Sunday Interview #26 – Colleen Nelson

Today, I’d like to introduce you to fellow Great Plains author, Colleen Nelson. I reviewed her first YA novel, Tori By Design, in Friday’s post. Please put your hands together and welcome Colleen. (Clap, clap! Whoot, whoot!)

Colleen Nelson

Welcome to my blog, Colleen! Please tell my readers al little about yourself.

Thanks for the opportunity to be on your blog, Susan! It’s great to see other writers making an effort to reach readers and writers through social media. 

I am the mother of two boys, and the step-mom to three kids ages 19-25. I taught junior high for ten years before going on a very extended maternity leave and now I teach preschool and write. I spend a lot of my time doing volunteer work for my community centre (I am the president at Tuxedo Community Centre) and my son’s school. I love to travel, sew and read.

What made you realize you wanted to be a writer?

When I was on maternity leave with my first son, James, I decided to take a class through the Manitoba Writers Guild called ‘Writing for Children’ with Margaret Shaw-McKinnon. I need to keep my brain active, but was house-bound with my infant son. Writing became a great outlet to be creative and provided focus to my day. As soon as James went down for a nap, I found my way to the computer and spent a few blissful hours lost in my head with characters…instead of doing laundry or the dishes! I guess you could say, writing started as more of a hobby than a career.

Tori By Design

That’s kind of how it started for me, too…and who wants to do laundry or the dishes when you could be writing, right? 🙂

What gave you the idea for Tori By Design?

My husband’s work is based in New York, so we have an apartment in NYC and I’ve spent a lot of time living there. For a while, I took a leave from teaching to move out there. During that time, I volunteered at an Upper East Side private school. It was there that I started to wonder what a girl from Winnipeg would experience if she moved to NYC. 

I also love fashion, so I wrote Tori as a wanna-be fashion designer because NYC is the perfect place for a girl who loves clothes to live.

That is so cool! 🙂

How did you create the character of Tori?

Tori is a composite of two special girls in my life: my step-daughters, Sacha and Chloe, and a little bit of me. Watching my step-daughters go through their adolescence and teaching junior high school students, gave me different perspectives on what it is like to be a teenager these days. Tori has a lot of great characteristics, but she is also self-centered. Every character needs her flaw, right? My editor, Anita Daher, really helped to draw out Tori’s character arc and develop her into a well-rounded character.

Anita is such a great editor, isn’t she? She really knows how to bring out the best in our work. 🙂

Your descriptions of New York make your readers feel as if they are right there. I understand you lived there for a while. Please tell us about your experience in The Big Apple.

I absolutely LOVE NYC! It is my second home and I know the city very well. NYC has a pulse and pace that is unlike anywhere else I have ever been. Tokyo and London come close, but they don’t have the same aggression and forge-ahead attitude that you find in NYC. Living there, I worked as a docent at two museums, went to Broadway shows, lived in a tiny, crummy apartment, took the subway and discovered what makes the city so great. I love that each neighborhood has its own distinct character, from cobble stone streets in SOHO to the brownstones of the Upper West Side, no two areas are the same. The restaurants, shopping and access to cultural instituions means there is never ‘nothing to do’. The big buildings and sights get old fast and I always tell friends who visit to explore the neighborhoods to really get a sense of the city. Eat at a diner, shop at boutiques, visit the small museums and talk to people. New Yorkers are so friendly, helpful and proud of their city.

Sounds like a fantastic experience. You are very lucky! 🙂

I understand you are working on a new novel. Would you like to give my readers a sneak peek or are you superstitious about discussing a Work In Progress?

I have three in the works. “The Fall” is out in March and is about four boys and the tragic accident that shapes their lives. It is geared towards an older teen audience than ‘Tori by Design’ and is a gritty reflection of how boys deal with grief. I am very excited about it and can’t wait to have it launched!

The other two books, one is with a publisher as we speak, but I haven’t heard feedback yet, is about a small, conservative Manitoba town and the secrets that its townspeople have kept hidden for decades. As the main character and a boy from a nearby reserve begin to discover the truth, they realize that the secrets that have kept them apart, are the very things drawing them closer together.

I’ve only completed a first draft of the fourth book, but it is about a girl who seeks refuge at her aunt’s cottage after a troubled upbringing. It deals with the complex relationships women have with each other, mother to mother, mother to daughter, sister to sister. I’m looking forward to continuing to work on it this winter.

Wow! Sounds like you’ve been pretty busy – and will be busy for awhile! They all have great story lines and I can’t wait to read them! 🙂

Now, for something a little more fun – what is your favourite comfort food?

A steaming cup of strong coffee in my favouite mug is the most comforting! But chocolate is a close second! Especially chewy chocolate chip cookies!

Yum! Me, too! 🙂

What is your workspace like? (Feel free to include a photo, if you like)

I’m too embarrassed to include a photo of my messy, cramped work area. I don’t do well with an empty desk (empty desk-empty mind?) so I make sure there’s always a few piles of papers, hand lotion, a couple of library books, pens, pencils, my calendar and some photos strewn around me. Maybe it’s a chicken and egg thing: I work best when it’s cluttered, or it’s cluttered because I’m working…

That sounds very much like my workplace! lol

Who is your favourite Young Adult author?

Tough one. I read a lot but, I have to say, I have a lot of respect for William Bell because his books were able to draw in boys who weren’t inclined to read. I think that young adult male audience is the toughest one to crack. His books ‘Stones’ and ‘Blue Helmet’ were popular books with the boys when I taught.

You’re right about how difficult it is drawing the teen boys to reading. I’ll have to check out his books. 🙂

Are there any social media sites you’d like to share with us?

I have to admit, I am brutal at updating things. I have a blog at http://colleennelson.blogspot.com but it’s turned into an info site for people going to NYC, more than anything about my writing. For “The Fall”, I’ve started to put together  a blog with links to articles and forums about how teens deal with traumatic events. I will send you the link when I get it started.

I am also on Facebook at colleennelson547/

Do you have any last words before we close?

Thanks again for this opportunity. I know doing the blog takes time away from your own writing, but you are providing a great way for authors to connect with their audience. It’s been a pleasure!

Glad you enjoyed the experience. Thank you for taking the time to chat with me, Colleen, and may your book sales be many. 🙂

Sunday Interview #16

Hi, Everyone! I would like to introduce another Canadian writer who was on a YA panel with me at the Word On The Water writer’s festival in Thunder Bay, Ontario last fall. Craig Russell has written the YA novel Black Bottle Man, a classic story about good versus evil.

Johnson House

Welcome, Craig!  Would you please tell us a little bit about yourself?

I grew up on a farm near Barnsley, MB. with four brothers and five sisters – an environment where you need to keep your stories straight.

I’ve practised law and now administer the Land Titles system for ~5,000 sq. miles of SW Manitoba for the Province.
My wife and I are restoring ‘Johnson House’ – a 1906 Victorian house in Brandon. It’s now a Municipal Heritage Site – http://www.gov.mb.ca/chc/hrb/mun/m224.html
So life is pretty busy.

It certainly sounds like it! Wow, restoring an old Victorian house – that would be amazing and a lot of work! 🙂

How long have you been writing? Did you always know you wanted to write?

Writing is a recent development for me. I’d been an actor and theatre director in Brandon for a number of years.  Hearing and speaking beautiful dialogue written by others opened my mind to the possibility of writing myself.  In 2006 my short dramatic work, The Unintended Consequences of Love was selected for the Carol Shields Festival of New Works, and I was hooked!

What does your writing process look like? Do you have a set time you prefer to write or do you just fit it in whenever you can?

I’m a closed-door writer. (I don’t understand how other writers can accomplish anything sitting in a coffee shop!) When writing, I aim for a solid three hours at the keyboard. I let the words (good & bad) flow. Later, I cut it to shreds, editing out the crap and keeping what’s worthwhile. Some years I’m able to set aside vacation time for a “writing week”. That’s been effective – a focused period of uninterrupted creative time.

Once you are finished a manuscript, what does editing look like for you?

It’s loud! Because of my theatre background I read the work aloud, in a dramatic fashion, listening for the ‘music’. Good work sings. Bad work reveals itself – and dies. Also – killing adverbs is a cardinal rule.

That’s fascinating! 🙂

Do you have a writers group, critique partner or beta reader that helps you with the process?

I don’t have time to read and comment on others’ work. So I’m not cut out for the writers group dynamic.

With Black Bottle Man I had a wonderful – and possibly unique – experience. With the help of eighteen local actors, we presented the story as a staged radio-play. Each of the three performances had an audience of ~150. Hearing the interplay between actors and audience was invaluable. It forces you to cut anything superfluous.

That certainly IS a unique way to edit!

Please describe the steps you took to get published. Did it take long once the manuscript was finished? Did you need an agent?

I don’t have an agent. After many edits, I sent BBM to four publishers. Anita Daher, the YA editor at Great Plains Publications was enthusiastic and her editing process was fast. It was about six months from her first call to the book launch.

Yes, she is a very quick and enthusiastic editor! 🙂

In which genres do you prefer to write?

My stories always include Fantasy or SF elements. Fantastic situations let you push characters to their limits.

They certainly do!

Do you write strictly YA or have you written in other genres?

I really don’t think about the reader’s age. As a teen I read novels written for adults and felt quite at home. Teen readers are just like adult readers. They’re smart.

Good point!

Product Details

Would you care to tell my readers a little more about Black Bottle Man?

I wrote Black Bottle Man for the smartest reader I could imagine. I think people sense the respect I have for the reader. When it works, the writer and the reader are a team, telling the story together.

The critical approval for BBM has been encouraging – an American Moonbeam Gold Medal, selection as a finalist for the Canadian Aurora Award, the ‘On the Same Page Award’ and two Manitoba Book Awards; and selection by Best Books for Children & Teens as “a title of exceptional calibre”. 
And wonderful reviews by:
CBC radio’s Nikki Tate; Australian book reviewer, Anastasia Gonis, at BuzzWord books http://buzzwordsmagazine.blogspot.ca/2012/05/black-bottle-man.html;
Victoria, B.C. book reviewer, Meghan Radomske for CM Magazine http://umanitoba.ca/outreach/cm/vol16/no40/blackbottleman.html, and more.

That’s fantastic! Congratulations! 🙂

Was Black Bottle Man the first manuscript you wrote, or had you written other things before it?

BBM is my first published novel. As mentioned earlier, I had a short dramatic piece selected for the 2006 Carol Shields Festival of New Works. I have second novel – Fragment – is out to publishers.  With luck, this winter another fantasy novel will take over my life.

What is ‘Fragment’ about?

Fragment is a high-energy action/adventure.

The synopsis starts like this…
·         Collapsing glaciers thrust a massive Antarctic ice sheet into the open ocean.
·         The commander of an American atomic submarine rescues the survivors of a smashed polar research station. 
·         A Presidential advisor swims the murky waters of Washington politics with the confidence of a Florida alligator. He’ll spin the disaster to suit his aims.
·         A newsman heads into the storm-ridden Drake Passage, intent on learning the truth.
·         A cutthroat corporation sends a cruise ship after an iceberg the size of France, hoping to garner millions in publicity. 
·         A scientist uncovers a secret that threatens the future of American military power and the fate of an entire species.
·         And one brave Blue Whale still has hope.

Intriguing! 🙂

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I’ve enjoyed chatting with readers at literary festivals, SF&F conventions, high school & university classes, and library & book groups. I hope to be invited to many more.

I’m sure you will get plenty of opportunities in the future. 🙂

If people would like to learn more about you and your writing, are there places they can find you?

McNally Robinson Booksellers has been a great support – http://www.mcnallyrobinson.com/editorial-1712/The-Temptation-of-Black-Magic…Black-Bottle-Man,-by-Craig-Russell

There are reader reviews at:
Amazon Book – http://www.amazon.ca/Black-Bottle-Man-Craig-Russell/dp/1894283996
Goodreads – http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8143891-black-bottle-man
Chapters – http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/books/Black-Bottle-Man-Craig-Russell/9781894283991-item.html
I have a Facebook Page – http://www.facebook.com/pages/Black-Bottle-Man/166244836732780
Great Plains Publishing has a reader/teacher’s guide at: http://www.greatplains.mb.ca/buy-books/black-bottle-man/

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, Craig, and I hope we get to be on another panel together sometime! 🙂

For those who would like to know a bit more about what Black Bottle Man is about, here is the blurb from Amazon:

Forced to move every twelve days, what would happen to your life? 1927. Rembrandt is the only child in the tiny community of Three Farms. Soon his two aunts grow desperate for babies of their own. A man wearing a black top-coat and a ‘glad-ta-meet-ya’ smile arrives with a magic bottle and a deadly deal is made. Determined to undo the wager, Rembrandt, Pa, and Uncle Thompson embark on the journey of their lives, for if they stay in one place for more than twelve days terrible things happen. But where and when will they find a champion capable of defeating the Black Bottle Man? Time ticks. Lives change. Every twelve days…

If you get the chance, I encourage you to read it! 🙂