Category Archives: Reviews and Interviews

How do authors make a living? (or, approaching the middle class of writerdom)

It surprises many people to learn (people not in the industry, anyway), that the majority of authors do not make a living off of their writing. Not exclusively, at least.

I’m not saying it’s impossible, or that it doesn’t happen, or that it won’t happen for you. I honestly hope it does! Between advances, royalties, and options I’m sure Stephen King doesn’t have to consider whether to take that editing job or not.

I think it’s good to be aware, though, that most authors are in what Cory Doctorow refers to as “the middle class of writerdom.” i.e. they have day jobs. Same goes for every kind of artist: dancer, actor, musician, painter, etc.

Below, in an interview with Bill Kenower, Doctorow speaks of having been surrounded by “working authors” when he was young, which gave him an appreciation for where he is today.

Even though I have quit my day job, and I earn quite a good living writing, I never take it for granted, and I never assume that all writers will do it or that it’s just hard work and talent. I understand that what I’ve got is the combination of, yes, hard work and talent, but also a lot of luck.
~Cory Doctorow

I know authors who have gotten sweet advances, who have become self-published successes, who have optioned their books as movies, or who write 3 books a year and consistently end up on the best seller list. And those I know who live solely off of their writing work extremely hard to do so (they’ve also become marketing machines, which truthfully is time not spent writing, but part of the game these days).

But mostly, I know authors who are teachers, librarians, microsoft workers, A/V workers, and accountants. And I know other artists who are dog-walkers, bartenders, and event producers. As long as they find time for their creativity, they’re not going crazy.

Some people, like my husband, get panicky at the thought of not having a regular paycheck every 2 weeks, while the idea of having a 9-to-5 job makes me short of breath. For the past 20 years I have primarily lived my life contract to contract and pieced together a living for myself. My finances have always fluctuated.

Yes, I still fantasize about that mega hit that will keep me afloat for years to come, but in the meantime, I’ve created my own “writer’s life.” It all depends upon your level of comfort and if others are financially dependent upon you. If you prefer the consistency of a 9-to-5 job, by all means, stay there while you carve out your writing life.

But I do encourage you to take risks. I believe if you reach toward a writing life, and allow space for it, if you’re willing to get creative with your lifestyle and career, you can do things that are related to your art and may fulfill you more than just another “job.”

My other two loves are teaching and performing, so I’ve been fortunate to be able to incorporate those into my career. Below is a list of all the things I’ve done to earn money to supplement my income since my first novel was published:

ESL tutor
creative writing tutor
story editor
script reviewer
studio teacher
creative writing instructor
school author visits
book club author visits
convention instructor / speaker

Other than ESL and studio teacher, everything else has been related to being an author, which makes me happy. If you assess your skills and passions, I’m sure you, too, could create a satisfying life that supplements your writing.

What have you done to create your author life? How have you gotten creative around your work?


Filed under behind the scenes, Reviews and Interviews, writing life

Middle Grade Mondays: ALA Con Books for Boys (2013 Preview Part Two)

Last weekend I attended the ALA Midwinter Confence and returned with a suitcase full of books, an iPhone full of cover shots, and an earful about the fabulous books being released in 2013. It was really difficult to limit it to just a few, so I decided to focus specifically on books for boys.

IMG_0572Prisoner 88 by Leah Pileggi
Charlesbridge, July 2013

Since Ms. Ying Ling mentioned it in her comment last time, I thought I would talk about Prisoner 88, which was recommended to me when I said the middle school group I’m working with was predominantly boys.

This debut novel is “inspired” by the true story of a 10 year old boy (James Oscar Baker), the youngest prisoner in the history of the Idaho Territorial Penitentiary. From the back cover of the ARC:

Convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 5 years, Jake is taken under the wing of a young guard and the kindly warden, as well as a few fellow prisoners. He is taught to read and given a job tending hogs at a nearby farm. In prison, Jake finds a home he has never had in a place most people are desperate to leave. But when he has to make a choice about right and wrong during an explosive escape attempt, Jake jeopardizes his friendships and his security.

It’s historical fiction and not the true story of what happened to the real “Jake,” although the author does provide some information about that at the end of the book. For those looking for books for reluctant boy readers, this might do the trick. At 136 pages, it will be a quick read. (But apparently not quick enough for Danika to do an actual review. Hey, I’ve got a lot of books going on right now!)

I also thought this would make for excellent class discussion on any number of topics: How old does someone have to be to know the difference between right and wrong (they key in the real boy being tried for manslaughter)? How old does someone need to be in order to be sent to jail? What was the penitentiary system like back in the 1800’s and how was it improved?

TwerpAnother “boy book” inspired by real life (this time the author’s own experiences growing up in 1960s Queens,) that came highly recommended was Mark Goldblatt’s Twerp. Goldblatt is mostly known as a political commentator. This is his first novel for younger readers.

Twerp by Mark Goldblatt
Random House, May 2013

It is a “humorous and heartfelt” story of male friendship and bullying:

Julian Twerski isn’t a bully. He’s just made a big mistake. So when he returns to school after a weeklong suspension, his English teacher offers him a deal: if he keeps a journal and writes about the terrible incident that got him and his friends suspended, he can get out of writing a report on Shakespeare. Julian jumps at the chance. And so begins his account of life in sixth grade–blowing up homemade fireworks, writing a love letter for his best friend (with disastrous results), and worrying whether he’s still the fastest kid in school. Lurking in the background, though, is the one story he can’t bring himself to tell, the one story his teacher most wants to hear.

There is seriously a lot of buzz about this one on the Interwebs. I’m bummed I did not get an ARC of this one and will be on a mission to find it when it comes out. I’ve been stressing the need for more humour in contemporary MG/YA books.

paradoxAnd finally, for something a little less reality-based, Paradox, is a new YA sci fi novel. It’s listed for 12 years old and up, so a good one for the older MG boy.

NOTE – I was told this is not the final cover.

Paradox by A.J. Paquette
Random House, July 2013

Billed as a book for fans of James Dashner’s Maze Runner (also listed as a 12+ book, though that seems a bit young for the violence if you ask me), the rep was pretty ga-ga over this one. She said she really liked the strong female protagonist, the real-life issues that the characters deal with (even though it’s a sci fi), and the plot twist (which she revealed to me, but I won’t spoil a book before it’s even released):

Ana only knows her name because of the tag she finds pinned to her jumpsuit. Waking in the featureless compartment of a rocket ship, she opens the hatch to discover that she has landed on a barren alien world. Instructions in her pocket tell her to observe and to survive, no doubt with help from the wicked-looking knives she carries on her belt. But to what purpose?

Meeting up with three other teens–one boy seems strangely familiar–Ana treks across the inhospitable landscape, occasionally encountering odd twists of light that carry glimpses of people back on Earth. They’re working on some sort of problem, and the situation is critical. What is the connection between Ana’s mission on this planet and the crisis back on Earth, and how is she supposed to figure out the answer when she can’t remember anything?

On a side note, Paquette is also author of a book for slightly younger MG readers called Nowhere Girl, which looks like it’s definitly worth picking up. Has anyone read it?

10583281Luchi Ann only knows a few things about herself: she was born in a prison in Thailand. Her American mother was an inmate there. And now that her mother has died, Luchi must leave the only place she’s ever known and set out into the world. Neither at home as a Thai, because of her fair skin and blond hair, nor as a foreigner, because of her knowledge of Thai life and traditions, Luchi feels as though she belongs nowhere. But as she embarks on an amazing adventure-a journey spanning continents and customs, harrowing danger and exhilarating experiences-she will find the family, and the home, she’s always dreamed of. Weaving intricate elements of traditional Thailand into a modern-day fairy tale unique unto itself, Nowhere Girl is a beautifully rendered story of courage, resilience, and finding the one place where you truly belong.

There are an overwhelming amount of books I’ve left out for sure. One of the things I really enjoyed about the conference was the pure authentic enthusiasm each publisher’s rep had about particular books. They would get starry eyed, some even teary-eyed, when they spoke of their favorites. A few, yes, even hugged the books while they described them to me.

For more Middle Grade mayhem, visit Shannon Messenger’s blog. And have a great week. Happy reading.


Filed under conferences and festivals, Middle Grade Mondays, Reviews and Interviews

The Magic Appreciation Tour: Guest William English

Everyone knows there’s been a rise in small presses and self-published authors. With today’s technology, the publishing process is easier. But getting the book noticed is another story.

There are myriad online campaigns, collaborations, and social networks that cater to authors looking to connect with an audience. The Magic Appreciation Tour is one of them. Focusing on fantasy with magical elements (rather than, say vampiric), the Magic Appreciation Tour’s goal is to “help you find new books to read and learn about the authors who wrote them.”

This week I spoke with writer William English, who writes fantasy short stories (with a splash of horror). Even though some of his characters are young, he considers the material fiction for adults.

Hi William! I’ve been delinquent on the Magic Appreciation Tour. It was just one too many commitments to add to my plate! How have you taken advantage of it? For writers thinking of joining the next tour, what recommendations do you have to get the most out of it?

It helps that I just got a new blog. I would recommend you make sure your blog has a following first before signing up. I didn’t when I signed up so I couldn’t take full advantage of the tour this time around.
So… why short stories? Have you always loved them?

Why not *laughs*? No I haven’t always loved them. When I was younger I found them boring, mostly because English teachers would shove the most depressing and tedious ones they could find down my throats. I didn’t start reading and enjoying them until college when I picked up Neil Gaiman’s ‘Smoke and Mirrors,’  I was hooked after that.

As far as writing them goes; when I started out I only wanted to write novels and only novels. But I would start working on a novel, and then I would come to a point where I looked over what I had written and realize, rather dramatically, “It sucks” and set it aside. Short stories, I found, were a great way to hone my skills as a writer, because if I work with a smaller canvas  I could analyze it, fix it accordingly and then apply the lessons I learned in the process apply them to bigger projects. But to make a long story short: I just discovered that I liked writing them, so I kept at it.

Who are some of your favorite short story writers? Who would you recommend to those interested in reading more good short stories?

I have a lot, but some of my favorites include William Faulkner, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Ray Bradbury (I could read him all day), Cordwainer Smith and some Japanese writers like Haruki Murakami and Ryusouke Akutagawa. I would recommend the ones I named as well.

I’ve only read the first four, I’ll have to check out the others, especially the Japanese writers. I need to expand my horizons.

Do you write in other forms as well?

I write some poetry and I want to get back to writing novels too. I also want to try writing a screenplay, graphic novels and video games at some point too.

I love this line from the description of your book: “… a land where Dragons fly and the devil only wants to talk.” What would the devil talk about?

For what its worth: I always pictured him as a very petulant, whiny person with too much power and an inflated ego. So maybe he would talk about how much he wants people to stop asking him when his reign is gonna start? To be perfectly honest, I didn’t put much thought into the story the devil is in. It still baffles me why every one I show it too loves it so much.

Sometimes the ones that flow out effortlessly are our best. And it seems to us that shouldn’t be the case because writing should be hard work!

Your stories are an interesting mix of contemporary and fantasy (with a touch of horror) – how would you describe them?

I always think of my work as fantasy. To me, all fiction is fantasy, regardless of what elements are used.

How do your stories come to you? Where do you start or is it different every time?

Sometimes it starts with an idea, a dream, a character and then sometimes, more often than I would like, it’s just a random thought that won’t stop bugging me. As for where I start, I often try write a skeletal plot outline and then let my imagination fill in the blank spots when I start writing proper. Other times I just start typing or writing long hand and before I know whats happening I have a story.

What made you decide to self-publish? For those thinking of doing the same, what are the pros and cons?

I was too impatient to be published [the traditional way]. I had been sending stories out to magazine publications (like Weird Tales or the now defunct Realms of Fantasy) for years and was going nowhere fast. My mother and my Aunt suggested that I publish on the Kindle or some other device. I resisted the idea for a while. Then, finally, I gave in and put ‘Walking With Summer Dreams’ together and published it on and The Kindle.

I was glad that this new technology had given us another outlet for unpublished writers to get their voice out there and bypass the traditional routes that are time consuming. But I quickly discovered that the self-published route was filled with its own blocks. Namely advertising yourself so people can find your book yourself.

Sure, self-publishing sites like have advertising options but they are very expensive (the cheapest I found was $700). Its even harder if you want to print your book.

What’s one important thing you learned during the self-publishing process?

That I still have a lot to learn.

~     ~     ~

William is pretty new to the blogging game, so let’s make him feel welcome by paying his new BLOG a visit. And you can check out the other Authors on the Magic Appreciation Tour HERE.



Filed under magic appreciation tour, Reviews and Interviews, writing life

Middle Grade Mondays: Oldies but Goodies – Wise Child

Wise Child by Monica Furlong was released in 1989, so it wasn’t around when I was a kid. It was recommended to me by one of my young fans. She said it was one of her favourites. I think if I had read it when I was 12, I would have put it at the top of my list too. I probably would have dreamed of having a life like Wise Child.

Summary: When Wise Child’s grandmother dies, there is no one in her small Celtic village who will take her in. Her father is away on a long sea voyage and her mother abandoned her.  She is taken in by Juniper, who lives outside the village because she is a doran (a healer / sorceress) and the conservative religious villagers don’t accept her. Many fear her, but there are those who rely on her healing services, so the villagers leave her along.

Wise Child is also afraid of Juniper due to the wild rumours of her witchery the village kids spread. Over time, though, under Juniper’s patient care, she learns to trust her. Wise Child is a bit lazy, self-centered, and moody but in every circumstance Juniper remains calm and understanding. Juniper teaches Wise Child to read and write. She also teaches Wise Child herbology and how to respect all living things.

Their bond is tested when Wise Child’s manipulative mother enters her life again. Maeve is also a sorceress, but uses her powers for greedy purposes and wants Wise Child to join her in her palatial estate. Wise Child is left to decide which life she wants, tempted by the attention her mother suddenly takes in her. Meanwhile, the village priest is becoming increasingly intolerant of Juniper’s presence and is rallying the villagers against her. Ultimately, Wise Child will have to determine where her heart, and loyalty, lies.

Wise Child is a lovely coming-of-age story. It’s a slower, softer fantasy. It’s not full of fast-paced sorcery battles, but rather explores in a very believable way a young girl learning to be her own person. The witchcraft is more about connecting on a spiritual level with the living world.

I really liked the authenticity of Wise Child’s struggles. Like most children, she doesn’t like hard work, but she slowly begins to see the value in it over the more pampered lifestyle offered by her estranged mother.

My only criticism is that Juniper seems a bit too “perfect.” This has always been a pet peeve of mine. Perhaps when I read the prequel (Juniper) I will change my mind about her. I liked her as a person, I just didn’t get a sense of any of her own struggles. She is so even-tempered it became a bit unbelievable.

I think kids will relate to Wise Child in a way they might not in other fantasy books.

There is also a 3rd book in the series (Colman)that was written over a decade after the second one.

CLICK HERE for more Middle Grade Mondays posts.


Filed under Middle Grade Mondays, Reviews and Interviews

Middle Grade Mondays: I Laughed, I Cried – The Magician’s Elephant

Before I tell you about this lovely book, I just want to say that as an author, I can’t wait until the day my work gets so precious that I get a website as beautiful as this:  THE MAGICIAN’S ELEPHANT

Second, this book is being MADE INTO A MOVIE.

The announcement is two years old, but there are no details yet. It’s not even in “pre-production” on IMDB, so it won’t be out for a few years, sorry to tease you like that.

“What attracted me to the project was that Fox wanted to make a fable which could both be a classic but not take itself too seriously,” [Director Martin Hynes] told Variety.“The film we’ve referenced in terms of tone is ‘The Princess Bride’ — something that kids will enjoy, but adults will love on other levels.”

When I read this I thought, Yay. Because one of the things I love about Kate DiCamillo’s work is her playful profundity. What I call the “sad-beautiful” of life and being human. I have an addiction to laughing-through-the-tears kinds of stories because they feel like authentic life. There can always be another happy ending.

It’s a story of love and magic, of loneliness and hope, with a side-dish of the transformative power of forgiveness.

If you tied me up and tickle-tortured me as to which book I liked better, this one or The Miraculous Journey of Edward Toulane, I’d say Edward, but that’s, you know, like the difference between good chocolate and really good chocolate.

In Magician’s Elephant a boy is told by a gypsy that the sister he thought was dead is really alive. And that the Elephant will lead him to her. Of course, there are no Elephants in this small European town, but when one accidentally appears one night during a routine magic trick, dropping through the opera house roof and paralyzing the woman it lands on, the whole town becomes obsessed with the miracle.

That makes it sounds a bit heavy for a MG novel, but it’s not! It’s told in the whimsical manner of a fairy tale, with de-lovely and amusing characters. (Policeman Leo Matienne and his wife Gloria are particular favorites and they have a lovely relationship with much communicated through few words.) On top of it, the pages are filled with beautiful artwork by Yoko Tanaka.

Teachers will love it because there’s this fabulous “What if . . .” theme that would lend itself to imaginative classroom exercises.


Filed under Middle Grade Mondays, on my bookshelf, Reviews and Interviews

Interview on Blog Talk Radio

Mende Smith interviewed me today on her Blog Talk Radio show Writing on Demand.


Listen to internet radio with World Wide Word on Blog Talk Radio


Books mentioned in the interview are all available through en theos press

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Filed under every day angels, her red book, poetry, Reviews and Interviews, spokenword, writing life