Monthly Archives: May 2015

The Five Questions: Erin Cashman

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Erin Cashman headshot

“I learned the hard way that I have to write the story that fills my head, that I can’t wait to get down, or writing stops being a passion and becomes a chore.”

Erin Cashman is the author of The Exceptionals and the mastermind behind the The First Five Pages Workshop, an online coaching/mentoring program sponsored by Adventures in YA Publishing.

Her five answers have introduced me to at least two new things: a Fitzgerald novella I had never heard of before, and a noun, “pantser,” which has become an inescapable part of my vocabulary. Thank you, Erin!

  1. What’s the surprising inspiration behind one (your choice) of the characters or stories you’ve created?

Growing up, my father often told me that we only use ten percent of our brain power. I often wondered, can some people use more? Did Einstein use more of his brain than most people – and what about mediums? My mother believed in ghosts, and she used to go to a medium. Maybe the medium could use a different part of her brain. This became the foundation for The Exceptionals: a school for students who have “special” abilities.

  1. If you could rescue one obscure book and make it more widely known to the world, which book would you choose and why?

The Diamond as Big as the Ritz, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I’m a big F. Scott Fitzgerald fan, and he packs so much into this novella. It has lyrical storytelling telling and a fantastical plot, but it is also a dark and satirical commentary about excess of every kind. I am always amazed at how much Fitzgerald can say in so few pages. 

  1. You can ask one question to any author, living or dead. What would you ask and why?

I would ask Shakespeare about his writing process. That would be the one question, but I’d hope in explaining it to me he’d also answer some follow up questions – is he a plotter or a pantser? How many revisions of a play does he usually do? How does he create such distinct and vivid characters? 

  1. What’s the best (or your favorite) feedback you’ve received from a reader?

Like most writers, I love hearing from readers. The best feedback I ever have received was from a woman who read The Exceptionals, and then gave it to her daughter – a very reluctant reader. The woman wrote to tell me that her daughter read the book in just a few days, and loved it so much that she asked the librarian to help her chose similar books. I also received a lovely letter and a beautiful drawing of a hawk from the book, which I framed. Every time I see it I smile! 

  1. What’s the worst writing advice you’ve received from a teacher?

I took a writing class taught by a well known editor. He was a brilliant man, but our styles were very different (for example, he hated Fitzgerald and often cracked jokes about his writing!). He told me to focus on realistic fiction, and to drop fantasy, which he was dismissive of as a genre. I learned the hard way that I have to write the story that fills my head, that I can’t wait to get down, or writing stops being a passion and becomes a chore.

For more information about Erin Cashman and her books:

Visit her online at: www.erincashman.com

Follow her Tweets at: @etcashman

The Five Questions: Diana Renn

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DianaRenn

In the pioneer post of what will be a regular feature of this blog, Diana Renn — author of Tokyo HeistLatitude Zero, and the upcoming Blue Voyage — tackles The Five Questions, inviting us into a world of disastrous cycling mistakes, a mystery about Agatha Christie’s mysteries, and the reason why she believes having a “Plan B” may not be such a grade-A idea.

  1. What’s the surprising inspiration behind one (your choice) of the characters or stories you’ve created?

My books have multiple sources of inspiration that sort of glom together over time and after a lot of hard thinking. LATITUDE ZERO had two main sources of inspiration. One was my experience living and working in Ecuador. I got the idea of a character whose moral compass had gone somewhat askew, and who had traveled a very long way in order to find herself; I explored this in a short story that I revised over many years, and later I realized this was Tessa, the main character in what would become this novel. The other inspiration was my involvement in a 200-mile bike ride to raise money for cancer research. I did this ride for several years with my husband. In an effort to keep my mind occupied, I sometimes imagined horrific crash scenes, or let myself imagine what might happen if I made a bad decision on the ride and caused a crash. I thought it would be fun to set a mystery in the bicycling world. The heroines of my bike story idea and my Ecuador story began to merge. I had Tessa make a bad decision on the ride, with an Ecuadorian athlete in the picture, and spent the next several hundred pages trying to get her out of trouble.

  1. If you could rescue one obscure book and make it more widely known to the world, which book would you choose and why?

Well, it’s not exactly obscure, but I don’t think it’s as widely read as it once was – and certainly not known to the YA crowd. I’m going to say The Far Pavilions, by M.M. Kaye – or maybe ANY of her books, especially the Death In . . . murder mystery series that takes us to different countries (Death in Zanzibar, Death in Berlin, etc.). I love M.M. Kaye’s storytelling and her portrayal of characters confronting mysteries set in other culture, the mysteries of other countries, and the mysteries within themselves. They remind me that the world is vast, and people are deep.

  1. You can ask one question to any author, living or dead. What would you ask and why?

I would like to ask any writer who is a parent how they do it. How they juggle the competing demands on their time and attention. I am always looking for new tricks. On a very different note, I’d love to ask Agatha Christie why she didn’t actually set a mystery in Turkey, even though she lived in Istanbul for a while. (She wrote Murder on the Orient Express while living in the Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul, but the novel isn’t actually set in Turkey). Truly, this confounds me; the city is steeped in mystery!

  1. What’s the best (or your favorite) feedback you’ve received from a reader?

I love it when readers, especially teens, tell me that they identified strongly with one of the characters. (I get this a lot about Violet in Tokyo Heist). I love it when the people who identify with a character are actually so different from one another. I really love it when a guy reader says he relates to Violet or to Tessa!

  1. What’s the worst writing advice you’ve received from a teacher?

I’ve been so lucky to have great writing teachers; I don’t think anyone gave me lousy advice. No one actively discouraged me. No one gave me rules that I then felt compelled to go out and break. However, in college I somehow got a message – or told myself – that I needed a good Plan B if I wanted to write, and I decided getting a Ph.D. in English would be a reliable Plan B. Not so. I got all tangled up in my Plan B (and C, and D) and Plan A – creative writing – really got relegated to the sideline. Resentment festered. By the time I finally left academia, determined to become a novelist, I felt that I was rebelling against every teacher – when in fact no one had told me directly not to put my writing first. A lot of aspiring writers go with Plan B out of fear. Some of them might have been teachers, and I might have unconsciously copied them. Then again, maybe I needed to create some force, some faceless teacher, to rebel against, in order to prioritize my writing again!

For more about Diana Renn and her books:

 

Visit her online at: http://www.dianarennbooks.com

Follow her Tweets at: @dianarenn

July 1 Reading with New York City Teen Author Festival

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I’ll take Manhattan–or at least a part of it anyway. If you’re in the city July 1, please join me at the Teen Author Reading Night, sponsored by the NYC Teen Author Festival, at Jefferson Market Branch of the NY Public Library in the Village, 6:00 – 7:30pm. Details here.

Check out this wonderful list of reading authors:

Matt de la Peña, The Hunted
Lori Goldstein, Becoming Jinn
Jonathan Kranz, Our Brothers at the Bottom of the Sea
Emmy Laybourne, Sweet
Barry Lyga, After the Red Rain
Carolyn Mackler, Best Friend Next Door
Margo Rabb, Kissing in America
Anna Schumacher, Children of the Earth

Buy Our Brothers at the Bottom of the Bottom of the Sea: Learn more