Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Three Authors, Three Questions: July 2012

Our guests for July are mystery and YA authors Rebecca Cantrell and Sophie Littlefield and thriller author Andrew Gross.

Welcome to Three Authors, Three Questions.

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Rebecca Cantrell's novels have won the Bruce Alexander and the Macavity awards and been nominated for the Barry, APPY, RT Reviewers Choice, and Shriekfest Film Festival awards. Her latest novel, A City of Broken Glass, is scheduled for release today. Her short stories are included in the “First Thrills” anthology. Rebecca also wrote the critically-acclaimed YA cell phone novel iDrakula as Bekka Black. Currently, she lives in Hawaii with her husband, her son, and too many geckoes to count.

For more information about Rebecca and her novels, visit her websites, Rebecca Cantrell and iDracula by Bekka Black. On Twitter she is @rebeccacantrell and @bekka_black. On Facebook, find her as Rebecca Cantrell, Author.


1. Rebecca, what writing techniques do you use to bring your characters to life for your readers?

This sounds simple, but it’s not — I do whatever I need to do to know the characters well enough to hear their voices in my head and get them onto the page.

• Some characters pop up loud and fully formed, like Hannah Vogel’s brother Ernst. I knew who he was, what he wanted, how he would react in a given situation. I just followed him around and let him talk.

• Others I discover over time and the course of writing several books, like Lars Lang. He has surprised me in every single book. He never does what the outline tells him to; his motivations are often opaque; and his secrets are always darker than I expect.

• For still others, like Hannah Vogel, I do complicated character biographies and interview them on their goals in a particular novel or scene. I know a great deal about her parents, her childhood, her time between books in Switzerland, and other things that never make it into the novels. All that backstory helps me to make her character consistent and believable, to give her a rich life both on and off the page.

2. What are your thoughts on using blogs and social media (especially Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads) to promote your name and your books?

• I like being able to connect with readers about my work, so I’m grateful those portals are there, but it’s time away from writing which, like everyone else, I can barely spare. I guess the short answer is: conflicted.

3. How creative are you in other areas of your life, especially your hobbies?

• Right now I’m moving to Berlin, so my hobbies include throwing things away and packing. Not very creative, I’m afraid.

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Andrew Gross is the author of New York Times bestsellers Reckless, The Blue Zone, The Dark Tide, Don’t Look Twice and Eyes Wide Open and co-author of five No. 1 bestsellers with James Patterson. He is an international bestseller, with his novels now published in 25 countries. Andrew has degrees from Middlebury College and Columbia University, and lives in Westchester County, NY with his wife Lynn. They have three children. His new release (July 10, 2012) is 15 Seconds.

To learn more, visit Andrew's website.You can also find him on FacebookTwitter  and MySpace.


1. Andrew, what writing techniques do you use to bring your characters to life for your readers?

I'm often told, characters that are deeply drawn and felt are one of my signatures. My whole mission, writer wise, is to create characters you can feel and invest my readers in their plight within the first ten pages-- and then put them in danger! I not only want the reader to give a damn about them, which is kind of central to a thriller, but feel intensely what they are going through. To this end, I usually draw characters both physically and characteristically from people I might know, or know of, because the degree to which I can refer to them keeps them fresh and humane to me. Make them likeable: A sense of humor usually helps, something self-deprecating; some life challenge they've had to overcome; scarred in a war; pint sized but tenacious; a woman proving herself in a male dominated world. But go back to the one thing--like a one sentence message the reader will always remember. That makes them stand out and defines who they are.

2. What are your thoughts on using blogs and social media (especially Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads) to promote your name and your books?

Every successful writer is using social media. If they're not, they better get on it. "Branding," the keyword in publishing marketing meetings, creating a marketing identity around one's books, is a 12 month process today, not just two or three month bracketed around your pub date. Since publishers are not paying for this cycle, it's up to you, the writer, and the idea of creating personal relationships with fans and getting your branding messages out--dimensionalizing who you are as a person, not just a writer--is pivotal in today's digital world.

3. How creative are you in other areas of your life, especially your hobbies?

Before I wrote, I was in the sports apparel business, and I always spent a lot more time in the design room than in the boardroom. So I'm a great clothes advance scout for my wife, always sniffing around ahead of her. I also do the cooking in my house--and I'm not half bad! For a Jewish guy, I can compete on pasta with any Italian, and have sous-chefed for some top notch Asian cooks in competitions as well.

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Sophie Littlefield is the author of the Edgar-nominated, Anthony Award-winning Bad Day for Sorry mystery series. She writes paranormal young adult fiction (Hanging by a Thread, Delacorte) and the post-apocalyptic Aftertime series for Harlequin Luna. A past RWA chapter president, Sophie lives in Northern California. The most recent release in the Stella Hardesty series is A Bad Day for Mercy.

To learn more about Sophie and her books, visit her website and her blog.  She has also been known to hang out on Twitter  and Facebook.


1. Sophie, what writing techniques do you use to bring your characters to life for your readers?

It's important to have a reasonable idea of their backstory before beginning, since that will affect the way the story unfolds, so I spend a little time making notes on the subject. (This also helps me avoid dumping it all in the first chapter, where it is almost never an asset). Beyond that, however, my characters emerge over the course of a first draft, their attributes, habits, and quirks, accumulating as I go along. Then I'll take the time to organize this information in one place. I make any tweaks and additions before going back to revise, taking extra care to consider how these characters will affect each other in relationship.

I don't seem to have trouble choosing colorful or interesting attributes for my story guys, and this I owe to a habit of endless observation and conjecture. I don't do anything formal, like record impressions in a little book, but you can bet I'm spying everywhere I go and making up stories about everyone I see. Loved ones are fair game!

2. What are your thoughts on using blogs and social media (especially Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads) to promote your name and your books?

I have mixed feelings about these. I do enjoy connecting with people there, especially because my job tends to be solitary, but I am very strict with myself about the writing coming first. If one or the other must suffer neglect on a particular day, I will not sacrifice writing time to do promotion. I also refuse to do any promotion that feels unseemly to me. There is a fine line between sharing a love of books in our community, getting to know each other through forums such as this one (did I say thank you for having me yet? ;-) - - and blatant self-pimping - sometimes I despair that the places we gather are turning into frenzied markets where nothing interesting can be heard above the din.

3. How creative are you in other areas of your life, especially your hobbies?

I've had little time to practice my hobbies in the last few years, and I miss them and hope to return to them. As a child I loved anything crafty and it's a rare 70's craft that escaped my attention: I'm your gal for decoupage, rug hooking, tole painting; I did it all. I also sewed like mad. I was an unstoppable girl scout leader and classroom mom, and we had an entire garage full of craft supplies (it was a very special kind of hoarding, where boxes of dozens of Aileens craft glue tubes shared shelf space with thousands of pipe cleaners and reams of construction paper.) My favorite adulthood pastimes were quilting and gardening, and I had a beautiful garden featuring roses and native Western plants before we moved.

I also love to sketch and draw. And I like to think I'm an exceptional note-passer - I'm definitely the person you want to sit next to during a boring presentation!

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Mini-interviews were conducted and compiled by Pat Stoltey. Chiseled in Rock thanks Rebecca Cantrell, Andrew Gross, and Sophie Littlefield for graciously agreeing to participate in the Three Authors, Three Questions series.

6 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Pat - Oh, such great guests for your interview!! And it's so interesting to see how everyone approaches the art of character development differently. I love the creativity question too :-).

Janet Fogg said...

Pat, thank you for another terrific trio of interviews. Such thoughtful responses, and their views on social media rang home!

Hart Johnson said...

Oh, this was fun to look at. I'm always amazed at the variability in that character question. I think I'm most like Sophie there--I draw a map of relationships, but the actually personalities, I let THEM show ME (with the exception of villains--they often show up late but are leaving signs earlier, so I need to sort of know them before I meet them). Interesting, too, on the creative stuff. I know a number of writers who also paint or draw. It's not me... I have begun to suspect, though, there are genre differences between fine artists and the rest of us.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Thanks, Margot. It's great that so many authors are willing to participate in "Three Authors, Three Questions" -- I'm always on the lookout for more suggestions.

Janet, this is definitely a pleasing trio.

Hi Hart. I sometimes think creative people don't know where to stop...if they're not painting, then they're knitting their own designs or taking photos or even coming up with amazing original recipes.

Pat Tillett said...

Very good interviews! It was interesting to see the different takes on social media and how it can help and harm the process.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Hi Pat, and thanks. It's good to see you here at Chiseled in Rock. I'm tempted to ask every author that same question each month. Social media and how to balance engagement with selling is on everyone's mind these days.