Thursday, January 31, 2013

Introducing 2013 MCBF Moderator, Jen Bigheart

Announcing a very special moderator coming all the way from Austin, Tx to help us out: Librarian extraordinaire, Jen Bigheart.

Jen Bigheart is a librarian in Austin, Texas, the Co-Director of the Austin Teen Book Festival, Co-Founder of Literary Lonestars, TLA's Social Media Manager, and blogger at I Read Banned Books.!/LiteraryLonestars 

Check out her blog!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Introducing 2013 MCBF Author, Krissi Dallas

Krissi Dallas is a young adult fiction author who loves pop music, mismatched socks, and fried chicken. She lives in Fort Worth, Texas with her youth minister husband, Sam, and is best known for her new urban fantasy series, Phantom Island. She loves nothing more than to hang out with her quirky middle school students and then build the dramatic, magical, and mysterious world that makes up the Phantom Island series: Windchaser (Phantom Island Book 1), Windfall (Phantom Island Book 2), Watercrossing (Phantom Island Book 3), and the soon-to-be-released Watermark (Phantom Island Book 4). She recommends that you join Whitnee as she discovers a magical Island, unexplainable powers, a hot Island boy, and secrets…lots of secrets.

Krissi loves connecting with teens, as well as readers and writers of all ages! You can stalk her online here:
Author Website:

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

An Interview with 2013 MCBF Moderator, Molly Harras

Q: When did you decide to become a writer?

A: Ever since I was a kid, I loved writing stories. Always behind my career aspirations was the fallback option of writer. I love talking and documenting the things going on around me and when I come across a good story, it really affects me, so a lot of my writing stems from that.

Q: Who has been the biggest influence in your life, so far?

A: Writing wise, John Green and Derek Landy, my favorite authors, have contributed a lot to the formation of my writing style. They’re both really funny, witty people who have the talent of coming up with brilliant stories that really get to me. In terms of reality, my parents have contributed a lot to the formation of myself and the experiences that I draw from when writing. It also helps that my Dad always has a story to tell.

Q: Tell us a little about your book.

A: My book is about a teenager, Rocky, who doesn’t stay in one place for more than 3 months and has problems talking to and dealing with people as a result. The story beings in Rocky’s first days of living in California after leaving the one person he’d ever connected with, Alex. The novel is the story of Rocky’s life after moving away again. I wrote it in November 2011 for NaNoWriMo; the month-long novel writing challenge. It was pretty exhilarating to go through with the whole process and fulfill a life dream of mine.

Q: Where do you get the inspiration for you stories?

A: A lot of the inspiration in my stories appears randomly, sometimes from looking at the things and interactions going on around me and sometimes just from out of the blue. That’s why I always have some paper around me, even at my bedside. Sometimes I have to go hunting for inspiration, but in almost every situation, the ideas I find catch me off guard, which can be a great feeling.

Q: What do you hear from your readers?

A: Given that I’m an unknown author, most of my readers are friends and family. Though they may be biased, they say they love my book.

Q:  What do you like to read? Do you have a favorite?

A: I like to read good books. I love John Green and follow him on YouTube and I love the way he can be funny and honest at the same time. Derek Landy is my favorite author from across the pond (Ireland). I love the way he’s able to make me choke laughing in the middle of a very dramatic scene. I also love the book Airman by Eoin Colfer because of the amazing character development. So there’s not one particular genre that I stick to, except for the genre of Awesome. 

Q: How important do you think being a reader is to the writing process?

A: Being a reader is insanely important. I don’t think it even matters what you read, but that you do read. When you look at the material that gets published, you can see the kind of thing that interests people. You can also find different ways of expressing yourself through writing and get inspired by the stories you read. It’s also good to know your competition.

Q: If you had to grab three things (and ONLY three things) from your house to evacuate due to a zombie invasion, what would they be?

A: Given that it’s a zombie invasion we’re talking about here, I think I’d grab my sword first. I’d also grab my computer backup drive. I think lugging the laptop around would be useless since all Wi-Fi and electricity would likely be down, so better to save the files and ditch the equipment. You can always find another laptop. I’d also grab my notebook which would already have all my important artwork and whatnot in it. Then I’d run over to my friend’s house and take back the guide to zombie invasion book that I gave him last summer. It’s not from my house, so it counts.

Q: What advice do you offer to someone who wants to write a book/Self pub?

A: First off, I would suggest putting your book though some rigorous editing sessions or hire an editor to take a look at it. Professional publishers have the advantage of editors on call, but since you’re by yourself, you have to be a little resourceful to polish your book. I’d also suggest letting some of your friends and family to read it and give you feedback. Something you think is really interesting and deserves multiple paragraphs to explain might not bode well with others. Also shop around for companies and see what they can give you. Some companies have some very good connections with big book sellers, so see what your company can do to help you get your book out there.

Q: Anything else you would like the readers to know?

A: Anything else… well, they can follow me on Tumblr at and if they like to discover some good books, I also have a book review blog at And if anyone’s considering writing a book, you should look into participating in NaNoWriMo. It’s such an awesome and supportive organization and I really benefited from their help. You can check that out at Ok, now I’m done. Thank you to everyone and I’m really looking forward to the festival!

Thank you for your time, Molly! We look forward to see you at the festival!

Monday, January 28, 2013

An Interview with Melissa Studdard

Q: When did you decide to become a writer?

A: It happened in stages. I've always been writing in my head. I can remember making up dialogue while standing in front of the mirror blow drying my hair when I was a kid. I didn't really know what I was doing or why, but it was part of what fed into my writing later, and it was the earliest stage.

I started actually writing in my early twenties, and that was the second stage. I enjoyed it but wasn't serious about it, so I stopped for a long time as I focused on other things. It never felt right to not be writing, but I wasn't very self-aware yet, and I wasn't sure what was missing.

I began again when I was in my thirties, and that's when I got serious about it. In the past I had always grappled with whether or not I was spending my time wisely by sitting around making things up. I just felt like there were better contributions I could make. Writing seemed frivolous and like a type of self-indulgence. In my thirties, however, I began to view writing differently and to really understand the kinds of contributions literature has made and can continue to make to our world. It was then that I finally allowed myself to become immersed in what I should have been doing all along. Now I absolutely cannot imagine my life without writing. It has become an integral part of who I am.

Moral of the story: Trust what you are drawn to. It would have saved me a lot of time!

Q: Who has been the biggest influence in your life, so far?

A: Unquestionably, my parents. I’ve done a lot of dumb things over the years, and they never gave up on me, never stopped loving me, never lost faith in me. Sure, they got frustrated, and even mad, when I made poor decisions, but they always gave me unconditional love—that greatest of all gifts. And largely because of their faith in me and support of me, I have thrived despite odds that would have otherwise seemed overwhelming.

Q: Where did the idea for Six Weeks to Yehidah come from?

A: I was in a wonderful critique and writing group in which we took turns assigning prompts each month. One woman asked us to read The Oxford Book of Modern Fairy Tales and write our own short tale. It turned out that I was so compelled by the voice and characters I’d created that I kept writing and writing until I realized I was no longer working on a short story. I was writing a novel.

Q: Tell us about your inspiration for Six Weeks to Yehidah.

A: Would you believe I dreamed much of it? Not all of it, but a goodly portion. For a long time, I’ve been fascinated by the unconscious mind, and in the years before I wrote Six Weeks to Yehidah I’d done an intensive study of dreams, meditation, visualization, and so forth. I kept a dream journal and meditated regularly. I listened to guided meditations, which are rich with imagery.

In the end, it was a combination of dreaming and waking imagination that birthed the scenes in this book. It was also a combination of the made-up and the observed, and by observed, I mean both in the physical world and in books and art. When I sat down to write, it all just flowed very naturally.

I hear that most writers find it easier to compose realism. For me, it’s easier to produce the fantastical - making things up is fun, exciting, natural to me, whereas trying to accurately record reality is a great challenge. My imagination is much stronger than my memory!

Q: You write fiction and poetry, and non-fiction. Which is your favorite, and why?

A: I absolutely love all of it, but I have to say, poetry is the source for me. My prose style has been described as poetic, but I don’t put a lot of narrative in my poetry. Don’t get me wrong. I believe in the power of stories as much as I believe in the importance of poetry—all you have to do is look at the holy text of almost any religion to see the importance of storytelling for illuminating fundamental human truths—but poetry is about being able to convey ideas and emotions in language so vital that it is of the very rhythms of our blood and our breath and the heart and the cycles of nature and life. Now, I ask you, how could language like that not make any story or essay better?

Q: What do you hear from your readers?

A: I get some amazing letters. People say the funniest things. One guy wrote that after checking out Six Weeks to Yehidah from the library, he was giving up cigarettes to save the money to buy the book for his daughter. Now that is a positive impact I never expected the book to have—to get someone to quit smoking. But I’m glad! I also heard from a wonderful woman whose husband had cancer. She was using Six Weeks to Yehidah to talk to her daughter about death. I can’t tell you what an honor it is to know the book played such an important role in their lives. I hear too from people who like the humor and imagery and want to know if it’s going to be made into a movie. Because the description is highly visual, there are a lot of people asking for a movie

Q: What do you like to read?

A: Oh, what don’t I like to read! I’m drawn to words wherever I see them. I read the shampoo bottle when I’m showering, the billboards on the side of the road, the cereal box—everything. I read in all genres—fiction, poetry, non-fiction; at all levels—children’s, teen adult; in translation and in the original language; books from the library, books on kindle, paperbacks, hardbacks. My daughter loves to read too, and our home is filled with books. I usually read more than one book at a time too. Right now I’m reading a novel called Pym, a collection of poems by Federico GarcĂ­a Lorca, and a non-fiction book about seashells.

Q: Do you have a favorite poem?

A: Great question, but for me that’s a bit like asking a mother to name her favorite child—impossible to answer. There are so many I adore, but here’s short one that I think is perfect. It’s by Li-Young Lee, one of my favorite poets, and it’s from his collection called Book of My Nights, a collection I would encourage everyone to read.

One Heart

Look at the birds. Even flying
is born

out of nothing. The first sky
is inside you, open

at either end of day.
The work of wings

was always freedom, fastening
one heart to every falling thing.

Q: If you had to grab three things (and ONLY three things) from your house to evacuate due to a zombie invasion, what would they be?

A: Ha! I can narrow that down to one: my purse, a big, monstrous, Santa’s bag of a thing that has almost everything I own in it, including, oftentimes, my phone and my computer. If my phone and computer weren’t in it, I’d grab those too. I have to tell you, though, you’re talking to a woman who can go to Europe for a whole month with one carryon suitcase and a purse. I don’t need much. Not even to fight zombies. Most of what I need is in my head.

Q: What advice do you offer to someone who wants to write a book?

A: First, always remember that you’re the only person who can speak your truths, and you are worthy of being heard. Nail this reminder over your desk. Tattoo it to the top of your hand. Make it your screensaver. Do whatever you have to do to remember it every time you write.

Second, become a great and regular reader. It’s unlikely that you will ever become a great writer without being a great reader.

Third, set a schedule that works for you. Be realistic so you don’t give up. If you schedule writing twice a week for two hours a pop, so be it. The writing will accumulate over time. If it’s eight hours a day, five days a week, even better. The important thing is to thoroughly incorporate writing into your lifestyle as fully as you would anything else that really mattered to you. Don’t think of it as optional. If you had monthly appointments to take your child to a pediatrician, and you missed one, you would re-schedule it. Do the same with your writing. Try to never miss the appointments, and if you do, re-schedule them. The first time you tell someone you can’t get together because you have a writing appointment, you’ll realize how powerful this is. Soon you’ll be scheduling doctor’s appointments and other important events around your writing time. If you treat writing like a hobby, it will most likely only ever be a hobby. Instead treat it like what you want it to be.

Fourth, be patient and keep after it and write without ridiculous expectations. Sometimes your writing won’t be good, but you have to write through that to get to the good stuff. Quitting writing won’t fix anything. Don’t be wary of writing the bad stuff. Just laugh at it, think of it as practice, don’t show it to anyone if you don’t feel like it, and keep writing until the good stuff starts flowing again. All writers produce bad writing at times. The ones that will become successful keep writing anyway.

So, most importantly: Do not stop writing. Do not stop writing. Do not, for any reason, ever, stop writing.

Wow, great advice! 
Thank you so much for your time, Melissa! We look forward to seeing you at the festival!

Introducing 2013 MCBF Moderator, Melissa Studdard

Melissa Stud­dard is the author of the best­selling novel, Six Weeks to Yehi­dah (recipient of the For­ward National Lit­er­a­ture Award and the Pinnacle Book Achievement Award). Her writings have appeared in numer­ous jour­nals and antholo­gies, includ­ing Boule­vard, Con­necti­cut Review, and Poets & Writ­ers. She is a reviewer-at-large for The National Poetry Review, contributing editor for Tiferet Journal, host of Tiferet Talk radio, a pro­fes­sor for Lone Star Col­lege Sys­tem, and a teach­ing artist for The Rooster Moans Poetry Coop­er­a­tive. Learn more at

Saturday, January 26, 2013

An Interview with 2013 MCBF Moderator, Michelle Pickett

Q: When Did you decide to become a writer?

There was never a time when I didn’t want to be a writer. It was always something that I wanted to do. I can’t remember a time that I didn’t write, but it took me a long while before I was brave enough to submit any of my work to agents and publishers. I wrote Concilium in 2010 and spent almost a year editing and rewriting it, finally submitting it in 2011.

Q: Who has been the biggest influence in your life so far?

My grandmother was a huge influence when it came to reading. I’d spend the night with her on weekends and we’d go to the library and check out books and read together all weekend. Those times introduced me to new worlds and people that fascinated me.
A second influence in my life is Stephenie Meyer. She and I have a lot in common; we’re at the same stage in life. I’d graduated top of my class in college and was on my way to a successful career in accounting. I had a family to raise, commitments to my aging parents and all the responsibilities that come with every day life. I thought my “time” had passed for publication—I still wrote, but it was for personal enjoyment.

Then I heard of Ms. Meyer submitting and publishing her first novel at the same age and stage of life that I was. I realized I didn’t have to give up on my dream; I just had to work a little harder to fit it in my busy schedule. So I began writing Concilium. I submitted it and it was picked up by Muse It Up Publishing in 2011 and released in 2012.

Q: Tell us a little about your books, Concillum and the upcoming PODS.

Concilium and it’s sequel Concilium: The Departure are adult urban fantasy romances with a touch of science/fiction thrown in. They center on an alternate dimension on Earth and its residents who have found a way to cross into the human dimension. They aren’t friendly and cause a lot of trouble, especially for the main character, Leslee.

PODs is my first young adult novel. It is a science/fiction, apocalyptic romance. In it the Earth is ravaged by an unstoppable virus. Certain people are chosen to live in the PODs, an underground habitat, until the virus kills the population above. The belief is that without human hosts the virus would die, as well. The story follows Eva and her struggles in the PODs and then the surprise the people find when they exit the PODs after living in them for more than a year. PODs will release June 4, 2013 through Spencer Hill Press. The paperback version is available for pre-order now on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
I also have a second book that will be published by Spencer Hill Press. Milayna is a young adult paranormal romance. It will release in March 2014. It centers on a group of demi-angels who are hunted by Azazel, one of Hell’s angels.

Currently I’m working on my first young adult contemporary romance, Unspeakable, that I’m very excited about.

Q: Where do you get the inspiration for you stories?

I’d like to say I have great epiphanies or dreams that result in my novels, but that isn’t the case. Usually my ideas start as a what-if game. A small idea will present itself, maybe from my children or a song, movie, ETC., and I think “what if” this happened, and then this, and maybe this would happen...and I keep asking myself, “What happens next?”  I also use my family as a sounding board, especially my children. They come up with some great ideas. My son is very involved in helping me with ideas. He likes to draw the monsters/zombies and weapons for me to use as visuals while I write. But he draws the line on the romance factor. He says there shouldn’t be any kissing in a zombie story!

Q: What do you hear from your readers?

I’ve received a lot of positive feedback from Concilium and many readers have told me the sequel was better than the first. Spencer Hill Press has done an outstanding job of promoting PODs and it has a huge following with more than 3,300 people on Goodreads listing it as a book they are waiting to read. I have people from all over the country and some from outside the US emailing me about how excited they are for its release. My newest title Milayna is in the beginning stages of promotion so I haven’t received much reader input on it yet.

I love to hear from readers and other authors! Whether it be about my books or just a note to say “Hi.”

Q: What do you like to read? Do you have a favorite?

My husband says I’ll ready anything with words. I like most genres and read them all. My all time favorite book is Olivia and Jai by Rebecca Ryman. Easy by Tammara Webber has recently made my short list of favorites.

I find anything published by Spencer Hill Press great reads. They have such a diverse selection of titles and wonderfully talented authors. So I have to say one of my favorite things to read is Spencer Hill Press as a whole. I haven’t read one of their books that I haven’t loved.

Q: How important do you think being a reader is to the writing process?

I think it’s very important. We learn by reading. We expand our vocabulary, spelling, punctuation and so forth. We feed our craft by studying other’s format and and style. Of course this doesn’t mean we copy their way of writing. We develop our own style—life would be boring if we all wrote the same thing in the same voice. But by reading other’s work we can push our boundaries. I use my editor as an example of someone who pushed me out of my comfort zone. Her series The Ganzfield Series (by Kate Kaynak) pushed me to write in a genre I had never written before. That resulted in my newest title Milayna.

Q: If you had to grab three things (and ONLY three things) from your house to evacuate due to a zombie invasion, what would they be?

My Kindle (I’d read in between zombie attacks), my zombies are killed by guns. I would take one of those!, and my running shoes because I’d expect there would be a lot of running involved.

Q: What advice do you offer to someone who wants to write a book?

Start with a good idea. Decide which type of writing process works best for you. Are you going to plot it out or let the story lead you? Get a good laptop and write. And most importantly, don’t give up. Some people have the idea that writing is an easy process. Writing is actually very difficult. It requires a lot of time, patience, perseverance and dedication.

Q: Anything else you would like the readers to know?

Yes. Thank you for spending your time with me and my fictional worlds and characters. There are really no words to express exactly how thankful I am for my readers. There are a lot of books to chose from and I’m humbled that readers chose mine.

I love to hear from readers and other authors. Drop me a note about my books, the writing process or just to say “Hi.” You can reach me here:


 Thank you so much for your time, Michelle! We look forward to seeing you at the festival.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Deeanne Gist - Special Lunch Presentation

A little teaser about our lunch presentation featuring Deeanne Gist...

Bottoms Up: A Look at Victorian Women's Clothing from the Inside Out

Ever wonder what Victorian women wore under all those gowns? Bestselling historical author Deeanne Gist strips down to chemise and bloomers, then has her lady's maid dress her layer-by-layer.

This entertaining presentation has been featured on the front page of the Wall Street Journal and in the Denver Post.  Their accompanying video ( was the most watched video on the Wall Street Journal's site for three days.

Comments from participants:

"One of the most informative workshops I've ever attended … myths are shattered." -- Anita Mae Draper, Inkwell Inspirations Blog

"FINALLY someone got it right!"

"I admire your scholarship, and your courage to appear in your underwear in the name of getting the details right."

"We can't all have a cute shape like Deeanne. Putting on or taking off, she has class."

"It was just what I needed [for my book]…The hoop in particular was a revelation."

"Thank you so much for your fun and informative workshop."

"What a goldmine of information.  Thank you for sharing your expertise!"

Thursday, January 24, 2013

An Interview with Missy Jane

Q: When did you decide to become a writer?  

A: Maybe ten years ago I actually sat down to write my first novel. At that time I didn't really think about being published, I just had to get the story out of my head. Then in 2008 I attended a readers/writers conference that really changed my perspective from reader to writer. I realized I really could get my work published and finally submitted my first book. That was when I decided I was truly a writer. 

Q: Who has been the biggest influence in your life, so far? 

A: Hmm, that's a tough one. I would have to say as far as just being a writer it would be Judi McCoy. She taught a beginning writers course at the convention I attended in 2008 and was very inspirational to me. Losing her to diabetes last year was very hard.

Q: Tell us a little about your latest/upcoming books. 

A: My most recent release is from Ellora's Cave Publishing and is available as an ebook. It's called Too Hard to Break and is the third in my Love Beyond Barriers Series. It's a contemporary romance about a woman who is learning to live beyond the abusive relationship she had been in for years. Her new hero takes her in and teaches her to be strong again. Also, I was just offered another contract from Ellora's Cave, my eighth with them. It will be for my first "cougar" story. It's also a contemporary but with erotic elements. 

Q: Which is easier, writing the paranormal or the "adult" stuff?

A: Originally when I started writing the paranormal came more naturally to me. But once I started writing the "adult" stuff I find those voices are easier to write. I love writing both. 

Q: Where do you get the inspiration for your stories? 

A: Honestly, I can get inspired by just about anything. Sometimes I'll be listening to the radio and a line of lyrics will spark an idea. Or even everyday situations can inspire me. It's almost too easy sometimes and I have a lot of works in progress.

Q: What do you hear from your readers? 

A: At first I had a lot of questions about my paranormal world. With my first book I realized I didn't answer all of the questions the book brought up. After I took care of that with a prequel, I started getting questions about a possible sequel. It was wonderful knowing my readers wanted more. I still get those questions as well as about what I'm working on next. 

Q: What do you like to read? Do you have a favorite? 

A: I like reading ALL genres of romance, as well as horror, science fiction, fantasy, and historical fiction. I'd have to say horror is probably my favorite with fantasy being a very close second. Paranormal romance is kind of the best of a few genres so I really like that one too.

Q: How important do you think being a reader is to the writing process?

A: I think it's VERY important because how else can you know your audience than to be a part of it? I don't understand the authors who refuse to read the genre they write in either. I can understand the concern of being influenced, but I think there are ways around that if you're careful. When I get an idea that I think might have the slightest similarity to something I've read I'll read that book again. I take plagiarism very seriously but I don't think it's something that would just happen without a conscious choice on the writer's part. I learn a lot from reading even in genres other than what I write.

Q: If you had to grab three things (and ONLY three things) from your house to evacuate due to a zombie invasion, what would they be? 

A: Lol, well assuming all four of my daughters and my husband were able to get out safely on their own, it would be my camera, my flashdrive (with ALL of my writing on it), and my purse. You wouldn't believe half the stuff in my purse. It's my lifeline.

Q: What advice do you offer to someone who wants to write a book?

A: The best advice I was ever given is also the hardest to put into practice on a regular basis. Just WRITE! Ignore the online games and social media, ignore the phone, ignore the self-doubt, just sit your butt down and get it done.

Q: Anything else you would like the readers to know?

A: One of the things that has been in general discussion a lot lately are book reviews. There has been a lot of back and forth over whether they're for readers or writers and whether or not they're good or bad. My opinion is every single review serves a purpose. If I see only stars with no explanation that's okay. If nothing else I'll know someone took the time to read my book and I sincerely appreciate that. So if you have the time (And really how long does clicking on some stars really take?) every writer appreciates a review. If this is something you do already, THANK YOU!

Thank you so much for your time, Missy! We look forward to seeing you at the festival.

Introducing 2013 MCBF Moderator, Missy Jane

Author Missy Jane is a native Texan who lives and plays in Spring. She likes to keep the voices in her head quiet by writing out their stories. She is the multi-published author of paranormal romance and urban fantasy, as well as contemporary and erotic romance. Two of her books that are in print and available here today are Day Shift, about an alternative society run by vampires, and They Call Me Death, a post-apocalyptic tale of shape-shifting humans versus regular humans. Missy is also always online and can be found on Facebook and Twitter when she really should be writing.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

An Interview with Jim Schmidt

Q: When did you decide to become a writer?

A: Well, I think it must always have been itching to come out!  I remember as a kid, 7 or 8, growing up in Joplin, Missouri, that I wrote a poem about Independence Day.  My mom drove us down to the Joplin Globe newspaper offices and I think she tried to get them to print it.  I'm not sure they did.  In 8th grade I remember writing a short story about a class that went on a ski trip.  It started with the teacher asking for everyone to turn in their money...they go on the trip...terrible things happen...they survive...most of them anyway...the story ends back at school a year later with the teacher asking everyone to turn in their ski trip money...(see what I did there? oooooooooooh!).  And that was probably the last story I wrote...for twenty years.  In the mid-1990s, I got bit by the "Civil War buff" bug during a business trip to Virginia.  I read everything I could, including some of the (many) magazines on the stand at the bookstores.  Something inside me said "I can do that."  I didn't know where or how to start; fortunately I had a good mentor who knew the process, encouraged me, and whom I trusted to review my work.  My first magazine article was published in 1999, I think.  They even paid me! It's been fun ever since and I've always had something in the works.  After getting several articles published, I started working on my first book as the next step.  It was published in 2008.

Q: Who has been the biggest influence in your life, so far?

A: That's easy: Terry and De Schmidt. Because, parents.  And good ones, too.

Q: Tell us a little about your books.

A: I am the sole author, editor, or contributor to five books on the Civil War.  Each one is special in their own way to me.  My first, "Lincoln's Labels: America's Best Known Brands and the Civil War" (Edinborough Press, 2008), is about companies that we all know today that also played an important part in the Civil War (Brooks Brothers, Tiffany & Co., duPont, American Express, and many more) and how the war affected or even "made" them.  It's special because it was my first and I learned a lot about the process and myself.  My second, "Years of Change and Suffering: Modern Perspectives on Civil War Medicine" (Edinborough Press, 2009) is a collection of invited expert essays that I co-edited with a good friend and collaborator; we both also contributed chapters.  I'm really proud of it because there is some exceptional scholarship - and good writing - in the book.  It was a special challenge soliciting contribution, managing deadlines, editing, etc...kind of like a movie director! We're also proud that all the royalties from the book have been donated to historic preservation efforts.  My next book, "Notre Dame and the Civil War: Marching Onward to Victory" (The History Press, 2010), is about the epic story of the university in the war: the dozens of students and alumni who served as soldiers in the Union army; priests who served as chaplains; sisters who served as nurses; and the important effect the war had on campus.  It's been my most successful by far, and is now in its third printing.  My latest book is "Galveston and the Civil War: An Island City in the Maelstrom" (The History Press, 2012), which describes the story of the island in the war, including slavery, secession, the blockade, the New Year's Day 1863 Battle of Galveston, the effect of the war on civilians, and finally the surrender of Galveston and emancipation of its slaves.  This book has been so much fun because of the great stories I have heard from people that have read the book about their ancestors.  Late in 2012, Routledge published "Civil War America: A Social and Cultural History"; co-editor and professor Zoe Trodd extended me an invitation to contribute a chapter on "Civilian Medicine."

Q: You obviously love history, where do you get the inspiration for you stories?

A: Even though I have only been writing the past 10-15 years, I've loved history since I was a kid, either from my own reading or from family stories.  When I became interested in Civil War history, my initial attention was drawn naturally to the great battles and such, but I quickly became interested in either special subjects - medicine, for example, which fits well with my day job as a biotech scientist - or to the home front, which inspired my interest in the companies covered in Lincoln's Labels.  I'm a firm believer in "bottom-up" history, and so I delight in reading accounts written by the common soldier or - especially - by civilians, especially letters which have an intimacy and immediacy that cane be very inspiring.  I also love to "mine" footnotes and endnotes in books that I read; often authors of scholarly works will only give a brief mention or reference to a letter or diary, just enough to support their thesis.  For me, though, those are "voices" that need to be heard for their own sake.  I have my own collection of 19th-century correspondence and love visiting archives to see material myself.  Period newspapers are also excellent inspiration. 

Q: How long do you spend researching your book topics before actually beginning to write?

A: It's been different for each project.  The Lincoln's Labels and Notre Dame books grew out of research and article writing I had been doing for 5 or 6 years, so I had quite a bit of material accumulated.  For the Galveston project, I basically started from scratch (although I was of course familiar with the basic aspects of the island's war story), but I also had a word count limit, which kept my research from getting to far afield, an lasted about a year.  I think the actual writing for each book was 12-18 months.  I'm a terrible procrastinator, so it helps me to be a dedicated outliner, to do some writing while I research, to break the research and writing into defined sections, and to remember that this is supposed to be enjoyable.  I have many "vertical files" started on a number of projects I can write in some time - 19th century quack medicines, Spiritualism, phrenology, crime, and more.  Even when a book is done and published, my interest in the subject continues.
Q: What do you like to read? Do you have a favorite?

A: For someone who has been firmly entrenched as a nonfiction writer, my reading tastes have changed dramatically in just the past couple of years.  My reading until then was 90-100% nonfiction, usually background reading for whatever book project I might be in, as well as new works that appealed to me.  In the past few years though more than half of my reading has been fiction.  I specially enjoy literary fiction, thrillers, and mysteries set in mid- to late-19th Century America or England.  My absolute favorite is Louis Bayard, whose "Mr. Timothy" and "The Pale Blue Eye" are easily two of my favorites of all time.  Also: Matthew Pearl, David Liss, Lyndsay Faye, Will Thomas, Stephen Gallagher, and others.  At the same time, I'm making my way through Dickens.  I love interviewing authors as well, and have featured several on my blog ( Writers that I admire for their genius in narrative nonfiction include David McCullough, Stephen Sears, and Tony Horwitz, and many others.

Q:  How important do you think being a reader is to the writing process?

A: SO IMPORTANT!  In my earlier answer about the twenty year drought in writing between an 8th grade short story and my first article is an important clue: I wasn't reading, either, apart from assigned reading in high school and college.  My immediate increase in reading after becoming interested in Civil War history not only gave me the courage to try and write myself, it gave me models to emulate (especially McCullough and Sears) as I tried to find my own voice, such as it is.  The same is happening as my fiction reading has increased substantially: it's inspired me to at least want to try and write historical fiction, although I still worry that I don;t have the imagination to craft a story or the courage to send it out, but that is my goal for 2013.  Writers like Louis Bayard make my mind and heart soar; I just admire storytellers so much.

Q: If you had to grab three things (and ONLY three things) from your house to evacuate due to a zombie invasion, what would they be? (Our standard question, we HAVE to ask! LOL)

A: 1) My Kindle Fire - it has my music, Bible, and Spider Solitaire...oh, and books, including all of Dickens; 2) The charger for my Fire; 3) A 12-pack of toilet paper; 2 for me and the rest to trade.  That should keep me, I think.  Sorry, someone is knocking at the door (opens door). Yes? "Grrrrr...Me need need toilet paper...Grrrrrrr" Okay, what do you have to trad...aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!

Q: What advice do you offer to someone who wants to write non-fiction?

A: The good news is that there are so many avenues in which to have your work published; it's never been easier, I think, as long as you know the process and follow some simple rules.  As for advice...First, decide what your goals are. Second, write about things that you are passionate about. Third, first write shorter articles rather than books; it helps you build a platform of readers and contacts and - more important - it develops a discipline in keeping your stories focused. Fourth, do it: don't read about writing...write! Fifth: find a person or persons you can trust to give you honest feedback. Sixth - to borrow from the carpenter trade: "Measure twice, cut once." That is, don't be in a hurry to send your work out without checking it for quality in grammar, punctuation, etc.

Q: Anything else you would like the readers to know?

A: The only thing I like as much as writing myself is seeing other people achieve their goals.  I'm giving a writing/publishing workshop at the South Branch library on Saturday, January 26, 2013.  I hope it will be the first of many opportunities to give back great advice that I received myself.  You can also keep up with my other writing and research projects by visiting the blog address above.
Thank you Tabatha!!!!!!

Thank you so much for your time, Jim! We look forward to seeing you at the festival!

Introducing 2013 MCBF Moderator, Jim Schmidt

Jim Schmidt is a bio-analytical chemist by training and profession. He attended Benedictine College (Atchison, KS), received his B.S. in Chemistry from the University of Central Oklahoma, and pursued graduate work in environmental science at the University of Oklahoma. Jim has worked in a number of private, government, and industrial laboratories for the past twenty five years, and is currently employed as a research scientist with a biotechnology firm in The Woodlands, Texas.

Jim has had a life-long interest in history, with special interests in the Civil War and 19th-century medicine and science; his historical writing credits include more than sixty articles for numerous publications including North & South, Civil War News, Chemical Heritage, Learning Through History, and Antique Bottle & Glass magazines, and many others.  He has also given lectures on history to groups throughout the country.

Jim is the author, editor, or contributor to five books, including Lincoln's Labels: America's Best Known Brands and the Civil War (sole author, 2008); Years of Change and Suffering: Modern Perspectives on Civil War Medicine (editor and contributor, 2009); Notre Dame in the Civil War: Marching Onward to Victory (sole author, 2010); Galveston and the Civil War: An Island City in the Maelstrom (sole author, 2012); and Civil War America: A Social and Cultural History (contributor, 2012).

Jim also enjoys seeing other people achieve their goals of seeing their writing get published and offers writing workshops and other coaching.

Jim’s wife is an elementary teacher in the Conroe Independent School District and his sons are graduates of Oak Ridge High School.  His daughter, a graduate of Texas Tech, was married last summer and she and her husband live in Lubbock, TX.

Monday, January 21, 2013

An Interview with Belle Whittington

Belle Whittington, author of Cicada, will be moderating our "Magic, Dragons and Mermaids, Oh My!" panel at the festival.

Q: When did you decide to become a writer?

A: My first recollection of wanting to be a writer was when I was in the second grade, and our teacher, Mrs. Rambin, would have us lay our heads on our desks after lunch while she read us stories full of magic and imagination. Those stories she read to us stayed with me for days, and I couldn’t imagine anything better than being able to create such places of magic by writing.

Q: Who has been the biggest influence in your life, so far?

A: My parents were and are the biggest influence in my life.  I am who I am because of them.  I learned the art of daydreaming from my father and the love of good stories from my mother.

Q: Where did the idea for Cicada come from?

A: There’s not any one thing that inspired me to write Cicada. I find inspiration in everything around me, and there are a lot of cumulative memories of inspiration from over the years that all culminated in this YA Paranormal Sci-Fi trilogy.

Growing up in Nacogdoches, the oldest town in Texas, afforded me summers full of adventure with my friends.  I call on those adventures and memories a great deal for my YA stories.  Cicada has a lot of the energy of those childhood adventures spun throughout.  One of them is something that actually happened to me when I was thirteen years old.  I was on one of my adventures in the woods with my dog, Dusty.  We made our way through the woods to a neighboring pasture and crawled through the barbed wire fence. 

When we got to the top of one of the rolling hills in the grassy field, I realized I was standing in the middle of a giant circle imprinted in the pasture grass.  No one had ever told me about crop circles at that time in my life, so I just thought it was an odd occurrence that there was a strange circle in the tall grass.   Now that circle is forever memorialized in a YA novel, Cicada!

Like most authors, I love listening to great music while writing.  There are so many talented musicians that inspire me while daydreaming and writing my stories.  I thought I'd share my inspiration play lists with your lovely readers. :-)
•    Cicada inspiration playlist
•    Firefly inspiration playlist
•    No. 3 inspiration playlist

Another thing I think readers might like to know is that I have a favorite song that fits the mood for each one of the books in the trilogy. Want to hear the unofficial theme song to each book? Here goes!
•    Cicada: The Resistance
•    Firefly: Cosmic Love
•    Third (title unreleased): Electric Feel

There’s even a song for Everett
And as an extra bonus, here’s a song for a very important character readers will meet in Firefly. His name is Ash. And I think readers will love to hate to love him. Here’s a song just for him …
Many of Horror:

I hope everyone will enjoy listening to the play lists while reading the books! And I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts on the play lists. :) And it must not go without saying many thanks to the awesome musicians whose songs have given me so much inspiration.  Thank you for sharing your magic.

Q: Is there one character that really sticks out as your favorite in Cicada?

A: This is actually a really good question to which I have an odd answer.  I related to all of my characters equally, actually.  I feel that each one of them has a small part of me in them, and I have a connection with each one of them.  For instance, when they hurt, I draw upon some memory of a time when I was under emotional stress or heartbroken.  When they are in love, I remember a time when I was thoroughly smitten with someone.  So, I’m sorry I cannot be more specific with my answer.

Q: How hard was it to write the sequel, Firefly?

A: While I enjoyed writing Firefly, I have to admit that it was a lot more difficult to write it than CicadaFirefly is much longer than Cicada and not only do the characters grow and become more complex, but there are also two knew characters readers will meet.  Both of them are dangerous, and one of them is extremely … well … he’s just plain hot! 
One of my biggest wishes is that when book bloggers read Firefly, they’ll discover that I did, indeed, take their comments and suggestions to heart while writing this book.  In other words, this book’s for those awesome bloggers and reviewers I’ve gotten to know over the past year-and-a-half.  I hope y’all won’t be disappointed! :)

Q: The cover is GORGEOUS!  Who designed it?

A: Thank you!  I’m quite smitten with it, too!  The same person who designed the cover of Cicada designed this cover.  And that person is my daughter LB Whittington.

Q: What do you hear from your readers?

A: Well, Firefly hasn’t been reviewed yet.  It has only been read by my beta readers and my editor.  Of course, I read half of it to my mother, so she knows a little of what the story is about.  When Firefly releases, it will be a complete surprise to everyone!

Q: Tell us about your experience on the road to indie-publishing.

A: I’ve always been indie-minded and a do-it-yourselfer, and I’ve always thought that if others could do it, I could, too! When the ability to indie publish my own books became a truly viable option, and Amazon made it easy and available, I jumped at the chance! I haven’t looked back, and I haven’t regretted it!
What have I learned about indie publishing during this past wild and wonderful year since I released Cicada? The most amazing and important thing is that I’ve met so many fabulous book bloggers and reviewers…people with whom I hope to remain in contact forever! Also, I’ve gotten to know readers who’ve reached out to me after reading Cicada. I wouldn’t trade that for the world.
For authors interested in indie publishing, I’d like to share a few things I’ve learned over the past year-and-a-half:
•    Hire a professional editor before you publish. I hired Novel Proofreading for Cicada, and I’m very glad that I did. I heard about Novel Proofreading on JA Konrath’s blog.  For Firefly, I hired Editorch and found the service to be terrific, too.
•    Hire someone to design your book cover. This is more important that one might think, because people really do judge a book by its cover. My daughter designed the covers for both Cicada and Firefly. Of course, if you are a Graphic Artist or are proficient in PhotoShop then give it a shot yourself!
•    Hire someone to create a book trailer for you, or if you are proficient enough create one yourself. Readers love book trailers! They are fun! My daughter created mine.
•    Hire a book designer. This is different than a person who designs your book cover. A book designer makes your manuscript look good in print and e-book form. Readers are very verbal when it comes to the appearance of the book they’ve purchased, and they want one that looks professional. I hired 52Novels, and I’m glad I did. They did an excellent job designing Cicada and Firefly, and they were a pleasure with which to work. I learned about 52Novels on JA Konrath’s blog. What else does a book designer do? They convert your designed manuscript into various types of files so that it can be uploaded to various websites for publication.
•    After you’ve accomplished those things, then it’s time to publish your book and get to work networking with all those lovely bloggers out there! That’s the really fun part!

Q: If you had to grab three things (and ONLY three things) from your house to evacuate due to a zombie invasion, what would they be?
•    Matches to start a fire.  Isn’t that how you can kill zombies?
•    Can of hairspray to create a torch with the matches
•    My cell phone

Q: What advice do you offer to someone who wants to write a book?

The best advice I have to give for aspiring authors is to read, read, read across the genres.  One never knows from where inspiration may come!  Then write, write, write like there’s no tomorrow!  Get the words out onto the page.  Don’t edit until you are done!  Then hire a good editor!