Monday, January 26, 2015

Tips with Paula Stokes, author of The Art of Lainey and Liars, INC: How to be a great beta reader and a HUGE giveaway!


Hey, everyone! I’m so excited to host this next blog post with my wonderful author friend Paula Stokes! We’ll be discussing how to be a great beta partner and some dos and don’ts to help make it a success!

Paula: There’s a lot to being a writer besides writing. One of the things I spend a lot of time on is beta reading for other writers. You don’t have to do this, if you don’t want. I know a few writers who never show their manuscripts to anyone before their agent sees them, but I’ve always felt that feedback from a few trusted colleagues helped raise the level of my work. You might think the best beta-readers are editors or published authors, but this isn’t necessarily the case. Some of my most valuable feedback comes from my unpublished beta readers, including the critiques I get from Christina. I hope my feedback on her work is equally helpful. Today we’re both sharing our tips on how to be a great beta—both as a reader and recipient.

Tips for giving feedback:

Paula: Highlight both things that are working well and potential problems. I know stopping to make a comment like “Oooh, nice metaphor!” takes time, but everyone needs a little positive feedback. If your comments are 99% negative, even if they’re really insightful, you’re bound to discourage your partner from revising the manuscript. I’ve worked with all skill levels at Manuscript Critique Services and I’ve always found plenty of things to compliment. If you seriously can’t find anything nice to say, having a beta-partner might not be for you.

Christina: This is a great tip. I’ve definitely been on both the giving and receiving sides of this. I remember one of my first beta reads. I worked on the novel for 15 or so hours and thought I did such a great job, literally patting myself on the back. When the author responded back, I expected him to be so grateful for the hard work I put into his manuscript. Instead, what I received was “Ouch. I guess I should be careful what I ask for.” At the time, I was so offended. Here, I had offered a lot of great suggestions, and he just chalked it up to me being mean. When I looked back later at my comments, however, I realized I should have pointed out more of the positives of his work too. There were a lot of great things about his story, but it’s easy to just gloss over those and only point out the problems. Receiving critique feels so personal because your book is purely your creation, so you have to remember that authors are human and need encouragement for what they do right. After all, if you don’t point the good out, they may not repeat what they did right the first time and even worse, try to correct what is already good.

That said, as a beta reader, don’t be scared to give your opinion. A dear friend of mine once said that if all a beta reader does is pat you on the head and say what a good job you are doing, you should never use that person again. A beta reader is someone who helps you push your boundaries and makes you feel uncomfortable with your manuscript—in a good way. It makes you think beyond yourself and put yourself into the mind of the reader. They will give you invaluable comments that you can’t see yourself because you are too close to the story. So remember that as you are giving critique. Your opinion is important.

Paula: Tailor your critique. The goal is to push your partner to improve his/her writing craft with each revision, not necessarily to perfect the manuscript or elevate it to a level where it’s ready to be sent out to agents. You don’t have to be at the same place in your publication journey as your partner, but you do need to recognize approximately where he/she is at. If you took me out to help me learn to play tennis and I’d never held a racquet before, you wouldn’t start by teaching me a topsin serve, right? You’d start by showing me the basics. Don’t obsess about high-level minutia with someone who’s not ready to tackle it yet.

Christina: What a great thought. I guess I’ve mostly beta read for books that were on the road to publication. I have worked with some stories at the beginning of the process, and that was really fun. It’s more of a brainstorming session and when done right, it can be such a great process of discovery. At that point, the prettiness of the prose doesn’t matter, like Paula said. You just want to know where the story is going.

Something that Paula and I have talked about in the past has been really helpful to me as a beta reader. Ask the author what they want to get out of the critique. This will help you tailor your critique. Some authors want every single detail—pick out all of the mistakes, typos, badly phrased sentences. Others just want a big picture read. Still others have very specific questions that they want you to think about before you dive in—such as, does this character come off a certain way? Does the epilogue make sense? Did the point of view work for you? If you have these in your head as you read or even after you read, it can help the author get what they want out of your critique, which is ultimately the whole point.

Paula: Learn to differentiate between what’s not working and what you just don’t like. This one can be tough because most people think that others like the same things they like. So if I dislike your plot twist or unreliable narrator or epilogue where Harry Potter gets gray-haired and boring (OMG I HATE THAT EPILOGUE) then it’s a problem that needs to be fixed, right? No. Apparently plenty of people really liked that epilogue. Sometimes your dislikes are just about you.

Christina: Exactly. There are certain structural issues that every author should at least think about—such as, you should probably put an inciting event in the first 20% of the book. However, there are other “triggers” for you that may just be personal preference. I don’t really enjoy suicide books. My sister hates any book that has really old people (such as super old vampires) dating 16 year old girls. But these are personal opinions. By the way, I totally hated the epilogue of HP too. I will restrain from ranting about it :P

Figure out how to clearly get your ideas across to the author. Try to keep in mind 3-4 big things you’d like them to know—critiques can quickly dissolve into overload. I like to structure my critiques as an editor would. I write a 1-2 page cover letter that goes over the big ideas that I think are most important to deal with—I try to include things that I really loved about the book as well as big problems that I had with the manuscript and why. I also like to ask probing questions that may push the manuscript further. In addition to this, I also offer in line critique if the author wants. Here, I’ll use track changes and add comments in the margins.

Paula: Don’t force your suggestions on your partners. I used to struggle with this one too because I sometimes feel really strongly about things. But if you mention something once and read a subsequent draft where your beta-partner has opted not to address one of your points, let it go. You’re not the boss of their book. Being pushy might mean they don’t feel comfortable sharing future work and good beta-readers are worth their weight in gold.

Christina: I also feel strongly about things, but honestly, the most important thing is that the author at least thinks about what you’ve said. If you’ve been heard, truly heard, then your job is done. Anticipate that less than 50% of your comments will be incorporated. Even that amount is really huge. It’s nothing personal, just as your comments to their work weren’t personal. Always remember it’s not your book, it’s theirs, and they have the ultimate decision making in the end.

Tips for receiving feedback:

Christina: My first tip, one that I didn’t follow myself to my chagrin, is to not bug the beta reader constantly after sending them the manuscript. Meaning, don’t nag them to read your book. You are excited to share your work, but these people are busy and have a million other things to read and write. They are doing you a huge favor. Give them the time without the pressure of you asking, “Did you read it? Did you read it?” If you are under a time pressure from a publishing company or editor or deadline, you can say that upfront. That way, beta readers won’t agree to read your manuscript unless they have the time to do it before your deadline. Plus, if they take forever (more than a month unless they update you) or never read it, you shouldn’t use them again as a beta reader anyway.

Paula: My number one tip is always to utilize a cooling-off period before responding to a critique or making decisions about a manuscript. Read the feedback. Then do something else for a couple of days. When Christina gave me input on LIARS, INC., it had been beta-read about seven times and gone through two rounds of edits with HarperTeen. I was kind of expecting an email full of praise. (*sigh* Yep, sometimes I’m that girl.) So when she had three or four suggestions (while at the same time saying it was a 4-star read for her as is) my brain immediately did something like:

Why doesn’t Christina like my book? I tried so hard and still she found these problems. Why is she so picky? I bet no one else would care about these things. What if it’s really a 2 star read for her and she’s just being nice? What if it’s a terrible book? I’m already in ARCs. Making these changes will be hard. But wait, I don’t even know if I need these changes…

It’s easy to let your emotions overwhelm your rationale brain when someone gives you critical feedback, no matter how kindly. So I didn’t do anything for a couple of days, but I couldn’t stop thinking about Christina’s suggestions. Not only did I decide she was right about all of them, I realized I could easily address her issues with a couple of added sentences here or there. And my book is better off for it. And because I didn’t send her a wailing emotional email, she (hopefully) doesn’t think I’m crazy and will continue to offer her expert advice.

Christina: LOL! I still tease Paula about this. It’s especially funny because the fact that I had no more than 3-4 comments shows how much I liked it already. But Paula is a perfectionist, so I wasn’t too surprised! I totally agree with her tip. I would even suggest if you have time and aren’t on a pressing deadline, especially if this is the first critique on your book, take a break for a few months before diving back into revisions. Write something else or work on a new project. If you are too close to the book, it’s very hard to be objective.

I would add, get several opinions from people you trust on your manuscript, but not too many. You need more than just one person reading it, but you also don’t want 20 people reading it—it quickly gets overwhelming. If you think receiving feedback is tough from one person, think about how crazy feedback is from 20 different people with different opinions. “But the last five readers liked that character. Why does this person hate him?”

Paula: Be receptive and open-minded, but in the end, trust your gut. Before I had an agent, I once redid the first page of a manuscript for a first-page conference critique. I sent this revised page to three trusted betas, and all of them responded that they liked the old version better. But me, I liked the new version—I loved it, in fact. I submitted my new version at the Oregon Coast Children’s Book Writers Workshop in 2010 and the entire room of people burst into applause at the end of the reading. Jennifer Laughran made a point of saying I should query her. I did, and even though she rejected that book, she took me on with my next manuscript, THE ART OF LAINEY.

Christina: I completely agree.

My last tip is related: just take a deep breath when you look through your critique, and remember, ultimately, this is your story. Going back to some of the previous points in this post, just remember that you don’t need to change everything your beta reader suggests. Sometimes they’re wrong. Their job is mostly to make you think, not for them to rewrite the story for you.  This is your story, and you need to remember that the story begins and ends with you, the author.

CONTEST:

Paula: Because it wouldn’t be me if there wasn’t a giveaway, right? Enter the Rafflecopter below for a chance to win a finished copy of either LIARS, INC.  or THE ART OF LAINEY. Christina has expertly beta-read both of them, so really, you can’t go wrong ;-)
 
a Rafflecopter giveaway
 
About Paula:
Paula Stokes writes stories about flawed characters with good hearts who sometimes make bad decisions. When she's not writing, she's kayaking, hiking, reading, or seeking out new adventures in faraway lands. Paula is the author of THE ART OF LAINEY, INFINITE REPEAT, LIARS INC., and several other forthcoming YA novels. She loves interacting with readers. Find her online at authorpaulastokes.com or on twitter as @pstokesbooks.


About Liars, Inc.:
It all starts with one little lie…
Liars, Inc.
Max Cantrell has never been a big fan of the truth, so when the opportunity arises to sell lies to his classmates, it sounds like a good way to make a little money and liven up a boring senior year. With the help of his friends Preston and Parvati, Max starts a business providing forged permission slips and cover stories for the students of Vista Palisades High. Liars, Inc. they call it. Suddenly everybody needs something and the cash starts pouring in. Who knew lying could be so lucrative?

When Preston wants his own cover story to go visit a girl he met online, Max doesn’t think twice about hooking him up. Until Preston never comes home. Then the evidence starts to pile up—terrifying clues that lead the cops to Preston’s body. Terrifying clues that point to Max as the murderer.

Can Max find the real killer before he goes to prison for a crime he didn’t commit? In a book that Kirkus Reviews called “Captivating to the very end,” Paula Stokes starts with one single white lie and weaves a twisted tale that will have readers guessing until the explosive final chapters.


16068910About The Art of Lainey:
Soccer star Lainey Mitchell is gearing up to spend an epic summer with her amazing boyfriend, Jason, when he suddenly breaks up with her—no reasons, no warning, and in public no less! Lainey is more than crushed, but with help from her friend Bianca, she resolves to do whatever it takes to get Jason back.
And that’s when the girls stumble across a copy of The Art of War. With just one glance, they're sure they can use the book to lure Jason back into Lainey’s arms. So Lainey channels her inner warlord, recruiting spies to gather intel and persuading her coworker Micah to pose as her new boyfriend to make Jason jealous. After a few "dates", it looks like her plan is going to work!  But now her relationship with Micah is starting to feel like more than just a game.

What's a girl to do when what she wants is totally different from what she needs? How do you figure out the person you're meant to be with, if you're still figuring out the person you're meant to be? 

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Saturday, January 17, 2015

A Review of Renegade by Antony John, the final book in the Elemental trilogy and a GIVEAWAY!

Hi everyone! I know I've been away for many weeks and haven't posted a whole lot, and unfortunately, after this post and another one at the end of the month, I'll probably be absent for a couple more months as work has ramped up a ton. Thanks for hanging in there with me and loyal followers will be rewarded with two great giveaways!

18776533Goodreads book description: The finale to the dystopian fantasy trilogy James Dashner called "fantastic" has a daring escape from pirates, life-or-death rescue missions, and a heartbreaking romance.

Thom and his fellow colonists are in danger of paying the ultimate price to secure their homeland in this last book of the Elemental trilogy. After the shocking discovery that his mother is still alive and on Roanoke, Thom is determined to return to that island. However, the island is still under pirate control, and a mysterious boy in possession of a dangerous element appears. With the help of an unlikely ally and the newly discovered ability to combine elements, Thom must summon the full extent of his power to end this battle for their home once and for all.

Packed with adventure, mystery, and romance, the gripping conclusion to the series that began with Elemental and Firebrand is perfect for fans of Ship Breaker and Divergent.


Rating: 4 couches

Review:
If you've read my reviews, you know that I really enjoy Antony John's books. He has a great voice, and I'm going to pick up every book he writes. The Elemental trilogy is no exception. I remember reading the first book and being sucked into this dystopian paranormal world where everything was bleak, but yet, anything was possible. I loved the voice of Thomas and really enjoyed Alice, the fiesty sidekick and the sweet Rose, who had a lot of potential to become more than just sweet. The paranormal aspect was also fascinating and I loved learning more about it throughout the trilogy.

The second book, I also enjoyed, but because it is a trilogy, the world had to expand, and there was something about being on the island of the first that really worked for me, while this expansion didn't as much. The cast grew in numbers and I lost a sense of knowing the characters as much as I would like to. That said, Thomas and Alice and now Rose dominated the life of the story and a couple of newcomers added a great element of danger as well as intrigue.

Needless to say, I was eager to read the third book. As the first two, it was fast paced, and as promised, it is full of explosions, harrowing escapes, and a large number of wonderful reveals. I definitely enjoyed the twists and turns, and overall, I was satisfied by the ending. A lot of disparate pieces are brought together in this final volume, and I don't think readers will be disappointed.

That said, I had some issues with it that were basically the same as the second book. There were a lot of characters and a lot of parents (I guess I know now why so many parents are killed off in YA! You get YA characters + their parents and that's already tripling your character count!), and while Antony did a heroic job of reminding you of who was who, I didn't feel like their personalities were distinct enough to keep them straight. This is very difficult to do and there are only rare books with a wide cast that are able to do this (and honestly, probably have many more pages in bulk than this trilogy).

Overall, I thought this was an incredibly entertaining trilogy with a solid main cast of characters and an imaginative dystopian world. In a deluge of dystopian YA books, this world definitely stands out. Pick up your copies now!

OK now, get your chance to pick up a signed copy of any three in the trilogy, winner's choice! Sorry to my INT readers. This giveaway is for US followers only. Thank you to Left Bank Books who is donating a copy of the book for this giveaway!

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Saturday, November 15, 2014

Interview with the #FierceReads Authors: Marissa Meyer, Jessica Brody, Gennifer Albin, and Nikki Kelly and HUGE US GIVEAWAY of all of their books!

Dear All: So excited to finally get to share with you the transcript of the Fierce Reads event that I attended last month. It's a long time coming, but it's hard to carve out a block of time to transcribe with a little one! I had such a blast chatting with Marissa, Jessica, Gennifer, and Nikki before the talk and signing. They were hilarious, and it was great to get out of the house, and I laughed harder than I have in a long time! The interview is long, but it's definitely worth reading. Thanks so much also to Mary @ Macmillian Children's Publishing Group and Left Bank books for putting this on!




Transcript of Interview
Christina @ Ensconced in Lit: So excited to be doing this interview with you guys! My first question is, describe to us in three words your trilogy or book.

Marissa: Futuristic fairy tales.

Gennifer: Isn’t fairytale one word? 

[Laughter]

Marissa: “Fairy” can be an adjective.

Rest of group: Ahhhh.

Jessica: Memories can deceive.

Rest of group: I like that one!

Jessica: Well, I’ve had it for a while. 

[Laughter]

Marissa: Hers is better.

Gennifer: Three is really, really super hard. Usually we get five!

Jessica: I’ve got one for Nikki!

Nikki: Oooh, good! Go ahead, Jess!

Jessica: Angels, vampires, Other?

Nikki: That’s exactly what I was going to say! I really was! [in cute English accent]

[Laughter]

Nikki: I was going to say, Angels, vampires, ?

Gennifer: What about me? Thanks a lot, guys. Let’s see. “What a tangled world she weaves.” That’s more than three, I know.

Christina @ Ensconced in Lit: Each of you had to do extensive world building. Can you tell me a little about developing those worlds, what helped or inspire you? Your favorite part about world building and your least or most frustrating?

Marissa: Well, for me, I knew early on that I wanted my series to have a really global feel. Because I knew there were these things happening with the Plague and the war with the Lunars that would impact every person on the planet. So I didn’t want to just set it in America or just in China or wherever. So for me, it wasn’t only fun to choose what parts of the world to set it in, but also to try to bridge the gaps with different cultures—what parts of these cultures would have stayed and what would have been kept from these traditions, what food would they have versus what they would have brought in from other parts of the world. But they have a universal language, which makes sense because it makes things really convenient!

[Laughter]

Marissa: And so for me, it was a lot of that, mingling and blending of cultures, a lot of East meets West.

Jessica: I like to say when kids ask me, “How do you world build?” I say, “I’ll tell you how to not world build, and that’s how I did it.” With Unremembered, it was really tricky because in the first book, we’re not in her world, we’re in our world, and she is kind of a newcomer in our world. So I was kind of writing it and would pick these little, fun things where maybe she could do this. Then when we get to book three, where we actually return to her world, I was like, “Oh, crap! None of this really makes sense, and I didn’t put much thought into this!” So I didn’t seriously world build until the third book, and I really wish I had done it in advance and thought it through in the first book. I mean, I did create her world, but it was a very rough sketch. Then I had to paint it in with color in the third book and make sure that everything I mentioned in the first two books actually worked. And there are a few things where I really had to twist things a bit where if anyone asked me later, I’d say, “Oh boy. Yeah. It was a bit of a stretch.”

Marissa: I know what you mean. I definitely wish I had put more thought into things beforehand too because there are a few moments in Cinder where I think, “Well, it doesn’t really work, but… [Laughter] Yeah, we’ll just make it work, just squeeze a little.

Jessica: Isn’t there a word for that? Where you try to squeeze things in to work?

Gennifer: Shoehorn.

Others: Yeah, yeah, that’s it.

Gennifer: It’s like that whole conversation we had in the car about usages and phrases that might not exactly work in your books. So you just say, “It’s just a misunderstanding. You just don’t get it.”

[Laughter]

Gennifer: So I just went kind of crazy with the first book and tried to include a lot of things that I thought were cool and interesting. There’s this dash of film noir where everyone wears these pin striped suits and silk stockings and fedoras, because I think they’re really beautiful. If I were to create a perfect world, people would wear stuff like that all the time.

[Laughter]

Gennifer: What? Pink curls! We’d all be very glamorous. So then I started thinking about the style of how I wanted Crewel to look, and I built backwards from that. I asked myself why it logically would look like this. So that’s part of the world building of the Crewel world, where it spins off from artistry. And then using a lot of spinning and weaving terminology. There’s actually more sewing terminology than weaving terminology because I know more about sewing. But it was also more fun to think about if reality really was like fabric. Like how would we feel if you ripped it and what could you do to it. There was a lot of playing with that.

Nikki: Well, in Lailah, there are three dimensions. The first and the third dimensions are a spin on heaven and hell. So that was kind of the basis for it. Thousands of years ago when we were telling ourselves about heaven and hell, angels and devils, people would tell stories explaining them. Now here’s a different possibility of how to explain what these things are, and how these stories were received a thousand years ago. Obviously, this is just true to my book, not to real life.

[Laughter]

Nikki: Because it’s three books, you don’t want to write something that doesn’t make sense three books later, so I put a lot of thought and research into this, sciency kind of stuff as to how this would work. One of the worlds exists in light and the other in darkness. So what works in one world should work in the opposite way for the other. There was a lot of research on sciency, clever stuff, which was really hard, because if you’ve read sciency stuff, it doesn’t make sense!

[Laughter]

Nikki: You then have to look for people who will dumb it down. And then you say, “That still doesn’t make sense!” So you have to find more resources. The first book sets up the whole idea of the world, and the second book starts to introduce more of the science of the world. And by the third book, we go to the worlds. But I was very conscious that what I said in book one wouldn’t be detrimental to what happened in book three. So far it’s been ok.

Gennifer: There will eventually be something. No matter how careful you are, there will be something you’ll say, “Oh, crap!” or you just drop something completely and you say, “Nobody notice this!”

Marissa: Yesterday, I just got an email from someone asking since Cinder is technically a computer, can she be hacked and be controlled that way? And I thought to myself, “Um, probably?”

Nikki: She needs antivirus software!

[Laughter]

Jessica: Pop up ads!

Nikki: The good thing about writing is that you base it in science and then evolve it with your imagination into something else.

Jessica: Fictional liberties! [Laughter] It’s a phrase I’ve come to love!

Nikki: Exactly! You take something known and then spin it. I love to spin things! It’s more fun that way.

Christina @ Ensconced in Lit: Or weave or sew [gestures to Gennifer]

Gennifer: We create our reality. It’s fantastic.

Christina @ Ensconced in Lit: All right. If you spent a day in each of your worlds, what would you do and why?

Marissa: I’d like to go to a ball.

Gennifer: Good answer. Can we just spend the day in Marissa’s world?

[Laughter]

Marissa: Street fairs, wear kimonos, then go to the ball…

Gennifer: I think this is an excellent plan. Bad things happen in my world. I guess there is a plague in yours.

Marissa: It’s a risk we all take.

Gennifer: Yeah, nowadays!

Jessica: I would probably use genetic engineering… to fix some things. [gestures to face]

Marissa: Give yourself violet eyes!

Jessica: Get rid of a few wrinkles…

Christina @ Ensconced in Lit: So you are saying you wouldn’t want to go back into time and live in a Shakespearean world.

Jessica: Nope, I wouldn’t go to that world, I’d go to the other one.

Christina @ Ensconced in Lit: Because you also might get plague!

Jessica: True, true.

Gennifer: Yeah, if you’ve read the second Deborah Harkness book, you say to yourself, “Yeah, you wouldn’t really want to live in the Renaissance.”

Nikki: I don’t really want to go to my world. I want to stay in London.

Jessica: Well, that’s partially your world.

Nikki: Well, that’s true.

Christina @ Ensconced in Lit: Except without the mythology.

Nikki: You guys haven’t gone to the third world yet, but you wouldn’t want to go there. [Flails]

Jessica: Ooooh insert Flail!

Nikki: The first dimension is really light so you’d think you’d like to go there, but as a human you’d lose your form and not really be a conscious being. But say I could be a conscious being…

Jessica: Oooh, well this is bright! [Laughter] I need some sunglasses!

Nikki: Yeah, I guess I’d go to the first.

Jessica: You’d probably get a really good tan in the first dimension.

Nikki: Yesss, you probably would. It’s all beautiful and crystal seas, no sky or land, everything just kind of comes together. But this is all very devious because things are happening behind the scenes that you don’t know about yet.

[Laughter]

Jessica: Spoiler alert!

Christina @ Ensconced in Lit: Flail!

Nikki: Let’s just stick with the flailing.

Christina @ Ensconced in Lit: Flail can stand for spoiler alert too.

Marissa: You know how TV shows have a hashtag for each episode? Like Live tweet, you are watching this show! We should do that for the Fierce Reads event.

Gennifer: You should do that. You have like a million followers. We can retweet off of you!

Marissa: Hashtag flail!

[Laughter]

Gennifer: Oh! I just thought of where I’d go in my world! I would go to Kincaid’s, because Kincaid’s is actually Hearst castle. So it’s a real place, but if you go to Hearst Castle now, you have to take a tour and stuff. But if you go to Kincaid’s, you can run around and do whatever you want in Hearst Castle!

Marissa: Oh, right! When you were describing it, I was thinking to myself, “I’ve been there!”

Gennifer: So yeah, I think I’d like to have run of Hearst Castle for a day. I could deal with Kincaid. I would just have Adelice with me. Go swimming in one of the mini pools.

Christina @ Ensconced in Lit: Did any of your characters surprise you? If so, who and why? If not, who was the most fun to develop?

Gennifer: There were two characters that weren’t in the original manuscript. And I actively put one in. The other one walked into a scene… um, I don’t know who you are! [Flails] You are just going to complicate things because everyone is going to say, “LOVE TRIANGLE!” But Eric was not a character, just showed up. And I said, “Who are you, and why are you here?” And once I realized why, I said, “WHOA! This complicates things!” But I’m so glad because he’s one of my favorite characters.

Christina @ Ensconced in Lit: Who is the other one?

Gennifer: Cormac! He wasn’t in the original. It was just Maela at first, but she was just really, really mean and just straight up evil. And I wanted someone that you’re never quite sure of, and not even up to the end of the first book, you can’t peg Cormac for being purely evil. I love him. He’s actually my favorite character.

Jessica: I think Kaelen from the second book was somewhat surprising, but he was also the most fun to develop because he has the farthest to grow. I have to talk in code because there are so many spoilers in this answer. At the beginning, he is very one dimensional and very focused on his goal and his mission and basically what he’s been programmed to do. And by the end, he’s not totally different, but he’s starting to crack. That was really fun to play around with, and the way he responds to Seraphina who has had more time to adjust to our world. So she’s had experiences that he hasn’t had, so her suddenly being the “teacher” was really fun because in the first book, she’s the student. I just wrote a novella from the point of view of Kaelen called Unleashed that will be out in January. I had a lot of fun doing that because I could write from his point of view of the exact same transformation. So seeing from his eyes made it clearer for me, and I was like, “I should have written this first!”

Christina @ Ensconced in Lit: I really liked Kaelen.

Jessica: Yay! Team Kaelen! You guys are rare.

Marissa: Usually I say Iko because she is the most fun character to write, and she’s always surprised me. But hearing Jess talk, she made me think of another character, so I’m going to mix things up a little bit and say Aimery, who is one of the evil queen’s thaumaturges. I originally threw him in when the queen arrives on Earth in Cinder just because it seemed like she needed more people hanging around. Like a queen wouldn’t have just two guards, right? She needs a minion. So he had no purpose except to bug people in the first three books, and then I started writing Winter, and then all of a sudden, he became all devious and evil, and I said, “I had no idea you were so creepy!” So he became a really great villain character.

Nikki: I think it’s Brooke for me, who is a sidekick character, and she’s American. No offense to America, but she’s a bit of a fashionista and self absorbed. In the first book, she comes across as a bit one dimensional at the beginning. By the end, you get a bit of the backstory and understand her a bit better. But she surprised me. She always seems to grow more than I was expecting her to. And she has a nicer side to her that I knew she had in there somewhere! It just took a little time for it to come out. People don’t really like her too much at first , but hopefully, eventually they’ll like her more.

Christina @ Ensconced in Lit: What? I liked her! I wanted to shop with her!

Jessica: We all want to shop with her.

Nikki: What did you think of Enora? Because she gets a really bad rep.

Christina @ Ensconced in Lit: I felt like we didn’t see a whole lot of her.

Nikki: Actually, there’s a short story with her and Gabriel, and people said they liked her more in the short story, or at least, understand her more.

Christina @ Ensconced in Lit: Well, we only see her through the main character’s eyes and she hates her.

Nikki: Right. I was telling that to someone recently. Enora’s been travelling with Gabriel for hundreds of years, and we don’t know quite how that came about in the first book. Then along comes Miss Blondie, and suddenly, Gabriel’s all over her. And she’s been slightly elbowed out. In her book, she’d be the hero and Lailah would be the villain. It’s always interesting how you look at it. Yeah, I guess Brooke is more likeable than I thought!

Christina @ Ensconced in Lit: She gave the book a lot of needed lightheartedness, because a lot of the book is heavy, and then she’ll come in and say, “Let’s go shopping!”

Nikki: She does bring a bit of comic relief. I’m glad you liked her!

Christina @ Ensconced in Lit: I always ask this question to authors, and I always have authors who haven’t read Harry Potter, so if you haven’t, just say you haven’t.

[Laughter]

Jessica: The British one!

[Nikki hangs her head]

[Laughter]

Jessica: You should be able to get through at least 2 books during this tour.

Gennifer: 7 days, 7 books!

Marissa: When I was writing Winter, and it was getting longer and longer, I thought to myself, “It’s still shorter than Order of the Phoenix!”

Nikki: Well, I have been to Harry Potter World in London.

Jessica: But what a waste!

Christina @ Ensconced in Lit: If each of your main characters (or another favorite supporting character) were taken to Hogwarts, which house would they be sorted into and why?

Jessica: Seraphina would totally be a Ravenclaw. She’s so logical and book smart.

Gennifer: Adelice would be a Gryffindor. She’s brave but a little foolhardy. Doesn’t know when to shut up around Cormac or Snape.

Marissa: Scarlet and Cinder would both be Gryffindor. They’re both brave and sometimes that works against them. Cress would be Hufflepuff.

Christina @ Ensconced in Lit: I thought that would be Cress’s house.

Gennifer: What’s Hufflepuff’s main character trait?

Jessica [high singsongy voice]: We’re friends!

Marissa: Loyalty.

Jessica: I think Lailah would be a Gryffindor.

Nikki: Yes, I think so too. I’m not completely dense to Harry Potter.

Gennifer: No one said Slytherin!

Jessica: Kaelen would totally be Slytherin.

Gennifer: Yes, well, there are other characters in our books that would be Slytherin. Cormac would totally be Slytherin.

Marissa: I’m trying to think if any of my evil characters would not be Slytherin.

[Silence]

Marissa: Thorne would be Gryffindor.

Christina @ Ensconced in Lit: I have a crush on him.

Jessica: Me too.

Christina @ Ensconced in Lit: OK. I think we’re running out of time. Who would play your main character in your dream movie cast and why?

Marissa: I like Shae Mitchell for Cinder. She’s in Pretty Little Liars.

Jessica: Which one is she?

Gennifer: She’s one of the liars.

[Laughter]

Nikki: I can tell you my three. Alex Pettifer for Gabriel.

Gennifer: He can’t act his way out of a box.

Nikki: I don’t care if he can’t act. He can just stand there and look nice.

Gennifer: You say that now, but that’s how we got Taylor Lautner in Twilight.

Nikki: True.

Gennifer: Well, just make him take his shirt off.

[Laughter]

Nikki: And Shiloh Fernandez for Jonah, he’s hot too. Gabriella Wilde for Lailah.

Gennifer: The problem with making these casts is that the actors we think of are too old. I think Emma Stone would be a great Adelice, but she’s too old. If we could get a time machine… And I feel super creepy casting 16 year old boys!

[Laughter]

Gennifer: So I just leave that to the gods of teenage boys who would know that. But Robert Downey, Jr. would be Cormac.

Marissa: That’s perfect!

Christina @ Ensconced in Lit: No wonder you like Cormac so much!

Marissa: I really had my heart on Angelina Jolie as the Evil Queen. But then she was just Maleficent.

Jessica: I can’t do my dream casts anymore because they are casting the movie right now!

Others: Whoohoo! [Clapping]

Jessica: But for a dream cast, the fans chose Ryan Newman as Seraphina.

Christina @ Ensconced in Lit: All right. Who currently is your YA book boyfriend?

Marissa: [flail and big sigh] Sturmond from Siege and Storm. It’s the dering do, tell me what you want and I’ll make it happen, attitude.

Gennifer: The man every girl dreams of.

 Marissa: I’m going to build a secret base at the tip of this mountain. Because I CAN.

[Laughter]

Jessica: I’m going to go with Josh from Isla and the Happily Ever After. He’s so adorable! Literally, I have a new book boyfriend every week, but he’s a good one.

Gennifer: Why choose just one?

[Laughter]

Gennifer: It’s really hard for me. I’ve been reading a lot more adult fantasy recently. I can’t come up with anyone YA.

Jessica: How about a book man friend?

[Laughter]

Gennifer: Then it’s Matthew Clairmont from A Discovery of Witches. Cause you know. Thousand year old vampire who also has a degree from Oxford and is a scientist. That just really does it for me. Like you’re a vampire and hot and super smart!

Nikki: Tobias from Divergent. I don’t need to say more!

Christina @ Ensconced in Lit: Thanks so much for doing this interview with me! It was a blast!

And now, thanks to Macmillian Children's Publishing Group, we have an awesome giveaway (only US but I'm pitching in a mega swag pack for my INT friends!). The giveaway includes a pack of the following books:
1. Cress by Marissa Meyer
2. Unforgotten by Jessica Brody
3. Unraveled by Gennifer Albin
4. Lailah by Nikki Kelly 

Enter away! Please remember, you have to be 13 or older to enter, and I am not responsible for lost shipments in the mail. I will be forwarding the winners to the Macmillian Publishing Group. Enjoy!

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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Interview with SJ Kincaid, author of the Insignia trilogy and US/UK giveaway of Catalyst!

Welcome back, everyone! So excited to get to host this terrific interview with SJ Kincaid, the author of the Insignia trilogy!


If you read my last post, you know how much I enjoyed this trilogy. I loved getting some of my burning questions answered by her, and hope that you guys all go out and buy it now. It's worth it!

Goodreads description of Insignia:
"Insignia expertly combines humor with a disarming and highly realistic view of the future. The characters are real, funny, and memorable. You won't be able to put this book down."—Veronica Roth, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Divergent and Insurgent

The earth is in the middle of WWIII in Insignia, the first entry in S. J. Kincaid's fast-paced sci-fi adventure trilogy perfect for fans of Ender's Game.

The planet's natural resources are almost gone, and war is being fought to control the assets of the solar system. The enemy is winning. The salvation may be Tom Raines. Tom doesn't seem like a hero. He's a short fourteen-year-old with bad skin. But he has the virtual-reality gaming skills that make him a phenom behind the controls of the battle drones.

As a new member of the Intrasolar Forces, Tom's life completely changes. Suddenly, he's someone important. He has new opportunities, friends, and a shot at having a girlfriend. But there's a price to pay. . . 



ABOUT SJ:
As a kid, S. J. Kincaid wanted to be an astronaut, but she decided to become a full-time writer after spending a year studying in Edinburgh and living next to a haunted graveyard. However, after writing many novels and having had no success in finding a publisher for any of them, S. J. decided she would write one more, then give up for good. That last book turned out to be INSIGNIA, and she hasn't looked back since. Follow S. J. Kincaid at www.sjkincaid.com or on Twitter: @SJKincaidBooks. On Facebook: sjkincaidbooks.


1. People have compared your books to a host of other well known books including Harry Potter, Ender’s Game, and Ready Player One. Did any of these books inspire you before you wrote your trilogy? Do you agree with the comparisons? How did you try to move beyond it (by the way, I think you totally succeeded, especially in the last two books)?

            Harry Potter and Ender’s Game are amazing, so I’m flattered by the comparisons. I’ve also heard great things about Ready Player One. If I were to pinpoint my biggest influences before the trilogy, I’d say: 1) Star Trek (this was my childhood), 2) Starship Troopers the movie (campy military sci-fi movie/political parody), 3) Scrubs the TV show (the mixture of tone between hilarity and moments of real seriousness), 4) Chuck the TV show (computer in the brain), and 5) Catch-22 (the absurd tone set in a military type environment).
            I really do think everything has been done before, and every single book, movie, TV show will draw upon familiar elements. The real secret is to organize things in a way that makes sense to you and create a world that you feel passionate about and invested in. I really had fun building the world of INSIGNIA and I miss it now that the series is done.


2. I absolutely love your world building. Did you do research for it? How did you go about creating it?
            Thank you! It took a lot of work building the world, and it’s one reason I already miss the series. I miss the world.
            I was in nursing school when I wrote it, so that put me temporarily in a mode where I could understand a lot more pathophysiology, etc. than I do now. That really helped me build the science of neural processors. I based a lot of the computer stuff on my own (limited) understanding of my own PC. As for the setting, the Pentagonal Spire, I went to a boarding school so drew upon that. I wanted there to be some equivalent to dormitories, and there are a few basic places you need with every live-in school. I also knew I didn’t want them to be full-blown military because that would require far more research and leave more grounds for inaccuracy, so I just had them be wards of the military, not members of it. The thing that required the most research was the technology. I read a lot of articles about likely near-future technology. I didn’t want anything too outlandish. I did want to stick as close to reality as possible.
            As for the political systems, etc. I really just exaggerated a lot of what’s already happening. The USA did actually form this alliance with India under George W Bush, and China and Russia have been moving towards countering US influence by strengthening their own relations. That part was probably the easiest of the world-building.


3. My favorite part of your books are the characters. Did any of your characters surprise you? If so, which one and why?
            Elliot Ramirez. I originally planned for him to be a rival of Tom’s, and even set it up like he was going to be the King Arthur to Tom’s Mordred, but I grew to like Elliot and began to regard him as a sort of mentor figure to Tom instead. He’s very much Tom’s opposite in many ways, and Tom has a lot he could learn from him.

4. Tom goes through a lot of growth over the span of the three books. There were several moments, particularly in book one and two where I wasn’t sure if I liked him, but because of your skill at storytelling and world building, I knew I was sticking around until the end. Was it difficult to write Tom and give him storylines and personal characteristics that you knew might rub people the wrong way? Can you tell us a little about risk taking when writing these books (because I think you take lots of risks, which totally pays off)?
            LOL, yes, he does go through a lot! Tom’s defining characteristic is his sheer stubbornness. He’s led a very insecure, unstable life and he’s been in a disadvantaged position for most of it, so he’s developed this uncompromising, unbending need to maintain his own sense of dignity. It’s a matter of pride for him, not ‘letting the bastards get him down’, but approaching the world with this attitude unwittingly creates enemies where he doesn’t even need to have them. One goal I always had with Tom was this: he will always be the primary cause of his own troubles. It makes Tom incredibly fun to write because there is always going to be conflict or turmoil of some sort once he is involved in a situation. If any other character was the center of INSIGNIA, the entire story probably wouldn’t have happened-- because no one else would’ve made his decisions.
            Having said that, he’s very much of a love-him-or-hate-him character. He polarizes both in the book and out of it. I’m okay with that, because people who don’t necessarily care for Tom generally seem to identify with Wyatt, Vik, Blackburn or Medusa. That’s one of the huge advantages of writing  story with prominent secondary characters-- it gives you more shots at winning a reader’s interest.
            Because Tom had a very prominent flaws (pride, stubbornness, insensitivity), I had both his strengths and weaknesses available to explore, and many of the risks in the series sprang from the idea of doing that. His stubbornness was in one way a very real strength, so of course, that begged the question in my mind about just what it would take to overcome that strength-- or could it be overcome? As soon as I have those questions, that’s when I want to take risks in the story.

5. Which character are you most like and why?
            Vik, but my humor is more teasing, less needling.

6. What were your favorite and least favorite parts about writing a trilogy?
            My favorite was evolving the characters over time, writing things into the third book that closed threads from the first book, (hopefully) surprising readers who might’ve expected something else, and just really digging in and getting invested in a narrative. My least favorite? Ugh, writing book two! That was a nightmare. Necessary, but a nightmare.

7. Who would be your dream cast for the trilogy?
            I have images of the kids, and don’t really know young Hollywood enough to match their faces to anyone. For several of the adults, I definitely have Hollywood actor mental images. Blackburn was inspired by John C McGinley’s Doctor Cox on Scrubs, physically and the way he spoke. Dalton, I always pictured as Rob Lowe. As for Vengerov, my mental image was Daniel Craig meets Vladimir Putin.

8. If you could spend one day in your world, what would you do and why?
            I’d sneak onto a spaceship and go into space. I really would love to go to space one day. I refuse to get my eyes lasered in case space tourism ever takes off. (Lasik surgery can create small perforations in the retina that can rupture in space, apparently!)

9. Can you give a few words of advice to aspiring writers?
            Read a lot, write a lot. Hear the word ‘no’ until it doesn’t bother you anymore. And never stop trying.

10. What are you working on next? Can you give us a teaser?
            It’s a little early to say! I have a sci-fi that is only a bit younger than INSIGNIA I’m hoping will go somewhere, and a tentative YA I’m working on. Nothing substantial yet. I’m in grad school for creative writing, so that’s my primary focus at the moment.

And now, enter to win the third book in the trilogy, CATALYST! I'm also chipping in a swag pack, to make this giveaway international! :-)

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