Author Interview: Charissa Stastny

CStastnyCharissa Stastny, author of the Bending Willow Trilogy, made it through the snow to visit from Idaho today. Charissa is a great friend and blogging buddy. Her third novel, Hands of Mercy, has just been released so she deserves lots of chocolate and cheers.

Thanks for visiting so we could talk about your novels and finding the time to write and market a trilogy.

The new book covers look great. What was it like working with your daughter on them? How did she go about creating them?

When she came to me and told me she wanted to update my covers, I was super surprised. She works for an architect, so I didn’t know she could do the graphic art type work, but she found an awesome model for Suvi that fit my specifications and showed me her idea and I was blown away with excitement! It’s been fun working together, although hard too because we live in different states and have to do things long distance or wait until we visit each other.

Suvi goes through a lot of internal and external struggles. As the mother of young daughters, was it difficult for you to put her in those situations?

Suvi is like my child, but I knew as an author I had to torture her in order for her to shine. Real life tortures us in unique ways as well. I tell my kids all the time that God doesn’t keep them safe from every harmful or hurtful thing in the world; but He’s there to help, comfort and guide us through hard times. How we react to our challenges reveals who we really are and what we can become. An easy life makes for boring, shallow people.

2-SecretKeepers_ebookRGB_2You mentioned the missionary character who travels to Guatemala is based on your brother. What did he think of the Eyes of Light novel?

I hope he liked it. I know he read it, but he’s as quiet as I am and we don’t gush out our dreams or compliments to each other. Since most of the missionary moments are from his letters, he better have liked it or I’m not giving him a birthday present this year.

I know you like to work on multiple WIPs at one time. How many are you working on now and how different are they?

3-HandsOfMercy_ebookRGB_2I’ve got about six stories started, but I’ve been focused on editing/revising this Bending Willow Trilogy lately. I go between books – either finishing Book 3, editing book 1, making a trailer for book 2, etc (depending on what I feel like doing each day). It’s fun.

How do you find the time to work on so many different novels? What’s your writing routine like?

My routine is very sporadic. I write every day, but depending on my day job or activities for my kids, doctor appointments, etc, my time at the computer changes. My goal is to become more regimented with my writing time, but so far I’ve been more like Doug from the movie Up. “Squirrel!” I’m easily sidetracked.

Any other writing or marketing advice you’d like to share?

At the last writing conference I attended, author Jennifer Nielsen who wrote the False Prince series, said “book writing is a mental illness.” I’m definitely insane. My advice (like so many other authors out there) is to write because you love it, not because you expect to make a six-digit salary. I love the process of writing and revising. I also love the process of designing my own books and making them marketable. Whether or not I ever become rich off my books, I’ll keep writing because, like I said above, I have the writing disease bad and can’t seem to stop myself. If you are okay with that upfront (being mentally diseased), then welcome to the writing world. Let me offer you a straitjacket.

You can connect with Charissa through her blog Joy in the Moments, Twitter, or Facebook.

Click each book cover for a description. The Bending Willow Trilogy is available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords.

Gone Dreaming

gone clamminIt’s officially the offseason here on Cape Cod. Houses are boarded up and the beach is turning into a wasteland of blowing sand.

It must be liberating to put up a sign like this while going off to pursue a dream. I’ve never gone clamming so my sign would have to say something like “Gone Dreaming.”

There’s never enough time for writing or dreaming. In A Moveable Feast, Hemingway describes trying to write in cafés while ignoring anyone who interrupts him. He makes himself unpresentable by wearing old clothes and growing his hair out so that he won’t be tempted to visit friends. I’ve been doing that for years now and it hasn’t helped.

Sometimes we have to be hermits. We have to go off and dream, even while other people are around, so that we can come up with different ways of looking at the world.

The only drawback is that you end up missing everyone. I’ve missed you all. I kept thinking I’d reappear earlier, but then life would get in the way and I’d have to disappear before reappearing. And I’m not even a magician.

I’m still dreaming. After revising for most of the year, I’m in the querying stage. So we’ll see. My hope is that, like all of us, this book will only get better with age.

Whenever I start thinking it might be done or close to it, I’m reminded of this quote by Paul Gardner:

“A painting is never finished – it simply stops in interesting places.”

It’s the same for novels. Maybe they’re only done when they’re published, but even then, are they really? Each reader brings something different to a book. So then, it’s continually recreated with each reading. That’s part of the magic. As the winds pick up around here, I’m looking forward to the magic of books.

book magic

How’s everything going with you? Have you read any great books lately?

Author Interview: Britt Skrabanek

Britt Skrabanek and Downtown MilwaukeeI’m excited to introduce Britt Skrabanek, author of Beneath the Satin Gloves and Everything’s Not Bigger. Thank you for trudging through the snow to visit and for bringing Aphrodite and Hazel, your cat editing team. I’m sure they’ll help keep us warm while we talk. 

I loved your descriptions of Berlin in Beneath the Satin Gloves. Have you lived there?

One summer in college I studied abroad in a sleepy town near Stuttgart, then my husband and I traveled to Berlin a few years after that. People were surprised we were only going to Berlin for ten days and blatantly encouraged us to do the usual tourist fail. You know the one – trying to squeeze in the entire continent of Europe, never stopping to absorb the experience. That’s not our thing at all, so we scooped up an apartment in former East Berlin and lived there for a bit. I had started Beneath the Satin Gloves right before we left, so being there fueled my creativity. Berlin is not a pretty city in the usual sense, but her scars and stories, the way she not only survived but evolved, is insanely beautiful to me.

Beneath the Satin Gloves coverYou also described a restless night and powerful dreams perfectly. Do you sleepwalk or wake up in strange locations like the closet often?

The intensity of my dreams has been a gift and a curse throughout my life. The gift being the creative inspiration. The curse being the bruises. Of course there are some memorable sleepwalking stories, like waking up in closets or the time I sprinted across our loft in Dallas, blanket in tow as my cape. My husband chucked a pillow at me, I woke up in a crouched fighting position, bewildered and buried underneath a blanket, then I laughed my ass off. Now I don’t really have any episodes. Yoga, meditation, and a tiny bedroom with nowhere to run are real lifesavers.

Using your blanket as a cape sounds like fun, but it would be scary to suddenly wake up like that. Beneath the Satin Gloves also mentions the possibility of past lives. Do you believe in past lives?

And, this is where I freak people out. That is, if they’re still reading after the sleepwalking reveal from earlier. To the outsider I’m a skeptical person, but I love the romanticism of past lives. To think that our natural tendencies, skills, and talents aren’t just learned but instilled from another life we once lead is a fascinating concept to chew on. For as long as I can remember I’ve been obsessed with spies, which is not a girly thing (so I’ve been told). In addition, I have these strange survival reflexes. One time I almost hit my husband over the head with a dinner tray when he came in through the front door and I thought he was on the balcony. I didn’t think twice about protecting us at all costs, even if that meant sacrificing a dinner tray. In other words, please don’t ever sneak up on me.

What do you love about the time period shown in your novel?

I’ve been a World War II junkie all of my life, since I first read The Diary of Anne Frank, a story that really resonated with me when I was a young girl about her age, and also a writer. Being a hippie at heart, my fascination with WWII often confuses people I meet. However my interest in this war doesn’t revolve around the militaristic aspect, but the human one. It was a turning point in history, when the world became a much smaller place, when atrocities and destruction almost overshadowed our existence. The stories of bravery and unity during this time continue to astound me. And on a lighter note, 1940s music and fashion are exquisite in my eyes. This was the final era before advertising and technology invaded, but somehow the world was in sync, looking dapper and swaying to jazzy tunes. Despite the war, I feel it was an eloquently sensual time.

It’s great that you were able to work that music into the novel with Alina as a lounge singer and a spy. One part that made me smile was your reference to “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” What are some of your other favorite movies?

I was always a fan of Jessica Rabbit, which is why Alina takes after her so much. Looks and smarts…lethal combination. When she said: “I’m not bad. I’m just drawn that way.” Yeah, that’s a brilliant line. As much as I love books, I’ve equally been captivated by films. Perhaps it’s the Southern California girl in me or the passion my dad always had for films, but I just love them and feel they have impacted me greatly as a writer. In the WWII genre, and a big influence on Beneath the Satin Gloves, I would have to say Shining Through with Melanie Griffith and Michael Douglas. And on the foreign front, Black Book, a dutch film about a lounge singing spy. I can go on and on, but Lost in Translation is probably one of my favorite movies ever. I can watch it over and over without getting tired of it. Otherwise anything by Woody Allen, Quentin Tarantino, or Cameron Crowe. Also, Audrey Hepburn movies make me obscenely happy.

 Everything's Not Bigger coverYour second book, Everythings Not Bigger, takes place in Texas and Prague. What gave you the idea for that novel?

Um, my life. Just kidding, I was never in the witness protection…or was I? Everything’s Not Bigger is a huge departure from my first book, and possibly the only modern day novel I will ever write. My second book, rather than a form of entertainment, was more like therapy for me. Though I spent most of my life as a California girl, I was born in Texas and visited family there every year until eventually living in Dallas for seven years. I’m half Czech, my grandmother was from there, and that’s where my unpronounceable last name stems from. For Jaye in Everything’s Not Bigger, she is a young woman who gets caught up in a bad situation and ends up in the witness protection program. She struggles to find herself, to piece her life back together. Ditching the fabricated life she’s trying to lead by venturing off to Prague is how she returns to herself. No matter where our lives take us, I strongly believe it is important to remember where we came from. Our roots are vital during self-exploration and if we acknowledge our pasts instead of conveniently sweeping them under a rug, we can grow into better versions of ourselves.

What are you working on now?

The Bra Game, a throwback American romp which takes place in Chicago during 1954. I love buying vintage fashion and made an incredible discovery after purchasing a handbag here in Milwaukee a couple of years ago. Hidden in the folds of the interior were two baseball tickets from 1954 and a voting receipt with a shopping list on the back that read: chocolate, fly swatter, shoes, film, loan. For a history lover like myself, this was comparable to opening a treasure chest. My imagination went into overdrive, picturing three distinct women who might have owned the handbag during that time. Because of the baseball tickets, I decided these women would have played in the All American Girls Baseball League during WWII and the story would follow their lives after the league disintegrated, when the boys came home and the women were expected to return to making pies and babies. Call this one a deeper, sexier A League of Their Own. (Shameless plug…The Bra Game releases Spring 2014.)

I’m already excited to read it. What made you decide to go the indie route?

You know, I tried the traditional route for a bit with Beneath the Satin Gloves. I came close to landing a big-time agent in New York, but then he tossed me aside. After countless rejections I pretty much said…to hell with this! The indie author movement was on the rise and I felt like it was the right fit for me. Is it hard work to market yourself and pave your own way? You bet your ass it is. But to have complete artistic control, to provide an organic work of fiction, whether it be imperfect or swimming against the mainstream, is something I am proud to be a part of. Am I making a living as an indie? No, not yet. But I have hope that one day I will.

Any other advice for writers out there?

Do it for the love. Nobody else will ever feel the way that you do about your words. Not your best friend, not your spouse, not your mom. Know that you are a writer if you write, not just when you finish a book or get paid for it. And know that there is no pot of gold at the end of the writing rainbow, whether you put one book out there, or a hundred. As long as you stick with your true passion for writing, you’ll be just fine. I’ll say it again. Do it for the love.

Connect with Britt through her blog A Physical Perspective, Facebook, or Twitter.

So You Wrote a Novel? Now the Real Work Begins!

Writing fiction has never felt like work to me. It gives my mind the chance to wander and play. So if writing fiction is like a recess, then query submissions are the exams.

Anyone who can write a novel should be able to write an exciting query letter, right? I’m not so sure. Maybe it’s the pressure of exam time. Maybe it’s harder to find those perfect words when they’re limited to just a few. Still, it’s something we have to do if we want to traditionally publish our books and find the perfect agent.

Finding the right words for a query letter can be as difficult as capturing a butterfly. Yet, they are all around us.

Finding the right words for a query letter can be as difficult as capturing a butterfly. Yet, they are all around us.

There are a lot of websites out there filled with advice on querying. Nathan Bransford is one of the best for general advice. Query Shark is a fun way to learn how to catch an agent’s eye because Janet Reid, the agent behind the shark, publishes real, live query letters and rips them to shreds while showing what was done wrong (or sometimes, right).

One way to tackle the query letter is to come up with a few general sentences about the book before writing it. Then everything doesn’t have to be siphoned down afterwards and the resulting blurb can act as an outline.

When emailing query submissions, it’s best to email them to yourself first so that you’ll see if any formatting issues come up. Especially if you’re copying and pasting, some email programs may add double or triple lines or may not recognize paragraph breaks and of course these things only happen after the email is sent.

For anyone querying or researching agents, these publications by Agent Noah Lukeman are free on Kindle: How to Write a Great Query Letter: Insider Tips and Techniques for Success and How to Land (and Keep) a Literary Agent. After reading through those and other publications, stalking the above websites, and attending a query letter writing class during a recent writer’s conference, I just might be able to find those magic words. Maybe.

Traditionally publishing a novel is a slow process. Ask any turtle.

Traditionally publishing a novel is a slow process. Ask any turtle.

Have you found the magic words to describe your novel? What’s the best querying advice you’ve received? What has the querying stage been like for you?