Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Interview with the ever-awesome Erica Cameron!

Hello Lovely Readers!

I’m excited to bring you a quirky, but awesome (always awesome) interview with my good friend and basically my sister, Erica Cameron (me, with glasses; her, without):

She has a book-baby in ARC form right now that’s slated to come to press exactly one month from this date (that would be March 4th!) called Sing Sweet Nightingale, book one in The Dream War Saga series brought to you by the wonderful Spencer Hill Press. See the picture below for the gorgeous cover or click here for the cover AND a synopsis of the book.

I’ve the immense privilege to see the many stages of this particular book as well as its growth into a truly amazing book. Take my word for it when I say that you will be addicted to this series!

Asja: First off, congratulations! I know it’s been somewhat of a roller coaster ride, from the beginning of Sing up to now. Can you talk about what this past year has been like for you? And please, do include the juicy details.

Erica: Just the past year? Sure! I started the year out by attending the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (aka, SCBWI) Miami conference in January. This particular conference is amazingly well run and I highly recommend it to anyone who can get down to Florida in January. It was here that I met Michael Stearns of Upstart Crow Literary. I paid for a critique and he read pages of a fantasy novel I had started working on. It was called THE TRIAL then. It’s now titled DESERTED and I’m hoping someone buys it because I love this world. Sword fights and magic and desert islands and sarcastic boys and just omg. Anyway, Michael loved the pages and he introduced me to Danielle Chiotti, another agent at Upstart. She signed me less than a month later. A couple of days after our partnership was official, I received my first official edit letter for SING SWEET NIGHTINGALE from my editors Danielle Ellison and Patricia Riley. I emphasize official because I had already been revising the book for a few months based just on conversations I’d had with my editresses. Still, this letter was epically long. As in, I currently hold the record within Spencer Hill for longest edit letter. It’s a dubious honor. With agent-Danielle’s help, I only minorly freaked the eff out and managed to essentially rewrite the book in six weeks. Then there was another round of edits. And another. And another.

In between all of that, my editresses were lovely enough to invite me to attend the photo shoot for the cover of my book! The concept for the cover changed quite a few times, but we’d finally landed on something the Spencer Hill team, me, and photographer/designer Jeremy West were all pleased with. Being there to meet the models and watch Jeremy and his team (aka his twin brother Jeffrey and his girlfriend Lauren) work was so fun! Even being there, seeing the final cover was still a shock. His work is gorgeous! I am so pleased with how it all came together. I got to share his work with the world at Book Expo America 2013 (with my Asja there to be my entourage this time!). Spencer Hill set up a cool cover reveal, I did an interview with Jeremy in Central Park where we talked about the cover (click here, click here!) and the series, and I was able to read half of the first  chapter of the book without passing out, which I felt was a huge accomplishment given how nervous I was about the whole thing.

After that, guess what? More editing. In between all of the editing on SING, though, I was also writing book 2 (title will be revealed after SING releases!), writing the second book in a contemporary series I co-authored with Lani, working on DESERTED, and bombarding my agent-lady with more project ideas and drafts than she could possibly handle from one client. I turned in the first draft of book 2 in The Dream War Saga in June right after BEA. Edits for SING finished with a quick turnaround on copyedits in November and then, with my brain firmly melting out my ears, I gave up for the rest of the year and slipped into some kind of mental hibernation…. Until mid-December when I got the first edit letter for book 2 and the process started all over again.

A: Can you tell the story of how you got to where you are right now? You know, the one where you pitch this epic story at a party and then magic happens?

E: I swear this story will never get old.  

A: It really, really doesn’t!

E: So I was in Manhattan for Book Expo America even though I had NO REASON to be there. I wasn’t an author (just a wannabe) or an agent or an editor or even a blogger. I blogged, but not book reviews. And my number of followers could be counted on my hands and feet. I was there to serve as support and entourage for my friend Lani Woodland. One night after BEA, Lani had this party to go to in Tribeca. Since she hasn’t spent much time in the city and didn’t know the subways at all, she asked me to come with her to make sure she got there all right. The problem was that I hadn’t been invited to this party and there was a strict guest list because of fire code (the party was being held in this rooftop solarium in a building right on the Hudson River… which I should have seen as a sign considering my male MC’s name is Hudson). I didn’t want Lani getting lost, so I decide to escort her down there. Then when I got there I had to use the bathroom, so I talked my way past the guard on the door and then I kind of just… didn’t leave. What can I say? The sun was setting and the view from that rooftop was gorgeous. The first sign that something magical was in the air that night was when Lani and I started talking to this girl from London, Lizzy, the fiancé of a YA author whose first book was about to launch. Through a strange conversation Lani and I discover that Lizzy is best friends with a girl I went to middle school with. In Fort Lauderdale. Small world, right?

A bit later, while I’m trying very hard to stay to the edges of the party so no one realizes I’m not supposed to be there and asks me to leave, Lani starts up a conversation with Danielle Ellison on the other side of the roof. She talks about her books and then, because she is the awesomest best friend ever, she starts talking about mine. Danielle is intrigued, so Lani pulls me over to meet her and Danielle says, “So tell me about your book.” And, of course, my mind goes completely blank. So blank, I swear I almost asked, “What book?” I must have managed to say something interesting and semi-coherent because Danielle gives me her card and asks me to send her the manuscript when I have a chance and then drags me across the roof and introduces me to Patricia Riley, her co-editor, she says.

“Tell Patricia about your book,” Danielle says. So I do. And then I get this moment:

Patricia: “Oh my God!”
Danielle: “I know, right?!”

And that’s when I fell in love with both of them. I was completely giddy for the rest of the evening and, of course, emailed them the manuscript as soon as I had a stable internet connection. Less than a month later, I had an offer. Very soon after that, I had a contract. All because I crashed a party.

Even weirder? Though I didn’t know it at the time, also present at the party that night were my future cover designer/photographer, my future cover model, and my future editorial assistant. I swear there was something in the air that night.

A: So, what are you going to do on March 4th?

E: What would I like to be doing? Somehow connecting with readers who have just discovered my book! What will I actually be doing? Working. Probably editing the sequel to SING and then heading in to the day job. *sigh* Oh the glamorous life of an author! However, I will be attending the NoVaTEEN Book Festival in Arlington, Virginia on March 8! I am very excited to be taking part in that whole event and I think it’s a phenomenal way to cap the official week of SING’s release. :D

A: What was the first book-like story you wrote? What happened to it and could it make a reappearance as you come into your own as a full-fledged author?

E: Well, first first is the mystery novella I wrote for a school assignment in eighth grade. And, no. That will NEVER appear in public. Then I attempted a fantasy novel in high school that was really well-disguised fanfiction of Tamora Pierce’s work, but I never finished it because I really had no idea what I was doing. I wrote short stories in my college writing classes, but didn’t attempt another book-length original work until I had almost graduated. In 2007, I wrote a story about these beings of energy who were where the mythology of angels came from. They were secretly the guardians of humanity, but they followed a very strict set of rules concerning what they were and weren’t allowed to do. My angel Xander broke all of those rules with the human girl, Sam, he was guarding. I queried it and got a fair amount of positive feedback from agents (one almost signed me), but in the end it went nowhere. Which is a good thing. There were a lot of corners I’d written myself into within that universe and I realized halfway through writing book 2 that I didn’t know how to get out of them and the whole thing needed to be scrapped and restarted. This world will probably never come back in the form I originally imagined it, however I have realized that I pulled some of the concepts I’d pictured for this universe and incorporated them into The Dream War Saga. So, in a way, we’re getting a version of the story now. A better one.

A:This is your first full book (cue the happy dances and boy band fan teenager-like screaming). How’s that feel?

E:There are really no words, so:

Yep. That about sums it up.

A: Can you talk about the color blue? I’ve read some of your rough work and we’ve spoken about your tendency to have blue pens, blue notebooks, blue hair (yes, I’m talking about Aisling, who makes her first appearance in the already published short story “Whatever It Takes” from the anthology Doorways to Extra Time and then comes back for us in the Dream War Saga). What is this default and how do you accommodate for it come editing time?

E: Of course. You would bring up the blue, wouldn’t you? ;)

A: I really couldn't resist.

E: Blue is my favorite color. Cobalt and cerulean and that bright, brilliant turquoise-ocean-blue color top the favorite shades list, but really any blue will do. I find it soothing and beautiful. What I didn’t realize until my editors pointed it out is that it’s also my default color for ANYTHING. Cars, pens, shirts, whatever. It all ended up blue. Now I’m more careful about when I use the color, but the early draft of SING was incredibly blue. Which is a bad thing because there is actual significance to the color blue within the book and all those extra blue things totally diluted that. So they had to go.

Aisling’s hair, however, stayed. :D

A: What’s next?

E: Well, I have a contemporary series and a fantasy series out on submission right now, so hopefully one (or both) of those sell and THAT will be what’s next. As for works in progress, that’s up in the air right now. I pitched a few different contemporary ideas, a post-apocolyptic idea, a thriller idea, and a co-written quasi-historical quasi-fantasy idea at my agent. I’m waiting to see which one she goes for before I start writing.

A: What are you reading right now?

E: I just finished Phoenix Island by John Dixon and now I’m working on The Violet Hour by Whitney A. Miller. Both of these are intense, creepy, and beautifully written 2014 debut novels by other members of the OneFour Kid Lit group. It’s a fantastic collection of young adult and middle grade authors and everyone should check out the site to find some amazing new talent!

A: Tell us a bit about the editing process. What kills you? What makes you a happy writer?

E: I actually enjoy the editing process a lot. The initial shock of seeing a huge letter that explicitly explains all the things you did wrong may still suck, but I really trust my editorial team and my agent. If they say something isn’t working, it isn’t working. I start fixing it. As opposed to drafting, when I’m editing, I already know the characters and the world and where the story is going, so shifting things around and bringing out some traits and subplots or maybe suppressing others is a lot easier. It’s fine-tuning, adjusting, instead of trying to come up with everything from scratch. The thing I hate most is getting rid of characters. Not necessarily killing them (sometimes, that needs to happen), but cutting them out of the book. Completely erasing their existence. I love my characters, so deleting them entirely is even harder for me than killing them. What makes me happy is getting through the revisions and seeing the book take a shape I didn’t even realize was buried underneath, like my editors gave me a map and I found a new place none of us had ever seen before. It’s a beautiful thing.

A: What are the perfect writing conditions for you?

E: Writing or editing, I like to be somewhere with just a little bit of distraction. I tend to work well in places like Panera or Starbucks, somewhere I can pick a chair, plug in my Surface, and not worry about anything but getting as many words in Word as possible in one day.

A: Do you keep a journal or is there another way that you continue to practice your art?

E: I am so bad at journaling. Really. I’ve tried several times to make myself do that, but it just… doesn’t happen! I’ll start off okay but then it trails off. For me, drafting a new book is practice and the editing process is honing the craft. Reading is research and looking for inspiration and real life is fodder for the rest of it.

A: Who’s on your wishlist for back-of-book-blurbs?

E: For SING or my fantasy series, Tamora Pierce, definitely. She’s one of the first authors I fell in love with and I’ve read almost everything she’s ever written. Stephenie Meyer, too, because her books got me back into writing during college and she’s just an amazing person. I’d also love to have Dan Wells, Brandon Sanderson, Cinda Williams Chima, Suzanne Collins, and Cassandra Clare. For my contemporary, Elizabeth Eulberg, Simone Elkeles, Ally Carter, Jay Asher, and Libba Bray are all incredible.

A: How/Where did Erica-the-writer begin?

E: So early I can’t even remember. Although that mystery novel in eighth grade, I’ve been a reader since before I realized there was any other way to be. Books have always been my favorite pastime and writing my own stories was a natural evolution of that for me.

A: What do you do for the always dreaded writer’s block?

E: My brain tends to work on a feast or famine system. I will go through stages where all I want to do is write. Or read. Or watch TV on Netflix while I’m making jewelry. And then, suddenly, I’ll be tired of that one thing and I’ll want to switch to something else. Although there was a period of a few years in between my first novel and SING (which is my third completed original book) where I didn’t write much, I’ve never been so blocked that when I sat down with the intention of working on something, nothing came out. It may be slow going some days, but the words are still there. And every time I have an idea for a book, even if I’m not sure if it’ll go anywhere, I write it down. Whatever comes in to my head with the idea—whether it’s a scene or a basic plot or a character or whatever—I write that down and stick it in it’s own folder in a file I have that’s called The Back Burner. There are twenty folders in there right now with ideas in various stages. And then I have my Novels folder which has the more fleshed out projects. There are eleven folders in there, including The Dream War Saga folder. And then I have the folder for my co-written projects. And there’s two series and one standalone in that folder. In other words, if I get stuck, I go through all of these folders until I find something that calls to me and I start working.

A: Do you have a writing routine? What is it and could you walk us through a typical writerly day in Erica Cameron’s life?

E: Right now I am working at a live-in rehab center for teens, I teach English there, but because of the way their system is set up, I only work two and a half hours a day. Plus extra time for tutoring if the kids sign up for it. So in the mornings, I’ll wake up and go to Panera, work on whatever my current project is (most recently it has been the edits on book 2), then I’ll come home to have lunch and go to work. Now that SING is so close to releasing, that time in the morning may be spent updating my website or posting on Twitter about the contest I’m running right now (contest, yay!) or answering interview questions (like this insanely long one).

A: What are some of your favorite books/authors?

E: I’ve heard it said that asking a reader to pick a favorite book is like asking a parent to pick a favorite child. It depends on the day you ask. In general, though, I adore Tamora Pierce, Stephenie Meyer, Jacquelyn Carey, Jim Hines, Dan Wells, A.R. Kahler, Garth Nix, Brandon Sanderson, Jasper Fforde, Jay Asher, Laurie Halse Anderson, and… yeah. I could keep going and going, so I’ll stop there.

A: Any last words of wisdom or advice that you’d like to leave our readers with?

E: Life advice? I’m not really sure I’m the one to offer that, but…. Do what makes you happy. Life is too short to be miserable. Sometimes you may have to make sacrifices you’re not thrilled with to get where you want to go, but don’t let that cost outweigh the benefits of finally reaching your goal.

As far as writing advice goes, ask questions of authors when you get the chance to meet them, listen to what they have to say, and if something resonates with you, try it their way. However, there is no correct way to write and no one path to publication. The correct way is whatever way works for you and gets the story you want to tell on paper. The path that will get you published is the one you pave yourself. No one else’s will work for you.

A: And finally, give us the speal. Tell us the important details, how we can follow you and the beginning to your wonderful series. Everything but your social security number.

E: I am all over the interwebs! (seriously… you may regret asking this question…) I have two websites, one for me and all of the books I will one day write, one for only Dream War Saga related things. You can also find me on Twitter, Facebook (again, for myself and for The Dream War Saga), Tumblr (on here I have three: Mine, Dream War's official page, and The Mystical Demystified  which will become my go-to place for fan questions on the Dream War Saga), and also Pinterest

Annnnd there you have it! Leave a comment, follow Erica, buy her book when it comes out, buy her book when it comes out. BUY IT...

Thanks for reading friends, hope you enjoyed :D

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