Writing and Publishing that Second Book


Today’s guest is Michele Young-Stone whose life’s dream was to write and publish a novel. A former English teacher, she achieved her dream and surpassed it with the release (this month) of her second novel Above Us Only Sky. Her first novel, The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors, was published in 2010 and was a Target Book Club pick in 2011. Lydia Netzer, author of Shine Shine Shine and How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky, says, “Young-Stone is a master writer, and her deft control of this novel’s many moving pieces puts her in the highest echelon of our craft.”

Michele is here with author Heidi Durrow for a discussion about the sophomore novel. Heidi is the author of The Girl Who Fell From the Sky, a winner of the PEN/Belwether Prize for Fiction, described by Barbara Kingsolver as “[A] breathless telling of a tale we’ve never heard before. Haunting and lovely, pitch-perfect, this book could not be more timely.”

“The sophomore effort—whether in novels, music, visual art or any soulful endeavor—is devastating to the ego, more so than the initial publication.  You’ve already been rejected for the first book, most likely hundreds of times if you’re like me. But now, someone is counting on you, investing in you, to produce something of worth. 

Of today’s post, Michele says: “The sophomore effort—whether in novels, music, visual art or any soulful endeavor—is devastating to the ego, more so than the initial publication.  You’ve already been rejected for the first book, most likely hundreds of times if you’re like me. But now, someone is counting on you, investing in you, to produce something of worth.  It’s assumed, presumed, and hoped that you have this gift in you, that you’re not a one-book wonder. The pressure is on.  The school chums are gone.  It’s all you!  Can you do it?”

Michele lives on the coast of North Carolina with her amazing son, supportive husband, an obsessive-compulsive cocker spaniel and sensitive bearded dragon.  When Michele is not writing, she is crafting in some form and doing Zumba. You can connect with her on her blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

Writing and Publishing that Second Book

Heidi Durrow and I met while we were both promoting our first novels, The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors, mine, and The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, hers. We met at Word Brooklyn where we shared the stage, discussing and answering questions about writing and publishing a first novel. It seemed only fitting that we now discuss the second novel, and how it’s an entirely different beast.

Michele: For you, what’s been the most difficult thing about writing the second novel?  Do you think, as I do, that there’s a stigmatism about sophomore efforts, and it makes it even more difficult?  Are you terrified of failing? I realize that while I’m writing, I have to forget the business side of it in order to be creative. [Read more…]


Navy Commander Rick Campbell Makes Waves by Penning Military Thrillers

Rick CampbellUnboxeders, I hope you’ll join me today in welcoming retired Navy Commander Rick Campbell to Writer Unboxed for a brief interview about his writing.

For more than twenty-five years, as we slept on pillow-topped queen-sized mattresses, he claimed a rack aboard one of four nuclear submarines, working to keep us safe. On his last submarine, he was one of the two men whose permission was required to launch the submarine’s nuclear warhead-tipped missiles.

He finished his career with tours in the Pentagon and in the Washington Navy Yard. Upon retirement from the Navy, Rick tried his hand at writing and was offered an initial two-book deal from Macmillan / St. Martin’s Press. (Since expanded to another two-book deal.)

His first novel, The Trident Deception, was hailed by Booklist as “The best submarine novel since Tom Clancy’s classic – The Hunt for Red October”.

Rick’s second novel, Empire Rising, is due out Feb. 24th and critical praise has been equally profuse. Publishers Weekly said of it: “Another riveting military action thriller by Rick Campbell. A MUST READ for fans of this genre.” And Booklist? “The story rockets around the globe and the pages cannot turn fast enough. Readers who miss Clancy will devour Campbell.”

Here’s the blurb for Empire Rising as described by Barnes & Noble:

Very much in the spirit of Jack Ryan, Campbell has crafted a tightly plotted and horrifyingly believable story in which China, desperate for access to oil in a near-future where supplies are running low, declares war and reveals itself to be much better prepared than anyone expected. After a military disaster that sends the United States reeling and leaves the Chinese free to act, a trio of well-written characters work to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Combining thrilling espionage-style adventures, detailed naval battles, and incredible SEAL Team missions, Campbell has created what might be the perfect military thriller.

Rick lives with his wife and three children in the greater Washington, D.C. area. You can find him at his website and on his Facebook page.

Jan: Welcome, Rick!  To begin with, shall we establish the interview ground rules? Given your background as a college wrestler and your impressive military career, if my questioning gets out of line, do I need to be concerned for my safety or ability to travel?

Rick: Only if you’re flying over the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans.  :)

The Trident Deception and Empire Rising are the first military thrillers I’ve read, and I was immediately struck by the balancing acts you’re require to perform. To begin with, civilian-readers such as myself require ongoing education about technical details, military history, and jargon so that the narrative makes sense, and so that we might appreciate the challenges facing your characters. At the same time, you don’t want readers choking on information. How do you ensure you hit the sweet spot between information and overload?

Rick: You’ve identified a critical issue I struggle with. [Read more…]


Interview: Ellen Edwards, Executive Editor at Penguin Random House

image001I have been with Ellen Edwards at New American Library, a division of Penguin Random House, since I became a traditionally published author. In an age where writers often lament that they do not get edited, I can firmly say that not only do I get edited, but Ellen’s sharp eye, brilliance, and insights have greatly enhanced my work. She is a master at finding the diamond in the rough, and like any great coach, she encourages me to grow and learn from each writing experience. My editorial relationship with Ellen has been one of the most positive aspects of my career, thus far.

I am honored that Ellen took time from her merciless editing cycle to answer some of my questions for those of you hoping to publish or already published with a traditional house. Even those of you who have gone an independent route, I think, will find some of her advice very helpful.


How many years have you been involved in publishing, and what were some of your titles?

I have been in publishing for 36 years, the last 16 of them at New American Library, a division of Penguin Random House. I specialized in romance for the first 20 years and am proud to have worked with Kathleen Woodiwiss, Catherine Anderson, Lisa Kleypas, Loretta Chase, and Laura Kinsale. Titles with NAL include WHISTLING IN THE DARK by Lesley Kagen, ROOFTOPS OF TEHRAN by Mahbod Seraji, and FLIGHT OF THE SPARROW by Amy Belding Brown. Some current authors are: Monica McInerney, Jeff High, Stephanie Thornton, Simone St. James, Susan Meissner, Donna Thorland, Jeanne Mackin, C. S. Harris, Kate Carlisle, and of course Erika Robuck.

What changes over the years do see as positive for the industry? [Read more…]


Drawing from Real Life in Fiction

Looking back at our own livesUnlike many people I know, I’ve never wanted to write the story of my life. And I’ve come to belatedly believe that this lack of autobiographic desire on my part has affected my fiction writing, and not necessarily for the best.

I say “belatedly” because I’ve been writing fiction for close to 15 years, but only a few years ago did I start to readjust what I now see as a rather closed and negative mindset I’d been maintaining.

In the past, I used to consciously avoid drawing on my own life and experiences when writing fiction. I’ll admit that I probably got a bit snobby about it, making blithe statements like “I prefer to write about lives far more interesting than my own,” and looking down my nose at authors who wrote what I considered to be thinly veiled memoir, but who positioned their work as fiction. Frankly, I thought they were being both lazy and self-absorbed in doing so. I’ve since reevaluated that stance.

So what has changed? Well, despite being an opinionated bastard, I do pride myself on actually listening to others, particularly those who are further along in their literary journeys. So I pay attention to the advice and insights of successful authors, and I make an attempt to try their advice on for size before dismissing it. To that end, today I’d like to share some insights I gained from two very different writers: WU’s own Barbara O’Neal, and the author of the Jack Reacher series, Lee Child.

A wise woman weighs in on the stories we each own

Back in 2011, I was fortunate enough to see Barbara O’Neal presenting at the RWA Women’s Fiction Conference (back when the RWA still acknowledged women’s fiction as a valid category, but don’t get me started on that sore subject). At the time, Barbara was serving as the “Wise Woman” for the Women’s Fiction chapter, a title she more than deserved. The entire conference was terrific, but I think I got the biggest personal takeaway from Barbara’ segment, where she made this simple but powerful statement:

“We’re all stuck with our own stories.”

[Read more…]


Therese Walsh’s Sisters on The Moon Sisters

The Moon Sisters - 3DSeveral WU’ers encouraged me to put up an interview today to help spread the word about The Moon Sisters, and while I recognized the value in doing that I also felt the idea lacked…spark. And then I thought, hmm, I wonder if my real sisters might be willing to step up today to talk about this book we know so well.

Let me introduce you to them. Aimee and Heather are my sisters. They won’t refer to me here as Therese; they’ll call me Teri (and you can, too!). Our childhood was made up of many normal childhood things–ice cream trucks going through the neighborhood, bicycle rides, dogs and cats (and guinea pigs and hamsters), favorite meals, arguments, ice down the back, water balloons to the face, and a lot of love. Our lives tipped upside-down, though, when our father died at the age of fifty-six. I’ve written a lot about that lately, and about my sisters, all with their gracious permission. This isn’t easy stuff to talk about, but over the years it’s become easier for all three of us. We’ve healed, each in our own ways. Death of a parent plays a significant role in The Moon Sisters; it forms the basis for a story about recovery of hope after grief, long histories and secrets, dark woods and train hoppers, synesthesia and ghost lights. And, of course, the complex blood bond that is sisterhood.

I hope you enjoy getting to know my family a little bit. And I hope you’ll stop by my personal website today, for a fun contest (and a fun video put together with the help of former WU’er Yuvi Zalkow) involving the taste of hope.

Q: What would you like people to know about The Moon Sisters?

Aimee: The Moon Sisters is a novel about despair, family bonds, coming of age, and most of all, it’s a story about desperate and heartfelt hope. It evokes laughter and tears, recognition and enlightenment, and it is a story that will stay in the mind long after the last page has been turned. Although it is listed under the genre of “women’s fiction,” it is a story that can speak to anyone: male, female, young, old, and everyone in between. Because really…who doesn’t need a little bit of hope?

Q: Do you see yourself in the story at all?

Heather: Initially, my first response was no. But in a separate conversation with Teri regarding our father’s passing and talking about how I coped with it, she said, “Doesn’t that sound like anyone from the book?”  And I stammered and stuttered and said, “Well, I suppose I sound a little like Jazz!” I felt that what I needed to do for my family was to shut down and step up; that was my choice. You can say I gave Atlas a run for his money.

Aimee: I personally felt a very strong connection with Olivia. We share similar whimsical natures, vagabonding and a love of adventure, a touch of unrestrained energy, and a hope–often masked as confidence–that everything is going to be all right. However, I can easily relate to Jazz’s anger and her midnight black outlook on life. I was once there. That is one of the wonderful things about The Moon Sisters. Thanks to Teri’s crafting, the colorful and very real characters are easy to bond with, in part because they are experiencing life in a way that all readers can somehow transpose onto their own personal life stories.

Q: Does any part of the book–aside from the loss of a parent–ring true in terms of your family dynamics, or seem like a slice of your family’s history? [Read more…]