Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Interview with Braden Bell--Middle School Magician

I enjoyed learning more about Braden Bell, author of Middle School Magic: The Kindling. I hope you will too.

His book has the fabulous premise that middle school students with magical powers "kindle" as their powers show themselves. And some of their teachers have super powers too. Cool! Braden teaches middle school himself which proves he's a brave man.

The story revolves around three "kindling" students, Conner, Melanie and Lexa. It's action packed and sets up a distinct and fascinating magical world. Thanks to Braden for taking the time to answer my questions.

Susan: Since you're a middle school teacher yourself, you have an amazing window into that environment. How hard was it to keep "real" people you work with or the memory of your teachers from middle school out of your manuscript? Are those teachers in The Kindling an amalgam of other teachers you've known or did they come from somewhere else?

Braden: That's an excellent question, one I'm glad to be asked. The reality is that the teachers and students very quickly took on a life of their own. I know that may sound strange to people who have not written a book, but it's really quite true. Many writers feel that their characters tell them what to do rather than vice versa, and that was the case. I had a few people in mind when I started, from whom I borrowed some vocal inflections or a personality trait, but the characters very quickly evolved into their own people. Now, when I imagine them or am writing their dialogue they don't resemble anyone I know. 

Susan: I loved  that the French teacher was important to the story and also very nice since I was one myself. Any reason why you picked French?
Braden: If you were to take a poll at my school among parents and students of the person who is most beloved and influential, it would be our French teacher. She's taught for many years and has a special gift. She's one of the people I most admire professionally and I wanted to pay tribute to that. But there's a more practical reason. In an early draft, all the teachers were Mrs. and Mr. It looked repetitious and a little boring. I felt like I needed to break it up. So, I gave the choir teacher a doctorate so he could be Dr. instead of Mr. And I figured if I used a French teacher I could use Madame instead of Mrs. Finally, the character just taught French. I knew that from the beginning.  
Susan: I can see that two of your characters are setting up for some romance. Did you have that idea from the beginning or did it develop as you created the book? And did putting that attraction Conner feels for Melanie in make it harder or easier to write the book?

Braden: That was there from the beginning. one of the funniest things about teaching middle school is watching these kids start to muddle their way through romantic relationships and feelings. It's confusing, exciting, and frightening for them--and the parents, but it is a very real part of the experience. I felt like it had to be there in order to be authentic. It was also fun to write and it helped bring dimension to the characters. In early drafts I think there was less. But as I had students read it and give me feedback, the girls all wanted a little more so I put in a little more. 
Susan: There are some strong moral and even spiritual values coming out in your book. J. K. Rowling aimed directly at prejudice in her Harry Potter series and also focused on the importance of love and family. Is there something very important to you that you'd like readers to take away from this book?

Braden: Interesting question. I don't think I had anything specific in mind--it was just a story I wanted to write because it came to my mind. I am sure that there are things that influenced me at a level beyond what I was consciously aware of, but my intent was to write a fun story about teachers and students. 
Susan: You've obviously set us up for a sequel. Can you tell us how many more we can look forward to or would that be telling?
Braden: I have a rough outline for about 4 books, and I know where I want it to go. Whether they happen is ultimately a function of whether the publisher feels this one does well enough. Pending sufficient sales, the sequel is slated to be released a year from now and I'm feverishly working on it. It picks up just a week or two after the Kindling. The kids are starting to understand the implications of their new powers, trying to learn how to use them, and Conner and Melanie are trying to figure out their relationship. Conner specifically has to work through some things that happened in Book 1. I'm quite excited about it--and I hope it becomes a reality.

Find out more about Braden at his blog here.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Interview with Connie Sokol--Author and Real Live Wonder Woman

One of the best things about being an author, is that you inevitably meet other authors. Connie Sokol is a new friend of mine whose energy makes me think of her as Wonder Woman.

Just reading a list of what Connie Sokol does makes you breathless. And knowing she's just had her seventh child adds to your amazement. And if you've seen her on TV, you can't help but be amazed by her boundless energy and positive outlook. 

In addition to writing, she is a national and local presenter, a monthly contributor on Salt Lake City television station KSL. She's been a radio and TV host and produces talk CDs and podcasts. Whew! You can find out all about her here at her website: 8basics.com

Connie has written several nonfiction self-help books for women, but has branched out recently into fiction. Her new novel, called Caribbean Crossroads, is the story of Megan who is recovering from a broken heart. Her best friend talks her into joining her on a dance crew on a cruise ship. She'll meet someone wonderful but will have to overcome her bitterness over her last breakup.

I asked Connie a few questions about her latest venture into fiction.

Susan: You've gained so much success as a nonfiction writer. What made you take the leap into fiction?
Connie: So many times I've been done with the day and just want something to read that isn't violent, graphic, or emotionally turbulent--I just want to check out of life for a bit! I have three other fiction manuscripts that I've been working on over the years but nonfiction took priority. Then one night I had that same feeling of where's a good chill out book and I thought, "Why not write one?" So that's what happened. Out of the blue I had this core idea for a plot and then scenes kept coming to me so I wrote them as fast as I could. I wrote the core book in about 60 plus hours, but then almost as much time in rewrites and revisions with critique groups. And now I have a romance I love to read. Ironically, one night a few months ago I was in the mood to read a romance and couldn't find something that was the right fit and then I thought, "Oh, Caribbean!" and it hit the spot. 

Susan: How did you come to the decision to self-publish?
Connie: I first self-published about ten years ago and did a total of three books.. Then I opted for the traditional publishing route with two books. Now that I've seen both sides, I felt it wise to self-publish this one, especially since it's in such a different genre. There are so many fabulous options today that weren't available even ten years ago. I wanted to see what could be done with it using those new avenues. It's my sort of experiment book. I've given myself permission to play around with it.
Susan: Caribbean Crossroads talks about a world unfamiliar to me. Were you ever on a cruise dance team? If not, how did you get all that wonderful information to create that world for us?
Connie: It's so nostalgic, and enjoyable, to write something that you're somewhat familiar with but not fully. As I wrote, I found myself pulling from a variety of experiences--a cruise my husband and I took, plays and musical groups I was in during college, things and people I've observed over the years. While writing passages, different ideas would come to mind from those personal experiences, and those of other people who had randomly shared during the years. For example, Mrs. Van De Morelle's name came from a fourth-grade teacher (Mrs. Van De Mortelle, so a little change), and the final Broadway number is an amalgamation of something my mom and I watched years ago with Cyd Charisse, etc. And the premise of the story is very loosely based on an experience of a dear college friend about 25 years ago.  
Susan: I can tell from your main characters that you admire people who help other people. Do you think that even lighthearted fiction should try to make a difference in people's lives?

Connie: I really do. You can tell from my nonfiction that I feel strongly about each person finding their purpose then sharing it with others. How vital that is for all of us to help one another grow and become! So I was surprised how much of  that came out in my fiction. But especially in romance, I think it's vital that we show it's more than just hot guy meets beautiful girl, a little angst, and then it's all solved. I wanted to show that real relationships work because they are able to not only develop themselves, but have a desire to help others. Being a good person is what helps make a relationship work, especially when someone has been deeply hurt before.
Huge thanks to Connie for sharing her thoughts! Look for my next author interview with Braden Bell, author of Middle School Magic: The Kindling.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Me and George Eliot--Pseudonymous

I am a huge fan of George Eliot. Her real name, Mary Anne Evans, is unknown to most people. Sadly those who do know her may only know that too-sappy-for-me tale, Silas Marner. I consider her masterpiece to be Middlemarch which you can download at Gutenberg.org in written form here or in recorded form here. It has made many lists as one of the greatest novels written in English. It's sure on mine.

As writers she and I have little in common. My fiction is of the fluffiest. Hers delves into the very heart of man. But we do have something in common: pen names.

She chose a masculine pen name because she wanted to be taken seriously as a writer. Women writers in the Victorian Era were associated with light fiction. (Which is exactly what I'm trying to do.)

I have had to use pen names twice now. When my darling daughter and great son-in-law owned a bilingual magazine that reached out to a Hispanic population, I wrote for them but they felt I needed to use a Hispanic name. I chose an outrageous one, "Esperanza del Sol", which my son-in-law actually liked. So I've been published under that one.

Another magazine will publish an article and a story of mine next year but they usually do not use the same writer twice in an issue. Lo and behold! I need another pen name. Somehow Esperanza was too over-the-top for this very conservative children's magazine. So I reached into the family archives and pulled out Ann Argyle Fox, my great-great-great grandmother. She's buried here in the valley where I now live. I know almost nothing about her but I thought her name would look great in print.

It's way cool having a pseudonym. It's like having an alias or a secret identity. I highly recommend it. Plus, picking them out is a hoot. 

I wasted a lot of time looking into the whole issue of pen names and discovered quite a few which I thought were folks' real names. Probably the most interesting thing I learned is that nom de plume (literally "name of pen") didn't come from the French at all. The English made it up. The French used nom de guerre (name of war) instead and today use "pseudonyme."

When I published my novel last October, my mom asked me if I was going to use my real name. This worried me a bit. Perhaps she was afraid that I was going to shame myself in public? I went with the real McCoy but still have reasons to use another name from time to time.

I'd love to see a comment if you've had to use one yourself or if you have a favorite writer who uses one!