Monday, January 26, 2015

Author Interview with Phoebe North

For my first interview of 2015, I bring to you Phoebe North, author of the YA science fiction books STARGLASS and its sequel, STARBREAK (Simon & Schuster).  In the first book, we learn that Terra’s forebearers left Earth 500 years ago so that the future generation, one that Terra belongs to, can find a new home planet. So the only world Terra has known is one inside a small city contained within a spaceship.  

Terra’s mother was murdered years ago. Her father is cold and uncaring.  She is engaged to a boy who is aloof and unaffectionate toward her. What Terra has going for her is an apprenticeship where she learns about plants, and she brings knowledge of this subject with her when the spaceship lands…  

Where were you born, and where do you live now?  I was born and raised in New Jersey, and now live in New York State, after sojourns in both Florida and Northern Virginia.

How did your MFA in Poetry that you received from the University of Florida influence your fiction writing?
The MFA I received in poetry was the first step toward seeing myself as a professional writer. I'm very grateful for the time and dedication of my professors there, even if the experience was mostly instructive in teaching me the kind of writer I'm not--namely, a literary poet!

Was there a part of your childhood or adolescence that you weaved into your writing of STARGLASS and STARBREAK?
Sure. Like Terra, I lost a parent when I was young. I was also prone to falling wildly in love with boys who were all wrong for me. It wasn't until I met my now-husband (like Terra, at a fairly young age) that I realized that love should be healing, rather than damaging.

The vivid setting of STARGLASS and STARBREAK came with parents having children through artificial wombs, telepathic dreaming, and a planet of interesting plant life. What tips do you have for effective world building?
Do tons of research, but don't feel obligated to let it all show. Reveal your world slowly and deliberately; readers will fill in the gaps, and your universe will feel much richer for it.

I’ve heard industry professionals say they’re not interested in books with religious content. As for myself, I liked the way you wove references to religion into STARGLASS and STARBREAK because it gave the story additional depth. How did incorporating Judaism into STARGLASS and STARBREAK affect interest of your book among agents and editors?
It seemed to be a real draw, in part because many professionals in New York publishing have Jewish backgrounds that are somewhat motley, like my own. Of course, I wouldn't call either book in the Starglass sequence "religious" per se. They're not preaching or trying to teach a lesson. But the religious background of the characters is grounded in real life religious identity. That sort of complexity of approach really helped make my books stand out, I think.

Who were your favorite authors/books to read while you were growing up?
I loved books with messy girls: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle.

Are there upcoming projects you’d like to share about?
Too soon to say! :)

Thursday, January 15, 2015


Whenever there are many "rules" coming from different voices governing how a certain art form should be performed, it opens up an abundance of opportunities for an artist to “make mistakes.”

Whether they’re stated or implied, rules are dished out for all walks of art and creative genres…. Dancers need lean figures. An action movie must have at least one high-speed car chase. A fancy meal should be garnished with fresh herbs when plated.  Female protagonists ought to be likeable, be relatable, and always make smart choices.

Sometimes what a person calls a rule, I just regard as a suggestion. And sometimes what critics regard as a mistake is what I see as the artist experimenting, taking a risk, and/or making a genuine and good faith effort to do the right thing. 

So just because someone deviates from the rules, it doesn’t mean that the outcome of their work must necessarily be bad.

Recently, I read an article about a woman who once tried knitting a winter hat for herself, and she unintentionally left a hole in the back of the hat. Long story short, she put her ponytail through the hole and wore her hat out this way to “amuse” her family. Then, people around her began asking about getting a hat similar to hers, and a business was born.

So this woman’s success stemmed from her boldly showing the public her “mistake.”

Yes, sometimes a creative endeavor can lead to unmistakable mistakes...There’s another article I read about a woman celebrating not-so-successful crafting projects by launching a website and creating a book. On what the author describes as her “friendly fail site” are images of neat and polished finished projects that one might see on Pinterest, and images of how such a project someone attempted actually turned out. From her interview, it appears this woman wants to help people find humor in their mistakes, and to think about how to improve.

I like this idea of a safe haven for people to go to where they can show off their mistakes. I wish there were more safe places like this out there, especially on the Internet. 

How do you handle mistakes, real or perceived? 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

IWSG: When a Writer Encounters Backlash

Today is IWSG day. Thanks to Alex Cavanaugh for organizing this monthly event where writers share about writerly insecurities and other things. 

Happy New Year, everyone! May 2015 be a fruitful year for you all.  One of my resolutions this year is to finally finish my novel. (Was that last year’s resolution too? Yikes, I don’t remember.)  

Update: I'm supposed to include an intro of myself for today's New Year IWSG here it is....My name is Cynthia and I'm a writer and reader living in California. I read all kinds of books- adult and kidlit/YA fiction and non-fiction. I'm currently working on a picture book and a YA novel. 

I am writing today’s Insecure Writer's Support Group post with an author in mind, someone whose name has been appearing on my Twitter feed.  Putting the pieces together, I learned this author recently set up a Kickstarter account to ask for optional donations so she could write a sequel to one of her books. Apparently, some people criticized her for this, and the author ended up taking down her Kickstarter page. 

I don’t know this author personally, and I haven’t read her work yet. Still, I feel bad for her. Her fundraising idea was clever, and not uncommon, as many (and I mean MANY) online campaigns seek donations for aspiring projects. I also imagine it’s not easy for many people to set up an online campaign seeking donations from the general public. It was a gutsy thing for this author to do. 

I hope that when the author recovers from the backlash, she would reopen her Kickstarter page, raise adequate funds, and write that sequel. I’d really hate to see someone put their publishing dream away because of others’ negativity.

What are your New Year resolutions? What motivates you to donate to a campaign or cause?