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{Interview} Lori Goldstein, Author of Becoming Jinn

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If you remember, I read Becoming Jinn by Lori Goldstein back in March, and adored it! It is about a teen girl who, on her 16th birthday, receives magical powers and a wish-granting duty. This book is a roller-coaster, and I cannot wait to read the sequel.

Today I have the author, Lori Goldstein, on the blog for an interview! Thanks so much to Lori for participating. 🙂

The Interview:

• What inspired Becoming Jinn? Do you ever draw inspiration from real-life people/ events?

Perfect question, because the answer is a big YES! Becoming Jinn started with a character. I knew her before I knew the story I’d put her in. A few years ago, there was a devastating earthquake in Turkey. A mother and her infant daughter were pulled from the rubble and both miraculously survived. That baby’s name was Azra, which is my protagonist in Becoming Jinn.
When I heard this beautiful name, I began to picture the world this girl would live in. YA paranormal and supernatural has always been a genre I loved, and in hearing this name and thinking of what would be a cool story for this girl, somehow it all sparked the idea of writing a book featuring Jinn, which for some reason I knew was the term for spirits derived from North African and Middle Eastern lore.
A fan of contemporary, I decided to merge the fantasy elements with our modern world and drop Azra and her Jinn (genie) family into the world in which I live—quite literally into my home state of Massachusetts.

Lori-Goldstein-Author-2-682x1024•Congratulations on your book release! Could you tell us a little bit about how Becoming Jinn was published? What has been the most exciting part of the publishing process so far?

Thank you! It’s been wild! As for how Becoming Jinn was published, I worked on a manuscript for three years that essentially taught me how to write by letting me make mistakes—and I made many!

By the time I started writing Becoming Jinn in the fall of 2012, I was able to write it in two months instead of three years. I entered many contests with it, lost a lot, received great feedback, revised, and was able to get my agent, Lucy Carson, in February of 2013. She had savvy insights into the manuscript and I revised for two months before going on submission in May of 2013. We sold in less than two weeks to Feiwel and Friends for Becoming Jinn and it’s sequel.

It’s been a bit of a longer wait to publication than most, but I’ve had the chance to learn a lot in that time and feel – mildly – in control and prepared for what’s to come. Mildly. The most exciting part is meeting readers who love the book, like you! Thank you!

• Did you always want to be an author? What got you interested in writing?

I’ve always been in the world of the written word. I was a journalism major in college, and my early jobs had me doing a bit of everything: writing, design, and copyediting, but all in the nonfiction world. While I’ve been an avid reader since I was a kid, I never thought of myself as a creative writer. I was a newspaper girl.

Then one day, my husband suggested I write something about being short. What’s frustrating to me is pretty funny to everyone else: like climbing a step stool to reach the clothes in my stackable washer/dryer; wedging my toes in between cans of beans on the bottom shelf in the grocery store so I can lay a finger on the olive oil at the very top (quite the dangerous balancing act); shopping for a pair of heels to fit my tiny feet and only finding ones with sparkly hearts because all I fit into is kids’ shoes). 

That might turn out to be the best idea my husband ever had because in writing that “memoir” of sorts, my creative side was coaxed out. I went from that to writing my first fiction manuscript, which, over three long, hard years, taught me how to actually use those creative juices to write a novel, and then came Azra and Becoming Jinn and the rest is history!

•Becoming Jinn involves magic, genies and more! Was there anything you had to research when writing Becoming Jinn?

I wanted a flavor of Jinn, which are a type of spirit creature in North African and Middle Eastern culture, in the book. Because it’s a contemporary fantasy and I mix up the genie tropes we know and toss in some magic, I didn’t want to go completely true to any specific lore or stories of Jinn.

But I read through Legends of the Fire Spirits: Jinn and Genies from Arabia to Zanzibar, a very academic examination of Jinn, and pulled bits and pieces to add to the book. The same with a book called Encyclopedia of Spirits, which, completely opposite of the first book, details how to summon particular spirits, including Jinn. While nothing is overt, they both added some backbone to the Jinn history I made up.

•Can you tell us about any current/ upcoming writing projects?

Becoming Jinn has a sequel releasing in Spring 2016, and I’ve just put the finishing touches on that. I’m currently spinning a few new ideas, but I’m not ready to share them yet. They are still tentative, and it’s too early to say where they will go. But there’s one I’m dying to have the time to try my hand at after the fun (and craziness!) of Becoming Jinn’s release is behind me.

• What’s your favourite writing snack?

Tea. I drink lots and lots of tea while writing.

About The Book:

jinnForget everything you thought you knew about genies!

Azra has just turned sixteen, and overnight her body lengthens, her olive skin deepens, and her eyes glisten gold thanks to the brand-new silver bangle that locks around her wrist. As she always knew it would, her Jinn ancestry brings not just magical powers but the reality of a life of servitude, as her wish granting is controlled by a remote ruling class of Jinn known as the Afrit.

To the humans she lives among, she’s just the girl working at the snack bar at the beach, navigating the fryer and her first crush. But behind closed doors, she’s learning how to harness her powers and fulfill the obligations of her destiny.

Mentored by her mother and her Zar “sisters”, Azra discovers she may not be quite like the rest of her circle of female Jinn . . . and that her powers could endanger them all. As Azra uncovers the darker world of becoming Jinn, she realizes when genies and wishes are involved, there’s always a trick.

Behind The Scenes: Interview with Liz Casal, Cover Designer

It’s no secret that I LOVE book covers and today I’m thrilled to bring you an interview with Liz Casal, cover designer extraordinaire! She has designed many wonderful covers, such as the cover for The Geography of You And Me. Many thanks to Liz for agreeing to be interviewed. You can find Liz on her website.

The Interview:

1. Thanks so much for joining us today! Could you tell us a little bit about yourself? 

My name is Liz Casal and I am a book designer. I am from Miami and have lived in Brooklyn since May 2008. I’m almost always working, but in my spare time I like to read, draw, listen to music, and hang with my husband (who is an amazing digital designer).

2. How long have you been designing? Are you self-taught, or did you go to school for design?

 In May 2008 I graduated with a BFA in writing, literature, and publishing from Emerson College. I got my start right away with a design internship at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. In January 2015 I left my post as senior designer at LBYR to try my luck as a freelancer. That means I’ve been a professional book designer for nearly seven years!
My design education started in high school when I was the designer of my high school newspaper and literary magazine with the help of a very patient young teacher named Ms. Olga Martinez. From then on it was all self-taught, besides a couple of magazine and book design classes in college. The best way to master the programs is to sit in front of the computer for about half of your life and just play. That’s how I learned!
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3. Could you tell us a little bit about the book cover design process and how it happens when you’re working with a publisher? 

 The process is crazy. Most of the time. It can be like the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Sometimes genius strikes and you go straight to acceptance, and unicorns exist. But most of the time it takes a lot of research, hard work, problem solving, revision, and rejection to land at the final cover.
This is how the process went for me as an in-house designer:
  • Art director assigns the title.
  • You read the uncopyedited manuscript (not reading the book makes the work much harder, but sometimes it isn’t available or there just isn’t time, but I try to read everything).
  • Take notes while reading and pay attention to symbols, motifs, descriptions, tone, etc. A book cover design is hiding somewhere between the lines of text!
  • Research competitive titles and design trends in the same genre.
  • Meet with editorial to go over anything else that’s good to know before getting started on the design process. Find out if the author hates something, or already has an idea they want you to try out.
  • Begin design process.
  • Work with art director and editor to land on 3-5 solid directions that can be presented before the jacket committee. I always try to have one photographic direction, one illustrated or graphic direction, and one type-driven direction.
  • Present the designs to the jacket committee (each house is different, but committees are usually comprised of the heads of each department including editorial, sales, marketing, art, production, and the publisher; so basically not intimidating at all).
  • Jacket committee approves a direction (this almost never happens on the first try and can take months. Think of it like getting a marriage proposal on a first date. But let’s just pretend that we are unicorns and we get everything approved on the first try because we are magnificent).
  • Share the cover direction with the author, agent, and anyone else who has a say.
  • Once everyone is on board with the direction–the jacket committee, the agent, the author, the author’s cat, etc.–the designer may proceed to final with the art. That could mean organizing a photo shoot, licensing stock photography, hiring an illustrator, or creating the art herself.
  • The final cover is presented to jacket committee again and they accept it without a doubt! Because we are unicorns today!
  • The first place the cover appears is on the ARC, a.k.a. advanced reading copy, a.k.a. blogger candy. The ARC is given to reviewers and presented by sales to accounts. Sometimes accounts will say something like, “Love the book, hate the cover,” and you have to start all over, and this is when you start eating cookies. Lots of cookies. But let’s pretend that doesn’t happen and the accounts love it and are going to buy 100,000 copies of your beautifully designed book.
  • The front cover art is done and now all you have to do is design the full jacket mechanical, route it through copyediting/editorial, and release the final files to production. You will also need to pick out all of the pretty specs like foil and embossing and spot colors. You may also need to design the case cover and pick out specs for that, too.
  • And then you go to Hawaii. In your dreams! Because you have to go through this process for about ten books a season, and at any stage a cover can be “killed” and you have to start at the beginning.
It’s hard work, but it’s pretty great. I get to collaborate with brilliant authors, artists, and publishing pros, and do what I really love to do. Doodle, make things pretty, play with typography, obsess over baseline alignment. Every rejected cover is just a challenge to create something even better.
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4. What software do you use? 

I have an Adobe Creative Cloud membership which is awesome. For book design I use this software:
  • Adobe Photoshop: for creating the actual cover composition, retouching images, and creating artwork.
  • Adobe Illustrator: for manipulating or designing type, creating vector illustrations (I love to create vector art in AI and drop it in as a smart object into PS), tracing, etc.
  • Adobe InDesign: for laying out cover/jacket mechanicals and book interiors.
  • I use a MacBook Pro with a fabulous Thunderbolt Display and my new favorite thing is the oversized trackpad instead of a mouse.
In addition to software I also have an array of inks, brushes, paints, pens, a whole cookie jar of various Sharpie’s, pencils, erasers, scissors, and paper that I use almost every day. I draw or hand letter on paper, scan it, and finalize it digitally.
I’ve also started sketching out everything before I hit the computer. It has helped me kill bad ideas and remember good ones. Trust me, you can go to la-la-land when you’re doing this kind of creative work on a computer, so a paper full of even the messiest notes and sketches helps anchor you and keep you on track. Moleskine daily planner, lots of legal pads, blue pens, and highlighters! Always!

5. Do you have any tips or resources for aspiring designers? 

Tips. I could go on forever. But my main point is if you want to be a great designer in today’s world you must master the programs. If you don’t know how to use them, how can you execute your brilliant ideas? Spend time with the programs and get to know them. Create art for fun in Photoshop and Illustrator. Ditch Word and set all of your documents with care in InDesign. Not only is it good practice, but you will enjoy it.
Never forget about good old pencil and paper as a starting point. Look at everything. Everything is inspiration. Including Netflix (scrolling through all of those movie and show covers does something to you!). Go to a bookstore and look at real books. But don’t copy.
Look at fashion week slideshows for pattern, color, and texture inspiration. Listen to music and admire album cover art. What I’m trying to say is that ideas are everywhere, and books are a huge part of pop culture. Know what’s out there, and then do your own thing with what’s available to you.
Resources: lynda.com for learning programs (I even think you can use Lynda for free at NYC libraries!); myfonts.com for typography (really nice to browse–the endless scroll could fill an entire afternoon); Pinterest for creating mood boards. This is just a starting point. But if you know how to use the programs, understand typography, and have creative vision you’re in good shape.
Try to get an internship as soon as possible. The one at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers is exceptional. If you can’t get one, then redesign books for fun and put them in your portfolio. If you want to be a book designer you have to be active about it. Use creative networks like Behance and Dribbble. You can do this!
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 Thanks so much to Liz for sharing her insight with us. It was a pleasure to have her!

Interview With Sarah McGuire, author of Valiant (+ Giveaway)

I’m participating in the Egmont Last List hop hosted by Cuddlebuggery. Learn more about it here. I’m a huge fan of many of their books, and I’m so sad that Egmont is closing.

I am however, thrilled to bring you an interview with Sarah McGuire, author of Valiant, a retelling of The Brave Little Tailor. I’ve already read (and LOVED) this book, and it is definitely one to pre-order. Keep your eyes peeled for a review closer to the pub. date in April!

About Valiant:

valiantA debut fairy tale retelling featuring a strong female character and a daring quest just right for fans of Shannon Hale, Jessica Day George, and Gail Carson Levine.

Saville despises the bolts of velvet and silk that her father loves- he’s always prized them more than he’s ever loved her. Yet when he’s struck ill, she’ll do anything for him to survive, even donning boys’ clothes and begging a commission to sew for the king.

Piecing together a fine coat is far simpler than unknotting court gossip about an army of giants led by a man who cannot be defeated. And they’re marching toward Reggen to seize the throne. But Saville knows giants are just stories, and no man is immortal.

Then she meets them, two scouts as tall as trees. She tricks them into leaving, but tales of the daring tailor’s triumph quickly spin into impossible feats of giant-slaying. And mere stories won’t deter the Duke and his larger-than-life army. Now only a courageous and clever tailor girl can see beyond the rumors to save the kingdom again.

Valiant richly reimagines “The Brave Little Tailor,” transforming it into a story of understanding, identity, and fighting to protect those you love most.

About Sarah:

sarSarah McGuire lives within sight of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, where she teaches high school creative writing and math classes with interesting word problems. Her debut novel, Valiant, will release from Egmont USA in April 2015. Find her on Twitter, Goodreads, or on her website.

Interview:

  •  Valiant is a retelling of The Brave Little Tailor. What inspired you to retell this story, and write Valiant?

I was getting ready to start a new novel for a workshop, and I knew I wanted it to be a retelling. So I pulled Grimm’s from the bookshelf and started looking through it. I reread many tales that I liked, but kept thinking about the Brave Little Tailor (which I had skipped over) because it was one of my least favorite stories. I never liked how the tailor tricked the stupid giants. It seemed kind of cruel to me- like a calculus teacher taunting kindergarteners about not knowing all their math facts. Then, I started wondering what would happen if the tailor was a girl. Because suddenly I knew she’d be girl … and then I knew I had to write this story.

•Could you share a little bit about your path to publication?

I decided in 2006 that I wanted to take writing seriously. So I joined SCBWI, found a critique group, and got to work. I spent years working on a story- a retelling of Cinderella. Every time I learned some new aspect of writing– scenes, characterization, etc– I’d go back through the entire novel and revise. After a while, I felt confident that I could craft good individual chapters, but I was still struggling with how to structure a novel. So I applied to the Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program, and Harold Underdown chose me as one of his mentees! Over the next months, I learned a lot about how to fix the sagging middle. But after I’d done everything I could, I realized it was time to move on and apply everything I’d learned to something new. It wasn’t a traumatic decision– I was ready to move on. To keep my resolve to leave the old story behind, I joined a fantasy workshop with Patti Gauch in May 2012.

I wrote VALIANT over the summer, revised it based on Patti’s feedback, and sent it out to two wonderful agents on the deadline I’d given myself: Valentine’s Day 2013. In the end, both agents offered representation, and I signed with Tracey Adams at Adams Literary two months later. I did yet another round of revision on VALIANT, and then Tracey sent it out for submission. The lovely Alison Weiss (then at Egmont USA) bought VALIANT the first day of the school. (I might have been a slightly distracted teacher that day!)

If you only look at VALIANT, the road seems easy, but I’m absolutely convinced that all the work from the earlier novel made VALIANT possible. And this road isn’t finished! As you know, Egmont USA closed, so I’ll be finding a new home for my writing all over again- there is yet another bend in this road to publication.

• Saville is a great main character! How do you think you are similar to/ different from her? What would you do in her situation?

Oh, I’m so glad you liked Saville!

Saville typically says the things she wants to the first time around- which isn’t a bit like me! (I think that’s one reason I became a writer. It was a chance to “fix” all those conversations where I couldn’t figure out what to say until 3 hours later.) But one characteristic we DO share is that we take care of our own: our families and the people we love. I’m the oldest of four siblings, so maybe it’s the older sister issues on steroids. In fact, I loosely based one scene in the book on a time my siblings and I were outside playing baseball on the street in front of our house. I was fourteen, and I looked over and saw a seventeen year old raise a baseball bat over my six year old little brother. I still don’t remember charging across the road or what I said– I was that furious– but it never happened again.

What would I do in Saville’s situation? I’d definitely take care of Will, and I’d try to save the city, but I doubt I’d be half so witty or self-possessed. 🙂

• Do you have a specific place you like to write? What does your writing routine look like?

I’m a high school teacher with a busy schedule, so I write whenever I can. If there is any constant in it, it’s coffee. And that I try to draft new work over the summer when I have more time to immerse myself in the story. Much of VALIANT was written over the summer of 2012–I’d plant myself on my little sofa and just write. (There’s actually a dent in the sofa cushion.)

During the school year, I like to write at the local Barnes and Noble cafe. It’s a place where I can step away from everything else I need to do and just work. Besides, it’s a bit inspiring to write and wonder if your book will ever be on those shelves. When I have a deadline, I might take a nap when I get home from work, then take care of grading and lesson plans. After that, I write or revise– and I might work on that till well after midnight.

Giveaway:

If you want to win a signed ARC of Valiant, then you can enter the following giveaway. Thanks for much to Sarah for offering up the prize! It is open to all North American residents. Good luck!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Thanks to Sarah for coming by, and to Cuddlebuggery for hosting this!

Behind The Scenes: Interview With Book Cover Designer Erin Fitzsimmons

If you’ve been following Bookish Serendipity, you probably know how much I LOVE book covers. I’ve picked out books based solely on their covers (*cough* The Selection *cough*), and the cover design process has intrigued me for a long time.

Today, I’m interviewing Erin Fitzsimmons, who designed several of my favorite book covers, like the covers for Snow Like Ashes, Cruel Beauty, Dorothy Must Die, and so many more! She’s also the Associate Art Director at HarperCollins Children’s Books! Thanks so much to Erin for participating. You can find at her website, or on twitter (@erinferdinand)

The Interview:

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1. Thanks so much for joining us today! Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Thanks for having me!
I am an Associate Art Director at HarperCollins Children’s Books, where I design and art direct tween and teen novels. I’ve been at Harper for just over 5 years, and I absolutely love the people that I work with. In fact, I recently became engaged to one of them: the incredibly talented book designer, Ray Shappell! I’m originally from New Jersey, but I came here for school 12 years ago and never left. I live in Brooklyn with Ray and our three (adorably fat) cats.
2. How long have you been designing? Are you self-taught, or did you go to school for design?
I have been designing book covers for about 8 years. I did not go to school for graphic design. I went to undergrad at The Gallatin School for Individualized Study at NYU. They offer an interdisciplinary approach to study, so while my concentration was technically Photojournalism, I had the ability to study in each of the schools at NYU, and broaden my education beyond my major.

It was this freedom that encouraged me to try and design a book cover when my first Art Director gave me the opportunity to, even though I had never been trained in it. I learned to design through trial by fire, and discovered very quickly that I loved it far more than I ever loved photography. Since then, I’ve taken continuing education classes in other areas of design (mostly type design), and I’m always looking to build and improve my skills!

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3. Could you tell us a little bit about the book cover design process and how it happens when you’re working with a publisher?
We always start with reading the manuscript. To me, this is the most exciting part of the design process. This is when we take notes, sketch thumbnails, and visualize the cover in our head. After reading and discussing with the editor, we’ll begin to rough out our concepts into compositions, or “comps”. These comps can be sketches, stock photographs, or images from other sources that we combine for a loose representation of a concept that will be sent to a photographer or illustrator to execute.

When we have a comp we like, we share in-house, and if the concept is approved, we have the go-ahead to create final artwork. This stage is also incredibly fun, because it’s like watching a dream come to life. All those images inside your head become one image outside. It’s so rewarding to see that process take place.

Whether in-house or as a freelance book designer, there are always many rounds of people at the publishing house who need to approve the cover — the Editor, Sales and Marketing teams, Publisher and Vice-Publisher, and ultimately, the Author and Agent. It takes a village to bring a book cover from sketch to final cover, and along the way the art directors and designers are tasked with finding a way to take all the feedback and direction and focusing it into one solid cover design that makes our team and our readers happy!

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4. What software do you use?

I work primarily in the Adobe Creative Suite — InDesign, Photoshop, and Illustrator.

5. Do you have any tips or resources for aspiring designers?

When I was just beginning to design, I spent a lot of time designing for various free online competitions. I never won a single one, but I treated each competition like a school assignment, so I was able to learn and try something new with each entry.

One resource I wish was around when I was learning is Skillshare. There is a wealth of talented designers and letterers teaching classes there, if I had more time I would be taking all their classes!
And I always tell design students and those new to design to just CREATE (anything and everything) and POST it. Make a blog, post to Instagram or Twitter, or set up a free portfolio site. If you are putting work out there, people can find you and hire you!

6. Note: this was a question asked by a commenter (Chloe) and Erin was kind enough to answer it. Thanks!

I was kind of wondering…do you know if the authors have any say or do the publishing people and designer(s) decide without any opinions from the author?
I can’t speak for all publishers, but at Harper, the authors absolutely have a say. We ask the editors to solicit the author’s ideas and examples of covers they like before we even begin the design process, and we aim to share sketches or concepts with them as early in the process as we can. We always take their thoughts and feedback into account as we work on finalizing the cover art. The tricky thing is that we have to take so many different opinions into account, that in rare situations, we might have to make some changes but not others. In my time at Harper, we have never published a cover that the author didn’t approve. It’s very important to us that their voices are heard and valued!

Thanks for joining us today, Erin!

 

Interview: Cheryl Skory Suma

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Questioning AUTHORity is an occasional feature here at Bookish Serendipity featuring–you guessed it!–MG and YA author interviews. The featured author for this edition is Cheryl Skory Suma, who is the author of Habitan, an awesome middle grade fantasy adventure. You can find my review here.

About The Author:

Website| Amazon |Goodreads

cherylCheryl always enjoyed making up bedtime stories for her two children, brief tales imagined on the spot to teach and entertain them each night before going to sleep. Then one day, her daughter asked her to write her a ‘longer’ story, and Habitan was born. The Habitan Series grew out of these imaginative bedtime stories and the author promises continued plot twists, surprises and new mysteries along the way in this four book series.

Cheryl holds an Honors degree in Child Psychology and a Masters of Health Sciences in Speech-Language Pathology, and brings over 30 years experience working with children and youth. Following a successful career, first as a Speech-Language Pathologist, and then as the founder & CEO of a home health care company, Cheryl was able to return to her true love, story telling. She lives outside Toronto, Canada with her husband Peter, son Michael, and daughter Melissa. This book would not exist without all of their love and support.

Interview:

ME: Habitan is one of my favourite middle grade novels this year. Could you share a little about what inspired your debut? Do you draw inspiration from people/ places around you?

CSS: First, thanks for the wonderful compliment! Habitan, Book 1: The Parallel Place grew out of my life-long passion for story telling and the art of imagination. The primary reason I first decided to begin writing the Habitan fantasy series was my own two children. I had been making up ongoing ‘bed-time’ stories for them since they were small, and these stories and plots became more complex as they grew older. When my daughter Melissa started comparing my tales to some of the great YA fantasy novels that she had been reading and then asked me to please write her “…a longer story, a whole book?”, I just couldn’t say no!

In terms of the setting and characters…. I have been fortunate enough to travel throughout most of Canada with my family, which triggered ideas for various story backdrops. I think we’ve all heard the expression that it is easier to ‘write what you know’; I decided to use a lot of the Canadian landscape to create the look and feel of the magical land of Habitan, as well as the animal characters in the book. Similarly, I based the magical language (character names and spells) spoken in Habitan on Canadian Aboriginal Cree, as my maternal grandmother is Cree and is a very inspirational person.

I think many authors, including myself, tend to create characters based on aspects or traits of people we’ve met. In my case, while some characters are completely grown out of pure imagination and aren’t based on anyone in particular, I often like to design characters from a melting pot of several traits of different people I’ve known.

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ME: Do you remember where your interest in writing started?

CSS: Absolutely! Pretty much as soon as I could read, I would devour books; I kept my mother busy just going back and forth to the library! I loved the whole escape of it all, and the opportunity to become someone else.

My actual attempts at writing began very early. My mother gave me an old mechanical typewriter, and I began writing short stories and poems on it from grade one (my mom would then mark them up and give me constructive feedback — this was before the computer age, so thank goodness for whiteout!). I also had a very encouraging teacher in primary school who allowed me to write very long responses to short creative writing assignments, which really seeded my love for story-telling!

Books have taught me so much, and still do. I think one of the magical things about stories is that they allow us, the reader, to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes; to be something or someone we’re not. I believe that readers and book lovers naturally become more empathetic and understanding people: because reading allows you to develop the ability to imagine another’s perspective, to see things through someone else’s eyes.

ME: Habitan reminds me a bit of the Narnia series. Who are a few of your personal favourite children’s writers? Do you think there are any that influenced your writing? 

CSS: Narnia was one of the first series I ever read as a child, so the idea of a magical land that children could escape to was definitely an influence when I was creating Habitan. Beyond fantasy, I also loved stories where the central characters had spunk or a sense of humor, such as the Anne of Green Gables series. As I moved into my teens, I added classic science fiction to my collection; no doubt you will see this influence as the Habitan series progresses!

I think the largest influence on my writing, however, is my belief that stories should not just offer entertainment or an escape, but also carry some sort of message or moral as well. I am a big believer in teaching my children to have their own ideas and to develop their own opinions; not to just follow the crowd. As an example, my daughter experienced a lot of bullying in grades 1-3, and we worked to help her develop the skills to stand up for herself and be happy despite what was going on around her. She developed the confidence and skills to stand true to her own ideas and values, and to be brave enough to stand up for what she thinks is right if she sees someone else in trouble. So while I wanted Habitan to entertain and excite readers, to surprise them, and to make them laugh, I also wanted the story to hopefully share examples of personal strength and individual spirit.

ME: You clearly put a lot of thought into self-publishing and publicizing Habitan. Could you tell us a little bit about this process? 

CSS: It really was a learning process. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to self-publish the first book. When I told my husband last spring that Habitan was nearly finished, he came up with the idea of launching it at the Toronto International Book Fair.

We brainstormed about how to create a memorable experience for visitors to the booth; we wanted it to be an immersive experience that really took you to the land of Habitan. We came up with the idea of a “story tunnel” where the walls would be scenes from the book on printed backlit vinyl, and where speakers could project readings from the book to go with the scenes. In the end, our whole family got involved, as well as a network of artists and consultants from around the world. This group helped create the artwork, photography, layout, construction, audio engineering and editing that supported the book, website, and the trade show booth. We found all these people on the internet using sites like 99designs.com, eLance.com and LinkedIn.com, etc. The team was coordinated over email, Dropbox.com, telephone and Skype.

My daughter (age 12) did the first sets of sketches for the animal characters, and then Steven Albert (past DreamWorks lead) did the scene paintings. Our son Michael (age 10) did many hours of web searching for the photographers, animal characters and web designers. The booth itself was built on our back deck by my cousin and brother. The products and vinyl to build it were sourced from sites like Alibaba.com, and the electronics were sourced from the US and China. So after four months of effort, we were able to deliver not just the book available worldwide, but also a booth that many said was by far the best at the fair. By sourcing everything and building it ourselves, we did this all for a fraction of what such booths are normally quoted for professionally.sta

As for the book publishing…. After much searching and comparisons we chose to publish with IngramSpark.com for their worldwide distribution of paperback, hardcover and eBooks. We also used CreateSpace.com to supply Amazon directly (for the enhanced royalties it provided and the tight and fast integration with Amazon’s sites).  In the end the book launch was a great success. We sold over 450 books at the TIBF book fair, which we were told was amazing given that this is a new book from an indie author!

For me, while the sales were great, the most important experience was the reader’s reactions and my family’s involvement. My family all rallied together to help me live out a dream, and we have had such a positive reaction from visitors to the booth, as well as early book reviewers! The conversations with the readers at the booth about the themes in the book, and their love of reading, was so affirming and positive. I am so grateful for the entire experience. I truly enjoyed meeting people like yourself who share a passion for stories and the world imagined.

ME: Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

CSS: a) Keep writing! I have boxes upon boxes of old stories and ideas; I think the more you write, the more you will improve. I am very proud of Book 1 in the Habitan series, but I also think Book 2 will be even better!

b) Share your work! Before an editor ever saw Habitan, I had many family members, friends, as well as a group of children and teens read the book. I learned as much if not more from the feedback (good and bad) from these early ‘reviewers’ as I did from my two professional editors. You have to be brave enough to face people’s reactions to your work if you truly want to grow and develop your craft.  It doesn’t mean you have to take all of their advice; just think on it, and then believe in yourself and trust your own instincts.

c) Finish it! The biggest comment I get back when I first tell people I’ve released a book is “I’ve always wanted to write a book about…”. I think the hardest thing may be first, to get started, and then secondly, to keep going! I was determined to complete Habitan within a year of selling my health care company; in the end, you need to find the willpower to push yourself to finish it. There will always be a reason to set it aside, but if you truly want to write, you need to approach it with a passion. Set deadlines for yourself, and forgive yourself if you miss them, but keep going! People mistakenly think writers have a leisurely life. Writing is work, and takes discipline, but it is all worth it when someone reads what you’ve written, and then laughs, smiles, gasps, or tells you wow!

d) I am always happy to correspond with new Habitan readers. They can send me questions or comments through our website! http://www.HabitanBooks.com

 

About The Book:

Amazon | Goodreads | My Review

Melissa, Michael and Annabelle were each separated from their parents as infants. Our story begins where they now live, together in an orphanage in northern Canada in the 1600’s. Discovering a strange kinship, they have become true friends, and support one another. But why do they feel they are meant to be somewhere else? Is this where they truly belong?

Then a mysterious event occurs, transporting them to another land called Habitan, a magical place where anything and everything is possible if you believe and strive hard enough. In Habitan, sorcery, magic, and powers ‘of the mind’ abound. Animals talk, and the spirit of the woods is alive. While in Habitan, the children join forces with three animal guides, encounter a wicked sorceress named ‘Oskana’, and embark on an adventure to discover their true heritage and destiny.

Can they develop their innate powers and magical gifts soon enough to protect themselves and to help the Good of Habitan? Will they be reunited with their parents again? Who can they really trust? How can they save Habitan from the tyranny of Oskana’s rule? Finally, how do the events on Habitan affect the Parallel Place, the ‘earth’ they grew up on?

The children discover that they may be Habitan’s last hope for salvation from the evil sorceress Oskana. They face challenges and surprising twists along the way, all while also developing their own innate gifts and magic. As they begin the path to finding their own inner strength, they learn how to face unbearable odds with determination and courage, standing up for what is right despite the possible personal costs.

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