Hello Rebecca Ryals Russell, and thank you for being here.
You are the author of several upcoming MG and YA Fantasy books. The first, available in April, is Odessa, Book 1 of the YA Series Seraphym Wars. The next will be available in July. It is Zarena, Book 1 of the MG Series Stardust Warriors. -Other books will be available about a month apart throughout 2011.
Let’s begin with your talking about your book, please tell us about it:
Odessa is a story about an 18-year-old girl from Jacksonville, Flwho wakes one morning to an empty house. Upon opening her front door she discovers, that like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, her house is not where it should be. From that point her life changes to a degree she can’t imagine. Dropped onto a primal planet inhabited by demon-dragons out to get her she must fulfill a destiny she’s only now learning about from a handsome but mysterious young man. Accompanied by six other teens with special abilities only newly discovered, The Vigorios fight the demons as they try to fulfill the prophecy and end the war between good and evil. For Myrna, however, the battle comes closer to home as the inner demons of a rape at age 16 rise to the surface after the same three ‘boys’ with red eyes murder her brother. Can the love of three young men and comfort of soulmate siblings vanquish the demons inside and out?
Odessa is book 1 of a 5 book series. The Prequel, Guardian (of the Prophecy) actually comes out in September. Book 2, Harpies, is currently under review by the publisher. Book 3, Majikals is in outline form and Book 4, Debello will be available in 2012.
How did you come up with the concept for your book?
The over-riding concept of good fighting evil has been growing in my brain for about 30 years as I taught Middle Graders and raised my own 4 children. Going through the Black Metal phase with one child and various video game stages with another has kept me on my toes. Then there’s the news. The ‘hook’ of my series is that ALL of the evil events come directly from the daily news. I did NOT make up a single evil event for my demons to do. Humans have done worse than I could possibly imagine to one another and it’s getting worse daily.
What is your process for creating the chapters and story lines?
I’m a Plotter. I have to know where the story is going for it to fill out in my head. Once I have a problem established around an idea, I come up with an ending. From there the beginning usually emerges and I can fill in the middle.
While I am a Plotter, however, I also allow the story to unfold like a new rose, one petal at a time. Often, in the middle of a chapter I thought I knew about, a character or event will poke its head in and say, “Boo. Deal with me.” I love those moments. They are what MAKE the story.
How long have you been writing?
I began writing as early as I could form letters, so about age 8. I have a box filled with college love poetry/songs, stories illustrated by a 10-year-old me, etc. I didn’t write much while teaching as that took every ounce of my creative juices not to mention time and energy. Then the kids sapped me until they were older and the story came creeping back.
I began writing in earnest three years ago when, after trying to go back to the classroom and being miserable at all of the changes, my wonderful husband said, “Write that book you’ve always wanted to.” I set up a writing studio in my log house, which is now a Vacation Rental and always filled with guests, but I’m not complaining, and within six months had about 250,000 words written.
Obviously that has been broken in half and whittled and chopped away to form several of the books coming out in 2011.
What drives you to write? Have you always been a writer?
I love telling a story, but am a lousy verbal story-teller. I get all tongue-tied. I adore the use of language and enjoy folding and bending it to create new subtleties in meaning. I have always written.
Is this your first publication? If not what other works do you have?
Odessa, due out April 1, 2011 (and NO it is NOT an April Fool) is my first published book. In college I was published several times in the on-campus Literary Magazine and Newspaper. I also worked at a newspaper for awhile writing community news articles.
Tell us a bit about yourself:
I am a fourth-generation Floridian living in the North Central part of Florida. I was born in Gainesville, grew up in South Florida, lived in Central Florida with my husband before we moved to Jacksonville in North Florida. We are trying to move back to Jacksonville if anyone wants to buy our gorgeous 101-year-old Victorian home on 5.5 acres of rolling countryside.
I have 4 awesome children, ages 11, 16, 19 (Freshman at UF), 22 (attending college while living at home). My husband of nearly 35 years is from Ireland and we’ve had the pleasure of going back seven times to see family and travel. I LOVE Ireland and would live there in a heartbeat.
I taught Middle Grades 4-7 for 14 years, concentrating on English-especially Creative Writing. I had students published two years in a row. I now substitute at my son’s Catholic School where the Middle Graders anxiously await my publication.
Are you writing a series? If not what else can we look forward to from you in terms of writing in the future?
I am writing 2 series, beginning another one of a different type and thinking of still a fourth.
The Seraphym Wars Series is for YA. Odessa is Book 1 of this series.
The Stardust Warriors Series is for MG. Zarena is Book 1 of this series.
Masquerade the Scaredy Cat and Sometimes Boo is a new Chapter Book series I’m beginning. The first installment is available as a FREE READ at http://rryalsrussell.com/other-wip/animal-fantasy/. I envision the series traveling all over the world and through history and to include Teacher’s Guides with each book.
Lastly, I’m writing a YA Dystopian Romance for this year’s NaNoWriMo. While planning it, originally a single novel, it has blossomed into at least two and maybe more. We’ll see. You can follow me at http://www.nanowrimo.org/eng/user/511151 if you are doing NaNo; or follow my blog/website as I will be updating my progress often.
What is your favorite book? Genre?
My favorite genre is YA Fantasy and some mainstream adult Fantasy. I enjoy a stream of writers, living and dead, including Ray Bradbury, George Orwell, Pearl S Buck, Earnest Hemmingway, Marjorie Kinan Rawlings, JK Rowling, Stephen King, Terry Brooks, Edgar Allen Poe, Lloyd Alexander, Susan Cooper, Philip Pullman, Neil Gaiman, Anne McCaffrey, and many more.
Who is your biggest inspiration?
My children. My basic characters in Seraphym Wars are loosely based on their looks and personalities.
|My oldest daughter modeled as Myrna for this cover design I made.|
Have you ever had writers block? If yes, what do you do to get around that common writers issue?
When a just can’t think while writing I switch to Marketing (always plenty to do there) or to another WIP.
Where do you write usually? Do you need anything to help get you in your zone?
After moving from the cabin I had trouble finding the right spot. For awhile I was in a corner of my upstairs bedroom, and while that worked for peace and quiet, it was too distant from the kids and they were always in there. Then I moved to the living room and am in my second corner of that room. But I love this new spot. I can see out both walls of windows, there’s lots of light and I’m in the middle of everything. That actually helps because I can tune them out if they’re watching a movie, playing video games or talking but I’m available for help when it’s needed and part of the family while working.
In fact, if I ever sit somewhere other than at my desk they all ask me what’s wrong. Lol
To really get into the zone, though, I need silence. When everyone is at work or school for the morning I can get going for several hours and it seems like minutes. The characters perform their story across my darkened tv monitor and I just describe what I see. It’s magic.
What do you like to do other than write in your spare time?
There is no spare time. If I’m not writing/marketing, I’m hauling a kid to karate, guitar, tennis or school; or going to a movie with my oldest or dinner with my hubby. Otherwise, I’m at my desk working. I used to garden, but it’s just too hot these days and I’m too old and fat. (working on that last part, though; can’t help the first)
Do you see yourself still writing in ten years from now?
Absolutely. I’ll be a several-times-over best-selling author of YA and MG Fantasy with plenty more WIPs. Ask any of my children.
What jobs have you done before writing?
I was a teacher for 14 years, subbed for 3 years, was a secretary during college, took claims for Allstate Ins. in high school.
The publishing world is a tough one, how did you handle rejections, if you ever got any?
With each rejection I evaluated my manuscript to discover what was wrong with it. And with each rejection it was revised and edited. I rewrote Odessa 6 times until I was happy with Myrna’s voice and personality. I still go back and add stuff to flesh it out even more and probably will until my publisher says, “Enough.”
Can you share a short excerpt from your book?
“Look at her stomach hanging over her waistband,” I said, pointing to a student in the yearbook. “That is just so gross. Why doesn’t she do us all a favor and lose weight?”
“Yeah. That’s just plain eye pollution,” Nancy said, laughing.
I took a long draw on the cigarette and passed it to Nancy.
“Nancy! Do I smell smoke?” Nancy’s mother yelled up the stairs. Even through her closed bedroom door and the blaring music from her computer we could hear her mom screaming.
“Oh, shit,” Nancy said as she scuttled to the window and opened it wider. She tossed the cigarette into the shrubs below and blew the smoke into the sky then waved her arms around like a maniac windmill trying to empty the room of smoke.
I laughed at the image she made. “It gets in the fabric, silly. You can’t get it out. So what? What’s she gonna do? Spank you? Besides, what sixteen-year-old doesn’t smoke?”
I rolled onto my back on Nancy’s bed. “I’ll never get fat. Or ugly.”
Nancy plopped onto the bed and lay beside me on the pink chenille spread. We stared up at the pale pink ceiling. I watched the white ceiling fan rotate around and around.
“You really need to update this room, Nancy. It’s been the same since you were five. Really? Princess Pepto pink?” I stuck my fingers in my mouth like I was barfing.
“Did you see what Mary Jane had on today? It must have been her mother’s and she got dressed in the dark,” Nancy said rolling over on her side with her arm under her head. I laughed until my eyes teared.
“How about Mark? His haircut looks like he did it in the bathroom with nail clippers,” I added. Nancy and I laughed until our stomachs hurt.
“Gotta go,” I said, sitting up. I glanced outside. It was past dusk. “Oh, damn, I forgot to set my alarm to the correct time when the time changed last weekend. I should have been home an hour ago. Dad doesn’t like me walking home across the abandoned lot at night. But it’s the quickest way. Well,” I stood and looked under the bed for my sandals. “I’ll be home when I get there.” I shrugged my shoulders. “What’re they gonna do? Scream? Lecture? What else is new?”
“See ya at school tomorrow,” Nancy said, rolling onto her stomach and propping her head with her hands under her chin. She grinned wickedly, “Maybe I’ll bring that old Halloween wig for Mark to wear.”
I laughed all the way down the stairs envisioning Mark in a gray granny wig.
“Good night, Mrs. Campbell,” I called as I went out the door. I heard her muffled reply as the door latched shut. Its snick echoed in the still darkness of late dusk.
I shivered and looked up. The moon was nearly full with a misty vapor of clouds across its face. Otherwise the sky was clear. The temperature had finally gotten cool. Here it was mid-November and nights were just beginning to get chilly. That was the part of Florida I hated. The heat lasted so long. I loved the cool crisp air of early Spring and late Autumn. The cool air frisked me after the stifling warmth of Nancy’s bedroom and I sprinted across the yard and street.
All around the trees and shrubs had taken on a sinister shadowy feel as they wavered in the moonlight. A gentle breeze ruffled the leaves making them sound like snakes slithering across dry sand. Those same snakes slithered up my spine making my skin crawl. I slowed to a walk, warily watching the cluster of trees ahead on the abandoned lot my dad hated. Nancy lived two streets over from my house and rather than walking down half a block then back up that half a block, I usually cut straight across the huge creepy overgrown property between our houses.
By day it was no big deal. There were clearly paths worn through the property. Everyone did it. Most of the windows in the old house had been broken out by boys testing their aim with rocks. And bushes and vines nearly covered the wooden siding of the old tumble-down shack. Anything of real value had been stripped from the place years ago. All that stood on that weedy hunk of land was a derelict house nobody wanted.
Still, I hated passing by it at night. I’d heard stories about it being haunted. Kids at school would bet each other they couldn’t stay the night in it. And usually no one did. By two or three in the morning they all said such weird things began to happen they had to leave. It was rumored one girl even went crazy and had to be institutionalized.
But it was still early in the evening. The sky was tinged pink, so I was fine. If I hurried.
I sped up to cross the yard before I lost my nerve. My eyes shifted back and forth like a scanning flashlight. I was half-way across when I heard a sound off to my right. It came from the clump of overgrown trees and bushes that lined the property’s border. The sound seemed muffled, like when you hold your hand across your mouth to stifle a laugh or sneeze. I listened so hard I felt my ears grow longer. It seemed the woods expanded, too, as I studied the trees trying to see inside the darkness. My focus became razor sharp. There was no way I was going near enough to see what had made the noise. And maybe I’d imagined it. I maintained my pace trying to get away before I heard it again. Then came the scream.
Loud, long and shrill it echoed across the yard. My head swiveled this way and that seeking the source but I couldn’t. My vision seemed to go into even sharper focus. I saw the roots of the ivy vine climbing the shack and the smallest pebbles of rock in the dirt at my feet. It was as though I held a magnifying glass to my face. Then I heard it again. Another scream, this time closer.
It came from behind me. I swung around, my heart pounding so hard I could feel it pulsing in my fingertips. Even my ears pulsed with its beat. Everything lit up like daylight then immediately went black. In that instant of light I saw three disembodied faces hovering around me. Three male faces with laser red eyes and snarling white fangs. Then all I saw was blackness. It felt like something had been shoved over my head. My breathing sounded ragged and harsh in my ears. I tried screaming but nothing came out of my open mouth except a mouse squeak.
Suddenly my feet were kicked out from under me throwing me to the ground. Something pinned me down in the dirt. Rocks poked me through my shirt, digging into my shoulder blades and hips where extreme pressure pushed down. I tried wriggling but firm hands or knees pressed down harder and the rocks hurt so I stopped. For a moment I assessed my situation trying to think logically. I was blind but I could hear okay. And unfortunately, I could feel.
Low harsh voices whispered to one another above me. I differentiated three distinct voices. They were arguing about taking me inside the house or ‘doing’ me here in the dirt. The dirt must have won because I wasn’t moved. The pressure on my shoulders increased, pressing the rocks into my bones. Again I tried to shriek but couldn’t.
“Hello Myrna,” one of the low voices growled next to my ear. The voice was masculine and sent a chill up my spine. I didn’t recognize it. It seemed ageless. Evil. It made my skin crawl like streams of red ants marched up and down my limbs.
I turned my head in the direction of the sound. “Who are you? What do you want?” My voice, finally working again, quavered which pissed me off. I wanted to sound strong and nonchalant – not like some scared sissy.
A hand, scaly and rough, clasped my mouth so I couldn’t speak. “We’re just havin’ a little fun’s all,” another voice said. This one was slightly higher pitched but still gravely.
I felt my cheek pinched, like Grandma does when she visits at Christmas. Then a rough, wet surface rubbed up the side of my face and I realized someone or something had licked me. Eeew! How disgusting. I wondered if these were some boys from school. Maybe I had pissed them off somehow and they were getting back at me. Through tears I regretted my decision to cross the lot at dusk. Dad had been right, as much as I hated to admit it.
“You really should listen to dear ol’ Dad, Myrna,” the second voice slithered into my ear.
I jolted. How had he known my thought? Could he read my mind somehow? That was ridiculous. Movie tricks. That’s all. No one could do that for real.
My legs were suddenly lifted into the air by the ankles of my pants and my jeans began to slide off my body. I thrashed and tried to wriggle loose despite the rocks digging holes in my body. My head swerved from side to side as I screamed NOOOO in my head. I tried screaming aloud again but to no avail. The scaly hand remained clasped tightly across my lips.
With a sudden pop the jeans were off along with my shoes and my legs plopped back into the dirt. Rocks now pressed into my bare legs like jagged glass. I felt a pressure on my knees as someone knelt on them. The pain was excruciating. Between the pressure on my joints and the rocks underneath I knew my legs would be useless for the rest of my life. I would be paralyzed.
That’s if I lived through this.
“That’s IF you live through this,” the voice sliced through my thoughts.
Both of my arms were held down immobile as one of the men pressed on my elbows. I could hear and feel his hot, fetid breath on my face and neck. He reminded me of a bulldog in heat.
I had no chance of escaping these three monsters, whoever or whatever they were. But I refused to give in. Then I remembered my mouth was covered by a hand. Someone’s flesh and blood hand was inches above my teeth. Concentrating hard on that hand I inched open my lips until my teeth grasped skin that wasn’t mine. I chomped down as hard as I could.
A warm liquid with a strong metallic taste filled my mouth. At the same time I heard a male voice scream in pain. His hand came away from my face. The cool air smacked my cheeks. I opened my mouth and screamed like I hadn’t since I was born. Shriek after shriek echoed on top of the man’s screams. I filled my lungs to scream again when I felt knuckles crash into my jaw and nose. Fresh bouts of blood, this time mine, gushed down my throat. I gagged and choked, drowning in my own blood. I managed to turn my head to the side and spit, the warm sticky liquid dribbled down the side of my face into my ear and hair.
Moments later I heard grunting and thuds. The pressure released from my knees and elbows. More thuds sounded followed by moans and more grunts. It sounded as though someone was being hit. I cautiously reached up with one hand and felt my eyes. Something had been tied across my eyes. I ripped it off and waited for my eyes to adjust to the dark. At my feet two men fought. I studied them as they punched each other grunting and swearing. Then I realized one of them was my brother, Quinn. With a final blow to the face he felled the last of the attackers who now lay in battered heaps around me. He stood silhouetted in the moonlight holding the piece of wood in one hand that he’d used as a weapon. At that moment I was more proud of my little bro than ever before. I was also thankful for the Karate classes he’d been taking since he was six.
Panting, he glared down at the three men watching for movement. Apparently satisfied he grabbed my pants from the dirt and kelt beside me.
“You okay?” His voice was husky and heavy with breathing.
I nodded slightly. I turned my head and spat more blood. He lifted my head from the dirt and brushed back my matted bloody hair from my sweaty face.
“Let’s get you home.” He squatted beside me, slid an arm under my shoulders and another under my knees, then stood with me and carried me home.
TWO YEARS LATER
I floated on wings of silence like a piece of driftwood at sea. Colored gases swirled around me like silk scarves, brushing against my bare arms and legs. It delighted my senses and tingled nerve endings. For as far as I could see, a myriad of colors swam and twirled dipping and rolling around particles of dark matter and glittering specs of sunbeams in miniature cosmos.
I wondered why I was there? Where was there? Was it a dream? I didn’t remember going to sleep. In fact, I didn’t remember anything at all. Eventually I heard soft singing and the sharp but pleasant ringing of bells. I opened my eyes—had they been shut?—and realized I was surrounded by glimmering radiant beings hovering in the rainbow cosmic cloud.
“Mind the signs, Myrna,” echoed in my skull and repeated over and over in millions of separate voices in unison. “Mind the signs …Mind the signs ….”
My room was dark when I woke. I didn’t recall having gone to bed, but since I was waking in it I must have. I shoved the covers off with my feet and stood, stretching. The house was unusually quiet. I must be the first up. After showering I listened while I dressed. Still no sounds. I went to the kitchen. No one. This was not like my parents to sleep in, especially later than me. I went to their room.
“Mom,” I called, softly pushing on the door which was slightly ajar. “Dad? Anyone up? Hey, sleepy heads….” I stepped inside. The room was empty. The bed was made. My stomach flip-flopped. Marcy’s room was next. I padded down the hall then turned into her room, pushing on the half-opened door.
“You’ll be late….” I didn’t finish because no one was there to hear me. Her room was immaculate–which never happened–and empty. Now panic pinched my insides. My mind was a jumble of anger and fear. Had they been murdered? There was no blood, so that was not likely. People don’t just disappear. I ran to Jarrod’s room and found the same thing. I was alone. Sliding down the wall I sat crumpled in a heap on the carpet.
“Where did you all go without me?” I shrieked at the ceiling, tears pricking my eyes. “Where is everyone?” I rose and ran to the foyer, sliding on the white tiles in my stocking feet. Swiping at my wet face with the back of a hand I gasped a shuddering breath.
I flung open the front door.
For several long heartbeats I stood frozen staring.
The slam rattled the dishes in the kitchen cabinets like bones in a closet as I threw it shut. The deadbolt thudded with a satisfying crunch. I couldn’t catch my breath. My mind reeled with the impossible unreality of what I had seen. I ran back to my room. Crouching, I cried in the corner behind my bed. My room was still dark and shadows wavered and squirmed across the walls like living shades. I shut my eyes and slid my hands across my ears to shut out the world.
I had to shut out this world that was not mine.
* * * *
I must have fallen asleep again because when I woke the room was pitch black and I knew the sun had gone down. I found it odd that the day never got brighter than gray and overcast, but figured it just meant rain. I looked into each bedroom along the hallway—not surprised this time to find them empty, but still disappointed. I was alone. Even when I had been alone at home, I had known I was not alone. This was different. This was scary. This was complete aloneness. I checked the kitchen and found a few eggs and bread which I ate then lay back down in bed and fell into a fitful sleep.
Sometime in the middle of the night, or so I guessed, I awoke with a strange sense of foreboding. The hair on my neck and arms stood up. My skin prickled as though with a soft electric shock. My breathing became ragged and my heart thumped so loudly in my chest I could hear it in the silence of the room. Something wasn’t right. I knew I’d locked the door all the way–but still…. Eventually the feeling passed and my eyes must have shut on their own.
When I woke again, that same gray light pushed its way past the edges of my window blinds spitting its dullness into the room.
I decided I would find no answers holed up in the house, so I dressed and took several deep breaths before opening the door again. This time I thought I was prepared.
The murky gray light that filled the sky seemed watery and weak. Although there was no cloud cover, there was no sunlight. I stepped down onto the dirt that once was my dad’s pride and joy green grass.
Leading east and west at the end of my walkway, a crushed stone path lined a packed dirt road that ran in front of the house. To the left and right of the house stood tall and short buildings of every description. Some seemed to be stores, others apartment buildings or individual homes such as mine. Tall brass street lights stood sentinel on each intersection.
“Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore,” I murmured softly. I even looked under my house for ruby slippers.
Many of the buildings’ windows displayed new-looking handbills showing a child with the question: “Have You Seen This Child?” underneath. It shocked me to realize each face was that of a different child. How many children had disappeared from this city and where did they go?
There were no traffic lights or signs and very little traffic. A rumble overhead pulled my attention to the murky sky as a glass-enclosed egg floated by. At the rear spun a huge brass propeller with puffs of steam escaping into the atmosphere. Inside the egg people were seated lining the edges.
Standing at the end of my walkway, I jumped as a sudden chug and zip sounded then a puff of steam enveloped me. A triangular car with all glass top sped down the road. Another headed my direction on the opposite side. The driver sat in the front of the triangle managing the car with a joystick while two passengers sat side-by-side on the rear seat. It maneuvered surprisingly well and was quite fast. I turned right and began walking down the path.
People wearing an odd assortment of costumes passed me, staring all the while. Some of the men wore bowler hats while others had formal top hats and long-tailed coats. I wondered if I’d been thrown back in time to the Victorian age. I’d seen pictures like this in History class. The women wore long dresses with pinafores and bloomers. Most wore wide-brimmed hats mounted with feathers and other doodads. While gawking at the odd modes of transportation and people’s dress, I had not paid attention to where I was going, which I quickly realized was stupid.
“Watch where you’re going, lunchmeat,” a low and menacing voice growled next to my ear. He deliberately jostled me so hard with his shoulder I fell against a building scraping my arm. “Haven’t you ever seen a Skiibuss or Tricar before? Imbecil,” he continued speaking as he walked away the opposite direction. But I could still hear him like he was next to my ear.
I turned to apologize but stopped short with the words stuck in my throat when I realized he was the largest man I’d ever seen. “Mother’v pearl!” I muttered. He stood easily over eight feet tall. He wasn’t fat, just…big. He wore a black top hat and cape. I wondered for a split instant how he found clothes big enough. He casually spun a black cane topped by a gold dragon-shaped handle with glittering diamond eyes. He must have realized I was staring because he turned just his head, like an owl, and grinned maliciously at me with a flick of red eyes before his head swiveled back around.
Who is your publisher?
I chose to submit my best result of Odessa to Lea Schizas at MuseItUp Publishing and it was the smartest submission I ever made. I am so happy with the family atmosphere she exudes and the feeling of comradery amongst the authors.
What would you advise to anyone else out there trying to get their book published?
Be sure your manuscript is the best you can produce. It needs to have been read by several people who give honest opinions and then edited and revised several times. If you do this and have a well-told tale it should be picked up quickly.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
I wish to thank you, Sameena, for this opportunity to share about my books and myself. I’d also like to list how readers may find me across the Internet. I have accounts everywhere but if you go to my website all of the links are centralized for you.
Did you grow up in a ‘reading’ household? Do you believe that had anything to do with your becoming an author?
My father was a teacher while I grew up then a principal. My mother was a school head secretary. So our home was always full of reading material. It was Daddy who showed me what good literature looked like. We discussed Lord of the Rings and Ray Bradbury and Lord of the Flies after I read each of them. He was responsible for instilling my love of a good story.
My own children have grown up in a reading household because my husband is a voracious reader (bought an iPad soon after their release) and we have a pretty good sized library of books.
What was your favorite childhood activity and why?
I sat on the grass under our grape arbor, where it was shady, and watched the critters in the South Florida canal that ran behind my house while I wrote poetry, stories, songs for my guitar and day dreamed. I have a box full of these early literary creations.
As a youngster, what did you want to be when you grew up? When did this change, if it did.
I planned on being a teacher from the time I started school. I even held ‘school’ in our utility room with my best friend and younger sister. Daddy would bring home old mimeograph papers that I would ‘assign’. And I had a stand-up chalkboard as well. We even had a little school desk for my ‘student’. I taught for nearly fifteen years with a break to raise my family and only quit when I came back after twelve years and found the system so changed I no longer enjoyed teaching. That’s when I began writing.
Do you think people who are especially good at something, writers, singers, musicians, artists, etc, were born with talent or can it be fostered throughout a lifetime?
I believe people are born with certain abilities and interests. Whether these are fostered or not can sometimes make a difference in what they achieve in life. But there have been people born in dire circumstances who overcame them in order to succeed on their own.
What is your greatest fear about being an author? What about in life?
My greatest fear about being an author is probably pretty normal. I desperately want my stories read and would really like to make some money from my efforts. But I’m scared to death of ‘real’ success. If I was invited to Oprah’s show I’d probably pass out on her stage. My fear in life is that I will somehow die before finishing my two series.
What was your favorite subject in high school and why? Least favorite and why?
Of course my favorite subject has always been English. Particularly literature and Creative Writing. My least favorite is Math. I’m horrible at Math and really came to understand it when I taught it.
How did your high school English teacher(s) respond to your writings back then?
I always got good grades in English. My teachers made the typical red mark corrections but comments were always favorable.
What was your favorite book as a teen and why?
I had several books that I absolutely fell in love with and one author in particular. I LOVED Lord of the Flies. I’ve always enjoyed anything psychological and questioning. I also fell in love with Lord of the Rings. I love the whole quest thing with the various obstacles along the way. In fact, that is what I ended up writing. The whole time I kept LOTR in mind while I wrote. And my favorite author or all time is Ray Bradbury. His stories are intelligent and creative with twists and odd perspectives. I try to emulate him as well. The other book I adore is 1984 by George Orwell. I have a dystopian novel planned for my NaNoWriMo this year.
If someone told you everything you write is junk and worthless. Would you continue to write? Why or why not?
To be honest I’m not sure how I’d react. I would be devastated, for sure, but I think I would write – I just wouldn’t show it to anyone. I have a pretty fragile ego where my creations are concerned. I guess I’m always unsure whether anyone will like it.
What classic literature would you recommend teens to read and why?
Having raised three teens so far I had an opportunity to do just this. They read 1984 and Animal Farm by George Orwell, The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck, A Brave New World by Aldus Huxley, Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien, Edgar Allen Poe, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee , Lord of the Flies by William Golding, Catcher In The Rye by JD Salinger, Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. My son even read Dante’s The Divine Comedy as a sophomore in high school. There are probably more but these are what come to mind. Having them read these classics gave us something to discuss and broadened their horizons. Since reading them they have found references in movies, magazines, commercials and conversation.
What one book do you think everyone should read and why?
That would be a toss-up between 1984, The Giver and Lord of the Flies. Each of these explores the human condition.
What would you tell teenaged writers about the submission to publication process?
Don’t give up. No matter how many rejections you receive, rework the submission until it gets accepted. Take each rejection as a lesson that the manuscript needs more work.
Why do think teenagers are so fascinated by the paranormal and fantastic? (vampires, werewolves, ghosts, faeries, elves, demons)
Teenagers feel immortal. Their brains tell them they can’t die, so they search out fearful images to test themselves. That’s why slasher films are marketed at them. But this fallacy in thinking is why there are so many teenaged driving deaths/accidents, suicides and pregnancies.
You’ve been asked to choose 5-10 books for a space capsule. What would you choose and why?
1-1984 by George Orwell, it shows what can happen to society that is too tightly controlled; embodies the Dystopian novel
2-Brave New World by Aldus Huxley, it embodies futurism in literature
3-Harry Potter by JK Rowling, helps give kids hope they can make a difference; interesting use of magic overlapping with the ‘real’ world
4-Lord of the Flies by William Golding, shows what happens to society without controls
5-How To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, demonstrates man inhumanity to man
6-Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mead, historical about the Civil War, hopeful about overcoming oppression
7-anything by Shakespeare, incredible use of language, structure, symbolism
8-Dante’s Inferno, amazing imagination and use of language
9-Fairy Tales by Brothers Grimm, classic stories that change as you grow
Is there an upcoming release (from any author) that you are anxiously anticipating? Why?
As much as I would like to, I don’t have time to keep up with current releases.
If your child declared they were going to be an author while a senior in high school, how would you respond?
I’ve actually been faced with this scenario. Two of my children are headed for the publication field. One is interested in the Graphic Arts field after taking two years of Journalism in college and the other wants to be a gaming journalist. He’s the editor of the high school newspaper this year. My response was and is – get a degree and go for it.
If your daughter wants to marry an author who is just starting out and has no other job, what would you tell her? If your son wants to marry an author… Does it make a difference?
If either child wanted to marry an aspiring author, I would suggest they get a good degree that can support them until their spouse makes it big. I would help them understand how tough the road was going to be but I would never oppose the idea.
If you weren’t an author what other job would be doing?
I loved teaching and would still be doing it had it not changed so dramatically.
How is being an author different from what you thought it would be like?
I thought being an author meant someone paying me to write books while they did the marketing and selling so I could then write more and more. However, writing has changed so much the author must now do much of their own marketing and selling which reduces the time spent writing.
When you decided to pursue publication, did you realize what marketing and promotion would entail?
I hoped to find a publisher that would do it all. But things didn’t work out that way so I’m learning more about marketing than I ever thought I would need to know. I decided to go with a new small publishing house because of the ‘family’ atmosphere (which has lived up to the promise) and while they do some promoting, most of it falls on the authors’ shoulders. But that’s the way the business is evolving at the moment.
How has your concept of marketing, platform building, promotion changed since you wrote your first word?
I’d never heard of platforming or branding before writing my book. Now I’ve built a pretty sizable platform, which means getting my name into the Internet in various ways. And I’m still putting it out there. I recently began a grog (group blog) with several YA/MG authors for giving teens advice for writing and publication. http://teenwordfactory.com; I have several websites and another blog not to mention all the writers’ sites I have profiles on and the various readers’ sites I belong to. All of this can be seen at http://yellowhatauthor.com
If technology did not exist, would you still pursue writing and publishing?
Yes. I wrote via pad and pen long before computers came along.
Do you prefer publishing fifty years ago when the big houses ruled or today when eBooks and POD allow anyone to publish?
I think I prefer today’s publishing atmosphere because while ‘anyone’ can get a story ‘out there’, readers also have an easier time accessing books via eReaders and computers.
If you’ve never written a children’s picture book, would you consider doing so?
I actually have several children’s picture books that I’ve been shopping around at publishers and hope to get published soon.
If you’ve only written for children and teens, would you consider writing a mainstream fiction novel?I would love for my YA books to be read by mainstream adult readers.
What do you think is the boundary between Young Adult and Middle Grade?
In my opinion, MG literature involves preteen characters, no romance and reduced or no violence. That’s why I took my YA series Seraphym Wars and have developed a MG series called Stardust Warriors based on the same events but with no romance and much less violence. Book 1 Zarena has been accepted for publication and is due out July 2011.
MG novels also deal with issues relating to middle grade age kids. Their issues and problems are different from those dealt with by older teens who read YA and Adult lit.
What is the boundary between Young Adult and Mainstream Fiction for adults?
I would say that boundary is predominantly based on the ages of the main characters as well as the level of romantic heat and violence. Usually YA lit deals with issues most teens are dealing with, such as relationships, future-making decisions, self-analysis.
Do you think many adults read what is classified as Young Adult? Why do you think they do this?
Yes. I have discovered that a lot of adults enjoy reading YA literature because these stories tend to tell a good story and have well-developed characters. I think a lot of time mainstream adult literature is so busy with romance and violence they forget to tell the story. Of course there are exceptions – not all adult literature is romance, romance, romance.
Write a Twitter tweet about your next release. (140 characters)
YA series Seraphym Wars Book 1 Odessa due out April 2011 http://yellowhatwriter.com
MG series Stardust Warriors Book 1 Zarena due out July 2011 http://yellowhatwriter.com
Write your own six-word memoir.
Finally published YA author. Yipee! Skippy!
Under the Hat Writer, that’s me.
Blog 1 http://rryalsrussell.com
Blog 2 http://yellowhatauthor.com
Book Website http://seraphymwars.com
Book Website http://stardustwarriors.com
Facebook 2 http://facebook.com/myrnawatts
Email myrnawatts (at) gmail (dot) com
These will get you started, but I have profiles and excerpts in many places.