Interview with Lori M. Lee

Today I’m happy to bring you an interview with my critique partner Lori M. Lee. 
In December of 2011, she signed with Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary, and her book deal (!) with Skyscape was recently announced. She blogs about the writing life at http://lorimlee.blogspot.com/

Thanks for stopping by today, Lori! For the uninitiated, could you give us a brief overview of your writing journey up until now?
Thanks for having me, Lauren 🙂 It’s been almost four years since I began my first manuscript-with-intent-to-query/publish in 2009. It was a NaNoWriMo, and I spent a year editing and rewriting it based on feedback from my amazing CPs (like you! :D) before querying. While querying that project, I began working on Gates of Thread and Stone. This story so much fun to write, and I was extremely fortunate to receive an offer of representation in November of 2011 after only a few weeks of querying. But the work definitely didn’t end there. A major revision and a year later, I finally got that yes from an editor!
What is something that surprised you about being an agented writer? Many aspiring writers put so much emphasis on getting an agent without necessarily thinking about what happens after reaching that milestone.
This is sort of dumb (and a good example of how my brain works… or doesn’t, in this case), but when I began my next project, I had brief moments of panic when I thought about writing the query. Then, at some point, it struck me—I don’t have to write a query. My agent doesn’t require one. The query was always such a stress-filled requisite of writing a new manuscript-with-intent-to-find-an-agent that it didn’t immediately occur to me I didn’t need one b/c I already had an agent. And believe me, when that realization hit, it felt AWESOME.

I’ve gotten the impression from other writers in the blogosphere that being on submission is kind of like Fight Club. The first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club. What can you say about your time on submission and how you coped for other writers going through the same process?
Being on submission had even greater ups and downs than querying. When an editor loved the book, but it got shot down in acquisitions, that hurt a million times more than an agent rejection because I was so, so close. Being on sub was exciting and terrifying, but also emotionally draining. I coped with everything first by working on something new and then inadvertently by getting pregnant lol. With my mind focused on a new world and new characters (and the impending baby), I had less time to worry about what was happening with the book on submission.
The Gates of Thread and Stone will be published by Skyscape (Amazon Children’s Publishing) in 2014, and it is the first book in a series. Tell us about the book.
Going with what was revealed in the deal announcement (since I don’t know how much more I can talk about yet), Gates is about a girl who stays carefully under the radar to keep her ability—to manipulate the threads of time—a secret. But when her brother disappears, she has to risk getting caught up in a revolution in order to save him.
What was your biggest challenge writing this book?
This particularly book came really easily to me, which is not typical. The world building was probably the biggest challenge because world building, in itself, is fairly intricate, but the plot and the characters were very clear in my mind.
What excites you most about this next stage of your career?
Reader feedback. Good or bad, I can’t wait to hear what readers think. It’s definitely scary, and I’ll probably fumble through it all, but I’m looking forward to it.

Finally, what is the single best piece of writing advice you’ve received?
Work on your next book while you’re waiting for query responses. Write while you’re on submission. Write while you’re waiting for feedback from CPs or your agent or your editor. Having that shiny new idea to focus on really does make the waiting more bearable, and the bonus is if that ms doesn’t work out, you’ve got your next one ready to go.
Thanks so much Lori!

Be sure you check out her blog (http://lorimlee.blogspot.com/) and follow her on twitter (@lorimlee).

Lori’s always been an incredibly supportive writer, and I’m so happy she’ll be able to share her stories with the world!

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Interview with Catherine Schaff-Stump

Today I’d like to introduce you to Catherine Schaff-Stump, one of my fellow writers from the Taos Toolbox workshop I attended last summer.

 Catherine is a fantastic speculative fiction writer who tends to write for younger ages. She interviewed every member of our workshop class (which you can find here) and now it’s time to return the favor.

1.     When did you know you wanted to be a writer? 

My older brother is an artist, so I knew that couldn’t be my thing, because then I would be a copy cat. One year, he painted a beautiful bird on a block of wood for my mother for mother’s day, and I whipped out a small (and somewhat maudlin, I’m pretty sure!) poem which he calligraphied underneath the bird. My mother gave me a great deal of praise, and that’s when I knew that this was something unique that I could do. So I began to write stories.

2.     How would you describe your writing? 

I do two kinds of things: kind of a madcap middle grade kind of thing (like in Hulk Hercules) and kind of a darker, gothic kind of thing. I’m a Gemini, right? There’s a fundamental dichotomy in my character.

3.     How much research do you do for your work? 

A LOT. I’m a former graduate student, so I’m not proud. I like to research and try to get things closer to what they might be like. Even when I’m making something up, I like to do some real world research as a basis for beginning.

4.     What are you working on right now? 

I have finally begun the first of five books about a family of demon binders, so right now I’m writing about two fairly quixotic sisters and their struggle for power and romance. There is at least one nice guy in the book. Awful things will happen to everyone. Somehow I find that satisfying. 😛

5.     How did you come to apply for Taos Toolbox? 

I’d been to Viable Paradise, and that gave me some faith in my ability to make it in the writing game, but I thought I need to push myself further than that to make it professionally. I’d been engaging in writer education—reading a lot, going to a couple of seminars, and attending writer education sessions at cons. Many of my friends had been to Taos, and thought it would be a good next step for me. So, I applied, and the rest is history.

6.     What advice would you give to someone attending their first writing workshop? 

Get used to criticism. Listen and be gracious. Realize that someone else’s opinion may have insight for you, but you must also trust your instincts. Try to treat your critique group as a team, and you may have a great group of friends later. Lend a hand. Give good crit.  And remember, if you’re just there for someone to tell you that your writing is great, you’re in the wrong place, and you’ve wasted a whole lot of money. Be ready to learn.

7.     What is your writing goal for 10 years down the line? 

In ten years, 2023, I will be (da-dum!) 58.  My hope would be to be retired from my full time job as a college professor. I would like to then be a full-time writer living on my retirement income in Florida. It would be awesome if I even had published one or two novels already.  I would still be half of one of the greatest romances of the 20th/21stcentury. This sounds pretty idyllic.

8.     Many of your projects have series potential. Why do you think that is? 

Because my brain keeps asking what if.  For example, the first Klarion character started as a support character in another story, and he told me about his family. And then I said, what were your parents like, and then your grandparents? And where did the curse come from?  And what do all the cosmological forces get out of all of this? And…on and on. Just the other day, someone asked me a question about Carlo’s granddad as I was sharing the book, and I thought crap. More what if.
I’ve never been a writer who’s lacked material. I’ve always lacked time.

9.     What do you think is an important quality writers need to have if they are going to succeed in this field? 

Just one? Persistence. Through the good times and the bad. Through the rejections and the apathy of sometimes not wanting to write. Through the silent periods of agents and editors. Slog on, little writer, slog on. The only way out is through.
I would also recommend a thick skin; the recognition that you will sometimes be saddened and depressed by constant rejection, and that’s okay; and a great support group of friends and family that believe in your writing when you are not equipped to do so.
Remember, it’s not you. It’s not them. It’s the right story in the right hands at the right time. Keep writing until that happens.

10.  Where can readers find more of your work?

I am mostly in print these days. My middle-grade novel Hulk Hercules: Professional Wrestler is available widely on line. You can find two of my short stories, Turtle of the Earth and Mark Twain’s Daughter in Cucurbital 2 and 3 respectively, and those are available through Paper Golem press. If you’re very lucky, you might find a copy of the electronic Needles and Bones which contains Sister Night, Sister Moon from Drollerie Press, although that is now out of “print.”

Happy Writing!

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Interview with the Editor of The Memory Eater Anthology

Today, I’m pleased to bring you an interview with Matthew Hance, editor as well as contributor to The Memory Eater anthology.

The Memory Eater is an upcoming anthology consisting of 27 uniquely illustrated, mind-bending stories based on a device with the ability to locate and destroy any memory in the human mind. Embark on a journey through the emotional, to the humorous, to the bleak and to the beautiful. Find out where the Memory Eater originated and how it’s used in the future. How removing pieces from one’s past often creates an unavoidable puzzle. But most importantly, follow those who decide to gamble with their minds…to create one hole in order to fill another.

I met Matthew after he accepted my story “Souvenirs From Another Life” for the anthology, and was impressed with his orchestration of the project from start to finish. So I thought this interview would be a good opportunity to learn more about how the anthology came about, how it came together, and how you’ll be able to get a hold of it.

Let’s get started.

I understand the idea behind The Memory Eater was a short story you wrote. Please tell us a bit about the story and your decision to turn it into an anthology.

I wrote my Memory Eater story for the Writers of the Future contest, and in it, the main character is a customer service representative for a memory removal company. It’s funny to look back on now and see why I wrote it—because I was working as a customer service representative, and I was also shopping around another story of mine which followed a character who lost his entire memory.

Anyway, while writing my contest entry, the main character kept taking calls from people wanting to remove all these different things, and that’s when I realized the endless amount of possibilities with this device. My first thought was to turn the idea into a collection of short stories, and it only seemed fitting to invite others to join.

Being a part of several writing groups and a handful of anthologies as a contributor, I decided it would be fun to be on the other end of things—to put out the call for submissions. Plus I really believed the idea would bring something new and fresh to the market, and that with my background and current job, I could pull it all together.

One of the things I found interesting about The Memory Eater is that you didn’t want bios included with any of the submissions (putting the emphasis on story, not previous credits). Could you talk a little bit about why you chose to handle things this way?

I mainly wanted authors to focus on their stories. I believe my only stipulation was to send stories in the body of an email. For me, it doesn’t matter if you’ve been published a million times over—I’m not interested in assembling authors with big followings or connections. I’m about quality, and if your story is good, what else matters? Formatting can be changed, and there’s an abundance of fresh, undiscovered talent out there to be had.

What role has social media played in the development of this project, considering your robust twitter presence (@TheMemoryEater) and blog (http://anthologies2011.blogspot.com/) capturing this project’s milestones?

Social media is imperative, and it’s the reason this project is alive. Right from the beginning, I used message boards and forums to advertise the call for submissions. My most important role has always been to spread the word. If I went back and added up all the views my postings received, I bet it would be well over 40,000. On a budget of about zero, that free advertising was priceless. It was a ton of hard work, but it didn’t set me back.

The same holds true with Twitter. When I found out what Twitter was (about a month into the project), I felt like I hit the jackpot. I followed people who mentioned writing in their profiles and hoped my picture of the pink bird eating a man’s brain and short description of The Memory Eater was enough to get them to visit my blog. I believed the idea was interesting enough that the more people I reached, the more submissions I would eventually get. All I had to do was get the ball rolling, or boulder in this case.

What were some of the things that surprised you the most about the story selection process? Any suggestions for writers out there based on your experience with The Memory Eater’s slush pile?

The selection process was really tough, because it boils down to making decisions. It’s always hard with so many options to settle on just one, but I picked my favorites and then allowed the tone of those few to guide my decision-making on the rest.

As a fellow writer, it was even tougher to send out rejection letters, especially for stories which almost made the cut.

One bit of advice I have for others is to not only be professional, but also be yourself. Even though I didn’t have bios in front of me, I could envision the authors through their emails and how they formatted their stories. So in a way, I was able to foreshadow what kind of narrative the stories were going to have before reading the actual stories. Even though I read every story, when you go higher up the chain and submit to bigger publishers, I have a feeling many are eliminated on the spot due to the volume they receive.

You’ve done a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of preparing The Memory Eater for publication. What were some of the things that surprised you about the editorial process?

How easy it was. Seriously. After I selected the stories, I printed them all off and read them on breaks while walking around the building. I bet people thought I was weird power-walking up and down the halls with a red pen bending a stack of papers in my hand. After two rounds of edits, I sent the changes over to the authors. After the fact, I felt like I went a bit overboard with the red markings, but everyone took it amazingly well. There were a few authors I worked with and met in the middle, but all in all, that was the editing process. It helped to have a system and to do it fast. I’m always about flow, so doing the edits all at once really helped the overall quality of the book.

What were some of the factors that led to your decision to create a Kickstarter fund for The Memory Eater anthology? What are the advantages of going this route?

One of the authors actually pointed me in the Kickstarter direction. He had been on several successful projects and really gave me all the information I needed to know about it.

I chose Kickstarter because of control. With the handful of publishers I was close to making a deal with (I actually had one contract in hand, ready to sign), I would have given up a lot of control, and the entire reason I started The Memory Eater was to output my vision of a quality book. At the end of the day, I simply couldn’t abandon that goal.

The main advantage of Kickstarter is those who will ultimately be purchasing the book are the judges. You cut out any middlemen guessing whether or not they can turn a profit on your blood, sweat and tears, and go directly to your audience. By going right for the audience, you don’t need to front the money needed for the project, because if it’s good enough, your audience will act as your middlemen.

What were some of the takeaways you’ve had from this process – from anthology idea to (nearly) finished product? And, are you going to do it again?

I will definitely do it again! I’m already thinking The Memory Eater 2. I also have a bunch of ideas floating around in this head of mine.

Even though this whole process has been more work than I ever imagined, I got to meet a ton of great people who share the same enthusiasm as I do. That alone is a success.

Takeaways… You truly get out what you put in. Anyone can self-publish a quality book—you just have to do your homework. Don’t settle. Realize that there are going to be times where you stop believing in yourself, but it will eventually pass, and you will come back stronger.

I’d like to thank you for having me by and asking me about my process. I’m really excited to share the finished book with everyone!

Thanks so much, Matthew!

To learn more about The Memory Eater anthology, please take a look at the blog or donate to preorder the anthology through the project’s Kickstarter page.

A story sampler, including excerpts from both Matthew’s and my stories in the anthology, is also available here.

Also check out another interview with Matthew to learn more about him and his writing.

And fellow author DL Thurston has another great post about the anthology and the role Kickstarter plays in the new publishing landscape.

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Interview with the Editors of Crossed Genres Publications

Today, I am pleased to bring you an interview with Kay T. Holt and Bart R. Leib, co-publishers and founders of Crossed Genres Publications. Kay and Bart are also founders and contributing writers to the excellent and informative Science in My Fiction blog.

After they accepted my story “The Tradeoff” for the Fat Girl in a Strange Land anthology, I thought this interview would be a good opportunity to learn how the anthology came about, what the editorial life entails, and what’s next for Crossed Genres Publications.

So let’s get started.

What was the inspiration behind the Fat Girl in a Strange Land anthology?

Crossed Genres has always been a publisher that supports underrepresented groups. Fat women have always been hidden in literature and film, or represented as examples of what not to be. We wanted to show some of the ways in which fat women are ostracized, and shoehorned into stereotypes, and display some of the mental and emotional consequences of those stereotypes. We also wanted to prove that fat women can be proud of who they are, and are deserving of their own stories.

“Fat”, “girl”, “strange”, and “land”… Why this combination of words? Why now?

The title as a whole is a play on Heinlein’s famous novel Stranger in a Strange Land. A few years ago Kay started a series of short stories which were collectively titled Fat Girl in a Strange Land. When the time came to title the anthology we appropriated the title. “Fat” is a term almost always used as an insult, so we’re using it to shift the power it has into the hands of those it would insult; similarly, “girl” is a condescending term for a woman. And the “strange land” in this context is more literal, since all the stories involve the main characters traveling to places they’ve never been (sometimes metaphorically).

I know when I first came across the call for this anthology and then tried to come up with overweight female protagonists in the speculative realm, I drew a blank. And I wanted to change that. Fellow antho author Sabrina Vourvoulias has an excellent post on this invisibility in Unabashed Fat on her blog. What do you hope this anthology achieves for the genre? For readers?

When was the last time you saw a woman on the cover of a spec fic book who wasn’t either 1) skinny, or 2) cartoonishly fat to the point of absurdity? Women main characters are rare enough, let alone overweight ones. If a young girl who is overweight can’t find a single story of futuristic fiction with an overweight woman, is she to assume that people like her don’t exist in the future? How would that girl react? We want fat girls – and women – to read Fat Girl in a Strange Land and see themselves reflected in the struggles of the characters.

Now, in addition to working together on Crossed Genres Publications, you are married in real life. How does your real life partnership inform your literary one? Are there editorial duties that one of you is naturally more comfortable handling than the other? How do you decide who does what?

We don’t always co-edit every book we publish; for example, Kay edited our two novel publications, RJ Astruc’s A Festival of Skeletons and Kelly Jennings’ Broken Slate, while Bart edited our new anthology Subversion: Science Fiction and Fantasy Tales of Challenging the Norm. When we co-edit we split the actual editing evenly.

The rest of the publishing responsibilities – art editing, book production, publicity, etc. – gets split up, often according to our strengths. Kay is a talented artist with art history experience, so she does most of the art editing work; Bart handles most of the distribution and publicity. It can vary somewhat by project, or depending on who has more time available. 😉

What is your best advice for writers out there given your editorial experience?

1. Follow the guidelines. You would not believe how many people get rejections because they didn’t. Read them, put your submission together, then before you hit Send, read them again. Don’t give the editors reasons to reject you before they’ve even looked at your story.

2. Put together a good query letter. Study the subject, look at examples, even take a class just for querying. Yes, your writing should speak for itself, but if an editor sees a sloppy email, why should they assume your writing is handled with any greater care? A query is the first thing an editor sees – make sure it isn’t the last.

3. Accept your rejections. Everyone gets rejected – everyone. Heinlein was rejected for 2 solid years before he got his first acceptance. Dr. Seuss was on the verge of burning his only copy of his first book, And To Think That I Saw it On Mulberry Street, after getting rejected 27 times. A rejection does not mean your writing is bad. There are lots of reasons to be rejected, and the only thing you can do is revisit the story, make some changes, and send it right back out again.

4. Don’t be afraid to be different! During those 27 rejections Dr. Seuss received (mentioned above), one letter claimed “This is too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling.” Seuss has gone on to sell millions of books in dozens of countries, winning Academy Awards, Emmys, the Pulitzer Prize and a Peabody award along the way. Regardless of what some people think, readers really do want to read new and unique stories.

You recently discontinued Crossed Genres Magazine to focus your efforts on speculative fiction anthologies like Fat Girl in a Strange Land and novels, including INK by Sabrina Vourvoulias out later this year. How is this change helping Crossed Genres Publications move forward?

The primary change is really financial. We’re taking the funds we were putting into the magazine and redirecting it to novels and anthologies, allowing us to pay a little better, and focus our resources on fewer annual projects.

The other real benefit is escaping the grind of publishing something new every month. We’re very proud that we’ve never missed a publication date in 3 years of the zine, but it’s definitely worn on us. The last CG Magazine publication (Quarterly 4) was released on January 1, and we’re really looking forward to narrowing our focus to 4-5 publications per year. By comparison, Fat Girl in a Strange Land will be our 9th publication in the past 14 months.

What’s on the horizon for Crossed Genres Publications? Any plans for additional anthologies right now?

At the moment our publication schedule is set through the end of 2012. In February there’s Fat Girl in a Strange Land. In July we’ll be releasing a collection of short stories by author Daniel José Older, who we’ve published a couple short stories from already. And in September we’ll be publishing INK, a novel by PA author Sabrina Vourvoulias. It’s possible we may add another title we have in mind for the end of 2012 (November or December), but at the moment it’s more likely that that project will be published in early 2013.

We’re still accepting novel submissions! And don’t be surprised to see another submission call for a new anthology in the near future!

EDIT: That new anthology submission call is for Menial: Skilled Labor in SF due by May 31st, so put your thinking caps on!

Thanks again to Kay and Bart for participating in this interview!

Follow them on Twitter for new developments in science, social justice, and of course information about Crossed Genres Publications. Or get to know them through their personal websites:

Kay T. Holt is @sandykidd on twitter and blogs at http://subvertthespace.com/kayholt/

Bart R. Leib is @metafrantic on twitter and blogs at http://subvertthespace.com/bartleib/

Crossed Genres Publications (http://crossedgenres.com/) and @crossedgenres on twitter

Science in My Fiction blog (http://scienceinmyfiction.com/) and @SciInMyFi on twitter

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Fat Girl in a Strange Land is now available in print from Amazon and Createspace, as well as ebook formats.

Book Description:

“For every supermodel, there are thousands of women who have heard “Why don’t you just eat less?” far too often. Except as comic relief or the unattractive single BFF, those women’s stories are never told. Crossed Genres Publications presents Fat Girl in a Strange Land, an anthology of fourteen stories of fat women protagonists traveling distant and undiscovered realms.

From Guatemala, where a woman dreams of becoming La Gorda, the first female luchador, before discovering a greater calling in “La Gorda and the City of Silver”; to the big city in the US, where superhero Flux refuses to don spandex in order to join her new team in “Nemesis”; to the remote planet Sidquiel in “Survivor”, where student Wen survives a crash landing, only to face death from the rising sun. Fat Girl in a Strange Land takes its characters – and its readers – places they’ve never been.”

Order today!
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