Thursday, September 23, 2021

Meet Author-Illustrator Andrea Tripke

We're so excited to share with you this interview with author-illustrator Andrea Tripke!

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your writing career.

I love my job. I am not a person who can just sit around for very long time doing nothing. I started writing only a few years ago. 2. When did you realize you wanted to be a writer? After being commissioned to illustrate my first picture book, I was hooked. Naturally I was wondering if I could come up with my own stories… 3. Why are you a writer? Illustrating my own ideas and stories is the best thing ever! I have so many ideas. Instead of just painting a single image, I come up with a story for a whole book. 4. What is your writing schedule like? I don’t have a writing schedule. Our critique group asks for submissions during the first week of each month, and I usually start brainstorming and writing a few days before due date. If something comes up, I write it down and submit. Working under pressure does make things happen.

5. What advice would you give yourself if you could go back in time before you were published?
Don’t look for ideas a child might like to read, but ideas a mom would like to read to her child. I find this a lot easier, and chances are I am coming up with something unique. Every idea can be turned into a children friendly story. Join a critique group! 
6. What has been the most thrilling part of being published? 
Seeing my books in stores is unbelievable. Knowing that children everywhere can read them is more rewarding than anything else.
7. What do you think makes a good book?
I think it needs to be interesting and unique, including the images. Besides, it doesn’t hurt to make it appealing to the adult reading it to a child.

8. How did you come up with the idea for your book Miranda, Queen of Broken Toys? 
Most of my stories are written spontaneously. Sometimes I pull my car over to write down an idea before it is gone. The idea for Miranda, Queen of Broken Toys formed, when I was trying to decide what to do with my daughter’s old and damaged toys. Nowadays, a lot of toys end up in the garbage because it’s so easy and inexpensive to replace them. I was wondering if it should be like this.
9. What was the hardest part of writing your book? 
Writing the first sentence. 
10. How long does it take you to write a book? 
The fastest picture book manuscript took me less than an hour to write. I couldn’t sleep and suddenly came up with an idea. I got up around 1am in the morning and was back to bed before 2am. Of course, it needed tweaking afterwards. That’s when my critique group comes in.
11. How many books have you written, and which one is your favorite?
I have only been published (as a writer) with one book, but after joining my critique group in 2019, I have written about one manuscript a month. The group keeps me going. The most recent story is usually my favorite.

12. Do you buy books based on the cover or the blurb? 
As an illustrator I tend to buy books by the cover art. 
13. What books have influenced your writing? 
I like picture books that entertain me as a parent too. Books by Ryan T. Higgins or Philip C. Stead are highly entertaining, just to name a few. 
14. Do you prefer ebooks, paperbacks, or hardcover? 
I prefer hardcover picture books. They are durable and look good in a bookshelf.

15. What were the last three books you read?
Currently, I am reading Harry Potter with my daughter. The last picture books I purchased (and read) were The Secret Garden and Creepy Carrots. The pandemic slowed me down, and I haven’t been as often to the bookstore as before COVID.

16. What do you do when you're not writing? 
Working on book dummies. Each story that has been approved by my lovely agents Marisa Cleveland and Joyce Sweeney will be turned into a book dummy. Besides that, I am a full-time mom.
17. What is your typical day like?
I try to fill every free minute, means the time I don’t spend taking care of my daughter, dog, hamster, fish, parrot and sometimes husband, somehow creatively.
18. What's one thing you can't live without?
I can’t limit it to one thing. I can’t even limit it to 10 things!

About Andrea

Andrea Tripke is a German-born artist who has illustrated books for children, including A Girl named October by Zakieh A. Mohammed and Selfie the Elfie by Savage Steve Holland. She studied at the Columbus College of Art and Design before pursuing her lifelong dream of becoming a children’s book writer and illustrator. Miranda, Queen of Broken Toys is her first authored/ illustrated book.

Connect with Andrea through her website or on Twitter.

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Thursday, June 17, 2021

A Twitter #PBPitch Success Story with Ronna Mandel!

 By Maggie Apostolis

Was writing a lifelong dream or something you sort of fell upon?

I recall first being enamored when taking high school and college short story and playwriting classes. I also began composing essays. After I studied abroad in Paris and London, all I wanted to do was travel writing. In fact, I actually toured the country in one of my jobs giving educational seminars on travel to Russia, Eastern Europe, India and Europe. Writing speeches was such fun! When my husband, daughter and I moved to Frankfurt and then London, I took classes, joined critique groups and began writing short stories and entering contests. I also began writing an adult murder mystery. That all changed to writing for children after I had my own children and LA Parent magazine, where  I worked when I moved back from living overseas, asked me to begin a blog and review children’s books.

Did school/education have a positive or negative impact on your writing?

I originally thought I wanted to major in art and become a set designer for theater, but once at university I changed my mind. My university had a strong English department and the classes I took prompted me to create an interdisciplinary major called Media Production and Writing. I thought I would write for television but never did. Fortunately, as a result of several creative jobs post college, (publicity in publishing, advertising and then travel) I’ve ultimately found my passion in writing for children. So in this roundabout answer, I’d say yes, my education had a positive impact since I’ve been in writing jobs ever since graduating.

Who is your favorite author?

To be honest, I can’t name just one favorite. Each time I read and love a book, that’s my current fave. There are many kidlit authors whose writing I admire including Sandra Boynton, Tammi Sauer, Marla Frazee, Jane Yolen, Kelly Starling Lyons, Ryan T. Higgins, Josh Funk, Jon Klassen, Andrea J. Loney, Carole B. Weatherford, Tara Lazar, Jerry Craft, Alexis O’Neill and tons more!!

Who or what is your biggest influence when it comes to the work you produce?

My own life experiences and those of my family constantly influence my writing. Whether I’m writing about special needs, bullying, fitting in, or Jewish culture, there is usually something I can tie to my childhood, my parenting experiences, travel and life overseas, as well as the ever-changing world around me.

What do you want to see change about the literary world?

I’d like to see more works from BIPOC authors and illustrators. It’s starting though. I see that as a reviewer which is terrific. That being said, I’d also like to see books by Jewish authors sharing non-stereo-typical experiences across the board and the same for disabled, LGBTQIA and neurodiverse authors and illustrators.

If your reader could know one fun fact about you or one of your character’s, what would you want to share?

I’m ambidextrous and I play a mean air guitar.

How have you witnessed your work change over the years as a writer?

My writing improves with every course I take and every book I read.

How do you cope with writer’s block?

I think I really don’t cope with it. I ignore it. That’s why deadlines are so good. When I don’t feel the creativity flowing, I often do non-writing things like arts and crafts (I love decoupage and papier mache), listen to my favorite radio podcasts or go for a walk.

Where is your favorite place to write?

One of my favorite places to write is the main branch of the Pasadena library. Being surrounded by warm wooden décor, studious people, and thousands of books is so calming and inspiring. I also like to write with a group of kidlit who used to meet at a café weekly prior to the pandemic. I cannot wait to return there.

Wrap up question that I like to ask all writers; what is the one piece of advice you want to offer to aspiring authors and writers?

I’m laughing because I still consider myself an aspiring author since I’m not published yet. My advice is to feed your creativity by feeding your soul. Do the things that spark joy and likely this will also spark stories. Maybe that’s a walk along the beach, walking the dog, or a walk through a museum. I never know when or where an idea will strike me, but if I’m relaxed and feeling good, chances are my brain is more open to new things.

Was this your first Twitter pitch event? How many have you done?

The Twitter pitch event, #PBPitch, that I participated in this past February was maybe my fourth  or fifth. But it was only the second time I pitched my Onion manuscript which you liked. 

Is there any advice you would give to people participating in the future?

If people want to join a Twitter pitch event, my advice would be to visit the website of the person who hosts the event and read the instructions carefully. I see so many people who don’t follow the rules. Next I would type the Pitch Event hashtag into Twitter to get an idea of what a typical pitch is for picture books (in my case), middle grade and so on since not everyone deletes their pitch when the event ends. Look for ones with one or more hearts (likes) to see the qualities of a successful pitch. Lastly I recommend writing several different versions of the pitch and asking critique partners for feedback. It doesn’t hurt to also do a test run without really tweeting it to make sure you don’t have too many characters. Since 280 is the limit, be sure that includes space for required hashtags. Book titles are not required and neither are comps and could take up room. 

By the way, there are probably more than a dozen different type of Twitter pitch events throughout the year whether that’s DVPit, faith pitch, dark pitch, Pitmad, and pitch events for scifi + fantasy, romance, lgbtqn and more!

Thanks, Ronna!

*** Connect with Ronna ***

Twitter: @RonnaWriter

Instagram: @goodreadswithronna

Friday, June 11, 2021

PB Party Success Story with Marie Tang! Thanks, Mindy!

By Maggie Apostolis

Tell us a bit about yourself.


I was born in Hong Kong, but my family moved to New York when I was very young. I consider myself an Asian American, though technically, I am an immigrant. My daughter is a first-generation Asian American here. My daughter is going into high school this year, which’s great, but I have a little bit of anxiety about it because, for the last 11 years, we’ve been living in Shanghai. When she was eighteen months old, we got a job offer in China, and we found it to be a great opportunity to try something new. It is a cool city to be in, I liked what I saw, and I thought if I could get a job there and stay awhile, let’s see where it would take us. So, we stayed, and my daughter pretty much grew up there. But after a decade. it was time to come home. Our pup, Ginger, who we adapted when we were over there took the trip back to America with us as well. 


It was a great experience. I’ve always regarded myself as Asian American and all that comes along with it, but being able to go to China and experience the true Asian culture was an experience I was so blessed to have had. Many of my stories revolve around Chinese culture.


How long have you dabbled with writing?


I guess every writer has had this within them, but I have always loved writing. I’ve always just written stuff. Even after all the moving around, I still find random stuff I’ve written here and there throughout the years. I decided in 2017 to pursue children’s picture book writing, and I realized this is what I want to do. I love writing, so I had to hone in on picture books, to truly learn about the craft and find that elusive “voice.”


Were you always interested in children’s books?


When I was in China, I got a job as a preschool and kindergarten teacher. That was a huge influence being around children and books. But what’s funny is whenever you start to tell people that you write picture books, they all believe they can write one as well. They’re always like, ‘oh, that’s easy, there are so few words,’ and that can sometimes be discouraging. I have learned over the years that it is one of the most difficult things to do. You’re writing a full-on story in less than 500 words, and that is not an easy task to take on. That is why I am so excited about this opportunity, and I am so lucky. In these three to four years, I’ve been writing a lot, doing a lot of webinars, and putting myself out there to get here, and it is certainly cool to be here. 


Did you have a favorite book or author from childhood that shaped you as a writer?


I can’t really say I have a favorite. One of the reasons is because no one read to me when I was a kid. I didn’t read, it’s embarrassing to say, but I didn’t really read for enjoyment until I was in college. This however, has led to another passion of mine which is reading aloud with children. I have even written a book about it, and it was something I did as often as I could as a literacy teacher when I was working abroad. It must not have been until kindergarten when teachers and librarians when I heard stories read aloud. And at that point I was still an English language learner. But because when I was very young, no one read to me. I can’t say I have a favorite book because it wasn’t really a part of my life. One of the things I want to do is change that part of the culture. I want Asians to realize how important it is to read aloud to their children. It is very important for kids to read in terms of phonics, which is typically the focus for Asian parents, but reading for enjoyment is something totally different. I want to bring entertainment reading to the culture.


Do you have specific audiences you are trying to reach/who do you write for?


Culture-curious kids. Kids who are interested in exploring different cultures. I have narrowed it down to the things I find common in the stories I write: sharing Asian culture with young people. There are so many great aspects that American children can pick up on which deal with food, mindfulness, and of course, family. Those are the three main threads I find in my stories.


What is your favorite subject to play within kid lit? Do you like heavier topics or to keep it light?


Heavy for sure. I overthink things way too much. That’s not necessarily a good thing but it’s fun to overthink something and cut it down to 500 words. For example, I have a story about death. When we think about death, it’s usually sad, and it is sad to see someone go. But my story is about a Tai Gong or, great grandfather, who’s lived until he was 100 years old. It’s about a little girl experiencing her great grandfather’s Chinese death ceremony. In this story I am trying to express the celebration of life that comes after death. Though I do love humor, I like to stick to heavier topics.  


People can tend to be sensitive when it comes to heavy topics, and you have to be sensitive when it comes to children. But I don’t know. I kind of don’t want to fall victim to playing it safe with the more controversial topics. I think there is a lot of value in hard-hitting lessons, such as kids being mean to each other and that we can find ways to express it that feel good to read. It’s all about moving the main character so they can become the hero they are meant to be.


How was the PBParty successful for you?


Since I moved back to America in July, I’ve been dabbling in contests when I could. I never did a PB Party before when I was in China, and to be honest, I had no idea what I was getting into. Which may sound naive, but I had no idea what it was. I am not on social media, so I just kind of went headfirst into the contest. But I was so excited when I became a finalist. I thought I was just going to get a conversation with an editor or an agent. But then, about a week later, I checked the blog posts and reread them, where I saw that editors and agents would possibly request manuscripts. And because I hadn’t checked, there were TEN requests in my inbox!!


At the end of the year last year, I also enrolled in the 12 x 12 contest in hopes of winning a scholarship for the program, and I won, which was incredibly exciting. But the PB Party was different. You become a finalist, and you are suddenly a winner. There were forty and fifty finalists out of the over one thousand contestants who applied. I was so excited to see my inbox pouring in. I was so surprised, but I sent what I had to, and the first one I sent was immediately rejected. But the next four requested more of my work. So, it was a roller coaster. I was excited one minute and then remembered that the rejections were also lurking around the corner.


But now I am with Marisa, who has been wonderful. I’m really excited to continue writing and learning about the process.


Is there anything you want to tell other writers who may be interested in the same event?


Just go for it! I was recently in a Highlights Foundation story plotting course, where many people were wondering how they would get attention from agents. My advice to them is to do these contests, do these pitch parties. There is an application process, just like anything when trying to submit your work, but it’s worth it. Not only do you get to practice pitching and querying, this amazing community of writers begins opening up to you. It always blows me away how much children’s book writers pay it forward and really want to see one another to succeed.


The final question is there any advice you can offer to aspiring writers who may read this?


There is a lot of work, research, and learning that goes into this. But at the end of the day, you have to keep writing what you truly want to write. Because everyone is sort of in the search for an agent, people could fall for writing something that doesn’t necessarily match their passion or their core values as a writer. I think the key is to stay authentic. Find your thing and keep writing it. When it comes from inside, that’s where the best stories come from. Take the craft and information you learn but implement them into the stories you are passionate about.

Thanks, Marie!


Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Getting the Shot: An Interview with Shariya Lynn

 By Maggie Apostolis


We were lucky enough to find you through a Twitter event! Have you previously participated in Twitter pitch events before #SFFPit 2021? What were your experiences?


Shariya: Yes, I did a couple. The first one I did was #DVPit. I had reached a point with pitch contests where I felt they weren't helpful because, after my first pitch contest and receiving a lot of likes and stuff, the follow-up sometimes was a bit disheartening. They request your work, form reject you, or people have your work for months. I’ve had multiple pitch contest requests hold my work for literal years. Even after nudging them, they still didn't give me a response or they’d say they are still considering it, locking me out of querying anyone else at their agency. Like, just a few days before my offer of rep, I’d gotten a form rejection from a pitch contest query from literally two years ago. I’d straight up forgot about that one and was like, wow I can’t even get mad, that’s hilarious.

I got frustrated with pitch contests because it is hard not to get excited. It's not the same thing as querying because I had actually queried TMZ Day for about a year and a half. It was not ready when I first started querying it if I am being honest. But when you are querying, you don’t know if that X agent didn’t like your concept, or pages, or maybe something isn't right with the query itself. But with the Twitter events, I would get super excited, because oh my god, look at all these agents who like my concept, but your heart is still broken and you know it wasn’t because they didn’t like your idea. But at the same time it is still treated as a regular query. Though some people are different, like The Seymour Agency, who requested the full, others only just want your query and normal amount of pages, so it didn't feel very different from usual querying. I wish more people would request fulls or at least partials for pitch contests.


What I did find helpful from Twitter pitches was finding agents who would not necessarily show up during your search. By the time I got to #SFFPit, I wasn’t even going to do it because it felt like an exercise in futility and heartbreak, but I decided it couldn’t hurt at the last minute. And when I got the two-month response time from your agency, I thought, oh, this is different I’m glad I decided to give it one more go.  


How did you discover your love of writing?


Shariya: Writing was definitely something that I've done my whole life and what I've always wanted to do. I always joke that I ruined my mom's life, hahaha, she had me at nineteen and always wanted to be a screenwriter. She never pushed it on me, but I grew up watching movies with her, and she would say, ‘oh, this is the pinch, this is leaving the ordinary world, or this is the mentor character’. That became the way I always viewed movies. 


Though I have a deep love for books, I got tired of watching bad movies. So, I told myself I could write a movie when I was a teenager, and though I did love books, I always told myself it was too hard to write a book, and I would never been able to do that.  


Well, you did write a book, a great one at that! How old were you when you first involved with writing?


Shariya: I want to say I wrote stories when I was little, but I always told stories. I didn’t really write them down. But when I reached middle school, I would write what I called song lyrics, even though what it really was, was poetry.


In high school, I was annoyed with movies I loved, like Mean Girls, and I got frustrated because these were not like real-life high school experiences at all. Like Regina George would get punched at my school. I wrote a little story, well, a screenplay called iTeenager, which was about what it was really like growing up in high school. I did some short stories and prose in high school. I wrote my first real screenplay that is a movie now, which was changed a lot for it to be made into a movie. But that was all in high school, and then I went to college for screenwriting.  


Is it safe to say movies have a huge influence on the writing you do today?


Shariya: Growing up with two geeks for parents was a huge influence for me. My mom and my stepdad are both black, my stepdad is from the south side of Chicago, but he loved Star Trek. Growing up with a Trekkie stepdad and a Star Wars geek in my mom, my mom will watch every horrible Syfy movie of the week, she would watch them every Saturday, and I grew up watching these repeatedly. Growing up without a filter as a child, I wasn’t just forced to watch Disney, I’d watch whatever my mom wanted to watch, I would want to watch. But she would always shield my eyes. I have this great memory of going to see Starship Troopers in the theater with her. I was like nine or ten, but you know all of the gratuitous violence I witnessed was just fine, but as soon as the infamous shower scene happened, she covered my eyes.


Growing up without this filter allowed me to see movies and even read adult books at a young age. I read Jane Austen when I was tiny, which I think totally destroyed my love life. I always joke with my friend when I was younger that my dream man was Mr. Darcy meets Hans Solo, and she would always tell me how awful that combination was. Now that I am older, she is right. That sounds awful.


This lack of a filter opened my eyes because I did not know that stories could do certain things and play with all of these crazy storylines like Event Horizon, for example, might destroy many adults because it’s super scary. Still, I watched this pretty young and was impressed. I was amazed by the idea of a spaceship going through an alternate dimension and coming back from hell effectively possessed. It never even crossed my mind. I was like, that’s so cool! I didn’t know stories could do things like that and that helped me expand my horizons on what kind of stories could be told.


How have you personally witnessed your writing change over the years?


Shariya: I personally am a plotter. I do not get married to the original idea or the original outline, which was not the case when I was younger. When it did not work, I used to force it to happen. My current work in progress, TMZ Day, is a great example. It is an old concept that I had, and all of the basic ideas are still there, the game, the main characters, but it was all just an excuse for them to be good at slaying zombies. But one day, I saw a really cool picture, which blended into my love of Outrun and the vaporwave aesthetic, which made me realize this could be an excellent cyberpunk story. Younger me would have been more married to the original idea than expand it to the larger world and a new storyline.


Would you say school affected your work?


Shariya: The creative writing classes I took in high school and at community college helped. I was taking college classes while I was still in high school. I feel like those helped because I wanted to tell a particular story. When I workshopped the first part of it, everyone in the class hated it and said it was stupid, basically. I refused to listen to them and was like, no, I will keep writing it, and when the second part of the story came out, everybody ended up really liking it. Which turned out to be a huge lesson to learn.


In film school, that was a little different because screenwriting is much more rigid. Which is one of the main reasons why I prefer novel writing. With screenwriting, there is an entirely different skill set. They really teach you to work within the confines which definitely includes length. Novel writing has this too, in particular for debuts, but you can do a lot more in 100k words  than you can in 90-120 pages in the way they are formatted in a screenplay. Another good example is budget, which can really stifle creativity. You might have a really cool idea that you know would really increase the budget of the movie and leave it out for that reason.


I felt like my school, in particular, was all about the Auteur Theory and doing everything yourself, but that also favored the director over the screenwriter and I think both end up hurt by that method. My best friend and I directed one of our movies together (which by the way was rewritten to reflect the smaller budget we had to work with). We laugh all the time that some of the things that we learned in college ended up hurting us when we were making our movie because it was all based on fantasy and fairytale. "Do everything yourself; that's the true nature of the artist" is what they would preach, and I genuinely don't believe anyone knows what the true nature of an artist is. Even authors who get to do much more of “everything” themselves still have critique partners, beta readers, agents, editors, etc. that all have an effect on the end story result. I think most creative writing endeavors end up being a collaborative effort in the end and that screenwriters can learn a little form authors in fighting more for their idea and authors can learn a lot from screenwriters in collaboration.


You do not have to go to college or anything like that to get better at your craft. I didn't learn what I knew about novel writing from school. I truly learned a lot from Youtube, which has inspired me to start my own Youtube channel. Even if you are watching the same topic from multiple people, you are still getting new perspectives and ideas. For example, I learned a lot about filler words through Youtube.


What would you like to witness change about the literary world?


Shariya: I think I am starting to see a change happen with having more people of color and, of course, black people, but all people of color getting more representation. Sometimes we take a step forward and think that is enough, but we are still thirty steps back, so I think that still needs a push. The work isn’t done yet.


But also, I feel the industry is a little sexist. When it comes to genre fiction, especially in YA, there is this common theme that girls do not like sci-fi. The Marvel series is top-rated, half their audience is women, and it’s sci-fi. This is what they said about high fantasy ten years ago, and today fantasy is dominating women centric markets, like YA. “Most readers are white and they don’t want to read POC main characters.” Now people are demanding these stories, proving that idea wrong. And yet they still say this for sci-fi, even though fantasy has proven that the old rules no longer apply. I don't understand why an industry that claims to be so woke can still operate on these archaic ideas. Teenage girls aren't reading any sci-fi because there aren't any books out for them and even when they are they aren’t marketed towards them. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy in some ways. They are not being marketed because they have decided girls do not like it.


For example, Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron. She tried to sell the novel ten years ago but had trouble. It was not until Black Panther came out and made a billion dollars that she able to finally sell it. I think the industry is constantly chasing trends into the ground. They claim zombies are dead, vampires are dead, no one wants to read this or that anymore. Girls don’t want sci-fi, no one wants African inspired high fantasy. These things have to be proven untrue before they can change, but often times people rarely get the opportunity to even attempt to try to prove those “truisms” incorrect. People want more vampires; they just don’t want to read Twilight a hundred times with new characters. Agents and editors, you read their interviews, and they say they cannot predict future trends, but then in the same breath say no X or Y or Z because they are “dead” and no one wants to read them. Could anyone have predicted the popularity of the Red Queen or The Hunger Games before they happened? The answer is no. “Kids killing kids in a competition? That’s not marketable!” There should be “unmarketable” or not “popular” books available on the market because that is how the next trend is found.


Is writer's block ever a challenge for you?


Shariya: I like to joke that I do not suffer from writer's block; I suffer from not knowing what to work on. It is more of procrastination or a laziness thing. If you are suffering from writer's block, you are you are stuck especially if you are a discovery writer I suggest trying to plot out what will happen. It doesn’t have to be everything, but I am all about knowing what happens in the story because, yes, you can go back and fix things and change things, but I preferably like to know where a story is going. Even if it is just the bare bones of the story. 


If you know where you are going, you can work toward that goal. I feel like writer's block comes from not knowing where to go and not sitting down and really understanding what story you’re telling or what happens in X troublesome scene is what’s blocking you. Maybe even working on something else because I tend to juggle multiple projects, so if one is giving me issues, I will put that down and let it simmer in the back of my head while I work on something else and that way I don’t feel like I’m stuck or not doing enough writing. Having that distance can change your perspective and you might just see right through a problem that was impossible before because you were too close to it.


Where is your go-to place to write?


Shariya: I usually write in my house because it’s convenient, but when I have the time the beach is a go-to. Living in Hawaii, I can go to the beach pretty much anytime. Reasons not to write are never helpful. Unlike at home, a beach is a great place because it is free from distraction. My PlayStation isn't in the corner and my laundry isn't able to catch my eye, so I can focus solely on my writing. 


One of my favorite spots to write is also coffee shops. I used to be a barista in Hollywood, where lots of writers would come in. I was fortunate enough to meet some of my favorite writers during this time, for example, one of the writers of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World or The Descendants. I always loved that environment because of the people-watching aspect of a coffee shop can really get the creative juices flowing because of the random conversations, the random characters, and situations you come across.


Are there any tips you can offer to authors who participate in future Twitter events?


Shariya: Do not overexcite yourself just because you get a like. But also, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get one. There are a lot of pitches, and it is tough to find things. Sometimes agents just straight up didn’t see your pitches. Also, if you want to feel better about yourself during a pitch event, look at one of the Tweets with over two hundred likes, and you will see it’s not two hundred agents liking that tweet.


I found out the hard way sometimes it is actually about the pitch. One of the stories I was working on which is very marketable and sellable didn’t get any attention. It wasn't as digestible in tweet format, especially when you remove characters from the Tweet because of the hashtags. Just because you are not getting any likes does not mean no one wants your book or that it would not sell. That is just not true. Some stories are more pitchable than others.  


Also, I’d suggest checking the other Tweets with similar hashtags to yours. You might find agents you wouldn’t otherwise and even though they didn’t like your Tweet, you know they like your genre so look into querying them the traditional way. It can be a really good way to find agents who fell through the cracks of your agent search.


What about for non-Twitter event authors? What piece of advice can you offer them?


Shariya: Research. Research. Research. Whether that’s writing conventions, agents, or just anything about this industry you want to start a career in.


So many times, you often only get one shot. You want to believe that people will not remember you, but I've even had agents remember me by name and project in my experience. They weren’t even full requests, standard form rejections. I used to think they got way too many queries to remember mine, but sometimes you leave a mark. You want to put your best foot forward, so do not query projects you know need to be polished or are not complete. I have done it, and I know if I put more work into it, I would not have received a rejection. The tiny little things can lead to the project getting rejected, so you want to make sure your book is as strong as you can make it before the query. The better state your work is in, the more legitimate the reasons agents will have find to reject you.


You want to put your best foot forward and not give them any easy reason to say no.

Thanks, Shariya!

Connect with Shariya:

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Monday, May 10, 2021

Interview with Jodie Eckleberry-Hunt, Ph.D., A.B.P.P.

Author of Move on Motherf*cker: Live, Laugh, and Let Sh*t Go

Get to Know: Jodie Eckleberry-Hunt, Ph.D., A.B.P.P.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your writing career. 

For many years, I wrote scientific research articles on physician burnout and wellness - mainly academic medicine. In 2017, I began a whole new writing career in relatable self-help. 3. I've always loved writing because I find it healing. 

When did you realize you wanted to be a writer? 

I have known that I wanted to be a professional author since 2002; however, I was too scared to take the leap. I had too many "not good enough" thoughts. Age and experience has taught me this was BS, and I went for it. 

Why are you a writer? 

I write because it helps me manage my own whirlwind thoughts and because I hope it helps others. 

What is your writing schedule like?

With my kids and my private practice, my schedule is crazy so I don't have a set writing schedule. It is more fits and spurts. By the time I sit down to write, hours can pass because I've saved so much. 

What advice would you give yourself if you could go back in time before you were published? 

Advice: "Steel yourself. This will be the hardest thing you have ever done, and all of the rejections don't mean your work isn't worthy. Take your time. It's a journey." 

What has been the most thrilling part of being published? 

I don't know that I have found anything about being published thrilling. It has been a roller coaster of anxiety. I'm still waiting to kick up my feet and just feel thrilled. 

What do you think makes a good book?

I am incredibly picky about what I call "a good book." A good book is one that hooks me from the beginning with emotion or mystery. I want to be swept off my feet.

How did you come up with the idea for your book?

I chose the title Move On Motherf*cker because it is my favorite self-talk phrase. It defines the book. 

What was the hardest part of writing your book? 

The hardest part of writing Move on Motherf*cker was letting go of the emotional attachment so that good editing could happen. 

How long does it take you to write a book? 

To write the initial manuscript took about 4 months. Editing and re-writes took much longer. Patience is a must! 

How many books have you written, and which one is your favorite?

I have written a total of 5 books - 3 are in the works. Move On Motherf*cker will always be my favorite because it made everything real. 

Do you buy books based on the cover or the blurb? 

I do buy books based on the inside description. If the brief intro doesn't capture me, I put it back. I'm no-nonsense that way. 

What books have influenced your writing? 

I LOVE Brene' Brown, but she would probably not be flattered if I said she influenced my writing. Sarah Knight has probably influenced me the most. She puts it right out there, and she is so relatable. 

Do you prefer ebooks, paperbacks, or hardcover? 

I only read paper books, and I am cheap so I generally wait for them to be printed in soft cover. I need to feel the book in my hand. 

What were the last three books you read?

I recently read Into the Woods by Harlan Coben and Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. I am currently reading The Guardians by John Grisham.

What do you do when you're not writing? 

I have my private practice and executive coaching gig, which takes a lot of my time. When I am not working, I spend time with the family. I love to travel and to exercise. 

What is your typical day like? 

My typical day is run, run, run. I exercise first thing, get cleaned up, and I typically see patients during the day while running the kids to their activities. I've learned to be very flexible. I don't typically get to write until the weekends.

What's one thing you can't live without?

I can't live without exercise. I have generalized anxiety disorder, and exercise is my medicine. 

About Jodie

Jodie Eckleberry-Hunt, PhD, ABPP, is a board-certified health psychologist who has been in professional practice for more than 20 years. She lives in Michigan with her family, including the family treasure, Bacon—the dog prince.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Introducing KL Burd

By Maggie Apostolis

Was writing a lifelong dream or something you sort of fell upon?

Writing has always been a mixture of both. As a kid, I enjoyed writing and to this day still remember the first story I was ever proud of. I always had multiple ideas for storylines, and I loved to read. I read non-stop. Flash forward ten years, I’m in college and I decide to write down some of my ideas. I tell my wife—then girlfriend—about a few of these ideas and try to flesh out a few stories. I had not yet taken any writing classes, so I didn’t get far. Maybe two chapters or so. Flash forward ten more years, and I am 32 years old. My ideas for various books start popping up again so my wife buys me a book called, The Snowflake Method. This book helped me to outline my entire first book idea. I then found the story grid podcast which pushed me to start writing it and finally I was gifted a writing class by a bestselling author, Amanda Eyre Ward. The class ensured that you finished your novel in nine months. I finished in seven. 

When did you first get involved with writing?

After the writing class, I joined Twitter, and everything took off from there. The writing community is absolutely amazing, and as I added friends, my knowledge began to increase. I learned everything I know about querying, pitch parties, synopses, and the publishing world from interacting with folks on Twitter. 

Did school/education have a positive or negative impact on your writing?

Sadly, school all the way through my freshman year of college had a negative impact on my writing. I remember it was the only class I could never get an A in. I was told by teachers that I didn’t understand poetry or that my analysis of a piece or writing was wrong. For years, I knew I loved reading but hated English Class. Then, in my third year of college, I took an English Composition class with a wonderful professor and absolutely loved everything about it. I loved breaking down pieces of art and looking for symbolism everywhere. I loved the study of the craft and being able to incorporate the world around me into my writing. After that, I understood how important the teacher/professor was in my journey. 

Who is your favorite author?

Ta-Nehisi Coates is currently my favorite author. I say currently because I am always evolving and adapting. His work has probably had the most impact on me in the past 5 years. I also love the trajectory of his career. After writing non-fiction, he switched over to fiction, then did an entire Black Panther comic book run, now he is posed to make movies including a new Superman movie. I would love to reach his level of being able to choose whatever project you want but that desire is a distance second to being able to write beautiful prose the way he does. He has a way with words that is just simply amazing. 

Who or what is your biggest influence when it comes to the work you produce?

The kids I taught in school. I was a middle school/high school teacher and coach for 12 years. I still work with kids now and I believe in our future generations. I write so that they can see themselves in literature. I write so that they have stories they can relate to. I write so that kids who don’t look like me, can get a robust catalog of work.

What do you want to see change about the literary world?

I would love to see the literary world become more inclusive of all people. The absolute minimum is for every area of publishing to have numbers that reflect the demographics of the United States. In 2021, there should be no reason why only 1% of editors, 4% of agents and a dismal 5% of all authors are Black. This type of change requires a major overall of how things are done. Publishing companies and literary agencies have to do a little extra legwork. It may be going into 4-year and 2-year colleges that have underrepresented people groups and finding their talent there. It may take partnering with HBCUs and giving internships and entry level jobs to recent grads but there is talent out there who can make a difference. 

I would also love for white publishing executives to take chances on Black authors who have the range, voice, and heart to make it work even if it’s not a style, background, or story they are familiar with. The market for these books may be there but if no one takes a chance we’ll never know. 

If you reader could know one fun fact about you or one of your character’s, what would you want to share?

In Chasing Lincoln, one of the main characters, Kyla, is modeled after a former student of mine. She would constantly hear racist comments like, she is pretty for a dark-skinned girl. The comments even came from some adults! I would shut it down every chance I get but when I needed my first female main character, I knew I wanted a dark-skinned girl who was not going to be harassed for her dark skin. Instead, it would be celebrated. I pulled the opposite of people who write in characters for people they hate. 

How have you witnessed your work change over the years as a writer?

Absolutely. This is one of the things I am most proud of. It has changed so much from the beginning, but the largest leaps are coming now. Between book one and two, I started to dig deep into craft. After editing book two, editing book three is completely different. I expect to get better as a writer as time goes on. 

The most interesting part was figuring out what I wanted to write and nailing that down and then expanding from there. I figured out that I wanted to write for underrepresented kids, especially Black boys and girls and as I continue to take on new genres, I’m confident that I can expand my range while staying true to my vision. 

How do you cope with writer’s block?

I switch things up. The biggest weapon I have against writer's block is a consistent time to write. I’m up every morning by 5:15am and sit at my writing desk by 5:30am. If drafting isn’t working, I’ll edit. If I don’t feel like editing, I’ll do some research into a new idea or story. One of those has always worked. In a worst-case scenario, I’ll watch a movie or get into a series. I’ve gotten so many ideas from TV shows. 

Where is your favorite place to write?

My office. I am used to the set up and it gets the juices flowing. I would love to write on a train ride across America on a luxury train car. That’s a dream. 

Wrap up question that I like to ask all writers; what is the one piece of advice you want to offer to aspiring authors and writers?

Perseverance is the key. When you get stuck, research another method, find another angle, reach out to a friend and if you don’t have any writing friends, reach out to me. 

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