Archive for August, 2012

I first met Sara at the SCBWI Westside Schmooze two years ago. Coordinators Lee and Rita had just announced Sara’s publishing deal for HARBINGER to the group and we all gave her a big applause and our hearty congratulations.

Since then,  I’ve bumped into her at several SCBWI-related events, including last year’s Summer conference.

With author Sara Wilson Etienne at the SCBWI Summer Conference Party 2011

Sara is one of the most active members of SCBWI-L.A. It was no wonder that the bookstore was overflowing with well-wishers, friends, and fans during her book launch last February.

The book launch was just the start of a busy year for Sara. She’s gone on a book tour, and has been invited to speak at several writing conferences, including SCBWI-L.A.’s Writer’s Day and RWA’s Passion and Prose Conference.

Thankfully, Sara has agreed to let me pester her with questions, despite her busy schedule. Her star has definitely risen and I’m lucky to be a witness to her many successes.

If you haven’t heard of Sara and her awesome book HARBINGER, check out my review here.

Without further ado, I present the imaginative and awesome Sara Wilson Etienne.

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Author’s Bio from her website sarawilsonetienne.com. You can also find her at holbrookacademy.com.

I used to dream of being a marine biologist but quickly realized that I love fantasy more than fact.  Now I enjoy combining both to create stories that ask “What if?” I write in sunny California alongside my artist husband and my two dogs.

My favorite days are spent disappearing into different universes, whether it’s traveling with Dr. Who, popping into a parallel world with Diana Wynne Jones, writing my own stories, or just taking a nap.

Harbinger is my first novel.

Wanna say hi?

We’re waiting at sara@sarawilsonetienne.com


The Imaginative Sara Wilson Etienne

1. What were your favorite books growing up?

I gravitated towards books that helped me understand the world and decide who I wanted to be in it.  Daniel Pinkwater and Louis Sachar made fun of the seeming arbitrary rules of the adult world, and somehow made nonsensical sense of them. Madeleine L’Engle mixed science and magic. Tamora Pierce created women warriors. Roald Dahl gave power to the powerless.

I’ve always loved books that showed me what the world can be, rather than what it is.

2. When did you know you were going to be a writer?  What prompted you to take your writing seriously?

I always loved telling stories and, of course, loved to read…but for a long time it didn’t occur to me that I could be a writer.  In college, I focused on biology, but I took creative writing and literature classes whenever I could fit them in around my science classes. My senior year in college, I needed to do a thesis project. I should’ve done some sort of field research, but instead I decided to write a book. What started out as a picture book about ecotourism quickly became a novel. (One that thankfully has never been published.)

Writing that changed everything. It was as if the world suddenly made sense to me. I loved writing and it felt right. From that point on, I looked on writing as a serious career.

3. Why do you think YA is so popular? Would you ever consider writing a book in another genre—a middle grade book, or picture book for instance?

People often read YA during a time in their lives when they’re looking for proof that they fit somewhere in the world. That there are other people like them. That there is more to life than high school. That, in effect, makes the YA genre full of powerful stories that have the ability to shape lives, show people choices they’ve never thought of, and perspectives they’ve never experienced.

And though my voice is currently tuned into YA, I’d definitely like to write for other genres. I love picture books…I think they’re a perfect format for some of the most extraordinary stories. I’ve studied them and tried my hand at writing them, but picture books are incredibly difficult to get right. Still, I know that someday I’ll have just the right story to tell!

4. What inspired you to write Harbinger?

My original inspiration was my college campus in Bar Harbor, Maine. After I graduated and moved to California, I just couldn’t get that place out of my head. All pine trees and rocky shores and storm waves crashing. There was this old house on campus where we used to hang out at night. The winding staircases, crazy passageways, and castle-like turrets were so creepy and beautiful. There was definitely a story in that place there and I set out to tell it.

5. Where did you get the (awesome) idea to use tarot cards in your novel?

I’m glad you liked them! The tarot cards snuck into a later draft. It’s hard to find a compelling way to deal with prophecies without just feeding your character information. So I was looking for some way other than diary entries or whispered warnings to tip Faye off.

And here comes the lesson about randomness and paying attention: A friend of mine gave me a business card they’d found that was based on a playing card. I thought it was such a cool idea and because my book at the time was called “The Harbinger” my mind immediately went to tarot cards. I cajoled my husband to make me business cards based on the Two of Swords, but with a Harbinger twist. As soon as I saw the result, I knew it was the perfect melding. And a great story device. Not to mention that tarot cards were a craze during the exact time that M.H.’s diary was written. So it was too good to pass up!

6. What is one personality trait that you share with your main character, Faye?

Her fear and pain. While I was writing Faye, I was dealing with my own doubts about myself as a writer and some difficult health problems. These manifested themselves in Faye originally as migraines (which I also suffered from) and then later as frightening visions.

Telling stories is a way that we make sense of our own lives. Giving ourselves powerful protagonists and satisfying endings give us the hope that we too can overcome our challenges. For me, writing was the best way of working through my own pain.

7. Tell us about your path to publication.

Well…writing the book and getting it published took me a full ten years. I wrote and rewrote and rewrote Harbinger countless times. Teaching myself to write–how to put together a novel–as I went. I got notes from my critique groups, went to conferences, met my agent at one, then rewrote my book a few more times, and finally sold it! Thinking back, I was pretty single-minded about the whole thing. Writing is the only career that’s ever felt really right, so I just kept on keeping on!

8. What’s your typical day as a writer like? Do you have any writing-related rituals or quirks?

I like to write from late morning to early afternoon. Recently, I’ve been walking to a nearby café and that has the wonderful side benefit of letting me “prewrite” my scenes…visualizing moments that I think will bring the scene to life. When I finally sit down with my coffee and scone, I can dive into my work.

I also like to write to the Battlestar Galatica soundtrack. It has great tension and build-up, but is background enough for me to work. But for the most part, I try to stay flexible with my habits, so I don’t get hung up if I have to write at home or at a different time of day.

9. Where do you get your story ideas?

I get my ideas from the world around me: overheard conversations, news stories, places I travel. Over the course of years I pair up certain ideas in my head, they grow into stories and worlds. When I sit down to finally begin working on a book, I start with writing a synopsis or a vague outline. And go from there. I’m a huge rewriter, so I usually stumble through the beginning of my stories over and over until I hit the right tone or feel or world.

10. What is the coolest thing about being a published author?

I got insanely excited about having my book on library shelves. The library was my treasure trove growing up and the idea that readers will be discovering and checking out Harbinger for years to come gives my goosebumps!

11.  If you could have any job in the world (aside from being an author), what would it be?

A very bored scientist. Or lawyer. I’m pretty sure there are parallel-universe Sara’s out there doing those things right now. But I doubt they’re very happy.

12. Are you currently working on any other projects?

I’m working on a new book currently titled Unworthy with the same editor at Penguin/Putnam. It’ll be out Winter 2014. It’s a totally new world, with new characters, and, though I loved Harbinger, it’s been fun creating new stories!

13. You did an amazing job promoting your book. How did you come up with these ideas, and would you consider using the same promotional strategies for your next book?

Thanks! It was a lot of fun (and a lot of work) to create pieces of Harbinger outside the page. I have a hunch that each book requires its own approach.

The Harbinger inspired art, (which you can see at: http://holbrookacademy.com/sketchbook.php)

worked well because my main character, Faye, was an artist. It made sense on a lot of levels. Same thing with the creepy institutional nature of the Holbrook website and brochures. But I’m sure that as I start thinking of Unworthy in terms of promotion, it will have its own fun bits of inspiration.

One thing I’ll definitely do is another book trailer. It was super fun to see Harbinger come to life. You can see it here:

14. What advice would you like to give to writers on the road to publication?

Butt-in-chair. The only thing that makes someone a writer is writing.

Though…balancing it with the opposite is vital too. Don’t forget to get out of your writing cave sometimes and talk to other people who are doing what you’re doing. Writers conferences, critique groups, coffee shops, anything that reminds you that there’s a whole world of readers and writers out there who will be thrilled to get their hands on your story.

15.   What would you like to say to your young readers? Is there any advice that you would like to give them?

Find stories you love, let yourself live there for a while, then explore new ones. Don’t let yourself get sucked into the idea that you only like to read fantasy or mysteries or contemporary romance. A great story is a great story. Let stories open up the world for you, not narrow down.

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Thanks for agreeing to do this interview Sara!

Tune in this Friday for the final installment of this month’s Spotlight Week. I’ll be giving away a copy of HARBINGER!

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This month’s Spotlight Week features HARBINGER by YA Author Sara Wilson Etienne

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Harbinger by Sara Wilson Etienne

320 pages, Hardcover

Genre: YA, Ages 12 and up

Published on February 2, 2012 by Putnam Juvenile

ISBN-10: 0399256687

ISBN-13: 978-0399256684

My Review

Fantasy writer and living legend Tamora Pierce had this to say about HARBINGER: “Heart-wrenching, terrifying, hot, and un-put-down-able!”

Tamora Pierce was right, of course. I read the book in two hours simply because I couldn’t put it down.

Sara Wilson Etienne drew me in with the strength of her prose. Sara paints with words the way her character Faye paints with pictures—with vivid imagery and an attention to details that allows for surrealism.

Faye is beleaguered by visions of blood and of a rising wave, and finds herself strangely drawn to dead animals’ bones.  She thinks she’s going crazy, and she’s not alone. Her father tricks her into enrolling in Holbrook Academy. It’s a school for disturbed teens, but it feels more like a prison for deranged criminals—thanks in part to the suffocating school program and the often times rough way the students are handled by the (care)Takers.

Nestled between the sea and a dark forest, Holbrook Academy is a downright creepy place. It succeeds in magnifying the ominous and eerie tone already set by the main character’s personal experiences.

At Holbrook, Faye’s visions intensify. She forms a tenuous friendship with five other teens who seem to share the same nightmarish dreams as her. She begins to unravel the real reason behind these dreams and visions. The plot twists and turns, and every revelation comes as a surprise.

Faye herself makes for an intriguing main character. She has an observant nature and an eye for detail.  Her ability to describe what scares her is what makes the book a fascinating, and at times, scary read.

I especially loved the addition of riddles hidden within tarot cards, and the element of secret clues strewn throughout Holbrook. I also love the fact that HARBINGER is a stand alone book, so I didn’t have to wait at all for the book’s conclusion.

The story’s fast pacing and its ever-increasing mystery makes for quick page-turning.  It’s hard to classify what kind of genre HARBINGER really belongs to.  It is part psychological thriller, part mystery, part suspense, and part supernatural fantasy.

Sara Wilson Etienne has succeeded in offering an interesting new genre for teens and adults alike to enjoy: Supernatural Suspense.

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Tune in this Wednesday for the 2nd installment in this Spotlight series, where I feature an interview with author Sara Wilson Etienne!

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CassaStar and CassaFire Giveaway Winners

Last month’s Spotlight Week featured one of my favorite bloggy buddies Alex Cavanaugh and his amazing books CassaStar and CassaFire.

I had such fun reviewing his books and featuring an author interview with Alex. I even managed to coerce convince him to send me an author photo.

To end that Spotlight Week with a bang, I announced a Giveaway.

Today, I get to reveal the winners of Alex Cavanaugh’s CassaStar and CassaFire.

I asked the participants of the giveaway to answer why they’d like to win a copy of the books in a creative way to increase their chances of winning.

Here are the most creative answers I’ve come across:

Powdered Toast Man says:

July 13, 2012 at 6:38 am

I need those books because a witch put a spell on me and I am slowly going blind and I want those books to be the last ones I read.

Powdered Toast Man says:

July 13, 2012 at 6:41 am

I mentioned the giveaway on Twitter and Facebook as well made prank phone calls and told some strangers.

Sabrina A. Fish says:

July 13, 2012 at 7:04 am

I haven’t read his books, yet, and I figure that since we share a love for munching while we write…Alex on hot tamales while I “chain smoke” my carrots like a rabbit on speed…I definitely need a chance to win these books!

L.C. Frost says:

July 13, 2012 at 7:42 am

My Flat Stanley cut-out has gotten sadly misplaced, and I figure a book written by a ninja captain would be a fine companion on my various adventures. Also, such an object would need the capability to fly. I have little doubt CassaStar has that capability built-in.

Christine Rains says:

July 13, 2012 at 11:36 am

I have no air-conditioning. We’re in the middle of a heat wave. No relief in sight. Please put a bright spot in my day by sending a couple of good books my way.

Shelly says:

July 13, 2012 at 1:00 pm

Shelly really, really wants to win b/c she’s piss-pot-poor right now. And Alex’s book trailers made me salivate. And b/c I really, really like to read even though I’m slow sometimes. Please, please pick me. Please.

TerryToes says:

July 13, 2012 at 10:22 pm

My grandson Caden is an advanced reader. He loves sci-fi. He never asks me to get him anything. He enjoys drawing with me. I don’t spend money on him because I can’t. He says my time is a valuable gift! I’d love to give him, not only the books, because I know we will read them and share our stories about them, but also because I see that Caden can write to Alex and Alex will write back, and that is the most valuable aspect of the exchange! Caden also batted .497 in Pony League, and his all-star team is playing Arizona next week too!!!

Justine Dell says:

July 17, 2012 at 2:47 am

Well, my reason is simple…besides the fact that I would trek over mountains filled with eye-eating gorillas and through the jungle that sucks out your soul to get a good copy of a great book….my daughter and I can’t share. Everytime we buy a book, we must have a copy on the Kindle and hard copy. We are so selfish.

michelle says:

July 17, 2012 at 3:48 am

I’d REALLY REALLY like to win because I’m sci-fi challenged, I’ve never read a sci-fi novel in my life… but I reckon that the Cassa series will be the turning point… the moment of conversion…

Kathleen says:

July 25, 2012 at 10:29 am

I would love to win these books because I have NOT read them yet, even though they are both on my wish list. The main reason I want to win them though is because I am almost finished with my rocket ship and need something for the journey to prove that Stargates do exist, but they were all taken over by the Cylons. It’s going to be a long ride and what better way to live the sci-fi dream than with some awesome sci-fi books?

I had such a hard time picking from all these wonderful answers that I had to ask help from my magic box (my magic bowl was out of commission).

My magic box

The magic box spewed out two lucky names.


Congratulations, Powdered Toast Man, you win a copy of CassaStar!

And Congratulations L.C. Frost, you win a copy of CassaFire!

BUT WAIT!

Because I’m feeling generous, and because we wish to encourage the younger generation to keep on reading and loving books, I’m also giving Terry Toes a copy of CassaStar to give to her nephew Caden!

Congratulations Terry!

I’ll be emailing you all shortly with words of congratulations and some instructions for claiming your prizes.

This month, I’ll be training the Spotlight on another favorite author and her wonderful book.

Tune in next week to find out more about YA Author Sara Wilson Etienne and get a chance to win a copy of HARBINGER!


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Every Wednesday, I feature a writer and his/her workspace.  My aim is to get to know fellow writers better through their workspace and writing habits, and have them  share some of their writing wisdom here.

Today, I am most eager to welcome fellow Write On member Ann Ormond Fennell, author of that fun blog Inkpots N’ Quills.

Welcome, Ann!

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Tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you do for a living? What genre do you love to write? What are some of your hobbies or interests? Do you have a hidden talent?

Ann Ormond Fennell

I am Irish. I spend part of the year in the US where I work in a university department. The rest of the year is spent in my hometown in Ireland. I am a wife, a mother of four grown children and a grandmother of two of the most adorable baby boys.
I have grappled with the “What genre do you write” question.  But no more! I seem to have just discovered historical fantasy/romance.
Besides the obvious writing and reading, my interests are pretty much all over the place. I have just taken up horseback riding. Taking lessons twice a week. I knit, love cooking and have a keen interest in archery. I have always been a history fiend and travel is another great love. I can pack a suitcase in 20 minutes flat! Then there is opera and theatre to loves passed down by my parents.

I have absolutely “NO” hidden talents!

On Workspace

1.  Where do you do most of your writing?

I have two lovely desks but I do most of my writing on my laptop at the kitchen table or in my bed.

Ann’s Workspace

2.  Where did you get your desk?  How did you go about arranging your work area?

As I said I have two beautiful desks. I purchased both in antique stores one is a roll top and the other is kidney shaped and yet I use the kitchen table….go figure!

Ann’s Irish kitchen table

3.  What are some important things on your desk?  Are there specific things you need to have around you as you work?

I must have Mozart playing. It seems to drown out all the other surrounding sounds and for some reason puts me in writing or creative mode. My characters seem to know when they hear Mozart their presence is required. They will usually make an appearance. Though sometimes the appearance may be fleeting.

4. What do you love most about your workspace? Do you have any favorite objects on your desk, or things you use often?

There is a photograph of my family, a feathered quill and ink pot, a dictionary (both Webster and Oxford) multiply thesaurus’ and other sit proudly on top of the desk I don’t use!

5. What’s your writing beverage?  What do you love to drink while you’re writing?

A pot of Barry’s Tea must be at hand. Mozart and Barry’s….there is no writing without them!

On Writing

1. Who is your favorite author?  Who inspired you to write?

I have too many favorites to list, but a few are Jane Austin, the Bronte’s (all of them), Oscar Wilde, James Michener, Leon Uris, Maeve Binchy, Cathy Kelly, and Colm Toibin.

My Grandfather, the founder of the local paper in our town in Ireland. He used to bring me into the back room while the paper was rolling through the machines being printed. The smell of the ink always brings his smiling face to mind. He prided himself on his spelling. A strength I did not possess. He brought home a first print off and offered me a shilling for each misspelled word I found. Needless to say I didn’t get rich on this endeavour.

Ann at age 2, and her mother, Tess

2. What’s your typical day as a writer like?

After work I feign tiredness, go to my bed and take out my laptop.

3. Do you have any writing related rituals or quirks?

There is nothing like a relaxing bath at the end of the day, with a little Mozart playing, closing my eyes and seeing what my characters have been up to while I was trying to balance spreadsheets.

4.  Do you write everyday?

Yes, well I try. On the days I don’t actually write I am doing something related to writing. Reading a book on writing. Researching sometime relevant to my writing or editing something I have written.

5. How many hours a day do you spend writing?

At least an hour. More if I am on a roll.

6. What are some of your worst writing distractions?

The internet.

7. Why do you write?

I don’t really know. I have always written. I need to write. I need to get all the goings on…..going on in my head out of there!

Ann, at age 12

8. Any writing tips or techniques or words of wisdom you want to share with us?  How about a favorite writing quote?

The story I am writing exists, written in absolutely perfect fashion, some place, in the air. All I must do is find it, and copy it.  –  Jules Renard

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Thanks, Ann, for giving us a glimpse into your writing life.

Wednesday Writer’s Workspace is an ongoing series, and if you’re interested in being featured here, simply leave me a message in the comment box, and I’ll be sure to email you.

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