Thursday, October 27, 2011

Interview with Rebecca P. Minor, author of The Windrider I: Divine Summons

Today I'm interviewing Rebecca P. Minor, or Becky as I've known her now for a couple of years. Yes, we're fellow authors, and now fellow Alumni on New Authors' Fellowship. We've "met" a few times in other online circles as well. I think it was only natural that Becky and I would become friends as we have a lot in common (as you will likely see in the following interview):

K: Becky, you write primarily fantasy (yay!). What was the first fantasy book you remember reading? And what was it about that book that made you want to keep reading fantasy?

B: The first fantasy book I read was Madeleine L’Engle’s A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and the funny thing about that (besides the fact that it’s the third book in the series and I didn’t bother to read the first two before I dove in) was that the reason I bought it at the school book fair was because it had a unicorn on the cover. (Talk about profound reasoning!) I read and re-read that book too many times to count, but from there branched into the Chronicles of Narnia. I was officially a fantasy addict from that point. The things that drew me into fantasy were the wonder of journeying to another world and the opportunity to experience a place where the rules that govern my real-world life didn’t apply. I admit to shameless escapism.

K: Fantasy writers have the unique situation of really being able to create a world from scratch, with any sort of beings, plants, animals, physical laws, etc., that we can think up. But we also find ourselves needing to follow some “rules” in order to please readers with expectations about what fantasy is.  Do you find that an easy balance to maintain? And how do you go about it?

B: I think the place I struggle is pushing the boundaries. I am a fan of resonance as a reader—what I mean by that is steeping in concepts, characters, and situations that have meaning to me because of their internal notes of familiarity. The balance I am trying for in my own work is the lightly-tethered relationship between resonance and the wonder of experiencing something new. It’s never easy, and at least with my novel, I’ve found it got better when I went through the manuscript and made a point of increasing the “wonder beats.” The elves , monsters, and medieval chivalry that resonate with many fantasy readers remain, but my own twists on how magic works and the quirky nuances of the world help keep it fresh. (I hope!)

K: You are also an artist. I will shamelessly say that I am a huge fan. I particularly love the animation style of your drawing that still has that “sketch” quality. What drew you to animation art? Are you professionally trained in that area? What is your favorite subject matter?

B: I got into animation because I’ve never been able to keep myself from drawing, and my main interest is character design. I am huge fan of the work that was being done in hand-drawn animation in the Disney Renaissance of the late 1980’s and early 90’s, so when it came time for me to go to college, I was thrilled to discover a person could major in animation. I got my Bachelor of Fine Arts in animation from The University of the Arts in 1997, and although I only worked formally in the industry for a few years before I began raising my family full-time, I still find a lot of use for the skills I learned there. (And thanks for the kudos on my drawing style. I can’t paint, but I know my way around a pencil!)

K: If you *had* to pick between writing and drawing, which would you choose? (I know, not fair!)

B: That’s not a very nice question. ;) To be truthful, though, I think I’d pick writing, simply because it inflames a more intense passion for me. Hopefully that would be the right choice and people wouldn’t say “You doofus! You’re a way better artist than writer!”

K: Are there other genres besides fantasy that you enjoy writing now? If fantasy (for whatever reason—no, I can’t think of one) were ever to become “not an option” which genre would you shift your focus to, and why?

B: I’m focused on fantasy pretty exclusively right now, but I think I would also be interested in dabbling in historical fiction, especially the period surrounding the American Revolution. Believe it or not, I may at some point try my hand at writing a Christmas or Easter musical (yes, a stage play for church) because I think the marketplace is tragically limited in product choices. And I want to write a screenplay some day. Alas, those projects will have to wait.

K: You are in a unique situation of landing two publishing deals at once. One with Diminished Media Group for your Windrider series that appeared as a serial in DMG’s online magazine, Digital Dragon.  The other is Sword of Patron, a full-length fantasy novel that will be published by Other Sheep (the speculative fiction imprint of Written World Communications). Tell me for each:

What drew you to those particular publishers?

B: The relationship with Diminished Media was just a natural outgrowth of the serial and its run over at Digital Dragon. I got tied into Digital Dragon when the powers that be over there approached me and asked if I wrote short stories, and would I consider submitting one to their newly established (at the time) magazine. I discovered I don’t write short stories that well, but I can write serial fiction, it seems, and hence, The Windrider.

As I looked at publishers for Sword of the Patron, Other Sheep was on my short list to query. One of their representatives was attending the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference this past summer, and when I had a chance to sit down and hear more about what Other Sheep was up to and might be delving into in the future, they seemed like a good fit. (For example, they have a real eye on the convergence of media in the coming days of entertainment, and I would love for my work to be presented in the multi-media ways they are considering for their titles.)

And just let me say, because I feel like I can’t say it enough—if you are a writer, go to conferences! There’s no place to learn more in a weekend or to make better connections.

K: What drew them to you? In other words, what was it about your manuscripts that they seemed to  particularly enjoy?

B: I’ll have to speculate a little about this, but I think the full package of my book, plus a flashy one-sheet, plus the work I had put into Sword of the Patron (which involved some in-depth critique from some respected mentors) made the book “the real deal” for folks who read it. Not to toot my own horn, but I met with three editors and an agent in Philadelphia, and all of them requested the full manuscript. I guess it was simply time for that book.

As for The Windrider, I think an overlap in tastes in fantasy literature is what really gave me an edge with Tim Ambrose over at Diminished Media. The brisk pace and the resonance back to the sword and sorcery novels being written twenty years ago seemed to draw Tim into the narrative and make him a fan as well as an editor.

K: Awesome, Becky! I for one am really happy about both of your books, and wish you the best of success. Thanks for letting me get inside your head a little.

Ya'll can find Becky--er, Rebecca--haunting around online at her blog: The Call of the Creator,  and at Facebook.

And of course The Windrider I: Divine Summons is available at Amazon for Kindle and Barnes & Noble for Nook. 99 cent for a limited time--so hurry!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Necronomicon 2011

This past weekend was a sci-fi/fantasy/horror convention called The Necronomicon. You may remember me posting about it last year or the year before. This was my third time attending, and my third time having a grand ole time. Things have, however, changed somewhat.

Let's see...three years ago I had finished writing Finding Angel and had a handful of short stories under my belt. I sat through the writing panels at the Necro with a bit of wide-eyed wonder. The panel authors each had multiple books published--either traditionally or self-pubbed--and years of experience. Some were more impressive than others, of course, but all in all I felt like a total newbie compared to them.

Last year, I'd made real progress and had more than a few short stories under my belt. I also had done some artwork for Splashdown Books and things seemed to be heading in the direction of me becoming a published author in "just a matter of time." I sat through the panels with interest, but not just because of the topics. I thought maybe it was something I'd want to do down the line. (Oh, and my design made the cover of the program that year! It's the image to the left here.)

This year, I was kicking myself for not pursuing the panel thing sooner. I wasn't sure I was "ready" and didn't look into how to join the writing panels in time. So, I sat through them the whole time itching to be in a chair behind the table, side by side with writers I now had the experience to match. (And honestly, in a few cases, I have more experience at this point...)

Next year, I intend to be on those panels. I intend to have an author table, too. I did at least have the foresight to take postcards with me to leave out on the goodie table this time, and I wore my Finding Angel t-shirt, as did the friend who went with me. That got a few people to ask, "So, what is Finding Angel?" And of course, I got to tell them! (PS--no, that is not me to the right there, it's the model on my Zazzle page :P)

Yep, already looking forward to next year!

Oh, and total coolness: I came home to find THIS REVIEW of Finding Angel waiting for me. Thank you, Tim George, for the awesome review!

Monday, October 17, 2011

No Middle Road

Books are divided into genres, as we all know. But books written for those under the age of adulthood are also divided by age group. It's a weird and messed-up system in my opinion. Yes, I agree it should be in place. We need to know that a book is for ages 3 to 5 vs. ages 10 to 12. The problem lies when those guidelines aren't used the same way by different publishers and retailers. It makes it confusing. Which ages actually fall into juvenile, middle grade, young adult, tween, and teen? Ask two different writers, agents, or publishers and you are likely to get two different answers.

I started off labeling Finding Angel as "young adult" because the main character, Angel, is 13 when the book starts, and I'd read that YA is for ages 12-18. Awesome. Until, after a number of rejections, I finally got a response from an agent that said it should be labeled "middle grade." Because of Angel's age, partly, as kids "read up." In other words, they apparently don't read about kids their own age, but rather kids a couple of years older. That's not always true as kids get older--it seems to me that 14 yr olds and 17 yr olds read the same books, which are teen and YA, and adult. But apparently my target audience, because Angel is 13 (turns 14 in the novel), would be 11-12 yr olds (which is younger than the audience I intended).

Here's the problem--labeling Finding Angel as middle grade was terrifying for me. You see, it was already long for a YA book. So dropping it down to MG would make it waaaaaaaaay too long. Which meant reducing even further my chances of finding an agent and/or publisher.

Fortunately, small presses tend to be less stringent with word count. So Splashdown Books wasn't as concerned about Finding Angel being long for its target audience. We went ahead and kept the MG label just to be proper.


I went to Barnes & Noble and Books-a-Million the other day to browse around. Guess what? There is NO middle grade section. There is "young readers"--which includes books for kids from 3rd grade through 6th grade. And then it jumps right to "teen."

No in-between. No middle road. Where do middle grade books belong then?

For Finding Angel, if I were to actually be able to get my book on the shelf of a big chain, the answer is obvious. I originally had it labeled YA and I'd stick to that now. Finding Angel is definitely NOT for 3rd through 6th graders. Some 6th graders, yes. The ones who'd read Harry Potter and Fablehaven and Inkheart. But it mainly appeals to teens (young teen and older teen alike).

You see, Angel is 13/14, but she is essentially the youngest character. Everyone around her is either an older teen or an adult. And Angel is mature for her age and a bit of a brain. BUT--when you visit the teen section, the shelves are completely overrun with paranormal romance and dystopian novels. Sure, there is Eragon. But the other books Finding Angel can be compared to are all plunked in the kiddie section.

Needless to say, I left rather frustrated. Well, because of all this AND the fact that NEITHER bookstore had the book I was looking for. Yep. much as the bookstores gripe about Amazon, guess what? I *have* to buy through Amazon because B&N and B-a-M are too cluttered with toys, calendars, desk trinkets, and other "stuff" to actually carry the book I want. (Sigh....I suppose that is a post for another time....)

So where am I going with this? I don't know. Just griping I suppose. Not very professional of me, I admit. But honestly--why so many labels for books that target tweens and teens if they are all going to be lumped together? Why do I need to call my book MG if it's not really? If someday, when Finding Angel makes it onto the shelves, there's not going to be a proper place to put it anyway?

I think I need to relabel Finding Angel. Maybe even make up my own classification. Not middle grade, not young adult, not teen. Something that encompasses all of those, and the adults that love it too. Who's got a suggestion?

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Gathering

Ah, yes, the blog title is a bit of a tribute to Highlander (the first movie, of course). Watched it (for the umpteenth time) the other day, and despite the wretched acting it's still one of my favorite movies of all times. So, there. I'm calling this post The Gathering. But it has nothing to do with Highlander, or immortals in general.

What is it then? A gathering of links for places you will find me this week.

1) A newspaper interview that came out in a paper called "Focus" here in my hometown. A writer and very sweet lady named Cheryl Turner contacted me a couple of months ago and asked to interview me for a feature in Focus. We met for breakfast and had a great time talking for two hours. The end result of that conversation is HERE. This shows up as virtual magazine, which means you must click to "turn" the pages. My feature is on page 7. I was most surprised to have merited a full page!

2) A review of Finding Angel by Heather Titus on Magical Ink. I woke up to find this posted and have not been able to stop smiling since. (Well, except when the kids acted up today. Full moon coming....) My favorite part of the review is this statement:
I can't talk enough about this book. It's another Splashdown Books release, and probably my favorite to date that they've put out (as well as gaining a spot on my all-time favorite fantasy books list).
Go check out the rest of the review. Feel free to leave a comment and follow her blog, too! And make sure you it out next week when she post an interview of me.

3) An interview on "A Pen for Your Thoughts." Novelist Shirley Kiger Connolly was gracious enough to invite me to her blog and ask me about my writing.

4) And if you missed it last week (since I only posted on my Finding Angel blog), my "Journey to Publication" was posted at Spire Reviews.

Unlike in Highlander, there doesn't have to be only one....

(Sorry. Feel free to groan and roll your eyes at that.)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

More than Numbers

I knew it would happen. I knew that after Finding Angel released I would become one of those authors obsessively checking Amazon and Barnes & Noble for reviews. I knew that I'd be plagued with worry over what people think of the novel. I am generally not someone who worries about what people think of me, but this is my book. This is my baby. And what people think matters when it comes to books. Because books that don't get thought of well don't get read.

I also knew that I would be disappointed. Most people don't leave reviews on websites. Think about a book you know everyone has heard of. A book that you know has sold millions of copies. Go look it up on Amazon. You may find a few thousand reviews. I did that just now. The Hunger Games has just over 3,000. Twilight just over 5,000. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone also just over 5,000. That is a drop in the bucket. A few thousand out of millions upon millions of readers. If you see a book with a few hundred reviews, it has most likely sold hundreds of thousands.

That still doesn't help me feel better. Yes, I know my book has been out all of one month. Yes, I know it's through a small press. But, still.

OK, I am not here to whine. I am here to tell you what does help. Something that happened today. A girl who was taking a homeschool class with my daughter told me she loved Finding Angel. Face to face with genuine excitement in her eyes. Followed by sincere disappointment when I told her it is likely going to be a full year before the sequel is published.

That is what helps, because I see that I wasn't just shooting in the dark. I hit the mark, the target audience I intended, and those readers are truly enjoying what I wrote. Will I ever get to the point where I have thousands of reviews? Likely not. But when I see real joy in the eyes of someone who has read my novel, I know it's not really the number that counts.

Of course, I won't be at all upset if next time I check Amazon that number goes up ;).