Kristen Otte

Finding Love and Laughter through Story


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Author Spotlight with Laekan Zea Kemp

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This month I am spotlighting author Laekan Zea Kemp. She is the author of several books, including the young adult novel, The Girl in Between. I read and reviewed The Girl in Between for my October book reviews post. The premise of the novel was very intriguing, so I am excited to have her on the blog this month for an interview.

Tell us a little about yourself and your books.

I’ve been writing off and on my entire life but it wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I realized that I really wanted to be an artist. In the past, I’d written short stories and really terrible poetry but making the decision to major in Creative Writing was the real turning point for me. Now I write stories that champion imperfections and celebrate diversity. Whether it happens on a large profound scale or it’s something that readers only notice in the tiniest of details, I want everyone to come away from my books feeling acknowledged and encouraged. It’s one of the reasons why I don’t shy away from exposing my own imperfections through my characters. The bottom line is that we all share in the same struggles and we all deserve to be celebrated.
 

What draws you to write young adult fiction?

Initially, I was drawn to characters close to my age and experiences similar to my own but as I’ve matured both as a person and as a writer, I still find myself drawn to that electric energy that makes our teenage years so chaotic and monumental and wild. I experienced a lot of turmoil during my teenage years and now that I’m on the other side of it, I realize how necessary all of that warring really was. Teenagers are just beginning the universal and never-ending task of finding themselves, and if that wasn’t overwhelming enough, they’re doing it in a world that prefers sameness, a world we’ve created for them. I consider writing books about real teenagers with real problems my attempt at reversing the ugliness we’ve created and showing people that we should be valuing each other’s imperfections instead of shaming them.

In The Girl In Between, the main character has a condition called KLS. The condition causes Bryn to have episodes where she sleeps for days at a time. Where did this part of your story originate? Do you have any personal experience with KLS?

I don’t have any personal experience with this disease. In fact, I think I just came across a news article about it one day while I was bored at work and the concept really intrigued me. The more I read about the disease, the more questions I had until I was imagining how suffering from it could change everything about someone’s life. I thought about what kind of person could handle something like that and what they would have to give up. I imagined their caretakers and the people who loved them and initially the story was going to be about just that. I wrote a first draft that was contemporary realistic fiction that focused mainly on Bryn’s relationships with the people around her. But the disease itself was just too mysterious not to explore it further. That’s when I decided to delve into the paranormal genre for the first time.

Since I write and read YA, I’m always looking for new authors to check out. What are some of your favorite young adult authors? Any indies you recommend?

 
My two favorite YA authors are Maggie Stiefvater and Melina Marchetta. I love writers who can take the most fantastical setting or concept and still ground their characters so firmly in their humanness. My first love was contemporary fiction and even though I’ve developed a love of magical realism and all things paranormal, I still need my stories to be character-driven with an intense focus on relationships. Life is about relationships, the connection we have to our fellow man the most important part of being alive. I love writers who appreciate this fact. As for indie authors, I’ve got plenty on tap after stocking up on Read Tuesday and hope to share some recs soon.

Finally, what is next for you?

I’m currently in the midst of editing the sixth draft for the third book in The Girl In Between series, which is action-packed and full of so many surprises. I’m hoping to release it at the end of the year. Once I finish the fourth and final book in the series, the sky will really be the limit, especially since I’ve discovered a love of genre hopping. It takes time for an idea to fully form in my head to the point where I’m willing to devote 6-8 months to exploring it, so I’m not sure when I’ll revisit the paranormal genre again, but I do have plans for a few contemporary romance novels followed by my foray into the dystopian genre.

girlinbetween Learn more about Laekan by visiting her website or pick up The Girl in Between for free on Amazon.

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Author Spotlight with Eva Lesko Natiello

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Today I am excited to welcome Eva Natiello to the blog for an Author Spotlight. Eva is the author of The Memory Boxa dark, psychological thriller (think Gone Girl). Eva writes in a genre that I normally don’t read, but I picked up her book because we share a copy editor. I couldn’t put the book down, and I’m excited she is on the blog today.

Let’s start with a brief introduction. Tell us a little about yourself your novel The Memory Box.

Let’s see, I grew up in New York and went to school at SUNY Albany where I studied psychology. After I graduated from school I moved to the Bahamas for my first job as a singer. Eventually I moved back to New York and worked in the cosmetics industry as a communications and p.r. executive. It was never in my master plan to write a book. But some things just happen in life. When I had my second child and decided to stay at home with them, that’s when I started writing.

The Memory Box is a story about a at-home mom of two (that sounds familiar!) who Googles her maiden name and discovers a past she doesn’t remember. (By the way, that’s where the similarities end…)

The Memory Box is a dark, twisty psychological thriller. Where does your desire to write this type of fiction originate?

Well, I’m fascinated by misconceptions. When things are not as they appear or seem. We make all sorts of judgments about people based on how they look, what they wear, how they talk, where they live, etc. And these assumptions in many cases can be wrong. I also am fascinated with the idea that bad people are not all bad and vice versa. I like to explore moral dilemmas. And I love to write suspense and thrillers because they are essentially literary puzzles. I guess I am a natural problem solver, so I do like to figure things out.

The Memory Box - Ebook high-res final

As I write this question, The Memory Box has 156 reviews with an average of 4.5 stars in a few short months since its June release. I also know The Memory Box was downloaded over 27,000 times during a free run on Kindle. Did you have a specific marketing strategy when you launched your book? Also, how did you encourage readers to review your book?

Before I released The Memory Box, when I was in the beta reader stage, much of the feedback was similar. My readers were saying that it was a very fast read. Many reviewers say this as well, and that it’s hard to put down. I knew that it was the kind of book that would be great for book clubs. So one of my main marketing strategies was to try to get it read by as many book clubs as possible. I deliberately wrote a list of Discussion Questions and placed them in the back of the book, both the ebook and paperback. I also offered to attend book club meetings where my book was being discussed. Not only is that so much fun to do, you get to talk to people who want to help you succeed and one of the things you can ask them for are reviews. I have noticed that writing reviews is not everyone’s cup of tea, even if they loved the book. It freaks them out to have to write something for a writer! They get uptight about this. The main thing I’ve tried to do, is to be grateful and thank my readers as much as I can. I tell them I appreciate them reading the book and spending time to write reviews or simply telling other people about it.

This question is out of pure curiosity since we both work with Candace Johnson of Change it Up Editing. How do you find Candace and decide to work with her?

Once I decided to self-publish, I knew I had to invest in certain aspects of the book so that it looked and read as professionally as possible. The first person I needed was a copy editor. I searched a great deal for the right copy editor and found Candace on Facebook, of all places! There were certain things I was looking for in a copy editor, obviously a lot of applicable experience on interesting projects, experience in a traditional publishing house, someone who was active on social media, availability in my time frame and the right chemistry. What I mean by that is, all the editors I was considering did a sample edit for me, and I really focused on how they edited and what they edited. This is a great way to see beforehand, if you think the relationship will work.

Usually writers like to read in the same genre that they write. What are some of your favorite books and genres to read?

Okay, this is going to sound very strange. I do not like to read in the genre I write. I get nightmares very easily and have trouble sleeping normally, so I can not read thrillers or watch those types of movies. I can only write them. I can’t explain it. I think I know my characters so well, that I am never scared of them. As screwed up as they are, they do have redeeming qualities! One of my favorite books, and the one I credit to turning my writing around, is White Oleander. I think it’s beautifully written, while tackling some dark subject matter. I also like to read historical fiction and humor (and I love to write humor, too!). Where’d You Go, Bernadette is a recent book I read where the quirky characters made me laugh out loud. A few other recent favorites are: Midnight Circus, Ocean at the End of the Lane, The Paris Wife, Then Kitchen House.

Finally, what is next for you?

I have started another dark twisty psychological read and hope to get back to spending some quality time writing it. But as you know, book marketing never sleeps!

Thanks again to Eva for taking the time to answer a few questions. You can learn more about her at her website or head over to Amazon to buy a copy of The Memory Box


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Author Spotlight with Kate Sparkes

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Today I am excited to feature author Kate Sparkes. Her debut novel, Boundreleased on June 23, 2014 and has been on the top of the young adult fantasy charts since it released. I read and reviewed Bound last month. It was a joy to read, and I am excited about her success.

Tell us a little about yourself and your novel Bound.

I’m a writer and a mom, wife to a Mountie, comfortable seating for three cats and regular walker for a Boxer named Jack. And actually… all of that pretty much sums up my daily life. I was born in Ontario, but I now live in Newfoundland, which I think is one of the most beautiful places on Earth. I’ve been writing stories since I was in Kindergarten, but only started working toward it as a career in 2010. That’s when I started writing Bound.

Bound is the first book in a YA Fantasy trilogy. It’s the story of two characters: Rowan, a young woman who comes from a country where magic is considered a sin (but who has always been fascinated with the fairy tales she’s not supposed to be reading), and Aren, an enemy Sorcerer whose life she accidentally saves. Secrets are revealed, loyalties tested, adventures had… it’s good fun.

What are your favorite and most challenging parts of writing a novel?

My favourite part is when things click into place, when a plot problem or character motivation issue that I’ve been struggling with finally yields, and everything seems like it was just meant to be. My least favourite part would be the struggles leading up to that. Also, trying to write sales/cover copy. I didn’t think I was going to survive that with my sanity intact.

I love reading fantasy because of the creative, immersive worlds of the genre, but as a writer, I am intimidated by that world building aspect. What was your process to create the fantasy world of Bound?

The world had been gradually forming in my mind for years before I came up with the story and characters that fit into it. I’ve always loved fairy tales and myths, so it seemed natural that mythical creatures from our world would find their way in there, but I try to put my own spin on them. The land itself is frequently based on Newfoundland. Its rugged beauty, worn-down mountains, and glacier-carved landscapes seem like they’re already full of magic, especially on foggy days. The hardest part of the world for me was creating the magic system, finding a balance between possibilities and limitations, setting the rules, and making sure it didn’t make things too easy for my characters. I was tweaking that right up to the last minute, and I’m glad my editor regularly works in Fantasy and was willing to give my hands a slap when I messed up.

The challenge now is pushing the boundaries that I’ve set, and also exploring other aspects of magic that were mentioned in Bound but that we haven’t really explored.

Bound is a bestseller on Amazon in the YA Fantasy Sword & Sorcery and Coming of Age categories with almost 50 reviews posted on Amazon since its June 23rd launch. Can you share your launch and release strategy?

I wish there was some huge secret I could share, but I think I’m as surprised as anyone. Pleasantly surprised, of course, and incredibly grateful to the readers who have made it happen. My launch strategy for publication involved releasing on multiple platforms so that my Nook and Kobo loving friends could get the book. Sales have been far better on Amazon than anywhere else, but I’m still glad it’s available to everyone. On Amazon, I got the book into as many appropriate sub-categories as I could, which meant it showed up in Best Seller lists and Hot New Release lists sooner than it would have in larger categories. I launched the book at an introductory sale price of $2.99 as a “thank you” to everyone who was already supporting me, and I hoped it would make it easier for people to decide to try the book.

In terms of publicity, there’s my blog, where I had been posting weekly teaser snippets as part of WIPpet Wednesday. I have a nice little community of writers I follow on WordPress, and many of them helped spread the word on cover reveal and release day, and a few hosted interviews. I had a launch party on Facebook. That was really just for fun, but it did get people I already knew talking about the book. Some of them read it and loved it, and recommended it to their friends.

Most of the book’s success has been thanks to word of mouth promotion. People who read advance copies loved the story, and when they learned how important their enthusiasm was to the book’s success, they were more than happy to tell their friends. I put a few sentences in my note to readers about how they can help spread the word about books they love, and that encouraged people to leave reviews. Eventually the book started showing up on sub-category Best Seller lists, and Amazon’s recommendations took over.

I learned later that I had accidentally followed most of the advice in David Gaughran’s book “Let’s Get Visible,” which I have now read and recommend to everyone who asks. Fantastic advice on getting the word out on Amazon.

Finally, what is on the horizon for your fans? What books are next to be released?

The next book that I’ll be releasing is Torn, which is book two of the Bound trilogy. I think some people would be rather upset if I released anything unrelated before I did that! I have a short story in the works that’s a prequel to Bound, but it still needs editing and a cover, so that has to wait. After that we’ll see book three of the trilogy… and I do have a fun urban fantasy novella in the works that’s gotten excellent reviews from beta readers, but again, that has to wait for its turn.

And then, who knows? There are a ton of characters in the Bound trilogy who are begging to have their stories told. If readers want them, we might see a few spin-off stories, or even full-length novels.

Thanks for having me!

Thanks again to Kate for her thoughtful responses. You can purchase Kate’s novel Bound using the links below. Also, I encourage you to follow her on social media. She’s funny. 🙂

Amazon

Kobo

Barnes & Noble (Nook)

iBooks

Facebook

Twitter 

Disregard the Prologue (blog)

Sparrowcat Press

Author newsletter (releases, giveaways, news, and other fun stuff)


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Author Spotlight with Laurel Garver

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Today I’m excited to host an interview with author Laurel Garver. I read Garver’s young adult novel, Never Gone last month. I really enjoyed the book, (read my review here) so I asked Laurel if she would answer a few questions. The interview is below, and her responses are definitely worth reading. I really enjoyed her comments about writing for young adults and writing from a Christian perspective.

Tell us a little about yourself and your writing. 

I grew up in north central Pennsylvania not far from The Office territory. To fend off crushing boredom, I joined every arty thing: band, choir, art club, school newspaper, and speech and drama. I often scribbled stories during class when my teachers thought I was taking copious notes. (As the youngest of five children, I have a bit of a mischievous streak.)

As an undergrad, I majored in English with a communications minor (lots of theatre classes) and studied abroad in the UK.  I went on to earn a master’s in journalism while working full time as an editor in Philadelphia. I have 20+ years experience in trade, association, and academic publishing.

During my post-college years, I gravitated toward poetry and put much of my creative energy there. (My poetry collection, Muddy-fingered Midnights, includes some early work as well as many new pieces).From 1995-2000, I was editor and publisher of a Christian literary magazine, About Such Things. Through it, I got to know the philosophy PhD student who became my husband. Our daughter was born in 2002.

I grew restless as a stay-at-home mom, and a friend urged me to pick up writing again. Something inside me lit up when I unearthed character sketches for Danielle Deane, a grieving teen I’d first imagined while on a walk in 1992. I’d heard her voice tell me about her difficult relationship with her mother since her dad had died, and her struggles to hang onto her faith when her church-going parent had been snatched away and she was stuck with the atheist. I’d lost my own father to renal failure a few years before this, and it felt like the time had arrived to work through that loss. There was enough difference between Dani’s circumstances and mine to help me have creative distance, yet emotional truth.

It took six years of writing and revision, research trips to NYC and England, and critiques from three writing groups to get Never Gone into its final form.

What does a typical work day look like for you? How much time do you spend writing fiction compared to marketing, blogging, working another job, etc? 

I work 5-6 hours each weekday as managing editor of a scholarly journal. My work load can fluctuate quite a bit seasonally, so I’m able to squeeze in research or social networking during quiet periods. For the most part, writing happens during my lunch hour, on the train, the late afternoon after work, or while my daughter is at her Irish dance or guitar lessons.

My evenings are typically filled with household chores (not cooking, thankfully–my hubby is our family chef), overseeing homework, going to the gym, critiquing for my CPs, and attending church activities.  Once my daughter is in bed, I most often creatively recharge by reading. If I’m feeling energetic, I usually try to make connections online, research marketing opportunities, write blog posts, and schedule tweets.

What draws you to write young adult fiction?

What turned me on to reading, and continues to captivate me, are stories that explore the places where heart and soul are tested and growing up truly begins.  Volunteering with my church youth ministry opened my eyes to how teens today struggle to be real in a culture that glorifies superficiality. When beauty, strength, and charisma are idolized, all the ways we are broken never see the light, never have a chance to heal. Instead, they fester under the surface, filling our lives with poison. So I write about kids in crisis who learn to let go of their pretensions and falseness and allow God to remake them as people who humbly hope, believe, and love.
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As a Christian and a writer, I am intrigued by the intersection of faith with writing, especially fiction. Tell us about the decision to make Dani a Christian character. Did (or do) you feel any pushback from the Christian themes in your novel? 

I knew from the get-go that faith would be at the core of Never Gone. When a person is grieving, spiritual questions about the nature of life and of a higher power naturally come up. My approach was simply to write through the eyes of a character for whom faith is a natural part of life. It’s Dani’s framework for understanding the world, just like her artistic ability is. The imagery and stories of her faith weave through her thought world as much as the language of painting and drawing. Readers walk with Dani through sadness, longing, first love, turmoil, broken relationships, confusion and doubt. She has to come to grips with what is really real, who God is, and how she must grow and change in order to become her best self.

I’ve tried to walk the fine line of emphasizing the universality of grief while making sure readers are aware there is Christian content, so no one is blindsided by it. The response to my themes and approach has been overwhelmingly positive. Readers have appreciated my willingness to explore the dark emotions of loss while affirming that we can talk (and holler and cry) to our Creator honestly about our pain, which at root is an expression of faith that He hears, cares, comforts and makes things new.

What is on the horizon for you? What books are next to be released?

I’m wrapping up the final chapters of a sequel to Never Gone that takes place the summer after Dani’s junior year. I also have two nonfiction books in the works, one of which I hope to release later this year, Writing When You Can’t Write. It will be full of tips and exercises to keep your writing projects on track, even when you can’t be at the keyboard.

Finally, I’m always looking for recommendations for young adult fiction. What are a few of your favorite young adult books or series?

There are so many! The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, Where She Went by Gayle Forman, The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen, Summer to Die by Lois Lowry and pretty much everything by Sara Zarr and Deb Caletti. In terms of series, I adore J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, as well as Susan Howatch’s adult fiction Starbridge series and St. Benet’s series.

Thanks again to Laurel for her thoughtful responses!

Connect with Laurel:

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Blog

Twitter

Facebook

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Buy Laurel’s Books:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Smashwords

 


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Author Spotlight with Amy Martin

After I read a great self-published book, I contact the author and ask to spotlight them on the blog. 90% of the time the author responds right away with an affirmative yes. So thanks to the indie writing community for the willingness to answer a few questions for me and the blog!

This month I interviewed Amy Martin, author of the In Your Dreams series. I read and reviewed the first in the series last month. Amy tells us a little bit about her dreams, being a semifinalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, and balancing work with writing.

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Tell us a little about yourself and your writing.

I’m originally from Missouri, but I currently live in Lexington, KY with my husband and cat, and I work in higher education. When I’m not writing, I like to watch sports and movies, and I spend way too much time on social media (usually just lurking rather than participating). The In Your Dreams novels are my first published novels, although I’ve been writing off and on for my whole life.

The In Your Dreams series, in a sentence, is about a basketball-playing girl nicknamed Zip who meets a boy named Kieran who suffers from a strange narcolepsy-like condition that brings trouble and adventure to the two of them and their families.

What draws you to write young adult fiction?

I’ve worked with young people my entire adult life, so I feel like I know more about the 17-24 age group than I do people my own age. 🙂 And as many of my friends’ daughters are becoming young adult readers, I wanted to put stories out there that feature strong heroines—heroines who can fall in love and be vulnerable but who can still maintain their lives and interests and not sacrifice everything to their relationships.

What does a typical work day look like for you? How much time do you spend writing fiction compared to marketing, blogging, working another job, etc?

Unfortunately, I still work full-time, so my writing and marketing time ends up crammed into those corners of my life in which I’m not working or taking care of things around the house. I try to write a little every day, but sometimes after a long day at work, it’s just not feasible. I really struggle with balance, and it’s something I hope to get better at this year.

In Your Dreams was a semifinalist in the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. Tell us a little about the process and the benefits for you from reaching the semifinals.

I submitted an early version of In Your Dreams along with a pitch (a version of the book description that currently appears on the book’s for-sale pages). Amazon reviewers first judged the book solely on the pitch and then on the first five-thousand words. Once I progressed to the semifinal round, a Publishers’ Weekly reviewer read and reviewed the entire book. I didn’t progress any further, but comments from the reviewer and other readers gave me the confidence to revise the novel and self-publish.

Last month, I read your novel In Your Dreams. As the title suggests, the novel explores the dreams of one of the characters. I’ve always found dreams fascinating and have some pretty strange dreams. Do you have a strange dream of your own that you are willing to share?

I have trouble remembering my dreams (much like Zip—at least at first), but I do know that one of the strangest things that always happens in my dreams is that I’ll be in a place I remember from growing up, and people who aren’t supposed to be there show up. For example, I’ll be running around my high school as an adult (I haven’t been back to my high school in years) and people I went to college with will be there.

What is on the horizon for your fans this year?

I’m working on the fourth and final book of the In Your Dreams series—tentatively titled Beyond Your Dreams—which I’m hoping to have out this summer. After that, I’m hoping to put out a new adult title later on this year, and I’ve got ideas for other young adult books that I hope to start working on before the year is out.

Finally, I’m always looking for recommendations of great self-published books and indie authors. What are a few of your favorite self-published fiction books?

I really enjoyed the Deck of Lies series by Jade Varden—I read that in one day. Honestly, my “to read” list is so long at this point with both self-published and traditionally-published books, I’m not sure I’ll ever dig my way out. I think I may need some recommendations to help me sort out my list. 🙂

Thanks again to Amy! You can check out her books on Amazon by clicking the images or find her on social media via the below links.

Connect with Amy on her website.

Follow Amy on Twitter.

Like Amy on Facebook.

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