Author Interview: Ann Dee Ellis

Spending time with Ann Dee Ellis is never boring as you will see from her interview. The year I attended her workshop is a memorable one full of learning, laughter, tender moments and lasting friendships. Every WIFYR experience has taught me something new and helped me become a stronger writer. One thing I learn from Ann Dee was about finding the voice of your character. We are fortunate to have her teaching a mini-workshop on that topic, on Friday, June 20 at the WIFYR conference.

Ann Dee is part of the great blogging team at Throwing up Words.

Q:  Ann Dee, do you have a writing ritual – a particular location, a certain time of day, etc?

A:  I write in my bed, in the middle of the day, while my baby and my two year old sleep. I try not to eat too much candy but sometimes it can’t be helped. Red Vines, peach rings, and if I’m really having a hard time, chocolate covered cinnamon bears from the BYU bookstore. Sometimes I feel bad about all the candy but other times I remember as a child dreaming of the day I could drive myself to the grocery story and buy myself as much candy as I wanted. That day has arrived.

I also enjoy writing in remote cottages on the beach. I think. I wish. One day.

Q:  What were some of your favorite books as a child?

A: I loved Drummerhof. I loved The Little House. I loved The Funny Little Woman.

My mom would read to us at night in her gigantic waterbed that would slosh around when you climbed on it. She read us The Secret Garden, Little House on the Prairie, Charlotte’s Web, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, and a novel about a Native American tribe that had a ritual where if two men wanted the same woman, they would each take an arm and pull. The one who truly loved the woman would finally give up and let her go so that she wouldn’t be hurt. This was romantic. Except when neither let go. Then it was sad.

When I was a teenager, I loved Louise Plummer’s books. I cried my face off in the basement bedroom while reading the Romantic Obsessions and Humiliations of of Annie Sehlmeier. 

Q:  What do you do when you aren’t writing?

A:  I sit on the heater with my kids and color. Sometimes I put make up on. Other times I draw on the sidewalk. Sometimes I teach college students. Or make them cry. I go to church and walk around the halls. I talk to people and watch them.

Q:  Of all the characters you’ve created, which is your favorite and why?

A:  My Mazzy from Everything is Fine. I love her. I feel like she’s been neglected and she doesn’t deserve it. She’s brave and she’s weird and she puts oranges in her bra and she yells at boys and does yoga and eats marshmallows and watches Oprah and I love her. I miss her and I love her.

Q:  What is the hardest part of writing for you?

A:  Letting go.

This is my favorite part about writing and also the hardest. Especially when I have limited time.

When you have so little time to write, you don’t want to waste it. You want every minute to count.

That’s a problem because when you create, you need the space to mess up, to go the wrong way, to write big chunks of lovely that will later be cut. You need the freedom to laugh and be ridiculous and try new things and not worry about what you mother or editor or fancy writing friend might think.

Writing is a mind game. It’s about letting go when everything tells you to hold on. To control it. To plan it. To make it good. The hardest part of writing is letting it be bad or weird or nothing. Just writing.

Q:  What makes you laugh?

A:  My boys. All five of them.

Q:  Can you tell us about what you are working on?

A:  A book about a girl and a boy and a trailer park.

Blog Tour and Author Interview: Wendy Toliver

Our blog tour ends today. We hope you have enjoyed getting to know these fabulous authors. There are still a few more interviews coming though, so watch for those.

Today we have the privilege of visiting with Wendy Toliver.

Her blog link is:

Wendy will teach at the conference on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. Her topic and class description sound intriguing:

Cardboard Cut-Outs Need Not Audition: How Acting Techniques Can Help Your Characters—and Overall Writing—Get a Standing Ovation

Welcome, Wendy.

What influenced you to write books for kids?

When I first decided to try my hand at writing a novel (I’d written several non-fiction books), I wrote a chick lit (now it’s usually called “women’s fiction”) manuscript. It was funny and light, and my agent sent it out to editors. Several of those editors came back with comments such as: ”She has a great voice for YA, maybe she should give that a shot.” That manuscript never sold, but I started thinking about writing for teens, and after writing THE SECRET LIFE OF A TEENAGE SIREN and getting a new agent who handled YA, I was pleasantly surprised that two publishers were interested. I went with Simon Pulse, and sold two more YA books, MISS MATCH and LIFTED, to them shortly thereafter. So, while the editors who’d read my chick lit MSS put the bug in my ear about writing for teens, I think it’s always been in me, and I hope to continue writing YA and MG because I absolutely love it.

Q: What were some of your favorite books as a child?

A: The Story of Ferdinand, Barney Beagle, A Wrinkle in Time, The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, and anything by Judy Blume or Beverly Cleary

Q: What do you do when you aren’t writing?

A: When I’m not writing, I’m usually reading or thinking about my work in progress. I’m also a freelance editor, writing coach, copy writer, and presenter. I have three sons, ages 13, 11, and 7, so I’m always running them around and coaching soccer and basketball. I love snowboarding in the winter and wakeboarding in the warmer months. And I travel as much as possible.

Q: Of all the characters you’ve created, which is your favorite and why?

A: Poppy Browne, the main character in my third YA novel, LIFTED, is my favorite character to date. After being on the outs with the “in” crowd in liberal Boulder, CO, she moves to an ultra-conservative Texas town called Pleasant Acres, where she’s promptly embraced by an outgoing band girl as well as two of the most beautiful, popular girls. Poppy came alive to me, asking me who she can trust, who she can’t, and at what cost. I also love her sense of fashion and her sense of humor. She is, in my opinion, the perfect mix of vulnerability and strength, and by the end of her story, she’s grown by leaps and bounds.

Q: What have been some of the greatest moments in your life?

A: Right when my first YA book, THE SECRET LIFE OF A TEENAGE SIREN, was published, a 15 year-old poet named Anna contacted me on a social media site and we quickly became online friends. Turns out, she was dying of cancer and was going in for surgery that she might not survive. Miraculously, she had the strength to live four more precious years. During this time, she was my biggest fan, sending me quirky gifts, playing online games with my kids, writing reviews (you can still read most of them), sponsoring a writing conference that my friend and I put on, buying all of my books for everyone she knew, and sending champagne to celebrate my book launches. Turns out, this loving girl had an unbelievably difficult life, even beyond cancer, and writing poetry helped her deal with it at times, escape it other times. Many authors will say the best part of writing for teens is the fans, the young people you get to meet who say your books make a difference in their lives, who create art inspired by your writing, who bring your tattered book everywhere they go. I am deeply humbled that Anna chose to share the last four years of her life not only being a fan, but being a friend and an inspiration that I will never forget.

Elements of a Stand-out Novel

A recent Query Tracker blog post by Rosie Genova quotes agent Michelle Wolfson: “I challenge you to make me fall in love with your work.”
That’s quite a challenge.
During a WIFYR Boot Camp Workshop, writer Ann Dee Ellis spoke of her conversation with conference editors. Ann Dee indicated writers often don’t understand just how special a book has to be in order to get published.
What, in your opinion, makes a book stand out?
Great voice?
A unique and interesting setting?
An action-filled plot that keeps the reader wondering what happens next?
The trilogy I’m currently reading has all three. Great voice that’s easy to relate to, characters so interesting I’ll miss them when the book ends, a setting I’m fascinated to learn about, and action that keeps me wondering.
Think about what you’re reading now. What made you pick this book? And what keeps you reading it?
These questions may help you polish your manuscript until it shines.shiny water

Passive Voice – Purge the Weakness!

Warning: Passive voice immediately follows as a horrific example of how not to write. Keep reading, I think it’s worth it :)

I was wondering if you ever did feel somewhat lacking with how the power of your writing is. Well is that it? Is that how you sometimes maybe feel? Does it feel like it is weak sometimes, or was it weak the last time you wrote? Or… When you feel lacking, ratchet up the power of your words! Cast off words that steal away strength.

The first half of the above uses gross passive voice, while the second half feels strong. Passive voice possesses the real power to under power your words. My first brush with understanding passive voice came during a writing class, and I clung to that lesson. Don’t use words like is and was as they take emphasis away from the true substance of the sentence. Simply eliminating these types of words will strengthen sentences and lend impact.

Blaise Pascal has been oft quoted for a famous saying that has, over the years, been contributed to many prestigious writers. The quote was in a letter he wrote. While Pascal wrote in French, a fair modern-day translation is: “I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.”

Not only does removing passive voice give strength, it also shortens sentences. Here are a couple of examples from my own writing:

Passive: “I thought this was a bad plan, but I didn’t have any other ideas so what I did was to raise my hand and also I nodded my head.”

Better: “This plan sucked, but I put up my hand and nodded.”
Passive: “The weather was very bad when I was looking up into the sky. Dark clouds were moving in a circle and there was wind and there was lightning.”
Better: “In the sky I saw dark, circling clouds buffeted by wind and wreathed in lightning.”

Shortening sentences will strengthen them. This can be done in any point-of-view, in any style. Even if you want a whimsical or literary voice, this rule still applies. As a good exercise, go through your story and look for ways to remove is, was, and all words that are unnecessary. Also look for ways to say things more succinctly.

Are there any other ways you can think of to watch for with passive voice?

Interview, Part 2: Lisa Mangum the Editor

Yesterday we interviewed Lisa Mangum, the author. Today she is talking to us with her editor hat on. She works at Deseret Book. Every time I hear Lisa speak I learn something valuable.

Thank you Lisa, for sharing these insights with us.

Q: What is a typical day for you as an editor?

A: I always start my day by checking my email and tending to any urgent issues that cropped up from the night before. Because I know I’m sharper in the morning, I try to set aside some solid hours in the morning to tend to my editing assignments. Afternoons are my time to tend to all the smaller tasks that have accumulated during the day. I almost always have at least one meeting to go to every day, sometimes more. But one of the things I love about being an editor is that, even though the tasks are the same, the books are all different, so my days are always different depending on the books on my desk.

Q: How has being an author changed you as an editor?

A: I’m a nicer editor now. Having been on the other side of the desk (so to speak) has given me a greater appreciation for how scary deadlines can be, for how complicated it is to write a book, and how helpful it is to have an editor who listens and understands the process. I think it’s also helped me stay abreast of reading trends and what writers are excited about.

Q: How can an editor help an author improve a story?

A: A good editor can help an author see the strengths and weaknesses in a story as well as offer ways to push the story from average to excellent. A good editor can help the author’s voice shine in the manuscript and facilitate communication between author and reader. The best editors are entirely invisible to the reader. Editors are not the author’s adversary; editors are the author’s advocate.

Q: What is your favorite part of being an editor?

A: I love reading through the slush pile and finding that manuscript that makes me pause and say, “Oh, there is something wonderful here!” And I love taking that manuscript and working with the author to make the story shine as brightly as it can. I love the first time the text is typeset into the design and it looks like a real book for the first time. I love knowing that I had a small part in the magic of storytelling.

Q: What do you look for most in a query?

A: Strong writing voice, an interesting idea, and a compelling conflict. Query letters are tricky to write because you have to sum up your amazing story in one paragraph or one sentence. But it can be done! I pay attention to authors who can tell me four important things about their book in the first sentence or first paragraph: I want to know (1) who the hero is, (2) what the goal is, (3) what the obstacles are, and (4) what the consequence of failure is. It can take some practice to hone down your idea into a quick sentence like that, but it is well worth the effort.

Interview, Part 1: Lisa Mangum the Author

 Lisa Mangum

We have a special treat from Lisa Mangum. Today we interview, the author. Tomorrow, you will hear from the editor.

We welcome Lisa to the WIFYR faculty. She is the author of four award-winning books: THE HOURGLASS DOOR trilogy and AFTER HELLO. Lisa is teaching Full novel class in the morning workshops. She will also teach two afternoon workshops, Pitch Perfect and Killer Openings.

But for now, here is Lisa Mangum the author.

Q. Do you have a writing ritual—a particular location, a certain time of day, etc.?

A: Because I have a full-time job as an editor as well as being an author, I have to be really careful with my time. I don’t write at work, and I don’t bring work home. That means I do all my writing in the evenings and on the weekends. When it’s time to write, I like to settle onto the couch with my laptop and write. My cat often falls asleep on my legs, which is actually a great help to me. I’ll finish a chapter and think, “Oh, but I can’t disturb Allie. I’ll just write a little longer—until she wakes up.” As any cat owner will tell you, cats can sleep for a long time, but that just means my word count goes up and up.

Q:. What were some of your favorite books as a child?

A: My earliest book memory is of my mom reading The Secret Garden to me. I also remember discovering Dragon’s Blood by Jane Yolen when I was young. That was my gateway book into epic fantasy, which I devoured whole for years and years. Some of my other favorite books were Peppermints in the Parlor, The Phantom Tollbooth, and anything by Roald Dahl.

Q: What is the hardest part of writing for you?

A: Writing is hard—period. But sometimes it’s the getting started that is the hardest for me. I’ll get an idea, develop it, love it, and then I sit down to write it and I feel some paralysis as I stare at the blank screen on the computer. I have to get past the feeling that my first line has to be the best line ever, but once I do, I can pick up speed and get into the flow. But that first line sometimes makes me crazy!

Q: What writing advice do you have for emerging writers?

A: I’m a big believer in attending writing conferences. I think they are excellent places to learn, practice, and network. Writing can be so solitary, and it’s nice to get out into the world once in a while and hang out with other writers who understand the journey. I also love learning new techniques from other writers and hearing about their struggles and successes.

Q: What makes you laugh?

A: Playing board games with my friends. An unexpected surprise. My cat playing with a string. Mystery Science Theater 3000 movies. Song parodies. The TV show Community. Playing LEGO video games with my husband.

Blog Tour and Interview: Ilima Todd

Ilima Todd has joined us for the blog tour and an interview this week. Ilima will be sharing her journey to publication on Monday, June 16 at 4:30, along with Courtney Alameda and Jen White.
Ilima grew up on the north shore of Oahu. She says her eclectic background makes for interesting worlds in the books she writes. We are so glad to have Ilima participate in our blog tour and share this interview with us.
Q: Ilima, what influenced you to write books for kids?
A: I write for teens because I think I’ll always be one. My voice naturally hovers around that of a seventeen-year-old. It was such an eventful age for me. I ran a marathon, graduated from high school, moved away from home, started college, got a boyfriend, etc. Everything was new and grand and epic. I love how teens feel everything so intensely like that.
Q: What were some of your favorite books as a child?
A: The first book I remember fangirling over was A WRINKLE IN TIME in the fourth grade. A few other favorites were LITTLE WOMEN, THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND, and THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA.
Q: What do you do when you aren’t writing?
A: I have four children and have been homeschooling them for ten years. That and writing pretty much suck me dry. Granted, we do A LOT of reading at school. :)
Q: Of all the characters you’ve created, which is your favorite and why?
A: There’s one character that has made me cry buckets and pull my hair out, yet has the funnest voice I’ve ever written. He is so broken and desperate sometimes, but knows exactly how to make others laugh, including me. And he’s by far my favorite character. My husband’s sisters read the book and told me this character was my husband to a tee. Um…I guess I know why I love him so much, haha.
Q: Can you tell us about what you are working on?
A: Too many projects. More than I have time for. I’ve got a male POV dystopian which is freaking me out, a girl who has to marry a stranger to survive the apocalypse, a cancer/pandemic/survival story with a difficult southern voice, a girl whose memory is changing, a Johnny Lingo retelling, and an interplanetary space opera. And that doesn’t include all the ideas waiting patiently for me in my writing folder. It’s a good problem to have, I suppose. :)

Romance Novel Rewriting

A post by Carol Lynch Williams from Throwing up Words.

Here are the last questions for your novel.

What do our MC and her BF have to do together that they weren’t expecting?
What do they realize about each other as the climax of the other plot comes together?
Add in that real kissing scene you wrote earlier.
Now write the ending. Is it true love forever? Is it going to ruin their world but make a new one even better? is everyone happy? Who is happy and who is mad?
You now have the bones of a romance novel.
What are you going to do with it?
I suggest you go in and fill in the blanks. Add the tissue to these bones. Flesh the ideas out.
Give yourself a deadline.
Write to that deadline.
Then set the book aside.
Start another novel (after you take off a day or two! I always give myself a little time after I complete a book.).
When the time is right, pull out your romance.
Look the book over with a critical eye.
Take it to your critique group.
See what they have to say of the book as a whole.
Romance novels are big sellers. Look at Twilight. That was a romance novel wearing vampire capes.
Plus, here’s what Wikipedia said: “In North America, romance novels are the most popular genre in modern literature . . . “
So make your novel amazing.

Truth in Fiction

  By Becca Birkin
       I’ve heard people say, “I can’t read stories like that. They aren’t real.” I disagree. The cliche says truth is stranger than fiction. I’d add, fiction can be truer than fact.
       In the last month, I have visited a Afghani compound through the viewpoint of a fifteen year old girl, witnessed the whipping and workhouse abuse of 1830′s Charleston slaves, and seen compassion and intelligence through the eyes of one considered by some to have no soul, all in the safe vehicles of Trent Reedy’s WORDS IN THE DUST, Sue Monk Kidd’s THE INVENTION OF WINGS, and Carol Lynch William’s THE HAVEN.
Katherine Paterson says it well:
“The wonderful thing about books is that they allow us to enter imaginatively into someone else’s life. And when we do that, we learn to sympathize with other people. But the real surprise is that we also learn truths about ourselves, about our own lives, that somehow we hadn’t been able to see before.”   ―     Katherine Paterson

Blog Tour and Interview: Natalie Whipple

This week’s blog tour introduces one of our afternoon faculty. Natalie Whipple will teach Five Things Every Beginning Needs on Wednesday, June 18 at 3:30 p.m. 

Here’s the link for the blog tour:

Natalie, thanks for joining us for an interview.

Q: What do you do when you aren’t writing?

A: If I’m not writing, you’ll probably find me cooking, taking care of my three kids, or watching Korean dramas and pro-gaming tournaments. I love to cook, especially Asian foods like pad Thai, bulgogi, curry, etc. I also have a significant cupcake addiction. My three kids are wonderful and also crazy, but we have fun. People usually look at me like I’m crazy when I say I love Korean dramas, but imagine dramatic/romantic/hilarious TV *without* the American levels of swearing and bedroom scenes. And pro-gaming? Well, it’s awesome. It’s the closest to liking sports that I’ll ever get.

Q: Of all the characters you’ve created, which is your favorite and why?

A: I’d have to say Josephine from House Of Ivy & Sorrow is probably one of my very favorite main characters. She’s confident (maybe too much at times) and outgoing and pretty much what I wished I could be as a teen. Okay, I wish I could be that way now, too. Jo also has a great sense of humor and she’s super independent, which is sometimes her downfall but something I admire nonetheless. On top of that, she’s a witch. Her magic may be gritty and dark, but who doesn’t want magic, right?

Q: What is the hardest part of writing for you?

A: I think the hardest part will always be my own mental/emotional struggles. Since I have anxiety, I sometimes have to fight my own crushing self-doubt. I often think what I write sucks or that no one will read it or that every writer on the planet is better than I am. If I can get past that and fall in love with my story, then I can usually make it through drafting and editing.

Q: What makes you laugh?

A: My kids, my husband, funny books, romantic comedies, clever t-shirts, cat videos, awkward moments, my little sister, my friends, ridiculously good cupcakes, and inside jokes.

Q: Can you tell us about what you are working on?

A: Much of what I’m working on is Top Secret right now, but I can say there’s a YA contemporary in the mix as well as some more of my own quirky brand of YA “paranormal/sci-fi/not-really-sure” on the way. I am also working on more novellas, because I’ve fallen in love with them. They are such fun, fresh projects! I’m also still writing for the video game Torment: Tides Of Numenera—that has been a dream come true.