An Interview with RaShelle Workman

Nov 28, 2011

Hey folks! I've got an interview for you today! RaShelle Workman recently released her book, Exiled, and I got the chance to read it as well as ask her a few questions. Exiled is a YA science fiction, so it caught my attention right away. I enjoyed the atypical love triangle-- one that didn't throw me into extreme frustration-- and the idea that love is deeper than just physical feelings. Here's a bit more about the book:

Stubborn, sixteen-year-old Princess Venus of Kelari wants one thing, to become immortal, that is, until someone exiles her to Earth, kills her irrihunter, and takes her family.
First she’s got to get home. But before she can return to Kelari, the Gods have commanded her to help an arrogant boy named Michael find his soul mate. Only she doesn't know the first thing about love.
Rather quickly, her inexperience with human emotion is obscured by other matters—alien-controlled psychotic teens that are out to kill her, and a government group that is set on capturing and dissecting her.
Worst of all, Venus will suffer a painful death-by-poisoning, thanks to Earth’s atmosphere, if she remains on the planet longer than one week. Still, Venus is a Princess and she's got a plan. Surely, with her help, Michael will fall in love with a human.
But time is running out and Michael is falling for the wrong girl—her.

What was the spark that started Exiled?
I’d watched a ton of movies where aliens come to Earth to invade the planet and take over. They always seemed to be these weird looking creatures. And I thought, being the romantic that I am, what if an alien (who looks a lot like a human) was forced to Earth and a romance ensued? That’d be interesting. So, I wrote about it. Hello, EXILED.

What do you enjoy most (or least!) about writing science fiction?
I still cringe a little at the genre: science fiction. When I began writing, I didn’t say: “Oooh, I’m going to write a sci-fi novel.” The story evolved based on a romance between a human and an alien. That being said, I loved creating the world of Kelari (the planet Venus, the main character is from), coming up with kelarian names, creatures, and a way of life. It was a blast.

What do you enjoy most (or least!) about writing for young adults?
Writing YA is so much fun. Teens years constitute big changes and writing a story based on that time in someone’s life is very interesting to me. Probably because I have two of my own.    

What are some of your favorite young adult or science fiction books?
Some recent fav YA books are REVOLUTION, HARRY POTTER, TIGER’S CURSE, PARANORMALCY, A MONSTER CALLS, THE HUNGER GAMES. Probably my absolute favorite sci-fi is THE HOST by Steph Meyer. The reason is that it was my first sci-fi romance.

What has been the most exciting part about choosing the indie publishing route?
The most exciting AND scariest part is that I’m in complete control. It’s my baby from start to finish. I get to collaborate with every part of the process. From the cover to the book trailer… The marketing, including swag, setting up reviews and advertising. Also, I’ve met some amazing indie authors, like C.K. Bryant and Ali Cross (the DC girls).  

And, just for fun, if you could invite one character from any sci-fi book/movie to Thanksgiving dinner, who would it be and why?
This is probably so lame, but Riddick from THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK. My intentions would be purely physical. I’d want to admire the beauty that is RIDDICK (aka Vin Diesel). Though I’d also ask about his life, too, just so I could listen to his low, sexy voice. Have you heard his voice? It’s like melted butter or creamy milk chocolate. Delicious.
            A sample of the Thanksgiving conversation:
I say to Riddick who’s seated across from me at the table. “Could you pass the yams?”
He smirks, picks up the bowl right in front of me, flexes his fabulous muscles and sets them down again. “Sure. Would you like anything else with those?”
I giggle and blush. “Um, yes I would.”
And then The Hubs says, “That’s it, Riddick! Get out! Get out, now!”
Riddick stands, slams his fists on the table. It grumbles and quakes under the weight. He gives me a full smile, flashing his gorgeous pearly whites, picks up the entire platter of turkey, and as he walks out the door says, "See ya, RaShelle. Happy Thanksgiving.”
And I melt like butter. 

Thanks for having me Shallee! 

Thanks for being here, RaShelle! For a bit more information, here's her bio, and you can find her at her blog as well. "RaShelle Workman  lives with her husband, three children, and three dogs. When she gets a quiet moment alone, she enjoys reading about faraway places. And, in case you were wondering, yes, she does believe there is other life out in the Universe."

How to bring out theme to give your story extra oomph

Nov 22, 2011

It's been a crazy month around here-- a lot crazier than I thought it was going to be, hence me being absent from the blogosphere even more than I thought I'd be. I'm sorry I haven't been around to your blogs much lately. I really do miss hearing thoughts and news from my internet writing buddies! Hopefully things will calm down soon, and I'll see you around a bit more.

In the meantime, let's talk a bit more about what I mentioned last week-- theme. I've often found that there are times when it feels like my story is missing something, like there's some important piece missing. It just falls flat. It might be bad, it might even be good, but it's never GREAT. When that happens, I've found that the main culprit is a theme that's either missing or not fully expressed.

Theme is a complicated but necessary part of every story. For me, I've found that theme is one of the things that tends to come more organically. Even when I plan things ahead of time for a theme, it changes (or becomes more specific) 90% of the time. So let's talk about how you can use theme to enhance your story, whether you plan it or let it come out on its own.

1. Know what theme is-- and what it isn't.

Theme isn't the "lesson" or message you're trying to teach your readers. You don't want to come across preachy, because people will get bored an ignore what you're trying to say. Theme is what your story is really about underneath the plot, and as such, it often comes out as a natural part of your concept or characters. For example, in my current story The Unhappening of Genesis Lee, the plot is about a girl whose memories are being stolen. A natural thematic extension of that revolves around identity-- how do you define who you are? By your past? By what people tell you? By what you feel, say or do?

2. Write out your theme, and try to phrase it as a question

It's often a good idea for your theme to be a question-- and you don't necessarily have to answer that question. You can explore the different facets of it, and leave your reader to make their own conclusions. That will have a much bigger impact on them than if you told them what the point of the story is. Let them find their own point.

3. Remember that there can be more than one theme-- but there is usually one main theme.

It's fine if you discover there is more than one underlying theme to your story. It's probably good, actually, because it's indicative of depth. But you don't want to be schizophrenic in your storytelling. If you're hopping from one theme to another, your reader isn't going to get a clear idea of what the story is "about"-- the theme. Let the little ones come out, but don't let them take over the story.

4. Bring out the theme through both the plot and the characters.

As different events unfold in your story, how they work out-- or don't-- can have a big part of what you're trying to say. The choices your characters make, which often affect these events, are another way you can emphasize the theme. Like in Brodi Ashton's Everneath, the theme often also comes out as part of the character's personal growth arc. This is an effective way to highlight the theme, and lets the character's actions touch on the theme. Character's relationships and their individual strengths and weaknesses can be good places for different sides of the theme to be explored.

So, my friends, how do you find your theme? How do you bring it out in your story so that it makes the story more powerful? What are some books you loved that had strong themes that touched you?

Book Reviews for Writers: Strong Themes from Everneath by Brodi Ashton

Nov 16, 2011

Today, I'm excited to be part of the ARC tour for Brodi Ashton's awesome book Everneath! Here's the cover copy:

"Last spring, Nikki Beckett vanished, sucked into an underworld known as the Everneath. Now she's returned-- to her old life, her family, her boyfriend-- before she's banished back to the underworld...this time forever. She has six months before the Everneath comes to claim her, six months for goodbyes she can't find the words for, six months to find redemption, if it exists.

Nikki longs to spend these precious months forgetting the Everneath and trying to reconnect with her boyfriend, Jack, the person most devastated by her disappearance-- and the one person she loves more than anything. But there's just one problem: Cole, the smoldering immortal who enticed her to the Everneath in the first place, has followed Nikki home. Cole wants to the over the throne in the underworld and is convinced Nikki is the key to making it happen. And he'll do whatever it takes to bring her back, this time as his queen.

As Nikki's time on the Surface draws to a close and her relationships begin slipping from her grasp, she is forced to make the hardest decision of her life: find a way to cheat fate and remain on the Surface with Jack or return to the Everneath and become Cole's queen."

It takes a really intriguing paranormal for me to rave about it. This isn't a bash on paranormal; it's just that it's not always my personal taste. Some storylines really capture my interest, though, and Everneath did. I was so lucky to be part of the ARC tour. I read the book in one sitting-- that's how engrossing it was.  I loved so many things about the book (the characters and their relationships, the brilliant use of flashbacks that enhanced the pace rather than slowing it down, a cliff-hanger ending that STILL managed to be very satisfying), but one thing I really loved was the theme.

I think theme is one of those things we don't always use to our greatest advantage when we write. I guess it's hard to come up with easy blogging "lists" of how to enhance the theme of your book, but after reading Everneath, I had a few thoughts.

Brodi Ashton does a fabulous job of addressing the theme of redemption without being heavy-handed about it. One of the ways she did that was to tie it Nikki's character arc. As Nikki grows through the book and questions her own "redeemability," it brings the theme to the reader's attention without the author bashing you over the head or becoming preachy.

By tying the theme to the character so closely, it also makes the theme hit a strong emotional chord with the reader. Of course, this was made possible because Ashton did a great job of making you care for Nikki.

So, my friends, Everneath comes out January 24, and I highly recommend that you read it! It was one of my favorite books that I've read this year, and I can't wait to get my own copy.

Teen Tales: Teammates and the Importance of Small Victories

Nov 8, 2011

Teen Tales is a recurring feature connecting the YA experience to YA literature.

Over the last few months, I've gotten back into an old habit-- running. I'm now up to 2 miles a day in about 20 minutes without walking. I ran track in high school, and I've loved getting back into the running groove.

I actually started track in junior high as a lowly seventh-grader. I had no illusions about my greatness-- I was always a slow one. I ran on the distance team, putting in workouts of 2-5 miles a day. I don't remember anymore why exactly I wanted to do it, but I remember what kept me doing it for six years.

It was the team.

Every year, I had at least one "buddy" that ran about the same pace I did. We did our workouts together, encouraged each other, and huddled together under blankets eating saltine crackers at meets in freezing March weather. But it wasn't just my running buddy that kept me going. It was the whole team. Everybody encouraged each other, cheered each other on, and patted you on the back when you beat your "PR." (personal record) When my running buddy was gone one day, the fastest guy on the team held back his pace to mine for the entire 3 mile workout so I could have somebody to run with.

My goals in track were simple-- beat my PR every race, and never come in last. I managed that all through high school. There was one particular victory I'll never forget.

I raced the 1600 meter, or mile, every track meet. My last meet had given me a time of 7:32, but I'd been practicing new running techniques and got a pair of running spikes. When I got out on the track, I was nervous but excited. I ran like I've never run before. When they posted our times, I went to my coach and asked what I got.

He looked at his sheet and raised an eyebrow. "6:58," he said.

"What? No. That's not my time," I said, sure he'd read the wrong line.

"No, that's you." He grinned. "Nice job."

I had chopped over 30 SECONDS off my time in a matter of a few weeks. I was elated, and my team cheered with me. I didn't win-- I'd come in second-to-last, actually-- but I DID win by my own rules. And my team knew that. It was one of the most thrilling moments of my high school life.

That small victory-- every small victory, in fact-- helped push me on to keep practicing, keep racing. In literature, small victories are especially important. You obviously don't want your character to win right off. There's no story in that. But small victories along the way can help encourage both the characters and the reader to keep going.

Teammates are an important part of victories. Winning means so much more when there are people to cheer alongside you. When writing Devs, I had a fairly solid "team" of people around my protagonist. This didn't mean they were all buddy-buddy the whole time. In fact, the team dynamic was rather complicated, and they had to grow together in order to help each other. But they were there to boost each other and support each other through victories and failures alike. It strengthened the story to have a small contingent of people who were my main character's "team."

So, my friends, do you have small victories and team mates in your stories? How do you develop those character relationships? What about victories and teammates in life?

Five Steps for Generating New Story Ideas Out of Practically Nothing

Nov 3, 2011

In tribute to my came-up-with-it-in-ten-minutes story idea I'm doing for NaNo, I wanted to talk about story ideas. I'm not currently at a loss for story ideas, and I'm sure many of you are in the same boat. I get story ideas that just hit me out of nowhere.

But today, I want to talk about how to sit down and say, "I'm going to come up with a new story idea right now," and actually do it. In other words, turning the idea process into something conscious. Here's how you can come up with a story idea from practically nothing in mere minutes.

Really. You can. I promise.

I know what you're thinking.
Okay, maybe you're not. Maybe you're thinking, "Well, sure, a few ideas in a few minutes is nothing." Or maybe you're thinking, "A basic idea, yeah, but what about everything else to fill in the blanks?"

I've talked before about taking an idea and turning into into a story-worthy concept. I still stand by that post, but today, let's just talk about having FUN with your ability to create ideas.

Don't restrict yourself.

It doesn't have to be the greatest idea since Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game. You're not worrying about writing the Great American Novel, here. We're focusing on just writing A novel. Preferably one you think will be fun. So you don't have to find the IT concept or the IT character. I mean, Twilight is about a moody girl who falls in love with a vampire. Not the most original thing ever, and look where it went.

So let your imagination roam free. Which leads to...

Do something that lets your mind wander.

For me, doing dishes or taking a shower is great for lightbulb moments. Try doing something physical that takes no brain power, like running or vacuuming or whatever mind-numbing task you've been putting off. If your hands (or body) are busy, it's easy for your mind to play.

Start with anything.

Really. Anything. For Warped, I started with the idea for a setting-- a century-old hotel in San Francisco where I stayed while filming an international harp conference in college. I played with the idea, remembering rooms and banquet halls and creepy balconies. All I needed was that one idea, and things began to sprout. "What could happen in that place? Who would it happen to? Why is she there? Who's that creepy guy in the corner I keep picturing? What does he want?"

Use all the question words-- how, why, who, when, where, and what if?

Add anything else.

As your mind wanders, it'll probably come up with something you've been wanting to play with for a while. Or maybe something totally new, some weird thing or person you read about on CNN this morning. Add it to the starting idea, and let them mate. So what if they have nothing to do with each other? MAKE them have things in common. You're the creative genius here!

Fit your idea into the basic formula used for querying/logline writing: character, conflict, choice, consequence. 

Define each of these by using and expanding upon your idea-- you've got a character with a problem who has to make a choice or else DIRE BAD THING will happen.

Bada-boom. Idea is hatched. Now go write. Or outline, or whatever it is you prefer to do with a new story idea.

A few last tips-- don't be afraid to throw ideas away. Typically, the first ideas you come up with aren't the most creative ones. If you think of something better, throw that first idea out. Also, don't be afraid if you think your idea is too similar to XYZ BOOK by Most Popular Author. After you're done playing with the idea, it'll probably be pretty darn different.

So, my friends, remember-- the human brain was designed to create. Have confidence in your own creative brilliance! How do you come up with story ideas? Do you ever do it as a conscious process, or is it just a "hits me in the middle of the night/shower/drive down the interstate" kind of thing for you?

A Lesson in Keeping Writing Fun-- and I'm NaNo-ing!

Nov 1, 2011

I may or may not be crazy.

See, I've been having this problem lately. I've been rather discouraged with my writing, and frankly, a little bit sick of my current WIP, The Unhappening of Genesis Lee. I wrote to my amazing friend and crit partner Michelle to whine, and she gave me a great reminder.

Writing is supposed to be fun.

She encouraged me to take a break, write something new, and just have fun with it. You might say I took that to heart-- within about half an hour of her email, I had a brand-spankin' new story idea. And then I remembered it's almost November. Almost NaNoWriMo.

And with a big gulp, I signed up.

I did JuNoWriMo, so I know I can write that fast fairly easily. But November's a busy month for me, including Thanksgiving out of town at the in-laws. Nevertheless, having finished my current draft of Unhappening for my crit group full-novel review, I'm now launching into my new project for NaNo. I have a single Word doc of randomly jotted ideas, a few pictures to inspire me, and not much else.

I'm not going to stress about the 50,000 words in a month thing. I'm going to try for it, but my REAL goal this month is just to have fun. Forget plotting and character development and all the shoulds and shouldn'ts of writing-- I'm just going to let this thing explode in all its messy glory.

I'm a little giddy with excitement.

I do, of course, have a title-- Warped. And here are a few tidbits in pictures. Yeah, it's gonna be WEIRD. And adventurous. And fun.

 So, my friends, let the NaNo madness begin! Are you doing NaNo? Do you want to "buddy" me (my username is Shallee)? How do you keep the enjoyment of writing when you get stressed?

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