Monday, November 28, 2011

A Peek at the Creative Space of Jo Ramsey

Joining us today for Creative Spaces is author Jo Ramsey. She is the author of the Reality Shift series and the Dark Lines series published with Jupiter Gardens Press. And this month she had two (yes, two!) YA novels published.

The first is Cluing In, published with Featherweight Press. Cluing In is about Jamey who breaks up with his girlfriend after their endless arguing only to learn that she's jumped into a relationship with another guy. Rumors fly about his ex-girlfriend and when she comes to Jamey for help, he refuses to listen, a decision he later regrets when his ex-girlfriend takes drastic action.

The second book now available is From the Ashes, the fifth installment in the Reality Shift series. In From the Ashes, Shanna is juggling both a potential new love interest who is taking her to the Harvest Dance at school and trying to prevent a dangerous entity from another reality from finding a portal into our universe.

There is also much to look forward to from Jo in 2012. She has--make sure your head isn't close to a counter surface when you read this because your jaw is going to drop--FIVE young adult novels scheduled for publication. (I'm pretty sure in the time it took me to put together this interview post, Jo drafted a new novel.) As a slow writer myself, you can bet I studied her responses for the secret to her productiveness. I've concluded it's a combination of experience, discipline, and organized dedication. She's an inspiring example of what can be possible if you set your mind to it.

To learn more about Jo Ramsey and her book visit her website, blog, YouTube channel, or follow her on Twitter.



Jo's desk, shelves, and wall of notes.



Describe your workspace.

In a word: cluttered. I share a computer room with my husband and my 13-year-old daughter. (My 16-year-old has a laptop and prefers to use it in the living room.) The room is supposed to be a child's bedroom, so it's pretty small, especially when all three of us are in it. My husband and my daughter each have their own desktop computer and desk, and then I have all the things you see in the photos.

My desk is an old drafting desk from the 1940s that I bought at a flea market ten or twelve years ago. I love the thing too much to get a bigger desk, even though I could really use one.

On the wall above my desk, I have . . .  everything. LOL. I have calendar pages for the current month and next month so I can keep track of appointments, blog appearances, and so forth. On a bulletin board on that wall, I keep track of my daily writing/promotion schedule, along with projects that are past first draft stage. I have notes on the wall, some that are reminders of things I need to do and some that are motivational. Above all that is my cover gallery; I print out a 5x8 copy of each of my book covers and just tape them to the wall. That isn't visible in the picture because there are some non-YA covers up there.

Next to the desk, I have a small set of shelves where I keep the binders that organize my several series (at last count, I'm dealing with four YA series and two, possibly three, romance series), printer paper, envelopes, etc. That's right beside the window next to my desk. The window looks out over our back porch and down the side street we're on the corner of.

In front of the window is my filing cabinet, where I keep family paperwork and my publishing contracts. It's one of my cat's favorite perches, because sunlight comes in the window most of the morning. Beside the filing cabinet is a large bookcase where I keep my "swag" (the postcards, bookmarks, etc. that I give away) and my author copies of my books.


Aubrey the cat next to Jo's shelves of books and swag.



On the other side of my desk from the shelves is a closet door that I've pretty much turned into a second bulletin board, and that's where I keep track of what projects I'm working on, which ones I need to work on next, and what's been accepted and released.

Where Jo keeps track of her works-in-progress.


Describe a typical workday.

There's no such thing in my world, really . . . If it's a weekday, I get up at 5:30, shower, fix a cup of tea, and then sit down at the computer to check emails and maybe do a little writing amidst getting my daughters up and off to school. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, after I drop off my 13-year-old at school, I go to work at my day job until about 1; on Tuesdays and Thursdays, after I drop her off I come home and get to work on some writing.

Most days, I try to write at least 1500 words on each of the projects I'm working on. Because I also write adult romance under a top-secret pen name, I'm almost always working on at least two projects. If I have edits from a publisher, or I'm working on something that's under deadline, those take priority. I also visit social networking sites, do blog posts and interviews (like this one), and if there's time I write a short story or article.

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

I think my most favorite is my cover gallery. Some of the cover art is absolutely stunning, in my opinion, and I love looking up there and realizing that I actually wrote all of those books. I've wanted to be a published author since I was about five, and having those covers there is visual confirmation that it's really happening now. Another favorite is one of the motivational quotes I have taped above my desk. It's something a friend said to me a couple years ago when I was very ill and facing major surgery. And the third thing is my desk, as I mentioned above. I've had it for such a long time, and it's been through a lot with me. And it was sold to me at the flea market by a good friend of mine who has since passed away, so it makes me think of him and how kind and supportive he was.


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

I started to say I don't have any rituals, but I guess I do.

I have a small markerboard on my desk, and each morning I list the things I hope to accomplish that day, both writing-wise and family-life-wise. When I finish the first draft of a story, I make a small tag with the title on it and tack that to the bulletin board above my desk, where it begins to move through my process; the board is broken into categories. Pre-Submission Edits; Waiting for Response (for things that I've submitted); Awaiting Publisher Edits; and Requested Publisher Edits. I also have a section for revise/resubmit requests (when a book isn't quite up to snuff, but the publisher's willing to give it a second chance if I fix some things) and for books that are ready to submit but I haven't yet decided where to send them.

When a book is accepted, I make a colored tag for it and put that on the closet door. When that book is released, I add the release date to the tag.

What do you listen to while you work?


I don't usually listen to anything. Music or other noise distracts me very easily most of the time. However, sometimes if it's too quiet I can't settle down to work, so I'll listen to my playlist on Playlist.com, which has such a variety of things I can't even begin to list all the songs or types of music.

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


In the mornings, I have tea and hot chocolate. Most of the rest of the day, I drink flavored "fizzy water" and pretend it's soda.

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

Some days, nothing does . . . Mostly it's sheer determination. I have attention issues, and if I don't clamp down on myself, my mind wanders everywhere except where it's supposed to go. Other days, I need music to help me, because the silence starts to bother me.

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


I write on a computer. It makes revising and editing much, much easier for me. Plus I've been doing it this way so long that I now type about twice as fast as I can write longhand, which lets the ideas flow more easily.

How do you develop your ideas?


When I get an idea, I usually make a few notes about it. Sort of a freeform brainstorm where I just write down the main characters and the major plot points that I think will be in the story. Then I start writing and see where the story ends up.

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

I'm already forced to share it. I guess if I have to share, my husband and daughter aren't too bad to share it with.

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

Just write. Don't get hung up on the first draft to the point that you don't even finish it; just write it and know that if it comes out a mess, you can fix it afterward. You can't revise or edit what isn't on the page.

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Peek at the Creative Space of Anna Staniszewski

Joining us today for Creative Spaces is author Anna Staniszewski. Her debut middle grade novel, My Very UnFairy Tale Life, was recently published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky. Here's a taste of My Very UnFairy Tale Life from Anna's website: 
"Is your magical kingdom falling apart? Twelve-year-old Jenny is on the case, whether she likes it or not. Saving the world might sound exciting, but for Jenny it’s starting to get old—even staying in the real world long enough to take a math test would be a dream come true! And when you throw in bloodthirsty unicorns, psychotic clowns, and the most useless gnome sidekick ever, Jenny decides that enough is enough. She’s leaving the adventuring business and not looking back. Or. . . is she?"
Publisher's Weekly said, Staniszewski’s debut is a speedy and amusing ride that displays a confident, on-the-mark brand of humor, mostly through Jenny’s wisecracking narration. . . the inventive and lighthearted premise will keep readers entertained.





In addition to her own blog, Anna (along with author Alisa Libby) maintains "First Page Panda", an online resource for readers to get previews of middle grade and young adult books.  

To learn more about Anna Staniszewski, visit her website and blog. And now, let's take a peek inside her workspace!


Describe your workspace.

I have a small office dedicated to writing. It's cozy and filled with books, but for some reason I've almost abandoned it recently. Instead, I've been curling up on the living room couch with my laptop. My posture hates me, but I guess I must like being in a nesting position when I'm being creative.

Describe a typical workday.

I teach part-time, so my schedule is different depending on the day, but typically I spend time in the morning answering emails, blogging, and doing other internet activities. Then I take the dog for a nice long walk and let my brain wander. After that, I like to get some writing or teaching-related work done. I find that I do my best writing in the late afternoon; often when dinnertime comes around I'm busy typing and don't even realize my stomach is growling. When I'm about to chew off my own arm, that's when I know it's time to quit.

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

1. My dog, Emma. She's a huge distraction but also a comfort to have nearby.





2. My notebook. Whenever I'm feeling particularly stuck on a character or plotline, I get out my notebook and start jotting down ideas to get the creative juices flowing again.

3. My craft book collection. I'm a tiny bit obsessed with books on the craft of writing. I use them quite a bit in my teaching, but I also find that a touch of writing wisdom from James Scott Bell or Donald Maass is often just what I need to give me a fresh perspective on my WIP.

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

When I'm ready to dive into a long writing session, I usually have to make some tea before I can start. And maybe nibble on a cookie or two. Baked goods, warm beverages, and writing all seem to go together.


What do you listen to while you work?

I can't really listen to music while I work, especially if it has lyrics, but I've found that having a Red Sox game on low volume in the background while I'm revising creates the perfect amount of white noise for me. (And, as an added bonus, I can cheer when something exciting happens.)

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

Earl gray tea with a touch of milk and sugar, Fig newtons, and chocolate!

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

I'll be honest: sometimes nothing keeps me focused! When I'm having a really hard time keeping my mind on work, I set a timer for twenty minutes and force myself to buckle down for that time. After that, I can usually get into the groove of things. I do find that when I'm revising, I'm usually much more motivated than when I'm drafting. I think that's because drafting is often messy and meandering, whereas revising is more orderly and analytical; I'm a control freak, so I like making things nice and organized.

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

I mostly write on the computer, but when I'm brainstorming or trying to solve a problem, that's when I get out the pen and paper.

How do you develop your ideas? 

Very very slowly! I usually start with a bare-bones idea and add layers to it as I go. My first drafts tend to be very dialogue-heavy, essentially just characters standing around talking about their problems. In revisions, I try to figure out how to turn those conversations into action.

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

My husband and I shared an office for a couple of years and it actually worked out pretty well. We would distract each other sometimes with funny YouTube videos and such, but when it was time to get to work, we were pretty good at focusing. It felt nice to be working together side-by-side.

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

A friend and writing partner had this bit of wisdom when I was querying my first novel and not having much success: "Maybe this isn't the book that's going to get you published." I realized she was right, and that I just had to keep working on new projects. My next manuscript landed me an agent, and the one after that got me a publishing contract. I learned that you always have to keep creating; you never know which book will be The One.

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Peek at the Creative Space of C. Lee McKenzie

Joining us this week for Creative Spaces is writer C. Lee McKenzie. She is the author of two young adult novels, The Princess of Las Pulgas and Sliding on the Edge.

The Princess of Las Pulgas was published in 2010 by Westside Books. From Lee's website, "Carlie Edmund has everything: a loving family, good friends, a perfect home and wealth and status; then in her junior year of high school all of that changes. How will Carlie take on the challenges of living in a different world, a world where she doesn't "fit" and where nothing is as it should be?"

In Sliding on the Edge (published in 2009 by Westside Books), "Shawna Stone is sixteen going on twenty-five. Already deeply scarred, she has learned to survive with a tough attitude and a thin blade. Her journey is destined to be short. Sliding on the Edge enters the world of a desperate teen and her disillusioned grandmother, each with secrets that stir mutual distrust. As these two unlikely companions struggle to co-exist we are reminded that the human spirit has the capacity to overcome even the deepest suffering." 

To learn more about C. Lee McKenzie, visit her website or her blog.




Describe your workspace.

I love this idea of describing where a person creates. I've often imagined the settings where Dickens or Austen wrote and wondered how those places influenced the words they set down. I feel like the luckiest person when I consider my workspace--I actually have two. The first is my desk upstairs in my office where I do a lot of my writing. While it's always in chaos, it looks out onto a redwood forest where there's no human noise most of the time. My office is filled with lots of bird noise and squirrel activity. One daring Wallenda-type squirrel, high-wires it across the front of my house daily. He's the only critter that I stop writing for, and I think he has to be some kind of inspiration. My second workspace is in my garden where I love to take a print out of my WIP to read or where I like to read what others have written.



Describe a typical workday.

I can't say I have a typical workday. I'm not an "organized" writer in any sense of the word. Some days I write nothing, but others I'll fill up pages. I've stopped worrying about goals and word counts and just let whatever happens be enough. I have days when what I write might as well be a grocery list. Then along comes all of this prose that I love. It's an amazing process and, as I see it, my job is to appreciate the good and the bad that is part of that process.

If there's anything typical at all, it would be that I'm up early--about 4 or 5 when I'm writing. Usually I can't sleep anyway because I'm writing in my head. I seldom write at night.

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

The view is my most favorite thing. When I need some perspective on what's important in a story or in my life, I just have to look out at the redwoods. That perspective is there. I love my computer. I switched from a PC a few years ago, something I never thought I'd do because I'd always been a PC user. I got so tired of all the hacking, and then they came out with Vista and that did it. I'm an Apple user now. My desk is the third thing I adore! It's huge. I used to have this old-fashioned roll-top that I'd lugged around with me for sentimental reasons. It never had enough room. Then I splurged on my super modern wrap around the room desk. It's always a mess, but I have more room for that mess now and that makes me happy.


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

I know it's a quirky ritual, but I like to wear my hoodie when I write. Well, it's really a signal to my family. When I'm at the computer with my hood up that means DO NOT TALK TO ME UNLESS THE HOUSE IS ON FIRE. When it's not up I'm only dealing with email or blogging, so they can ask me anything then.


What do you listen to while you work?

Nothing. I love to write when there's silence around me because there's so much noise inside my head. The characters are yammering on and on, my muse is doing her "Now you've got it" mantra, and my self-doubt editor is trying to get her two cents in. Silence, please!


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

Coffee is my morning must. I splurged again and this time on an espresso maker so I could have the very best first-cup-in-the-morning coffee. Now, I'm a caffeine snob and can turn down anything perked.


What keeps you focused while you’re working?

That's hard. When I'm into a story focus isn't an issue. I enter the story, see the place where it's happening, hear the people as they talk or think, and am a part of the action. When I'm trying to find a story, distraction is my middle name and I find it hard to sit at my desk. I often leave the house, take a hike or walk up to the creek a few miles away. That helps me think and get my focus back.

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

Mostly I write on the computer, but I do take notes on just about anything at hand if I'm not at my desk. I have odd looking grocery receipts with things like, "Don't kill the dog in scene three, chapter two." written on the back.

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

Once I have an idea, I try to wrestle that onto the page in a single sentence. I put that sentence in the header of my document, so it appears on each page. As I write, I use that as a guide. Sometimes I change it when the story wants to go in a slightly different direction. I've found this sentence to be a real challenge, but if I don't take the time to write it I'm always sorry. Besides, if I happen to be stuck in an elevator with an important agent or editor and the conversation turns to what I'm writing, I have my "elevator pitch" ready. Very handy.

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

My cat, Al. I call him the "Fur Person." I'd share that space with him, but nobody else. He's the only writer who understands me and my writing style. He even knows when to curl around the keyboard and offer suggestions. No other person can do that.

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

Write in scenes. That helped me a lot. Instead of having to tackle a whole book or chapter in my head, I can think about a small, but meaningful chunk of writing. If I can write one good scene, then another will follow and another until I have a chapter, until I have a book. Yep. That advice has been invaluable.