Monday, May 4, 2015

Where Are They Now: Michelle Ray!

Any House Hunters fans out there? You know how they have the "Where Are They Now" series? It's been five years since I started doing Creative Spaces interviews, and I thought it might be fun to take a cue from HGTV and check in on some of the authors and illustrators interviewed in the past and see what's new with them, and if anything has changed in their workspace or creative process. 

First up is Michelle Ray. When I first featured Michelle, her YA novel Falling for Hamlet had recently been published. You can read her Creative Spaces interview here.  Falling for Hamlet was optioned to be a TV show--very exciting news for a writer--and that option turned into The Royals, which premiered on E! in March. 

Michelle also has a new, suspenseful YA out as an ebook titled Mac/Beth.  Her book is available for the can't-be-beat price of $2.99! I'll let Michelle tell you more about it, and fill you in on what else she's been up to lately . . .

 Barbie house still in my workroom. Yup, I still share the room with everyone. Note the papers I should grade by my feet.

What have you been working on since Falling for Hamlet? 

My newest book is Mac/Beth, which is a re-imagining Shakespeare’s Macbeth. It’s set in Hollywood and focuses on ambition and guilt, and the challenges of fame. I love turning classics into something accessible to modern audiences who are either afraid of the original piece or love the original and want to experience it a new way.

I have a manuscript out on sub with my lovely agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette, and we're working on editing both historical fiction and modern realistic fiction manuscripts. While there are still classics I want to tackle, it’s been fun to come up with completely original ideas, too.

 More papers to grade on the couch. There's always something I should be doing, but when I have time, I sweep it to the side and write.

How have your work habits/routine changed over the past four years?

I find that I write less often than I used to. It used to be a nightly ritual. But you know what? I missed my family. I would ignore everyone to write, and that didn’t work for us anymore. I find, however, that because I’m always thinking about my stories – while I’m cooking, while I’m driving, walking down the halls at school -- that when I do have time to sit down and write, I’m really fast because I’ve imagined the conversations and settings already. Now that my kids are older and have activities constantly (I don’t know how this happened! I swore we wouldn’t over-schedule), I often have time to write while I wait. I bring my laptop and sit at the lessons or in my car to get my words out of my head and onto paper.

Writing while squished in the car.

Do you have any newfound wisdom you'd like to share?

Things might not go as planned, but if you like to write, write! I find that when I don’t think about the business side of writing or about disappointments and jealousies and rejections, but I focus on stories I want to tell instead, I’m so much happier!

I’m also trying to celebrate things as they come along, even if the victories are small. When Falling for Hamlet came out, I was so nervous about everything that I didn’t celebrate each moment enough. I was anxious about reading at a signing instead of thinking, “People are here to support me. Smile and enjoy.” I worried about what people thought, how it would sell, and what was coming next instead of living each moment as a victory. I realize, too, that I like sharing my work with people I know, that their compliments matter a lot, and that having my friends as fans is fun. When The Royals was going through the optioning and pilot process, I tried to remember to appreciate each positive thing that happened since any step might have been the last. It was all out of my hands, so I tried to celebrate each unexpected positive and hope for more. When The Royals premiered and I had friends send champagne and call and text and tweet and post, it was like having my funeral before I was dead. When in life do you get to hear so much nice stuff and know how much people love you?

Lots of lessons already, but here’s more: I’ve learned patience and resilience, and that writing is personal and that it hurts to be rejected and to have people say mean things online, but that for every mean thing, there’s at least one nice thing (probably more) said by someone else. But I’ve learned, too, that my biggest critic is probably me, and that while the world might not be waiting for my next book, my friends are, and I’ll write for them and hope that the larger world gets to enjoy my stories, too.

To learn more about Michelle visit her website, or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

A Peek at the Creative Space of Erin Entrada Kelly

Erin Entrada Kelly is the author of the middle-grade novel Blackbird Fly, recently published by Greenwillow Books:

Apple Yengko knows what it’s like to be different. She has a weird Filipino nickname, she’s the only Asian at her school, and she’s obsessed with the Beatles instead of boys. But her life doesn’t truly fall apart until she finds out she’s listed on the Dog Log—the list of the ugliest girls in school—and her friends abandon her. Suddenly she’s a social pariah. The boys bark at her in the halls and the girls turn the other way. Apple dreams of escape and resents everything about her culture, including her mother. She’s desperate to get a guitar so she can run away and become a musician like her idol, George Harrison. Apple is convinced that music can save her. And it might—only not in the way that she thinks.

Blackbird Fly was published in March and has been racking up praise, earning three starred reviews and being named a Junior Library Guild selection for 2015. If that isn't enough to convince you Erin Entrada Kelly is a name you will soon be familiar with in the kidlit world, she has three more novels forthcoming from Greenwillow Books. To learn more about Erin and her writing, visit her website or follow her on Twitter.

Describe your workspace.

For me, an ideal workspace has windows, flowers and lots of artwork. It needs to be bright and not-too-serious. I have a lot of playful stuff that makes no sense, like a Statue of Liberty rubber duckie, a stuffed Vincent Van Gogh, and a Twilight Zone bobble-head. I have a big, bright window. I hear cars coming and going, which I love. In the spring there’s a cherry blossom tree that blooms on my street, which I also love.

Describe a typical workday.

When I sit down to write, the first thing I do is consult my outline. Then I clean the entire room. Then I read the last chapter I wrote. Then I stare at the wall. More cleaning. More staring. It’s a miracle I’ve ever written anything.

List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.

1. Professor Purple. He is a one-inch tall purple cat hand-crafted from clay by one of my favorite people. Professor Purple is very judgmental, so he keeps me on task.

2. Art. I can’t pick just one, so I’ve pulled a few examples: flowers by Lisa Trapani, a wonderful New Orleans artist; a super-colorful painting from the Punk Rock Flea Market in Philadelphia; and a red-and-blue painting by my daughter that has my initials hidden in it (can you find them?)

3. A framed rejection card from Paul Agosto. I don’t know where Paul Agosto is today, but many years ago he rejected one of my short stories and sent me a kind note. It said: “Fine writing, Erin … Your story was on the short list prior to selection.” That note made my day. Even though it was a rejection, I focused on the keywords: your story was on the shortlist. I hadn’t yet published a short story, but thanks to Paul Agosto, I knew I was getting close.

Do you have any rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them.

I write longhand first, so I’m very particular about my pens. For a long time I was dedicated to the Scripto Giga, but they quit making them for some unfathomable reason. So now my pen of preference is the Bic Cristal 1.6mm in any color.

What do you listen to while you work?

It depends on what I’m working on. For BLACKBIRD FLY, I listened to the Beatles—a lot—for obvious reasons. But most of the time I listen to classical. I’m fancy like that.

What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?

None. Too distracting.

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

The characters. Hopefully.

Do you write longhand, on a computer, or another way?

I write longhand first. It feels more personal, and it’s easier for me to jot down random thoughts along the way.

How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?

My story ideas always start with a character. The plot, subplots, and other characters build from there. The character is the sun of my story-development solar system. Once the story is developed, I write a brief synopsis. Then I write a detailed synopsis. Then I write a brief chapter summary. Then I write a detailed chapter summary. Then I start chapter one.

I’m all about outlines. Back in the day, when I was a pantser, my novels always lost steam. I’d stare at the screen with no clue what to write. All that ended when I embraced the outline. But I’m not blindly loyal to it. My outline is fluid, so it changes as the characters take the story in different directions. So I guess you could say I let the muse lead my outline.

If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?

Linus Van Pelt

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?

If you’re bored with a scene and can’t wait to get through it, you’re writing the wrong scene. Remember: If you’re bored writing it, readers will be bored reading it.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A Peek at the Creative Space of Laurie McKay

Laurie McKay is the author of The Last Dragon Charmer #1: Villain Keeper. Her debut middle grade novel was published in February and was selected for the Winter Indie Next List. Here is the description from Good Reads:

All his life, Prince Caden has dreamed of being sent on a quest to slay a dragon. But before he has the chance, he is ripped from his home in the Winterlands of Razzon and finds  himself in Asheville, North Carolina—a land with no magic and no dragons. But a prince must always complete his quest. And the longer Caden is in Asheville, the more he realizes  there is magic in this strange land after all. More important, there may just be dragons here, too. But what if Caden’s destiny isn’t to slay a dragon, like he’s always believed?

To learn more about Laurie and her writing visit her website, follow her on Twitter, or like The Last Dragon Charmer on Facebook.

Describe your workspace.

I work at coffee and sandwich shops a lot. Getting out of the house helps me focus. When at home, I write with my laptop on a make-shift pillow desk and on the couch. Sometimes, I write at my non-pillow real desk. At home, I have two old and dear dogs underfoot – Simon (age 15 years) and Sally (age 13 years). Simon, especially, likes to nose my computer while I’m trying to type.


Describe a typical workday.

I turn on the computer and check emails. Then I check random internet things. I look at twitter and think about tweeting. Sometimes, I actually tweet something. At this point, usually I realize I’m not getting any work done! I close my browser, open up my word document, and start typing.


List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.

  • My laptop. It’s where I do all my work. I am deeply attached to it.
  • A hardcover of VILLAIN KEEPER. After all, it’s the fruit of my labor!
  • A list of books I’ve read recently. Every time I read a book, I feel like I’ve gained something from it. There’s a sense of accomplishment. I like looking at the titles of all the great stories I’ve gotten to read. 

Do you have any rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them.

Hmm. I don’t think I really do. Although, before I start writing, I reread whatever I wrote the day before. Sometimes I reread it several times. Then as I write, I reread passages and sentences over and over and over and over.

What do you listen to while you work?

I need ambient noise. I think that’s why I work best while out at coffee shops and the like. Neither music nor silence works for me.

What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?

I have coffee – hot and I have a Diet Pepsi with ice. If there is no Diet Pepsi, I go with Diet Coke. I found a Diet Coke “Mel” and deemed it lucky as that was my grandpa’s name. I’m trying to switch over to water but haven’t been able to shake the diet soda habit yet!

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

While it takes me a while to get going. Once I get to the ‘go’ part, though, and am actively working, my focus is fairly intent. For me, it’s more about getting started. Once I do that, staying focused isn’t as much of a problem. 

Look! I'm outlining in this one!

Do you write longhand, on a computer, or another way?

I almost always use my laptop. So much, in fact, that I’m losing keys. The escape key, well, it escaped from the keyboard. There’s just a little button there now. Occasionally, when I’m outlining I’ll write longhand, but that’s rare. I do print up hardcopies of outlines and drafts and mark them up though.

How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?

I usually start off with a concept or character. Then I type. Typically, I write a few thousand words then realize I need to rethink the entire thing. At that point, I get a better idea of the story I want to write and start an outline. Outlining is a skill I’m still developing, but I feel like it’s something that could really improve the way I work.  And I’m getting better at it.

If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?

I’d share it with my sister who conveniently is also my critique partner. We go out and write together all the time already. We’re not actively writing in the pic below, but we look happy.

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?

An author presenting at the the NC Writer’s Network conference advised the group to write whether inspired or not. The presenter – and I wish I remembered her name – said she’d found her ‘uninspired’ writing was usually just as good as her ‘inspired’ writing. The important thing is to get words on paper. I’ve also found that to be true. It’s really great advice. There are so many things that can bring you down or distract you.  It’s good to just keep working.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A Peek at the Creative Space of Cindy L. Rodriguez

Cindy L. Rodriguez is the author of the young adult novel, When Reason Breaks:

"13 Reasons Why meets the poetry of Emily Dickinson in this gripping debut novel perfect for fans of Sara Zarr or Jennifer Brown.

A Goth girl with an attitude problem, Elizabeth Davis must learn to control her anger before it destroys her. Emily Delgado appears to be a smart, sweet girl, with a normal life, but as depression clutches at her, she struggles to feel normal. Both girls are in Ms. Diaz's English class, where they connect to the words of Emily Dickinson. Both are hovering on the edge of an emotional precipice. One of them will attempt suicide. And with Dickinson's poetry as their guide, both girls must conquer their personal demons to ever be happy.

In an emotionally taut novel with a richly diverse cast of characters, readers will relish in the poetry of Emily Dickinson and be completely swept up in the turmoil of two girls grappling with demons beyond their control."

Cindy Rodriguez teaches middle school reading and college-level composition. Before becoming a teacher, she worked as a reporter for The Hartford Courant and as a researcher for The Boston Globe’s Spotlight Team, an investigative group. She is also a contributor to To learn more about her, visit her website, friend her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter.

Describe your workspace.

I have two work spaces: one for more business-like tasks and another for creative writing. When I sit at my office desk in my office chair, I think "work," not "create," so I'm focused on completing tasks, like updating my website and checking and responding to emails. The set-up reminds me of my actual out-of-the-home work spaces, past and present, so when I'm in my office, I'm more business-minded. I never actually write there.

I do almost all of my novel writing on my bed. I have pounded out some scenes in other places, like coffee shops and the waiting areas of my daughter's activities, but my bed is my go-to writing spot. It's where I am comfortable physically and mentally. I spread out any papers or notes to the left. I sit on the right side of the bed with my laptop and my dog. A small dresser to my right provides me with light and a place to put food and coffee. The wall on my left is often adorned with plot-related sticky notes and other pictures for inspiration.

Describe a typical workday.

I work full time as a middle school reading specialist, so that fills my day from when I wake up at 6 a.m. to when I leave around 3 p.m. During my lunch break and prep period, I am sometimes able to research or write. On Tuesday nights, I teach at a local community college, and on Thursdays, I meet a friend at Starbucks to write for a couple of hours before picking up my daughter from school. After I pick her up, we eat, do homework, etc. At night, I may have some time to read or write. Daily writing doesn't usually happen during a typical work week. I've tried. I take advantage of snow days, school vacation days, and my parents who are willing to host my daughter for a sleepover so that I can write all weekend when needed.  

List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.

I have an angel ornament that has the Emily Dickinson phrase "Dwell in possibility" on it. The ornament was a gift from my aunt at a moment when I needed encouragement.

A critique group member picked up two buttons for me at a writing conference. One says: "Ask me about my novel," and the other says, "Writers write. Everyone else makes excuses." These keep me motivated.

I also have a ceramic leaf filled with stones and crystals I have picked up in various places. These are meaningful because they are positive reminders of places I've been.

Do you have any rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them.

I don't have any rituals, but I do find when I'm stuck or need a break, I take a long, hot shower, do some yoga stretches, or burn some sage, close my eyes, and purposely clear my mind.

What do you listen to while you work?

I can't listen to music while I write. No tunes or T.V. I need quiet. I will listen to certain songs in the car on my way to work if they remind me of a particular character or scene, but I don't have a particular song or artist that I listen to specifically while writing.

What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?

Coffee or tea, and fruit, popcorn, or rice cakes. I'm trying to be healthy these days. What I really want is chocolate!

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

The clock. As I mentioned above, my daily life doesn't allow for daily writing, so when I have the time, I take full advantage of it. If I know I have a three-hour block, I am focused. If I get distracted, the clock reminds me to get refocused so that I get some words in before heading off to my next obligation.

Do you write longhand, on a computer, or another way?

I take initial notes when researching and plotting longhand, but I write drafts on a computer.

How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?

I brainstorm and outline longhand in a notebook. I write out what will happen and then break it down by chapters, but I am not a meticulous outliner. My notes do not detail the character's every move, but instead what must happen in the chapter--the main things he or she must do and certain dialogue phrases I don't want to forget. I have also used a visual story board--posting sticky notes on my wall--when I need to do major revisions that require moving scenes around. I do not have color-coded charts, graphs, or spreadsheets or anything like that. That's too methodical for me. My brain doesn't work that way.

If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?

I could share my space with my friend, Melody, whom I meet at Starbucks on Thursdays. We have a routine: get coffee/tea, chat briefly to catch up, and then we're quiet and working. So, I know we'd get work done and enjoy each other's company during breaks. I don't think, though, that Melody would want to do this in my bedroom! 

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?

Write what you want. We often worry too much about everything--the market, what's trendy, what's not, what's expected with the next book. Should the next story be the same genre or not? Can I switch from YA to MG? And the questions and concerns can go on and on. There are a thousand ways to spark anxiety and stress during the writing and publishing process. The best advice I've heard from my agent and other writers is to write what you want to write. Period. Don't over think it.