- Book Launch: This past Sunday, Off-Campus Writers’ Workshop celebrated the official book launch of ‘Turning Points,’ our 75th Anniversary Anthology. Over 125 participants gathered on Zoom for curated readings, remarks from our President, and info on Summer programs (we move to monthly workshops and then pick up again in September). I auditioned and was selected to read my short story ‘Outfit of the Day’ along with two of my fellow critique group members: Ronit Bezalel and Joyce Zeis. Because my story takes place in a coffee shop, I switched my Zoom background to embody the spirit (and aroma!) of a café (see photo above. Yes, you can find Zoom backgrounds for just about any occasion).
- My weekly writing workshops continue to be sanity-savers and reinforce why I need critiques- because it identifies the weak spots, it bolsters the plot, and it helps the story go from ‘okay’ to ‘hot damn.’ My Monday Writer Workouts are facilitated by Nadine Kenney Johnstone, who’s a force of nature as a writer, writing coach, and podcaster (Heart of the Story). This past week I workshopped with Ria Talken and it was an absolute gift to hear her reactions (a chuckle, a gasp) and to glean her perspective. Ria wrote a beautifully candid blog post about the experience and I implore you to check it out here, and follow her writing. She totally captures the Aha! of branching out beyond ourselves to create stellar writing.
- Pizza: Tonight, I’m heading downtown for al fresco drinks and wood-fired pizza. Last December, I took a StoryStudio class (via Zoom) on getting ‘over the hump’ with novel writing. The class concluded after 6 weeks, and I really felt the letdown- things were just starting to get in a groove! Some of us decided to try to keep the momentum going, so we continued to meet on Zoom every Thursday night: 1 hour of writing, 30 minutes of workshopping. Nearly seven months later, we are all planning to meet for dinner…which means I will meet them in-person for the first time. We keep joking about who will be surprisingly tall.
It is delightfully surreal to share that I have a book coming out. My short story ‘Outfit of the Day’ will be published in an Anthology titled ‘Turning Points.’
The backstory: I am a member of Off Campus Writers’ Workshop in Winnetka. The group is marking its 75th Anniversary as a longstanding Chicago writing group and as such, is publishing a short story Anthology- a whisk of mystery, fantasy, contemporary, historical, memoir, and the many turning points that move us ahead.
This is my first published work of fiction. It’s a process that began way back in October of 2019- yes, simpler times. What I love about Anthologies is that there is a little something for everyone. In my critique group alone, there were stories of a long-fought war, a high school student attending Turnabout, a neighbor curious about a new baby, and a cherished puffer coat passed down to a friend in need. All of these short stories tugged at me in unique ways. As for my story? It appears under the section titled ‘Unexpected Outcomes.’
You can preorder ‘Turning Points’ at The Book Stall in Winnetka. In belonging to a Winnetka-based writing group, it was important to us that we support our local, independent book store. Thank you for shopping local and for supporting the amazing contributors of OCWW.
If you are in the writer world, then you already know of Nathan Bransford. His website/blog is lauded with awards from Writers Digest. He is a former literary agent and CNET social media manager. His tips for querying are recommended by some of the biggest names in books (ahem, Veronica Roth). He penned a trilogy of middle grade novels, and speaking of novels he literally wrote the book on them. Exhibit A: How to Write a Novel by Bransford himself
(Editor’s note: not only is this on my bookshelf, but it’s relatable and readable in just one day. Highly recommend).
Nathan was game for a convo so sit up in that seat and get ready to hear some good ol’ fashioned storytelling from a guy who knows just about everything when it comes to books but can still cry about a good rejection.
And away we go…
1. What do you write and what are you reading?
I’m currently working on a young adult novel, in addition to my blog about writing and publishing. I recently finished reading Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi, which was fantastic by the way.
2. For years your website has consistently been named to the list of ‘Best Websites for Writers’ by Writer’s Digest. Assuming you don’t scroll your own posts, where do you go to get help or inspiration for your writing?
I mainly get my inspiration from my own writing and from the editing projects I’ve tackled over the years. I try to hone in as much as possible on what works and what doesn’t so I can develop “rules” that will help me see my own work more objectively in the future.
3. You used to be a literary agent. Talk to me about all the times your name has been misspelled (and other pet peeves, natch).
Oh man. That’s assuming they even got my name right entirely. I kept track on query salutations one time and fully 23% of the people who queried me got it wrong. And it’s the absolute easiest thing to get right!!
4. Tell me about rejection.
I was an agent when I was submitting Jacob Wonderbar to agents, and a part of me thought it was going to be a walk in the park. I mean, I was an agent! I knew a bunch of agents! Then all the agents I knew rejected me.
Thankfully Catherine Drayton took me on, then she submitted it to editors. I had submitted tons of books to editors so naturally I thought I would be super cool out on submission. Two weeks and a dozen rejections later I was awake at 2am on a hotel room floor in the fetal position. But eventually I got a few offers and chose to go with Penguin. Then when Jacob Wonderbar was getting reviewed I found out a certain publication accused me of stereotyping and I was sobbing in a cab.
Rejection is constant and I don’t think it really gets easier. You just have to suffer through it to get to the good stuff.
5. How did you come up with the idea for Jacob Wonderbar? Have you always wanted to write Middle Grade?
The idea for Jacob Wonderbar just came to me one day, I didn’t set out to write a Middle Grade novel. I imagined this kid stuck on a planet full of substitute teachers, and from there, I just kept building the world around that kid.
6. Who do you love and how does that sneak into your writing?
My friends and family. I haven’t yet written a character who is based on a single person, but there are little snippets in there everywhere.
7. It’s a tradition in this series to ask about writing sex scenes. What can you share?
That I’m terrified of my mom reading one I’ve written.
8. Biggest, wildest dream for yourself?
I’d like to earn enough from writing that I could own a brownstone in Brooklyn and “rent” the in-law apartment downstairs for free to a promising novelist working on their debut.
9. Writing a novel feels so overwhelming yet you (literally) wrote the book on how to do it. What advice you share to ease a first time writer’s fears?
Embrace the right kind of fear! Fear how upset you’ll be if you don’t ever write your novel more than you fear feeling crazy for trying to write one.
10. Let’s talk about the cover art for the Jacob Wonderbar series.
I was ridiculously lucky that Penguin chose Christopher Jennings to do the illustrations. In fact, I had originally described Dexter differently than Christopher drew him, but I liked Christopher’s illustrations so much I changed Dexter’s description to match the illustrations.
11. Tell me a story about a story.
There once was a storied story named “Story,” which was written on the 15th story.
How many book ideas or half-drafts of novels are laying around your hard drive?
My hard drive is 95% story ideas, 5% actual novels.
Least favorite word?
Hack, in pretty much every usage possible.
Humble thanks to Nathan for sharing so candidly (even about sex scenes which one day his mom might read).
***As part of this series, writers are asked to submit photos capturing who they are as well as a glimpse of his/her writer life.
***Know someone that would be a great fit for 11 Questions? Nominate them or yourself: KellyQBooks (@) gmail (dot) com
When I was 17 I was reallllly into headbands, Green Day CDs, and Doc Martens. Oh and I regularly took style cues from Tracy Flick. Ah memories!
But here’s what sticks from that time: the power of a crush, the tight bond of friendships, and the deep, frustrating awkwardness of having zero self-confidence. In short? It is so hard to really ‘get’ teenagers.
Yeah, she’s cooler than an ice cream cone. So before things get all melt-y let’s dive in.
1. What do you write and what are you reading? I write YA with a little dark side and a lot of kissing. I love writing anything that dangles a lingering question in front of the reader like a juicy carrot. It’s always so much fun to keeping secrets from readers! I read what I write (which is great advice for all writers). So lots of mysteries, darker contemporary stories, predestined love stories. For me, a good book is all about character voice. Right now I’m reading Nova Ren Suma’s 17 & Gone.
2. Talk to me about the influence of music. Music is huge for my writing process. I actually got the idea for My Last Kiss from a Metric song called “Help, I’m Alive”. I watch a lot of music videos to get inspired, too. They’re like little mini movies that pique my storytelling feelers because a song is only a couple minutes long. After I watch a video that exercises good storytelling, I always get this itching in the back of my brain that there’s more to the story. And, if I’m lucky, I start to fill in the blanks and begin fleshing out a new novel. I’m constantly trying to find meaning behind the story a song tells to me.
3. What books shaped your childhood? Anything R.L. Stine. I am addicted to dark and spooky! Also, the Baby-Sitter’s Club books. My friends and I were obsessed! Claudia was my favorite. (Editor’s note: I call BS; everyone knows Stacey was the best)
4. Who are your mentors? Hmm, this is a tough question. I had a couple very successful authors very generously (and randomly) be kind enough to read my work before I even landed my agent. They helped me immensely with character voice and story construction. I will be forever in debt to them, but I don’t necessarily keep in close touch with them the way I would a true mentor.
5. Wildest dream/goal you have for yourself? I have always, from day one, wanted to be interviewed in Entertainment Weekly or to have them review one of my novels. That magazine is, no joke, one of the top reasons I started writing. They write how my brain thinks. (As for) dream: Walk a red carpet.
6. Tell me about writing sex scenes. I’m a fan of sensory details over physical. Sex scenes and fights scenes are actually quite similar in that respect. It’s a lot more entertaining to be inside the character’s head as opposed to reading an instruction of what’s happening. I’m also a huge fan of the fade-to-black fake out. What I mean by that is the author ends a chapter just as things get steamy. This happens a lot in movies just as the couple hits the bed. The fabulous luxury books have is being able to go back in the next chapter via the character’s memory of the moment. This is almost better than an in-the-moment sex scene because we not only get the rose-colored glasses view (always more sultry) but we also feel redeemed because we thought we weren’t going to get the steamy details then wham! The author fakes you out and makes you swoon. So good.
7. Who do you love and how does that sneak into your writing? Characters from TV shows, movies, and books that I adore. I picture them in my head as I write. It’s almost like having a friend beside you telling what to say in the next line of dialogue (I promise the voices in my head are only real on the page!) A lot of writers try very hard to make everything they write 100% their own. I’m not like that at all. When I write it’s a pop cultural homage to all the writers, directors, and actors who have made me who I am today. I love them, and why not write what you love?
8. You write for young adults. How do you slip into the voice and heart of a teenager? I wish it was harder for me to do because that would mean I’d somehow grown and evolved. Alas, I am ever and eternally approximately 17 years old…mentally. It probably doesn’t hurt that the majority of my favorite shows are on MTV and I read almost exclusively YA. I think this goes back to the reading what you write thing. In order to stay in touch with your audience you need to be part of it. I will say, again, though that music is a huge help. I make playlists for every book I write and each character has his/her own theme song. All I have to do is sit in front of my computer, play that song, and I’m transported. I live for that feeling!
9. Tell me about failure and rejection. Do I have to? As a writer, rejection is unavoidable. There isn’t a single book in the world that everyone enjoys. Training yourself to accept that is key to persevering in publishing. I try my best to view obstacles and perceived failures as wreckage that falls in front of me, not to block me, but to build a staircase for me to climb higher.
10. What inspires story ideas for you, and what inspired the story for My Last Kiss? Spoiler alert (re: question #2), My Last Kiss was inspired by a song. At its core though, my source of inspiration comes from writing what I want to understand. They say write what you know, but I believe you should write what you want to know. I’m constantly trying to figure out why humans are such complex little monsters.
11. Tell me a story about a story: When I was in fourth grade, my best friend told me a story about a boy who was locked away inside the walls of his home because his parents were punishing him for being too loud. Oh, and his parents also cut out his tongue, ya know, because he was so loud. I was terrified until a few months later her older brother rented a movie called The People Under the Stairs that had an eerily similar plot. To this day, I’m not sure if I was more mad that she essentially plagiarized Stephen King’s story or that she’d made me watch a horror movie when I was nine.
Extra credit: Bethany usually writes or edits while laying on the floor and if she weren’t a badass writer she’d be an actress (longtime dream still holding strong!).
Tons of thanks to Miss B for caring and sharing a whole slew of good tips and solid stories. Peruse her playful website, The Writertorium, and follow her nail art and cat captures on Instagram. Giver her a follow on Twitter here. Oh, and buy her book which is so good at getting your head and heart back to high school.
***As part of this series, writers are asked to submit photos capturing who they are as well as a glimpse of his/her writer life. Images above include author’s headshot, book cover, photo with her writing partner (yep, her cat), and the moment her book was released at Barnes & Noble (Ann Arbor, MI location).
***Know someone that would be a great fit for 11 Questions? Nominate them or yourself by reaching out to me at KellyQBooks (@) gmail (dot) com.