Monday, July 8, 2019

Author Interview and Giveaway: IN THE WOODS by Carrie Jones and Steven E. Wedel

I'm happy to post my interview with the amazing author and person, Carrie Jones.  Her latest, IN THE WOODS, written with co-author, Steven Wedel, publishes with Tor Teen on July 16th! Carrie and I chat about everything from her latest book, writing for different age ranges and her wonderful rescue dogs. I will be giving away a hardcover copy of IN THE WOODS to one lucky winner! 

New York Times bestselling author Carrie Jones teams up with acclaimed cowriter Steven Wedel in the supernatural mystery, In the Woods…

It should have been just another quiet night on the farm when Logan witnessed the attack, but it wasn’t.
Something unexplainable. 
Something deadly.

Something is in the woods. 
Hundreds of miles away, Chrystal’s plans for summer in Manhattan are abruptly upended when her dad reads tabloid coverage of some kind of grisly incident in Oklahoma. When they arrive to investigate, they find a witness: a surprisingly good-looking farm boy.
As townsfolk start disappearing and the attacks get ever closer, Logan and Chrystal will have to find out the truth about whatever’s hiding in the woods…before they become targets themselves.

1. You've written for all different age ranges, from picture books to middle grade to young adult. What have been the challenges of moving from one to another? Is there any age range you gravitate most toward?

Anyone who has met me in real life pretty much knows that my natural voice is young adult, so I gravitate towards that the most and then middle grade. Really, even my actual speaking voice sounds much younger than I am.

Also it sounds dorky. Can dorky be an age range?

I love trying out new genres and new age ranges, mostly because I am so easily bored and I like challenges.

The hardest part is trying not to disappoint readers who expect to read a YA contemporary that’s literary fiction about epilepsy and social justice and they end up with a middle-grade fantasy story with flying pig cars. I hate disappointing people.

The only other hard thing is that sometimes people who aren’t familiar with kids and teen fiction don’t realize that you can write it without being a teen.

I received the Maine Literary Award one time. It was supposed to be all big and glamorous. There was a ceremony. People did not wear socks with sandals at the ceremony.

I was all, “Yes! Made it! Finally glamourous!”

And when I got my award, the governor’s wife said into the microphone, “Congratulations, Carrie! And what high school do you go to?”

Because I’m so incredibly cool and full of social grace I blurted, “No. No… I’m old. I’m really old.”

So there’s this aspect of expectations and not wanting to disappoint people that is the hardest part for me. Someday, I’ll be glam though. Someday.

2. Likewise, you've written in a range of different genres. How do you switch between them so easily? Which has been your favorite?

My favorite genre to write in is actually fantasy or creative nonfiction or poems. I know! Weird, right?

I used to write a lot of columns and editorials when I was a newspaper editor and I miss that. I started out as a poet. I miss that, too, because I like the truthful aspect of those forms, the way you can play with words and white space to pull things out and make them more magical and poignant.

Why do I like fantasy?  I just really love magic, the possibilities that open up when you see things beyond reality. When I was a kid, I had a rough time sometimes. I saw a lot of death. I was hurt a few times. And fantasy novels were beautiful ways of escaping, of hoping, of trying to feel like good guys could sometimes win against the most impossible odds. A girl can travel across time to rescue her dad. A hobbit could survive a dragon. How amazing is that? Fantasy gave me hope. Hope kept me surviving. For that, I’ll always love fantasy and always try to write it.

3.  What was it like working with your co-author, Stephen E. Wedel, on this book? 

It was so much fun writing with Steve. We sent chapters back and forth via email and we’d always be waiting completely impatiently for the other person’s chapter. It was like waiting for the person you’re crushing on to finally text you back and you know that they’re writing it, but it hasn’t arrived yet?

That’s what it was like.

A vlogger once thought this meant that Steve and I like-liked each other. IT IS NOT WHAT THAT MEANS! It just means it was an awesome way to write a story and waiting for those new chapters and the surprises and twists that might happen was like waiting to open a really awesome birthday present.

The slight improvisational aspect and lack of complete control was really freeing and collaborative. Steve and I think in really different ways about a lot of things, so working with him was expansive. It helped me think beyond myself, my characters, and my vision and made me more flexible in the creation of story.

4. Living in Maine seems to be an important topic to you! How do you bring that into your writing?

I am very much a Maine writer. Maine is this amazing, beautiful place. I live on an island with little baby mountains and tourists who flock here in the summer. Then in the winter, it’s super cold and stark and beautiful in an entirely different way. That setting and the barren, cold trees and wind tends to be something that I plague my characters with, like poor Zara in the NEED series. I like seeing how different characters react to that environment, the raw beauty of it, the force of it.

I think it’s because I am not a cold-weather person. I whine a lot in real life. That whining comes through in my books.

Basically, I need to move to Jamaica so that can start informing my writing more. I couldn’t make a Kickstarter for that, could I? Kidding! Kidding.

5. You do lots of promotional work for your books, even making videos! What have you learned from this process that you'd like to share with other writers?

Ha! I don’t even think of it as promotional work. I just think of it as different ways of creating. I think if I went about things going, “Oh, let’s promote this book,” I would never ever do it. Straight promotion is really hard for me. It’s just not my skillset.

I can publicize and write and market about nonprofits like Rotary International or ShelterBox constantly, but promoting myself is so much harder.

If I think of writing a blog post or making a dorky video as a way of helping other people, making them laugh, or giving them a writing tip? It’s so much better then. That makes it easier than saying, “Here! Buy my book!”

I think that’s what I’ve learned.

Promotion is boring for me. Creation is fun. If you’re like me, think of things as creating.

I’ve also learned that I can’t be an author who talks about how awesome I am. That feels really inauthentic, mostly because I am not all that awesome as a human. So, instead I like to communicate with other people, hear their stories, and listen to that instead of promoting mine.

That’s not the best promotion advice, but it’s okay life advice, maybe?

Life is about connections. Writing is about communication. All of that? It’s a two-way discourse. It’s not supposed to only be about the author. It’s supposed to be about the reader, too.

6. You also work as a writing coach and offer manuscript critiques. How has this helped you in your own writing?

It’s given me great empathy for my agent and editors. I think every story that I help with, helps me become a better writer, but also feel closer to the writing community.

It’s so much easier to understand how to help other authors in their journeys than to realize your own flaws, and fears, and issues. When I feel badly about myself, it helps to be able to look at the writers whose journeys I’ve been a part of. So it helps a lot emotionally. I love seeing people succeed and get agents and get their books on the shelves.

I think it’s also helping me really start to hone in on the most important thing for writers (other than plot and character and all that), which is what is it that I want to say to this world? What is it that I believe and feel? How does that come into the stories that I write? How do I do that better?

By helping others learn to make their strongest stories, it helps me make stronger stories, too.

7. You've been known to make art to go with your books. That must be such a fun process! Tell us a bit more about how that happens--do you usually make the art first, or start writing the book first? How do the two mediums inform each other?

I get images stuck in my head. Sometimes those images can come out with words. Sometimes those images come out with paint. So, the process changes a lot. It changes almost every week. The art and the writing inspire each other.

When I get stuck in a story, I head to the basement (YES! I KNOW! It sounds so dire and scary) and I paint. That helps me get unstuck and helps me understand the themes and emotions that are trying to play themselves out with words. I sometimes get very frustrated with words. I know! I know! That’s not a cool thing for a writer to admit.

8. What's the biggest piece of advice you'd give to a writer hoping to write a YA thriller in the vein of IN THE WOODS?

Find Steve Wedel?

But, if you can’t find Steve, find the things you’re scared of, think of how you’d try to survive those scary situations. Think of how to make people turn the page. Think of how to make people care whether or not your character does survive.

Try to make the readers know that things are wrong, but not know exactly how things are wrong or how they will end up. Don’t be afraid to be intense. Don’t be afraid to be different.

A lot of thrillers and horror novels have a very precise tone. From the first word, you know you’re reading something scary. Steve and I wanted to play with that and make the tone lighter and less typical. We’ll see if that choice works for the readers, but there is a lot to explore within the thriller genre. Don’t be afraid to explore it.

9. How did you tackle the thriller and horror elements of IN THE WOODS? What is your process like for writing the scarier scenes?

Oh! I think I just answered that. I imagine horrible possibilities. I write them. I think, “What if?” I think, “What would terrify me? Make that happen.” I think, “What would have terrified my mom? Make that happen.”

To be fair, everything terrified my mom. She was so afraid of birds that she couldn’t watch cartoons with birds in them.

10. You have a podcast, DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE! Has that been a tough medium for you to break into as a writer? Tell us a bit about your podcast and what you hope to accomplish through it.

I don’t think of the podcast as a quirky improv act. I grew up in Bedford, New Hamsphire with Sarah Silverman and Seth and Josh Myers. I’d see Adam Sandler at the mall of New Hampshire. My distant relative was Jack Benny. My family stands by death beds and makes jokes. This is just what we do. We improvise our way through life. We’re weird and quirky and I grew up being heavily influenced by a lot of weird and quirky theater people along with truck drivers and carpenters and the occasional drug dealer.

So, DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE is a natural extension of what my life is like. Goofy. Earnest. Occasionally inappropriate, which is hard because I’m a kids book writer.

I’m always gasping out, “I can’t say this! It’s inappropriate!”

I don’t worry about the podcast actually doing well, which would probably make it be less authentic and more stilted.

There are a ton of podcasts that are literary and focused and intellectual. We aren’t those podcasts.

Ours is just fun to do. We have a random thought that’s usually created in the car or in bed. Then we have a writing tip and a dog tip for life. There’s been 90,000 downloads so far, which I think it okay? I’m not sure. It’s just a lot of fun. Sadly, we’ve been talking about poop and underwear a lot lately. And yes, I do relate it back to writing, I promise. Yes, even when it’s about poop or underwear.

Art, podcasting, trying different genres and age levels, are all about learning, having fun, and exploring things, but especially about being brave.

When I was a kid I slurred my s’s a lot and went to speech therapy, but I could never completely fix it. A teacher told me that I’d never accomplish anything, be loved, get a job, get into college, or be taken seriously because of my voice, because of my sloppy s sounds. So, podcasting and speaking at Rotary International gatherings and vlogging are all really hard because those predicted negative outcomes resonate inside of many of us for so long.

You hear them over and over:

Nobody will take you seriously because of your s’s.
Nobody will ever love you because of your s’s.

But they become motivating forces sometimes, too. Wanting to prove that teacher wrong forces me to be braver. For a long time, I couldn’t listen to the podcast because every time I heard my voice, I thought, “Nobody will ever take me seriously. Everyone will laugh. Nobody will love me anymore.”

Then I cuss those voices out and journey on

11. And speaking of which...tell us more about your adorable dogs! I bet they make great writing partners!

Sparty and Gabby are two rescues dogs with ridiculously different personalities. Sparty was found roaming the streets of Alabama and is part lab and he’s food-focused and rarely barks. All cats and birds and bugs love him. It’s wild. Bees hitch rides on his back when we walk through Acadia National Park. We’ll go camping and he’ll be passed out on the site and a bird will be hopping all around him. I’ve seen them jump on his paw. Our cat, Marsie, is absolutely obsessed with him. He’s slightly embarrassed by the attention when we’re looking, but if he thinks nobody’s watching? It’s totally cuddle time.

Gabby is fluffy and was abused and malnourished and spent her first year chained to a tree, so she didn’t develop correctly and is actually small for her breed, which is a Great Pyrrenes. She loves to bark and she loves hard. I mean, this dog is all about cuddles and protecting you. She hops around like a bunny when her people come home and she hates all things white. She doesn’t trust any man who has a certain energy, which is usually sort of a cocaine-vibe. Is that too much information? I have no filter. Gabby doesn’t either.

I love them too much. They tweet motivational thoughts every week day. Sometimes Marsie helps. They also are really good at being emotionally supportive of s-slurring writers who use Maine as a setting in their stories. 

Carrie Jones with Wet HairCarrie Jones is the The New York Times bestseller author of the Need series, Time Stoppers series, Flying series, Girl, Hero, Tips on Having a Gay (ex) Boyfriend, and Love (and other uses for duct tape). She is also the coauthor, with Steve Wedel, of After Obsession and In the Woods. She also writes picture books about unconventional spies. Her books have been published all around the world, been bestsellers in France, and have received numerous awards. Carrie lives in Bar Harbor, Maine and launched the Bar Harbor Kids Book Festival, and is active in Rotary International as the Public Image Coordinator for much of Canada and a lot of the UnitedStates. She’s also part of the Rotary Campaign against Human Trafficking. 
A former newspaper reporter, police dispatcher, city councilor, gymnastics coach, and volunteer firefighter, Carrie has won numerous press awards for newspaper writing and photography.

She is a big fan of rescue animals and currently has three, Spartacus, Gabby, and Marsie.

You can follow Carrie on Twitter and go to her website and blog here
You can pre-order IN THE WOODS here or at your local bookstore!


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  2. "Life is about connections. Writing is about communication. All of that? It’s a two-way discourse. It’s not supposed to only be about the author. It’s supposed to be about the reader, too."

    This, this, this. You build so much more goodwill, and get so much more out of the community, if you approach it this way. Hearing Carrie talk about expectations was super interesting, too; I'd be really curious to get her take on whether New Adult allows one to write in a youthful voice while getting around some of the subject limitations of traditional YA (which I love, by the way).

    And as someone who is in his thirties and still gets mistaken for a high school student, I have a lot of sympathy!