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Author Interview: Kathy Cano-Murillo

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Kathy Cano-Murillo, also known as the Crafty Chica, is a woman of many talents.  Not only is she an art and craft celebrity, she’s also an author of both fiction and craft-related books.  I really enjoyed reading her first novel, Waking Up in the Land of Glitter, earlier this year.  Kathy’s second novel, Miss Scarlet’s School of Patternless Sewing has just been released, and I’m thrilled to be participating in her blog tour via an author interview.

 

Welcome, Kathy!  I know you’re busy with your blog tour, and hope it’s a smashing success.  I appreciate you taking the time to answer some writing and book-related questions.

In addition to being a writer, I’m also an avid reader and am curious about your reading habits.  I follow you on Twitter and on Facebook, so I know that you’re super busy.  Do you have time to read?  If so, do you prefer fiction or non-fiction?

Oh yes! I usually have three books going at a time. One on my nightstand, one on my iPhone Kindle and an audio book in the art studio. I can’t get enough! Mostly fiction.

 

 

Both of your novels’ storylines sucked me right in, and as a writer/blogger and artist/crafter I love that they’re both set in the creative world.  Your new novel’s main character, Scarlet Santana, had two strong, creative women teaching and guiding her – her Nana Eleanor and Daisy de la Flora.  Have you had similar influences in your life?  Who are your creative idols?

Certainly! I had a Nana Eleanor, who was just like Nana Eleanor in the book. However, I never was able to spend a lot of time with her and I regret it so much. She always wanted to teach me to sew, but I was too busy and postponed it.  After she passed away, I cried for days because I never even took the time for one sewing lesson from my nana. My husband went out to the store and came home with a $99 machine. “All she wanted was for you to sew,” he said. I started with an easy placemat purse and have not looked back. I made a little sewing shrine to my nana and it is in my art studio. I think of her EVERY time I sit down to sew. After I wrote the book, I realized that Scarlet’s relationship with her Nana Eleanor was the one I should have had with my Nana. I hope my Nana knows that and forgives me!

I have a feeling that she knows, forgives you, and is very happy you’ve taken up sewing.  I know you’ve been writing since you were a child (short stories) and were a columnist for a newspaper in Arizona.  However, an inclination to write doesn’t necessarily translate to noveling.  Was there always a novel inside you waiting to come out, or was it an evolution that began after you successfully published your non-fiction titles?

It was always a far-off crazy dream of mine. I knew I wanted to see my novel on the front table at a bookstore, but it wasn’t until 2004 that I actually believed I could outline a story, begin, finish and sell it. I took it one step at a time and devoted countless hours and energy. Even if nothing came from it, I could die knowing I tried as hard as I could!

What was the biggest surprise when you wrote your first novel?

 

How much I enjoyed it. I thought it would be very hard, and it was at first, but once I got going, the stories just flowed out of me. The characters became real people in my life with real problems. I felt like I had an imaginary extended family. It also surprised me how sad I felt once I finished the last batch of editing.

How did the experience or process differ with your second novel?  Did you do certain things differently based on what you’d learned the first time around?

 

Oh yes! I learned what not to do! The process went much faster. When I wrote the first book, I didn’t really know what I was doing, I just wrote what I thought was a compelling book, only to have my editor cut half of it and send me back to my desk to redo it. I learned that every single word, sentence, paragraph and chapter has to move the story forward, otherwise it needs to be cut. That alone saved a lot of time!

What is the most difficult part of the noveling process for you?  Plot development, rewriting, or something else entirely?

 

Getting started on the outline. It’s a blast to dream up the characters, but you have to give them personality, problems, etc. Sometimes I get stuck. I’ll say “I know where Point A is and where Point Z is, but how do I get my character there?” It’s only difficult in the early stages, once I start writing, it all comes together and fills out and new ideas come. That’s my favorite part of the process!

Marketing is key in any industry – particularly in the competitive and rapidly-evolving world of publishing. What are some of your favorite ways to publicize your new books, and how big of a part does social media play in that?

 

I’ve always been an avid blogger, long before people used the social media term. I was all over MySpace when it was big, and now Twitter and Facebook. I love technology and connecting with people from all over the world! I make sure to always know the latest and greatest utilities and see if they are a good fit for what I do. I do stay with the biggest platforms, strive to build quality relationships, and don’t let myself get sidetracked with too much online stuff. I don’t want it to get in the way of my writing or crafting!

I know many publishers and authors are using blog tours to promote new titles in lieu of more traditional book tours and signings.  Do you prefer a digital tour, in-person events, or a mixture of both?

 

I love any kind of tour! My mission is to spread the word far and wide about Miss Scarlet’s School of Patternless Sewing. The book is very meaningful to me and I’m excited to embrace any platform to share it!

I’m pleased to help you spread the word about your new novel, and thank you for your time.  I wish you continued success both personally and professionally, Kathy!

Warm regards,
Melody

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*Disclosure: I received an advance copy of Miss Scarlet’s School of Patternless Sewing for review purposes.

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Let the Novel Rewriting Begin!

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As many of you know, I wrote a novel last November when I took part in National Novel Writing Month – also known as NaNoWriMo.  I wrote over 50,000 words in a month, and though I’m glad that I was able to get such a big chunk written, I’m nowhere near being done.  I’ve printed out my (very rough) first draft, hole-punched it, and put it into a binder.  Armed with a red pen, a highlighter and some repositionable flags, it’s time to begin phase two of my work.

Yep, I’m Nervous

I’m sure it’s just a mild case of the jitters because I’m facing the unknown, but this looming novel rewrite is a bit scary.  I’ve done plenty of rewriting in my life, but never on a novel.  For example, I revised the collection of illustrated short stories I created, but short stories are, well, shorter!  They’re self-contained, and though my stories are linked by the illustrations, they each stand alone.  Oh well, it’s time to summon my courage and forge on ahead.

What I’m Looking For

In this first run through I hope to find the “obviously wrongs” – things like missing words, wrong spellings (their/there/they’re) and awkward phrasings.  I also hope to identify any inconsistencies, implausibilities, and things that need more fleshing out and more detail.  I know there will be quite a bit of the latter, and welcome the chance to increase my word count because the publishing world is allegedly partial to works of approximately 75,000 words.

My Timeline and Goal

My goal is to finish rewriting this novel by the end of 2011 and start the query process in early 2012.  Sooner would be better, of course, but I know better than to submit work before it’s ready.  The industry research I’ve done in the last year relayed that message again and again.  Don’t query before your manuscript is actually complete (i.e. don’t query when you’re still writing your first draft!), and don’t count on an agent or editor to recognize your “diamond in the rough”, sign you, and then clean your work up for you.  Author Catherine Ryan Hyde stated that “neatness does count” in our interview earlier this month, and she’s right.  So I’ll devote ample time and effort to my story in hopes of seeing it on a bookstore’s shelf one day.

Note(s) to self:

Remember the wise words of Stephen Kaggwa.  ”Try and fail, but don’t fail to try.”
The words of Lao Tzu are also apropos.  “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”
Oh, and don’t forget this gem by John Irving. “Half my life (as a writer) is an act of revision.”

Rewriting officially begins this week.  Wish me luck!

Warm regards,
Melody

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Author Interview: Catherine Ryan Hyde

Catherine Ryan Hyde works magic with words.  Not only does she conjure them, she arranges them in a way that draws you into a story and keeps you there long after the last word of the story has been read.  It’s so much more than a mastery of words, though.  Ms. Hyde’s plots draw you through the pages, and her characters ring true.  The intricacies of human emotion are putty in her hands.

I first experienced her literary dexterity when read the novel Love in the Present Tense, which I happened to pull off the shelf at my local library.  I soon realized she’d also written the book Pay It Forward, upon which the movie was based, and read that as well.  Vastly different from the movie, I enjoyed this book immensely, too.  Appreciative of the wonderful stories she’d created, I emailed Ms. Hyde to thank her, and found her to be very humble and kind in her response despite her success.

Ms. Hyde has had 50+ short stories and 13 novels published, in addition to a collection of short stories, and has won numerous awards along the way. Her most recent novels are Second Hand Heart (UK) and Jumpstart the World, and though Jumpstart the World is Young Adult fiction the story crosses boundaries of both age and gender.  I recently read Jumpstart the World, and loved it.  I can’t wait to read Second Hand Heart!

I “reconnected” with Ms. Hyde this fall when I started researching blogs of writers and artists I respected in order to determine how I might proceed with my own blog. Once I started my blog and accepted the need for a blog-related Twitter account, I started following Ms. Hyde on Twitter.  I’ve since learned that she’s tucked away in one of my favorite coastal towns in California, Cambria, and was delighted to exchange some tweets with Ms. Hyde regarding her home town.

Just beginning the rewrite of my first novel, I’m very curious about the rewriting methods of successful novelists.  I asked Ms. Hyde if she’d answer some of my rewriting questions, and she graciously accepted.  So, without further ado, here is my interview with Catherine Ryan Hyde.

Thank you for your time, and for sharing information about your rewrite process.  How soon after you finish a first draft do you begin your rewrite?

 

 

Let me start by saying that my method of revision is a little different.  And possibly not advisable for someone just starting out.  Then again, it may work fine for others, provided you can avoid the trap of getting stuck on revisions to the detriment of moving forward.

Here’s how I do it: I start the draft, and move forward for as long as I can before getting stuck.  By stuck, I’m not talking about full-on writer’s block.  Just that inevitable low wall that tells you the next chapter needs flesh, details, life that haven’t yet arrived.

At that point, I go back and start cleaning and polishing the part of the draft I’ve already written.  And I just keep working on it until I’m able to move forward again.

This works well for me, because I find I turn my attention away from a first draft at my own peril.  Not that I can’t get back in again.  Just that the longer I wait, the further away I go, the harder it is to gear myself back into the work.  When I look away, the ideas stop coming.  So revising and polishing earlier chapters is a perfect way to keep my head in the work.

By the time I finish the draft, the first three-quarters are pretty darn well squeaky-clean.  I don’t stop at that point.  I just keep cleaning and polishing until I feel I have something worth showing.

If I have time to allow myself the luxury, I’ll set it down for a month or two and come back at it with fresh eyes.  But often by the time I finish the draft, it’s been so long since I’ve reread the beginning that I can see it with a whole new perspective.

 

What does your first rewrite or run through consist of?  Please give us an overview of your process.

 

It’s fairly unstructured and something I do by feel.  I think this was less true when I was newer to novel writing, but now almost every run-through consists of simply rereading the work, with my “feelers” at the ready for any gnawing sense that something is off.  Usually I find smaller, more sentence-level issues.

If there’s anything bigger and more substantive, it tends to present itself to me on a hike, in the bathtub, or as I’m waiting to fall asleep at night.

I realize this is not a very helpful how-to, but I hope it’s encouraging to hear that, with continued experience, revision gets more instinctive.

 

And the second rewrite? Is it more of the same?

 

I think each time I hone it down a bit, so that what I find is smaller, more at an almost cellular level.

On average, how many times do you rewrite your novels?

 

 

I’d say I give each passage a good 25 to 30 run-throughs before I feel ready to show the work to anybody else.  But toward the end, this may be no more complex than reading it through, changing a word here and a sentence structure there.  When I read it through more than once without anything changing, I figure I must be done.  For the moment.

Do you have anyone read drafts along the way?  If so, at what point?

 

 

I don’t.  I used to.  But now I find I can locate my own inner guidance, and follow it, saving the perspective of others for later, when the draft is done and they can’t possibly pull me off track.

How much does your word count change from the first draft?  Does it usually go up or down?

 

 

I’d say less with each consecutive novel.  But it definitely tends to go up rather than down.  What is almost always needed is a bit more fleshing out here and there.  My earlier novels were only in about the 60,000-65,000 word range.  I haven’t had to learn to be less verbose.  Pretty much the opposite.

Start to finish, from the time you type the first word of a story to the time you send it to your agent or editor, how long does the whole write/rewrite/polish usually take?

 

 

If it’s a Young Adult, which tends to run much shorter, about five months.  For an adult novel, eight or nine.  This is fast.  I write faster than average.  I don’t know why, but please don’t anyone feel they need to aspire to it.  If you’re getting words into memory, you’re doing it right.  And if it takes longer, it just does.

Wow, that is quick!  Though you’re a seasoned pro at this point.  Is there anything else you’d like to share regarding the rewriting process?  Anything I may have left out?

Well.  Just that neatness does count.  And spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes, along with too many typos, can be off-putting to agents and editors.  It’s a double-edged sword.  On the one hand, writers tend to think the small stuff can be left to the copyeditor.  And the copyeditor will indeed check your small stuff, if you’re able to secure a publisher.  But meanwhile, anything less than a polished work tends to make agents and editors feel that you’re asking them to work harder than you were willing to work yourself.

So think of your manuscript as a job interview—for that dream job you want more than you’ve ever wanted a job in your life.  You wouldn’t go in wearing those sneakers with the holes in the toes.  Even though it’s supposed to be about your work skills, not your sneakers.  But every aspect of your presentation speaks to your professionalism and your pride.  So prepare your manuscript in a way that shows your commitment to it.  And others will be more inclined to commit to it as well.

Thank you so much for your time, Ms. Hyde.  I wish you continued success!  Thank you for sharing your gift, and your heart, with the world.

 

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A Happy Accident

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I love happy accidents, don’t you?  I define a happy accident as something I didn’t intend to happen – something I didn’t try to make happen – that ends up being wonderful anyway.

A simple, yet enjoyable example of a happy accident happened to me recently.  A friend had loaned me her copy of This Time Tomorrow*, by Michael Jaime-Becerra, and I’d marked its pages with a handmade bookmark another friend had gifted me with.

As I was driving to lunch one afternoon, I noticed that the colors of the beads on the bookmark were perfectly coordinated with the colors of the book cover.  Nice!  I couldn’t have planned it better myself, and it brought me some visual joy – a simple pleasure.

I hope you notice the happy accidents that happen in your lives, dear readers.  I’m certainly on the lookout for those that occur in mine…

Warm regards,
Melody

* For all the novel readers out there, This Time Tomorrow was a great read.  I had the opportunity of meeting Mr. Jaime-Becerra at a local writer’s event, and he was very personable and well spoken.  He signed a copy of Every Night is Ladies’ Night: Stories for me, and I look forward to reading this collection of short stories soon!

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The Exciting (and Challenging) World of Publishing!

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In 2007 I was inspired to create 18 altered art illustrations, which I then wrote short stories for.  I wrote the collection of short stories during the month of November as part of National Novel Writing Month, though I didn’t write an actual novel (technically speaking).  I adhered to all the other rules though, and was elated when I completed my 18 stories – and exceeded the 50,000-word goal with a day or two to spare.

Next came the proofreading, re-writing, and polishing.  This process took quite a while, and I was lucky to have three people read my manuscript – extra pairs of eyes that helped weed out some of the missing words, extra words and other oddities I’d become blind to because I was too close to the project.  They also pointed out areas that needed fleshing out, clarification, and alternate wording.

Earlier this year I finished a final tweaking of the manuscript, pared my collection down from 18 stories to 16 stories, and began the arduous task of researching the publishing process.  I quickly realized that creating the artwork and writing the related short stories, as labor-intensive as it had been, had been the easy part!  I had a long road ahead of me – one filled with possible wrong turns and likely rejections.  It soon became clear that the road to getting a book published is not for the faint of heart.

I had many questions, so I dug in and started reading.  I started with the Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market, which was very informative.  It answered one of my first questions: Do I really need an agent?  The answer is yes, as many publishers won’t even look at your work unless an agent submits it.  Next I read Making the Perfect Pitch – How to Catch a Literary Agent’s Eye, which shed some light on how to submit a strong query letter to the aforementioned agent.  I also scoured the web for other relevant information.

Armed with that knowledge, I drafted a query and a synopsis, and started sending query packets out.  Each query is a bit different, as each agent wants to see something slightly different.  A query letter is the absolute minimum, and may be accompanied by a self-addressed stamped envelope, a synopsis, and a sample chapter or two.  I sent queries out to about twelve agents to start, and began the wait.  Could a request for a full manuscript review possibly come in amongst the rejections?

Somewhere along the line, between starting my research and mailing out my first queries, I read something that might’ve stopped me in my tracks: short story collections are particularly difficult to get published unless the author is very well known.  And while I’ll continue to work towards my goal of seeing this short story collection published, that information is key. It reminds me, as the rejections keep coming in, that this is a particularly difficult project to get representation for and that I’ve got to be persistent.

It’s also inspired me to change my battle plan.  It occurred to me that I might need to successfully publish another book (or two) before this book is ever published, so I’m moving on to the next manuscript.  I’ll be participating in National Novel Writing Month again this November, and will begin the process again.  Write, revise, query.  Hopefully this new manuscript can pave the way for the first one – if it hasn’t already been picked up by then!

As of this posting I’ve submitted queries to 25 literary agents, and have gotten 17 definitive no’s.  So I’ll keep chipping away by querying, honing my writing skills, and will be busily writing a novel in November.  As I said before, the road to getting a book published is not for the faint of heart.  However, I’ve chosen this road and will follow it to the end…

Warm regards,
Melody

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