Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Peek at the Creative Space of Maggie Hall

Joining us today for Creative Spaces is YA author Maggie Hall. Her debut novel The Conspiracy of Us was published this month from Putnam/Penguin:
To fight her destiny as the missing heir to a powerful and dangerous secret society, sixteen-year-old Avery West must solve an ancient puzzle in a deadly race across Europe. Forbidden love and code-breaking, masked balls and explosions, destiny and dark secrets collide in this romantic thriller, in the vein of a YA DaVinci Code. 
Avery West's newfound family can shut down Prada at the Champs-Elysees when they want to shop in peace, and can just as easily order a bombing when they want to start a war.
They are part of a powerful and dangerous secret society called the Circle of Twelve, and Avery is their missing heir. If they discover who she is, some of them will want to use her as a pawn. Some will want her dead.  
To thwart their plans, Avery must follow a trail of clues from the landmarks of Paris to the back alleys of Istanbul and through a web of ancient legends and lies. And unless she can stay one step ahead of beautiful, volatile Stellan, who knows she’s more than she seems, and can decide whether to trust mysterious, magnetic Jack, she may be doomed after all.

Maggie is a world traveler and has worked as a bookstore events coordinator and marketing manager. You can learn more about her at her website, follow her on Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, or join her at YA Misfits where she blogs about young adult literature.

Describe your workspace.
I literally work in a closet! I love really small spaces—I feel like I can block the world out more easily. When I was traveling and didn’t have my office, I would sometimes throw a blanket over my head to get that same enclosed feeling.
I occasionally do want a little light and space, though, and then I’ll settle in my living room, in this big comfy chair with a big comfy blanket . . . though it kind of makes me want to take a nap just thinking about it . . .

Describe a typical workday.
I like to write really early, before I can get distracted. I usually drag myself out of bed at 5:30 or 6am, grab a cup of coffee, and write as much as I can before the day officially starts. And then I kind of try to write the rest of the day, but usually don’t end up getting anything more done on actual writing until the evening.
List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.
I got the Eiffel Tower picture at a thrift store, and Paris is important in CONSPIRACY (plus, it’s pretty)!
You can’t see it very well, but on the right are bookmarks and postcards from some of my friends’ books—I love having them nearby!
And, of course, my cover. This is the first dust jacket I saw, and the first time I saw how the whole thing was really going to look! I freaked out a little.
Do you have any rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them.
I’ve traveled so much and learned to write so many weird places that I don’t have much of a ritual—when you’re writing on your phone on the floor of the Shanghai airport or on a train through Thailand, it’s hard to follow writing rituals too closely. I do like to listen to music while I work—that always gets me in the mood!
What do you listen to while you work?
All kinds of stuff. I have a playlist I’ve been using for the whole life of this book, and those songs can always get me in the mood to write! Here’s a link to it from forever ago, when the book had a different name! http://www.yamisfits.com/2012/09/band-geek-thursdays-maggies-playlist.html
What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?
Sour gummy worms. I have no idea why, but they taste like this book to me.
What keeps you focused while you’re working?
Deadlines! I swear, otherwise I would never be able to focus! Is there something that works for other people, because I’d like to know about it!
Do you write longhand, on a computer, or another way?
On the computer, always. I take a lot of notes in lots of notebook (and lots of random post-its, as you can see on the desk photo!), but I never actually write longhand.
How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?
I’m working on CONSPIRACY book 2 right now, and I’m definitely outlining. My favorite outlining tool is actually the Save the Cat Beat Sheet—it lets me put my ideas in a logical framework without having to be too precise about it. And of course, once I actually start writing, the story tends to take on a life of its own, but I do find that having an idea of where I’m going with it is really helpful.
If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?
Anyone I was sharing with would literally have to sit on my lap, so . . . hm. Can I say Chris Hemsworth, and I’ll sit on his lap? I think that would give me some good writing inspiration. ;)
Really, though, I’d say my writing friends. I would love having the smart, awesome people I’m lucky enough to call critique partners around to bounce ideas off of and to make me get back to work when I’m checking twitter for the millionth time. . .
What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received? 

Writing is rewriting. I have to remind myself over and over that the first draft doesn’t have to be perfect, and that the magic comes from editing. Otherwise, I’d worry too much and never get anything done!

Monday, January 12, 2015

A Peek at the Creative Space of Shallee McArthur

Joining us today for Creative Spaces is YA author Shallee McArthur. Shallee's debut novel, The Unhappening of Genesis Lee, was published last fall by Sky Pony Press: 

Seventeen-year-old Genesis Lee has never forgotten anything. As one of the Mementi—a small group of genetically-enhanced humans—Gena remembers everything with the help of her Link bracelets, which preserve memories perfectly. But Links can be stolen, and six people have already lost their lives to a memory thief, including Gena’s best friend.

Anyone could be next.

Which is why Gena is less than pleased to meet a strange but charming boy named Kalan who claims that they’ve not only met, but that Gena knows who the thief is.

The problem is, Gena doesn’t remember Kalan, she doesn’t remember seeing the thief, and she doesn’t know why she’s forgetting things—or how much else she might forget. As growing tensions between Mementi and ordinary humans drive the city of Havendale into chaos, Gena and Kalan team up to search for the thief. And as Gena loses more memories, they realize they have to solve the mystery fast.

Because Gena’s life is unhappening around her.

Kirkus Reviews said, "It’s the sensitive handling of emotional details and the trauma of too much connection that make this a story of interest. . . . For anyone fascinated with thoughts of omniscience and total social connection—and who isn’t?—McArthur’s debut suggests fascinating and chilling possibilities." 

To learn more about Shallee, visit her website or follow her on Twitter @ShalleeMcArthur.


I have a whole office to myself, which is a recent development I'm VERY grateful for. I've got my desk, bookshelf, and rocking chair for reading and relaxing. I have pictures and knick-knacks that inspire me, including things I've brought back from traveling and all my "nerd cred," like a Tardis and an R2D2 on my desk. I also have a pair of zebra finch birds who keep me happy!


I've got two young kids, so it varies! Some days, I can get work done in the morning while they play, and sometimes I play with them or (gasp!) do housework. One thing that stays consistent, though, is that when the toddler naps and the preschooler goes to school, I write. That time is SACRED. After that, I may or may not haul my laptop into the kitchen in the evenings to write near my husband.


1. My birds! Fred and George are zebra finches, and I LOVE those little guys. They actually are doctor-recommended therapy birds. I struggle with anxiety, but I also have multiple sclerosis, and side effects from anxiety meds don't work well for me with my MS. So my birds are there to help me through panic attacks and keep my general anxiety low. They actually help a lot more than I expected-- they are low-maintenance so they don't add to my anxiety, and their cheerful chirps and energy help reset my brain when it's anxious.

2. A painting of a cabin on a lake done by my great-grandmother. It used to hang in my grandpa's cabin, where my entire extended family would gather every Fourth of July. It keeps me near to beauty and to my wonderful and supportive family-- it hangs right next to my desk.

3. My "praying woman" carving. I bought it from a craftsman in Ghana, West Africa, so it means a lot for that reason alone (part of my heart still lives in Ghana!). I'm also a very religious person, and it reminds me to pray-- not just to ask for help, but to offer thanks to the God I feel has given me so much! 


Um...no, actually, now that I think about it! I just open my laptop and get to work. :)


I don't like to listen while I work, but sometimes I listen to specific songs that fit the book I'm working on before I work.


None! It distracts me too much.


I have to get in "the zone." If I force myself to not jump around on tasks and just focus on one at a time, I get so zoned in on what I'm doing that hours pass before I even realize it!


Computer. I have TERRIBLE handwriting, so writing long-hand isn't a good idea for me!


Usually I get an idea, play around with it and toss a bunch of ideas in a document, and then start a plot outline.


My friend Chersti, who's one of my crit partners. We tend to work really well together, and when we distract each other, it's fun and often even productive!


My freshman creative writing teacher in college told us there are only two things that matter in writing-- have a take, and don't suck. It reminds me that as long as I'm writing a story that's got my unique take on the world, and as long as I'm writing something that doesn't suck (which takes practice and a crit group!), that's all that matters. The millions of other "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts" about writing don't matter as long as I have a take and don't suck!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

What To Do With Advance Reader Copies

The advance copies for Book Scavenger arrived!!!! Hooray! I often hear authors discussing what to do with their advance copies. Now that I've had approximately eight hours of experience with my ARCs, I feel equipped to give advice. So here is what I did.

First, I opened the box:

Then, I did some of this:

Followed by this:

And some of this:

And then I got serious and did some of this:

And this:

And a little of this:

This was a good one:

And then there was this:

And, finally, this:

And there you have it, fellow and future authors. A bunch of ideas for what to do with your advance copies. Tomorrow I might dress them up in outfits. I really have a knack for this promotional stuff, don't I?

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Book Scavenger: The Cover!

The cover of my debut novel, Book Scavenger, was previously revealed on Mr. Colby Sharp’s blog along with an interview, but I also wanted to share a bit about it here.
When my editor emailed me with the name of the illustrator she had hired for Book Scavenger, I immediately googled her name: Sarah Watts. I was thrilled with what I found. Sarah is so talented, and her illustration style was exactly the direction I was hoping my publisher would go in. But appreciating someone’s artistic talent is not the same as knowing what your cover will look like. And then one day in November, my editor emailed me the final cover. I loved it. Absolutely loved it. I love how the burgundy of the title and the book Emily is holding pop against the blues. I love that you can see a gold bug on the miniature book cover, and that James’s hair is poking up, and that there are two birds hovering in the sky. I love the flying books, and even more so, I love how if I let my vision blur then the books take on the look of fog, which is such a staple of San Francisco. I love the running Emily and James next to my name. I love that this cover says “mystery” to me, but also sets the tone for the type of mystery that it is.
Did I mention I love my cover? Yeah, I do. April Ward designed this beauty, Sarah Watts created the cover art, and I am so thankful to them both.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A Peek at the Creative Space of Kerry O'Malley Cerra

Kerry O'Malley Cerra is a former high school history teacher who often incorporated historical fiction along with traditional textbooks to bring time periods to life. Just a Drop of Water, her first middle grade novel, was inspired by a deeply personal experience following the tragic events of September 11, 2001. You can read more about that inspiration on her website here. 

A summary of Just a Drop of Water from the publisher:

 Ever since he was little, Jake Green has longed to be a soldier and a hero like his grandpa, who died serving his country. Right now, though, he just wants to outsmart—and outrun—the rival cross country team, the Palmetto Bugs. But then the tragedy of September 11 happens. It’s quickly discovered that one of the hijackers lived nearby, making Jake’s Florida town an FBI hot spot. Two days later, the tragedy becomes even more personal when Jake’s best friend, Sam Madina, is pummeled for being an Arab Muslim by their bully classmate, Bobby.
According to Jake’s personal code of conduct, anyone who beats up your best friend is due for a butt kicking, and so Jake goes after Bobby. But soon after, Sam’s father is detained by the FBI and Jake’s mom doubts the innocence of Sam’s family, forcing Jake to choose between his best friend and his parents. When Jake finds out that Sam’s been keeping secrets, too, he doesn’t know who his allies are anymore. But the final blow comes when his grandpa’s real past is revealed to Jake. Suddenly, everything he ever knew to be true feels like one big lie. In the end, he must decide: either walk away from Sam and the revenge that Bobby has planned, or become the hero he’s always aspired to be.

Award-winning author Richard Peck has praised this novel saying, "This is history tensely told for readers too young to remember the moment when this century truly began." And Kirkus Reviews said, "Cerra does a good job of re-creating the combination of fear, confusion, patriotism, prejudice and community spirit the attack engendered, and readers should identify with Jake's plight. A perceptive exploration of an event its audience already sees as history."

Describe your workspace.

Honestly, I change up my workspace quite a bit. My most favorite place to write is at the beach—which, on most Florida days, looks like this.

I’m so lucky, right? I do my best thinking there. But, that’s a luxury I can’t have every single day, so most of the time I get to write in this beautiful office surrounded by wonderful books...and my dogs. (Confession, it’s rarely as clean as it looks in this photo. Three dogs and several kids cause such HUGE messes.)

Describe a typical workday.
Typical is not in my vocabulary. Does that really exist? I truly admire anyone who can set a routine for themself, and I’m sure I’d have a boatload more books in the world if I did have a “typical” daily routine, but, alas, I’m a mom and that comes first. I hate to admit it, but there are times I go weeks (and sometimes a few months) without writing. Shameful! It won’t be much longer before all of my kids are off on their own, so I’m okay with the writing time suffering, for now.
List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.
What a fun question! First, definitely my dogs. They are crazy, obnoxious, bark incessantly at lizards, birds, or whatever else might be outside. See that big window in the photo above. They have lots to look at, so it’s rarely quiet. On the flip side, they don’t bark when I read to them, even when it’s a sucky first draft. They’re so loyal!

Second, I’d have to say this really cool box my daughter made is a favorite object. Back when I was unpublished and still wallpapering my entire downstairs with rejection letters, she gave me this keepsake for Christmas with an awesome note telling me the multitude of reasons why I shouldn’t give up. Love her!

Third—but not last because there’s so much I love about my office—are the books on the shelves next to me. Most are written by friends and fellow SCBWI members, so it’s like writing with big, giant arms wrapped around me, whispering words of encouragement and reminding me what the end result can be. Sometimes we even have wine. J
Do you have any rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them.
I love scented candles and tend to pick a scent to carry me through each book. With Just a Drop of Water, I lit a Japanese Cherry Blossom candle each time I went in my office to work. I’m still looking for the prefect scent as I begin a new book soon.
What do you listen to while you work?
Other than my dogs barking, absolutely nothing. I cannot concentrate with any noise in the background. Unless of course I’m at the beach. Then it would be the sound of waves. Love!
What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?
*Hangs head in shame* I’m a Starbucks addict. You might as well just inject the vanilla chai latte directly into my veins. And, I simply cannot write without it. But, I’ve promise hubby to break this habit, unless I sell a gazillion copies of my book and can justify continuing down this expensive path. Hey, ya’ll, go buy a copy so I can keep Starbucks in business.
What keeps you focused while you’re working?
Nothing. Is there a trick to this? Maybe I should go read what other authors responded here so I can find out all the tricks. My mind wanders way too much…
Do you write longhand, on a computer, or another way?
I jot notes in lots of pretty spirals all the time. Especially when I’m with my critique group or get ideas while at a conference. Before I dive into a story, I try to do a plot clock, so I at least know where the story is going, what my MC wants, and what’s in his or her way. Then I can settle down with the computer for the actual writing.
How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?
I’ve never admitted this before, but I don’t think I have a muse. I read all the time about how authors have conversations with their characters, or how their main character is taking over the page while the author merely types in carefully dictated words. And every time I hear or read this, I wonder if the author is on something. Does this really happen? Characters speak to you? My books are written slowly. Each word is a struggle for me. Every sentence a chore to make sure I’m keeping in line with how my character would act or speak. I’m museless, but if he/she’s out there floating around, I hope they show up soon. My current revision sure could use it.
If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?
This may sound lame, but I’d actually love to share my space with my critique partners. It would be awesome to be able to bounce ideas off them when things popped in my head without having to wait for an email or text reply. I could do the same for them. But, then again, we might get all goofy and nothing would be accomplished.  (We’re missing one in this photo, but you can see, we tend to mess around a lot.)

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

Of course we all know this, and you, like me, have probably heard it from a countless other writers, but it’s something I found myself repeating many times during my publishing journey. This business is subjective—from getting an agent, to selling a book, to editing, and even reviews. Your work isn’t going to be for everyone. It won’t be liked by everyone. Find the right editor and the right agent. The ones who fall in love with your words and your story. That’s all it takes. Just one amidst the hundreds! They’re out there.

Thank you for stopping by Creative Spaces! To learn more about Kerry O'Malley Cerra and her writing, visit her website