Interview with Kimberley G. Little, author of When the Butterflies Came

Summer Author Blitz buttonI’m always up for promoting wonderful authors, so when I heard about the Summer Author Blitz, I jumped on the chance to participate. The Summer Author Blitz is organized by Belle Whittington and Tabatha Perry of the Montgomery County Book Festival. Thanks, guys! And there will be a Twitter party for the #2013SummerAuthorBlitz on July 19 at 7pm and a Facebook event on July 26 at 3pm, so don’t miss them.

Kimberley G. Little

Kimberley G. Little

Today I’m featuring author Kimberley G. Little, author of the middle-grade mystery novel WHEN THE BUTTERFLIES CAME, who’s giving away a copy of her book and some swag (see below). Told you she was wonderful.

This book is her sixth for young readers, and it tells the story of young Tara Doucet dealing with love, loss, family and magic. Here’s the description:

Everybody thinks Tara Doucet has the perfect life. But Tara’s life is anything but perfect: Her dear Grammy Claire has just passed away, her mom is depressed and distant, and she and her sister, Riley, can’t agree on anything. But when mysterious and dazzling butterflies begin to follow her around after Grammy Claire’s funeral, Tara knows in her heart that her grandmother has left her one final mystery to solve.

Tara finds a stack of keys and detailed letters from Grammy Claire. Note by note, Tara learns unexpected truths about her grandmother’s life. As the letters grow more ominous and the clues harder to decipher, Tara realizes that the secrets she must uncover could lead to grave danger. And when Tara and Riley are swept away to the beautiful islands of Chuuk to hear their grandmother’s will, Tara discovers the most shocking truth of all, one that will change her life forever.

Sounds so enchanting! I can’t wait to read it.

I asked Kimberley four quick questions. Here’s what she said:

What inspired you to write WHEN THE BUTTERFLIES CAME?

When the Butterflies Came bookcoverSo many things! The magical world of butterflies . . . spooky Louisiana swamps . . . old plantation houses . . . treehouses on an island in the South Pacific . . . and a girl who is connected to all those things through her Grammy Claire.

I love mysteries and wanted to try my hand at writing a mystery that didn’t have ghosts or paranormal elements. I took the prettiest girl at school (also a character from my book, CIRCLE OF SECRETS), but gave her a brain along with her silky, waterfall hair.

Tara begins receiving secret letters and keys from her scientist grandmother whose sudden death was untimely, and who imparts her secrets from beyond the grave through these letters so Tara can figure out who/what is trying to destroy the unusual butterflies her grandmother was researching in Micronesia.

It was fun to write about a very smart and very cool grandmother because I never knew my own grandmothers — and I hope I can be a very cool grandma too someday!

What were your biggest challenges?

The biggest challenge was putting the pieces of the mystery together and having it all make sense. Plotting out a book often gets convoluted. I use 3×5 cards to help me piece it together. It’s helpful to spread them all out on a big table or the floor to make sure the puzzle *fits*.

Learning about the island of Chuuk in Micronesia was also a challenge — without spending my life-savings to travel there. After exhausting the Internet and books and YouTube, I came across two people who’d lived there and was able to interview them. I adore the cool tidbits you learn through research and incorporating them into the story.

Did anything surprise you about the process?

I *love* unexpected twists, and there is a marvelous twist at the end of this book that didn’t come to me until I was part way through the first draft.

Are you working on anything else now?

I just turned in the editorial revisions for my next novel to my editor at Scholastic for Summer, 2014. It’s called THE TIME OF THE FIREFLIES and is about a girl who lives in an antique store with a cursed doll.

I’m also doing final work on my YA debut with Harpercollins Fall 2014. It was pitched as the YA version of The Red Tent and sold in a huge deal to Harper. The story is about the roots of bellydance in the ancient Middle East, goddess temples, tribal warfare, and a delicious romance.

A firm title is still forthcoming so keep checking my website for details and keep up with me on Facebook and Twitter where I’m pretty active. 🙂

Thanks, Kimberley!

And active is right! You can find Kimberley online at all these places:

And here’s the trailer for WHEN THE BUTTERFLIES CAME:

Have a look at the rest of the Summer Author Blitz schedule.

Now, click the link below to enter for your chance to get a copy of Kimberley’s novel and swag:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Summer Author Blitz

Summer Author Blitz buttonIt’s a Summer Author Blitz! Yes, that’s right. A bunch of incredibly great authors, giving tips, answering questions and generally being awesome on a variety of blogs. What could be a better way to spend the summer than reading every one of them?

I’ll be participating on Monday, July 8, when I’ll have a great interview with Kimberley G. Little, author of WHEN THE BUTTERFLIES CAME. Kimberley also will be giving away a copy of her novel plus some swag. So make sure you come back for that.

Here’s the schedule for the full author events.

Plus, don’t miss the Summer Author Blitz Twitter party on July 19 at 7pm and a Facebook event on July 26 at 3pm.

The Summer Author Blitz also is having a scavenger hunt. Here’s my clue:

Summer Author Blitz Clue

The Summer Author Blitz is organized by Belle Whittington and Tabatha Perry of the Montgomery County Book Festival. Thanks, guys!

See you on Monday!

Inspiration at the Austin SCBWI Conference

At the Austin SCBWI conference last weekend, author/illustrator E.B. Lewis pointed out that writers and and illustrators are the same people, all trying to create art the captures peoples’ imagination.

Whether we’re using paint or words, we’re both making pictures that tell stories. And those stories have to have a few things to be successful:

Drama: E.B. pointed out shadows create drama in pictures. In stories, it’s the shadows behind what people are saying, the subtext, the conflict.

Mystery: E.B. said pictures shouldn’t give you all the details, because if the brain has everything it’ll get bored and move on. Writers also want to give just enough detail for readers to understand but not so much that there’s no need for them to figure things out on their own. Readers, like art viewers, want to be able to interpret some of the details themselves.

Off-center composition: E.B. explained that the center of an image is the “not important” area; what’s important should be off-center. Similarly, a story shouldn’t have characters that are all centered (okay, maybe I’m stretching this a bit, but you get the point). Characters should be a little off-center, because real people are off center. No stereotypes because in real life, even the most stereotypical person has his or her own identity.

Dark and light: E.B. showed us that good picture composition contains three dark corners and one light. Stories don’t need that structure, but it’s good to have dark and light. Too much dark, and readers will be depressed. But equally, if everything goes too smoothly, what’s the point of the story?

One bit of advice that E.B. gave applies to everyone: “Love playing in the sandbox.” A good reminder that no book is brilliant in the first draft and the best art comes from experimentation.

So, embrace your inner artist, get your hands dirty and create.

Got any insights you’ve learned from a conference lately?

Character and new agent Alexandra Penfold

Alexandra Penfold

Agent Alexandra Penfold talks character.

In her first event as an agent, former Simon & Schuster editor Alexandra Penfold spent a weekend teaching writers about character, and I was thrilled to be among them.

After an impressive career in book publishing, Alexandra moved to the other side of the desk this year, accepting an agenting position at Upstart Crow Literary. And after spending the weekend listening to her lectures and workshops at The Writing Barn, I know she’ll be a brilliant agent. She’s smart, passionate, insightful and a lot of fun.

At The Writing Barn, the first of the venue’s Advanced Writing Workshops, Alexandra gave two lectures on characters. “Characters are the heart and soul of any story,” she said, adding that the story should flow naturally from character.

Readers know when plot is being forced and characters are doing things they wouldn’t normally do just to advance the plot.

So what is plot? It should come from what the character needs or wants and what’s standing in his or her way.

Samantha Clark and Varsha Bajaj

Me (l.) chatting with author Varsha Bajaj at the cocktail party that kicked off the weekend.

Readers also like to figure things out for themselves, Alexandra pointed out, and that’s why showing character, instead of telling, is so important. Character can be shown through their decisions and actions, but their emotion also can be revealed through things like how they walk and sit. Do they walk tall or hunch over, for example.

Alexandra gave us a worksheet of questions that we can ask our characters. I’ve seen a lot of character interviews online with questions like what our characters’ favorite food is, favorite color, what their bedroom looks like. That’s all fine, but I like Alexandra’s better because it offers questions that are linked to the emotions of our characters, such as, what’s the last thing our character thinks about at night and the first thing in the morning? How do our characters think of themselves? How does that compare to how others see them? And more…

Bethany Hegedus and Alexandra Penfold

Author and The Writing Barn owner Bethany Hegedus (c.) introduced Alexandra (far r.) to an eager crowd.

Characters can also be shown in word choice. And Alexandra read to us some wonderful examples of this, including the opening chapters of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Anne of Green Gables and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. All brilliant.

Alexandra certainly knows a lot about character, and passed it on in a fun and informative manor. If you’re writing YA, middle-grade or quirky picture books, I definitely recommend you query her.

Next up in The Writing Barn’s 2013 Advanced Writing Workshop is National Book Award novelist Sara Zarr in April and award-winning author Francisco X. Stork in November. I can’t wait.

Secret of Success: Make Goals and Achieve Them

It’s a new year and that means a perfect opportunity to set goals. As well as the lose the Christmas pounds and floss more goals, consider setting goals for your writing.

I’m not talking about big goals, like get an agent or publish a book. You’re always working toward those. But before you can achieve those goals, you have to write a great book — an interesting, marketable, ready-to-publish great book. And to do that, you have to write a first draft, then a second, then a third, and as many more as necessary. And to do that, you have to formulate a story idea and characters and settings… You get the picture.

With so many steps, getting an agent or publish a book  might seem daunting, and almost unachievable. But creating a story? Doable. Making an outline? Doable. Writing a chapter? Doable.

Wherever you are in your process, pick short, doable goals and work your butt off to achieve them. When you’re done, choose more goals and achieve them. Before you know it, you’ll have attained the bigger goals you always wanted.

In January last year, I set goals for 2012 that I would finish my current work in progress and write the first draft of my next novel. Throughout the year, I set up smaller goals, daily word counts, etc., to help me achieve the bigger goals. Although I didn’t always make my smaller goals in the allotted time, I made up for them, and by the time December rolled around, I had made my bigger goals.

Now it’s January again. I’m going to try to challenge myself a bit and go for slightly bigger goals. Here are mine:

  • Revise the first draft I wrote last year til it’s fully polished
  • Write the first draft of a new story
  • Re-write an older book that’s been sitting on my shelf.

First up: the second draft of my WIP. I want to have it done by the end of January, so I’ve set up a daily goal of 20 pages.

Have you set goals for your year?

An Inspirational Break, With Some Baggage Problems

There’s nothing like getting away to refill your creative juices.

CaymanMy husband and I went to the Cayman Islands for Christmas, visiting family and old friends. We also managed to sneak in plenty of time at the beach. Bright sun, white sand, clear sea. Sitting there, watching the sunset, the surf grabbing my toes… It made me want to write a book.

Everyone’s creativity needs a break now and then. There’s only so many times we can pull out our best work before we need to replenish it. It doesn’t have to be a holiday on a tropical island, although who’d say no to that kind of break? A day trip to the zoo, a drive in the country, a walk around old buildings, even a walk around a nice park or neighborhood can perk up our creativity.

Next time you feel your story waning, get away for an hour, a day or a week. Let the wonderful views of our world rejuvenate you. According to the United Airlines magazine I read on our plane ride back, a study found that seeing awe-inspiring views can even make you happier, more generous and potentially live longer. I would have been fine with increased creativity, but happiness is a bonus.

Speaking of United Airlines, if you do decide to get away for your inspirational break, I recommend not flying this airline. The stress could dampen your creative spirit. A model of efficiency, United delayed two of our four flights (two each round trip) because of mechanical problems and lost our bag both going to Cayman and on the way back. Yep. That’s right. Both ways.

It’s actually impressive how terrible United Airlines is. Thank God, we got our bag on the next United flight to Cayman at the beginning of the vacation, which meant we had the Christmas gifts we had bought for our friends and family, even if we did have to wear the same clothes two days in a row. For our return trip, however, it’s not looking so good. Last night, we picked up our bag in Houston for Customs and dropped it off for the connecting flight. Even though the connecting flight was delayed for an hour and a half, United still didn’t get our bag on our plane. And the airline didn’t even have a record of it being in Houston even though we picked it up.

Amazing!

So steer clear of United for a stress-free creative time.

P.S. As I was reaching for the Publish button, I got an email saying our bag has been found and will be delivered. Thank you God!

Why Writing Conferences Are Priceless

Writing is solitary. Just us with a computer and a head of ideas. But we’re not really alone. And going to a writing conference is a wonderful way to celebrate that.

Of course, seminars at writing conferences are great learning opportunities. Query letters, characters, plot, dialog — I’ve learned about all these at conferences. But as I’ve become more experienced, I still come away from conferences filled with inspiration.

And then there are the friends you make. Priceless.

As a children’s book writer, I feel very lucky to be a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I’ve attended both national and regional conferences held by this organization, and I’m never disappointed.

If you’re a member of the SCBWI, take advantage of the conferences. The national ones are huge, overwhelming, intense, exhausting and fabulous.

The regional ones are just as fabulous, but, because they’re smaller, they also have more intimacy and give more opportunity for networking with agents and editors. For example, I’m lucky to live in an area that has four regionals conferences yearly that are within a five-hour drive (thank you, Austin) and check out the people I’ll have the opportunity to meet next year at just the Austin and Houston conferences:

At Austin (Feb. 8-10, 2013):

  • Crystal Kite Award-winning illustrator Patrice Barton
  • Author Shutta Crum
  • Author and Agent John M. Cusick of Scott Treimel NY
  • Agent Erzsi Deak of Hen & Ink Literary Studio
  • Peachtree Publishers Associate Publisher Kathy Landwehr
  • New York Times and Publishers Weekly best-selling author Cynthia Leitich Smith
  • Award-winning author Cynthia Levinson
  • Award-winning author-illustrator E.B. Lewis
  • Agent Rubin Pfeffer of East West Literary Agency
  • Roaring Brook Press, Neal Porter Books Editorial Director Neal Porter
  • Caldecott-winning Author Liz Garton Scanlon
  • Chronicle Books Editor Tamra Tuller

At Houston (April 13, 2013):

  • Agent Josh Adams of Adams Literary
  • Author-Illustrator Peter Brown
  • Simon & Schuster and Paula Wiseman Books Art Director Lucy Ruth Cummins
  • ABDO Publishing Editorial Director Stephanie Hedlund
  • Agent Paul Rodeen of Rodeen Literary Management
  • Balzer+Bray Assistant Editor Sara Sargent
  • Simon & Schuster Assistant Editor Danielle Young

But that’s not all. Conferences often also have contests, which are excellent opportunities. At the 2012 Houston SCBWI conference, I won the Joan Lowery Nixon Award and have been working with Newbury Honor author Kathi Appelt for the past year.

As I said, priceless.

What’s your favorite conference story?

Cover Reveal! Riptide by Lindsey Schiebe

Lindsey Schiebe

Lindsey Schiebe

The launch of a new book is the greatest thing, but when it’s the debut book from a new author, it’s especially sweet. That’s why I’m THRILLED (yes, it deserves all caps) to be part of the cover reveal for author Lindsey Schiebe‘s first young adult novel Riptide.

Here’s the description of the book:

17-year-old Grace is fully aware her best friend Ford has a crush on her, but she refuses to acknowledge it. Surfing with him is the only time she forgets about her abusive father, stifling mother, and the pressure to be impossibly perfect. She’s not willing to risk their lifelong friendship to find out if it could be something more.

No matter how tempting it may be.

All Grace wants is to graduate, get out of the house, and make the UC San Diego surf team. The problem? She’s never had the guts to sign up for a competition, the only way she’ll ever get noticed by the UC scouts. Until that is, Ford does it for her.

Now she has one summer to train. One summer to prove she’s good enough– to the scouts, to her parents, and most of all, to herself. As the training grows more intense, the violence at home escalates, and the romance reaches a point of no return.

Grace is about to gain everything she’s ever wanted… or lose the only things that have ever mattered.

As the tagline says: One summer… Endless possibilities.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? But check it out this awesome cover:

Riptide

I love the eye-catching design, the vivid colors, and the way the image lets me imagine all kinds of stories for this surfing girl.

I can’t wait to read Riptide, which is scheduled for release in May, 2013, from Flux. Congratulations, Lindsey!

You can find Lindsey — who has tried surfing, bouldering and other outdoor sports but has since traded her hiking books for family dinners and theatrical bedtime stories — at her blog and on Twitter, @LindseyScheibe.

What do you think of the cover?

The Voice for Writers?

I’m not big on reality TV shows, especially ones where contestants are mean to each other to get others voted off, but on the recommendation of a friend, my husband and I have tried The Voice and I must admit, we’re hooked.

As great as the performances are — and seriously, there are some great singers on this show — it’s the concept that has us so excited to watch. The enthusiasm of the coaches — Christine Aguilera, Ceelo Green, Adam Levine and Blake Shelton — is almost as addictive as the stories of triumph of the contestants. And together, they make for tear-jerking fun.

All artists, whether singing, acting, painting or writing, have a voice in them telling them they’re not good enough. Why do you think so many turn to alcohol to drown it out! Doubt paralyses many artists, stopping them from pursuing their dreams. And for those who do, it’s a hard road to battle back self-doubt so they can perfect their craft.

Having someone else believe in you and be excited to help you, like the coaches on The Voice do, that’s priceless. That support can make a huge difference for someone, like Trevin Hunte who was told by a teacher that he’d never make it in music. Seeing Ceelo believe in Trevin and Trevin stand a little taller because of it is why I keep watching The Voice.

For writers, it’s the same. We work in isolation — just us, a head full of characters and a computer (or pen and paper if you’re old school). Doubts are a constant companion for all writers, even the most successful. In an interview, Sue Grafton once said that when she wrote A is for Alibi, she didn’t think it would be successful enough for a second book, and with each novel since, that same fear — that this one would be the last — crept into her head. Her V is for Vengeance was published last year!

What writers need, like all artists, are champions who believe in them, support them when times are tough and push them forward when they think about quitting. Champions like the coaches on The Voice.

So, could we have a version of The Voice for writers? A bunch of on-the-verge-of-being-published novelists reading their work to four agents who slap their buttons, lighting up the coveted “I Want You” sign. How great would that be?

I don’t know how well it would play on TV. But it would be awesome to have people saying “I Want You.” It’s a long road for many writers before they sign with an agent and/or get a publishing contract. Until we have that kind of support, we can be champions for each other. We can slap “I Want You” buttons for our fellow writers, believing in them and pushing them forward.

I’m blessed to part of an amazing writing community in Austin, Texas, as well as a member of the wonderful Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. When doubts invade my mind, and that happens too often, I have people to turn to, family, a fabulous husband and great writer friends. Find those people for yourself and be that person for others. Be someone’s champion every day.

Jonathan Poku on the Ebook of Borlosanti

As printing and digital technology gets better, it’s easier than ever for writers to get their work to readers. I applaud writers who take the leap, perfecting their work, hiring editors and designers, publishing and promoting the story to readers. It’s a tough road as the writer wears so many more hats, but it can be very rewarding.

Jonathan PokuJonathan Poku decided to go the indie route with his book Borlosanti. He’s here today with a guest post about his journey…

The rise of the ebook has definitely revolutionised the publishing industry. Never before has it been so easy for a writer to publish his book and distribute it with the main, albeit online retailers or to sell it from his own website to a worldwide audience. In the past a writer who decided to publish his book independently had to go round all the different book shops and struggle to convince the manager to take their book or they had to get a distributor to do this task for them. Often the profit that the writer could make in these circumstances was very small because of the cut the other two parties took. I experienced this problem first hand when I published my book of poetry called Welcome Back to Paradise years before the rise of the ebook.

Many independent writers reached these stumbling blocks and faltered, however I managed to manoeuvre around them with persistence, hard work and adaptation of my approach. I soon learned that having a good book was not enough. I had to be innovative, thick skinned, good at marketing and most of all, I had to find my target audience and go directly to them, i.e., do poetry readings in universities and sell my books immediately afterwards.

My experience with publishing Welcome Back to Paradise was great training for publishing ebooks, because as an independent writer, although it is now much more easier to publish and distribute your work digitally with the help of services like SmashWords and Amazon KDP, you still have to take on the humongous task of marketing your book and creating a buzz.

Marketing a book can consist of blogging, liaising with bloggers to organise giveaways and reviews, tweeting, engaging with your possible audience on sites like Goodreads, Facebook and Twitter and taking part in Amazon Select.

As an independent author, you need to be able to wear many hats because you are responsible for doing the different jobs that a publisher usually has a team of people doing, i.e., commissioning art work, editing, marketing, finance, PR and so on. You do not have the luxury of focusing solely on your writing while others worry about the business side of things.

Borlosanti bookcover

After spending a year writing and rewriting Borlosanti many times, I finally sent it to a few editors and got a couple of people to read it. Once I received everyone’s feedback, I carefully assessed which criticisms were valid and which were not before I did a final rewrite taking the valid criticism into account. This was a very hard task because I couldn’t allow my emotional ties to my book to influence my decisions. I had to be objective for the good of the book. At this point, I gave a friend who was good at art my design for the cover and asked them to do it more professionally. Once I had a book and a cover that I was happy with, I sent my book to one of the people on the SmashWords formatting list. After it was formatted, I uploaded it to SmashWords so that they could distribute it to all of the major online retailers and then I uploaded it to Amazon’s KDP.


Borlosanti
was inspired by a role playing game I used to play with my friends in primary school. Writing and publishing it has been one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. However my journey with Borlosanti is not over because I have to continue to market it whilst working on its sequel.

Personally although self-publishing is far from easy, I absolutely love it because there are so many challenges and there is so much to learn. My advice for anybody who wants to embark on this journey is to:

  • Stay committed
  • Allocate an adequate amount of time for writing and marketing on a daily basis
  • Apply the same level if not more energy than the amount you put into writing your book into the marketing and promotion of it
  • Start marketing before you even finish writing the book
  • Base your marketing activities on tangible facts (do more of what works) and
  • Learn from others like Amanda Hocking, J.A Konrath, John Locke and so on.

At the moment, for a limited time only, the readers of this blog can receive a free ebook copy of Borlosanti all you need to do is email me at jonathanpoku@yahoo.co.uk with the subject “Free giveaway.” Please remember to inform me what format you would like it in.

Thanks, Jonathan. Great advice about staying committed. Good luck on your continued journey.

Read more from Jonathan on his blog.