel in the series.

AL: What is your writing style? Are you an outliner or a by-the-seat-of-your-pantser? Somewhere in between?
CD: With Awakening, I wrote by the seat of my pants, and when it came time to edit, my manuscript was a disaster! I have since learned how to structure a story, and I am fully outlining the second book in the series. I'll have to see how it works out.

AL: What is your typical writing schedule like?
CD: I write in the afternoons when my big kids are at school and my preschooler is napping. It is probably my least productive time of day, but it is the only time I have right now.

AL: What is one big thing you've learned through the process of publishing your first novel?
CD: It doesn't matter how crappy my first draft looks—I can go back and fix it.

AL: Why did you choose to self-publish? What was that process like?
CD: I love the flexibility that comes with self-publishing. I can set my own deadlines, and have creative control over my content. The success of my books lie with me, and no one else.

AL: What's been the biggest surprise about the publishing process?
CD: I thought that I would feel somehow different when I released my first novel. That I would feel like I had arrived. But, instead, I'm thinking of the next book and forging ahead. We all know that it's about the journey, and not the destination.

AL: Which authors are your biggest literary influences in the national market?
CD: I love big, sweeping series, such as Twilight and Hunger Games. But I also love small, character-driven stories about every-day people. Tyger Tyger by Kersten Hamilton, and Descendant by Nichole Giles are a few of the books that I've loved recently that have a similar vein as my novel. Other books I've been loving lately are Open Minds by Susan Kay Quinn, Variant by Robison Wells, and The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen.

AL: In the LDS market?
CD: I have to say that I was very much influenced by Jack Weyland's books as a young adult. His books were real to me and helped me learn in a way that wasn't preachy or forced.

AL: Any advice for aspiring authors?
CD: Believe in your book. Write it, put it out there for everyone to see, and be proud of it. If you don't, who will?

About the Author

Christy Dorrity lives in the mountains with her husband, five children, and a cocker spaniel. She grew up on a trout ranch in Star Valley, Wyoming, and is the author of The Geis series for young adults, and The Book Blogger’s Cookbooks. Christy is a champion Irish dancer, and when she’s not reading or writing, she’s probably trying out a new recipe in the kitchen.

Find her on Facebook and Twitter. Get Awakening at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Friday, September 27, 2013

What Stan Lee Taught Me About Writing

I suppose that "What Stan Lee Reminded Me About Writing" would be more accurate . . .

The first weekend of September this year marked a monumental event: the first-ever Comic Con in Salt Lake City. They sold completely out of tickets. The place was so incredibly packed that I understand the fire marshal showed up at one point.

I got to attend on the busiest day, Saturday. Walking the floor as part of a moving river of human beings was stifling at best. (Good thing my claustrophobia didn't kick in; it totally could have.)

I got a front-row seat!
When I freed myself from seeing cool things like the Hulk made out of balloons, a life-size Tardis, Sasquatch, and the most amazing costumes on attendees, I found myself on a relatively free end of the hall. I'll call this celebrity alley.

Along this area, various celebrities, largely famous for roles in science fiction or fantasy television shows and movies, had areas roped off. At the far end of each area were tables and chairs and a giant poster featuring the celebrity's name and several photographs from their most famous roles.

The photos were particularly helpful. I didn't always know the celebrities' names, but you can be sure I know who Q is. Times were listed during which fans could line up to meet them and get photos and/or autographs (each of which cost a pretty penny) (I didn't get one).

Among those I walked past: The aforementioned Q (John de Lancie), Henry Winkler (cool to see the Fonz, although I'm not entirely sure what he was doing at a SF/F con), and Kevin Sorbo (known as TV's Hercules). I'm kicking myself for not writing down all the names, because there were many more. Cool stuff.

(Note: Q is getting old. I suppose time didn't stop for him in 1994, which means it didn't for me, either. Ahem.)

The highlights for me, though, were getting up-close seats to hear from William Shatner and then Stan Lee. Shatner was fun to listen to, but it was Stan Lee I'll always remember.

He came onto the stage looking small and old, which I suppose he is. He had the signature glasses he always wears. I don't think he stopped smiling or laughing the entire time. He cracked a lot of down-to-earth, funny jokes, some at his own expense, and I immediately liked him. He didn't have the air of a celebrity gracing his fans with his presence.

Fans stood in two lines, one flanking each side of the stage, to ask him questions. A lot of them were things you'd expect: Who is your favorite Marvel superhero? Who is your favorite Marvel female character? If you were to actually admit to liking DC Comics, which of their superheroes is your favorite? Which was your favorite cameo in a Marvel movie?

Because I'm a writer, two of the questions jumped out at me.

The first was asked a few times in various ways, and it always got the same answer: If superheroes X and Y fought, who would win?

Stan's response each time: "Depends on who's writing it."

His answer brought me back to a League of Utah Writers conference I attended probably 15ish years ago, where Orson Scott Card was the keynote and taught a couple of classes. In one of his workshops, he led the attendees through an exercise during which we created an entire world and plot within 50 minutes.

He noted that in the past, he'd make sure that everyone agreed in advance not to use the story generated by the workshop, but he didn't do that anymore, because he'd realized that every  person in the room could go home and write about what we'd just invented, and there was a good chance that each story would stand totally on its own as original.

That's because, contrary to what some people think about the mystic act of writing, writers get to pull the strings and make things happen. We decide on the character motivations, stakes, personalities, complications, and everything else. Sure, sometimes we discover stuff that changes our original plan, but in a sense, we're still the creators of our fictional universe. Because every writer is different, each writer's work will be different too. It's a beautiful thing, this power we hold.

(But with great power comes great responsibility; right, Stan?)

The other question, or, rather, Stan's answer to it, struck me even harder, and I think I'll remember it forever. A fan asked, "What inspired you to create all of these great characters?"

Stan had a couple of responses. The first was sort of tongue in cheek, just one word: "Greed." Then he chuckled, his shoulders shaking. "Just kidding," he said. "Sort of."

He went on to explain how writing was his career. That if he hoped to feed his family and keep a roof over their heads, he had to keep writing and producing. It was his job. That meant coming up with new stories and new superheroes to populate the stories with. He couldn't decide one day that he just wasn't feeling it, or he'd have lost his job altogether. And he wasn't rich and famous then. He hadn't built the Stan Lee empire of Marvel Comics. Not yet. He was just doing what he did well to keep dinner on the table.

In other words, Stan Lee didn't wait for the muse to strike before he sat down to write. He was and is a professional, and that means BIC-HOK: Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard (or, in his day, probably Hands on Typewriter). While he didn't say so, I'd wager that the more often he sat down and did the work, the more often the muse showed up right on schedule. It's like a muscle; train it, and it'll work when you need it to.

He did the work because it needed to be done, and because that's what professionals do. All writers can take a lesson from that.

The recipe sounds deceptively simple, but trust mewriting to deadlines and being as incredibly creative and prolific as Stan Lee became isn't easy. I can guarantee there were many days he didn't want to write another story about the Hulk, or he didn't want to rack his brain for an original superpower to give to a new superhero. There were probably days he didn't even like his characters.

I'm sure Stan Lee fought every creative battle out there. And he won, creating the Marvel empire that has influenced millions and even affected our culture.

Recently I heard an up-and-coming writer ask how to "get" herself edit her current WIP when she really wanted to draft a new one. The fact that she was even asking the question makes me think that maybe she's not quite ready for the answer.

Here's how: You just do it, because that's what professionals do. 

Easy? Heck, no. But the writing life never was.

Awesome? Yes.

Easy? Not even close.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

It's Like SYTYCD

Every three months for a little over a year now, I have a new kind of writing challenge. And by that I don't mean the same challenge every time, but something new, a challenge like I've never had before.

You know how, after a big exercise day, you'll wake up the next morning sore in places you didn't know you had muscles?

It's sort of like that, but in a totally awesome, cool way. Only I'm exercising writing muscles I didn't know I had. In some cases, it's felt like I didn't even have the muscle at all, and I'm developing it as I go.

It began, if memory serves, back in the spring of 2012, when Heather came up with the brilliant idea (she comes up with great ideas quite often) and invited me and Sarah to join her.

The idea: Write and publish clean romance novellas in anthologies. For each anthology, invite three other proven romance writers we know and respect. Everyone involved helps promote the anthologies, which then, in theory helps fans of any given writer involved to get new readers.

Plus, how fun is that?!

So far we've published four collections under the Timeless Romance Anthologies brand, each with a theme going along with the seasons: Winter Historical, Spring Vacation, Summer Wedding, and Autumn Suspense. One thing that continues to impress me is how differently each writer involved interprets the theme. Every novella is so different from the others, and that's part of what makes the collections so fresh and fun.

One big thing we've heard from readers is how glad they are that the novellas are clean. That means there's no content in them beyond a PG rating. More specifically, as for the steamy factor, you'll find nothing steamier than kissing.

Heather and I attended the first Romance Novel Convention this summer and came across a writer who thanked us for writing clean romance. She herself wrote erotica, yet she didn't want her teenage daughter reading the kinds of books she wrote. Not yet, at least, not until her daughter hit adulthood and could make an informed choice.

I don't think any of the writers who've been involved with the anthologies would ever suggest that they're only for young readers—not by a long shot. But it's nice to hear that kind of feedback and know that there's a need for what we write even beyond our intended audience of grown women. (For the record, I've used my sixteen-year-old daughter as a beta reader, and she's read some of the collections. They're that clean.)

Yet embarking on this journey felt intimidating, to put it mildly. Years ago, I read every short story by L. M. Montgomery (of Anne of Green Gables fame), which were being republished in collections (grouped by the editors into themes—a fun coincidence). I remember thinking that I'd never, ever be able to write something so short, that my story ideas needed a novel-sized chunk to tell. 

Keep in mind that LMM's "short" stories aren't that short; they're really more like the length of novellas we're using for our anthologies, which run 13,000-15,000 words, roughly 45-50 pages double-spaced in Word.

Something like twenty-five years after reading those stories, I'm faced with the prospect of writing not one, but many stories in the space of about 13,000 words, after a decade of writing novels at least 90,000 words long. My longest novel, At the Journey's End ran close to 115,000 words. So, yeah. I needed a big paradigm shift to make this work.

The first thing I had to do is boil down how exactly I'd write a novella. Fortunately, I've been writing long enough that I know roughly how long my typical scenes end up being: in the neighborhood of 1500-2,000 words. I figured that gave me roughly six scenes to work with to introduce the characters, setting, and conflict, build to a climax, and resolve the plot, especially with the romantic thread. I also knew that I didn't have room for much of a subplot (something that became an additional challenge with the Suspense collection, which required a subplot to work).

I created a very basic outline—a skeleton, really—of the plot for the Winter collection. I remember writing much of that story, which is set in a very snowy, very cold canyon, while on a family trip after spending a day in Island Park, Idaho, in the middle of a very hot summer.

We're currently in the middle of production for our fifth anthology, which will feature historical stories set in Europe, and we have our brand-new cover to reveal.

Here it is:

Two thoughts:

(1) Isn't it gorgeous?

(2) Did you notice whose name is written first? (AAAACK!)

I'm trying to stave off a panic attack at the thought of my story leading the collection. That's what readers sampling the anthology will read when they decide whether to buy it. (Eeep!) Part of my nerves may be because this novella has been my hardest one to write so far (which is saying something), although I'm not sure why. I do have a theory, though.

Remember the whole exercise/muscle analogy? I don't think it's too far off. Memory fails me when I try to recall who first came up with this next oh-so-fitting analogy: for the three of us involved in every single one of the Timeless Romance Anthology collections, the exercise is not unlike So You Think You Can Dance, where dancers are thrown different styles and genres each week and are expected to excel in them.

The ballroom dancer has to suddenly do disco. The ballet dancer is assigned hip hop. The tapper must perform contemporary.

Do it, and do it well, or be voted off.

In our case, of course, the stakes aren't as high as winning a cash prize and the title on a reality show. But I still consider each challenge something special, and I strive to do my best with every novella.

We have a devoted fan base, which grows with each new collection. I want to give every reader a smile and maybe a happy sigh at the end of each story. I give each one everything I've got.

That's not to say my knees won't be knocking as this next collection goes live on November 4; they totally will be.

I'm just glad we don't call our collections So You Think You Can Write...

(Find the Kindle versions here! Or get them on the Nook or the first two collections in other formats from Smashwords.)

Roaring Deals Week of October 1st

~~~ Know of a sale I missed? Let me know in the comments! ~~~ Wreckage , by Emily Bleeker I shared this book last ...