Author Alan Gratz talks about REFUGEE

Three gutsy protagonist, three continents, three different time periods. How’s that work? Well, you won’t have to wait much longer to discover how middle-grade author Alan Gratz weaves these interconnecting stories together in a way that Kirkus Reviews has called a “feat nothing short of brilliant.” His latest novel REFUGEE hits bookstore shelves on July 25th, 2017.

We are delighted to talk with Alan Gratz about REFUGEE and writing.

 

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Welcome, Alan! Tell us about your inspiration for REFUGEE.

The idea for Refugee came from a number of different places, over the course of many weeks. It began with the story of the Jewish refugees on board the MS St. Louis. I was looking for a way into that story when my family and I took a vacation to the Florida Keys, and we woke one morning to find a raft on the beach that refugees had used to come to America. We had no way of knowing where the raft had originated, or if the people who set out in it had made it to safety, but it got me thinking about how so many people are risking their lives every day to have what I and my family have.

I wanted to tell the story of the MS St. Louis, but now I also wanted to write something about Cuban refugees coming to America by raft! And then—this was in early 2016—we came home every night to reports on the news and the Internet about the Syrian refugee crisis. I wanted to write a book about the MS St. Louis, I wanted to write a book about Cuban refugees coming to America, and now I wanted to write a book about the plight of Syrian refugees! Finally I realized—what if I wrote a single book about all three, linking the families across the ages and across the globe? That’s how Refugee was born.

You often write about young people tacking adversity head on. What do you hope readers will take away from REFUGEE?

I want young readers to see refugees. My family and I knew refugees were risking their lives to come to this country officially and unofficially every single day, but because we don’t live on the front lines of that struggle, we didn’t see it every day. Out of sight was definitely out of mind. I hope that Refugee does for young readers what that raft on the beach in Florida did for me and my family: make the invisible visible again.

I also hope that young American readers understand that, unless their family is Native American, we are ALL immigrants. Whether their families came over on the Mayflower, or came here on a raft last year, we’re all Americans, and it’s that immigrant melting pot that made this country great, and continues to do so.

Whew! In 2015, 2016, and 2017 you’ve released two middle-grade books each of those years? How?? Magic, time turning? You’ve gotta share your secret. Okay, maybe you don’t have to tell us, but you’ve obviously figure out some strategy to getting words on a page. What tips do you have for us on making time to write?

Did I? Oh, wow. I guess so! Pardon me while I go pass out… Seriously though, I’m not happy unless I’m writing. I’ve been doing a lot more school visits of late—I think I did more than a hundred last school year!—which also takes away writing time. So the first thing I had to do was say no travel for six months out of the year: December through February, and June, July, and August. (I still break that rule all the time, but I do TRY to hold to it.)

Then, for those six months, I’m working on new books all the time. For my historical novels, I do about a month of heavy research for each, where I’m doing nothing else during my “writing” time but reading books about my subject and taking notes. Then once I’ve got enough research to build a rough story, I’ll start working up an outline. I’m a big proponent of outlining. It takes me another month to create a detailed outline, where I lay out what happens in every single chapter.

During this time, I’ll also work on character creation and do fill-in research for parts of the story my first round didn’t cover. Then, once all that pre-writing is done, I can usually write a first draft in about a month, at the rate of about two chapters a day. That’s my three month block! I turn the book in, and my terrific editor takes over. She’ll get the book back to me while I’m on the road visiting schools again, and then I’ll begin the revision process when I get back.

All the traveling I’m doing now may knock me down to one book a year, but that’s probably better for my sanity in the long run. But I learned to be a disciplined writer doing non-fiction advertising and marketing work before I was a novelist, so when it’s time to get writing done, I just sit down and do it!

Your other 2017 middle-grade novel, BAN THIS BOOK, releasing next month, has a main character, Amy Anne, who is a girl after my heart. Tell us something about the story that will make us want to add BAN THIS BOOK to our Must Order and To Be Read ASAP List.

Well, I’ll give you the elevator pitch first: Ban This Book is the story of a fourth grade girl who goes to a school where a parent start banning and challenging books. As a protest, Amy Anne takes those books and hides them in her locker and starts checking them out to other students in secret as a Banned Books Locker Library. And all the kids’ books that are banned in the story have actually been banned in the last couple of decades in America! It’s (what I hope is) a funny, heartfelt story about the issue of book banning, as well as my love letter to middle grade novels.

What can you tell us about what you’re working on now?

When I visited Japan seven years ago, I met a man who had been a young boy on Okinawa when the Americans invaded in 1945, toward the end of World War II. He told me that the Japanese Army pulled him out of school, lined him up with the other middle school boys, and gave them each a grenade. Their instructions: go off into the forest and don’t come back until you’ve killed an American. That’s the first chapter of the new book I’m writing, which I’m calling Grenade. That will be out in late summer/early fall of 2018.

Buckle up for the…Lightning Round (*hands you a slice of pepperoni pizza for strength)

If you had a superpower, what would it be? Super speed! The Flash is my all-time favorite super hero.

Wooden pencil or mechanical? Always wooden. I never got the hang of mechanicals.

Coffee or tea? Coca-cola!

Sweet or salty? Always salty! If I could live on French fries, torilla chips, and popcorn, I would. Or maybe I already do…?

Dog, cat, or other? I’ve had both, but the answer is dog. Mine’s name is Augie. He’s a rescue mutt.

Plotter or pantser? Plotter! (As you now know!)

Any advice for all those aspiring authors out there?

You’ll hear this from a lot of professional authors, but that’s because it’s true: talent matters, but what really gets you published is persistence. I’ve met so many writers who give up after one or two rejections. You have to keep sending your stuff out, and keep getting rejected until someone says yes. And while you’re sending out one book, start writing the next. And the next. And the next.

I was still subbing (and getting rejection letters for) the first two YA novels I’d written when I wrote Samurai Shortstop, which would ultimately become my first sold and published novel. I’ve never sold those previous two manuscripts—they just weren’t good enough. Write, write, write, submit, submit, submit, and get better at what you’re doing with every attempt. Then, if you stick with it long enough, you’ll break through.

 

Photo credit: Wes Stitt

What an inspiring interview! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us! And best of luck with both of your new books!

Alan Gratz has been putting kids in fictional danger since 2006. You can find out more about Alan and subscribe to his newsletter by visiting Alan’s website.

 

MICHELLE LEONARD is a math and science nerd, a chocolate biscotti baker, and a SCBWI member who writes middle-grade and young adult fiction. Her young adult sci-fi short story IN A WHOLE NEW LIGHT , about a teen girl who uses technology to fight racism, will be published in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME releasing August 1, 2017. Proceeds from the anthology will be used for scholarships for the Society of Women Engineers! Connect with Michelle on Twitter.

Subscribe to The Winged Pen and never miss a post, including our monthly #FourOn400 writing contest for middle grade and young adult. 

 

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Hiding in the Closet (and other tricks to find writing time in the summer)

Shhh. I’m in the closet with my laptop. Should I mention there’s no air conditioning in this closet. And it’s at least 90 degrees outside. I’m sweating like I’m in a sauna. And the air smells like teen boy sneakers.

Why am I torturing myself? I just want uninterrupted writing time. My kids have been out of school for a whole week already. Every three minutes I’m bombarded with a steady stream of questions.

Does mollusks have one “l” or two?

What color are prison uniforms in Japan?

Did you buy banana peppers?

What time will Dad be home?

Where’s my bathing suit?

Who ate all the ice cream?

Why is there a lion in the front yard?!!!

Yeah, that last one got me moving because believe it or not stranger things have happened in our neighborhood and who’d give up the chance to see a lion prancing through their yard. This time, it was a trick just to swipe some of my chocolate stash. Rrrrroooaaarrr!

The point here is that I’m desperate to be ignored. Is that too much to ask? I’ve EVEN TRIED GETTING UP EARLY. My kids have been waking up before 8am.

“You’re teenagers. GO BACK TO BED!”

I have no choice. I’m running away with my laptop AND ALL THE CHOCOLATE in our house (because I am EVIL). But first, I decided to ask my resourceful friends at The Winged Pen for their best advice on squeezing in writing time.

Jenny (5 and 8): Buy out the entire supply of water balloons at Walmart. Bribe them with food. Lock them in their play room (mostly kidding). Discover that the PS4 game they’ve been fighting over weeks has a multi-player option. Ship them off to grandparents because really that’s the only answer!

Kate (8 and 11): Wear them out! A long walk in the woods or a visit to the pool, water park, or trampoline park in the morning guarantees a few blissful hours of writing in the afternoon while they rest and draw, play with Legos, or read.

Karin (9, 12, 14, and 15): Child labor: Give them jobs/chores and pay them, such as weeding (all four), painting the fireplace bricks with white wash (artsy 15 yr old), walking dog (all four), older ones entertaining wild 9 yr old.

Gabby (9 and 13):  Start their own crafty business. Jewelry making, beading, sewing, bake sales/lemonade stands.Write and illustrate their own book! Could offer to have it bound at the end of the summer.

Julie (11 and 12): Early morning was my only opportunity last summer. I can usually get the two of them going on a board game, a craft project, or some outdoor time and sneak in a little writing time. The good news is that they’re both big readers, so I often write during their reading time too!

Halli (11 and 14): This year I am sending them to a one-week drone day camp. Now that they are older they don’t want to be campers. They are counselors at karate camp, but I’m there too. So it looks like I’ll get one decent week of writing done this summer. Sigh….

Kristi (8, 9, 10 and 12): We just got new beds for the kids and even my 10 and 12 yo have been pitching in creating stuff with the boxes– For us, taking away electronics and giving them challenges like build the tallest thing, etc, has been key this break (it’s only one month for us, so maybe after a few weeks the chaos will break out?)

Rebecca (12 and 14): I don’t need to entertain them. In fact, I’d like to do days at the lake or a museum or the shore, but I already know I’ll just get, “School’s finally done! We just want to relax!” My challenge is that I’ll start writing and need to remember to get my son off the computer, get my daughter to put down the book, and push them out the door for some fresh air and exercise.

Richelle (10, 12,  and 14): We are instituting non-screen hobby time at our house this summer. I told them they need to cultivate interests and I will get them supplies. My oldest is going to teach herself to sew, the 12-year-old is going to paint, and the 10-year-old is baking. My main purpose was to get them off their devices, but I’m hoping it leads to them having their own practices that they enjoy enough to leave me alone for a while!

Gita (15): Sleep-away theater camp. For three weeks.

*All our jaws drop. We turn green with envy and frantically google last-minute sleep-away camps for all our kids.

Sussu (9 and 13): My teenager and my tweenager are learning Autodesk. It’s easy and free and there are lots of tutorials online. They get to model their own Lego kits. The reward? We’ll 3D print the kits when they’re done.

Gita wins for best summer plan, and Sussu wins for most industrious kids. And now I’m feeling even more like a slacker. Thanks to the inspiration from my friends, I’ve figured out where I went wrong. We don’t have a routine. Instead of running away, I’m putting together a plan. On the weekends, we’ll make a schedule for the week and buy any supplies we need. So here’s my routine for the rest of the summer:

  • Get an hour of writing time before they get up. See this post for details!
  • Take them on a short hike or walk
  • Lunch together
  • Reading time/Personal activity time (another hour of writing time for me)
  • Bonding (kid-kid) activity/challenge each day, like a major chore that takes two, or making dessert, helping a neighbor, etc
  • Afternoon game time (me plus the kids), followed by dinner and family time in the evening

Hopefully something in this post will spark you with an idea for how to wrangle some writing time and keep your little darlings busy, and maybe even inspired.

Leave any suggestions you have for keeping kids busy in the summer in the comments, PLEASE!!!!! (Just in case, you know.)

MICHELLE LEONARD is a math and science nerd, a chocolate biscotti baker, and a SCBWI member who writes middle-grade and young adult fiction. Her young adult sci-fi short story IN A WHOLE NEW LIGHT will be published in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME releasing August 2017. Connect with her on Twitter.

Subscribe to The Winged Pen and never miss a post, including our monthly #FourOn400 writing contest for middle grade and young adult. Click to SUBSCRIBE!

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Becoming an artist: Jackie Randall’s historical middle grade EMELIN

Book cover in graphic novel style. Boy and girl in brown medieval robes with dark branches and white medieval city in the backgroundIf you’re an eleven-year-old girl in the middle ages, becoming an artist is almost impossible! Even when you have a special talent.

Author Jackie Randall brings the earthy but beautiful world of the middle ages to life in this story of art, theft, persistence, and friendship.

“The year is 1398. Eleven-year-old Emelin Lambert is quick-witted, mouthy, and an orphan. She also has an incredible gift for illuminating manuscripts. When her last relative is killed, Emelin must travel to Reading Abbey in search of safety when she finds herself with a manuscript belonging to Geoffrey Chaucer. Follow her dark and wintery journey through medieval England where she encounters violent thieves, a boy named Wolf and the treacherous adult world she must face alone. Can her gift ensure her survival?”

We’re so excited to chat with Australian author, Jackie Randall! Welcome to The Winged Pen!

In the beginning of the story, Emelin worries about a lost and valuable “work ticket.” As a young girl in the middle ages, could she have gotten one?

The lost work ticket belonged to Emelin’s uncle, Calibor. It was vital to him so he could legally work. I wanted to create a significant problem early on because it would help immerse the readers in the rawness of life in medieval England.

That it was Emelin’s fault the ticket was stolen helped me dig down deep into her and her thinking.

Girls in England at that time were not taught to read or write, and they could never be apprenticed in any of the trades, so a girl, like Emelin, would never have had her own work ticket.

It wasn’t considered sexist. It kept the wheels turning so civilisation could continue to exist.

Women had the ability to give birth and to nurture children. They had finer fingers for sewing and preparing food. Men were bigger and stronger than women so it made sense that they worked to bring in harvest or meat, or to build homes, boats, carts etc.

Everyone did what they could to contribute to life based on what they could do best. It wasn’t always fair, but it worked.

What surprised you most (or was most inspiring) about the research you did for this book?

I loved learning about the creation of illuminated manuscripts. As much as it was unlikely that a girl could do this in this era, it was not impossible if the right things fell into place.

The girl, Emelin, had a fierce attitude that got her on this path and kept her alive when circumstances would normally have made survival impossible.

I was most inspired by the way people had to work so hard, just to live, which is a lot like people still do today in poorer countries.

And I loved using the first person POV to get inside Emelin’s head and find out how real she was. Putting her in a male world – her uncle, the guilds, the abbey – made her a like a candle flame on a black and white photo.

Writing a novel can be like living in an imaginary country. After all the time you’ve spent writing Emelin’s world, would you like to live there? Why or why not?

I think I would have liked to live there. But life was harsh and people often lived only four or five decades. I plan on living until my ninth or tenth decade, even if it’s just to annoy my friends and family… but if I could still be writing well then, that would be great joy to me.

I love Geoffrey Chaucer’s cameo appearance in the story! It had such a fun “medieval rock star” feeling. This story is a brilliant way to introduce young readers today to the author of The Canterbury Tales. Was he well-known in his own time? Or did he become famous later?

Geoffrey Chaucer was known as a poet in his lifetime, but his fame grew gradually after his death. It was only forty or fifty years after Chaucer died that the printing press was invented and books could for the first time ever be produced without people painstakingly hand writing and decorating them.

There are a couple of versions of the hand-produced ‘The Canterbury Tales’ around. One is called the Hengwrt Manuscript and the other the Ellesmere Manuscript.

The cover is so inviting, but it also looks true to the era. Can you share the story of how it came to be?

As much as I enjoy trying to do a bit of art, I knew I didn’t have the skills for this. One of my adult sons helped me find the right person to hire to do the job.

I wanted the cover to show Emelin with the manuscript, and I really wanted the cold, harsh winter in the background. And, of course, Wolf had to be there. After a bit of tweaking, I was thrilled with the end result.

Will Emelin and Wolf have more adventures?

I have a couple of books planned but I’m torn right now as to whether to write for the Australian market (where I live) so local publishers can market my work, or to write medieval and continue to self-publish (Australia has no medieval history as it was not discovered until after medieval was finished).

The books I’m planning about Emelin and Wolf are based first in London, then in Europe. There’s a crime to solve, a dead person who’s not dead, and someone to rescue. I’d really like to get my teeth into these stories as soon as I can.

Is Emelin your first Indie published book? Any advice for aspiring Indie authors?

Emelin is my first Indie book. I did not want to self-publish. My writing had begun to gain interest from Australian publishers, but they really wanted Australian fiction from me.

I didn’t want to bury my novel Emelin so I eventually published myself, with a lot of help from someone who understands marketing (and technology) much more than me.

My advice to Indie authors is don’t do it for the money, for now at least. Become excellent at writing. Don’t publish until you’ve had some beta readers or editors look at it, then listen to their suggestions, because if it’s not good the bad reviews will damage you and your sales.

Brace yourself for the ever-popular lightning round!

If you had a superpower, what would it be? Superdooper wordsmith.

Writing implement of choice? For practical writing… my MacBook Air so I can write fast and edit later. For deep and serious wordsmithing, my Lamy fountain pen and a lined notebook.

If I have a problem sentence or paragraph, I write it out. Then I rewrite it changing a word or two, or starting from a different angle, then I rewrite it until I think I’ve got it. Then I look at it tomorrow. If I still like it, it’s in. If not, I work it again. Sometimes I delete it completely then realise I didn’t need it anyway.

Vegemite, peanut butter, or Nutella? Seeing as I’m slowly eradicating sugar, it has to be Vegemite. If I could eat anything, Nutella… preferably on a fresh, warm crepe on a sidewalk in Paris, with a good coffee (I have done this once).

Dog, cat, goldfish (or pet leech)? Small dog (wire hair fox terrier perhaps) if it doesn’t bark too much (I hate yappy dogs). Or a cat if I can’t find the quiet dog.

Thank you, Jackie, for stopping by The Winged Pen!

Where can readers find you and your work?

You can order your own paperback or e-book copy of Emelin here.

For people in Australia the pricing for the paperback is better through my website www.JackieRandall.com or on the shelves at The Children’s Bookshop in Beecroft.

I blog on Goodreads,

And share illuminated manuscripts and a video on Pinterest.

The Emelin book trailer is on YouTube at https://youtu.be/ZbFyYRz7aLk.

Jackie’s Facebook page.

Jackie’s Twitter.

Headshot of Jackie Randall, author of EMELINJackie has been writing for tweens and teens since 2009. She loves researching and writing historical fiction especially medieval, but is also beginning to plan some pieces of Australian fiction based anywhere between 1850–1950.

The most important aspect of writing for Jackie is developing her writing to the best possible standard.

Jackie was born in England but left there in 1967. She has been back several times and has visited many of the places she writes about, including the remains of Reading Abbey that is featured in ‘Emelin’.

She has a husband, some children and a few grandchildren.

photo of Laurel DecherLAUREL DECHER writes stories about all things Italian, vegetable, or musical. Beloved pets of the past include “Stretchy the Leech” and a guinea pig that unexpectedly produced twins. She’s famous for getting lost, but carries maps because people always ask her for directions. Find her on Twitter or her blog, This Is An Overseas Post. She’s still a Vermonter and an epidemiologist at heart. PSA: Eat more kale!

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Halfway through 2017 (GASP!) — Let’s Do a Goal Check-in!

Let’s climb that mountain!

Waaaayyyy back in January, I wrote a New Year’s post about goal-setting. A few of my fellow Pennies were inspired by that post to write down their goals with me – remembering to be specific, set deadlines, stay flexible, and above all, not beat ourselves up if we didn’t quite hit our marks.

Now that it’s June, about halfway through the year, I wanted to check in with everyone. And with myself.

My top-of-list goal was to finish drafting my WIP in March. I ended up finally typing “THE END” in mid-May, about six weeks late. I met a few other goals – launching our MYC series, for one! – but thanks to missing my initial WIP deadline, I’m a bit behind on everything else.

I checked in with a few of the Pennies and discovered that we were all pretty much in the same boat. Most of us had set and met a few goals, completely dropped the ball on others, and changed priorities dramatically as the year unfolded.

So the purpose of this post is two-fold.

First, I want to hear how your year is going? Did you set goals? Have you made progress like you thought you would? Let me know in the comments!

And second, I want to lay out some mid-year goal-setting dos and don’t’s:

DO reflect on the past six months. We all have to deal with the unexpected, which can interfere with our writing. From early November through February, I did not have one full week of work without kids, thanks to some crazy winter weather and a series of plagues that descended on my family. Those unexpected events messed with my productivity big time. Looking back in light of that, my six-week delay in finishing my draft was actually a pretty great achievement! Take some time to consider the reality of the first half of 2017 – you might find that you achieved more than it felt like you did.

DO reassess your priorities. That YA idea that seemed so hot in January might have started languishing in May. If you feel bogged down by a goal you set months ago, take a closer look at it. Is the project still calling to you, or are you slogging your way through it because you said you would? Did you pledge to attend an expensive conference, but are now realizing that the manuscript you’d hoped to pitch is far from ready? Consider a conference later in the year when your work is more polished. Or try a more economical conference instead. Life is not static, and neither should your goals be.

DO recommit. Are you right on track with your goals? Fantastic! Promise yourself that you’ll keep going and not coast on your successful six months. Not quite tearing through your goal list for 2017? Don’t toss it out just because you haven’t made the progress you’d hoped. Use this time to get back on track. You can still pull it out if you get busy now!

DON’T forget to have fun. January is a serious month, full of winter-deep thoughts about where we’re going and where we’ve been. (At least it is here in the Northern Hemisphere!) But June is a lighter month, where the call of the outdoors is strong. Get out there and enjoy it. Just bring your notebook and a pen!

Sound off in the comments and let me know how your goal-setting has gone. Let’s go climb our mountain — and fingers crossed we’re all a bit closer to where we want to be!

 

RICHELLE MORGAN writes, works, plays and drinks too much coffee in Portland, Oregon. When not writing fiction for young adults and children, she pens fundraising letters and other marketing copy for progressive nonprofit organizations. Richelle keeps an occasional blog about nonprofit marketing and communication. She has also written feature articles for The Oregonian, and her short fiction has appeared in Voicecatcher. You can find her on Twitter.

From Writing to Entrepreneuring

Writers serve their community. Actually, a good way to connect with your audience is to be of service because many writers are also future readers.

Some writers go beyond the usual networking and offer unique services to other writers. Brooke McIntyre is one of them. She helps connect writers with critique partners. She helps writers meet with agents and editors.

What drew me into her community was the opportunity to ask questions to professionals who might be otherwise hard to access. Brooke does not hesitate to work personally with you. She will take you by the hand, present you to other writers, and make sure you are connected to the right group.

Brooke McIntyre writes children’s picture books and some poetry. She doesn’t have an author’s website yet, but she has Inked Voices, a community for writers. And I am so excited to welcome her on The Winged Pen.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/InkedVoicesLLC/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/InkedVoices

Blog (this is new, new): http://blog.inkedvoices.com/

 

Sussu: Who are you, Brooke? What is your motto?

Brooke: Words to me are connection. To family, to myself and to the world. As a child, words were time spent one-on-one with my parents and especially my dad, who worked long days. Reading was a salve, helping me feel understood. It was also a portal to magical places. I started writing as a teenager to make sense of the world. Words, read or written, play versions of these roles for me today. Connection, and so, discovery.

I believe life is short and we should grab it and make a difference as best we can during our brief stint here. I believe in people and think we have an amazing opportunity to help one another realize our potentials.

 

Sussu: Why and when did you start Inked Voices? Did the project interfere with your writing?

Brooke: I started Inked Voices in 2013 as a solution for my personal critique group. We were exchanging manuscripts over email and critiquing with Google Docs and it felt disjointed and disorganized. I wanted a space where we could come together more collaboratively. I’m a very process-oriented person –it’s the same part of my mind that led me to my MBA—and I could see a better way. And so I started sketching it out on paper that summer. I reached out to writers and writing group organizers to get their feedback and tweaked the idea, working iteratively until I was satisfied. Then, in the fall I hired developers and started translating the idea into the tangible site it is today. The beta launched in the spring of 2014.

Before Inked Voices, I worked full-time in business-to-business marketing and strategy. Because I went from one full-time something to another, the amount of time I spent writing didn’t change. I was always writing in the margins. But starting Inked Voices allowed me to be surrounded by reading and writing—just where I wanted to be.

Now a few years in, I write much more than I did before and with consistency. I have to credit the women I’ve been working with in two different accountability groups on the site with that. The groups gave me the structure I needed to commit the time I wanted to.

 

Sussu: What skills did you need to build the server and advertise the site? On a scale of 1 to 10, how hard was it?

Brooke: Inked Voices is parts technology and parts community. Both of these are hugely important, but require different skill sets.

On the tech side, I knew I didn’t want a forum, but a web application built for the workshopping process. Inked Voices would allow writing groups to share work, exchange critiques and hold discussions in a single virtual workspace. This implied a custom-built web application.

To accomplish this, front and backend coding were required, as were design skills and project management. There were three months of full-time development before any writer saw the site, and development continues to this day. For a web application, it’s helpful to understand Agile development, which is a system of continuous innovation for tech. We make incremental improvements based on writer feedback and my vision. I manage our tech projects. With this, I conceptualize features in sketches, design process flows, and work with writers to understand their goals and translate them into capabilities. Our developers contribute their expertise and create the next build.

On the community side, skills in engagement, mentoring and coaching are important. I do a lot of one-on-one matching of writers with groups, and so networking, or facilitating connections, is another important skill.

To start something new, whether tech or not, you do not need to be able to do all the parts, but you do need to understand them and ensure things are done. What is easy or hard will vary depending on one’s own strengths and personal challenges.

Doing this has taken a lot of grit. Things go wrong and when you are so invested – time, finances and heart –it is more than tough. It can take a toll personally and on one’s family. But I go back to the joy of creating, building and connecting. The tenacity –just as in writing—is in the continued revision.

 

Sussu: You contact agents, writers, and editors. How do you contact them? Do you get a lot of rejections? 

Brooke: Agents and editors do critiques in our online First Pages events and sometimes they give talks for us as well. I research in advance and often work via referrals, either from agents who have done First Pages with Inked Voices in the past, or from our writers who may have met the person at a conference. I look for editorial agents and those who are strong teachers and mentors.

Sending an email is usually easiest. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to see the person speak and I will approach them after. When I first started, the process was a bit scary – who was I to do this? But the format has been awesome for both writers and agents and so my lack of confidence has faded. It is a matter of fit: what is the person acquiring and interested in coaching? What are the places I am trying to fill? How booked is the person’s schedule?

 

Sussu: What did you learn from creating this site? 

Brooke: There are so many levels to this question and the truth of things is that I learn something new every day. This is the first venture I’ve undertaken, and while I’ve had the background training in business and management-level experience, putting all the pieces together is a different matter. It seems easier on paper. J

From an expertise perspective, I’ve become very comfortable with the tech development process through work on Inked Voices and our writing tracker app Ink On. I’ve also learned much about building strong writing groups by working with writers, and observing successful and failed groups. Inked Voices is a 70-group strong learning lab.

I get the most joy from connecting with people individually and connecting others together. Perhaps the biggest lesson is one in humanity. I am humbled at the commitment, passion and belief that many of our writers bring to their work. I am inspired by what writers give in the way of their time and hearts to support other writers. And I feel too aware of the terrible challenges that people go through in their lives, that impact them as writers, as people. With that awareness, I try as much as possible to assume good intentions and give people the benefit of the doubt.

It goes back to connection. And I am lucky to be able to connect with writers through this medium.

 

If you liked this article, please connect to Sussu Leclerc on her website: Novel Without Further Ado, on Twitter: @bookriders1, and on Pinterest: bookriders1.