SPOTLIGHT: Veronica Rossi -- Just Keep Going

 

Veronica Rossi is a best selling author of fiction for young adults. Her debut novel, UNDER THE NEVER SKY, was the first in a post-apocalyptic trilogy. Released in January 2012, it was deemed one of the Best Books of Year by School Library Journal. The series appeared in the NY Times and USA Today best seller lists and was published in over 25 foreign markets.

Her second series for young adults began with RIDERS and concludes with Seekers, due out on Tuesday, May 16th. Riders is the story of four modern day teens who become incarnations of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, and the prophetic girl who brings them together. 

Veronica completed her undergraduate studies at UCLA and then went on to study fine art at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco. She is a lifelong reader and artist. Born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, she has lived in Mexico, Venezuela, and all over the United States, to finally settle in Northern California with her husband and two sons.

When not writing, Veronica enjoys reading (it’s worth repeating), painting, and running. She does NOT like anything involving numbers, the addition of them, subtraction of them, you name it. They terrify her. Her obsessions generally lead to fictional works. Currently, she’s exploring New York City during the Revolutionary War.

 

"It is always exciting to see a book move into the world. It never gets old. It humbles me. It inspires me. I feel very, very fortunate."

 

As a New York Times bestselling author of over half a dozen published novels, how does it feel to send SEEKER out into the world? Have your feelings changed since the publication of UNDER THE NEVER SKY?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, with SEEKER’s upcoming release. It’s my fifth YA book, and the eighth book I’ve published (three of which are co-authored with our dear Lorin!) It is always exciting to see a book move into the world. It never gets old. It humbles me. It inspires me. I feel very, very fortunate.


Now that SEEKER is about to be released, what project are you currently working on?

I can’t get into too much detail quite yet, but it’s my first historical fiction, also in the young adult category. I’m really excited about it. I think it’s my best work yet!


Has your writing process changed since you finished SEEKER?

My process changes with every book I write. Sometimes it’s only a slight modification, sometimes it’s significant. I do have tools I almost always rely on. For example, every one of my books gets a trifold poster board, where I break out the three acts in scenes. But I’ll use that at different stages for different books.

In RIDERS and SEEKER, for example, I wrote my way into the stories much more than I did with my UNDER THE NEVER SKY series. I just do what works. 


What do you do know as a writer that you didn’t do or wouldn’t have done before?

As far as what I do now that I didn’t do before: super early mornings. It’s my new thing. My way of achieving deep focus. I get up at 4:30 every morning and get a couple of hours in before my kids wake up.

I’ve discovered that my mind is in a really good creative space at that time. I have a quiet brain then. I can look at my manuscript and really see it (rather than zoning into that space where I’m thinking of my to do list, lunch, how I need to get laundry going, etc.) If I skip my early mornings now for whatever reason, I’m a little devastated. I love them.

 

"I’m still learning as a writer. I’m still developing. I don’t think I realized just how much that would happen on my journey."

 

What is one of the most surprising things you've learned about yourself or your writing? 

I’m still learning as a writer. I’m still developing. I don’t think I realized just how much that would happen on my journey.  


What do you consider is your biggest writing success right now, at this very moment?

I think I’m getting better. At least, I’m more motivated than ever. And I’m writing for a living and managing to stay alive in a pretty tough arena. I’m legitimately living my dream, and it’s awesome. I don’t know how I got this lucky but I’ll take it!


What challenges or fears do you face with writing and what steps have you taken--or do you take--to overcome them?

I face challenges and fears in my writing every day. Every single day.

One of the ways I cope with them is to keep a running list. It’s literally called, “My Worry List.” If I have a fear about a thin character, a flimsy scene, etc. I add it to the list. Just doing that takes some pressure off. I can then turn to finishing whatever draft I’m working on, knowing I have that list to turn to when the time is right. 

So, that’s a practical way to push through. But most of the work is mental. I have to talk myself into the right headspace a lot. And I have great writing friends who I can lean on. We support each other through the doubt and the discouragement.

The whole thing with writing is to keep going. Writing is layering. It’s revision. But the only way to get to those later drafts is through pure grit. Just keep going.

 

". . . the only way to get to those later drafts is through pure grit. Just keep going."

 

What were the highlights of your editorial work with Free Expressions or attendance at a workshop? How would you describe its overall effect on your professional/creative trajectory?

I met Lorin Oberweger about eight or nine years ago at a FIRE IN FICTION workshop in Austin. I also was super inspired by Don’s teachings. Between the two, I was hooked.

After that I attended a BONI in Northern California, where I live. I got to know Lorin better. I was critiqued by Don (and cried, because he told me the truth… Don knows this.) It was a life-changing critique. Because of Lorin and Don’s honesty and guidance, I found the right path. I turned to the manuscript that would launch my career. 

Lorin and I have become good friends over the years, and co-authors, as I mentioned above. I’ve worked with so many people who “do books” but I have the highest regard for her ability. She’s just gets me, creatively. And we do enjoy our sushi dates. 


In a recent article for the Tor/Forge Blog you mention “Trust the process.” What advice would you give writers who may be having a hard time with Trusting the Process?

This is something that gets a bit easier to believe the more you write.

You start to be able to look back at all the times you felt lost in the woods, and somehow, miraculously, made it out. I’ve written a few books now that, at some point, I thought just weren’t going to come together. In fact, most of them I feel that way! But, as I said above, the whole thing is to keep going. You have to be bullheaded about it. Your desire to finish a manuscript only needs to be a teensy bit greater than the sum of your fears about that manuscript.

 

"Your desire to finish a manuscript only needs to be a teensy bit greater than the sum of your fears about that manuscript."

 

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given that's helped you as a writer?

I’ve had a lot of great guidance over the years. One thing that resonated with me personally was when my mom told me, “Write for yourself. When you do, you write beautifully.”

Now, that’s such a mom comment, right? But it hit home for me because I have a tendency sometimes to look at what others are doing, or to care too much about what others think. I’m trying to get better about limiting external influences to those that only help me do what I want. My mom’s words remind me of that. I keep them on a post it by my desktop!


What outside hobbies or interests help fuel your writing? Especially when you’re feeling “lost in the woods?”

I’ve come a bit late in life to running, but that’s what I have been doing for the past few years that helps me. Writing is so sedentary. Years ago, when I first started, I could spend the bulk of a week indoors with my computer. I have learned I need fresh air and movement. Apparently I wasn’t designed to read and write books all day, unfortunately.

 

FAST FACTS

  • Currently reading: 
    So many things! I am reading a dozen research books at the moment. I’m also reading a young adult fantasy called THE CROWN’S GAME, which is about a battle between two magicians in a fantasy world based on Imperial Russia. And I also just finished a really gritty and excellent adult historical novel called THE NORTH WATER about a whaling expedition in the late 18th Century that goes terribly wrong.
     
  • If you could enter the world of any novel, which would it be?
    This is a bit obscure, but I love this book called ACROSS THE NIGHTINGALE FLOOR, inspired by feudal Japan. The setting is just rendered in such a poetic and gorgeous way. I’d go there!
     
  • Do you write to music, or do you prefer silence?
    It depends on my mood. I’ll do whatever is working best. I do have playlists for each of the books I’ve written with songs that set the right tone. And I especially love writing to film scores; sometimes I just need atmosphere with no lyrics.
     
  • Is there a specific food or drink that fuels your writing?
    Coffee. Sometimes tea. I don’t like to eat while I write. I love food too much. I wouldn’t get many words down.

You can find out more about Veronica at her website, www.veronicarossi.com. Her books are available through all major retailers and independent bookstores.  Purchase Seeker at Amazon.

Spotlight: Katherine Reay -- Writing every day

 
 


Katherine Reay is the award-winning author of DEAR MR. KNIGHTLY, LIZZY AND JANE and THE BRONTE PLOT, an ALA Notable Book Award Finalist.
 
Her latest novel, A PORTRAIT OF EMILY PRICE, released in November 2016 and received Starred Reviews from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and a Romantic Times TOP PICK! 
 
Katherine is also a rehabbing runner, former marketer and avid chocolate consumer – who happily resides in Lake Forest, IL.

 

"It’s an exciting yet anticlimactic experience any time a book comes out really--you work so hard to 'launch' it that when it finally goes you wonder how it hasn’t happened earlier because you've been so deep within it."

 

Where are you writing right now? Send us a picture!

Here is my office. I recently got a desk that moves from standing to sitting. It’s at standing height in the picture and I love it! The exercise ball I sometimes sit on is lurking underneath it.

 
 

 

You have a book, A PORTRAIT OF EMILY PRICE, that came out last fall. What does it feel like to have a book go out into the world? Has the feeling changed from when your first book was published?

It’s an exciting yet anticlimactic experience any time a book comes out really. You work so hard to “launch” it that when it finally goes you wonder how it hasn’t happened earlier because you've been so deep within it. But it is fun–especially when you see it for the first time on a bookstore shelf. 

Is it different now that Emily Price is my fourth? Yes, I’m not as surprised now to see it out and about. I really do expect it to happen. :)

I've just completed edits (last night) on my fifth book, and it will release in November this year. So I'll go through all these feelings yet again. 


What project are you currently working on?

Well, I just finished edits on THE AUSTEN ESCAPE... so I guess I'm not working on that anymore. Yippee!

I have two new books I am writing. I have never tackled two at once, so we'll how that goes.

One is another novel and the other is an extraordinary nonfiction story about a woman and what she did when faced with the unimaginable. It's not my story, but I get to write it!
 

What were the highlights of your attendance at the BONI workshop? 

I loved digging into story and looking at the finer points of construction with others on the same page. 

How would you describe its overall effect on your professional/creative trajectory? 

I know BONI helped me become a stronger writer. I believe I see story weakness faster now. 


What advice do you have for writers in seeking out workshops that best suit their needs? 

I think I’d say look at the level of writing.

If you are a beginner, start there because you’ll feel comfortable to share and can digest all that’s imparted to you.

If you’re more advanced and ready for that next step, you’ll need a different type of workshop/course.

Be honest with where you are and what you want and you’ll get the most benefit.
 

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given that's helped you as a writer?

Writers write. It sounds trite, but it’s true.

If you want to be a writer, you have to get to the job of simply writing.

There is so much to learn about the craft, but if you aren’t writing each and every day, all the craft books in the world won’t help you find your story, refine your voice, stretch you to your limits.

 

". . . if you aren’t writing each and every day, all the craft books in the world won’t help you find your story, refine your voice, stretch you to your limits."

 

Where do you hope to be as a writer in ten years? 

Still writing… I honestly hope I can continue to create stories that connect with readers for years to come.

 

FAST FACTS

  • Currently reading: 
    I just finished TRULY MADLY GUILTY and am moving onto FRENCH RHAPSODY– then DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY is next.  
     
  • If you could enter the world of any novel, which would it be?
    C.S. Lewis’s Narnia after THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE battle, but before the Pevensie children leave.
     
  • Do you write to music, or do you prefer silence?
    Silence. 
     
  • Is there a specific food or drink that fuels your writing?
    Nuun… Hydration tablets in water, hot or cold, and chocolate.  Lots of chocolate.

You can find out more about Katherine at her website, www.katherinereay.com. All of her books are there as are her social media links. There are even cute buying tabs! 

Spotlight: Bren McClain - The Twenty-Seven-Year-Overnight Success

 
 

Bren McClain grew up on a beef cattle and grain farm in Anderson, South Carolina where at the age of three, her two loves were born: writing and animals. These two loves would eventually be the foundation of her literary career, but it would take decades to get there. 

In the meantime, she had a life to live. She has a degree in English from Furman University. She taught high school English for a year, became a journalist, worked as a radio reporter, a television reporter and anchor, before switching into corporate America. During this time she became desperate to be creative and picked up a legal pad and started writing. 

She wrote two failed novels, got a literary agent and lost a literary agent. It wasn't until she returned to her two loves–writing and animals–that her literary career changed.

Bren's story is one of perseverance and determination. She calls herself a "twenty-seven-year-overnight success."

It's been a long road to publication, but she's here now. Her debut novel, ONE GOOD MAMA BONE, the third novel she's written, was published February 14, 2017.

 

"I gave it as much love as I could, and now it’s on its way out there in the world."

 

As a debut novelist, what does it feel like to send your first book out into the world?

It feels like I’ve given birth. Truly. I see my book now as a separate, living, breathing being. ONE GOOD MAMA BONE is apart from me. I gave it as much love as I could, and now it’s on its way out there in the world.

Fly, sweet Mama Bone, fly!

 

Tell us about your current project. 

It's a novel I am calling TOOK, which I am over-the-moon excited about it.

Honestly, I didn’t know if I could fall in love with characters as deeply as I did with the ones in ONE GOOD MAMA BONE. But I did–and it was an easy love.

The novel is inspired by the real life Eula Bates, a woman who held a shotgun on a bulldozer that tried to come through her farm to build a road into the Savannah River Hydrogen Bomb Plant in 1951. The cops came and hauled her off to the SC Insane Asylum and kept her for 16 years. Eula’s story is the prism through which I am telling the whole story. Eula’s story, in real life, didn’t turn out so well. This is why I’m writing it as a novel, to give Eula something good.

I love to approach material from a journalist’s perspective, so I conducted interviews with more than 30 people who were thrown off their land in SC when the Savannah River Plant came in 1950. Six thousand people in seven small farming communities. I had no idea what to do with the information, so I put it away for five years and wrote ONE GOOD MAMA BONE. When I was ready to return to the material, I thought about reading through notebook after notebook of research, but my gut told me to just get quiet and see what information had stayed with me.

I knew immediately. It was Eula Bates, her story.

It feels like it has wings already. TOOK was just named the gold medal winner of the William Faulkner – William Wisdom award for Novel-in-Progress.

 

"I wanted it to happen with my first novel, but it didn’t."

 

If you could go back 10, 20, 30 years and give your future writing-self one piece of advice, what would it be?

That the words often told to me–trust the process–are absolutely true.

Never in my wildest mind would I have said, “I think it would be good to keep my butt in the chair writing for 27 years before I publish.” 

Are you kidding me?  I wanted it to happen with my first novel, but it didn’t.

Nor did it happen with my second.

It took the third one, ONE GOOD MAMA BONE, to launch me on the publishing scene.

And, boy, am I glad.

Because this one is part of my life’s work. I couldn’t have said that about the first two.

Pat Conroy’s new fiction imprint, Story River Books, is my publisher. To be escorted into the publishing world via Pat’s enormous heart is literary nirvana. It all happened just right. 

 

"If my book had to be placed on a scale of 1 to 10, it was sitting at 2 when Lorin read my pages prior to our developmental meeting in Tampa."

 

What are the highlights of working with Free Expressions? How would you describe its overall effect on your professional/creative trajectory? 

If my book had to be placed on a scale of 1 to 10, it was sitting at 2 when Lorin read my pages prior to our developmental meeting in Tampa.

After leaving that meeting and doing the work she suggested, she moved it waaaay on up the line. Not that I am saying I could even write a “10” book, but in my eyes, she helped place it there.

How? Lorin gave me an incredible piece of feedback, paraphrased here: 

"We see your main character, Sarah, limping along with her feelings of inadequacy. That gets old. Readers would rather see her magnificence. Bring us her magnificence. In fact, begin with it. Trust me, her inadequacy will rise up through it."  

Lorin knocked it out of the park with this advice.

I took the limp-along opening scene and recast Sarah showing strength – and not weakness.

From that new opening, the entire rest of the novel spilled forth.

I have received countless comments from readers about Sarah, every one of them talking about how they loved Sarah. One wrote that she didn’t want the book to end, because she wanted to stay in Sarah’s heart. 

THANKS, LORIN!

 

On your website, you quote Albert Camus, “A man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened” and how you write not what you know or want to know, but you write what opens your heart.

Can you talk about this a little more, and what advice you would give writers about writing what opens their hearts? 

To paraphrase another writer, Rilke–He advised writers to show to the world what they think is beautiful. Not another soul on earth may think it so but you, but hold this beauty in your hands and show it to us. I did that in my current novel with cows, their maternal love which is more awesome than awesome.

That opened my heart, made me want to love, love, love. 

At times, in the writing of my novel, I would imagine a cow in my cupped hands and would actually lift them high, as if saying, “This is what I think is beautiful.”  

 

"Loving animals opens my heart, and that’s exactly the state I want to be in when I open myself for writing."

 

What outside hobbies or interests feed your writing?

My work with and love for animals, especially farm animals. I’ve just been named to the board for Indraloka Animal Sanctuary in Meehoopany, PA, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

Loving animals opens my heart, and that’s exactly the state I want to be in when I open myself for writing. 

 

FAST FACTS

  • Currently reading: 
    CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD, by Caroline Leavitt
     
  • If you could enter the world of any novel, which would it be?
    THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER, by Carson McCuller.
     
  • Do you write to music, or do you prefer silence?
    I write to instrumental music, mostly soundtracks, on headphones.
     
  • Is there a specific food or drink that fuels your writing?
    Coffee first thing in the morning!

You can find out more about Bren and ONE GOOD MAMA BONE at her website, www.brenmcclain.com

She's on Twitter, @BrenMcClain, and also on Facebook, and Instagram where you can follow the adventures of The Mama Bone Barnstorm Book Tour

ONE GOOD MAMA BONE is available at Amazon.