Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ruta Sepetys's Writing Process

I didn't want this to get lost in the shuffle tomorrow--I'm going to be announcing a pretty big bit of awesome on the blog tomorrow, and I wanted to be sure that everyone had a chance to read Ruta's last post and not ignore it with the overlap of posts tomorrow. So I'm going to post Ruta's words of advice on writing now--remember, comment on this and the other four posts for a chance to win a big prize pack! Winner will be announced after Friday. And come back tomorrow for the huge awesome game/contest/amazing thing that's going to be posted!

To wrap up this week on BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY, I ask Ruta to tell us a little bit about her writing process. Here's her words of wisdom:

Well, I wouldn’t call it a “process.” It’s more stream of consciousness. Unfortunately, I don’t have large blocks of time to sit and write. I snatch bits and pieces of time whenever I can which often means in traffic, on planes, or very early in the morning. I always carry pen and paper with me.

I don’t have the luxury of waiting for inspiration to strike. I may only have fifteen minutes on a particular day so I have to jump right in. I plow forward, even if what I’m writing is complete junk. I try to tap into a vein of emotion in the scene and as soon as I do, I’m locked in and off to the races.

I often write dialogue longhand. I’ll visualize a scene in my mind (as if I’m watching a movie) and the characters will just start talking. I recently wrote two chapters of my latest book sitting on the edge of a hotel bathtub, scribbling on notepaper. Sometimes, while on long drives, I’ll write by recording myself speaking narrative and dialogue into a voice recorder. So essentially, I just let it flow, whatever comes to mind. I’m a big reviser. In fact, maybe I’m more of a reviser than a writer!

Between Shades of Gray Prize Pack:
Signed bookplate
Music download card

All this week, I'll be posting about BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY. Comment on a post, you get an entry for the random drawing. Five posts = five chances to comment and win. So come back every day this week for another chance to comment and win! 

Also, I thought it might be easier if I suggested some topics for comments--you don't have to comment on the following questions to enter (a simple "please enter me!" is fine), I just thought it might be fun to get a real discussion going.

Question 1: Writers, what's your process like?

Question 2: Readers, are there any remaining questions you wished Ruta had addressed?

Before the Book: Ruta Sepetys on Research

The thing about BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY--and all historical novels--is that (if they're going to be any good at all) they require copious amounts of research. It is clear from page one that Ruta loved the topic and was meticulous in her research. Today, I'm asking her about the story behind the story.

Where did you start with your research? You’ve clearly done a lot—interviews, history, etc. It seems overwhelming.

I started by researching historical materials that are available. Once I moved through those, I started going deeper and looking for people to interview and ways I could conduct research on my own.

Are there any parts of the story you wrote that directly reflect something from your research.

Oh definitely. Many of the experiences I describe in the novel were things survivors recounted. For example, the scene at the train station with the father’s wedding ring, the boys smoking books, the owl, and the scene with the baby.

Is there anything from your research that you wished you could have included, but couldn’t?

Yes, there was a scene that we had to cut out of the novel that I really loved. It explained exactly how all of the teachers wound up on Stalin’s extermination list. Teachers were very high on the target list and I wish I could have included details about their situation.

What do you hope readers will take away from your book?

I hope readers feel that through examining these tragic parts of history and learning from mistakes of the past we create hope for a more just future. These three small countries have taught us a large lesson – how to speak when your voice has been extinguished.

What does your family think of your book?

My family has been incredibly supportive! My father fled from Lithuania when he was a young boy and I know he recognized the spirit and endurance of several characters in the book. It brought back a lot of memories.

Between Shades of Gray Prize Pack:
Signed bookplate
Music download card

All this week, I'll be posting about BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY. Comment on a post, you get an entry for the random drawing. Five posts = five chances to comment and win. So come back every day this week for another chance to comment and win! 

Also, I thought it might be easier if I suggested some topics for comments--you don't have to comment on the following questions to enter (a simple "please enter me!" is fine), I just thought it might be fun to get a real discussion going.

Question 1: If you're a writer--historical fiction or not--do you have any tips for research?

Question 2: If you're a reader--what historical topic would you like to see a novel on?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Peek Behind the Video for BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY

One of the first things that attracted me to BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY was an author video that Ruta did, describing the path she took to write and publish the book. It made me cry--I watched it three times in a row, and then turned around and shared the video with everyone I could. Here it is, in case you missed it the first time I posted it:

Can you tell us about the production of the video? How involved were you in the process?

I created the storyboard and was quite involved in the process. My husband filmed the interview footage of me, and also my father. The interview footage of the survivors came from a film called “Red Terror on the Amber Coast” by Domedia Productions. It’s a wonderful movie about the Soviet occupation in the Baltics. Pirate Post Studios here in Franklin, TN created graphics and did all the amazing editing work. A fantastic film composer, Niels Bye Nielsen, scored the music for the video and created the opening sequence and visuals.

Did you know the survivors in the video? How well? How did you meet, contact, and interview them?

Irena Spakauskiene is one of the survivors who appear in the video. She spent hours and hours with me when I was in Lithuania and provided such vivid detail about her experience in the Arctic. A friend of mine in Lithuania, Linas, was also a great help and put me in touch with historians. The Museum of Genocide Victims in Vilnius assisted as well.

Were the interviews on the video done for the video, or is the video a reflection of the research you’d already conducted?

The video interviews with me were done for the video. The interview footage of the survivors came from a film called “Red Terror on the Amber Coast” by Domedia Productions.

At the end of the video, you broke down and cried—which made me cry, too. Can you tell us a little bit about your emotions at that time?

This story and the associated part of history has been in the dark for such a long time. The book didn’t sell right away, but when Philomel and Penguin jumped on board their belief was unwavering. And then Penguin’s sub-rights team and the international agents sold the book in over 22 countries. I can barely wrap my head around it. I’m so grateful and when I think of all of the people who thought this story would never be told I am overcome with emotion.

Between Shades of Gray Prize Pack:
Signed bookplate
Music download card

All this week, I'll be posting about BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY. Comment on a post, you get an entry for the random drawing. Five posts = five chances to comment and win. So come back every day this week for another chance to comment and win! 

Also, I thought it might be easier if I suggested some topics for comments--you don't have to comment on the following questions to enter (a simple "please enter me!" is fine), I just thought it might be fun to get a real discussion going.

Question: I know you watched the video. If not, you better! So, what part touched you the most?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Ruta Sepetys: All About BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY

The very first thing I wanted to ask Ruta about was her fabulous book! So today's questions are all about BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY.

Can you give us a brief summary of your novel?

The book is about Lina, a fifteen-year-old girl who is deported from Lithuania to Siberia. The story chronicles not only Lina’s fight for survival, but also her struggle to retain faith in mankind amidst Stalin’s terror. It explores the mysteries of hope and courage and also the miraculous power of the human spirit.

What made you want to write this novel?

When I was in Lithuania meeting with family members they told me that they had burned all of the photos of my family, because they couldn’t let anyone know they were related to my grandfather. So many people in the Baltics had experienced the terror of Stalin but had never spoken of it for fear of the consequences. The stories of Soviet occupation and Stalin are rarely discussed. And it occurred to me, there are so many heroes that we’ve never had the chance to meet or hear about. We’ve never been able to celebrate their bravery or console their regret. They’re nameless and faceless. So I was inspired to write the book to honor the many people who were deported to Siberia by Stalin.

Why did you choose to make it YA instead of an adult novel?

A few reasons. First, I love YA books! Also, many of the survivors I met were young when they were deported and I was very affected by the things they told me they experienced during their teen years in Siberia. I hoped that making the main character a young girl might add additional dimension to the story. Also, since this is a very little known piece of history, I hoped the book might make its way to teachers and librarians.

This book seems as if it will be very emotional—not only because of the subject matter, but also because of how close you were to the story. Was there a part that was particularly hard for you to write?

Many parts were difficult to write because the cruelty I was describing was just unfathomable. There is a particular event with the mother in the book, Elena. It just destroyed me and I had to take a break for a few days after I wrote that chapter.

Thanks for telling us about the originations of BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY, Ruta!

Between Shades of Gray Prize Pack:
Signed bookplate
Music download card

All this week, I'll be posting about BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY. Comment on a post, you get an entry for the random drawing. Five posts = five chances to comment and win. So come back every day this week for another chance to comment and win! 

Also, I thought it might be easier if I suggested some topics for comments--you don't have to comment on the following questions to enter (a simple "please enter me!" is fine), I just thought it might be fun to get a real discussion going.

Question 1: Have you read BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY yet? Care to share some (non-spoilery) thoughts?

Question 2: Ruta found the inspiration for BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY in her own family history. Is there an aspect of your family's history you'd like to explore more?

Monday, March 28, 2011


If you've not heard of Ruta Sepetys's debut, BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY, get ready.

Because that's all I'm talking about this week.

Seriously, you guys--this book is (a) amazing and (b) the kind of book that needs to be written, in the same way that Markus Zusak's book THE BOOK THIEF was needed.

Which should probably give you an indication of what the book's about. Instead of just giving you the jacket flap description, I want to do something a little different. This is the opening of a review from the LA Times about BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY:

In young adult books about World War II, the Holocaust dominates. But there are lesser-known atrocities that also took place, including during the Soviet occupation of the Baltic states. The Soviets not only displaced countless Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians, leaving them to die, but wiped those countries from the map for much of the last century.

It's this story that is told in "Between Shades of Gray," the heart-wrenching debut novel from Ruta Sepetys. Sepetys is the granddaughter of a Lithuanian military officer who himself escaped to a refugee camp during World War II. Other members of her extended family weren't so lucky. They were deported to Siberia, forced into hard labor or imprisoned, much like the fictional characters here.

Booklist called BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY "An important book that deserves the widest possible readership." I couldn't agree more. You better believe that once I get my copy back from the Bookanistas, I'm going to shove it into my teacher friend's hands (I'm looking at you, Laura!).

If you're not convinced that you need to read this novel yet, stick around. This week, Ruta was kind enough to tell me all about her book, her writing process, her research, and even how the astounding video about the book's origins was made.

Not only that, but Ruta has very graciously provided one lucky blog reader with a wonderful prize!

Between Shades of Gray Prize Pack:
Signed bookplate
Music download card

All this week, I'll be posting about BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY. Comment on a post, you get an entry for the random drawing. Five posts = five chances to comment and win. So come back every day this week for another chance to comment and win! 

Also: sorry, but this contest is US only! However, next week and the week after I'll be hosting international contests with multiple prizes, so don't give up hope on me! Please also make sure to include your email address if you haven't got it in your profile.

Also, I thought it might be easier if I suggested some topics for comments--you don't have to comment on the following questions to enter (a simple "please enter me!" is fine), I just thought it might be fun to get a real discussion going.

Question 1: BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY deals with World War II history. What is your favorite period of history to learn more or read more about?

Question 2: This particular aspect of history is often (sadly) forgotten. What is a period or event in history--or that's going on right now--that you feel deserves more attention from the world?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Update on Social Media: GoodReads

Hi guys,

Phoebe North just did an excellent post about how authors can use GoodReads. Check it out here! I'll be updating my post below as well; just didn't want any one to miss it.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Social Media: An Introduction

Several people have asked me for background and help on social media. And I want to help, but first I want to say: I'm not an expert. Seriously. I just like playing around.

Which leads me to my next corollary: You don't have to do anything. This is my soapbox, and I find myself getting on it more and more lately. I do social media because I like it. I don't do it to "win" readers or "gather followers" or any crap like that.

The analogy I use is this: social media is like a cocktail party. Come to the party if you want to. At the party, meet new people, reconnect with others. It's a business party, so it's okay to talk shop, but it's not okay to monopolize the conversation and push yourself or your product on other people. Be polite. You can be a social butterfly or a wallflower; you can come with a thousand friends or not. It's up to you. You don't want to come to the party? Don't. You want to leave early? Do.

So my point is: you don't have to do anything. You don't have to do anything. But if you want to learn more about social media, then here's a little bit I've picked up on the way.

  • What type of blog should you have? There are several different places you can go for a blog. Here's the most common:
    • Blogger
      • Advantages
        • A greater number of bloggers use this format
        • Easy to design, post, edit, etc. User friendly.
        • Run by Google, so Google Apps work with it (and are being developed for it)
        • Built in follower network--follow a blog, they go into your RSS feed; you can also stream your feed easily into Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr
      • Disadvantages
        • Commenting system is clumsy
      • Here's an example of a well done Blogger blog
    • LiveJournal
      • Advantages
        • Easily comment in-line; emailed notifications of comments
        • Good for groups (such as the Elevensies) as you can have locked posts just for group members to see
      • Disadvantages
        • Clunky formatting of posts
        • Difficult to format/change designs
        • Not as popular as Blogger; less people 
      • Here's an example of a well done LiveJournal blog
    • WordPress
      • Advantages
        • Creates professional looking pages; can be substituted for a static webpage (Although Blogger has recently added a Pages feature)
        • Streamlined commenting
        • Adapting more Google Apps
        • More pre-made designs available
      • Disadvantages
        • Not as popular as Blogger
      • Here's an example of a well done WordPress blog
    • See also: tumblr (below)
  • Appearances are everything. Whatever format you decide to go in, make sure your blog looks professional.
    • Design
      • When you have the option of a pretty design versus ease of reading, go for ease of reading. Don't clutter things up so much that I can't read your stuff.
      • Some basic online design tips: NEVER print black on red. It's hard to see for everyone, and for some, red/black color blindness is an issue. RARELY use black background on white type. Here's an exception to that rule: a white on black blog done well.
      • Err on the side of professional.
      • But don't be afraid to show your personality.
      • Don't focus your blog to one book--focus it more to yourself. For example, if you wrote a book about fairies, don't turn your blog into a fairy zone. After all, the next book you write may be about leprechauns. Instead, keep your blog mostly neutral, with a fairy graphic or two.
        • Therefore, I suggest making your URL your name rather than your book title.
    • Ease of access for information: There are some basic things that every blog should have in very clear, easy to find places
      • Contact information--not too much, but an email or contact form
      • Subscription feed (and if you don't have a subscription feed: fix that. You need one.)
      • If you are a published author, put your book in an easy to find place
  • Followers
    • Calm down. You don't need a gazillion followers to impress anyone. 
    • If you're that worried about getting more, then work for it: comment on other people's blogs, participate in the community. That's the best way.
  • Posts
    • Ask yourself what you want your blog to be. Do you want to talk about your dogs or your writing? Do you want to review books or talk craft? Do you want to post pictures of how cute your kids are, or do you want to highlight a certain genre of book?
    • Tone
      • You decide this. You can be super professional. You can inject your voice into your posts (a good example of voice in blogs is this one). You can be incredibly snarky and rude and trash other people. It's up to you. But think about what you do, and be willing to live with the consequences.
    • Style
      • Think also about the style of your posts. Use pictures. (Ironic, considering I am not using any in this post.) If you're disseminating a lot of information, use bold and italics and bullets (ah! at least I'm doing that!). 
  • Comments
    • Calm down. You don't need a gazillion comments to impress anyone.
    • If you're that worried about getting more, then give more. That's the best way.
    • You could also end your posts with a question to encourage answers.

  • Remember the cocktail party analogy? Twitter is the best example of that. You drop in, you drop out, you talk with other people.
  • Tweets
    • The most important rule: Don't monopolize the conversation. You know how annoying it is when someone tries to sell you something? Yeah. Don't be that person. 
    • Lisa and Laura have a fantastic rule that I think everyone should follow: every time you talk about yourself or your book, you have to follow that by talking about someone else or someone else's book. It's fine to share that your book got a great review. But follow that up by sharing someone else's great review.
  • Tweet design
    • URLs: They should be tiny.
    • Hashtags: They can be relevant (i.e. #kidlitchat) or they can be funny (i.e. #youseewhatididthere) But remember: less is more. The master of this? Maureen Johnson.
    • Don't copy. Be yourself. Yes, Maureen's funny with her jar and her 4Qs. But that doesn't mean you'll be funny if you do the same thing. Find your own voice. It'll take practice, but you'll find a way to show your personality in 140 characters. 
  • Twitter Background Design
    • It's fine if you want to use your background to showcase your book. An example of this is here. I think, actually, that's a good idea.
  • Info
    • There's a spot in your profile for your information. In that spot, make sure you put in your website and your book (if you're published). Also, your interests--i.e. that you're a book reviewer, that you write YA, or whatever. Here's why: sometimes, someone tweets back at me. I don't know who they are. If I click your profile, and can't tell, I might think you're a creeper and block you.


  • Tumblr is hard to explain. The best method would be to try it for yourself.
  • Fandom
    • There is a strong fandom base in tumblr. Things like Doctor Who and Firefly are more up my alley, so I sought those sort of blogs out. You can find plenty of fandoms for whatever you like.
  • Reblog/Like 
    • In tumblr, you have a dashboard. From the dashboard, you see posts from everyone you follow. Think of it like Twitter, but with longer posts and lots of pictures and .gifs. If you like something, you can click on a little heart to like it. This does nothing but add to your list of things you like, and lets the person who posted it know you liked it. You can also reblog. That's sort of like retweeting--it shows up on your dash.
  • Give credit
    • If you write a quote; give credit. If you reblog; give credit. It's basic kindness, but tumblr's extra watchdog on that.
  • How to use it as a writer
    • Tumblr is mostly about a community and entertainment. Don't try to sell them something. They won't like it. But here's what I think--if you build a community of people and fandoms that you like, then if you occasionally post something on your stuff, you're integrating your likes with theirs. It's like this: if you're in line to see the next Harry Potter film, and you start talking to someone else in that line, then you can be reasonably sure they might also like some other book/movie that you like. 
    • So...I post about Firefly and Doctor Who and astronomy and nerdy stuff that I like. People follow me for that. Occasionally, I also post about my book. I figure if people like the other stuff I post, they might like my book.
    • But--I really mean occasionally. Recently, I posted about my Win Breathless contest--and if you check out my tumblr, you'll see that's buried under 8 pages of other posts that have nothing to do with my book. 
  • Posts
    • Keep it short
    • Keep it simple
    • Just a photograph is fine. Just a quote is fine. Just a short paragraph is fine.
  • Ask Box
    • This is a great tool that others can use--they ask a question, you get to answer. A very simple way of doing the "ask me anything" thing.
  • Here's an example of a great tumblr
  • Updated to add: Amber made a great point that some people do use tumblr as a blog base, to very great effect. I think she's 100% right--you absolutely can use tumblr in the exact same way that, for example, I use Blogger. To check out her site, click here. She's a great example of how to do long posts in tumblr very well. 


  • I'll be the first to admit: I don't Facebook well. I'm sure there's others that do it better than I. I use it mainly as a way to interact with readers (I try to respond to every wall post) and I use it as a landing page for everything else I've got going on.
  • My best example of an author's Facebook is Carrie Ryan. So, from looking at her site:
    • A landing page is a great way to make an easy-to-see advertisement for your book
    • Store all your photos, especially of alternate book covers
  • Fun, easy to enter contests
    • A good thing about Facebook is the easy-to-share feature. Get a contest going on, and you can easily get others to help spread the word among their friends. The Across the Universe page does this well, I think (and for the record, my publisher runs that, not me). Lots of contests, lots of interaction, really focused on building a community.
  • Anyone else got pointers for this? 




  • Be aware of what feeds where.
  • Look, I get that this is a lot of stuff. But--you don't have to do it all. You don't have to be everywhere. So if it's overwhelming, don't do it. Or just do part of it. 
  • But what you shouldn't do is do one thing and feed it everywhere. 
  • Example: you only blog. You feed all your blog posts through Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. You never post anything on Twitter, Facebook, or Tumblr--you only use it to feed your blog. 
  • This isn't a bad thing. But don't expect much from Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr if you only use it to feed your blog. People can just follow your blog and ignore the rest. I have new, different content on Twitter, Tumblr, and this blog. Facebook feeds my Tumblr, but I do also interact on Facebook, although not much, admittedly. But my point is: go to any of my social networking sites, you get something different. Some people subscribe to all four. Some just subscribe to one. That's cool. When I've got something big going on--a book launch, a big contest, etc.--then I cross-post to everything. My audience for the occasional rare big thing is exponentially larger then. 
What I Do
  • Blogger
    • This is what you're looking at now. I selected Blogger as my program of choice because I felt that it was the best to design and the most popular program among other writers.
    • My blog is focused on reading and writing, primarily YA in both. So, I post about books I like, and writing things.
    • I also post about my own book--but I hope in a non-braggy way. I just want to make sure that what to know about it, do. I consider this blog as a base to my website (notice that the header's linked to my website), so I figure this is one of the first places people go for information.
    • Contests are based here--this is because this is the easiest place to organize and post information, and provides me a larger base to do so.
    • I consider this place to be a bit formal, in that I post more about books/writing than about silly things.
  • Twitter
    • I use this as a conversation--it's the epitome of the cocktail party analogy. If I've got a big contest going on, I do tweet about it, but I'll spend more time on Twitter just chatting than anything else.
    • I also use Twitter as a source for information--a love finding new links and clicking around--and I try to also provide information for others through it.
  • Tumblr
    • This is the comedy--fun, interesting, neat things that I think people would with my tastes would like as well.
  • Facebook
    • This is mostly a landing place for everything else, but also a way to connect and talk directly to readers. 
  • YouTube
    • I don't do this one--but I've got my eye on it for now.
  • GoodReads
    • I use this for my own personal uses--an easy way to keep track of what I'm reading/want to read. I don't really consider it a social media site as I don't use it as such.
  • Cortex App
    • The secret to my success--an easy app that's an add-on for Chrome, that makes it super-easy to share links, pictures, etc., is the Cortex App

I know this was a lot--I hope it was helpful for people! In the comments, let me know if you have any other questions--and if you have any tips for anyone else! My way isn't the only way, and there's a lot of smart people doing a lot of smart things online. Watch them. Figure out what works and why.

Winner of WITHER!

The winner of the copy of WITHER is....


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Bookanista Feature: Shaun Tan's LOST AND FOUND

My friend Heather kept telling me about this artist and writer, Shaun Tan. And then Tan won an Oscar for his short film based on "Lost Things."

And still, I would look at his books and think, "meh." It didn't seem to be my sort of thing. It wasn't pretty. It seemed like a quiet book. I was fairly certain neither kissing nor explosions were involved.

But recently I was in Salisbury at the Literary Bookpost, and thought...I'll try it.

Within the first few pages...I was hooked. My doubt was SO unfounded.

LOST & FOUND was beautiful. was, but it wasn't. I was right in that the artwork isn't pretty. But there's a difference between "pretty" and "beautiful." Something can be ugly, but beautiful at the same time.

LOST & FOUND consists of three stories--"The Red Tree," "The Lost Thing," and "The Rabbits."

The stories are each different in tone. "The Red Tree" is about overcoming depression; "The Lost Thing" is about losing the nature of innocence; "The Rabbits" is about colonialism. But, of course, it's not as simple as that. None of it is. Because "The Red Tree" might be about depression, but it's also about finding yourself, about being yourself, about accepting what's wrong and what isn't. Also: it's about a red tree.

None of these stories are simple. While I think you could make some comparisons to "The Red Tree" with Doctor Seuss's OH, THE PLACES YOU WILL GO! this story is much more complex. Tan's stories are not meant for children, despite the picture-book format. Or, rather--they are meant for children. In the same way that the Grimm Fairy Tales were meant for children. These stories aren't silly little nothings, they aren't  fluffy bunnies and pokey puppies. But they are true, and they are beautiful.

This is an illustration from "The Red Tree"--the dark fish is the disappointment, sorrow, and sadness hanging over the red-haired girl on the street. It doesn't swallow her, but it does block out the sun. And that's one of the most important things in this book--that the text and pictures are indelibly intertwined.

But if you look closely--and I mean closely--you'll see a red leaf. And the red leaves add up to a red tree.

So: check this book out! And check out Shaun Tan's other works, too--I know I will be!

Check out the other Bookanista Reviews!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Interview with Lauren DeStefanos, author of WITHER

One of the most highly anticipated books this spring is WITHER by Lauren DeStefano--the first of the Chemical Garden trilogy, a brand new face to dystopia, and featuring one of the most beautiful covers made!


WITHER tells the story of a world after the fall, where males can't live past 25 years, and females can't live past 20. Women are often kidnapped, forced into harems to reproduce. Women like Rhine--taken and forced into an unwilling polygamous marriage that she must escape if she's to find her brother, return home, and maybe even fall in love...before she turns twenty and it's all too late for her.

What interests me most about the story is the ticking time bomb. The crushing pressure of knowing that there's nothing you can'll never live past a certain date. More than the extreme situation, the bleak landscape, and the tangled romance, it's the ever-present death looming over all the characters that really draws me to this story.

Luckily, I had a chance to send Lauren (who is an absolute sweetheart and way cooler than me) a few questions about herself, her book, and her writing. So, without further ado: Lauren DeStefanos!


We can all read about your bio from the back of your book or your FAQ online. So, what's a completely random fact about you that most people don't know? 

The book that's shaped me the most as a writer and as a human being is probably Harold and the Purple Crayon.

As a child, what was your favorite book? Have your tastes changed since growing up? 

When I was very young, I was positively obsessed with the American Girl books! My parents even took me to Colonial Williamsburg for summer vacation. Somewhere around middle school, though, I fell in love with adult fiction because it was much more dramatic than books in my age group, most notably of which was The Other Side of Midnight by Sidney Sheldon. I entered the world of dark and tragic and never looked back.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? 

I didn't give it much thought. I can't say I had many finely-honed skills. Towards high school/college I thought I'd work in an office of some sort and pursue publication on the side. I never thought I'd be fortunate enough to have writing as my career.


How much of you is in your book? 

It's my every intention, when writing, to completely detach my own life from the lives of my characters. If I'm feeling sad or mad or happy, it still doesn't change the kind of day my characters are having. In fact it's sort of the opposite; the moods of my characters and the overall tone of the story can impact me. When I was writing Wither, I would spend a good eight or nine hours in Rhine's prison, and I'd go to bed feeling just exhausted and defeated, like 'Is she ever going to get out of there? Will things look up?' I just wanted her to be happy.

What was your timeline for the book? How long did it take to write, revise, submit, and finally, get published? How did you feel at these stages? 

I wrote the first draft in under a month. This is NOT typical for me--it hasn't happened before, and it hasn't happened since. It was just an adrenaline rush, I suppose; I kept writing because I wanted to know what would happen next. I revise as I go along, so that part got integrated into the actual writing itself. I'd come up with a solid draft by the start of October, at which point I sent it to my agent. It usually took several weeks or months to hear back from editors in the past, so I tried to just put it out of my mind. But Simon & Schuster offered a pre-empt before the end of the month. The whole thing happened incredibly fast. After that, I'd say my editor and I went back and forth on revisions for a couple of months; a lot was added, but little to nothing of the original manuscript was changed.

If your reader could only take away one emotion, theme, or idea from the book, what would you want that to be? 

I would never, ever tell a reader what to take away from my book. There's no wrong way to interpret a story. I've had a few readers tell me they felt guilty for liking Linden, Rhine's obligatory husband, because they don't think that's supposed to happen. But there is no 'supposed to'--if that's how you feel, it's how you feel. It's genuine.


What are your goals as an author? Where do you want to see yourself as a writer in 5, 10, 15 years?

Okay, let me first just say that I never could have anticipated having such an enthusiastic publishing team promoting this story, or the wonderful response Wither has gotten from readers and the blogosphere thus far. It's higher into the stars than I would have dared to reach. For that reason, I have no predictions for where I'll be in 5, 10, 15 or 30 years; I'm just going to keep writing, keep trying new things, and see where it takes me.

What's the most surprising thing you've learned since becoming a writer? 

That doubts are my sworn enemy.

Beyond the typical—never give up, believe in yourself—what would be the single best advice you'd like to give to an aspiring author? 

My advice would be not to take writing advice too seriously. What works for one author may not work for another. You, the author, knows what's in your head better than anyone else.

What do you consider to be your strongest talent in writing? Your weakest? 

I would be the last person to have an accurate answer for this. I'm constantly surprised by the reactions others have to my stories and the things readers take away from them.

What's a writing pet peeve that you have? 

This is not a peeve exactly, but when I'm really in the trenches of a manuscript and things have gotten intense, I get a rash on the back of my hand.

Just comment on the interview in the post here, and then check out Lauren's guest post and comment on the League, and you're entered to win a copy of WITHER! Open internationally--please leave your email address if it's not in your profile so I can get in touch with you. The winner will be announced on Wednesday at noon EST. 

And the Winner is...

Wow! You guys are freaking awesome--I am still in awe of how many of you wanted these books! :D

So...without further ado...

The winner of all five autographed Breathless Reads books...

*drumroll please*

Friday, March 18, 2011

Mini Linkspam!

It's been so long since I've done a linkspam! *sigh* Ah, the good ol' days :D

Here's what's been preventing me from actually working this week:

Beautiful Covers!

  • Jeff Hirsch just revealed the cover for THE ELEVENTH PLAGUE (spoiler alert: there's a Suzanne Collins blurb on the front!)
  • Michelle Hodkins has one of my fave covers of the year with THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER
  • Elana Johnson's POSSESSION has a shiny blurb on it, now, too! 
  • And I keep making grabby-hands at this

Smart People Saying Smart Stuff!

  • If you've never checked out Write On Con, you're missing out
  • This post by Mandy Hubbard is wise and true and everyone who aspires to publish should read it.
  • Lauren DeStefanos points out that writing doesn't equal money, but it's still worth it.
  • Nathan Fillion has my heart. (Link has some cussing, if you want to avoid that, don't click) 

Preparing for Bloggy Stuff!

  • I'm not going to say too much about this (otherwise, why would you bother to come back?) but here are some books that you're going to be seeing here in the next few weeks. Many of which involve, yanno, prizes. And such. 
    • WITHER
Has your head exploded from the upcoming awesome? Mine has!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Were-llamas and Cupcakes and AWESOME

It has been one of my secret goals in life to be interviewed by CJ Redwine. Seriously. I mean, c'mon. She's awesome. She makes numbered posts that crack me right the heck up; her interviews are done by characters such as were-llamas and Captain Jack Sparrow and she's an amazing writer who has made me cry twice and laugh countless times through reading various posts on her blog. She was one of my first blog-stalkees, and I would dream, as a fledging writer, of being cool enough that her husband would make a cupcake in honor of my book.

Guess what?

It's a koi! If you've read the book, you'll know how fitting this is.

*dies of joy*

You can read the whole interview here. I was a brave soul, and took on the were-llama. I was all sassy-pants about it, but in reality, that llama is for reals scary.

Go. Check it out. And make sure to follow CJ while you're there because she's nine shades of amazing.

And while you're there, comment to win a signed copy of my book.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Answers--Now With More Thought

This is part 3 of my most recent answer session! Part 1 is here, part 2 is here, and the original post to ask questions was here.

Cyndi Tefft said...Your promotion and marketing efforts for the launch of ATU were extremely impressive. Would you consider putting together a list of the marketing efforts you did, as a helpful guide to others planning a book launch? Thanks!

First: while I definitely did some marketing myself, my publisher, Razorbill, did a FANTASTIC and extensive job at marketing, too, and everything they did was about 100000% better than my feeble plans. So, definitely working with a publisher, especially one as awesome as Razorbill, helps.

But here's some things I went in specifically to do:

  • Contests. I planned four contests, one for each of the three months before launch, one for the month of launch. I worked to make each contest different--so people could participate in different ways, and also so the focus of the contest was on different things.
  • Website. This website was something that I designed myself (in that I decided what went where and the content, not that I drew or programmed it). And I made it after viewing a LOT of author websites and determining what I felt was the most important to create a fun, but professional, site for people to find out more about me and the book in a simple way.
  • Marketing materials. I designed and made: business cards, postcards, bookmarks, and pin buttons, and I distributed them in various different ways, typically through contests. Even now, in every mailing that I send out for a contest, I include a postcard or bookmark of mine. So, for example, in the box that I've prepared for this contest of the five Breathless Reads books, I've also thrown in a postcard that about my book specifically.
  • Working with friends. I've been blogging for a long time, and I've picked up some great friends along the way. I've tried not to take over their blogs or anything, but I have worked with them to make a blog tour, etc.
  • Social networking. I truly enjoy it--and most of my content isn't about my book. (For example...I have never tweeted "Buy my book now!") I built my social networking platform over years of blogging, years of tweeting, and paying attention to how professional writers structured their Facebooks and other things. It sounds a little human to say that I went into social networking with an agenda--but it's the truth. I made a point to never get too far off the topic of reading and writing on my social networking platforms, for example, or to use my social networks to share inflammatory opinions. I treat all social networking as if I were at a big cocktail with lots of publishing professionals--so I join in the conversation, try to be polite, and share stories that I think are relevant to everyone else at the social network party.
  • Some things that I would do differently: use QR codes in marketing material, make a more stream-lined graphic format for the printed material, do a more concentrated effort of a few aspect of the online stuff.
  • Does this help? This is actually a topic I quite like to talk about, but I don't want to rabbit on about it if I bore everyone...

Anonymous said...I have two questions! :) Out of curiosity, how many words long is ATU? (I really enjoyed it, by the way!! Kiersten White was spot-on when she said it made her feel claustrophobic...) What is the nicest/awesomest thing anyone has ever said about ATU? Thanks! -Ellie

Yay, I'm glad you liked it!

AtU was about 90,000 words long.

So far, the best thing people have said to me have come in emails from readers. One person told me about how she was very sick with a painful disease, and that my book helped her to forget her pain and escape the disease for a little while. I'm actually crying a little thinking about that email--it was so touching to know that something as simple as my little story helped someone out in such an important way.

Anonymous said...Girl I loved ATU! I bought it the day it came out and finished it and gave it to my younger sis, and now we are waiting patiently (and by patiently I mean chewing our fingernails down to the nubs) for book 2. Ahem, anyway, my question is: what is the biggest difference in your life post-publication?

Also, that comment right there is a pretty awesome thing someone's said about AtU, too :D

Biggest difference between published and not?

On an emotional level: validation. There's a great sense of failure (at least for me, personally) in writing without being published. Since publication, I've come to view my "failed" manuscripts as more of practice than failure, a point of pride rather than shame, and to feel that my hard work and years of effort are definitely validated.

On a physical level: quitting the day job. It effing rocks that I get to sleep in every single freaking day and go to work in my pajamas.

sheilapimples said...Do you ever get writer's block? I always get that problem when I see what I want to write in my head, yet I can't put it in to words. Is that even writer's block? I'm just wondering what you do, I guess, to let the creativity flow.

YES. YES YES YES I get writer's block. For me, it's more a matter of I know what happens at point A, and I know what happens at point C, but somehow I have to figure out what happens at point B. Or, I know what should happen, but I don't know how to describe it.

The way I fix this is to use a legal note pad and a pen. I've mentioned this before, but in greater detail--I sort of doodle and take notes and sketch out ideas. Moving from computer to pen is liberating--I can underline and circle and draw arrows and sketch out the setting and doodle in the corner when I get stuck and all that good stuff, until I finally figure out the idea. Sometimes, I just handwrite the story until I get going so well that I can't write fast enough, then I jump back to the computer. But I definitely need that difference in format to get the ideas and creativity flowing again.

Monday, March 14, 2011

More Answers!

This is part 2 of my most recent answer session! Part 1 is here; original post to ask questions was here.

Lindsay said...What's the password for the eye lens on the telescope in your header? It's always drove me nuts-- the unknown extras hidden behind a cyber door.

Ah, it's not that hard to find! ;) OK, I don't want to take all the fun out of it, but if you click on the "for readers" star up above in the header, you'll see that there are three words on that text that are bolded--try them! :D

Lynsey Newton said...When can you reveal the title and even cover for book two? ;)

Well, the title's out now: A MILLION SUNS! As for the cover: I have seen a very rough version of it, and it filled my eyes with joy. I'm not sure when I can share, though!

Laura Fey said...What's your ultimate writing place?

Anywhere! Seriously--I can write anywhere. My couch, my kitchen table, and my desk are the most common places. But I will say that soon--any day now, actually--the cherry trees around my house are going to bloom. When the pink petals come out, so do I--I really like sitting on my back deck as the blossom blow around in the wind. So, for a few days out of the year, that's my ultimate writing place.

 TeamJacob said...What other genres of books do you like to write? Also, have you read the Twilight series?

YA fantasy! Actually, all my trunk novels are YA fantasy. Sci fi was a bit of a departure for me.

I have read the first TWILIGHT book, but not the rest.

Saundra Mitchell said...Which author do you feel braids your hair the BEST?

YOU. My answer is always YOU.

Dakota said...When is your birthday(month and day)?

Ah! I'm kinda private about that. I'll just say I'm a Libra, is that good enough? :)

helenlandalf said...What was the busiest time around your book release. Just before? During? After?

I'd say...hmmm. That's a tough one. I'd say that the busiest time started just before, but that it hasn't really let up since then. Because just before and during release, I was all focused on the launch, but then immediately after I had to turn my attention to writing Book 2, so...yeah. I'm still as busy as I was then!

Lara T. said...Ok, you said anything! lol I want to know how, in blogger, you have a header that is clickable like that!! lol Love it!!

Hahaha! That one's easy! I asked my web designer, Manning Krull, to make it for me. I have no idea how he did it. He's awesome like that!

That's it for today! These answers were short and easy--the last ones will require a little bit longer, more thoughtful responses, so I'm going to hold off on them until tomorrow. And if you'd like to add a question of your own, please do so here!

Answers! Sort of. I mean, I basically don't know anything.

First: holy wow, you guys, I'm so stoked that y'all are excited for the contest! I've got the box of books all packaged and ready to go--you've got a week left to enter. And those of you who're signed up for my newsletter should have gotten an extra hint about April's contest, too!

Second: A little while ago, I posted an "ask anything." And now, without further ado: answers!

Edited to add: I have no flipping clue why the spacing is so off on this one. Sorry. 

N.E. Williams said... Have you ever doubted your writing when you decided to publish your work? I love writing and want to share my stories with everyone but I am scared that others wouldn't like them. What do you tell yourself if you ever have doubt and make it stay away?

Yes. YES. Actually, the closest I've ever come to giving up was just before I sent ACROSS THE UNIVERSE out. As for being scared to share your stories: I think everyone is like that. At least, every writer I know is like that. In fact, when I sent Book 2 to my critique partners, I distinctly remember sending a plea to them apologizing for how bad it was...

So, the short answer is: I have no idea how to make the doubt go away. None at all. I have it all the time. Instead, for me, it's a matter of living with the doubt, and sending my work out despite it.

The Blogger Girlz said...How do you balance real life with writing and how do make time for each without going insane? Also, any tips on plowing through a frist draft?

I have no idea. Time management isn't my strong suit. Basically, I just do whatever I can, whenever I can. I tend to write in huge, long bursts as quickly and as much as I can...and then not write for a few days. I also regularly ignore things like household chores, doing the dishes, and hygiene. 

As for plowing through first drafts: when I get stuck, I switch formats. For example, I tend to write on the computer. But when I get stuck, I use pen and paper. Also, changing location helps me. If I've been writing in one spot, say, at my desk, I'll move to the couch if I'm stuck, or even leave the house and go to the coffee shop. 

Natalie Aguirre said...How do you start a second book in a series and weave in the back story without doing an info dump?

I dunno. (That seems to be the theme of this post, huh?) It took me a lot of trial and effort to get the first chapters of my Book 2 written--and they're still not perfect. But that's how I write: I just write and write and write and hope something good comes out.

If you're working on this, I think that JK Rowling did a very good job of this, particularly in books 2 and 3. CS Lewis did an excellent job of this in THE SILVER CHAIR in particular.

Lianne said...What was the best day of your life so far?

My wedding. Ha! Thought it'd be something about writing, huh? And that's really high up there, honestly--but my wedding is the best so far. I was surrounded by everyone I loved, friends and family, and there was cake. 

Lindsay Cummings many times did you query ATU before you found your agent?

About fifty queries or so. But if you count up every query I sent for every project I worked on, I sent out several hundred queries. Keep in mind I've got ten trunk novels, and queried most of them extensively. 

jmartinlibrary said...Beth, we'd love to hear your words of wisdom for agented writers going on submission for the first time. Thanks!

Pray! Eat chocolate! Talk to friends! But...take out your neuroses on your friends, in private. Don't blog about it. Don't tell the world. Find a couple of trust-worthy friends and commiserate with them. Also: keep in mind that everyone's different. I know someone who got a book deal in a matter of days. I know someone who was on submission for almost a year before she got a book deal. So everyone's different--don't compare. Don't judge yourself by anyone else's stick. Also: write the next book.

Anita said...When is the second installment of "Across The Universe" coming out in bookstores? 

I have no idea! :D I would guess sometime around this time next year :)

More tomorrow! I know I've not covered all the questions--but I'll keep doing this tomorrow as well! Also, if you'd like to add a question, please do so here.

And remember! You've got a week to enter the contest!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Win ALL FIVE *SIGNED* copies of the Breathless Books!

This contest is now over. Thank you for entering! 

I had such an amazing time on tour--I'm working on uploading photos now--and I loved meeting everyone so much that I wanted to share the awesome with you guys, my wonderful blog readers.

So, I forced asked all the girls on the tour to sign copies of their books, and so today, I am pleased to announce one of my biggest contests ever: signed copies of ALL FIVE of the Breathless Reads books!

As you know, I'm a fan of all these books. But here's my super-short reasoning for why you want each one:

  • THE ETERNAL ONES by Kiersten Miller is a fast-paced, adventurious love story that involves reincarnation, secret societies, and fire.
  • THE REPLACEMENT by Brenna Yovanoff is a hauntingly beautiful book that scares the pants off me.
  • NIGHTSHADE by Andrea Cremer is not about werewolves--it's about true wolves that can shapeshift into people written by a brilliant scholar who incorporate history into the tale.
  • MATCHED by Allie Condie shows us that love can break through any barrier, and the most important thing is to not go gently...
  • ACROSS THE UNIVERSE is the book that I wrote and I would really like it if you liked it. Also I think you're pretty and want to be friends with you.
To enter this contest, all I'd like you to do is to tell a friend about it. That's it. You can just lean over and tell  a random stranger about this contest, and we're kosher. But you can also tell people in different ways, and I am going to try to make it really easy for you.

And I've made it simple--you can just cut the html code below, and paste it into a blog post, and the image will automatically load, including a link back to the contest! Note: The html code only works if you paste it into blogger on the "Edit HTML" tab, not the "Compose" tab. In the compose tab, you can resize the image however you want. You can also just copy and paste the image if you like.

Win Breathless

Tweet anything you like--as long as you use the #WinBreathless hashtag, I can find you and give you credit. To make it even easier on you, though, I'm adding a button here--all you have to do is push that button and the tweet will come up on your Twitter, already linked, hashtagged and ready to go! Edit: Apparently, the auto-tweet button won't work with links or tags--you can tweet it like it comes up here, or add the link yourself: html:// Sorry for the trouble!

  This contest is now over. Thank you for entering! 

Just post a link to this contest on your Facebook. But first--go to the Breathless Reads page and, if you haven't yet, like them. This isn't a requirement, I just think it'd be nice to do it--since Penguin did put together the tour and everything, and this is a way of showing them you like the tour and the books. Anyway, if you like the Breathless Reads page, then when you post about it on Facebook, you can type @Breathless Reads in your post, and it will link back to them so that (a) other people can show Penguin their appreciation and (b) you're gonna make Penguin feel all kinds of warm and fuzzy that people are linking back to them and sharing the love.

And that's it!
Just spread the word in SOME way and you're entered! And if you spread the word in extra ways, you of course get extra entries :)

One rule--I can only ship to the US. I'm sorry! But five hardback copies of books are expensive to ship! I promise the next contest will be internationals. Also: make sure to fill out the form so I can count you! Contest is open from March 11-21. Winners announced March 21.

This contest is now over. Thank you for entering!