Emily Ross On Inspiration

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 Emily Ross, author of HALF IN LOVE WITH DEATH, for which she received a 2014 Massachusetts Cultural Council finalist award in fiction. Her fiction and nonfiction have been published in Boston Magazine, Menda City Review, and The Smoking Poet. She is an editor and contributor at Dead Darlings, a website dedicated to discussing the craft of novel writing. She attended Sarah Lawrence College and the University of Massachusetts Boston, and is a 2012 graduate of Grub Street’s Novel Incubator program.

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? 

Yes I do. I was having trouble plotting my novel when my sister suggested I turn to a true crime for inspiration and not just any crime. She confided in me that when she was 12 she’d been obsessed with the case of Charles Schmid, ‘the Pied Piper of Tucson.’ Schmid was a charismatic young man who murdered three teenage girls, and buried them in the Arizona desert. Two of his victims were sisters. I was surprised to be hearing about this crime that took place in the sixties, for the first time now from my own sister. I had to look deeper into this case.

I learned that Schmid had been very popular with Tucson teens and had lots of girlfriends. Some of the material about him read more like an episode of Gossip Girl, than the thoughts of a serial killer. Photos from an old Life Magazine article from 1966 showed him to be a handsome guy who didn’t look like a murderer. In fact he didn’t look all that different from kids I’d hung out with in high school. One of the many aspects of this case that disturbed me was that some of Schmid’s friends had known about the murders and didn’t tell anyone. I began thinking about how little I understood about my own friends as a teen, and how blindly I’d counted on love to solve everything. Slowly a story emerged about secrets, lies, and a girl who falls for someone who may not be what he seems.

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

Researching this crime gave me a broad arc for my story and a sense of events that could happen. It also helped me to develop my main characters. I decided to tell the story from the point of view of a girl whose older sister goes missing, and based my protagonist loosely on Wendy Fritz, Schmid’s youngest victim. I was drawn to a photo I found of her. She looked so innocent and uncertain, and reminded me of myself at that age. Other than this photo though there was almost no information on her. Ultimately this turned out to be a good thing because it freed me to tell a story that was quite different from the case. But I didn’t leave my original concept entirely behind. I wove many details from the crime into my book, sometimes without even realizing it.

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

I usually don’t start with the plot firmly in place. I wish I did. Rather I have a vague idea of the major plot points and the ending, but things change a lot as I write a draft. I’m okay with that as long as I keep heading in the right general direction. But revising my novel was a painful process with lots of wrong turns. For my next novel I’d like to have the plot firmly in place before I start. We’ll see…

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

A lot of vague story ideas float through my mind but they’re more like bits of a story, a line, an image, a voice. Sometimes when I write it feels like I'm making a collage out of all these little pieces of things. I have to figure out what connects them and how they fit together, but I usually don't start to see the connections until I’m well into a draft. Even then I stumble around in the dark hoping that a story will emerge from all the bits and pieces. The strange thing is that it often does.

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

I’m pretty indecisive so choosing what to write next is hard for me. Right now I have two novel ideas bouncing around in my head. One is about a teenage girl who aspires to be a video game designer. It will require a lot of research, since I don’t even play video games. The other is about dance teams, something I’m a little more familiar with. To help myself decide I often just start writing to see if the idea holds my interest. If I find myself writing lots of pages, that’s usually the story I choose to write next. If that doesn’t work I have also been known to arbitrarily choose one of my ideas and force myself to stick with it for a while to see if I can make it work.

Sometimes the perfect word eludes me. If I can’t come up with it in the moment I usually write something in ALL CAPS like A GREAT WORD HERE and move on to catch it later in revision. Do you roll with the flow, or go find that word right away?

I’m a bit obsessive so I try to find the word right away. I look it up in an online thesaurus or Google things like word for [fill in vague phrase]. But I rarely find the perfect word that way so then I do my best to roll with flow (difficult as that is), and add a comment in my draft that says, COME BACK. Usually the word will come to me later when I’m in the shower or at the grocery store or in some other awkward situation that makes it difficult to write it down.

Rena Rocford On The Cover Of Acne, Asthma & Other Signs You Might Be Half Dragon

I love talking to debut authors. Our experiences are so similar, yet so very different, that every one of us has a new story to share. Everyone says that the moment you get your cover it really hits you - you're an author. The cover is your story - and you - packaged for the world. So the process of the cover reveal can be slightly panic inducing. Does it fit your story? Is it what you hoped? Will it sell? With this in mind I put together the CRAP (Cover Reveal Anxiety Phase) Interview.


Today's guest for the CRAP is Rena Rocford’s who has found that living as a muggle brought some level of success such as completing her master’s degree, but always stories returned, calling her to the keyboard in the dark of night. Now, having built armies from words, Rena has set her sights on world domination, one book at a time.You can find Rena at her blog, follow her on Twitter, GoodReads, or find her on Facebook. Her debut novel, Acne, Asthma, and Other Signs You Might Be Half Dragon comes out November 23rd, 2015.

Did you have any pre-conceived notions about what you wanted your cover to look like?

Yes and no. The book was always really amorphous as far as what it would look like, but I think that was because all I could picture was a cover where you have the protagonist looking back over their shoulder, looking somewhat forlorn. I did know that I wanted a person on the cover of my book, and I really wanted it to be pretty. With a title like mine, there’s definitely a lot of room for a cutsy or joke cover, and I really didn’t want that. 

How far in advance from your pub date did you start talking covers with your house?

With my publisher, they give you an opportunity to put forward your ideas about the cover from the moment you sign the book. So, August of 2014 I sent Curiosity Quills my thoughts on a cover. After that, silence until late August of this year when they sent a request for a description of my MC.

Did you have any input on your cover?

While they gave me all kinds of opportunities to give input, they―rightfully!—took practically none of it. Right at the very end, the artist wanted to add just one more element to busy up the cover a touch, and they asked me about my thoughts for that element. To my great surprise, they took my suggestion.

How was your cover revealed to you?

I knew it would be showing up sooner or later, but, like all other good and bad news, it slipped into my inbox without any fanfare. I knew what it was the second I saw who had sent it, and I went to make myself a cup of tea before opening the email.

Was there an official "cover reveal" date for your art?

There was a date, but it wasn’t that official. Because my art came so close to my release, they needed to get the promotion part going, so they quietly sent it as part of the promo work and a couple days later I clogged up Facebook with it.

How far in advance of the reveal date were you aware of what your cover would look like?

About a week.

Was it hard to keep it to yourself before the official release?

Yes, very much! I LOVE my cover, and I wanted to splash it up everywhere once I had seen it. I maybe even did like a little happy dance about it. 

What surprised you most about the process?

The biggest surprise for me was how much I was in denial until I saw my art. There were long swaths of silence, and in those periods of quiet I felt like someone was going to pull the plug on my book and make the whole thing go away. I was haunted by this feeling that at any minute someone would show up and say “Whoops, sorry, we didn’t mean to get your hopes up, but we’ve come to our senses and remembered that your work is terrible!” And then one day, there was a cover. What had previously been very cerebral and hypothetical was suddenly very, very real.

Any advice to other debut authors about how to handle cover art anxiety?

It’s pretty cliché at this point, but keep writing. There is only one thing that helps, and it is getting lost in a new project. 

Writing, Publishing & Marketing Advice From Beth Revis


Today I am very happy to welcome to the blog bestselling author Beth Revis. Beth is the author of the NY Times Bestselling Across the Universe series, published by Razorbill/Penguin in the US and available in 17 countries. A former teacher, Beth lives in rural North Carolina with her husband and dog.

Beth has published a three-part series to help aspiring authors find their way through the maze of writing an publishing. Learn to avoid the common pitfalls and find your own path with Beth's PAPER HEARTS series.

Your PAPER HEARTS series is a three-pronged look at writing, publishing and marketing. How important do you think it is for a writer to be good at all three?

For a writer, the only thing you need is to know how to tell a good story. For a career author who wants to make a living at writing, I think it's necessary to know the business side of it, too--which includes not just writing a query, but deciding the best publishing path for your specific career, and then exploring the tools to help you position yourself for continued success. 

My books are definitely not going to be a cure-all, but I want to get people to ask themselves the questions necessary to sustain a career. What is more important to you, specifically: one book published or a career in writing? Are you more willing to sacrifice time or money when it comes to marketing? Are you more comfortable being social or innovative? How can you best help your career? Publishing, like writing, is not a one-size-fits all.

The idea came about after your collected Wattpad project had reached critical mass. Can you tell us more about your motivation to help aspiring writers?

I think part of my motivation just comes from the way my brain ticks. I used to be a teacher, and I loved that job. Not the grading papers or dealing with parents, not that, but the actual teaching part. I loved helping students, I loved discussing new ideas and just...just teaching. I really loved that job. This book comes about in part because of that. 

When someone asks a question, I want to be able to help them find an answer. So I started hanging around writing boards, like Reddit, Miss Snark's First Victim, and Facebook forums. I found that I was answering a lot of the same questions over and over, so I started to compile it all in Wattpad. A few months ago, after I hit my first 100,000 reads, I realized that I was looking at not one book, but three, and I might be able to help more people if I published them.

Volume three focuses on marketing... something that many writers are uncomfortable with, claiming that they're artists, not salespeople. Are there effective marketing strategies for even the shyest of scribes?

Oh, absolutely! That's the beauty of the internet! :)

But beyond that, there are ways where you can let your books do the talking. I am not a fan of the "hard sell"--where you stand up and actively approach people and engage with strangers. It works for some people, but not for me. So I try mostly to focus on ways you can engage no matter what your level. 

But a big key to marketing is just being plugged into the community. If you're most comfortable with Twitter, use Twitter. Not as an advertiser, as a user. See what makes you click links, which contests you are tempted to sign up for, which books you notice, and you'll be well on your way to finding the method of marketing that works best for you.

Only the first in the three volume series focuses on the actual writing process. How do you think an author's position in the publishing industry has changed over time?

When it comes to publishing, good writing will out. The first book is on writing processes, and it's the longest of the three books, but at the end of the day, the entire book is summed up with: "make art the best way you can." 

Publishing is more cut-and-dry. There are specific methods of publishing that work and some that don't. And sure, there are exceptions to the rule, but learning how to write a good pitch paragraph is important whether you are traditionally published (and need to add it to a query or a website) or you're self publishing and have to put it on the back of your book. Authors have a ton more options now to publish, and it is possible to stand out as a self publisher, and the best thing you can do for yourself is just learn and then be as professional as possible.

The title, PAPER HEARTS, is intriguing. What does it mean to you, personally?

I've latched on to that phrase for years. A paper heart is fragile, easily torn. But writers build their lives around paper, and even if one piece is easy to tear into shreds, a stack of papers--like the kind that make a book--is strong.