Finding Inspiration In Your Passions: Malayna Evans

Inspiration is a funny thing. It can come to us like a lightning bolt, through the lyrics of a song, or in the fog of a dream. Ask any writer where their stories come from and you’ll get a myriad of answers, and in that vein I created the WHAT (What the Hell Are you Thinking?) interview. Always including in the WHAT is one random question to really dig down into the interviewees mind, and probably supply some illumination into my own as well.

Today's guest for the WHAT is Malayna Evans, author of Jagger Jones and the Mummy’s Ankh has long enjoyed crafting stories that feature and promote ancient Egyptian settings, characters and artifacts. Jagger Jones gave her the opportunity to share her passion for ancient history with today’s middle graders and pursue her dream of becoming a published author.

Ideas for our books can come from just about anywhere, and sometimes even we can’t pinpoint exactly how or why. Did you have a specific origin point for your book?

Absolutely. The moment is crystal clear in my memory.

First, two things-to-know about my biography. One, I’m an Egyptologist by training. And two, my kids are biracial. Now that you know those tidbits…

I was having lunch with my son—he was nine or ten at the time—talking about ancient Egypt, one of my favorite topics. He’d asked what ancient Egyptians looked like and when I said he’d fit in well, he told me someone should write a book about a kid like him who went back in time. He spontaneously whipped up a title and set up: the book should be called The Eye of the Mummy and the kid should fall into a mummy’s eye to time travel.

He and I went home and wrote a chapter that afternoon. Not much about that initial chapter is still in the manuscript, but the inspiration is solid.

(And my son, now a teenager, loves pointing out that the book was his idea.)

Once the original concept existed, how did you build a plot around it?

When my son suggested time travel via mummy, I immediately thought of a tomb from the Amarna period--my favorite historical period--that features images of princess Meketaten’s death. Her death, and mummy, still shape the plot.

I was also influenced by an ancient Egyptian blessing: Ankh, wedja, seneb, which means (may you have) life, prosperity, and health. I wanted to examine modern vs. ancient notions of life, prosperity, and health in a format that would entertain young readers. So book one has the modern kids fighting for their own lives while the ancient characters fret about the afterlife. Book two, Wedja, will similarly explore modern vs. ancient ideas surrounding prosperity. And book three, Seneb, health.

It’s mostly mummies, magic and giant scorpions, but these elements were my scaffolding.

I find it really useful to have different projects percolating at once. I can’t edit when I’m too close to a manuscript, so immersing myself in a different one helps me see the manuscript I should be editing with fre.png

Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to paper?

Oh, yeah. My first version had a murkier (dare I admit, more academic) plot that kids probably wouldn’t have found all that fun to read. I didn’t realize it was all wrong until I had the entire idea down on paper. Once I let it percolate, and got some advice from some more experience writing pros, I realized I needed to start over with a crisper plot. I sketched out a general idea—the idea influenced the manuscript but I adapted as I went. As the characters became clearer in my mind, it was easier to figure out what they’d do in given situations. So I’d say I tailored twists and turns to my characters’ strengths, weaknesses, resources and quirks more than anything else.

Do story ideas come to you often, or is fresh material hard to come by?

I have a million ideas in my head, but most of them don’t stick long. Almost anything can spark an idea: something I read, a tweet, an image. I have one idea twirling around my brain now that was trigger by a phrase I heard in passing that I thought would make a nice book title.

How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating?

I have about five manuscripts in some stage of development on my laptop. If an idea loiters in my head long enough—for a few months—I’ll write a few chapters down then ignore it. If I’m still thinking about it a few months later, and it moves me when I review my first stab, I push it forward. I find it really useful to have different projects percolating at once. I can’t edit when I’m too close to a manuscript, so immersing myself in a different WIP helps me see the manuscript I should be editing with fresh eyes.

I have a lot of cats (seriously, check my Instagram feed) and I usually have at least one or two snuggling with me when I write. Do you have a writing buddy, or do you find it distracting?

My rescue dog, Caesar, has been by my side through a huge chunk of my writing. My ten-year-old daughter is my review partner: I read what I’ve written and she gives it a thumbs up…or down. (She is brutally honest.) And I spend an embarrassing amount of time writing in coffee shops. The energy and buzz helps me focus. Plus…. caffeine!

Shauna Holyoak On Creating Swag That Attracts Middle Graders... Hint: Have A Prize Wheel

Most authors will agree that the creative part of the job is where we excel, the business and marketing side, slightly less. It’s lovely when the two can meet in the form of SWAG – Shit We All Generate. I’ve invited some published authors to share with us their secret to swag… little freebies that can sell a book longer after the author is no longer standing in front of a prospective reader. In order to create great swag, you have to be crafty – in more ways than one.

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Today's guest for the SHIT is Shauna Holyoak. She writes for kids and teens and thinks it’s kinda the best job ever. Kazu Jones and the Denver Dognappers is her debut novel.

First of all, thanks so much, Mindy, for having me on your blog! I think topics like these are helpful to debut authors (like me!) who often need help navigating self-promotion!

Finding something that represents your book and hasn’t been played out by a million authors before is difficult. What’s your swag?

I’m an MG author, so I think there’s some tried and true swag that appeals to kids. Buttons, bookmarks, posters, stickers. As I try to schedule school visits pre-release, I’m hoping the lure of free signed posters at my signings helps draw kids out. And I just ordered some stickers to hand out after assemblies, etc. that will remind kids where and when to drag their parents for my books.

On my website I also offer some swag that I hope readers enjoy. I’ve written a short story about my characters that anyone can download and read. In addition to that, I’ve created a mystery packet that presents The Case of the Misplaced Tiara with puzzles and clues readers can use to solve the mystery. I’m hoping teachers and families might find it fun and educational, while also introducing kids to my characters.

How much money per piece did your swag cost out of pocket?

I live in Shadow Mountain country. Shadow Mountain is a Utah-based publisher that has worked on quite a few successful middle-grade books, and they do a lot of promotion in my area. They follow a model that seems to work well in promoting their MG novels. They send their authors on a book tour that includes multiple school visits per location, following which they hold a signing at the local bookstore. They send the kids home with reminders and usually hand out fun swag like free signed posters and bookmarks at the event. I’ve had a couple of my own children beg me to attend signings for Shadow-Mountain authors after an engaging school visit, so I know they work.

I say all this to explain how I decided to spend my money on book swag, because I was hoping to apply the Shadow-Mountain model to my own attempts at self-promotion.

Here’s the breakdown:

Posters: $265

  • $230 of this covered 1K 11x17in posters of my cover from uprinting.com. This is the most I’ve paid on any one item. I plan on handing them out to everyone who comes to a signing.

  • $35 on a 16x20in mounted (on foam board) poster of my cover to display at signings and other events (also, uprinting.com).

Reminder stickers: $80

I have two local events I’m hoping to invite kids to, one bigger than the other (the second is for my launch party).

  • $34 covered 200 2x3in stickers, also from uprinting.com

  • $47 covered 1K 2x3in stickers, also from uprinting.com

Bookmarks: $70 (just ordered)

This went toward 2500 2x8 double-sided bookmarks (from gotprint.com)

Buttons: $45

Okay, so this was the first item of swag I ever bought, and I may have just been a little too excited at the prospect of being able to order something, anything! But the buttons are cute, and I’m hoping kids will like them. Although I think once they’re gone, they’re gone—not sure if I’ll invest in them again. (Although I may change my mind depending on how kids respond.)

  • $24 for 100 1.25in round buttons of my MC’s face (purebuttons.com)

  • $30 for 50 1.75x2.75in buttons of my cover (also, purebuttons.com)

Do you find that swag helps you stand out at an event? Does your swag draw people to your table at an event or conference?

I’ll have to get back to you on that, since my first event is in a few weeks. But I’m hoping it does!

One thing I’m going to try, that *fingers crossed* draws kids to my table at cons and other table-events, is a prize wheel. Kids spin that wheel and leave with their prize. Whatever they win will be promo for my book, so win, win, right? And who doesn’t like a prize wheel?!

What do you think of big item swag pieces versus cheaper, yet more easily discarded swag like bookmarks?

I think more expensive swag might work with YA audiences, but I’m not sure it’s worth it for middle-grade readers, who tend to be hard on things anyway.

What’s the most clever / best swag by another author?

Personally, I adore customized enamel pins. *swoon* Character cards are cool and other types of artwork commissioned by the author. I have a friend who’s currently painting/customizing funko pops for each of the characters in her debut for her preorder campaign, so she probably wins!

And the biggest question – do you think swag helps sell books?

Honestly, no. I think people who purchase a book are planning to buy it anyway, regardless of swag. There may be a small margin of potential readers swayed by swag, but I don’t think it’s enough to justify investing loads on money on it (especially, if like most authors, your publisher isn’t paying for it).

Haha! And here I just told you about the near $500 I’ve spent on swag hoping to draw kids out to signings. We’ll see if it works. But, in the end, I guess I offer swag to let readers and potential readers know I care and appreciate them taking a chance on my books.

Research For Middle Grade Historicals & Incubation as Inspiration with Anne O’Brien Carelli

Today’s guest on the podcast is Anne O’Brien Carelli author of Skylark and Wallcreeper, a middle grade story that alternates between Brooklyn in 2012 and the German-occupied town of Brume in 1944. Anne joined me today to talk about writing for children, and the amount of research required to write historical fiction – no matter the age, as well as using incubation and your subconscious to think your way around the sticky spots in your manuscript.

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