Turning Points: Guest Post by Erin Bowman

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This guest post is part of the Turning Points blog series here on distraction no. 99—in which I asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? Here is Erin Bowman, debut author of Taken and one of my Anticipated Debuts for April 2013, sharing her turning point…

And be sure to enter the giveaway before it closes tomorrow!


Guest post by Erin Bowman

TakenI have always been a storyteller. When I couldn’t write, I rambled—imagining epic adventures for the family dog, the squirrels in the backyard, you name it—and then when I could write, I was an addict.

I went to writing camp over the summers during middle school (yes, really). I took some creative writing classes in high school and then minored in it in college. Even after graduating, when I started working as a web designer, I still wrote obsessively on the side. But despite all those years of writing—while I penned countless short stories and filled notebook after notebook with poetry and prose—I never once completed a novel.

I tried. Repetitively.

I’d have a spark of an idea and feverishly type a chapter or two. I’d revise and polish those two chapters until they shined. And then I’d lose interest. The manuscript would sit, lonely and forgotten on my hard drive, next to dozens of other abandoned projects. That “writing” folder was a sad graveyard of half-baked story ideas.

I liked to tell myself that this happened habitually because none of my ideas were The One. That, or I needed to mull a concept over more thoroughly before I was capable of writing chapter three. Or even if I did mull it over, I’d never have the time to craft it into the version of the story I had in my head so why fight an impossible battle? There just wasn’t enough time. After all, I was busy with school/work/wedding planning/holidays/friends/family/life.

The hard truth was this: It wasn’t that I didn’t have the time, but that I didn’t want to make the time. All the excuses were just a way to satisfy my conscience.

A month before my wedding in 2009, I lost my design job during a series of company-wide layoffs. I was devastated and shocked and felt like a total failure. Deep down, I knew I’d be able to secure another job, but that layoff really shook my confidence and the timing couldn’t have been worse. (Seriously! Right before my wedding!)

I was Eeyore that first week of unemployment, all doom and gloom.

But then something funny happened. In the quiet hours when my husband (then-fiancé) was at work, and in between my job hunting and last minute wedding planning, a new novel idea fell into my lap.

I wanted to write it, only this time, I told myself if I started, I wasn’t allowed to quit. I was getting married and eventually I’d have a new job, and with this new stage of my life, I decided I was also going to be a new type of writer: one who saw projects through. I was going to finish that novel no matter what.

So I started drafting. I got married. I found a new job. I fell back into my typical 50-hour workweek. We moved and suddenly I had an hour long commute each way.

But I kept writing.

And writing.

And I finished that novel.

I revised it. I started another. I finished and revised that. I was busier than ever (especially with that hellish commute), and yet I was writing at volumes I’d never before come close to.

At my new job, the creative director ran a book club. Every month she assigned the design and dev team an industry-related read, and then we’d all discuss it over lunch. I distinctly remember everyone reacting strongly to this quote about dreams and personal projects: “There is always enough time if you spend it right.” The co-authors of the book, Rework, went on to theorize that if you don’t have enough time, than maybe your personal project isn’t really your dream. And that’s totally okay if it’s not. Time is precious and you should absolutely spend your free hours doing the things you love most. But coincidentally, you forfeit the right to complain and mope about not reaching your dreams if you don’t actively pursue them.

I think this resonated with me in part because it was so plainly stated, but also because I’d learned this very truth in the months following my job loss. That unfortunate event made me move forward with redefined goals. I was unflinchingly honest with myself. I promised to stop making excuses and hold myself accountable. I would finish drafting a novel because I was making it a priority.

That pivotal moment came rather early in my writing career. Heck, it came long before I even considered pursuing publication. Back then, I had no clue what an agent did or what a query letter was and the only ARC I knew of was the America Red Cross. Sometimes I wish the enlightenment came even sooner, but in the end, I’m just glad it came. Period. Because once writing was a priority, it was amazing how much time I could carve out of an already busy day.

Last week my debut novel, TAKEN, released from HarperTeen. I can confidently say that had I not lost my job in 2009, I would never have written this book. When the idea for the story surfaced, it was so complex—packed with twists and turns—that even having a finished novel under my belt and knowing I was capable of typing through to the end, didn’t make the thought of drafting TAKEN any less daunting.

But I’d learned my lesson about goals and persistence, and I knew I could write the book if I made it a priority.

So I opened a new document. And I started typing.

Erin’s debut novel, Taken, came out last week from HarperTeen!


erinbowman_authorphotoErin Bowman used to tell stories visually as a web designer. Now a full-time writer, she relies solely on words. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband, and when not writing she can often be found hiking, commenting on good typography, and obsessing over all things Harry Potter. TAKEN is her first novel.

Visit her at www.embowman.com to find out more. 

Follow @erin_bowman on Twitter.


There’s more in the Turning Points series. Catch up with any posts you may have missed here.

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Anticipated YA Debut Interview: TAKEN (+Giveaway)

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Today I have an interview with one of the April 2013 Anticipated YA Debut Authors! Today’s featured author is Erin Bowman—and her first novel, Taken, comes out tomorrow, April 16, from HarperTeen! Read on to see how Erin answered my Q&A…

…And scroll down to see who won a signed finished copy plus some swag!


TakenNova: I’ll start with the dreaded question you may be hearing already from strangers on elevators, long-lost family members, and your doctor while you’re sitting on the examination table in the paper gown during your next checkup: “So what’s your book about?” Surely you don’t carry around a copy so you can recite the description off the flaps, so how do you answer this question when asked?

Erin: I usually start by saying it’s a sci-fi/thriller novel for teens, and then try to be as succinct as possible: TAKEN is about a boy who grows up in an isolated community where all boys are Heisted on their eighteenth birthday, disappearing never to be seen again. If they seem genuinely interested, I’ll go into a bit more detail, but I’ve usually stumbled my way through the one-line pitch and been sufficiently awkward enough for them to just smile and nod. I am much better at talking about other people’s books than my own.

NRS: In my experience, novels transform themselves, sometimes unrecognizably, during the course of being written. Were there any shocking transformations that occurred between rough draft and final bound book?

EB: It’s funny, because my answer to this is yes and no. At its core, Gray’s story—his predicament in the opening pages of the novel and where he ends up by its close—has been the same since the first draft. But I also feel like TAKEN evolved so very much during editorial revisions. Certain scenes were expanded upon while others were cut altogether. I did tons of world-building work in the second half of the novel. The ending (with the exception of the last two scenes) was completely rewritten.

I guess what’s most shocking to me is how much TAKEN changed while not really changing at all. The integrity of the story remains. My editor just showed me how to make it better, stronger, more layered, and nuanced. I swear, writing is 90% revising.

NRS: So you’re here with me gossiping about your main characters behind their backs. What’s something they wouldn’t want anyone to know that might make them blush? 

EB: Gray isn’t so much quick to blush as he is quick to tell a person to shove it. True, he probably won’t like me telling you that he’s been in love with Emma since he was six. Or that he hasn’t slept well since his brother’s Heist. Or that I think he needs to work on his impulsive streak. But I still don’t think these things would make him blush. He’ll likely just shoot us a dirty look, say something rude to me for sharing the details, and then stalk off.

NRS: Tell us about the place—as in the physical location: a messy office, a comfy couch, a certain corner table at the café—where you spent most of your time writing this book. Now imagine the writing spot of your fantasies where you wish you’d been able to write this book… tell us all about it. 

EB: I wrote a few scenes of TAKEN from the rocking chair on my front porch. A couple more were jotted down in my local coffee shop. But most of it happened right on my couch, with me curled up under a blanket.

couch

To be honest, I can’t draft at my desk. My desk is for work. I can email and blog and revise there—and boy did a lot of revising occur at my desk—but the actual drafting? It has to happen somewhere cozy or I can’t seem to get lost in my characters’ world.

desk

In terms of an ideal writing spot…Hmmm. Is it lame that I don’t have one? It’s more like I have a list of required assets: comfy clothes, notebooks, headphones and playlists, coffee, snacks, more coffee. Give me that stuff and I can write anywhere.

NRS: To go along with the theme of this blog (and my life), what is the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book? 

EB: The Internet. (It seems to be my biggest distraction from writing any book.) Sitting down to write is the easy part. It’s closing my browser and starting to type that’s always the greatest hurdle.

NRS: Imagine you’re on the subway, or bus, or sitting in a park somewhere minding your own business… and you look up and see the most perfect person you could imagine devouring your book. This is your ideal reader. Set the scene and describe this person to us.

EB: The sun is glaring, so I can’t tell if this reader is a guy or a girl. I also can’t even estimate their age properly. All I can see is that they are walking through the masses, nose in the book, so absorbed by the story that they can’t tear their eyes from the page for even a second. That’s my ideal reader. (Which is vague, I know. But if they’re devouring my novel and can’t be pulled away from it, that’s all I need to apply the label.)

NRS: If you could go back in time to whisper a few words of advice into your own ear before you leaped into this writing career, what would you tell your young, impressionable self? 

EB: Writing is hard. The industry can be slow. Your self-confidence will be tested many, many times. But trust your instincts and always write the story you’re dying to tell. Write for yourself and—regardless of the outcome—you’ll never regret it. (Write what you think someone else wants you to write, or expects you to write, and the same is not always true.)

NRS: Dream question: If you could go on book tour anywhere in the world, with any author (living or dead), and serve any item of food at your book signing… where would you go, who with, and what delicious treat would you serve your fans?

EB: As a self-proclaimed Harry Potter nerd, I have to pick J.K. Rowling. (Although, being in the same room as her would likely reduce me to tears, so it would be a very sniffly tour.) I think I’d want to go someplace that doesn’t see a lot of authors touring—a small town, maybe. Doesn’t matter where so long as there are kids who love reading in attendance. As for food? Chocolate Frogs, naturally. And Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans, and Cauldron Cakes, and Acid Pops, and…Should I keep going? 😉

NRS: How do you plan to celebrate your book’s birthday tomorrow?

EB: If I’m not too antsy, I hope to sleep in. And then maybe wander to a bookstore…see if I can spot TAKEN in the wild. I’ll likely treat myself to a celebratory cupcake or two and video chat with good friends. Perhaps go out to dinner with my hubby.

It will be a special day and also a regular day, if that makes sense. Tomorrow doesn’t change me, just the fact that my story will finally be available for anyone to read if they so choose. All of which is pretty darn awesome.

Taken is on sale tomorrow, April 16, from HarperTeen. Read on for a chance to win a signed finished copy and some swag! 


erinbowman_authorphoto

Erin Bowman used to tell stories visually as a web designer. Now a full-time writer, she relies solely on words. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband, and when not writing she can often be found hiking, commenting on good typography, and obsessing over all things Harry Potter. TAKEN is her first novel.

Visit her at www.embowman.com to find out more. 

Follow @erin_bowman on Twitter.


NOW ANNOUNCING THE GIVEAWAY WINNER…

One winner was chosen to win signed finished copy of Taken plus some Taken swag!

TakenAnd the winner is…

Leslie Drake!

Congrats, Leslie! And thank you to everyone who entered!

Turning Points: Guest Post by Cat Winters

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This guest post is part of the Turning Points blog series here on distraction no. 99—in which I asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? Here is Cat Winters, debut author of In the Shadow of Blackbirds and one of my Anticipated Debuts for April 2013, sharing her turning point…

And be sure to enter the giveaway before it closes tomorrow!


Guest post by Cat Winters

You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.
―Madeleine L’Engle

BlackbirdsCoverFinalThanks to several encouraging adults, I grew up believing my writing was something special. My elementary school teachers passed my stories around to other teachers and spotlighted my poems on the walls during classroom open houses. When I was eight, I was asked to write poetry for the memorial service of a four-year-old girl who had died of leukemia. When I was thirteen, I won a trophy at a youth expo after submitting a short story inspired by old TWILIGHT ZONE episodes. By the time I was in high school, I was writing full-length novels.

John Steinbeck once said, “I nearly always write, just as I nearly always breathe,” and that’s exactly how I felt growing up. Writing wasn’t even my first choice for a profession; I wanted to be an actress. Creating stories was simply a part of who I was.

After graduating from college, I lost some of my desire to act and panicked about what to do for a day job. I tried teaching high school English but discovered I was terrible at teaching—unprepared and overwhelmed. I then worked at a publishing company in downtown San Diego.

One morning, while I was sitting in my little gray cubicle, having just seen the Tim Burton movie Ed Wood (in which a real-life screenwriter creates his own movies, despite his astounding lack of talent), it hit me: I wanted to be a writer. I truly, with all my heart and soul, wanted to embrace my lifelong love of storytelling and pursue a professional writing career. I started writing a historical novel for adult readers and luxuriated in every minute I spent inside my fictional world.

That wasn’t my big turning point moment. It was a turning point, but deciding to be a writer when you’ve been writing all your life isn’t really all that momentous.

My major turning point didn’t arrive until fifteen years later.

Even though I had started off as a child writing prodigy, I couldn’t sell my work. When I was twenty-seven, I signed with my first agent, but even then, my manuscripts never found publishing homes. My books didn’t fit into clear-cut categories like “romance,” and mainstream historical fiction was considered a dead genre. Editors fell in love with my work, but not marketing departments. I switched to contemporary fiction, I signed with a second agent, but still my writing crossed too many genre barriers and was considered unmarketable and risky.

My dreams crashed down around me, and my childhood writing achievements felt like a big tease. I almost felt bitter toward anyone who had told me I should be a writer and wondered why I had been sent down that particular path in life when it was leading me nowhere. The overnight success stories of other writers fueled my feelings of uselessness and failure.

Yet I kept on writing.

When I was thirty-eight, my agent and I had a conversation about one of my older manuscripts, another historical novel I had written for adult readers. We discussed switching gears and aiming for a young-adult audience, an idea I absolutely loved. Some of my favorite stories involving the world’s darkest moments are told by younger narrators, and I enjoy the honesty and rawness found in youthful voices. A brand-new story emerged out of the setting of that older manuscript, characters made themselves known, and In the Shadow of Blackbirds was born.

I wrote this novel for the book-loving teenager still inside me. I poured all my book-rejection frustrations into the pages and told a story through the eyes of a girl with a great deal of fight in her, for I wanted her voice to fight for me and this novel. The book jumped all over the place in terms of genre: horror, mystery, love story, ghost tale, thriller, apocalyptic fiction. I worried my work would once again be labeled “unmarketable” and “too risky,” but I wrote with courage, confidence, and passion, as if I were revealing a story that HAD to be told.

The book sold! The amazing and wonderful publisher Amulet Books offered to buy In the Shadow of Blackbirds one month after my fortieth birthday—thirty-three years after my second-grade teacher started passing my stories around to other teachers.

This failed child prodigy found success after switching to writing for children. If I had known when I was younger that I would have the most luck when I explored the farthest reaches of my imagination and paid tribute to the joys and pain of youth, perhaps I would have turned to YA sooner and endured a shorter publishing journey.

Or perhaps time just needed to pass, experiences needed to be lived, so that In the Shadow of Blackbirds could become my debut novel. I’m awfully proud of this book, so I can live with the theory that I simply needed to wait my turn.

Cat’s debut novel, In the Shadow of Blackbirds, came out last week from Amulet Books!


CatWintersBW_webCat Winters was born and raised in Southern California, near Disneyland, which may explain her love of haunted mansions, bygone eras, and fantasylands. She received degrees in drama and English from the University of California, Irvine, and formerly worked in publishing.

Her debut novel, In the Shadow of Blackbirds—a YA ghost tale set during the World War I era—is now available from Amulet Books/ABRAMS. She currently lives outside of Portland, Oregon.

Cat’s online haunts:

www.catwinters.com

www.blackbirdsnovel.com

twitter.com/catwinters

facebook.com/catwintersbooks

www.goodreads.com/catwinters


There’s more in the Turning Points series. Catch up with any posts you may have missed here.

Anticipated YA Debut Interview: IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS (+Giveaway)

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Today I have an interview with one of the April 2013 Anticipated YA Debut Authors! Today’s featured author is Cat Winters—and her first novel, In the Shadow of Blackbirds, comes out today, April 2, from Amulet Books! Read on to see how Cat answered my Q&A…

…And scroll down to see the THREE WINNERS of the swag pack!


(On sale today, April 2!)
(On sale today, April 2!)

Nova: I’ll start with the dreaded question you may be hearing already from strangers on elevators, long-lost family members, and your doctor while you’re sitting on the examination table in the paper gown during your next checkup: “So what’s your book about?” Surely you don’t carry around a copy so you can recite the description off the flaps, so how do you answer this question when asked?

Cat: In the Shadow of Blackbirds is the story of a sixteen-year-old girl named Mary Shelley Black who’s forced to deal with WWI-era America, the deadly 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, and the early-1900s trend of turning to séances and spirit photography to cope with grief. She’s a highly educated, scientific, rational young woman whose world is turned completely upside down when she starts to see the ghost of her first love, Stephen Embers, who was killed in battle overseas.

My protagonist was named after the author of Frankenstein, but she’s not related to her.

NRS: In my experience, novels transform themselves, sometimes unrecognizably, during the course of being written. Were there any shocking transformations that occurred between rough draft and final bound book?

CW: I originally created a major subplot involving a German family who befriended Mary Shelley while they were facing the anti-German prejudice that was occurring in WWI-era America. There was even a romantic interest: the family’s oldest son. Along the way, I was told those characters were distracting too much from the main plot of Mary Shelley’s connection to the unsettled ghost of her first love. The German family is now gone, but I kept references to the time period’s anti-German behavior.

NRS: So you’re here with me gossiping about your main characters behind their backs. What’s something they wouldn’t want anyone to know that might make them blush? 

CW: There’s a rather intimate scene in Chapter 22 that Mary Shelley and Stephen wouldn’t want me talking about, and I’m sure it would make them blush. They don’t ever seem embarrassed or apologetic about their nerdy sides or their intellectual hobbies (the word “nerd” wasn’t around in 1918, but it fits them). Yet these two long-time childhood friends are sensitive when people discuss the blossoming physical nature of their relationship—which manages to continue, even when one of them is a ghost.

NRS: Tell us about the place—as in the physical location: a messy office, a comfy couch, a certain corner table at the café—where you spent most of your time writing this book. Now imagine the writing spot of your fantasies where you wish you’d been able to write this book… tell us all about it. 

CW: My writing place is typically my home office. Thankfully, we have an extra room that I can use as a getaway from the rest of the house. For a change of scenery, I love writing in my local indie coffeehouse.

CatWinters_office

My fantasy writing spot would be a grand, library-style room with enormous windows overlooking a lush English garden. The novel doesn’t take place in England, but it would be wonderful to write while overlooking the grounds of a place like Downton Abbey.

CatWinters_EnglishGarden

NRS: To go along with the theme of this blog (and my life), what is the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book? 

CW: Ah, that would be the lure of the internet. I often sought out writing spots that didn’t offer free wi-fi so I would be forced to stay off the web and focus on my manuscript.

NRS: Imagine you’re on the subway, or bus, or sitting in a park somewhere minding your own business… and you look up and see the most perfect person you could imagine devouring your book. This is your ideal reader. Set the scene and describe this person to us.

CW: Hmm…that’s a hard one. I hope the book appeals to a wide variety of readers, but I suppose I would feel the greatest sense of satisfaction if I looked up from my park bench and saw a reader who looked a little out of place, a little weary, as if he or she didn’t quite fit in with the world at the moment. In the Shadow of Blackbirds is all about learning how to survive the darkest times in a person’s life while remaining true to who you are deep inside.

NRS: If you could go back in time to whisper a few words of advice into your own ear before you leaped into this writing career, what would you tell your young, impressionable self? 

CW: “It’s going to take a ridiculously long time before you ever sign a contract with a publisher. I won’t even tell you how long you’re going to have to wait or how many manuscripts you’ll need to write, because it might break your spirit and determination. But it will happen. Keep going. Ignore the voices of doubt inside your head.”

NRS: Dream question: If you could go on book tour anywhere in the world, with any two authors (living or dead), and serve any item of food at your book signing… where would you go, who with, and what delicious treat would you serve your fans?

CW: Daphne du Maurier, Harper Lee, and I would travel the U.S. with a bird-themed book tour celebrating Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, du Maurier’s classic short story “The Birds,” and my own In the Shadow of Blackbirds. We’ll serve cupcakes decorated with artsy little bird toppers (which I’m actually doing at my real book launch), and we’ll welcome visitors with bird-themed music like “Mockingbird” and The Beatles’ “Blackbird.” du Maurier and Lee will then talk for hours about their writing, while I sit there, dreamy eyed.

NRS: How do you plan to celebrate your book’s birthday today?

CW: I’ll probably stay home to take care of tweets and emails (and work a little on my next book), but I plan to head out to a couple bookstores to look for In the Shadow of Blackbirds in the wild and perhaps enjoy a nice lunch. The real celebrating will begin during the following days, when my mom and sister fly in from out of state to attend my April 6 book launch party at Powell’s Books in Beaverton, OR.

In the Shadow of Blackbirds is on sale today, April 2, from Amulet Books. Read on for a chance to win a signed prize pack! (Three winners will be chosen!)


CatWintersBW_web

Cat Winters was born and raised in Southern California, near Disneyland, which may explain her love of haunted mansions, bygone eras, and fantasylands. She received degrees in drama and English from the University of California, Irvine, and formerly worked in publishing.

Her debut novel, In the Shadow of Blackbirds—a YA ghost tale set during the World War I era—is now available from Amulet Books/ABRAMS. She currently lives outside of Portland, Oregon.

Visit her at www.catwinters.com to find out more. 

Follow @catwinters on Twitter and like her on Facebook.


NOW ANNOUNCING THE GIVEAWAY WINNERS…

*THREE* winners were chosen to win signed swag packs for In the Shadow of Blackbirds! Here’s what they won:

Blackbirds_swag_Mar2013

Congratulations to…

Christine!

Krystal M.! 

Jennsie!

Congrats to all the winners and thank you to everyone who entered!

The April 2013 Anticipated YA Debuts

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It’s the first day of the month, April 1 to be exact, which means it’s time to reveal what two April YA debuts I’m excited to read and want to share with you… But first: a little mention about the future of this blog.

Soon I’ll be taking a step back from blogging features like this—and I’ll let you know more about my creative cocooning before I vanish entirely for a long, extended season—but in the meantime, April is the last month this year that I’ll be featuring two YA debut novelists in my YA Anticipated Debuts series! Don’t you want to know the last two books I’ll be featuring?

Coming April 2…

IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS

BlackbirdsCoverFinalThe story:

In 1918, the world seems on the verge of apocalypse. Americans roam the streets in gauze masks to ward off the deadly Spanish influenza, and the government ships young men to the front lines of a brutal war, creating an atmosphere of fear and confusion. Sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black watches as desperate mourners flock to séances and spirit photographers for comfort, but she herself has never believed in ghosts. During her bleakest moment, however, she’s forced to rethink her entire way of looking at life and death, for her first love—a boy who died in battle—returns in spirit form. But what does he want from her?

Featuring haunting archival early-twentieth-century photographs, this is a tense, romantic story set in a past that is eerily like our own time.

The opening lines:

I stepped inside the railroad car, and three dozen pairs of eyes peered my way. Gauze masks concealed the passengers’ mouths and noses. The train smelled of my own mask’s cotton, boiling onions, and a whiff of something clammy and sour I took to be fear.

Keep moving, I told myself.

What people are saying:

“Words like ‘unputdownable’ and ‘irresistible’ are simply not enough for Cat Winters’s In the Shadow of Blackbirds. Days after finishing this story, it remains the first thought I have in the morning, and the thing that haunts me until I sleep.” —Lauren DeStefano

“Cat Winters deftly captures the darkness and the light of human nature… This dark and startling story lingers long after the final page.” —Saundra Mitchell

“In the Shadow of Blackbirds bundles everything in a spookily atmospheric and almost otherworldly early-twentieth-century San Diego. From the first page, I was captivated by Mary Shelley Black…” —Katherine Longshore

The author:

Cat Winters @catwinters

Visit her online at www.catwinters.com.

In the Shadow of Blackbirds comes out on April 2 from Amulet Books! Pre-order or add to your shelf on Goodreads.


Coming April 16…

TAKEN

TakenThe story:

There are no men in Claysoot. There are boys—but every one of them vanishes at midnight on his eighteenth birthday. The ground shakes, the wind howls, a blinding light descends…and he’s gone.

They call it the Heist.

Gray Weathersby’s eighteenth birthday is mere months away, and he’s prepared to meet his fate–until he finds a strange note from his mother and starts to question everything he’s been raised to accept: the Council leaders and their obvious secrets. The Heist itself. And what lies beyond the Wall that surrounds Claysoot–a structure that no one can cross and survive.

Climbing the Wall is suicide, but what comes after the Heist could be worse. Should he sit back and wait to be taken–or risk everything on the hope of the other side?

The opening lines:

Today is the last day I will see my brother.

I should be spending these remaining hours with him but instead I’m in the meadow, watching a crow pick at the carcass of a half-eaten deer. The bird is a filthy thing: slick black feathers, a beak of oiled bone. I could wring its neck if I wanted, sneak up on it and crack its frail frame between my palms before it even heard me coming. It doesn’t matter though. Crushing the life from the bird’s small body won’t save my brother. Blaine’s been damned since the day he was born.

Just like me. Just like all the boys in Claysoot.

What people are saying:

“An action-packed thrill ride from beginning to end. I devoured this in one sitting and might have gnawed a nail or two off from all the excitement. More, please!” —Marie Lu

“A suspenseful trek. Readers will eagerly await the next installment!” —Kirkus Reviews

The author:

Erin Bowman @erin_bowman

Visit her online at embowman.com.

Taken comes out on April 16 from HarperTeen! Pre-order or add to your shelf on Goodreads.


There you have it: The 2013 YA Anticipated Debuts for April. Stay tuned this month for more from the authors and chances to win these books!

Turning Points: Guest Post by Emily Murdoch

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This guest post is part of the Turning Points blog series here on distraction no. 99—in which I asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? Here is Emily Murdoch, debut author of If You Find Me and one of my Anticipated Debuts for March 2013, sharing her turning point…

And be sure to enter the giveaway before it closes tomorrow!


Guest post by Emily Murdoch

“This is your captain, speaking…”

If You Find Me cover
IF YOU FIND ME is on sale tomorrow, March 26, from St. Martin’s Griffin!

Death.

Five little letters that end the world. Our worlds. And if not ours, than someone else’s. Maybe someone we love, maybe someone that someone we love, loves. Old, young, hooved, pawed.

Death is one hefty concept. So it’s no wonder it pops up so often in literature, including young adult fiction.

It also happens to be a significant turning point for me as a writer.

In 1997, I was a passenger in a jet that, fifteen to twenty minutes into the flight, experienced engine trouble: specifically, an engine blew up and set the belly of the plane on fire. As it so happened, I was sitting in the seat right above that engine. The explosion was fierce; my ears rang, and for a few minutes, it was all I heard. My feet, resting squarely on the floor, went numb from the resulting vibration, and I realized the plane, most certainly, was going to crash.

I was going to die.

I was going to die.

A great calm swept over me. I wasn’t screaming or panicked, and neither were the other passengers. The cabin was devoid of human noise; even the resident babies went silent. I said a prayer asking forgiveness for any way I’d failed to make the most of my life, jerking forward against the seatbelt as the plane nosedived through the clouds at an alarming speed.

We’d already reached maximum altitude when the engine exploded. From my window seat, I watched wavy noodles of Spanish tile grow larger as the roofs of an urban neighborhood swam into view. Mangled, molten plane parts rained down on houses, yards, cars.

In the newspaper, one witness said: “I heard a loud explosion then saw a vapor trail from the back of the engine … The vapor then stopped and the plane quickly began to lose altitude, flames trailing behind it.”

Another said: “The airplane noise is pretty frequent, but there was something awful about this one. It wasn’t noise. It was a plane exploding.”

And how.

At the last second, the pilot pulled up the nose and leveled off the plane, turning away from the neighborhood. We held our breath and braced ourselves through a high-speed, bumpy landing in the middle of the Arizona desert, screeching down an abandoned military airstrip, and quite miraculously, with no one hurt.

Whatever else happens in life, you never forget the silver slide.

I had one regret when my life flashed before my eyes: I hadn’t taken the leap and submitted my writing. In those moments of freefall, my fear of the pages’ prerequisite, buck-naked heart seemed a paltry matter when compared to no longer having the opportunity to submit at all.

Death.

Nothing left to lose.

So here I am, flying my pages like paper airplanes out into the world.

Emily’s debut novel, If You Find Me, will be published tomorrow, March 26, by St. Martin’s Griffin!


Emily Murdoch

EMILY MURDOCH lives in the Arizona desert with her husband and adopted dogs, spending her days operating a sanctuary for slaughter-rescued horses and burros. At night, she writes furiously by candlelight, capturing the ideas inspired by the day.

Visit her at emilymurdoch.wordpress.com to find out more. 

Follow @leftywritey on Twitter and add her on Facebook.


There’s more in the Turning Points series. Catch up with any posts you may have missed here.

Anticipated YA Debut Interview: IF YOU FIND ME (+Giveaway)

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Today I have an interview with my second March 2013 Anticipated YA Debut Author! Today’s featured author is Emily Murdoch—and her first novel, If You Find Me, comes out on March 26 from St. Martin’s Griffin! Read on to see how Emily answered my Q&A…

…And be sure to scroll down to find out who won the giveaway!


IF YOU FIND ME debuts on March 26!
IF YOU FIND ME debuts on March 26!

Nova: I’ll start with the dreaded question you may be hearing already from strangers on elevators, long-lost family members, and your doctor while you’re sitting on the examination table in the paper gown during your next checkup: “So what’s your book about?” Surely you don’t carry around a copy so you can recite the description off the flaps, so how do you answer this question when asked?

Emily: First, thank you so much, Nova, for spotlighting my novel. As a fan of your work (and gorgeous writing!) just to be here having this conversation is a down-the-rabbit-hole moment. That said:

If You Find Me is the story of a teen abducted by her mother, hidden in the woods, and returned to society ten years later.

The consensus (so far) is that tissues are required.

NRS: In my experience, novels transform themselves, sometimes unrecognizably, during the course of being written. Were there any shocking transformations that occurred between rough draft and final bound book?

EM: Mostly, this novel came out whole, as if it were meant to be.

However, there is a revelation at the end of the novel that didn’t exist as first written. I’d sent my agent, Mandy Hubbard, a cryptic message stating, “There’s a part I want to ask you about, where I might need to ‘go there,’ but didn’t. I’ll wait to hear what your thoughts are after you read.”

Being the intuitive author she (also) is, Mandy wrote back, “I know what you’re talking about, and I think you have to go there.”

When we talked on the phone later that week, she knew exactly what I was talking about. Not what happened to Carey. What Carey did.

Now, I can’t imagine the story unfolding any other way.

NRS: So you’re here with me gossiping about your main characters behind their backs. What’s something they wouldn’t want anyone to know that might make them blush? 

EM: Oooooo, good question!

Carey wouldn’t want anyone to know how much the hugs from Melissa mean to her, or how her heart plumped up after being carried up the stairs in her father’s arms.

She’s practically a grown-up, after all. She’s supposed to be in charge—not just of Jenessa, but of herself. Feelings are super-private for Carey, and the touching moments are moments she replays over and over in her mind.

NRS: Tell us about the place—as in the physical location: a messy office, a comfy couch, a certain corner table at the café—where you spent most of your time writing this book. Now imagine the writing spot of your fantasies where you wish you’d been able to write this book… tell us all about it. 

EM: In order to take a picture of where I write, I’d have to clean up dinner dishes first, which I don’t plan to do until after this Q&A flies off on its merry way. That said:

I work at the kitchen counter, which is the heart, the hub, of our home. From the kitchen, I can keep an eye on the dog kennel out the front window (especially when rattlesnakes swarm in April) and watch the horses out the side window, usually with a terrier on my lap and another at my feet. (Heaven!)

The TV is situated behind me for music or news. The counter is bar-style, so I can spread things out, like first pass pages or notes. I have a candle burning whenever I can. I like to invite the light in.

It’s easy for me to tune out my surroundings, so it’s nice to have my husband watching television behind me in the evenings, writing being such a solitary endeavor when a writer is actually writing.

However…my dream spot is a writing room (when Hubs isn’t home) filled with bookcases crammed with books. A crackling fireplace in the corner. An overstuffed chair for reading, and a comfy chair for writing at my antique, roll-top desk replete with secret compartments. (I’ve dreamt of such a desk my entire life.)

The desk faces a large picture window overlooking acre after acre of pristine land, and every lucky once in a while, I get to look up in wonder at a herd of wild mustangs galloping or meandering by.

NRS: To go along with the theme of this blog (and my life), what is the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book? 

EM: None! I was lucky that way, as this was my NaNoWriMo ’10 novel, and my third year of successful NaNoing. I’m fiercely competitive with myself. No way was I going to lose!

Pirate’s ahrrrrrrr!

I finished the first draft of If You Find Me in 24 days. And did the kitchen dance around my husband who was getting the turkey ready for its pre-Thanksgiving brining. Then, I realized—this means I have Thanksgiving off! and I danced some more.

NRS: Imagine you’re on the subway, or bus, or sitting in a park somewhere minding your own business… and you look up and see the most perfect person you could imagine devouring your book. This is your ideal reader. Set the scene and describe this person to us.

EM: So fun! Okay:

Music drifts from a staticky station, something grounding and homey, life-soundtrack-worthy, like Chicago: Saturday, in the park, I think it was the Fourth of July. People dancing, people laughing, a man selling ice cream…

What was that terrible clatter? Everyone stops what they’re doing and looks up. Anvils and pianos and toilet seats rain from the sky, but our Dear Reader doesn’t notice. She’s too engrossed in Carey’s tender tragedies as the tears waterfall down her cheeks.

A toilet seat hula-hoops around her neck and settles there, a porcelain necklace. Dear Reader doesn’t notice. A barmaid with eyes as large as drink coasters streaks past in a Renaissance Fair gown with one sleeve half-torn, juggling an armful of shrieking triplets. Dear Reader remains oblivious.

Finally, with a satisfied burst of laughter-through-tears, Dear Reader devours the novel’s last line, looks up, and gasps. The world is gone, Neverending Story-style! Pitch black nothingness! All that’s left is our Dear Reader, her trusty park bench with a drizzle of pigeon poop on the far arm, and a copy of If You Find Me in her hand.

Thank Atreyu my iPhone has a flashlight app, she thinks. Dear Reader turns on the light, flips to page one, and begins again.

NRS: If you could go back in time to whisper a few words of advice into your own ear before you leaped into this writing career, what would you tell your young, impressionable self? 

EM: This: just because you possess a scrap of natural ability and the glimmer of a chance, it doesn’t mean you won’t have to work your fanny off to lasso that star.

Things will happen when they happen, when they’re supposed to happen, and you have to trust that. (Writers have to trust that.)

Your job, in the meantime, is to write. No more. No less!

NRS: Dream question: If you could go on book tour anywhere in the world, with any two authors (living or dead), and serve any item of food at your book signing… where would you go, who with, and what delicious treat would you serve your fans?

EM: Let’s have fun with this, too!

Sounds simple, but I’d go to New York City for a reading in Central Park. I’d invite a gaggle of present-day authors to read from their current work, in a sort of book-Woodstock.

My two guests of honor would arrive by carriage, freshly-risen from the dead that morning, with a character in tow—their +1s. We’d have Lucy Maud Montgomery and Anne (with an e) Shirley, and Louisa May Alcott and Jo March. Imagine our surprise to learn that Jo and Anne have been bosom buddies for years! Kindred spirits! So close are these two that back on their storybook planet, they’re known as “JoAnne.”

Every publisher would contribute their author’s favorite food. Thank you, lovely publishers! Being NYC, mine would be pizza. Grease-running-down-your-forearm-to-drip-off-your-elbow, cheese-bubbling, New York City pizza.

Everyone’s dogs and children would be welcome! There’d be Frisbees fashioned from bacon for the dogs to catch, and unbirthday cake for everyone to eat at the Mad Hatter’s tea party, where the children would gather under adult supervision. As the stars filled the sky and the stage, nervous authors would clear their throats and wait for their names to be called.

Our little group clusters on a chenille blanket on the lawn. Anne Shirley turns redder than her ginger hair as she begs Lucy Maud not to read aloud the part where Anne gets Diana drunk, and Jo March, looking suspiciously like Winona Ryder, talks about Concord this, rag money that, Marmee this and Laurie that.

In the middle of Nova Ren Suma’s reading, a ruckus ensues! We watch wide-eyed as two burly men break up the fight, Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath still swinging as park security struggles to keep them apart.

The two women are wearing the exact same dress. Uh-oh.

“You can have your stupid dress. My poems are better than yours and you know it! I won awards and stuff,” Sylvia shouts.

“Like I didn’t? And that’s Anne with an e to you.”

“You stole that from Anne Shirley,” Sylvia says, hands on hips.

“So? Who are you, the alphabet police?”

Lucy Maud leans over and whispers in my ear. “You think this is bad? You should see them back at home.”

Nova waits by the microphone smiling sweetly as Security escorts the two women from the park, their Betty Page dresses limp, their little white gloves covered in grass stains.

Afterward, we all breathe a sigh of relief. And take another bite of pizza. And clap as Nova resumes reading from her newest novel, 17 & Gone…

Anne Shirley twists toward me, her eyes twinkling as she leans very unladylike over Jo March. “Are you ready, Emily? You’re up next…”

NRS: How do you plan to celebrate your book’s birthday on March 26?

EM: I haven’t decided yet, as of this writing. I’m not the belle of the ball type. But, one thing I do know? No NYC pizza.

But who cares! My book’s coming out!

If You Find Me is on sale March 26 from St. Martin’s Griffin. Read on for a chance to win a copy of the book!


Emily Murdoch

Emily Murdoch lives in the Arizona desert with her husband and adopted dogs, spending her days operating a sanctuary for slaughter-rescued horses and burros. At night, she writes furiously by candlelight, capturing the ideas inspired by the day.

Visit her at emilymurdoch.wordpress.com to find out more. 

Follow @leftywritey on Twitter and add her on Facebook.


NOW TO ANNOUNCE THE GIVEAWAY WINNER…

One lucky winner was chosen to win a signed hardcover of If You Find Me!

If You Find Me coverAnd the winner is…

Kaye!

Congrats, Kaye! I’ll be in touch for your mailing address. Thank you to everyone who entered!