S.D. Grimm is another of the amazing writers I know from PitchWars, a mentorship and agent-pitching program I participated in a couple of years ago. She managed to snag a publishing deal with Gilead Publishing for her young adult fantasy novel Scarlet Moon, which was just released. She's stopping by my blog today to talk about her book and her path to publication.
Sarena Ulibarri: What was your inspiration for writing Scarlet Moon?
S.D. Grimm: I love animals. The novel I wrote prior to this one (which sits in a proverbial dark, secret drawer) was about animals. All the characters were animals. And one day I decided to get serious about publishing. Then I decided I was going to write about people. I still wanted animals to be a big part of the story so I chose to write about a race of people who can commune with nature. These people basically get certain talents or abilities from animals—and they reciprocate, giving animals certain abilities too. Then I researched some really cool animals, including mythological ones, and the story world really grew from there.
SU: What has your journey to finding an agent and the road to publication been like?
SDG: Hard. Crazy. The thing about this business is it’s not for the faint of heart. You better your craft all the time. You build your social media presence. You try to send the right work at the right time to the right people. You attempt to stay ahead of the curve without knowing where the curve is. You survive getting your heart broken again and again and again. You don’t give up. You make connections. Friends. Partners in writing who help and encourage you. You have fun. You learn a lot about writing and about yourself. And when something good happens and you take another step forward down this path, all those people celebrate with you. You find community. You work your heart out and wear it on the pages of your work. People will crumple it up, step on it, and some will even use it wipe the snot off their own faces. And then there will be those who feel what you’re trying to say. They’ll cherish it, and they’ll recommend that others read it. Some will misunderstand it. Others will get it. And still that journey—probably on the road less traveled—is just beginning.
SU: How many books did you write before being published?
SDG: Three. They’re each part of a trilogy I started when I was in middle school. It’s about a dog of magical heritage who’s supposed to save the world, except he got hit by a car and now has amnesia. They live in a proverbial drawer and who knows, maybe someday they’ll see the light of day, but I’m not holding my breath.
SU: What kind of things did you learn from your PitchWars mentor when you were getting your PitchWars manuscript ready to query?
SDG: So much. Molly Lee was my awesome mentor, and she was amazing with big-picture edits. She took knowledge from her critiques with agency sibling writers and applied those tips to my story so I could see what was working and what wasn't. She was fabulous at brainstorming and always let me bounce ideas off of her. I loved that not only was she willing to help me fix what wasn't working, she was also quick to tell me what was working and why. The why part was invaluable. I actually learned a lot about my strengths as a writer from her.
I would say the most helpful thing I took away from her advice will be applied to all my future stories is don't try to force something into the story that's not working. I had this relationship planned between these two characters and it just ended up being uncomfortable. On paper, for my plot outline, it worked. But once those characters actually had personality and were interacting, it flopped. So be flexible and willing to change what's not working in the story instead of trying to force it because it looks good on paper.
SU: I loved seeing the video by your cover artist about all the work that went into creating the cover art! Did you have any input on the cover design, or did you just see it in its beautiful final form?
SDG: It was amazing wasn't it? My cover artist, the amazing Kirk DouPonce, actually read the story so he could get a feel for the cover and characters. He then talked with me about the idea he had. I was over-the-scarlet-moon excited because I wanted Jayden (my main character) to be in the woods with daggers and a wolf. And that was exactly his vision. And then he said he was going to make the dagger glow with the blue mist and I was jumping up and down, because it was so perfect. So he asked me what Jayden looked like and I sent him some awesome photos (taken by my dad) of my sister wearing a costume my mom made that portrayed my character. He loved the costume and asked me to mail it to him for a photo shoot! So the costume the girl on my cover is wearing? Yeah, my awesome mom made it. Cool right? I was really excited to have that much brainstorming input into the cover. And guys, I've seen the cover for book two already. And can I just say SQUEAL! That is all.
S. D. Grimm’s first love in writing is young adult speculative fiction. She is represented by Julie Gwinn of the Seymour Agency and her debut novel, Scarlet Moon, is slated to be published in October 2016. When she’s not writing or editing, Sarah enjoys reading (of course!), making clay dragons for her Grimmlies store on Etsy, practicing kickboxing and Brazilian jiu jitsu, training dogs, and doing anything outdoorsy with the family. Her office is anywhere she can curl up with her laptop and at least one large-sized dog.
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An Apocalypse Without Green Chile: A Character Interview with Rhona Long, Protagonist of MACHINATIONS and COUNTERPART
Today I'm talking to Rhona Long, the protagonist of MACHINATIONS and COUNTERPART. She's the leader of an underground resistance against a deadly machine uprising, and she is just the kind of badass you want on your side when the robots go wrong. A couple of months ago, I interviewed author Hayley Stone, but now I've managed to access an exclusive portal into the story world in order to ask Rhona a few questions.
Sarena Ulibarri: Okay, Rhona, here's something that's been bothering me. You and Samuel grew up in New Mexico (that's where I live — Go, Lobos!), and now you're stuck hiding in a bunker in Alaska while machines try to kill you. How do you cope without green chile? For most New Mexicans I know, that would be an apocalypse in and of itself.
Rhona Long: Two words, my friend: memory loss. You can’t miss what you can’t remember, right?
Though now you have me curious and… damn. Yep. Now you’ve got me hankering for this legendary chile. Thanks a lot. Though I guess that’s one good thing about having a faulty memory: you get to experience a lot of great things again for the first time. I’ll have to ask Samuel about it later. Watch him turn out to be a closet Mexican food fan.
SU: How did it come to be that Alaska is the last holdout against the machines?
RL: As much as I’d like to take the credit for it, everything was in place before I arrived. McKinley base was established by the US, as part of some continuity of government plan. Alaska was the perfect location because it’s so freaking cold. The ice messes with the machines, and the terrain gives their mobile units a lot of trouble. Plus, the mountain itself, Denali, protects the base from detection and aerial bombardment. So I guess you could say, paranoia, dumb luck, and the climate. That’s what’s saving the human race.
SU: The machines in your world are eliminating humans because they decided it was the logical way to stop human wars and cruelty. At least the TVs and DVD players will still obey your commands. What are your favorite films to watch while hiding out in your secret paramilitary base?
RL: Anything with Ewan McGregor. (Don’t tell Camus.)
No, but seriously, Moulin Rouge is one of my favorites. What can I say? I’m a sucker for a good romance. Samuel’s also got me on a strict diet of old sci-fi and fantasy movies that he claims I used to love. He’s been right so far. All twelve of the Star Wars films were fun, and The Princess Bride always manages to lift my spirits. Zelda keeps trying to convince me to watch the second Terminator, but honestly the first one was enough.
SU: Time for a serious question: You're a clone, resurrected from the DNA and memories of the original Rhona Long. What is it like to be the only clone in a world of non-clones, especially when humans are becoming an endangered species?
RL: To be honest, I don’t think about being a clone as much now as I first did. I mean, I try not to, anyway. You ever hear the expression about carrying around a glass full of water? It’s like that. The longer you hold on to the glass, the heavier it gets, until finally it’s this crushing weight. It becomes all you think about. Better to set it down somewhere, and only pick it up when you really need a drink.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, I’m done holding that glass of water, you know? I know what I am. I know who I am. If you’re asking me if I think that cloning is a solution to the genocide of the human race, I don’t know. I’ve never really considered it. But probably not. Clones come with a lot of emotional baggage. In case that wasn’t already obvious.
SU: What's next for you and the other survivors?
RL: I’m optimistic about a treaty between the North Americans factions, the Chinese, the North Koreans, and the New Soviets—I guess you’d still call them Russians in your world, huh? Politics be crazy, am I right? Such a coalition should strengthen humanity, divide the load, and make it easier to carry the burden of this conflict. I believe that together we can accomplish far more than we’ve managed to while apart.
Whoa, sorry. Went into full Commander mode there for a second. Habit. Honestly, I’m just trying to take it one day at a time. Who knows what the future holds in store?
Though now I’m hoping the answer is green chile...
About the Author
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Hayley Stone has lived her entire life in sunny California, where the weather is usually perfect and nothing as exciting as a robot apocalypse ever happens. When not reading or writing, she freelances as a graphic designer, falls in love with videogame characters, and analyzes buildings for velociraptor entry points. She holds a bachelor’s degree in history and a minor in German from California State University, Sacramento. Counterpart is her second novel, and a choice for Amazon’s Best Sci-fi and Fantasy Books of the Month for October.
At the 2014 MileHiCon, I went to a panel titled "So You Want to be in an Anthology." I expected this to be a discussion of how to find and submit to anthologies, tips for making it through the slush pile, maybe even methods for approaching anthology editors who don't hold open submissions sessions. There was a little bit of that, but what it turned out to be was an exclusive opportunity to submit to a charity anthology—the only ones allowed to submit to it were the people who attended the panel that day. The topic was "sidekicks": write a story in which the sidekick, rather than the hero, is the protagonist.
I was in town for MileHiCon, but I left the convention early because my dad had bought tickets for the Chihuly exhibit at the Denver Botanic Gardens. Chihuly is an artist who does elaborate large-scale glass sculptures such as the ones pictured here. They are often set up in parks, gardens, or historical monuments, working with the landscape to enhance the effect of the artwork. These glass sculptures were set up all through the Botanic Gardens, creating a beautiful and magical scene. In the visitor's center, they showed a documentary about the construction of these installations, and as I watched, I started thinking about the people who assist Chihuly in his wild, abstract creations. And then I realized that could be my "sidekick" protagonist: an artist's assistant (in space, of course). I keep a 6x4 notebook in my purse for just such flashes of inspiration, so I pulled it out and started scribbling notes. A few days after MileHiCon was over, I wrote out a first draft, and titled it "Regarding the Incident on the Yellow Planet."
To the Ladies, Gentlemen and Non-binaries of the Interstellar Arts Council: Please, I can explain. I know it looks as though I am solely responsible for the sabotage of the largest royal art commission in the galaxy's history, and, well, that's partially true. But even villains must have their motivations, and I assure you, I am not the villain of this story. By the time you read this message, I will no longer be at the address of its origin. Oskar taught me well the importance of leaving no fingerprints behind.
The story was accepted into the anthology, and I was able to meet with a number of the other contributors at the 2015 MileHiCon to sign each others' books. For many of the contributors, this was their first published story. It was something like my 40th, but it's one of the more fun publication experiences I've had. Even better, each sale of Sidekicks in either ebook or paperback goes to benefit MileHiCon, an absolutely wonderful small science fiction and fantasy convention that I haven't missed a year of since I discovered it.
I've been pining for this book ever since I first heard it announced, and I was lucky enough to win an advance copy. It definitely lived up to all the hype! A Shadow Bright and Burning is like a Lovecraftian Harry Potter, with some shades of a not-as-graphic version of Penny Dreadful (it is YA, after all). It's dark and beautiful, with characters who will haunt your thoughts long after you set the book down.
Jessica Cluess was a year ahead of me in the Clarion Workshop; she attended in 2013 and I attended in 2014. Clarion has a history of turning out amazing and successful writers, and it's always exciting to see writers from recent classes making a name for themselves.
Jessica was nice enough to talk with me today about her novel, her influences, and her favorite Clarion experiences.
Sarena Ulibarri: In a nutshell, what was the path from manuscript to publication for A SHADOW BRIGHT AND BURNING?
Jessica Cluess: After I finished editing, I queried the book for five months. One week after sending my query to him, the man who became my agent offered me representation. After that, we polished the manuscript for several months before finally putting it on submission. That was nerve-wracking, but I’m glad we worked on it for so long, because it hugely paid off. We had an offer after less than two weeks on sub, and went to auction after that. All told, it was nearly two years from the first day I sat down to write the book to the day we got the offer to publish. It seemed long at the time, but now it feels like a whirlwind.
SU: What advice do you have for young writers who are struggling through the first draft of a fantasy novel?
JC: Beyond anything else, especially when it’s fantasy, I say this: it’s better to write a galumphing, messy, weird draft that has something passionate and exciting on every page than it is to write a clean, perfectly constructed draft that you don’t feel anything for. It’s actually easier to edit the weird one, because at least you know the feelings you want to evoke. Bottom line: just get it done. You can’t edit until you’ve written.
SU: What books, authors, or films most influenced you when writing A SHADOW BRIGHT AND BURNING?
JC: My biggest influence was Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. I describe it as Jane Austen’s Lord of the Rings, and it really is that. If you love a comedy of manners mixed with an outrageously interesting magical system, you’ll dig it.
SU: What’s your favorite memory from the Clarion Workshop?
JC: The water gun fight we had with Robert Crais and Kim Stanley Robinson. There is a picture of me shooting Stan in the back while he runs away that is among my top five favorite pictures of anything.
SU: How many stories did you write at Clarion, and what became of them?
JC: I wrote five stories, because during week one we reviewed one of my submission stories. The truth is, nothing much has yet come from those stories, largely because I’m not really a natural short fiction writer. A lot of the people in the program were already masters of the short story, so I had a lot of catching up to do. One of them has already won a Nebula for her short fiction! I may see if I can get a novel out of some of them; my stories always ran on the long side.
SU: Do you have any readings or signings coming up? Where can readers find you?
JC: Yes! I’ll be on tour the last week of October, in San Francisco, Denver, Salt Lake City and Austin. It’s going to be a whirlwind week!
About the Author
Jessica Cluess is a writer, a graduate of Northwestern University, and an unapologetic nerd. After college, she moved to Los Angeles, where she served coffee to the rich and famous while working on her first novel. When she’s not writing books, she’s an instructor at Writopia Lab, helping kids and teens tell their own stories.
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