Saturday, March 2, 2013

Interview with Author Julie C. Gilbert

Ashlynn’s Dreams youtube trailer
Ashlynn’s Dreams facebook page

 This is the paperback's got the full cover.
Give us a quick introduction on yourself and your book.
I'm a chemistry teacher who also writes YA, science fiction, and Christian mysteries. Ashlynn's Dreams is a YA book about a girl who gets kidnapped because she's genetically altered to be able to shape dreams.

What inspired you to write your first book?
The very first novel-length work will never see the light of day, and I think it came about mostly because I was rebelling against the deep meanings my high school English teachers wanted us to find in literature. The first book I'd count an actual book was Heartfelt Cases, which contained 3 novellas about FBI agents solving some tough cases that hit them personally in some way. That one started just because I wanted to write about a kidnapping. Mysteries have always intrigued me. At the risk of sounding crazy, the subject of kidnapping is fascinating. However, hear me out. In the real thing, the public tends to be helpless, which is not a nice feeling. I enjoy writing about kidnappings because in that case I have complete control over the ending.

Do you have a specific writing style?
I kind of like experimenting with style. Ashlynn's Dreams is in journal/ letter format. The Heartfelt Cases novellas are probably best classified as third person limited narratives. I have a science fiction series about the lives of the royalty on a planet called Reshner. That series mixes semi-journal-like accounts with third person semi-unreliable omniscient narrators (microscopic machines with god-like powers). I also have a fantasy story that mixes first and third accounts. No matter which style I'm working with, I tend to keep each section to just one character.

How did you come up with the title?
Jillian/Ashlynn is a Dream Shaper. I started the story knowing only that it would feature a kidnapping and feature Jillian, a character I came up with in a series of short stories. Her character voice popped out at me so strongly, that a few years back, I knew I had to bring her back for a longer project. I looked up girl names that meant "dream" and found Ashlynn. The title came out of me guessing at the core of the work. I'm not exactly sure if I had the working title most of the way or just at the end. I know the sequel's title gave me fits, but I think the first book's title came about easily.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Cherish what you have in friends and family. Life's unpredictable and bad things can happen no matter who you are or what precautions you take. You sometimes can't change things that happen to you, but you can control how you react to circumstances.

How much of the book is realistic?
If I had to throw a percentage out there, I'd say the book is 95% realistic. It speaks about genetic alterations that probably lie beyond the scope of current science, but it's plausible if not immediately probable. It's set in the real world, rather than a planet I made up.

Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
 No, I don't know anybody who's had their child kidnapped, and thankfully, I haven't had a child kidnapped. I suppose that could be because I don't have any kids. I don't work in law enforcement either, though I admit that would be a cool career.

What books have most influenced your life most?
I think I have to go with series here. I grew up on Box Car Children, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and a slew of Star Wars books. Mystery and adventure, overcoming impossible odds, etc... these things are emphasized throughout these series.

If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
I don't personally know Taylor Stevens, but she sends out some decently helpful writing tips on a weekly basis, so I guess she wins the unofficial, hey-I've-never-met-you mentor award.

What book are you reading now?
I'm reading The Iron King by Julie Kagawa and Pulse by Patrick Carman. The first was given to me by a fan, and though not my usual fare, is well-written and generally great so far. The latter is very intriguing but I've got more nits with it, though to be fair it's an ARC.

Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
Of the books I'm reading, both authors are new to me, but I don't think they're new in general.

What are your current projects?
My last significant writing project started out with me trying to see if I could write paranormal teen romance. Although slim elements of the genre still exist in the work, I'd say it turned more into a fantasy/ good vs evil story. I'm trying to proof Nadia's Tears, which is the sequel to Ashlynn's Dreams. Also, I'm trying to proof the Reshner series, which is 3 novels long, so it's a greater time investment than the other series.

Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
I'm starting to feel more connected to writers I meet online at FB and other networking sites.

Do you see writing as a career?
I would like to, unfortunately, not many people know about my works, so I haven't figured out how to make a sustainable career out of it yet.

If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
There are always sections I look at and can tweak the wording, but there comes a point when you've got to just back away and say it's done. 

Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
As briefly touched on before, the writing thing might have come about initially as my way of rebelling against finding "deep meaning" in literature. If you want to go further backward in time, I'd say the love of writing came from a love of reading. Once you experience adventures and fall in love with characters, it's sort of natural to want new adventures and new characters to fall in love with. Although I must say, writing has the added bonus of control. Perhaps I'm just a control freak. I don't know. 

Can you share a little of your current work with us?
I usually include ch. 4 as an excerpt, but here's something from Danielle's perspective. She is Jillian's babysitter who was also kidnapped when the men came to fetch Jillian so she could enter her training.

ITEM 16: Danielle’s second journal entry
Item Source: Danielle Matheson, via 54 Post-it notes
I woke up with the headache of all headaches. Whatever that big jerk had shoved into my arm was like drinking hard and taking meth at the same time. (Not that I obtained that bit of knowledge via personal experience.) A very nasty kick in the head would have been kinder. In addition, my arm ached like I’d had a dozen shots and then pitched thirty innings of softball. My hands still stung too, but everything else hurt so much that that particular pain seemed negligible. I tried shaking my head, hoping that would clear away the pain. Big mistake. The pain morphed from not-so-good to very painful to excruciating. It felt like my brains wanted to leak out my ears. If that would have stopped the pain, I’d have been tempted to take the trade.
My first thought was, Owwwww. And my second thought was Jillian!
I think I said her name out loud, but I can’t be sure because I’m pretty sure I passed out again. I seemed to be doing a lot of that. I might have opened my eyes or just thought I did. It didn’t really matter because, like I said, I didn’t stay with it very long. I sensed another person in the room and had the sensation like I wanted to vomit before blissful nothingness slipped me past the headache.
The second time I woke up, I forced myself to lie still and finish the waking process with the least pain possible. Not that I could have moved anyway, since these people obviously had trust issues and had tied me up as well as giving me that wonderful naptime cocktail. My headache came back down to tolerable levels, though every heartbeat was like a dull hammer being slammed to the floor millimeters from my skull. My eyes felt all gummy like I’d slept for a month; my eyeliner must have melted or something.
I must look a scary sight.
I winced, partly at the head pain but mostly at the stupidity of worrying about my eyeliner at a time like this.
Someone had left a candle burning a few feet from my head.
Well, that’s dangerous.
Nevertheless, I let myself enjoy the candle’s comforting glow.
What do I do?
Thinking was hard, thanks to my drug-muddled brain. I spent a full minute concentrating on breathing deeply and letting my mind wander back through the last few hours, trying to ignore the clammy touch of my clothes against my skin. Futile as it was, I desperately wanted to find something I could have done differently to make things turn out better.
The tingly sensation in my arms reminded me that my first priority ought to be to get loose.
How in the world did Nancy Drew do this a dozen times?
If Nancy were a real person, she’d probably have brain damage from the number of times she’s been knocked out via good old-fashioned brute force. If this was the price one paid to be a detective, I’d have quit the first time a threatening note floated my way. But I hadn’t been threatened, neither had Jillian, or her family, to my knowledge.
What gives? Why me? I practically whined the questions.
A rumble from deep within my stomach made me resent the kidnappers’ lousy sense of timing.
Ten minutes, just ten minutes, and we would have been happily fed.
Frustrated, I flexed my arms, trying to loosen the bonds. I succeeded only in hurting my arms.
Use your senses!
I closed my eyes and listened, only to hear my stomach announce its empty state again. I sniffed in deeply, which was dumb seeing as I was currently on the floor and probably besieged by a million dust mites. It made my nose itch, but I squelched the urge to sneeze.
“The lady said she was gonna send Dustin in with some food,” Jillian said. She sounded strange, older and calmer somehow. Her voice was not defeated per se, but it held a calculating quality I’d never heard before from anyone, let alone a child.
I craned my neck around to see her, but it was awkward because I’d landed on the floor near the center while she was somewhere near the back wall, effectively above my head. I could tell the room was tiny, even though the candlelight led to lousy depth perception. Sometimes you can just sense things like that. It’s like the walls were all crowding purposefully close, trying to make us sense their presence. Or maybe the drug was just playing with my head.
“Are you okay?” I asked, trying to hold my voice steady. Nearly gave myself a sore throat for my trouble.
Why doesn’t she sound scared?
“Hungry,” Jillian replied. Her Southern drawl sounded longer through the semi-darkness. “This place is mighty creepy.”
“The whole situation’s creepy,” I agreed.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
To me, writing comes in phases: outlining, chapter building, proofing. Each phase has it's own rewards and challenges. Outlining is fun because you can see the skeleton of what the whole work could be. Chapter building is also fun because you get to see the actual scenes unfold and tweak the outline as you go. I love the excitement of seeing how the work shapes itself. Proofing is probably the most challenging because it can be tedious. You might have to read and re-read one paragraph 3-4 times to get the wording to sound just right. Then, when you're all done, you've got to read the whole work again because all the minor shifts have the potential for adding mistakes.

Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Having to pick just one favorite author is something I'm just not really capable of doing. As a general rule, I like people who can make me laugh. Tim Downs, Vivian Vande Velde, and Lisa Lutz are people who can make me laugh. A sentimental part of me also likes Nancy Springer's Rowan Hood series for the adventure, danger, and bravery of the main character. Brandon Sanderson's works are ambitious and dare I say, even epic, but they're a huge time investment so not to be entered into lightly. Stewart Hill's Cry of the Icemark series answered the call for a cool female character who was strong, smart, and sassy. 

Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
I'd be willing to travel a bit for my books, but I've not set things in motion for a book tour or anything. I'm actually the rather quiet sort of person who has a lot to learn about self-promoting. I've been revamping some older projects to turn out more kindles. To that end, I've started with new covers thanks to my friend, Tim Sparvero.

Who designed the covers?
Gee, I must have known this question was coming. Timothy Sparvero and I designed the cover for Ashlynn's Dreams (edition 2). It took us about 16 hours over two days to complete the project. I say us because I was there giving him feedback and helping with the design. He did all the hard work though. If anybody's interested in commissioning work, he does covers, character sketches, maps etc.

What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Proofing tends to be the hardest part of the writing process because it's the longest for me. I usually only write in the summer, so I force myself to stick to a 2000 word/day schedule. Often times, I get so into a work that I can double or even triple that goal though, so depending on the size of the project, I can write the rough draft in 21-ish days. Proofing, on the other hand, can take months, years even, depending on days I actually devote to a given project.

Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I wouldn't say I learned a lot from Ashlynn's Dreams, but I learned tons when writing the sequel. Nadia's Tears focuses a bit on human trafficking. When one of my students said "hey, human trafficking still exists," I did a bunch of research about the topic. Finding out she was absolutely correct, I felt I should bring the topic into the next work, which turned into Nadia's Tears.

Do you have any advice for other writers?
Get feedback on your work. Polish until you think the work is completely error free, then polish it again. Try reading it start to finish then random chapters, then start to finish again. That may help you focus on the story as a whole then grammar issues, then the story as a whole again. I'm always looking for feedback from readers of all kinds. Friends are good beta readers, but they're not all representative of the target audience. All writers have to build up a sort of tough skin, but the willingness to consider feedback is a vital skill.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
If you like a work, feel free to get in contact with the author and let them know. I've written to Nancy Springer and told her what I liked about her works. This is the age of the internet, contact's only an email away. Review works. Read new things. I read in a lot of genres: mystery, thriller, science fiction (okay so mainly Star Wars), historical fiction, etc. Let yourself be inspired by the things you read and talk about with people. I let myself be inspired by my student's comment about human trafficking being a problem in the modern world. In turn, I've had people tell me what they've gotten out of my works. That cycle is priceless: learn, share, learn.

What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?
All of those are sort of fun challenges for me. Looking up grammar rules is certainly a challenge because often times there are conflicting pieces of advice out there. The book raises a bunch of questions about the psychological fallout from a kidnapping, but I'm not sure it answers all of them. It's the first of several books planned, so there's time to get those answers. It's sometimes hard to write sad situations, but you push through and learn through the process.