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Between The Sheets

Yoav Blum

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In our ongoing 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 author Yoav Blum about the recent English translation of his debut novel The Coincidence Makers,” how it all began with a daydream, and why he hopes his best work is still to come.

TrunkSpace: “The Coincidence Makers” was recently released in English. With it being your debut novel, what emotions were you juggling with leading up to that moment? Is it difficult putting so much of yourself into something and then releasing it into the world?
Blum: It is always surprising to find how exciting and frightening it is to know someone is letting fragments of you inside their head. “The Coincidence Makers” was originally published in Hebrew in 2011, and I have published two more books since then. The publication of the English version is also a throwback to the self I was seven years ago, and it causes me to re-examine the book, and wonder if I would have written it the same way today, being who I am now.

TrunkSpace: Prior to “The Coincidence Makers” you were working in short stories. When you first decided to move to long-form storytelling, did you have to adjust your process? What changed between the writer you were then to the writer you are since completing the book?
Blum: I found out that when I’m writing a book, I’m diving much deeper into myself. A short story will almost always be the way I planned it, but I only know what a book is about after finishing it, observing it “from the outside,” finding out its true personality. I still like to write in “small bits” of time, but the fact that the writing process takes months (and even more) allows another layer of self to emerge.

TrunkSpace: The story focuses on three people who work for a secret organization that manufactures what appears to be random coincidences. It’s a great concept and one that many writers will be cursing themselves over for not having come up with it themselves. How long has it been gestating in your mind and what was the real world coincidence that sparked the idea?
Blum: It started from daydreaming, as always. I read a book about the mind-body problem, and it started a series of thoughts. How do decisions created in an entirely spiritual world (by God) create a new thing in the physical world? I wrote a short story about some “middle-men” as a way to contemplate that. Then, after some time, I decided to develop this short story into a book, and this time it became more extensive and dealt with free will vs. destiny, the way we make decisions, and, of course, love…

TrunkSpace: As you look back at the work, what are you most proud of when it comes to “The Coincidence Makers?”
Blum: It was a work of passion, from a clueless mind that had no idea if someone will ever read it, and he wrote it anyway. I like that in my past self. It was also a very private text, sometimes, and the fact that other people found themselves in it keeps bringing me joy.

TrunkSpace: There’s a great genre swirl going on in your book. Readers really do get a little bit of everything by the time they finish the last page. Was that a conscious creative game plan on your part when you first started putting it together?
Blum: In a nutshell, I wanted to write a book I would love to read, and I wanted to put in it what I liked in books – whatever genre they are. So I wrote to myself, not trying to aim to a particular genre, as long as the small reader in my head was satisfied, that was enough.

TrunkSpace: You wrote your first book when you were six years old, which based on the description, sounded a bit like a comic book given the art element. Any desire to take your skill set to the sequential pages of the comic book medium?
Blum: I think about that sometimes. That would be cool. One of my short stories in the past was written initially to be turned into a comic, but it didn’t happen. I can’t really draw, so if there is someone out there that would like to cooperate in creating a graphic novel – even based on TCM itself – that can be very interesting.

TrunkSpace: How long did it take for you to discover your voice as a writer?
Blum: I’m not sure I fully discovered it yet. The writer that wrote TCM almost a decade ago is different from who I am today. I hope my best and sharpest book is somewhere in the future, and not in the past. Also, I want my voice to be fluid, and to change with time, the same way I change.

TrunkSpace: Regarding the process, is writing a labor of love for you or does it feel more like labor? Do you enjoy the process?
Blum: When I’m inside it, it is a labor of love but for some reason it is still always hard to start. After I convince myself to start, I can be “in the zone” many times, but the convincing part is the hard part… there is always something else to do, isn’t it?

TrunkSpace: And what does that process look like? What are the ideal conditions for putting in a good day of writing?
Blum: Each book was a different process. But if I try to generalize it – I gather notes and ideas for an extended period, months or more, and try to see if some broader idea comes out. I try to define what is my starting point – my “what if,” and to see how I can dive into this “what if.” The actual writing is most of the time defined in advance – I sit down intending to write a particular chapter or scene. I sometimes listen to music I choose that can help for that specific scene. From time to time I stop and look at what I have and make sure the way I walk leads to where I want to get.

TrunkSpace: Do you self-edit as you write?
Blum: Yes, but I try to do it without hurting the flow. There will be a few rounds of self-editing after finishing the first draft anyway before I would dare show it to anyone.

TrunkSpace: Where are you the hardest on yourself as a writer?
Blum: I never feel that the manuscript is “finished.” There is always more editing to be done, and you just have to stop somewhere, or you will edit yourself to oblivion. I try not to read my books after publishing them, as I know that most of the time I would ask myself – “who the hell wrote that?”

TrunkSpace: What are you working on now and what will people be able to read next?
Blum: As I said, I don’t like to discuss things I work on before I feel they are ready to be exposed. I try to experiment with different kinds of writing at the moment, and there is work with the publications of TCM in many languages. But hopefully, TCM will not be the last of my books to be published in English.

“The Coincidence Makers” is available now from St. Martin’s Press.

 

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Between The Sheets

Joelle Charbonneau

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In our ongoing 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 author Joelle Charbonneau about her new novel “Time Bomb,” how real-life teenagers served to inspire her writing, and why she’s learning to accept the fact that she’s a member of the author’s club.

TrunkSpace: You’ve released a number of novels over the course of your career. As you gear up for the release of “Time Bomb,” does it have a different feeling than it did with your earlier works, and if so, why?
Charbonneau: Every book release feels different and I tend to get more nervous with each one. When I first started writing, I never really thought people would read the words that I wrote. That made it easier in many ways to face the moment when the curtain goes on up on a new novel. Now I know there will be an audience for the book, but unlike my professional performance days when I can see the faces in the audience, I have no way of gauging whether or not the story speaks to readers. I can only hope that the story I tried to tell is one they will think about after the final page is turned.

TrunkSpace: “Time Bomb” focuses on seven students who are trapped in their school after a bomb goes off. Obviously this is a work of fiction, but are you nervous as to how it will be perceived in the current social and political climate following the tragic events that occurred in Parkland, Florida?
Charbonneau: This is a tough question. The obvious and very honest answer is yes. The anxiety level is incredibly high for parents and teachers and students after everything that has happened. And “Time Bomb” is a novel with danger in a school, which could make it a hard book for some readers to pick up. However, it is my great hope that “Time Bomb” is also a book that will lead to discussions about some of the issues that teens face every single day. Books help us walk in the shoes of characters who are both similar and different from ourselves. Exploring other points of views creates empathy and opens our minds to new ways of thinking and hopefully new ways of talking to each other. I think since the tragedy on Feb. 14th, the students of Stoneman Douglas High School have demonstrated with their amazing strength and words that our world can use all the empathy and open-minded conversation that we can get.

TrunkSpace: Much of your career has been spent writing the continuation of series that you created, including The Testing trilogy and The Rebecca Robbins mysteries. Was there something freeing creatively for you in working on “Time Bomb” and getting to essentially start from scratch?
Charbonneau: Starting a new project from scratch is both terrifying and incredibly wonderful. Terrifying because I do not yet know the characters I am writing about and with a book like “Time Bomb” that is six times as nerve-wracking. After all, there were six point of view characters from very different backgrounds that I had to shape from a concept into three-dimensional teens. But it is wonderful to feel the moment when each character’s voice clicks into place and to know that unlike a book in a series, a standalone story will be complete (or as complete as any story can be) by the time I reach the final page.

TrunkSpace: As you look back at the work, what are you most proud of when it comes to “Time Bomb?”
Charbonneau: I’m most proud of the array of characters in “Time Bomb,” which were created through conversations I’ve had with students who opened up to me about their lives and then were willing to read the draft of the manuscript and offer their critiques so I could continue to make the characters stronger. High schools are filled with students of a variety of cultures, religions and economic circumstances, many of which I can appreciate, but cannot claim as my own. The students who talked to me about their school and family lives, their concerns about how they are perceived in the world and the limitations they sometimes feel compelled to put on themselves gave me the building blocks which became what I hope is the heart of the book. Those teens gave me a true gift by allowing me to hear their joys and sorrows and I can only hope I have made them proud. (And if I have made any mistakes, they are completely mine.)

TrunkSpace: Your background is in theater. Do you think that has helped you in your career as a writer, specifically from the standpoint of crafting dialogue?
Charbonneau: Well, my background in theater has certainly helped when it comes to getting rejected. I’m a true champ at that whether it be in theater, opera or in writing. But I do think that I use the training I’ve had as an actor when I write dialogue. I often find myself speaking the words aloud and then altering words in order to find the specific voice or speech pattern of a character, which I’m sure confuses the cat who thinks I am talking to him.

TrunkSpace: You do a lot of visits and Skype sessions with students. How important are those events to you, not only to your career, but from an inspirational standpoint? Does inspiring the next generation of writers help to refuel your own creative tank?
Charbonneau: My first published books were for adults, so I had no idea when I wrote my first young adult book that school visits and Skypes were something that is often a part of a YA writer’s life. As much as I love writing, I love school visits and virtual chats more. Teens are strong and fun and give me hope for the future. They are also snarky and throw shade with the best of them, and I love every moment of it. I really hope that some small part of my visits inspires the students I talk to because they greatly inspire me. They remind me to question everything about the world – especially my own preconceived ideas – and to approach life as if anything is possible. I think of both of those things when I sit down in front of my computer and face the blank page. Then on the days when I think I can’t possibly fill the pages, I remind myself those teens believe I can and that I don’t want to be the one that ever lets them down.

TrunkSpace: How long did it take for you to discover your voice as a writer?
Charbonneau: All writers take time to develop their voice. I came to writing late. I was not the girl who dreamed of being a writer. I was a theater girl through and through. I loved reading other people’s lines and putting my own spin on their story. When I finally did start writing, I needed practice. Lots and lots of practice. I can see glimpses of my voice in my first manuscripts, but it took until my fifth manuscript for my own voice to consistently shine through. And I keep working on making it stronger with each book. I guess you could say, me and my writing voice continue to be a work in progress.

TrunkSpace: Regarding the process, is writing a labor of love for you or does it feel more like labor? Do you enjoy the process?
Charbonneau: In one word – yes. Yes, I love the process. Yes, it is a labor of love and yes it feels like labor. The more I know about writing, the more critical I am of myself as I write, which can be hard to set to the side so I can lose myself in the story. But I love the process of creating the world and exploring an idea that I am fascinated with. More often than not, I am writing to find out what I think about something so it is no wonder that the process of writing a first draft is equal parts frustration and fascination.

TrunkSpace: And what does that process look like? What are the ideal conditions for putting in a good day of writing?
Charbonneau: Wait!? There are ideal conditions for putting in a good day of writing? I guess that probably gives you a good idea of how I write. I am a mom, so I tend to write when and where I can. I’ve written poolside during swim lessons and on the sidelines of taekwondo lessons and sitting on the grass in a concert in the park where my husband’s band is playing. Because my writing process is what would be called by-the-seat-of-my-pants, I only have a vague idea of where the story is going when I start writing. I have the conflict in my head and I do some world building about the location and the circumstances surrounding the story, and then I write. I have tried outlining because that seems like it should guarantee that every day is a decent writing day, but for some reason it just doesn’t work for me. I find that each conversation my characters have veers me away from the outline and into previously unseen territory. So, I have finally decided that outlining isn’t meant for me – at least not on the first draft. I have to just follow where the story goes. To do that, I find I have to write seven days a week in order to keep the story straight in my head. Sometimes that means I get five to six pages written while my son is at school. Sometimes I am writing at 2 a.m. to eek out one page before I go to sleep. Lucky for me, my desperate need to find out what happens next in the story means that I am willing to write anywhere and anyplace as long as it gets me closer to THE END.

TrunkSpace: Do you self-edit as you write?
Charbonneau: I self-doubt a lot, which means I do tweak things a little bit on the pages I’m writing that particular day. But for the most part I don’t go back and edit until the draft is done. Part of not outlining is that often I don’t know exactly where the story is going to take me. So it is hard to edit since I have no idea what parts are necessary, need to be fleshed out or are just plain old silly. But I do keep a word document with questions that I think might need to be addressed or sections I want to make sure I pay attention to when I go back and edit.

TrunkSpace: Where are you the hardest on yourself as a writer?
Charbonneau: Because I wasn’t someone who dreamed about being a writer when I was younger, I find that I have a hard time believing that I belong in the author club, which can make me doubt every single word that I write. I’m always thinking that another author would be able to tell the story better or have the right words instead of the ones I am using. So many authors were writing fiction throughout elementary and high school. They majored in English and took creative writing classes. Me – well, I sang and acted and sometimes danced. So every day is a fight to remind myself that it’s okay to doubt because all writers do that. It’s okay to have bad writing days because everyone does that, too. And when I go to conferences and festivals, I have to remember that when other people see me, they don’t see the girl that doesn’t feel like she belongs. They see an author. And if they see that, then maybe that’s who I really am.

TrunkSpace: What are you working on now and what will people be able to read next?
Charbonneau: Right now I’m working on a project that has yet to be announced. So, shhh! It’s a near future, alternate history adventure that involves a young artist who has lost her mother and in trying to finish her mother’s final painting discovers that nothing about the world she is living in is real and that words are more than the things we use to communicate – they have the power to inspire, to control and in the wrong hands the power to destroy. As for what people will be able to read next, the final book in my fantasy duology, “Eden Conquered” will be out in June. It is the continuing journey of a brother and sister’s fight for their kingdom’s throne and the story of how far people will go to gain the power they most desire.

“Time Bomb” is available March 13 from HMH Books for Young Readers.

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Between The Sheets

Alma Katsu

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In our ongoing 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 author Alma Katsu about her new novel “The Hunger,” why we’re continuously fascinated with the Donner Party, and her upcoming literary trip to the Gilded Age.

TrunkSpace: Your new book takes a fictional look at a moment in history that still fascinates people 172 years after it occurred – the ill-fated Donner Party. How did you approach blending both the reality of what happened and the fictional side that you personally were bringing to the events?
Katsu: The novel stays close to events as they occurred. As a matter of fact, one blogger felt this is what makes “The Hunger” so effective, because it makes the novel feel completely plausible. Where “The Hunger” diverges from history is with the characters. You need characters to feel like real live people, but often with history, you don’t get a complete sense of a figure, particularly if the figure isn’t historically significant. Frequently, they’re whitewashed, the bad parts omitted. In other cases, they’re just names and birthdates and maybe one tiny detail left to sum up an entire person. While the main characters’ names and backstories are the same or very close to the historical record (with one exception), I had to remake them in order to tell the story I wanted to tell. It was fun to create new characters from pieces of the past, but tailored to service the needs of the story.

TrunkSpace: There have been plenty of interesting moments and people throughout history, many of which have been forgotten. What is it about this story that continues to excite the imaginations of people, and, was it that same excitement that first brought you to the table to write “The Hunger?”
Katsu: I think the reason we’re fascinated with the Donner Party is because even though most Americans have heard of them, few are familiar with the details. We know that something terrible happened to a group of pioneers, that a lot of people died and some had to resort to cannibalism to survive. How and why all this came to pass, however, is a mystery to most. What made it really fascinating to write, however, is that it was about more than just the tragedy. The tragedy occurred during an important time in American history, a period significant to the development of the country as we know it today. On one hand, it was very personal – the survival of individuals – while on the other hand, representative of bigger things at play for the country.

TrunkSpace: As you look back at the work, what are you most proud of when it comes to “The Hunger?”
Katsu: Bringing something new to the story. Let’s face it: there have been many novels written about the Donner Party, not to mention non-fiction accounts, but they tend to stay very close to the historical record. Which, while interesting, misses the opportunity to use the tragedy to show a greater truth: even in the direst situation, some people will rise, will sacrifice themselves for others, and will exhibit the best in humanity.

TrunkSpace: “The Hunger” is your fourth published novel. As you prepare to release it to the world, are the emotions the same as with your first book? Does the process of pouring so much of yourself into something and then putting it out into the world get easier?
Katsu: I’m happy to say yes, it is! For the first book, you’re completely crazy because you have no idea what to expect and you’re getting hit with something new every day, plus you’re worrying about whether you’ll ever be able to write another book. By the fourth book, you feel like maybe you actually do know what you’re doing now and have a better understanding of what’s going to happen. The only thing that doesn’t change is that you’re still nervous about how the book will do. It’s like sending your child to the first day of school. Will everyone like her? Will she make friends? Will mean kids pick on her?

TrunkSpace: What did you learn about yourself as a writer in working on “The Hunger?”
Katsu: I learned to be more flexible. This project was a little different in that I have partners, Glasstown Entertainment, who were involved in shaping the story. While I had worked as part of a team on non-fiction, this was my first such experience writing fiction. It’s probably like writing for television: a collaborative effort, in order to produce the most enjoyable experience for the reader.

TrunkSpace: Prior to pursuing your career as an author, you spent many years as a senior intelligence analyst. The real world sometimes feels more fictional than what any writer could conjure up. In your opinion, what’s more interesting… reality or fantasy? Or, like “The Hunger,” is it a combination of both?
Katsu: Reality is endlessly fascinating, don’t you think? The biggest gift I took away from my day job was that I learned to dive into any subject. It didn’t matter whether you had a personal interest. Once you dove in, you learned so many fascinating things, and particularly with history. Once you get past the surface, the stuff you learn in school, you find entire universes of detail and nuance. It teaches you that nothing is black or white. But the nice thing about fiction is that you get to choose whom you spend your days with – you create them!

TrunkSpace: How long did it take for you to discover your voice as a writer?
Katsu: It’s something I work on a lot. I’ve developed this slightly formal tone that works well for historical fiction – getting it right for “The Taker” took 10 years – but there are lots of unpublished things where I’ve experimented with more informal or stylized voices. Voice is so important, especially today, when readers are used to TV and graphic novels with strong signature styles.

TrunkSpace: Regarding the process, is writing a labor of love for you or does it feel more like labor? Do you enjoy the process?
Katsu: It’s still both. I love writing and am glad to be able to do it for a living. However, I’m always cognizant of the fact that it doesn’t mean I can write whatever I want and expect there to be a market for it. I get asked for advice by a lot of people who want to sell a book and one of the first things I tell them is writing and publishing are two separate things. Writing is a craft and an art, but publishing is a business. If it doesn’t feel like work, you’re probably doing it wrong.

TrunkSpace: And what does that process look like? What are the ideal conditions for putting in a good day of writing?
Katsu: This particular book started with a lot of research so that I had a good sense of the route, who was in the wagon party, and what the main challenges were. As for working conditions, I’m not precious about them; I’m a workaholic and work anywhere. Now that I write full-time, I’ve had to learn to pace myself and make time for normal things like exercise and grocery shopping and socializing.

TrunkSpace: Do you self-edit as you write?
Katsu: My normal process is to write a few chapters at a time, just get the first draft out. If I’m just starting a story those first chapters can be really rough as I’m getting to know the characters and setting. Then I go back and edit them. Once I’ve been working on a book consistently, I can usually get the first draft chapters to the point where they won’t need much editing. The really heavy lifting on revision comes later, after my partners on the book, Glasstown Entertainment, and my editor at G.P. Putnam’s Sons, have weighed in.

TrunkSpace: Where are you the hardest on yourself as a writer?
Katsu: I try to bring the unexpected to every scene, to make it fresh in some way. It doesn’t have to be crazy flashy or self-conscious, but I hate boring writing. To be a novelist, you have to analyze other people’s books. What worked, what didn’t. Great writing can make you see the world in a new way. Pedestrian writing may tell the story but it doesn’t make a meaningful contribution to the reader’s life.

TrunkSpace: What are you working on now and what will people be able to read next?
Katsu: The next novel is set around the time of the Gilded Age, which allows me to look at social issues like women’s suffrage and class inequality, but also occultism, which was the rage. As always, the supernatural element rises naturally from the story and isn’t a specific trope, though it’s closer to a ghost story than anything else. It’s quite different from “The Hunger,” more opulent, with some famous people as main characters (which presents its own set of challenges), but hopefully every bit as enjoyable.

The Hunger” is available tomorrow from G.P. Putnam’s Sons.

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Between The Sheets

Alafair Burke

AlafairBurkeFeatured

In our ongoing 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 author Alafair Burke about her new novel “The Wife,” what she is most proud of with the book, and why she tends to goof off in six-minute increments.

TrunkSpace: You’ve published an impressive number of novels over your career thus far. With your latest, “The Wife,” having just reached the masses, do you still experience the same level of excitement/nerves that you did when you released your first published work?
Burke: Honestly? If anything, it’s worse. With the first book, it’s hard to believe you even have your name on a book. Now I have that same excitement, combined with the nerves of meeting or beating expectations.

TrunkSpace: In terms of your journey with “The Wife,” did the experience of writing and researching this particular book change in any way from your previous novels? Did the inspiration come from a different place?
Burke: Angela Powell is unlike any of my previous characters. “The Wife” was born of a single observation: when a married man is accused of sexual misconduct, the public gaze inevitably shifts to include his private partner – the wife. No matter how hard she may try to avoid the spotlight, she becomes part of the narrative. From that idea came Angela. The crime part of the book came well after I already empathized with Angela for entirely separate reasons. This book is probably the most personal one I’ve ever written.

TrunkSpace: What is your method for discovering and then unraveling the fictional crimes that take place in your work?
Burke: I always find my plots by exploring character. I know generally that something happens and then I try to think about the people affected by that. What do their lives look like in the weeks, months, and sometimes years after? What in the past brought them to that moment? By trying to look at each character’s world – past, present, and future – from that person’s perspective, somehow I manage to find a beginning, middle, and end to the story. For this book, I knew everything about Angela’s past before she met Jason, and her reasons for being so extraordinarily committed to this marriage, before I knew what Jason was accused of, what he actually did, and what would become of the accusations.

TrunkSpace: As you look back at the work, what are you most proud of when it comes to “The Wife?”
Burke: I tried to capture the complexities of sexual assault allegations, including the reluctance of survivors to come forward and the reasons they so rarely lead to convictions. I tried to delve into the reasons why women might (and do) stay silent, gloss over – even internally – violent encounters, or even find themselves apologizing and blaming themselves. At the same time, I wanted to point out that even the accused offenders have people who still love them.

TrunkSpace: Your father is an author, your mother a librarian. Was there an emphasis placed on reading in your house and how important were books to you even at a young age?
Burke: There’s no doubt having a writer for a father and a librarian for a mother shaped my passions for reading and writing. Reading was a constant – our house was filled with books, and every member of our family is a storyteller. I was convinced I wanted to write mysteries since I was a young kid, and would tinker on my father’s manual typewriter, cranking out page-turners like “Murder at the Roller Disco.” Seeing my dad write every single day, even when he was out of print for a decade, I learned (some would say the hard way as his kid!) that you need to write for reasons other than income.

TrunkSpace: We read that it was a real life crime that first inspired you to pursue a career in criminal law and ultimately, to becoming a novelist. Upon consuming certain pieces of pop culture, many people will say something to the effect of, “that particular element of the crime was not believable,” but we tend to believe that if you can imagine it, it has probably occurred in some capacity somewhere. As someone who has seen the dark side of humanity first hand, is the line between fiction and reality not as impenetrable as some care to believe?
Burke: I grew up in a community terrorized by a serial killer who called himself BTK, a gruesome shorthand for “Bind, Torture, Kill,” and I’m sure my fascination (arguably an obsession) with crime, both real and fictionalized, can be traced to those years. But your point is well taken. Interestingly, the times I worried I was stretching the truth a bit too far in my fiction, no one thought anything of it. But the couple times people have said, “not sure that’s believable,” I could have provided footnotes to make the case that it was absolutely real.

TrunkSpace: How long did it take for you to discover your voice as a writer?
Burke: Depends on what you mean by “voice,” I guess. I think it’s clear all of my books were written by the same person, and I think the tone and sensibilities behind the written work are pretty close to the way I even talk to my friends. But I think it took me a couple of books to grow confident in my storytelling. In my early books, I often included more legal detail, both because I happen to like it but also because I suspect I was trying to prove that I had something to offer. Now that I’m more confident in my storytelling, if I find myself hauling out the legal stuff, I hit the delete key unless it advances plot, setting, or character.

TrunkSpace: Regarding the process, is writing a labor of love for you or does it feel more like labor? Do you enjoy the process?
Burke: It’s both. I understand that no one wants to hear a writer complain that the work is hard, but it is. Unlike other tasks, good intentions and strong will don’t necessarily cut it. Sometimes you try and try and the goods just aren’t there. No fun. But when the magic is happening, that’s pure love.

TrunkSpace: And what does that process look like? What are the ideal conditions for putting in a good day of writing?
Burke: My friends joke that if 15 minutes go by without something fun happening, they find me pulling out my laptop. I just try to keep enough structure in my life so I don’t miss deadlines. As a lawyer, you learn to account for your time, so my idea of goofing off is going on Facebook to look at friends’ pictures for 18 or 24 minutes since lawyers’ time is billed in six-minute increments. It helps that I have a schedule and am forced to be mindful of time. Sometimes, I just have to compel myself to write the next book. I might write 500 really bad words, but I still wrote the 500 words. Besides, there’s always revision.

TrunkSpace: Do you self-edit as you write?
Burke: I just write until I’m done and then read and re-read until it seems right to me. I get a lot of credit for good plotting, but Hand to God, I don’t write with an idea toward pace or plotting. I focus entirely on character, and it always seems to work out.

TrunkSpace: Where are you the hardest on yourself as a writer?
Burke: I always think every book is a disaster until it’s completely done, and then I usually end up thinking it’s the best one yet. Neurotic? Absolutely, but it seems to work.

TrunkSpace: What are you working on now and what will people be able to read next?
Burke: I’m working on the next Ellie Hatcher novel, which should be out in a year. Ellie leaves her work and goes home to Wichita, Kansas, which is where I grew up. I decided to take her out of New York and allow readers to meet her mom who has been off the page until now.

The Wife” is available now from Harper.

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Between The Sheets

Will von Bolton

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In our ongoing 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 music photographer and author Will von Bolton to discuss his new “585-word instruction manual” for the brain, “Loophole to Happiness,” why he set out to write the book in the first place, and how viewing photographs allows the observer to relive the human emotion captured within them.

TrunkSpace: Your book “Loophole to Happiness” was released January 1st. It seems like a great read for people looking to maintain their 2018 resolutions as they search for their new and improved selves. Was there any thought to releasing it at that time for that very reason?
Will von Bolton: The new year is a great time to reassess yourself and goes well with “Loophole to Happiness” … but the release date was just a coincidence.

TrunkSpace: For many people, happiness can sometimes feel like it only applies to others and not themselves. Parents especially can relate to this, because they’re spending so much time ensuring the happiness of others, they tend to neglect their own emotional well-being. How do we as humans balance our own happiness with that of our responsibilities… be they family, or work, or other?
Will von Bolton: When you nurture your own ‘happiness,’ it reflects on all you do and benefits those around you. There is a balance that everyone has to find.

TrunkSpace: You’ve called the book a “collection of thoughts” that then became an “operating system for your mind.” It is kind of funny to think that with almost everything in life, an instruction manual is included, but not with humans. We’re just expected to know how to function at each and every stage in life. Do you hope “Loophole to Happiness” sheds a bit of light on the “how to” for some who don’t know how to?
Will von Bolton: My thoughts exactly. I wanted to write all of the lessons that have helped me, my “philosophy,” in as few words as possible… for my future self, children I may eventually have, and to anyone with a few minutes to read. “Loophole to Happiness” really has become my brain’s 585-word instruction manual.

TrunkSpace: The book seems like it would be a great gift for a father or mother to pass on to their children because the advice that you’re giving is timeless and is not beholden to any one generation. As you were putting the book together, did you find yourself connecting to it personally in ways that you didn’t expect when setting out on the journey?
Will von Bolton: An interesting aspect of releasing the book is when people quote the book, on social media and in person, it feels like they’re telling me because I need to be reminded of that specific line.

I remember writing “Loophole to Happiness” and the stories behind each line, but it feels like it was channeled through me to me as I look back… it is a beautiful feeling.

TrunkSpace: How much of your work in photography inspired this book? Can you pinpoint a particular moment or shot where it all kind of came together and formed the vision?
Will von Bolton: Being a documentary photographer, you observe more than experience, and it gives you an omni perspective to really study human behavior. This unique perspective, shooting people all over the world reacting to music and celebrity… begs questions like why do people react this way, why do these people and this music mean so much to them?

TrunkSpace: When you’re looking back at photographs you have taken, do you see more within that frozen moment in time than you did while physically looking at it as it played out in front of you? Do photographs help people to sort of see behind the curtain of human emotion?
Will von Bolton: Yes, pictures looked at after time can reveal details or lessons you may have missed in real time. Photography does give you that “behind the curtain of life” perspective. When you look at a picture you smile, cry, laugh, mirroring its emotions… simulating the experience.

TrunkSpace: How long did it take for you to discover your voice as a writer?
Will von Bolton: I never thought of myself as a writer until people started calling me one. I just started writing all my thoughts when I was 25. Those thoughts evolved eight years later into “Loophole to Happiness.”

TrunkSpace: Regarding the process, is writing a labor of love for you or does it feel more like labor? Do you enjoy the process?
Will von Bolton: Writing is a labor of love and I don’t feel like I have much of a choice. Writing is my way of reverse engineering my own challenges. When I write down an idea it allows me to continue thinking. Until it is written, I get in a loop of repeating the idea for fear of forgetting.

TrunkSpace: And what does that process look like? What are the ideal conditions for putting in a good day of writing?
Will von Bolton: A big part of writing for me, is setting up a system to organize thoughts and capture them in real time. I’m most productive when I am alone. I love being anywhere I can sleep when I’m tired, eat when I’m hungry, hike, watch documentaries, and write in between. My family has an incredible 1,500-acre ranch, the solitude and open spaces create a really inspiring environment to think.

TrunkSpace: Do you self-edit as you write?
Will von Bolton: With “Loophole to Happiness,” I was very deliberate with words, so I edited it along the way.

TrunkSpace: Where are you the hardest on yourself as a writer?
Will von Bolton: I’m not a speed writer. It takes me a while to really think about things and put them into words. One of the lines in “Loophole to Happiness” is “speed does not define intelligence” for this reason.

TrunkSpace: What are you working on now and what will people be able to check out next?
Will von Bolton: The “Loophole to Happiness” audiobook will be coming out soon online and on vinyl. It is an 18-minute audiobook voiced by me with a soundscape by my talented friend, Christopher Leigh. Also working on the next book, “Innerspace Development,” a rebranding of meditation.

“Loophole to Happiness” is available now.

 

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Between The Sheets

Christopher J. Yates

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In our ongoing 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 Christopher J. Yates to discuss his new novel “Grist Mill Road,” why he likes to discover story elements organically, and how two pints can fuel the creative fire.

TrunkSpace: Your new book Grist Mill Roadwas recently released to the public. When you finish a work and walk away from it in a creative sense, do you also have to walk away in personal sense? Is it difficult to put so much of yourself into something and then put it in the hands of the universe?
Yates: I wish I could walk away from it. But then there are interviews and articles to write, so if you walk away too far you might not be able to answer questions to your best. After my first book, “Black Chalk” was released, I think it took me two or three months to walk away.

TrunkSpace: When youre sitting down to write a new book like Grist Mill Road,how much preparation goes into the genre aspect of what youre working on? In the planning stage, do you also track the thrill ride moments, or do those come out later in the process as the story takes shape in your mind?
Yates: I put absolutely ZERO planning into it. “Grist Mill Road” begins with a horrific crime. A teenage boy ties a teenage girl to a tree and shoots her over and over again with a BB gun. I had no idea for two years why this had happened and was beginning to panic. One day the idea just popped into my head. I prefer to do it that way, organically, rather than taking moves from the drama writing playbook, which bores me beyond tears.

TrunkSpace: As you look back at the work, what are you most proud of when it comes to Grist Mill Road?
Yates: I’m most proud of the language. Most people read books for the plot, and I think I’ve written a great plot. But when I read, I read for language, for voice. I always know within five pages whether or not I’m going to like a novel just from the sense of style, tone and language.

TrunkSpace: What did you learn about yourself as a writer in the process of working on the book? They say that the second time is a charmis the second book a charm as well?
Yates: We will see if the second time’s a charm. The novel’s just come out and I’m very nervous about sales. What I’ve learned about myself is that I didn’t learn from the first novel to try and relax about sales.

TrunkSpace: You discovered you would become a published author a day before turning 40. Some people feel that theyve missed their moment to pursue their dreams, but you seem like a perfect example of it never being too late to swing for the fences. Was it daunting for you to take that first step in pursuing your writing or was it an easy decision to make?
Yates: So the first step was when I turned 30. It took me 10 years of steps to get published. No, it’s never too late. Arguably it might get harder, but as a survivor of two unpublished novels and over 50 rejections for my “third” novel (“Black Chalk”), which not only got published but did very well, I can assure you it’s never too late. Persist.

TrunkSpace: You also studied law. As an author working in the thriller space, have you found yourself being able to tap into that part of your education when crafting elements of your novels?
Yates: Studying law was about learning how to fashion a coherent argument. I think a good plot is very similar to a coherent argument.

TrunkSpace: How long did it take for you to discover your voice as a writer?
Yates: Maybe five or six years. My voice was considered “promising” with those first two novels that never got published. But “promising” wasn’t good enough. You have to get to “polished”. I buffed away for a long time.

TrunkSpace: Regarding the process, is writing a labor of love for you or does it feel more like labor? Do you enjoy the process?
Yates: Oh, on the good days, hell yes, it’s like you’re flying. Everything else in the world seems very small and far away, there’s just you and the words, it’s the best. And some days it’s just a grind, a labor. Editing can be laborious (although some writers love to edit). I guess my favorite thing is when I write a paragraph and I know I’m not going to change a single word.

TrunkSpace: And what does that process look like? What are the ideal conditions for putting in a good day of writing?
Yates: Everyone’s different, you have to find your conditions. Mine involve writing in the morning until maybe 2 p.m. when I take the dog for a walk. I’ve very rarely done good work in the afternoon – although occasionally two pints in a bar (and NO MORE than two), can stir something up again.

TrunkSpace: Do you self-edit as you write?
Yates: Absolutely. I self-edit hard, over and over again. Unless I’ve been flying!

TrunkSpace: Where are you the hardest on yourself as a writer?
Yates: I have a very intense fear of getting something wrong factually. I refuse to make shit up unless I know for certain it is true/possible/not a huge pile of horse shit.

TrunkSpace: What are you working on now and what will people be able to read next?
Yates: I’m afraid I’m going to be coy about this. I have 15,000 words of something I love, I hate, I love, I hate… but if people want to read something after they’ve read my fiction, there are a lot of essays about writing on my website.

“Grist Mill Road” is available now from Picador USA.

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Between The Sheets

Thomas Pierce

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In our ongoing 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 Thomas Pierce to discuss his new novel “The Afterlives,the reason he wanted to write about death in a very particular way, and why you’ll never catch him writing in his pajamas.

TrunkSpace: “The Afterlives” tackles a lot of heavy themes that most people have thought about at some point in their lives, either consciously or through some kind of late night internal discussion with themselves. When you set out to write the book, was the goal to create something that was, at least in terms of theme, universally relatable?
Pierce: Creating something that was universally relatable was never really a goal, per se, but I’ll be very pleased if this book resonates with people, late at night or otherwise, and especially if the story has any sort of impact on the way people think about their own lives and deaths. I can say that I was interested in writing about death – or about what’s next – in a way that wasn’t morose or gloomy but also not overly hopeful or certain. I wanted to write a book that was both reverent and irreverent.

TrunkSpace: When the core concept of the book first planted its seed in your mind, was the character Jim Byrd different from who we ultimately go on a journey with today? What was Jim’s creative discovery like and did you “find him” right away?
Pierce: I was working on a different novel four years ago, but then my wife and I had our first child and I was having a tough time staying connected to that project. Also I was pretty exhausted all the time. So I began to jot down fragments and lines, as they occurred to me, and eventually I realized those pieces all shared a similar sensibility and perspective that really interested me. That became Jim’s voice, ultimately. I created him from the inside-out. Aspects of his biography evolved and changed, but his essence was always the same. From the beginning he was the sort of person who wished the sky would break open and the universe would reveal its true nature to him. He was always a seeker – but an affable one.

TrunkSpace: You’re now only a few days away from the release of “The Afterlives” to the masses. When you put so much of yourself into a project like this, both creatively and personally, is it daunting to then completely relinquish control of it?
Pierce: Definitely. The book and I now go our separate ways. But this divorce is amicable.

TrunkSpace: Early reviews of the book have been wonderful thus far. Has that peer acceptance brought about a different sense of accomplishment than you could perhaps feel should the same feedback come from a consumer audience?
Pierce: Thank you! I’m grateful for every reader and every good review. That being said, I’d really love to reach a point as a writer and as a human where my mood is not at the mercy of a review or other people’s reactions. Positive or negative. It seems like it might be important to my overall mental health, long-term, as a maker of things, that I not let my sense of accomplishment or worth hinge on criticism or praise. I’m not there yet, but I’m really trying. A work-in-progress.

TrunkSpace: As you look back over your own personal journey with “The Afterlives,” what is a moment that will stick with you and that you’ll carry with you throughout the rest of your career?
Pierce: I narrated the audiobook, and I’d been in the recording booth for a few days when I reached a passage in the novel that is particularly sad. Without going into detail, it’s a plot point that I’d really struggled with – how to render it most effectively – and for all that technical struggling I’d somehow stopped experiencing it on an emotional level. It’s almost like I’d been watching an edit of a film without the score, paying attention only to the transitions and the lighting and whether the actors were hitting their marks. But reading it aloud, for whatever reason, I got the full effect. Suddenly I could hear the orchestra swell underneath the crucial scene. It was a little overwhelming. My family lost someone really important to us while I was working on this book, and I think that loss was encoded into the story at a certain level. So much of what I was thinking and feeling and experiencing over the last couple of years became enshrined in this book, even if obliquely so, and I don’t think I fully appreciated that until then, there in the studio.

TrunkSpace: Did you learn anything about yourself as a writer in the process of working on “The Afterlives” that perhaps you hadn’t seen or considered in your prior creative endeavors?
Pierce: I’m not sure if this is because of the book or if it’s something that has happened to me in conjunction with it, but I’ve learned in recent years to take my work both more and less seriously. More seriously because I understand we only have so much time together on this planet. Less seriously because – well, same reason actually.

TrunkSpace: How long did it take for you to discover your voice as a writer?
Pierce: I’m not sure I’ve found it yet! I joke, sort of. Rather than a voice I might be more comfortable saying that I have over the last decade developed a certain sensibility. But I’m still refining that sensibility, and the confidence comes and goes.

TrunkSpace: Regarding the process, is writing a labor of love for you or does it feel more like labor? Do you enjoy the process?
Pierce: Depends on the day. Or maybe it’s always a little bit of both. If I’m deep into a story, I really love it. I love disappearing into it. I also love coming up with new ideas while I’m in the shower or on a run. Problem-solving. Writing while not writing.

TrunkSpace: And what does that process look like? What are the ideal conditions for putting in a good day of writing?
Pierce: I can work most places, though I tend to stick close to home these days. I have a desk there with pictures of things I like to look at and a window over the desk. When I’m smart, I turn off the internet. I like to listen to music. I like having the dog at or near my feet. I like “clocking in.” I’ve always appreciated that anecdote about Cheever putting on a coat and tie before going down to his desk in the basement. No tie for me but I never write in pajamas.

TrunkSpace: Do you self-edit as you write?
Pierce: I circle back constantly and rewrite. Each day I like to re-type much of what I wrote the previous day as a way of sharpening and clarifying but also as a way of reentering the story. Sometimes it’s like trying to fall back into a dream you didn’t want to wake from. You have to convince yourself again that it all makes perfect sense.

TrunkSpace: Where are you the hardest on yourself as a writer?
Pierce: I don’t think I’m particularly hard on myself as a writer. Except maybe: I always wish I could fit more life and more ideas into a story. I never feel quite satisfied that it’s all there.

TrunkSpace: What are you working on now and what will people be able to read next?
Pierce: I’ll have a new short story out in Oxford American this spring. It is one of a handful of connected stories I’ve been working on over the last few years. I’m hoping to put together another collection soon. I have a novel I’m slowly moving forward with and an idea for another one. I’m also adapting one of my stories into a screenplay for Fox Searchlight.

The Afterlives” is available now from Riverhead Books.

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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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