Hey 3.5 readers. Your old pal Bookshelf Q. Battler here. Today’s guest on #FridayswithBQB is Sydney Everson, a writer of children’s books, young adult novels and sweet romance. She’s also a recovering lawyer who ditched the old rat race to focus on the more important things of life, namely, raising her son and concentrating on writing.
Seriously, readers. Take your elbows off the tables and suck in your guts, there’s a respectable lady present.
QUESTION #1 – Sydney, welcome to my blog. My apologies. It’s a mess around here. I’d pick up, but honestly, I don’t want to. You seem too good of a person, much better than the usual pack of vagrants who hang out around here, so I’ll try to get you on your way as quickly as possible.
We first virtually met on Twitter when we had a quick little chat about concentrating on one writing topic. I don’t recall what exactly was said, but generally, we were talking about how it’s not the best idea to deviate from one idea to another. A certain amount of stick-to-itiveness is required to get the job done, even when you’ve been working on an idea a long time and feel the need for a break. It may seem satisfying to scratch that itch of a new project, but you’ll never get your old project done if you do.
You’ve completed several projects. What keeps you sticking to it?
ANSWER – I know the temptation well – you’re working on your baby, this book idea you’ve fully developed and thrown yourself into writing, but now you’re editing, you’re on draft two or three, and it’s starting to become a slog. Out of the blue, a bright, shiny new idea comes along to tempt you. It’s so fresh and exciting and you want to start on it right away. For me, I know if I chase the “shiny” I’ll never come back and finish the current project, I just won’t have the motivation anymore. But I do want to keep this nascent, fragile spark of an idea alive for when I can work on it, so I make notes. I start a new file where I jot down the ideas that come to me for the next book – plot, scenes, characters, anything that comes to mind, I jot it down and save it. Meanwhile, I keep plugging away at the current project and when it’s done, I’m ready to start on the “shiny” and already have some headway made.
QUESTION #2 – On your website, you mention you’re a member of a writer’s group in your community. Personally, I despise most people and prefer to live the life of a hermit rather than converse or share my thoughts and/or feelings with anyone. Also, I just feel I am a genius who is so intelligent that people with lesser brains could never possibly tell me anything I don’t already know, and I say that with all humility.
But, for all the normals out there, would you recommend joining a writer’s group as a means to share ideas, get feedback, stay motivated, that sort of thing?
ANSWER – Absolutely, but it may take a bit of “shopping around” to find one that’s the right fit for you. If you go to one and aren’t feeling it, don’t force yourself to keep going, but don’t give up either. Try to find another, or start your own! I’ve been to meetings of a few where I knew those just weren’t for me. Whether it was the writers’ personalities, differing goals, or even just different ideas about what the group’s purpose was, they weren’t a fit, but I’m currently in two that I love. In one group, the writers have become very good friends and are a wonderful source of support and advice. The other is a critique group which I find very helpful. Sometimes the advice is good, and sometimes it’s not, but the main thing is, by writing for it once a month, I’m forcing myself to step out of my current project for just a moment and knock out something short, quick, and creative. I find that really helps reset me sometimes and get the creative juices flowing again, especially when I’m in editing mode on one of my projects. So I guess the short answer is yes, they can help you stay creative and they can support an author’s journey to publication, but you have to find the right group for you and your goals.
QUESTION #3 – Let’s talk about young adult fiction. I don’t care for that genre myself. I mean, seriously, all these kids running around with zero life experience yet somehow they manage to save the day in the end, while leaving time for blossoming romance? Seems unrealistic to me as these kids aren’t worried about paying mortgages or credit card bills or finding the cheapest yet most effective brand of hemorrhoid medication. Don’t even get me started on what it takes to get a good life insurance policy these days.
Oh, wait a minute. I think I figured out why I don’t like young adult fiction. It’s because I’m an old adult and after a lifetime of seeing every dream I ever had flushed down the crapper, the idea of a happy ending seems like fiction to me.
You seem like a better adult than I am but still, is it hard for an adult to turn off that “adult” switch in order to put him or herself into the shoes of young characters? How do you do it?
ANSWER – I think there are a number of reasons adults enjoy young adult literature, both reading and writing it. The themes in YA lit are often ones we “adults” still struggle with, like figuring ourselves out and why we’re here, what we’re meant to be doing with our lives. I’m [censored]-ty years old and yet in some ways, I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. Even as adults, we’re not stagnant. We change, adapt, and evolve based on our experiences and the people we meet in life. The heroes and heroines of YA lit are doing the same. The things they struggle with are not exclusive to teenagers – acceptance of self and others, expressions of our individuality, issues with our families or friends, how we handle crises, etc. Those aren’t just kids’ issues, adults wrestle with them too.
Also, I think there’s an element to youth we as adults want to experience again through literature, and that is this sense of possibility. Do you remember getting in a car with your friends when you were seventeen or eighteen years old on a weekend evening and feeling like literally anything was possible –adventure, love, who knows what, but the whole world was out there and anything could happen? It’s an amazing feeling and one adults get to relive through books. Let’s face it, at my age, if I go out for an evening my friends, I know will have a glass of wine, be home in sweats by 9:30, and wake up tomorrow with a wine hangover from that one glass of chardonnay. Through YA lit, I get to relive that magical sense of open-ended possibility.
BQB EDITORIAL NOTE: I prefer to eat a bag of Chips Ahoy alone while watching old re-runs of “The Golden Girls.” Blanche is such a card. I’d invite friends over but then I’d have to share my cookies and I don’t want to. I’m at an age where I value cookies over friends. Also, I have no friends.
QUESTION #4 – You also write children’s picture books. What advice do you have for a writer who wants to get into that genre?
ANSWER – This is one I’m still trying to figure out. A lot of people think knocking out a quick picture book is easy because it’s so short, but it’s actually incredibly difficult. You have to get an entire story across in very few words and do so with heart, humor, whimsy, and, oh yeah, you might need to write the whole thing in verse. That’s insane. I’d suggest doing some research first. Publishers create picture books in fairly rigid formats, so your words and pictures may need to fit a predesigned layout of, for example, thirty-two pages. It’s a good idea to create a “dummy” layout and see how your wording fits.
QUESTION #5 – Suppose you want to write a children’s book but you have zero artistic skill. You’ve got the words planned out, but how do you go about getting the artwork? Collaborate with a designer? Are there resources out there for writers who need some illustrations for their picture books?
ANSWER – Many picture book publishers want to have the flexibility to choose the illustrator to go with the manuscript they like, so I’d say if you aren’t an author-illustrator, which I’m definitely not, you probably don’t need to worry about finding an illustrator and pairing up before you submit to a publisher as the publisher may want to choose their own illustrator. If you do want to team up with an illustrator though, a great place to start is the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). They are a wonderful resource.
QUESTION #6, Part 1 – I’m toying with the idea of writing a children’s picture book called “Get a Job and Stop Being a Terrible Financial Burden on Your Parents.”
Page 1 = Mommy and Daddy fighting over bills.
Page 2 = Kid gets a job as a bus station janitor.
Page 3 = Kid gets a job as a short order fry cook.
Page 4 = Kid gets a job as a bus driver. How he got a license I don’t know.
Page 5 = Kid gives his hard earned money to his parents who don’t have to worry about bills anymore.
Do you think I’d make a mint with that book or should I not quit my day job
ANSWER – Haha, sounds good to me! You never know what will find the right market and appeal to people. I mean, Adam Mansbach and Ricardo Cortés’s book, “Go the F*** to Sleep” was a huge hit, so who knows?
QUESTION 6, Part 2 – OK. There was actually a method to my above madness. You probably have to have a special source of optimism to be a children’s book writer, right? I assume you have to think positive thoughts and bottle up joy and happiness and distill that onto the page? Cynical schmucks like me shouldn’t apply, but how do you do it? How do you beam so much positive reinforcement out there into the world?
ANSWER – I’m a big fan of escapism. The real world can be a hard, depressing, difficult place to live sometimes, in fact, rather often, so escaping into a book either through writing or reading, is a wonderful thing. I love creating worlds people can escape into and feel love and joy, and while there’s usually some peril, I always deliver a happy ending. We don’t get enough of those in real life.
QUESTION #7 – Let’s talk about your foray into the genre of sweet romance. Personally, I’ve never experienced a romance that didn’t end with a woman spending zero amount of her time with me while she spends one hundred percent of her time with fifty-percent of my stuff. I should have hired you to be my lawyer. You could have talked those women down to forty-five percent of my stuff easy.
But I digress. For those of us who are romantically challenged, please explain what the sweet romance genre is. Bonus points if you tell us what inspired you to get into it as a writer.
ANSWER – Sounds like you may need a little of that escapism into a sweet romance too! Sweet romance is basically just a love story without things getting steamy. (Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with steamy, I have several good friends that write awesome love stories with plenty of heat). For me though, sweet romance is kind of like the Disney version of love stories, where in the end, the characters realize they are in love and seal it with a kiss. I think the fun is in the falling. I love stories that bring characters close, but then pull them apart until they finally come together in the end. I jotted down ideas for romances for a while, but never wrote them out until I learned that Hallmark was starting to publish sweet romances in the vein of their Hallmark Channel movies. I’m a not-so-closeted addict of Hallmark Channel’s movies so I decided I had to give it a try! Whether ultimately Hallmark likes my sweet romance manuscripts, or another publisher does, or I self-publish remains to be seen, but I definitely enjoy writing them.
QUESTION #8 – I notice on your website you mention you are querying many of your projects. How’s that process going and what advice do you have for anyone out there trying to do the same?
AMAZON – Well, the website implies I’m continuously querying when really it’s more in fits and starts unfortunately. I tend to finish a project, send out a handful of queries, and then follow that “shiny” I talked about earlier. In my eagerness to work on the next project, I tend to neglect querying a bit so if I give advice here, it’ll be something I need to learn to take myself. Writing is so much more than writing, it’s plotting, outlining, editing, querying or self-publishing, and marketing and every author knows how difficult it is to find time for all of that.
Nevertheless, it’s important to make time to get your work out there if you want to be traditionally published. No one’s going to publish your book if you don’t ask. So ask, and keep asking. Rejections are a part of the process. I would be shocked if there is any published author out there who hasn’t been rejected at least once, most get rejected many times. But it just takes one – one agent or editor who believes in your story and will champion it so that it gets into readers’ hands. I’d recommend researching successful query letters, find a format that works for you, and research agents, making sure they are a good fit for your story. Manuscript Wish List is a great site for finding agents who are looking for books like yours. Then keep at it! (I’m talking to myself here too).
QUESTION #9 – Have you ever thought about self-publishing? Ever since I made a whopping 12 cents off of a book I self-published, I have become a self-appointed ambassador for the self-publishing industry, trying turn as many converts as I can. Come on over, the water’s fine and Jeff Bezos is passing out entire cents like candy! “One of us! One of us! Gooble, gobble, one of us!”
AMAZON – Definitely. I have quite a few author friends in the self-publishing world. I’m watching what they do very closely to try to learn what works and what doesn’t as far as marketing. My goal right now is traditional publishing, but self-publishing offers a lot of perks so I am definitely not ruling that option out.
BQB EDITORIAL NOTE: Since conducting this interview, I made another staggering, astounding, earth shattering 35 cents! So many cents!
QUESTION #10 – Sadly, every author who submits to an interview on this poor excuse for a blog must explain how he/she would escape a scenario of doom using three unlikely items. Don’t worry, one day you’ll have an entourage who will keep you away from such nonsense. Until then, here’s your scenario:
You’re riding a train to wine country because, who wouldn’t? Wine country is fabulous this time of year. Suddenly, the lights flicker off. When they’re turned back on, you learn that everyone who had been sitting in your general vicinity was a werewolf the entire time, and they’re looking at you like you’re a fresh bowl of kibble.
You reach under your seat, hoping to find a weapon but alas, you find a) a half-full can of spray-on silly string b) a rolled up poster featuring the grim visage of Vegas crooner Wayne Newton and c) a tin of Altoid mints.
How will you use these items to extract yourself from this fury feeding frenzy?
ANSWER – I’m on a train full of wine-loving party animals headed to wine county. This isn’t as dire as it may seem. First, I’ve been noticing two of the passengers, now revealed to be werewolves, eyeing each other throughout the trip so far, so I give the mints to one and suggest he make his move. I do enjoy a good love story after all. That takes care of two of them. Then I spray silly string on my jaw like mutton chops and hold up the Wayne Newton poster to indicate that I’m clearly one of them. I mean, with those sideburns, was there really ever any doubt about Wayne? They’re warming up to me, but not yet convinced, so I offer to pay for their wine tastings which puts them in a cheerful mood and then I distract them with a heated debate over which is better, oaked or steel-casked chardonnay? They take the bait, follow the “shiny,” and before the day’s out, we’re all half wine-drunk, best of friends, and invited to the wedding of the cute were-couple on the train. See, aren’t happy endings great?
BQB EDITORIAL NOTE: I’ve run this answer through my supercomputer and it has determined a 94.8% chance of success, so well done. Werewolves love wine country and Wayne Newton is a werewolf. Surely, that explains his longevity. You heard it here first.
Fun fact, this is the second time an interviewee on this blog has escaped a doom scenario using a sticky novelty substance and a celebrity photo. Readers may remember Robert Bevan used spray cheese to paste a photo of Bea Arthur to his face in order to scare away a cavern full of monsters. Read more about that tried and true sticky situation extraction trick here.
Thank you for stopping by, Sydney, and 3.5 readers, if you enjoyed this interview which, frankly, if you twist my arm and ask me to brag about my interviewing skills then I’ll tell you this puts anything Barbara Walters ever did to shame, then be sure to give our guest a shout out on Twitter. “One of us, one of us…”