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Between The Sheets

Chandler Baker

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In our new feature, Between the Sheets, TrunkSpace picks the imaginative brains of authors to break down what it takes to create the various worlds and characters they breathe life into via the tools of their trade… sheets of paper. While technology continues to advance and change the pop culture landscape, the written word has remained one of the most consistent and imaginative art forms.

This time out we’re chatting with Chandler Baker to discuss her new novel “This is Not the End,” the process of writing with a new baby by her side, and how starting her career as a ghostwriter helped to shape her own creative journey.

TrunkSpace: We read that you wrote the entire first draft for “This is Not the End” over the course of your 12-week maternity leave. Were you writing in quick spurts or was it something that you committed to doing during every waking hour? (With a newborn at home, there tends to be many of them!)
Baker: I was really lucky in that I had a very easy, sleepy baby! I told myself I wouldn’t do any writing for the first four weeks after my daughter was born and I didn’t, but after that, I was itching to get to work. I committed to writing during at least a couple of her naps each day, which still allowed me a little time to rest as well. Other times she’d be happy to watch me work while she hung out beside me on the couch. It was a very fruitful time creatively, but I fear if I tried to recreate it with a second baby I might not get the same results!

TrunkSpace: Keeping with that process, did you write it all on a computer or did you give yourself some freedom from the physical restraints of a device and write long-form through any of it?
Baker: For “This Is Not The End” I brainstormed, drafted and revised entirely on my laptop. At the time, it was the easiest way to ensure that all of my thoughts stayed organized and readily available. But with each book my process evolves and I now write quite a lot long-form during the early stages of a project. I try to fill half a composition book with handwritten notes before I begin to draft.

TrunkSpace: There are so many life changes that a person goes through when they’re becoming a parent. Do you see those themes, personal transitions, reflected in the writing of “This is Not the End?”
Baker: Absolutely. Being a new parent is such a raw, vulnerable time. I found that particular emotional state useful while trying to get into the headspace of my main character, Lake, who has suffered the devastating losses of those closest to her. But even more apparent of a change for me was the way I began to look at the parents in the book. I paid much closer attention to them than I had in previous novels I’ve written. I thought a lot about parents experiencing the loss of a child and how parents are just people and aren’t going to act perfectly or even admirably in the face of excruciating pain. During the writing of this book I was, no doubt, hyper emotional and I think it’s no coincidence that so far readers seem to be finding this novel to be the most emotionally wrenching thing that I’ve written.

TrunkSpace: What do you hope readers most connect to when sitting down to read “This is Not the End?”
Baker: My hope is that the experience of reading this book is an exercise in empathy. I would like readers to do the same thing I did, which is to ask themselves: What would I do if I were in Lake’s shoes? Who would I choose to bring back to life? Asking this alone is practicing empathy, albeit with fictional characters, and I want the story, as it unfolds, to draw readers into an understanding and appreciation of why each character is the way he or she is and doing the things he or she is doing, whether or not that character is “right” in doing so. I know the world needs as many empathetic people as it can get right now. Readers are already ahead of the game in this regard, but I would love for my book to help stretch that muscle a bit.

TrunkSpace: Do you put expectations on your books? It seems like it’s becoming more and more difficult to gauge how a book will be received in the current content consumption landscape, so in a way, it almost feels like expectations are forced to change as the industry does?
Baker: I try not to set expectations, but for anyone trying to make a career out of writing, it’s impossible not to keep tabs. My goal is for each book to “do better” than the last and there are lots of ways to measure that both in terms of critical and commercial success. The biggest thing a book can have going for it is the support of its publisher. I generally have a pretty realistic internal gauge of how a book will land I think. When I finished writing and revising “This Is Not The End,” I really felt there was something special there. Thankfully, my agent did, too, and then my editor and so on. It’s been really exciting to see how this book is spreading organically. My publisher, Disney’s, support has made all the difference and this book has far exceeded my expectations based on when I first got the kernel of an idea for the story.

TrunkSpace: You started your career as a ghostwriter. What was the process like for you in terms of stepping out from behind that anonymity and then being the name and mind associated with a particular piece? Did it change the process for you, good or bad?
Baker: It’s changed the process significantly. As a ghostwriter I had very little creative control. I churned out books quickly based on a map set out for me. Now, all the decisions are my own, with guidance from a very smart editor, of course. The difficulty is that there’s no one drawing up a synopsis, creating the map. That’s me! But it’s also very freeing. Plus, the training of ghostwriting has come in handy. I’m not precious about my creative work and am quick to say ‘yes’ to editorial changes. On the flip side, I have to keep reminding myself that it’s my name on the cover and if there is something I feel strongly about creatively, then I need to speak up.

TrunkSpace: YA is a term that is thrown around quite a bit these days and it seems the actual definition of it blurs based on who you ask. In your opinion, what does YA mean and who is the audience? (Not necessarily age demographic, but the profile of the reader.)
Baker: The YA readers I interact with are sophisticated and passionate. They love interacting with their favorite books by creating fan art, post-worthy pictures, and thoughtful reviews, complete with well-timed GIFs. There’s almost a collector’s mentality for a lot of YA readers. They curate beautiful collections of books they love. It seems to be, in some ways, an expression of self, much like fashion or tattoos or art. It’s been really cool to watch the book community develop online and to see my work become a part of what readers love. Then there are the “older” YA readers that really “get” that young adult books aren’t just for young adults. There’s great literature coming out of the YA community right now and I absolutely adore the mature-in-age readers that recognize that.

TrunkSpace: Regarding the process, is writing a labor of love for you or does it feel more like labor? Do you enjoy the process?
Baker: Depends on the day! My husband often wonders aloud why I want to do what I do. It’s such mentally-taxing and tedious work, after all. But there’s something about holding a completed book in my hands and knowing I wrote every word in it that I can’t get over! It’s so cool. When the writing isn’t going well, when a problem seems unsolvable, it’s just labor. But inevitably, the book opens up and something clicks into place and there is no better feeling in the world. I’m also a nightmare to be around when I’m not engaged in a creative project, so I know it’s a part of my identity that needs feeding.

TrunkSpace: And what does that process look like? Post-maternity leave, what are the ideal conditions for putting in a good day of writing?
Baker: A great day of writing involves my husband taking our toddler somewhere for four to five hours and me getting uninterrupted, no internet writing time. I’ll usually turn on Mac Freedom so that I don’t have access to the internet for long stretches of time. If I’m trying to make serious progress, I’ll go to a coffee shop or work in my home office. Otherwise, I’ll plop down at the kitchen table or on the sofa. But a good writing day just means that it’s a normal day and I don’t have any unexpected errands or life-tasks popping up that require my immediate attention. On those days, I’m happy to get four dedicated 15-minute segments of time in, with a goal of writing a solid 1,000 words for the day.

TrunkSpace: Do you self-edit as you write?
Baker: Yes, especially for the first third of the book. I almost never move on from the first line of a book until I know I’ve gotten it right and that line rarely changes. I self-edit a lot at the beginning because I want to make sure I’m hitting the right voice and tone. I know a lot of authors are content to let voice and tone come in later drafts, but the characters and what they do are all too tied up in what I want the book to feel like overall for me to work that way!

TrunkSpace: Where are you the hardest on yourself as a writer?
Baker: It changes from book to book because I’ll be become fixated on an aspect of my writing that I think needs work. I’ll focus relentlessly on that part of my writing and make progress, but then on the next project, I’ll find another aspect of my writing that now needs improvement. For “This Is Not The End,” I was very hard on myself about fleshing out characters, and not just the main character. Currently, I’m obsessed with pushing myself into more creative world building.

TrunkSpace: What are you working on now and what will people be able to read next?
Baker: My next book will come out in January and it is the last book in my “High School Horror” trilogy. That book is more or less finished, though, so I’m currently in the throes of drafting a new project that I can’t say much about, but it’s a big departure for me—historical timelines, a dash of fantasy—it’s been a lot of fun!

“This is Not the End” is available now from Disney-Hyperion.

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Between The Sheets

Diane Rios

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In our new feature, Between the Sheets, TrunkSpace picks the imaginative brains of authors to break down what it takes to create the various worlds and characters they breathe life into via the tools of their trade… sheets of paper. While technology continues to advance and change the pop culture landscape, the written word has remained one of the most consistent and imaginative art forms.

This time out we’re chatting with Diane Rios to discuss her new novel “Bridge of the Gods: The Silver Mountain Series, Book One,the fantastical draw of fantasy, and how working in the world’s largest independent book store inspired her on multiple levels.

TrunkSpace: Your debut novel, “Bridge of the Gods: The Silver Mountain Series, Book One,” was released on August 15. What emotions were you experiencing leading up to the release of the book? Was it a mix of excitement and nervousness?
Rios: Yes, both! Also joy and relief! It being my first novel I had no idea how it would be received, and it’s a bit of a leap of faith to throw yourself out there like that! Especially being such a fan of middle grade literature – I did not want to let my literary heroes down, or my friends or their children! Thanks to some very encouraging reviews I am feeling a lot better, and the joy and excitement are taking over.

TrunkSpace: What was the journey like for you in terms of the first creative spark that gave birth to The Silver Mountain Series to where you physically held a copy in your hands? How long was it? How difficult of a journey was it, if at all?
Rios: I always wanted to write a middle grade novel, because I LOVED middle grade novels when I was a middle grader. They were my best friends for years, and those friends never left me. That was the initial “creative spark” – those books. L. Frank Baum’s “Oz” books, the Little House on the Prairie Books, the Cricket in Times Square series, the Narnia books, Beatrix Potter’s stories and Marguerite Henry’s books, among others, all took me to worlds I wanted to live in forever. Also, I was absolutely crazy for horses and anything to do with horses. As I grew, those passions remained, and when I got a job working at Powell’s City of Books in downtown Portland I was in middle reader heaven.

For three years I worked in every room of the store, which is the size of an entire city block, and my favorite of course was the Rose Room, or the children’s room. There I shelved new and used and out-of-print children’s books of all kinds. Caldecott winners, Newberry winners, Coretta Scott King award winners. Middle readers, Young Adult, fantasy, poetry, biography – and my favorite, horse stories. I rebuilt my personal collection of best-book-friends from childhood, and my imagination was definitely sparked to finally write my own story.

“Bridge of the Gods” took four years to complete. The original manuscript was around 170,000 words, over 60 chapters long, and I decided it worked much better as two books, so “Bridge of the Gods” is Book One of the series, and Book Two is obviously already written. When I discovered She Writes Press through my mother, it seemed the perfect way to publish and I submitted. After being accepted I began the editing process, which lasted about six months. Six months after that – the book arrived on my doorstep in a big cardboard box. A thrill to open!!! All told, from submission to doorstep was about one year.

TrunkSpace: As a new author looking to build a readership, what are the biggest hurdles you face? How does “Bridge of the Gods: The Silver Mountain Series, Book One” go from being published to being read?
Rios: My biggest challenge as a new author is to get reviews. I need to connect with my readers and ask them to help support the book by leaving reviews everywhere they can – on Amazon, on Goodreads, or any blog or article they see it mentioned. As a consumer, I know how important reviews are – I rely on them myself! I hope the media attention the book has gotten so far is enough to excite people to read the book, and if they like it I would be THRILLED if they could take a second to leave a review, and recommend by word of mouth. I love getting book recommendations from my friends!

TrunkSpace: As mentioned above, you actually used to work in a book store. Did that experience help shape you as a writer? Did it help shape your branding/marketing brain because you were able to see firsthand what connected with consumers and what didn’t?
Rios: Oh yes, Powell’s was an incredible education for me. It was my first job as a bookseller and they trained me from scratch. As you may know it is the biggest independent bookstore in the world! They have literally acres of new and used, out-of-print and rare books, and I was the luckiest girl in the world to have been able to handle them all. My job title was “Generalist” and that meant I worked in every capacity – as a cashier, at the info stands, shelving, sorting, labeling, I even got to work in the Rare Book Room!!! What a dream!!! I am a very visual, display-oriented person and LOVED Powell’s displays, and I saw how much customers were drawn to that. But that is just my marketing/branding brain, I was so influenced by my job at Powell’s in other ways too! Just the books themselves, and the amazing rooms they were in gave me no end of inspiration! Working in the Gold Room – it’s the Sci Fi, Fantasy, Mystery, Horror, Graphic Novel room – I spent hours and hours up a ladder in there shelving, and I worked deep in “The Cave” (the almost-windowless-lined-with-paperbacks work-space of the Gold Room), listening to loud rock and roll while we sorted the sci fi/fantasy/romance/paranormal romance/mystery/ books off the big carts from the warehouse. It was SO much fun, so inspiring, and the PEOPLE I worked with blew me away too! As you can imagine, Powell’s is full of talent – incredible talent. Artists, writers, musicians – I was amazed on a daily basis by who I was working with. Someone ought to just start a Powell’s music label and publishing house already.

TrunkSpace: YA is a term that is thrown around quite a bit these days and it seems the actual definition of it blurs based on who you ask. In your opinion, what does YA mean and who is the audience? (Not necessarily age demographic, but the profile of the reader.)
Rios: In my opinion the definition of “YA” has changed over the years. Perhaps in the early days it referred to an age group, but now I think it is incredibly inclusive. There is a lot of overlap these days between other genres like middle readers, memoirs, and fantasy. Young Adult encompasses all of those now, and it’s really cool because it opens up all these other worlds to readers of ALL ages! I mean, what age doesn’t like Harry Potter?

TrunkSpace: How important has the written word been in your life, both as a consumer and as someone with thoughts that just need to get out in a creative capacity?
Rios: Almost everything. The written word has been absolutely critical to me. My values and world view was formed in large part by the stories I read as a child, and as a young adult. My expression of my deepest feelings and instincts, the expression of any wisdom I may have acquired through my 50 years on this planet, is mostly-expressed through the written word. Writing is an outlet for everyone. It is one of the most powerful tools we all have access to. You don’t need a power cord for it, or a computer, or wi-fi access, or a phone – you only need something to write with or on. Writing is therapy, it is healing, it is love, and literacy is one of the most important issues of our time.

TrunkSpace: Readers escape in the worlds of fantasy, getting lost in the characters and their thrilling adventures. As an author of fantasy, do you find yourself getting lost in those same situations but from a different perspective?
Rios: Actually, it’s very much the same! I write what I want to read – and I edit by reading it as I would any book, which works very well for me! The terribly-written parts just jump out at me when I pretend I’m a reader reading it for the first time. It’s kind of horrifying actually – editing can be scary, but oh-so-necessary! When I finally get it just the way it should be, I know because I feel transported. I walk into the world in my head and I just…expand in it, trying to savor it, be in it, live in it. It makes me want to write more and more books just to BE in those places longer! It’s one of my favorite things when an author I love writes a long series. I’m never ready for it to be over!

TrunkSpace: Regarding the process, is writing a labor of love for you or does it feel more like labor? Do you enjoy the process?
Rios: I do love the process, but I didn’t always. When I started BOG I didn’t really know what I was doing. The very first version of the manuscript was IMO very silly, and I basically re-wrote the whole thing, from a different angle. Then I re-wrote it again because it was still kind of terrible. It’s at times like these that it isn’t any fun at all, and does feel like hard work. I felt like giving up of course, I think that is a predictable stage in any difficult project. I didn’t give up because I wanted to finish it. I’m not getting any younger, and even if nothing ever happened and it was never published, at least it would be DONE. And hopefully not too embarrassing, please literary gods! So I rewrote it again until it was better, and I was happier, and then further editing made me even happier, so now that it’s done and I’ve gotten some good reviews – it’s finally fun! Phew! I think Book Two will be a lot more fun.

TrunkSpace: And what does that process look like? What are the ideal conditions for putting in a good day of writing?
Rios: For me, the best time to write is in the wee hours of the morning. “Bridge of the Gods” was written almost entirely between the hours of 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. I have a bit of insomnia and I go to bed at a ridiculously early hour, so believe it or not, I am bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at that hour! It’s very quiet out in the world then, and nobody is up in the house so I can really immerse myself and get a lot done.

TrunkSpace: Do you self-edit as you write?
Rios: Yes, I will write it all out quickly at first – changing things here and there – and then I immediately will go through again and really edit. Then another pass usually, possibly a fourth – and it’s usually there, at least until the next day when I re-read. A little time between editing frenzies makes a HUGE difference in the end result!

TrunkSpace: Where are you the hardest on yourself as a writer?
Rios: I criticize myself for not taking MORE time on it. I’ve heard you never feel “done” and I guess that’s true. I’m so nervous I’ll see something I really don’t like about it, something that I missed during the editing process – that I’m afraid to read it! Like an actor that doesn’t watch their own movies. That’s just the nerves talking though, it goes away, and it motivates me for Book Two.

TrunkSpace: What are you working on now and what will people be able to read next?
Rios: I’m going to start editing Book Two next month! I have a working title I’ll share at a later date, but Chloe’s adventures continue with a super-exciting finish! It’s the culmination we’ve all been waiting for, and along the way you get to meet some incredible animal characters. In Book Two we meet Auberon King of the Bears, Mai the Wise Wolf, Afra the Great White Doe and King Cornix of the Ravens. Book Two will be an action-packed sequel, and hopefully will be out in 2018!

I’m also writing a collection of children’s poems called “Poems For Little People” inspired by A.A. Milne’s “When We Were Very Young” and “Now We Are Six.”

“Bridge of the Gods” is available now from She Writes Press.

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Between The Sheets

Mark Perez

MarkPerez_BetweenTheSheets (1)

In our new feature, Between the Sheets, TrunkSpace picks the imaginative brains of authors to break down what it takes to create the various worlds and characters they breathe life into via the tools of their trade… sheets of paper. While technology continues to advance and change the pop culture landscape, the written word has remained one of the most consistent and imaginative art forms.

This time out we’re chatting with screenwriter/author Mark Perez to discuss his new novel “How To Win At Life By Cheating At Everything,” how he’s been conning people for 20 years, and… how he may actually be Greg, his own foster son?

TrunkSpace: Your debut novel, “How To Win At Life By Cheating At Everything,” is described as a con-man’s guide to life. You have worked in the entertainment business for years. Does that particular industry allow for more con-based wiggle room than others?
Perez: (Laughter) I guess one could argue that the entertainment biz is built on a sort of grift. When your whole business model is focused on the selling of an idea. Not a real thing, mind you, but the concept of a thing. You can imagine how much bullshitting has to be going on. How much hyperbole. How much shadiness. And lets be honest, how much straight up lying. If you’re an agent, it’s literally in your job description. I’ve been conning people for 20 years. Right to their faces. It’s called a “movie pitch.”

TrunkSpace: The book is part memoir and part graphic novel. What ultimately led to you deciding that a visual element was part of your vision?
Perez: It was always a part of the plan. I wrote the project for Dark Horse Books. They made their bones on comic books and they were just starting to branch out into more prose-centric novels. So, the idea was always to think of it in terms of a quasi graphic novel. Not as much art as you would see in that particular format, but still quite a bit of it. Then I thought it would be interesting to add some photos from the 80s. Reflecting the time when the character purportedly grew up. Almost as if the book were this sort of a diary of a conman.

TrunkSpace: Speaking of vision, is the novel/book world the only place a creative brain gets to fully see its vision come to fruition without outside sources having their say? Much of your career has been spent screenwriting, which is well-known for being a notes-driven outlet.
Perez: I often say that in writing a screenplay, there is a lot of math you need to always be considering. Page 30 is the hook. Page 60 is a turn. Page 90 is the fall. Page 120 is the end. Now, there have been crazy creative people who have made some amazing art inside those parameters. But, there certainly are hardened rules to be mindful of. In writing this book, there were no rules. I could basically do anything I felt like doing. And then add pictures to the mix, too. Write jokes with visuals. Age a photo and make it look like I found it in a drawer somewhere. It was freeing in a lot of ways. I let loose, didn’t give myself any rules, and then reflected on what the final product was afterwards. In other words, I didn’t hold myself back along the way.

TrunkSpace: By not writing in a note-heavy environment, did you still rely on someone to test the material out on or was the process itself more solitary than you are used to working in?
Perez: I always give everything to my wife. We have been together since college. From when I was writing scripts on a broken card table in our shitty apartment in Hollywood, to right up until this book, she’s always been a part of my process. But, beyond that, it was cool that I didn’t have to send 100 drafts to managers and producers and executives who usually only tell you what is flawed about your project. Also, I had a great editor. A book editor is on your side, so to speak. She gave notes that added to what I was trying to say in the book as opposed to saying things like, “It’s great. I love it. But can you make the lead character a woman. Set it in World War I. And can you give her super powers? Lady super powers are really hot right now.” Writing the book was less painful in that way.

TrunkSpace: While the book has plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, there is also a heavy, dramatic relationship element to the storytelling. Can you tell us about that and why it was important to you to balance those elements?
Perez: First of all, thank you! I sat down to write a book that was two things. I wanted it to have a linear storytelling quality, with a main character that had a bit of an arc. But also, because it was going to have such cool art in it, I wanted it to be a book you could pick up in line at Urban Outfitters, read page 47, and maybe get a quick laugh. I have a very close relationship with my dad. And by making it a father/son relationship story, I could tap into something that was near and dear to me. So, while the book is clearly goofy, I tried to make that relationship real. Because at the end, underneath all the cons, and jokes, and cynicism, there’s a little bit of a love story between father and son.

TrunkSpace: With this being your debut novel, have you placed expectations on it, not only in terms of its success but how it may change people’s view of you as a writer?
Perez: I’m excited about it because I get to sell my writing in a different way to Hollywood. Instead of sending out a new spec script to the town, I get to send out a cool book with pictures in it! People around here have very short attention spans lately. Especially when they’re reading 100 scripts a week. So with this project, I might be able to reach them in a different way. And as far as expectations, I’m just excited that I’ve written something that some people may actually read! In my career I’ve sometimes toiled over screenplays for years that only end up getting read by literally ten people. So, if I get twenty people to read this book, I’ll be ahead of the game!

TrunkSpace: Just so we’re clear, are you conning your way through this interview right now?
Perez: I’m not actually Mark. He’s currently at a gentleman’s club he often frequents. I’m his foster son, Greg, who he forces to do this shit for him. Help me. Please.

TrunkSpace: Regarding the process, is writing a labor of love for you or does it feel more like labor? Do you enjoy the process?
Perez: I always think of the cliché. “I hate writing. But, I love having written.” And I guess it’s a cliché because it’s so true. I’ve spent the past 20 years sitting in front of a computer trying to come up with stuff. I’ve written every fat buddy character. Every foulmouthed neighbor kid. Thought of every comedy idea from The Hardy Boys grown up to be losers to a movie about ghosts raising a baby. (It was called RAISED BY GHOSTS, no bullshit.) And after every experience, I announce to my wife that I hate writing and that I’m retiring. Then I go to a batting cage or take a long drive and I come up with some other wacky idea that I feel the immediate need to write for no reason. And then the process repeats itself. It’s very healthy. I’m not at all crazy. Anyway, who am I kidding? It’s better than working for a living.

TrunkSpace: And what does that process look like? What are the ideal conditions for putting in a good day of writing?
Perez: I’ve tried them all. Locking myself in a room until I write an entire script. Or taking a year to do it by writing only half a page before I go to sleep every night. I write on a laptop at my pool. (Yep, I have a pool.) I write on a desktop in the dark. I’m always trying to trick myself that writing is actually fun and exciting. Hey, let’s try writing on a beach! It’ll be fun! With the water and the sun and… it never is though. Fun or exciting. It’s always painful, the writing part. Except this time maybe it’s painful on a beach. My wife once forbid me from bringing my laptop on vacation one year. And I maniacally wrote an entire movie in a notebook. It was called ACCEPTED and it got made at Universal. On the flipside, I’ve also spent three years writing a spec in the perfect conditions that everybody thought was terrible. So, who knows???

TrunkSpace: Do you self-edit as you write?
Perez: As far as screenplays go, I like to bust out a first draft right away. Without looking back. Because if I did stop and edit, I would be constantly changing things before I knew where I was gonna end up. I prefer to write the whole thing, read how ragged it is, and then go back and edit. As far as the book goes, I can’t even imagine if I had gone back and edited along the way. I think doing that with 30 or 40 thousand words would be maddening.

TrunkSpace: Where are you the hardest on yourself as a writer?
Perez: Oh God, you name it. Is this funny? Does this seem real? Are people going to hate this? Is this entire idea shitty? Am I a total fraud who should kill himself? I’ve sold a ton of screenplays and was lucky enough to get this book published and I still can’t believe anybody pays me to do it. I was much more confident as a dumb kid who moved to Hollywood to try and make it. I was a much worse writer, but much more confident.

TrunkSpace: What are you working on now and what will people be able to read next?
Perez: I just finished the first draft of a memoir called JEWS OF THE CARIBBEAN. I’m first generation Cuban American. And I grew up with my dad, sister and my very Hispanic grandparents in Hinsdale, Illinois. Which is basically the John Hughes Chicago suburbs. We moved around a lot before and after that time, and my father always used to tell me that we could make it anywhere because the Cubans were the “Jews of the Caribbean.” My dad preached other weird shit like that to me growing up. So, I decided to write a book about it all. I also wrote GAME NIGHT which is a movie coming out March 2nd, 2018 via New Line/Warner Bros. It stars Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler and Jeffery Wright. I’m pretty excited about it.

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Between The Sheets

Erin McCahan

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In our new feature, Between the Sheets, TrunkSpace picks the imaginative brains of authors to break down what it takes to create the various worlds and characters they breathe life into via the tools of their trade… sheets of paper. While technology continues to advance and change the pop culture landscape, the written word has remained one of the most consistent and imaginative art forms.

This time out we’re chatting with Erin McCahan to discuss her new novel “The Lake Effect,” why she didn’t want to be forced out of her shell as a child, and how she’d edit her own dreams if she could.

TrunkSpace: Your new book “The Lake Effect” was released on July 11. What emotions do you experience as you gear up to the release of new material?
McCahan: I try not to gear up for the release. I’m serious. Between my expectations and anxiety, it’s too nerve-racking to think about.

TrunkSpace: As you look back over previous releases, where do you think you have grown the most as a writer with this latest offering?
McCahan: In not gearing up for the release.

TrunkSpace: YA is a term that is thrown around quite a bit these days and it seems the actual definition of it blurs based on who you ask. In your opinion, what does YA mean and who is the audience? (Not necessarily age demographic, but the profile of the reader.)
McCahan: It is a little blurry, isn’t it? At its most basic level, I suppose YA is defined by the age of the protagonist. Teen protagonist, in general, equals YA. But the audience for YA is broad. It encompasses everyone from middle schoolers to grandparents, and I think that’s because, over the last 15 years or so, the quality of YA books has improved and the diversity has broadened.

TrunkSpace: It seems that more than anything, one area that is a major turn off for young adults is when they feel like they’re being talked down to and not treated as the young adults that they truly are. How important is honesty (and particularly emotional honesty) when writing in the genre?
McCahan: It’s paramount. I was repeatedly told, as a teenager in the midst of some crisis or restlessness or even happiness, “That will change when you get older.” What I heard was, “Your feelings don’t count right now.” In my work with teenagers – for 10 years as a youth minister and now as a young adult author – I diligently try to honor teenagers’ feelings and experiences.

TrunkSpace: We read that you were very shy growing up. As a shy child, how important did losing yourself in literary worlds become during those years?
McCahan: Reading was a breather. Only other shy people will understand this – it’s hard to be shy. Add to this that parents and teachers – at least my parents and teachers – treated shyness like a disease that they were going to cure by “bringing Erin out of her shell.” So in addition to living in an extroverted world, I felt further burdened by the belief that there was something wrong with me. It was a relief to be home, alone, after school, in my room reading – or listening to music – and not having to think about my own horrendous failings as a shy person for a while.

TrunkSpace: For those young adults of today who are also experiencing similar feelings, what advice would you give them?
McCahan: Shyness is a temperament, not a character flaw. You’re allowed to be shy.

TrunkSpace: You were born in Michigan and were raised in Ohio. In your opinion, how much of where a writer comes from influences their literary voice? How did Ohio shape your writing?
McCahan: I think it’s more family dynamic and social environment that shape not just a writer but everyone. And a huge chunk of my family is – uh – I’ll say difficult. Dysfunctional is the polite term. In need of a map, a compass and a Sherpa to lead them back to normal. They would have been that in any state.

TrunkSpace: Regarding the process, is writing a labor of love for you or does it feel more like labor? Do you enjoy the process?
McCahan: It is absolutely a labor of love. I cannot imagine doing anything else, and if for some reason I never have another novel published, I’ll still write every single day.

TrunkSpace: And what does that process look like? What are the ideal conditions for putting in a good day of writing?
McCahan: A good day is a productive day, and not every day is productive. Some days, I sit at my desk and write, delete, write, delete with very little worth saving. Other days, I write pages and pages and hate to quit in the evening. The only part of the process that is consistent is that I am at my desk, from 9 to 5, 5 to 6 days a week, with breaks for working out or running errands or playing with my cats, of course.

TrunkSpace: Do you self-edit as you write?
McCahan: As I write, as I think, as I speak. If I could do it as I dream, I would.

TrunkSpace: Where are you the hardest on yourself as a writer?
McCahan: I struggle with the belief that I’ll just never be good enough. And since I haven’t actually defined ‘good enough,’ I worry it’s an unknowable and unattainable standard.

TrunkSpace: What are you working on now and what will people be able to read next?
McCahan: I’m working on a couple things, and I would love to tell you about them, but I haven’t run either of them past my editor yet. She’s on maternity leave, and I think I need to discuss them with her first.

“The Lake Effect” is available now from Dial Books.

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Between The Sheets

Matthew Quick

MatthewQuick_BetweenTheSheets

In our new feature, Between the Sheets, TrunkSpace picks the imaginative brains of authors to break down what it takes to create the various worlds and characters they breathe life into via the tools of their trade… sheets of paper. While technology continues to advance and change the pop culture landscape, the written word has remained one of the most consistent and imaginative art forms.

This time out we’re chatting with “The Silver Linings Playbook” author Matthew Quick to discuss his new novel “The Reason You’re Alive,” how writing helps him get to the truth of the matter, and where he’s hardest on himself as a writer.

TrunkSpace: Your new book “The Reason You’re Alive” reached the public on July 4th. In a way, does it feel like the entirety of the United States celebrated its release with fireworks and parties?
Quick: Um.

TrunkSpace: In all seriousness, the book deals in some heavy subject matter, which is an area you never shy away from in your writing. For a lot of people, reading about serious human conflict, either internal or external, helps them get through their own life moments. As the person penning the work, does writing ever open that door for you? Can working through things by way of a character inadvertently serve as an unintended form of therapy for the author?
Quick: Tricky territory here. Writing is a highly personal experience. Every novelist has his or her own reasons for writing. My writing journey was definitely born out of mental health struggles. Mostly anxiety and depression. I often say fiction writing is where I take all the chaos in my mind and chest and attempt to make order on the page. I didn’t realize what I was doing when I first started writing fiction as a teenager. I also didn’t know the wild feeling in my chest was anxiety, but writing made it temporarily go away. When I used to teach I’d tell my students we read novels to make us more empathetic, and I think that’s true. We can always be more understanding toward ourselves.

TrunkSpace: On the opposite side of that coin, can spending time in another person’s darkness, even a fictional person, make it difficult to stay in your own nonfictional light?
Quick: I’m a pretty big believer in the truth setting us free. And fiction writing, for me, is always an attempt to get to the truth of something or someone. The only time I get dark is when I’m creatively blocked. That happens when I am trying to force a lie into my work or life.

TrunkSpace: Something that you do so well is blend humor into the world of your characters, which in a lot of ways, strikes a beautiful balance with the aforementioned heavy subject matter. Is that a conscious focus of your writing or is that relatable funny something that just comes natural to you and in turn is reflected in your characters?
Quick: It’s a coping mechanism that I employ in real life as well. I don’t like tension. I’m an INFJ. I’m a highly sensitive person. An empath. I learned at a young age that making people laugh changes the energy they put out. Lightens things. I wouldn’t say I consciously try to be funny in my novels. But when I am laughing while writing, that’s almost always a sign that the writing is going well.

TrunkSpace: How much did the current state of polarization here in the United States influence “The Reason You’re Alive” and did working on the novel give you any insight into the divisive mindset of the nation as it stands today?
Quick: I finished writing the novel well before the last presidential election began to heat up. I was raised by extremely conservative Republican Christians and educated by extremely liberal professors. Most of the people I work with now are extremely liberal. My needle moved left a long time ago, but there is part of me that will always feel a little loyal to my original tribe and because of that I often feel isolated somewhere in between the left and the right. We all need to talk more. There has to be less us/them.

TrunkSpace: You started to make a serious push towards a writing career at age 30 by leaving your job and focusing on the craft full-time. What advice would you give to aspiring writers at similar places in their life who question if the move is the right one to make?
Quick: Don’t listen to people who offer writing advice. Half joking here. Some of the best advice I got was from non-writers. I’m not sure anyone can advise you on becoming the writer you need to be on the page. But being professional and realistic, making good business decisions, being smart about money because money is what buys you time to write, these types of things you can learn from others. Maybe how to survive as a creative type. Perhaps the best advice I ever received came over a breakfast beer in the Peruvian jungle. Painter Francisco Grippa said, “Be a professional, not an asshole.”

TrunkSpace: Had you started to pursue writing in a full-time capacity 10 years earlier, do you think it would have put you on a different creative path in terms of your voice as a writer?
Quick: In some ways I did start my writing career at twenty. I was writing back then, albeit unpaid. Reading. Taking creative writing classes. Justin Cronin was my teacher. But I hadn’t lived enough yet. I had to fumble through my twenties. Gain life experience.

TrunkSpace: Regarding the process, is writing a labor of love for you or does it feel more like labor? Do you enjoy the process?
Quick: Depends on the day. There are days when it feels like I’m not even writing, but channeling some divine voice. That sounds ridiculous, I realize, but we’ve all been high on our own words, even if it’s delusional. And there have been many more days when I stare at the screen for hours doing nothing but thinking, My career is over.

TrunkSpace: And what does that process look like? What are the ideal conditions for putting in a good day of writing?
Quick: Well, this will sound pretty uncool, I realize. But at the ripe old age of forty-three, eating healthy, getting good sleep, prioritizing my mental health, exercising (especially running, I try to do 30-40 miles a week these days), and limiting alcohol and caffeine intake – these things have become increasingly important. In my early thirties I drank coffee all day and sipped alcohol all night and wrote in alternating fits of anxiety and depression. It worked for a short while, but that sort of living would probably kill me now. It was a shitty way to function. I’m a lot happier these days.

TrunkSpace: Do you self-edit as you write?
Quick: Yes.

TrunkSpace: Where are you the hardest on yourself as a writer?
Quick: I seem to be in a deadlocked battle with imposter syndrome.

TrunkSpace: What are you working on now and what will people be able to read next?
Quick: A few screenplays for The Weinstein Company. Can’t really talk much about these projects right now, but I’m really excited about each. I will be writing another novel at some point, but not this year.

The Reason You’re Alive” is available now from Harper.

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Between The Sheets

Carrie Firestone

CarrieFire_BetweenTheSheets

In our new feature, Between the Sheets, TrunkSpace picks the imaginative brains of authors to break down what it takes to create the various worlds and characters they breathe life into via the tools of their trade… sheets of paper. While technology continues to advance and change the pop culture landscape, the written word has remained one of the most consistent and imaginative art forms.

This time out we’re chatting with “The Unlikelies” author Carrie Firestone to discuss her thoughts on the YA genre, her soul-age, and how her characters inhabit her while they’re being written.

TrunkSpace: We read that your first manuscript was rejected based on initial queries and you ended up scrapping it. Do you think you’ll ever revisit that particular story or have you officially written it (no pun intended) off?
Firestone: I don’t think I’ll ever revisit the book as it is, but I’ve already harvested parts of the story for other books. I re-read it recently and it’s pretty rough!

TrunkSpace: Prior to pursuing writing full time, you were a teacher. When you turned your attention to your own writing, did you approach it as a student and try to learn as much as you could about the storytelling process and the business itself?
Firestone: I think I approached writing like I approached teaching. I jumped into teaching headfirst when I flew to Taiwan five days after college to teach English without knowing any Chinese (or how to teach). I eventually went back to school to hone my teaching skills. Similarly, I wrote the first novel, then began to attend conferences and research the business. I think teaching and writing are both professions that require a good amount of instinct combined with some dedicated craftwork.

TrunkSpace: Looking at lessons learned, what do you think is the most important thing aspiring writers need to consider outside of having a great concept/idea?
Firestone: I would definitely encourage writers to keep going with that great concept until they have a finished manuscript. We’re often seduced mid-draft by exciting new ideas. You can always scribble the new ideas in a notebook and return to them later. I know too many writers who have a drawer full of half-finished manuscripts and lots of “great ideas,” but no finished book.

TrunkSpace: YA is a term that is thrown around quite a bit these days and it seems the actual definition of it blurs based on who you ask. In your opinion, what does YA mean and who is the audience? (Not necessarily age demographic, but the profile of the reader.)
Firestone: To me, YA fiction explores universal human experiences just like any other fiction. The characters in YA books are often discovering who they are and how they fit into this world for the very first time. But YA books are for people who want to read about love and loss and fear and disappointment and self-discovery and pain and courage and adventure and all the things that make us human.

TrunkSpace: Your new book “The Unlikelies” focuses on five teens. What is the key to being able to write not only for teens, but, in the voice of teens? How do you capture that very specific time period in a young person’s life and make it reflective for the reader?
Firestone: I truly feel like my soul-age is 19. My daughter is 13 and I’m surrounded by teens, so I have access to the voice of the modern teen. But to capture the essence of this stage of development, I always remind myself that teens are people with a range of personality types, and experiences, and layers of complicated emotions. There is no such thing as a “typical” teen. I hope my characters illustrate that.

TrunkSpace: We saw that “The Unlikelies” was compared to “The Breakfast Club.” That was a film that completely shined a spotlight on various teen personalities of the 1980s. Have teens changed all that much since then when it really comes down to it?
Firestone: I was a teen in the 1980s and “The Breakfast Club” was one of my favorite movies. But while that movie and many others in the ‘80s portrayed teens as one-dimensional “types,” we were as complicated and multi-dimensional as teens are today. I don’t think teens have changed over the generations. Technology may give them more access to the world, for better or for worse, but my daughter and her friends are very much like we were in the glorious 80s.

TrunkSpace: You have a number of book signing events scheduled throughout the summer. As bookstores continue to disappear, how do you think that will impact the book business, particularly on the marketing side?
Firestone: Wow. That question makes me sad since I’ve spent much of my life in bookstores. I think the Internet has created an enormous collective of book lovers who share, reflect, discuss, and promote books organically. I hope we will always have bookstores, but I’m guessing there will be more creative ways to share stories and have access to authors via social media.

TrunkSpace: Regarding the process, is writing a labor of love for you or does it feel more like labor? Do you enjoy the process?
Firestone: I love writing. My high school journals are living proof that writing is therapeutic and cathartic. When I get an idea and can sit for hours uninterrupted as characters tap out their stories through my fingers, it’s pure magic. Editing, on the other hand, can be brutally slow and painful. I love planning and throwing parties. So for me, writing is like the middle of the party when we’re all dancing and running around eating guacamole and cupcakes. Before we know it, it’s 3 am and we have no idea where the hours went. Editing is the party clean up the next day. It needs to happen, but nobody likes cleaning jello off the carpet.

TrunkSpace: And what does that process look like? What are the ideal conditions for putting in a good day of writing?
Firestone: My perfect writing day goes like this: Drop off kids at school. Go to Barnes & Noble cafe. Talk to my buddies who hang out there every day. Grab a stack of books and read a bunch of first pages to get the creative juices flowing. Get a coffee. Move to the corner (tell my buddies not to let me talk). Start typing. Text a friend to come hang out for twenty minutes at noon. Back to writing. Leave at three with 5,000 words done!

TrunkSpace: Do you self-edit as you write?
Firestone: No. The characters don’t let me. They want to get their stories out and they’re kind of pushy. I literally feel like I don’t have much control over the story. I don’t know what’s coming. It really is as if the characters inhabit my body. So my first draft is always a grammatical mess. (The characters don’t seem to care about grammar).

TrunkSpace: Where are you the hardest on yourself as a writer?
Firestone: I’m hard on myself when I turn in a story to my editor and wake up in the middle of the night feeling like it wasn’t the best story it could be. I won’t read my book after it’s released because there will always be ways I could have made it better. That part sucks.

TrunkSpace: What are you working on now and what will people be able to read next?
Firestone: I’m working on a couple of projects aimed at inspiring young people to share their own acts of homegrown heroism (like “The Unlikelies”). I do a lot of community organizing work and would love to start an Unlikely Revolution. I’m also working on several new book ideas. Stay tuned!

“The Unlikelies” is available now from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

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Between The Sheets

Matthew Sullivan

MatthewSullivan_BetweenTheSheets

In our new feature, Between the Sheets, TrunkSpace picks the imaginative brains of authors to break down what it takes to create the various worlds and characters they breathe life into via the tools of their trade… sheets of paper. While technology continues to advance and change the pop culture landscape, the written word has remained one of the most consistent and imaginative art forms.

This time out we’re chatting with “Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore” author Matthew Sullivan to see how growing up in a family of eight children impacted his storytelling, how he felt upon turning in his manuscript, and where he’s hardest on himself as a writer.

TrunkSpace: You grew up in a family of eight children. Did that set the table for you to become a storyteller?
Sullivan: Most definitely. My brothers and sisters and I entertained ourselves a lot by telling stories from real-life about teachers, or camping trips, or our many misdeeds. Of course with each telling, the stories would usually gain another layer of detail or exaggeration, so there was always a joyful, one-up quality to our storytelling. The Blarney in our house was through the roof.

My brothers and I also spent a lot of time making up these elaborate, often absurd characters and had them interact with each other. We’d draw them and do voices and playacting. Some of those characters went on and on for years, like Art, and Cousin Art, and Bart—these giant guys who injected oil barrels full of heroin, only ate eclairs, and beat up everyone they interacted with. We were bizarre kids. It was the 70s.

TrunkSpace: Do any of your siblings also make a living as storytellers and if not, why do you think you were drawn towards that creative space while they were not?
Sullivan: My mom was a nurse but she also was a writer on the side. She published stories and articles and a few middle-grade novels in the 1990s, so there were always writing magazines in the bathroom, and a number of us inherited those genes.

I was child number five, right in the middle, and was a pretty quiet, observational kid, so the writing thing made sense to me. When I was little I would sometimes wander around the house just crying and crying for hours—kind of like that kid Wilder in Don DeLillo’s “White Noise.” I think it was because I wanted to be noticed, or maybe because I was just sad, and everyone would just yell at me to shut-up already. To me, that’s a precursor to the writing life: Something is wrong! And I have something to say about it! Maybe novel-writing is just an adult way of roaming around and crying?

TrunkSpace: “Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore” is your debut novel. What was the journey like for you in terms of when you first came up with the concept to when you learned it would be published? Was it a long road?
Sullivan: It was a very long road, but that’s just the path I was on, so I have no regrets. The initial seeds for the story were planted in my twenties when I was working at Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver, but I didn’t sit down to write it until many years later. Then when I finally did, it took 3-4 years to write the first draft, and another 3-4 years to revise, and sat in a drawer for a long time in between. All that time I was raising babies, working overtime, quitting smoking, burying my mother and my sister—in other words, a lot of important things were getting between me and the page. But it worked out in the end.

TrunkSpace: Are there butterflies as you gear up to release the book to the world?
Sullivan: For sure! But then I remember how this book was sitting in a drawer for quite a while and I wasn’t sure I would ever get it out again, so I can’t help but feel overjoyed at how it turned out. And my friends and family and early readers have been really supportive of the whole thing, which also helps.

TrunkSpace: Knowing that this was your first novel, was it hard to let go of the manuscript and call it “complete” or did you want to keep tinkering?
Sullivan: By the time we reached the very last edits, I felt like it was as ready as it could be, given the writer I am right now. Of course, there’s always more to do, but it’s also refreshing to face a blank page again, to start something new and begin to apply whatever I’ve learned along the way.

TrunkSpace: What did you learn about yourself as a writer in the process of writing “Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore” that you hope to apply to your writing career moving forward?
Sullivan: On a level of craft, I now pay more attention to a story’s pace and structure than I ever have before, both as a writer and as a reader… it’s so important to keep things moving, even in a character-driven story. On a more personal level, I realized how necessary it is to be persistent, even when things get bumpy, and to be ready to do what it takes, no matter how time-consuming or painful, in order to create a better story.

TrunkSpace: When you’re writing a mystery novel, what is more important to establish first… the plot points or the mystery elements themselves, which we’d imagine, have to be unique to compel readers familiar with the mystery genre?
Sullivan: The initial crime needs to be imaginative and intriguing. But for me, once the initial crime and general arc are established, a lot of the steps involved in getting to a resolution come out of characters—how they behave, what motivates them or catches their attention. Plot points and clues are important, but I’m always far more interested in the people involved. After all, the characters are intertwined with the crime, so I think their personalities steer the discoveries as much as anything.

TrunkSpace: Regarding the process, is writing a labor of love for you or does it feel more like labor? Do you enjoy the process?
Sullivan: I really love to write. I do. There are times when I am in that creative trance and everything falls into place, but more often than not, it’s difficult, even to the point of drudgery. But that’s all part of it. Creativity is a healthy compulsion, even when it’s tough. I love it.

TrunkSpace: And what does that process look like? What are the ideal conditions for putting in a good day of writing?
Sullivan: Like a lot of writers, I find I’m most productive when I get away from social media and the internet. That’s a good start. Ideally, I also try to arrange times when I can really be immersed, even if it’s only for a day. I have an old 1960s “canned-ham” travel trailer, and I sometimes will take off in it by myself, with a laptop, a bicycle, and some books, for days on end. Those are productive times. But that’s also not real life. In real life, it’s more like I grab an hour to write on a Tuesday after work and another one on Sunday night, and try to cobble together the week that way.

TrunkSpace: Do you self-edit as you write?
Sullivan: I do. I have a hard time seeing something as valuable to the story unless it’s pretty polished on a sentence level, so I’m always reworking. The downside of that, of course, is that I eventually end up deleting a lot of really polished scenes because they don’t fit the story as it evolves. Ah, well.

TrunkSpace: Where are you the hardest on yourself as a writer?
Sullivan: I don’t trust myself enough. Even when I like something I’ve written, there’s always a sense of doubt creeping in.

TrunkSpace: What are you working on now and what will people be able to read next?
Sullivan: I have a short thriller being published any day in Joyland magazine, and an essay in Lit Hub, and some little things elsewhere. And I’m working on another literary mystery novel, this one about a woman who ends up living all alone in a strange small town in the Northwest. I’m excited to get deeper into it.

“Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore” is available today from Scribner.

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Between The Sheets

Ezekiel Boone

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In our new feature, Between the Sheets, TrunkSpace picks the imaginative brains of authors to break down what it takes to create the various worlds and characters they breathe life into via the tools of their trade… sheets of paper. While technology continues to advance and change the pop culture landscape, the written word has remained one of the most consistent and imaginative art forms.

This time out we’re chatting with “Skitter” author Ezekiel Boone to discuss the spider scare, juggling two voices, and living a nightmare after watching Elm Street.

TrunkSpace: Are your books “Skitter” and “The Hatching” meant to inspire your readers to check beneath their sheets before bed or shake out their shoes before putting them on? The fear associated with creepy crawlies is the kind that sort of festers and intensifies the more you think about it.
Boone: Mostly I just wanted to write a series of fun, fast thrillers, but yeah, some of the premise came because I had the idea of a spider that burrowed under your skin to lay eggs, and once I had that idea, it was hard to shake. The problem is, like you say, it intensifies the more you think about it, and once you think about spiders on and in your body, it’s basically impossible not to think about. It’s easy to trick yourself into thinking that there’s something crawling on you. Just ask yourself, does anything on my body feel itchy? Might there be a spider crawling on me right now? Is there one on the back of my neck?

TrunkSpace: Even those who don’t fear spiders still don’t necessarily like spiders. What is it about them that causes people to feel so weak and small?
Boone: Some of it is just the way they move. They skitter. Something about them triggers the caveman brain inside of most people. The other issue with spiders is that they show up when you aren’t expecting them, quiet and terrifying.

TrunkSpace: There are so many different types of scares. Again, your books tap into the kind that lingers and intensifies. What is a scare that has stayed with you throughout your life by way of something you read or watched when you were younger?
Boone: When I was about 14, I watched “Nightmare on Elm Street” at a girl’s house who lived down the block from me. She was fifteen and had a few girlfriends over, so I tried to be chill about it. But then I had to walk home. It was near midnight, on a quiet street across from a park with a small lake, and of course, there was a nice, thick layer of fog rolling in. I got about halfway home when the streetlight above made a zzzzt sound and went out. I screamed and ran home the rest of the way.

TrunkSpace: Zombies continue to be one of the more popular scare devices across all forms of media these days. How would spiders fare against the undead in a world where it was SPIDERS VS. ZOMBIES!?!?
Boone: Spiders would rule. The spiders could put their eggs inside the zombies and the zombies would still amble about, spreading the arachnoid menace. Spiders ain’t afraid of no zombies.

TrunkSpace: Are there any thriller/horror staples (AKA cliches) you try to avoid in your writing and why?
Boone: Not really. I don’t have any of those “but it was all a dream!” moments, but I’d argue you can break almost any writing rule if you understand the rule and know what you’re doing.

TrunkSpace: The rumor is that Ezekiel Boone is your pseudonym and that you write literary fiction under your actual name. Can Ezekiel and, well, you, exist within the same workspace? Can you juggle a Boone book and one of your other books simultaneously?
Boone: I’m doing it right now. It’s actually a lot of fun, because when I need a break from one, I can go to the other. It’s refreshing.

TrunkSpace: It takes some writers years/decades to discover their voice. Do you think your writer’s voice is apparent in both areas of your work? Is there a literary signature that is visible for someone who reads both?
Boone: Maybe? I think voice drives a lot of good writing, and that usually ends up coming through. I’ve had a number of readers who’ve loved the Ezekiel Boone books go and read an Alexi Zentner book, and they’ve usually loved them as well. I don’t really know what my literary signature is, but I feel like I’ve found my voice.

TrunkSpace: Regarding the process, is writing a labor of love for you or does it feel more like labor? Do you enjoy the process?
Boone: Labor of love. There are some days when it can feel like a grind, and even though revision is incredibly important, that usually leaves me feeling drained. You have to treat it like a job if you want to be successful, but writing is a great gig.

TrunkSpace: And what does that process look like? What are the ideal conditions for putting in a good day of writing?
Boone: I’ve got kids, so I work when they are at school. I’m pretty happy in my office, but give me a decent pair of headphones and a computer and I can work anywhere. But the ideal conditions are when writing is the only thing I have to worry about. The deeper you can fall into your world the better. When I’m writing, I want to focus entirely on that.

TrunkSpace: Do you self-edit as you write?
Boone: Absolutely. It’s not the right way for everybody – I often tell younger writers to just crank out a draft – but it’s the way I work. Because of that, my first draft is usually more like a seventh or eighth. But then I do a lot more revision after that.

TrunkSpace: Where are you the hardest on yourself as a writer?
Boone: I always think I could be working harder.

TrunkSpace: What are you working on now and what will people be able to read next?
Boone: The third and final book in “The Hatching” series, “Zero Day,” is done and in with my publisher and will be out early next year. That’s going to be followed by a novel called “The Mansion,” which will also be out in 2018. Past that, I’m trying to finish a straight up action thriller, which is as of yet untitled.

Skitter” and “The Hatching” are available now.

Featured Photo By: Laurie Willick

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Between The Sheets

Abby Stern

AbbyStern_BetweenTheSheets

In our new feature, Between the Sheets, TrunkSpace picks the imaginative brains of authors to break down what it takes to create the various worlds and characters they breathe life into via the tools of their trade… sheets of paper. While technology continues to advance and change the pop culture landscape, the written word has remained one of the most consistent and imaginative art forms.

This time out we’re chatting with “According to a Source” author Abby Stern to discuss how she got the ball rolling with the book, how she needs to block out large chunks of time to write, and why she hates her coffee table so much.

TrunkSpace: Debut novels in particular can be a big undertaking because a lot of times it’s about just getting the process underway. What did that process look like for you?
Stern: I actually started the process, believe it or not, by next week it will be 10 years. Those were not 10 consecutive years by any means. I would start the process and I would put the book down, for even two years at a time, and then I would pick it up and do some more and get some feedback and get some notes. And then once I felt that I had a draft that I was really happy with, when you’re querying for agents, that’s a whole other part of the process. So I would query a group and then you kind of have to take a mental break. (Laughter)

It was never on my bucket list to write a book. I’d always written. I’d always done creative writing since I was a child. I wanted to actually write screenplays and television and stuff like that, but when I started writing this, the narrative just really took the form of a novel. I figured, “Why not give it a shot and we’ll see how this goes.” Then you’re 80,000 words in and you’re like, “Well, I guess I better finish this.” (Laughter) “That would be a horrible waste of time if I didn’t really pursue it.”

So yeah, that’s really how the process started and you’re right, it’s a huge undertaking. It’s kind of like yoga in the way they say, “Getting to your mat is the most important part.” Sitting down and forcing yourself when there is no deadline and nothing necessarily to be gained from doing it… it’s a lot of mental prowess and prep that you have to be responsible for because there’s no deadline and there’s no one asking you where pages are.

TrunkSpace: So when you were writing, did it take you time to get into a rhythm as far as a regular page output?
Stern: You know what, I really didn’t have one. I have to be honest. I was very inconsistent with my process, but that actually really worked for me. I’m also the type of writer where I need six hours of time. If I have an hour and a half, I can’t sit down and do anything. I’ve tried. I stare at the screen. I start thinking about how I have to get my laundry out of the dryer in 20 minutes and I just can’t focus as well. I kind of just have to block out these huge days and chunks of time. That was my biggest consistency, I would say.

TrunkSpace: So what are the ideal conditions for you in terms of writing for those chunks of time?
Stern: Well, my ultimate place, I think, would be an island in the Caribbean, but that’s not where I wrote. (Laughter) I write from home. I can’t do a coffee shop. I can’t be in public. I can’t have noise. I don’t write with music or the television on. I really need to be able to hone in on whatever I’m working on, whether it’s the dialogue or the character development or if I’m trying to go back and edit. I really need that focus. So, I’m super isolated, which is a lot of fun for your social life. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: (Laughter) It’s true. Writing is a very solitary act, but then you’re done and suddenly you’re working with editors and agents and it goes from solitary to this little community.
Stern: I was lucky. I actually had a very editorial agent and he was great. I loved it because he got me into such a place where I felt so confident with the work that we were presenting to publishers. And I also got really lucky in terms of my editor where she would give me notes and there wasn’t ever a time where I got a note and sighed and was like, “Ugh, that’s not what this is… you don’t get it.” It was more like, “That’s going to be a lot of work, but it will actually make it better!” (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: Back to the Caribbean island! (Laughter)
Stern: Yeah. Maybe with book two if this one does well. (Laughter)

But yeah, I love to collaborate. I do television writing and I have a writing partner for that. He’s wonderful and he was actually very helpful throughout this process too in terms of being able to see what I couldn’t when I was doing revisions or adding things. He was helping me before I even ever got my agent. So I’m used to being collaborative.

That part wasn’t difficult for me. It was just the, “You’re going to be writing for six to eight hours and be stuck in your apartment and you will learn to hate every piece of furniture you own.” You’re like, “Why would I ever buy this coffee table? It’s the ugliest coffee table I’ve ever seen! I don’t know how I can live another day with this coffee table in my life!”

TrunkSpace: BUT, that coffee table probably looks pretty great right now with your new book sitting on its surface!
Stern: Yeah, but it would still look better if it were a different coffee table. I haven’t recovered! (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: You mentioned that you’re also a television writer/screenwriter, which is a world that has a lot of rules in terms of formatting and story structure. Did you sort of have to retrain yourself and step away from that way of thinking?
Stern: I would definitely say that the biggest thing was nuance for the novel as opposed to writing a pilot. I’m used to kind of trimming the fat in terms of the descriptions. I remember on one pilot, a half hour, it was like 54 pages because I got super descriptive and people were like, “You’ve got to cut this!” But, you need to do all of that in a novel to make it good and well-rounded and to really be able to engage the reader. So that was definitely a retraining for me.

TrunkSpace: What about with dialogue? In TV and film it’s something that is relied on. Did you have to pull back on that at all?
Stern: Not really. Dialogue and the pacing and putting it in conjunction with the rest of the narrative has always been an easy part for me, luckily.

TrunkSpace: So what was the biggest lesson you learned as it relates to putting the book together and getting it out there that you’ll apply to your career moving forward?
Stern: Oh goodness! Well, the biggest lesson I learned was from a writing mentor of mine who is a YA author named Rebecca Maizel and she was actually so instrumental, especially years and years before it ever came to a point where there was a draft that I could even submit. And the biggest piece of advice that she gave me was, “Show don’t tell,” which I had not ever learned. (Laughter) I learned very quickly. That’s a big thing.

And then in terms of getting it out there? I mean, it’s kind of the same thing in Hollywood. It’s just the persistence and believing in yourself and not taking no for an answer, but always pushing and always going. It really is perseverance and you do end up finding the people who connect with your material. People will give you all kinds of BS excuses about why they’re saying no and you shouldn’t even listen to them. You just hear the no and you move on and you keep going. The excuses that they give you will get in your head.

TrunkSpace: So with the book set to release today, will you focus on how it is doing from a sales standpoint or do you need to remove yourself from that aspect and just focus on the creative moving forward?
Stern: Well, yes and no. You always have to be hustling. It’s time to get it into places, to set up signings, and letting people know about it and getting on social media and podcasts and doing things like this. So, in a way, no, because I’m always thinking, “Oh, would this outlet fit?” But, I have removed myself from the numbers side of it because at this point I’ve done the best that I can do and now the cards fall where they fall. I hope it does well, obviously. I hope it’s the beach read of the summer and everyone enjoys it. I care more about people enjoying it because there are so many options for content these days. To spend however many hours reading a novel is a big commitment, so I hope that people think that their time was well spent and that they got some enjoyment out of it.

According to a Source” is available today via Thomas Dunne Books. You can purchase a copy here.

Featured Photo By: Martina Tolot

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Between The Sheets

Gian Sardar

GianSardar_BetweenTheSheets

In our new feature, Between the Sheets, TrunkSpace picks the imaginative brains of authors to break down what it takes to create the various worlds and characters they breathe life into via the tools of their trade… sheets of paper. While technology continues to advance and change the pop culture landscape, the written word has remained one of the most consistent and imaginative art forms.

This time out we’re chatting with “You Were Here” author Gian Sardar to discuss the panic upon hitting send, when she found her voice as a writer, and what an ideal work day would look like if she had a magic wand.

TrunkSpace: “You Were Here” is a much different book than your debut “Psychic Junkie.” With that being said, did you approach the way you wrote the book differently?
Sardar: Absolutely. “Psychic Junkie” was a true story, the life of Sarah Lassez, and though I lived most of it with her as her roommate and close friend, I still had to defer to her when it came to choices – so my writing was not only hitched to truth, but to another’s opinion. As I was writing “You Were Here,” I only answered to myself, and that freedom was both exciting and at times frightening.

TrunSpace: “You Were Here” gets down and dirty with some pretty heavy subject matter. Words can really paint a picture of terror for a reader and place them in the shoes of the characters within a story. Do you think about that… giving goosebumps to your readers… when you’re working on a book or a particular scene?
Sardar: Yes! For those certain scenes I can only hope I give goosebumps to my readers, because if I did, the scene was successful. I know that while writing it I spooked myself on a few occasions, as I have the unfortunate tendency to do a lot of writing around 2 or 3 AM, and let me tell you, it’s very dark then, and the house is very quiet…not always the best time to write scary scenes.

TrunkSpace: Cover art has become so eye catching and often times very complex. “You Were Here” takes a more with less approach. What was the thought process behind the design?
Sardar: I was lucky enough to have the Putnam design team on my side, and so I must credit them fully for the beautiful cover. What I love is the sense of mystery, the hazy lettering, the hints of so much more. It does such an amazing job of capturing the essence of the book – and both the time periods – in such a simple way.

TrunkSpace: Writers put so much time and energy into a book. What is the first thing you did when completing the final draft of “You Were Here” and how long was it before you started writing again?
Sardar: Honestly, the first thing I did after hitting “Send” was freak out and start reading it again. I had to force myself to walk away and not look at it, because I knew if I did I would see a dozen things on every page that needed changing. So it took physical willpower to walk away. And though I’d been excited to get back to a project I’d started while waiting for notes and edits, I definitely needed a buffer zone, so to speak, after finishing this one before diving into anything else. What helped was reading, dipping into other worlds. A book every other a day for a couple weeks was just what the doctor ordered.

TrunkSpace: With that same idea in mind, is it hard to let go of a manuscript and call it “complete” when you put so much of yourself into it?
Sardar: Yes! If you let me sneak into the printers’, I’d make changes even now. The only reason I finally considered it done was because they had to cut me off and tell me no more changes. And I don’t just mean on the sentence level, but when you’re that immersed into a world the characters stay with you and might just whisper in your ear that they’d like another scene or two. It’s definitely hard to consider it complete when it still lives within you.

TrunkSpace: What did you learn about yourself as a writer in the process of writing your first two books and how do you hope to apply that to your career moving forward?
Sardar: Trust. I learned that the answers come to me, they always do, so I just need to trust. With my fiction, not everything is figured out when I start – I have a loose outline and a lot of questions and often I know where I want to go but not how I’m getting there. I discover a lot in the writing process. But when you’ve got a blank page, it’s hard to remember that it will all, somehow, miraculously, come together. I need to keep that in mind and spend less time worrying and more time trusting.

TrunkSpace: How long did it take for you to discover your voice as a writer?
Sardar: That’s a good question. I think it’s been there since college, but it’s certainly evolved based on my own changing view and interest in the world.

TrunkSpace: Regarding the process, is writing a labor of love for you or does it feel more like labor? Do you enjoy the process?
Sardar: I love writing. Nothing makes me feel more elated than when I had a good writing day. Of course sometimes questions arise about plot or character, something I need to figure or make
sure is working, and that’s when there’s anxiety involved. But even then, if I just sit down to write, whether it’s something I keep or not, I’m transported. And that’s when I need to remember to trust, that if I give myself time it will come together. I never worry about “wasted pages” that never see the light of day, because it’s the writing process I love and sometimes I just need to write to work through whatever’s got me caught, just so I can feel inspired.

TrunkSpace: And what does that process look like? What are the ideal conditions for putting in a good day of writing?
Sardar: If I had a magic wand, I’d create a rainy day that starts at 4 AM and involves me writing on the couch under a blanket until about 10 AM. Of course that would involve someone else making my son breakfast and taking him to school, and since my husband is at work at 6:30 AM it’s obvious this is all fantasy. In reality I’d take just waking very, very early in the morning (3 or 4 AM), getting in a few hours of writing and then taking my son to school. Then I’d come home and read a bit, then write some more and hopefully take a short nap before picking my son back up.

TrunkSpace: Do you self-edit as you write?
Sardar: Yes. Every day, when I start writing, I back up and re-read and edit what I wrote the day prior, and once I’ve done that I start with the new material. Then, periodically, I’ll read from the beginning as well, to see how things are working. I find so much in the editing process that it helps to go back and re-examine and tweak constantly. Editing is my favorite part of writing.

TrunkSpace: Where are you the hardest on yourself as a writer?
Sardar: Can I say “everything”? It all depends on the day – some days are just off from the start and on those days I can do nothing right. In general though, I tend to be very critical of my dialogue, so that’s something I’m constantly examining.

TrunkSpace: What are you working on now and what will people be able to read next?
Sardar: I’m about mid-way through writing another novel, but am keeping it quiet so I don’t jinx anything. (Laughter)

You Were Here, published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, is available May 16.

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