Sunday, December 10, 2017

Feeling festive

Today, I'd like to talk to you about festivities. Whatever your culture, religion, or faith, we all have our own festivities (and at various times of the year), and I think those are to be shared and enjoyed, understood and respected, throughout each community. Evidently, as it's December, most will notice that I, personally, celebrate Christmas. But, aside from that, I adore learning about all the other festivities that occur around the world throughout the year, whether it's Eid Al-Adha, Eid Al-FitrEid, Imbloc, We Tripantu, Hanukah, Christmas, The Chinese New Year, or one of the other many festive celebrations our great world has been gifted with.

So what does that mean for YA writing? Simply put, I'd love to see more of these wonderful, unique, individual expressions of faith in our young adult books. The understanding and knowledge that books can give us is important. Why do others believe differently than you? What gives us all a human commonality despite our own, individual faith?

In my own home, we have conflicting beliefs, but they unite us, rather than divide us. I'm compelled to find out more about this faith that isn't my own. To respect it, see its own truth, see the world through different eyes. Does it make me change my own belief? No and yes. No, my belief didn't change. However, what did change is that I could a) empathize and understand the other faith, and b) I am giving myself room to explore. After all, who says change is bad? Perhaps something will strike a chord with me one day, and I'll find my faith evolving. Who knows?

So here is my challenge to myself, and please feel free to play along - whenever there is a big religious festivity from a faith I don't know about, I'm going to put a book in my hands that tells me about it. Educates me. Enlightens me. Brings me further knowledge of our humanity. And if I'm lucky, it's going to come in the form of a YA novel.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

GUESTOPIA: MG Author Stacie Haas


So, I’m a bit late with this month’s GUESTOPIA interview – I blame NaNoWriMo, the excitement of Pitch Wars, and all the other things that life throws at us at this time of year. But, I’m here! I’m back! And, best yet, I have a wonderful middle grade author who I’m delighted to introduce you to today.


STACIE HAAS 






Stacie Haas is an award-winning professional and creative writer with background in business communications, public relations, and reputation management. She has been repeatedly honored with national MarCom Platinum and Gold awards for writing corporate social responsibility reports for a Fortune 500 company. 

Her writing has appeared in national magazines like St. Anthony Messenger and Skipping Stones. She has degrees in English and American History and is a graduate of the Institute of Children’s Literature.

Stacie's debut novel, Freedom for Me: A Chinese Yankee, was published in November 2017 by Melody Press, an imprint 5050 Press. She is currently hard at work on her next project. Stacie resides in Northern Kentucky with her husband, Michael, their three children, and chocolate lab mutt.

And off we go with the interview! 


Is this your first published book?



Yes!



What’s it called?



Freedom for Me: A Chinese Yankee


Which genre?



Historical Fiction



Which age group?



Upper middle grade/young adult. It’s written for ages 10 and up.



Is it a series or standalone?



Standalone (for now).



Are you an agented author?



No.



Which publisher snapped up your book?



Melody Press, an imprint of 5050 Press (www.5050press.com).



How involved have you been in the whole publishing process of your book?



I feel I have been involved every step of the way, but am certainly grateful that I had the guidance of my publisher and its owners, Stephen Hall and Megan Cassidy Hall. 



Do you have another job?



Yes. I am a senior public relations manager for a Fortune 500 company.



Did you receive many, if any, rejections prior?



It was about 10 between publishers and agents. The agent rejections were hard to take, but those that took the time to tell me why were helpful in retrospect. I didn’t receive responses from any of the publishers I originally queried. I waited and waited for a response, but didn’t receive one. Those are the worst, I think. I understand the sheer number of queries they receive, but to hear nothing is a rejection without closure. It’s hard to take.



What created/what were you doing or watching when the first idea for this book sneaked up on you?



My novel is based on a real-life Chinese Yankee named Joseph Pierce. I first learned of him many years ago when a friend of my father’s gifted me an old stack of his Civil War magazines. I have a degree in American History and have always loved studying the American Civil War. Being of Chinese heritage, I was thrilled to learn about a Chinese Civil War soldier because I’d been under the mistaken impression that the Chinese didn’t come to America until after the war was over. I was fascinated and started researching deeper.



A few years later, I decided to pursue my love of creative writing and started taking courses at the Institute of Children’s Literature. My third course was designed to help with writing a first manuscript. I decided to give it a go. 



How long did you plot/plan until you started writing it?



Not long, but I had many starts and stops. I originally intended to write a non-fiction book. Once I got started, I realized that I simply didn’t have enough historical facts to do justice to a non-fiction work. My instructor at the Institute suggested that I turn it into a fiction story. I jumped at the chance to base my story on the real soldier, and to fill in the historical gaps using my experiences as a person of Chinese heritage. I did plot out the story chapter by chapter originally. The general direction of the novel is the same today, but there were many changes and additions to the story along the way. 



Once you started, did the story flow naturally or did you have to step in and wrestle it into submission?



It flowed very naturally in the first draft. The words appeared on paper, but the writing wasn’t very good at that point. As a first-time novelist, I had a lot to learn about the process of writing. I started with a major issue, which I’ll call adverb-itis. I wrote with too much filtering and got bogged down in historical details that slowed the pace of the story. Then, in later drafts, I worked on dialogue and tagging properly and so forth. I found that editing with one particular issue in mind made a huge difference for me. 


How many drafts did you write before you let someone read it? Who was that someone?



With my first draft, I was writing as part of a class assignment so my instructor read every chapter along the way. Once I graduated from that course, I had an unpolished manuscript that was complete but nowhere near submission ready. Of course, I didn’t know that at the time. I submitted to my first publisher shortly after the course was over and didn’t get a response. After that, I ended up getting a test edit done on my first few chapters and learned a great deal. The most significant thing I learned was that the editing I’d done to tighten my language actually took me way below the standard word count for my upper middle grade/teen audience. What a rookie mistake!



Did you employ an editor/proofreader or did you have a critique partner/beta readers before you started querying?



Yes, and across several years. After the initial test edit and a rewriting, I had some beta readers give me feedback, which proved invaluable. Several years and several drafts later, I felt I was getting close to a submission-ready manuscript so I had a professional critique done. It ended up being very encouraging because the issues identified were minimal and easily fixed. Prior to submitting my novel the final time, I employed a proof reader who was able to find those little errors that my eyes had simply stopped seeing.  



Roughly how many drafts did it take before you sent the manuscript off into the real world?



I honestly don’t know, but my best guess is five. And that doesn’t include revisions to individual chapters along the way, of which there were many.



How many drafts until it was published?



At least five, maybe more.  



Has the book changed dramatically since the first draft?



Yes, and some of the changes were quite significant. The first major change was the addition of a key character. I was several drafts in before I realized that I was writing a book about the war to end slavery and didn’t have any slaves in the story. The character of Sam is integral to the book. I love the character and can’t imagine the story without him now. 



The other big change was to the opening scene of the first chapter. The content didn’t change dramatically, but how it was written did. I knew I didn’t love it, but it took me quite a while to figure out how to make it better. Once I did, the rejections stopped and I got my first requests for a full manuscript in a matter of weeks. Never underestimate the power of your opening scene!



Are there any parts you’d like to change even now?



Now that I read it as a published book, I still wonder about little ways to make the story stronger. I suppose that will always be the case.



What part of writing do you find the easiest?



Writing after I have a plotline established.


What part do you find hardest?



Plotting.



Do you push through writing barriers or walk away?



Both. When I actually have a chunk of time to spend on writing, I will push my way through because that uninterrupted writing time is rare and priceless. When I struggle in those instances, I’ll pick a chapter and do some polishing to get me back into a writing mode.  If, on the other hand, I’m trying to sneak in some writing time and it doesn’t happen, I usually let it go and revisit it later. 



How many projects do you have on the go at the same time?



For most of the time writing Freedom for Me it was just one major project, although I participated in Flash Fiction contests for fun. I love the challenge of creating a complete story in 250 words. I am always writing, however, for my day job. Currently, I’m working on another middle grade novel. 


Do you think you’re born with the talent to write or do you think it can be learned?



From an early age, I enjoyed putting pen to paper. I don’t know if I was born with any natural talent, but I had a need to write to understand how I felt about things. It was always a natural thing for me to do.



However, writing can definitely be learned and improved. My twelve-year-old son doesn’t believe me when I say that practicing writing really helps. It’s just like anything else. In the process of writing just this one book, I think I’ve grown significantly as a writer. My early drafts of Freedom for Me are cringe-worthy, but I treasure those drafts because I didn’t stop there. I tried to hone a new skill—filtering, pace, characterization—with every re-write and edit. And in the end, I know I gave it my best effort. 



How many future novels do you have planned?



Two as of right now. One is in the works; the other is in the idea stages.



Do you write other things, such as short stories, articles, blogs, etc?



I maintain a blog on my website, staciehaas.com, and I enjoy Flash Fiction contests. I also write every day for my day job—press releases, feature articles, and annual reports. 



What’s the highlight of being published so far?



Holding the book in my hand and simply knowing how many drafts (and years) it took to get it there. 



Give me one writing tip that work for you.



Writing when the mood strikes and not stopping until it ends. 



And one that doesn't.



Trying to write within a set timeframe like NaNoWriMo. I absolutely love the idea of a daily word count to accomplish the monumental task of writing a novel in a month, but it doesn’t work for me or in my daily life. It makes writing too much like work, and I already have a day job. Writing for me is a purely enjoyable exercise and I don’t like to add the pressure of that. I feel it stifles my creativity. (But, boy, am I impressed with writers who can do it successfully!).     



Can you give us a clue or secret about the next book?



It’s a middle grade novel about a nine-year-old boy who is obsessed with impressing his dad with his baseball skills. An unfortunate injury and a diagnosis that puts him in occupational therapy forces him to adjust his plans and his definition of success.  



What question have you always wanted to be asked but never have? What would the answer be?


Now, that’s a good question! I don’t know. I suppose the question I always want the opportunity to answer is why I like studying American history, and the Civil War, specifically. And my answer is that war brings out the best and worst in people. It’s the perfect time to learn and understand a country and the mindset of its people because of those two extremes. Plus, I’m a patriot at heart and always have been. If you want to understand why a country is worth fighting for, I feel strongly that you should “ask” those people who are willing to stand up and serve. They never fail to teach us if we’re willing to “listen” to them.  



Fantastic! Thank you so much for joining me today, Stacie, and I, and everyone else at YAtopia, wish you all the best with your book. 

If you would like to follow Stacie's journey and connect with her, these links might help! 

Publisher's Website 
Twitter
Facebook

Freedom for Me: A Chinese Yankee debuted in November 2017 from 5050 Press. Buy it on Amazon.com in paperback or e-book:  https://www.amazon.com/dp/B077BSB7RP/


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Reasons to be thankful this time of year



As the theme of November is thanksgiving, I thought I'd share a few reasons to rejoice the winter season as a writer:

Black Friday: This Friday (24th) it’s Black Friday! This festive treat only made its journey across the pond to the UK (where I am) a few years ago, and it was pretty wild. But the shops have toned the hype down now for safer, funner and much more merry Black Friday sales. Let’s be thankful we can stock up on all our writing essentials, whether that’s a brand new MAC (a girl can dream) or a beautiful soft leather writing notebook, ready and waiting to hear all your brilliant ideas.

PitMad on 9th December: Brenda Drake’s famous #PitMad Twitter Pitch Party will be hosted on 9th December. Kick off your December in style by pitching your finished manuscript on the hashtag #PitMad #YA, and hopefully get it favourited by agents to earn yourself a request!

There’s a magical atmosphere: OK, so by January the short days and early nights are a reason to grumble, but these long winter nights pre-new year are perfect for snuggling in front of a crackling log fire with your pen and notebook. Outside, the air’s crisp and sharp, perfect for walks to clear your mind. At this time of year, the bars are busy, the shops are full, and everyone seems on the precipice of something exciting. Relax and soak up the festive air, admire the twinkling festive lights and get some inspiration for your new WIP.

It’s party-season! Even if you prefer staying at home to a night hitting the town, the party season can be great inspiration for writing… the shop displays tend to get more opulent at this time of year, and everyone out for their festive work parties will be glammed up, meaning it’s the perfect time to draw inspiration for that party scene or elaborate renaissance masquerade ball you’ve been dreaming about!

German Market arrives: Every writer knows a cup of coffee and a cookie are writing essentials, but once the German Market hits town those transform into a mug of mulled wine or hot chocolate and a fondant-covered fruit skewer! Make sure your fervent writing doesn’t get interrupted by a grumbling belly, by stocking up on all the goodies that market has to offer. (OK, OK, I admit, this is just an excuse to go to the German Market, but we all need a break sometimes, right?)

Sunrise: With those early nights, come late mornings, and what’s better than watching the golden sunrise over a frosty view? Even late-risers can enjoy a December sunrise, so set your alarm and get your notebook ready (freshly bought in the Black Friday sales, of course).

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Thankful For My First Book Coming Out

Thankful is the theme for this month, and I would like to write about how I’m thankful for my YA LGBTQ Fantasy novel IN THE NAME OF MAGIC, which is forthcoming from NineStar Press with a tentative release date of June 11, 2018. Squealing for joy at the acceptance offer might not sound like a complicated idea. However, writing is a difficult profession because of subjectivity. For example, everyone has their own unique tastes, and it can therefore be challenging to get a literary agent/offer of publication.

I first got the idea for IN THE NAME OF MAGIC around this time last year. I had certain opinions about what was going on in the United States. But I didn’t want to write a strict allegory like 1984 or Animal Farm. Instead, I conceived of a country where people were discriminated against if they were born without magic, meaning gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, and skin color weren’t the basis for discrimination in my novel. So, yes, the novel contains dystopian elements. But I wanted to have grounded character stakes/emotions. As a result, I have the main character (17-year-old Maximillian) hide his best friend Katherine. She was born without magic, and needs shelter after fleeing home when her parents are killed by the police and secret police wolves. Yes. They’re talking animals in my novel. Because something has always intrigued me about the flying monkeys from the Wizard of Oz. Anyway, Maximillian and his parents risk their lives since they could be killed for harboring a non-magical person. My point is, I wanted to create a character who wasn’t afraid to take big swings and do something. Because the question: (what would you do?) is the novel’s subtext. Feeling powerless is never good, and the novel is an attempt to have a character channel the idea that I’m not okay with what’s happening, and I’m going to do something about it.

Anyway, I spent the next two months or so writing and revising and then sent it out at the end of January 2017. Rejections piled into my inbox, but I got a Revise and Resubmit from NineStar Press at the end of April 2017. The novel had a creative premise, but needed more emotional depth as a result of the novel’s violent events. I then spent the next month revising, adding about 21,000 words (the novel went from around 74k words to 95k words). I submitted the R&R at the end of May before getting the acceptance offer in August 2017.


Ultimately, cliché sentiments are sometimes true. Having thanks about IN THE NAME OF MAGIC is necessary. The offer came at an important time. I’ve gotten short stories and creative nonfiction published. But I still wanted to get an actual book published, and was starting to get the normal annoyance that occurs when rejections pileup. IN THE NAME OF MAGIC is only one step. But it was almost like a wink from the universe to keep plugging away because I’m on the right path. And that is why I wanted to mention IN THE NAME OF MAGIC in my blog post today. It is a lesson to writers about never giving up, and how it only takes one yes to change things in addition to how there’s not just one path to publishing.