Thursday, April 29, 2010

Writer-Writer Chit Chat with Swati Avasthi

Every fall, I teach a Young Adult writing class. One of the fun things about the course is that I get to choose three or four contemporary YA novels for my students to read and discuss and use as writing models. I always pick at least one book I know and love, one new book and one critical prize winner or classic. Next fall, I have opted to teach Split by Swati Avasthi. Swati’s novel seems to fulfill all three of my categories. It was released this March from Knopf and has been an instant hit with its readers and with me.

Swati is also a member of the group of debut YA and MG writers called the Class of 2K10. 2K10 is the beloved sister group of those of us who started this blog. Swati agreed to visit and chat with us. Here are some of the questions I asked and here also, are Swati’s thoughtful and insightful answers.

Before I start asking questions about the riveting storyline of Split, I’m curious about something more general. I wonder at what part of the process of drafting the novel did you discover that what you were writing was YA? Was this something you imagined all along? Or something you discovered later? Have you been aware of many adults reading the book? what was their response?

Split was always a YA novel. I started reading YA almost 15 years ago and I fell in love with the genre. It was not the YA I had as a kid, growing up. It was far more complex and, I thought, far more honest in its presentation of issues. I've heard that we write what we love and that was true for me. As soon as the story of Split came to me, I never doubted that it should be YA. I started writing Split before YA was the hot genre and before many adults started discovering it. So their response when I began writing it in 2006 was a lot more of the pat-you-on-the-head, how-nice-that-you-write-for-children response. Now, I get a lot more of adults guiltily admitting that they read and like the genre. I'm waiting for the time when the academy and general public opinion no longer feels the need to "admit" that teen books are for adults in the same way that adult books are for teens.

Many adults are reading Split and, honestly, because of the intensity of the book, I'm glad about that. The reception has been wonderful, particularly because it is a book that can be shared in the family, which in turn, can generate good discussions.

Yes! That’s definitely why I want to teach it. Can I get even more insight into potential audiences, because domestic violence is, as you say, such an intense issues. Do you think young women will benefit from this literary look into the mind of a dangerous boy? Or do you see your best potential reader as a boy who might need to discover himself in your words? What writing strategies did you take to speak to a particular audience?

I can't pick one kind of reader. I'm a writer with delusions of grandeur and I want everyone to read it. :-) I see it as a book with multiple audiences: boys, men, girls, and women because every one of these groups is affected by domestic violence. But I am really interested in getting this to teens. Teens are usually better than adults at reframing issues. They aren't going to see things, abuse included, the same way their parents do, and since so many teens are victims of dating violence (estimated at 1 of 4), I wanted to write about teens and for teens.

Wow—that’s a serious statistic. And yet you made an interesting and risky choice in telling the story from the point of view of a boy who is not purely someone we always see as a victim. Jace is an extremely compelling character. How did you make this happen? What did you feel you had to tell us about him? and what misconceptions about boys like Jace do you want to remedy?


I was interested in trying to create a character who was complicated: endearing and repulsive, sympathetic and damnable, and most significantly, a whole person. I wanted readers to think of him as more than a role: (victim, witness, etc). So, I spent a lot of time and did a lot of character development of Jace outside of the house. I concentrated on soccer, photography, friends and girlfriends, things that defined him besides his role within an abuse cycle.

The misconception I find most disturbing is about abuse in general. I coordinated a domestic violence legal clinic for three years and, after listening to thousands of abuse stories, I became increasingly disturbed about how our society frames domestic violence as a women's issue. Most of the abusers are men, after all. Abusers are the ones with the clearest line of sight to stopping abuse, to figure out how to make sure the cycle isn't passed down through the generations. If a victim gets out, that is wonderful and I admire the strength it takes and she can probably go on to live well. But abusers just move on to the next victim. The responsibility needs to fall on the abusers, and so we need to think of abuse differently - as a men's issue, as something men can choose to stop.

**SPOILER ALERT** I structured the book so that we would fall in love with Jace first and then learn of his violent tendencies because that is the experience of victims. Their abusers are charming and funny and interesting, but they have this one, terrible flaw that victims don't learn about until they are already invested in their relationships.

I admire that. Split has a lot of texture, maybe because Jace himself is Split. Can you describe how you broke down his personality? how the pieces, his 'bastard' and his "bastard no-more' self evolved?

Thanks! I think what really freed me up was that Jace is smart, self-aware, and imaginative. This gave me license to let him wrestle with complicated problems, like how he blames, protects, and loves his mother. It also gave him a lot of survival techniques and defenses including humor. He is able to articulate, often using humor, how his feelings are never simple, which opened up a host of options for him.

**SPOILER ALERT** I'd say I got the best handle on Jace in the "garage scene." This is where I started to understand how Jace was even more terrified of being broken down as a victim than he was of becoming an abuser himself and why he would chose his father as a role model over his mother. Like every kid, Jace wanted to grow up to be a man, didn't want to be weak. But because of who his role model was, he conflated strength with anger and manhood with control. For me, this was how his "bastard" self evolved.

His 'bastard-no-more' self evolved because he is imaginative, and can see his life in different ways. Because he is smart, he understands that he chooses his future.

I really loved that he had this kind of intelligent perspective. Teens are often confronted (in social media and television) with pretty pictures of how their life should look. These images may jar with how their life actually is. How might Jace, too, be a victim of double self-perception?

Jace and his family are wealthy and well-respected. Part of the media look for that is happy and healthy. The media does not present domestic violence as a problem for the rich, rather it is presented as a problem for the poor. In fact, there are some studies that suggest that underreporting is higher in wealthy communities and I think that this stake in looking good is why. I think that is part of why Jace has been forced into a position of silence.

I've known people whose houses had domestic violence and they looked like everyone else. That's the eerie part, really. Everyone thinks that it can't be true of their neighbor, their classmate, their friend. But when you think about the statistics (1 in 3 women in their lifetimes, to say nothing of the men who are victims as well) then it's very likely that domestic violence exists around us.

I had this sense that Jace was in hiding. And yet, Jace's relationship with his brother is at the center of this novel and the two seem to come together after quite a bit of shared suffering. How much, in your opinion is this book also about how Jace copes and redefines himself in relationship to others? Do you think he has a higher comfort level with the opposite sex by the end of the book? what part of Jace's story is left untold?

The importance of one plot line over another is more about the reader than the writer. That is to say, for one reader Jace's relationship with women will be very important and to another, not so much. So I want to start with the disclaimer that my read on the book is as valid as anyone else's. In my view, Jace's relationship to his brother and his relationship to women are intertwined. His brother is his role model and provides him with a different way to approach a romantic relationship and women in general. He has always tried to use his brother's model for how to treat women: he followed Christian's model about how to treat their mom to a T.

I think he does have a better view of women by the end of the book: Caitlyn is no longer shallow; Mirriam is no longer nosy; and Dakota is no longer unable to make her own decisions. Truth is, Caitlyn was never shallow, Mirriam was never nosy (just helpful; she was, after all, the one who got Christian to let Jace stay), and Dakota has always been able to make her own decisions, but now Jace *sees* those things. His perspective has changed, not the women themselves.

I love how you describe this change of perspective, because as a reader I felt this part of the story arc unfolded in a truthful way and I was very moved by it. Did telling this story from the potential abuser's point of view make it more or less difficult to find resolution and closure at the end of the novel? If Jace were less flawed as a main character, how would it have changed the story?

If Jace were less flawed, the story would have been far easier but also, I think, less interesting. As a writer, I'm not that interested in presenting simplified solutions to complex problems. Rather, I think I enjoy examining a problem from multiple angles to really appreciate how a problem affects not only the people caught directly in it, but also all those around them. I think that better reflects how interconnected we are.

A clear cut ending would have been a more serious possibility for Jace if he were less flawed only because his problems would have been more simple as well, but unlearning years, and formative years, is a difficult and long process. The book tries to reflect the idea that, while it might be extremely difficult to alter our patterns of thinking and actions, it's also possible. And for me, that is hopeful.

I agree. I think it’s the complexity of Jace and his struggles that make this book a valuable teaching tool. My students, many of whom are writing majors, might want to know about how it all came together. I know you are in the process of getting an MFA, so I am assuming that much of this novel was written in a workshop setting. How did this help or hinder you in your process? Do you have a YA focus in your studies, or is your MFA program one that students attend to write fiction mostly for adults?

Oh, now you've uncovered a secret. I did not write much of this novel in my MFA workshops; I had a full first draft when I came into the program and so I was revising by the time I started the program. I only workshopped around 4 chapters with my MFA colleagues. Most of my workshopping of this novel came from my writers' groups, and I found those essential. Writers' groups are, by their nature, a lot different than MFA workshops in that writers' groups select their own members.

One of my groups is comprised of children's writers only, which is very useful, because they are up to speed on the genre. So, I have less explaining to do and they have more models to suggest for me. YA has changed so much that the genre is frequently dismissed by the academy as genre fiction, instead of understanding that the YA genre is highly varied and is comprised of both literary and genre fiction. (Books like Twilight don't help that image either so I can understand why the impression remains.) The other writers' group has both writers for adult and YA fiction, which I also find very useful because good writing is good writing and so people who deeply understand the craft are always helpful.

I had two professors at the U -- Mary Logue (adjunct) and Julie Schumacher (professor) -- who contributed greatly Split. Both read the whole thing. Mary read most of it twice, actually. They had wonderful feedback. So, I'd say that while the workshop experience was not highly influential, the MFA program was. But if you want to see if workshopping in an MFA program has helped or hurt my writing, I'd say look at my second book. About one third of that novel was workshopped.

Okay, now I’m completely curious. Can you give us a sneak peek into your next project?

I am working on BIDDEN (working title). Holly, Corey, and Savitri are looking forward to their post-graduation summer of free running and comic book reading, when a shooting changes everything. Now, Corey is dead, Savitri is seeking revenge, and Holly is descending into a place where no one -- not even Savitri -- can reach her. BIDDEN is about how far we will stretch for our friends.

Wow! I can’t wait.

Thanks again. Great questions.

JD: Thank you Swati. It’s been an honor to speak with you. If you are interested in hearing Swati read the first chapter of Split--check out the link below.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

New covers, BEA, and other random thoughts

I'm taking my maiden voyage on our grads blog today. I owe a big "thanks" to all my 2k9 classmates who've kept this going since the calendar rolled on into 2010. I've mostly been keeping my nose to the grindstone on several writing and nonwriting related tasks and slacking in the virtual community-love department. Consequently, I missed my first post and was determined to get this one in and on time.

So, my editor's been gracing my in-box with a couple of surprises and an invitation. Surprise 1: B&N decided to carry The Secrets of the Cheese Syndicate in select stores. YAY! I was thrilled because my tiny, independent publisher doesn't have the marketing resources of the big boys and my distribution has been somewhat limited.

Invitation: Would I come to BEA and sign books at the distributor's booth? YOU BET! I've never been to the big apple and how could I possibly say no? Most of my 2k9 classmates went to BEA last year but my book was coming out in the latter portion of the calendar year, with the small publisher, so I passed.

A few weeks passed and VOILA! surprise #2 makes its way to my in-box: my editor has an illustrator redesigning my cover in anticipation of the sequel, so we can get a more uniform look to what will (hopefully) be a series. I've got three good stories with these characters, at least. I can't say much past that. So now I'm pumped to get the revision work finished on the sequel, which we're currently calling The Manticore's Revenge.

Currently, however, I'm being distracted by making a top ten list of things to do in NYC and at BEA. Help me out here, guys. If you've been to either of these strings of letters, tell me what I must ABSOLUTELY do. This wide-eyed southern girl wants to pack in as much as possible while she's there!

Donna St. Cyr

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Green Earth Book Awards

Since I don't have my own blog, I thought I'd use this space to give an update on my recent trip to DC for the Green Earth Book Awards. These awards are the only awards in the country (as far as I know) that focus on environmental themes in children's literature. There are four awards: picture book, children's fiction, young adult, and non-fiction. They are awarded annually to "authors and illustrators whose books best raise awareness of environmental stewardship, and the beauty of our natural world and the responsibility that we have to protect it."
The Green Earth Awards are given by an environmental foundation, the Newton Marasco Foundation, with an incredibly active and enthusiastic board and staff. They also work closely with the dedicated children's literature department at Salisbury University in Salisbury, Maryland.
I think most of the authors in 2K9 would agree that it's the connections you form on school visits, bookstore appearances, and other book events that make them worthwhile. Everyone I met from the Newton Marasco Foundation and the university was warm, encouraging, and more than welcoming. In addition, they helped build the green writing community by generously bringing together the winners: Eileen Spinelli and Anne Kennedy (for their charming picture book, MISS FOX'S CLASS GOES GREEN) and Marge Ferguson Delano (for her stunning EARTH IN THE HOT SEAT: BULLETINS FROM A WARMING WORLD). (Saci Lloyd (THE CARBON DIARIES) was unable to attend.) We met over meals of all kinds, and I got to watch their presentations to school kids, admire Anne's drawing skills, hear about Eileen and Jerry's many, many grandchildren and many, many books, and watch how Marfe put together pictures, texts, and stories for her absorbing National Geographic biographies and non-fiction books.
Not only that, but since I grew up in Maryland, my parents were all able to attend the award ceremony!
Writing can be very solitary, but this chance to connect with such a vibrant writing and environmental community will fill me up for a long time.
S. Terrell French
OPERATION REDWOOD, Amulet Books, 2009

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Me and My Yoga

A few years ago, I learned how to stand on my head. For a while, I practiced regularly, sometimes propping myself in a corner, but later, when I got better at it, going for it right in the middle of the room. I learned other neat tricks studying yoga too. Bending over and placing my hands on the floor, handstands against the wall, shoulder and forearm balance. Yoginis aren’t supposed to show off like I do. In fact, it might even be bad juju, but sometimes my extroverted impulses take over.

I think the source of my pride is a result of the fact that none of what I learned came easily. I’m not known for my patience or physical coordination. Writing a novel was nearly the hardest thing I ever accomplished. I’d put parenthood first, standing on my head second, and drafting my first book maybe third. The most fully realized people I know are certified yoga instructors and when I am upside down, I pretend to be a little more like them.

I try as much as possible to intertwine my writing life with yoga practice because the two disciplines have similarities. They require flexibility, being inured to the frustration of what doesn’t come easily, and living without guarantees. I redefine myself every time I get to work. Just when I think I know who I am, oops, I fall over and land on the dog

I once read that Michelangelo’s masterpiece David walked straight out of the stone into his magnificent reality. It’s easy to imagine that this is what genius is—an effortless understanding of the glory within, but I would miss the headstands if I were a genius.

A little succeeding after lots of failing makes the next days work that much easier.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Why I Write Middle Grade Novels

I'm not saying that I didn't enjoy Spring Break with my 8th grader, I'm just saying that if I could've made her wear a burkha in the hotel pool, I would have. I've also learned that last summer's bikini top should always be tried on before this year's vacation. Okay, enough about my daughter picking up a sophomore in the hot tub...

My point is this: I spent many moments feeling wistful about my 10-year-old as she skipped down hiking trails, fell in love with stuffed animals in gift shops, and relished every new experience with exuberance. Every now and then she'd stop to bump pinkie fingers with me.

I know it won't be long until she learns to roll her eyes, scoff with disdain, and attract the attention of boys at the hotel pool. Fortunately this came in the mail while I was gone:

A package of letters from 4th graders in Overland Park, Kansas! Dozens of adorable thank you notes with pictures. Several kids felt inspired to become writers, others loved Jungle Crossing, some "might" read it now that they've met me, a few can't wait to get older so they can read my teen novels. I learned about their pets, their families, the imaginative stories they love to write. One girl told me about her favorite books, but confessed that she occasionally checks out Captain Underpants so she won't look "weird." Aw!

I almost cried with relief at the realization that because I write middle grade novels, I will always be able to hang out with sweet, spunky, spontaneous 10 year olds! --Sydney Salter

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Places We'll Go

From Suzanne Morgan Williams:

This week I bought three pairs of high heeled shoes. Now before, I had one pair of high heeled boots in my closet. And I bought nylons too. I haven’t worn those since – maybe two and a half years ago. And I bought a glittery turquoise and silver jacket to go with my long black crepe skirt. What does this have to do with writing? Well, you never know where this business will take you – which is why I say be nice to people, consider all strange options, and talk to everybody.

Here’s the backstory. In 2008, I joined the class of 2k9 – mainly because my friend, Fran Cannon Slayton, said it would be cool. She was right. When our books began coming out in 2009, we arranged various group presentations – panels and signings. Stacy Nyikos from 2k8, contacted our group with an invitation to join some of her class at Encyclomedia, the Oklahoma Library Association’s Convention. With a book titled Bull Rider, I answered well, ye-ess! Then I began to question my sanity. I needed to fly to Oklahoma. I planned to stay five days for the event and to do a school visit in North Texas. This would cost me a bunch of money, even though I was staying at a $49 a night Super Eight. (Ahh, the glamorous life.) But I went.

And before I went, I made an appointment to meet with the Education Director at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. I figured as long as I was in the area I would pitch a writing workshop for students. While we were talking, she suggested my publisher enter Bull Rider for the Western Heritage Awards that are given for music, film, and literature every year by the museum. Did that. And the book won! Best Juvenile Book, 2010. The caveat was, that to get the cool statue that goes with the award I needed to go back to Oklahoma City and attend a black tie dinner. I didn’t (until last week) own a pair of nylons or a pair of high heels – except for those boots. So I was all over Face Book asking my friends where to get plus sized glittery clothes for the event. I have to say, the suggestions were not always G-rated. But the shopping has been fun.

Here’s my take: You never know where writing will lead you. For Rosanne Parry, it’s to Houston to get an award from Church and Temple Librarians for Heart of a Shepherd. And for Susannah French it’s to Washington D.C. to receive the Green Earth Book Award for Operation Redwood. For me, back to Oklahoma City for a Western Heritage Award, and who knows what else is in our future. To quote Dr. Seuss

Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Favorite Method of Reading

There's a lot of controversy in the literary world about real world reading vs. e-reading. Of course, this is in part due to our very valid desire to support independent and brick and mortar stores. And I think to many of us there is the also the difference between the feel of the book in your hand compared to the less personal screen.

But there is the convenience factor of a hand-held device that can hold thousands of books. I think about waiting for my kids during practices or between events, and also about traveling. How great to whip out a device the size of a paperback and have thousands of choices of reading material. I also think about my son getting bored at his sister's games, practices, etc. And instead of needing a backpack full of distraction or a hand-held gaming system, I could pull out my e-reader with a whole selection of books for him to read.

But then, there's the issue of which reader! Do you go with the Kindle because of its whispernet, or the Nook because it's not Amazon, or Sony, or wait, do you forget about all those, assuming they will soon be passe and go for the new toy, the iPad, even though it's way more expensive, not to mention larger and heavier?

And, if you manage to get far enough in this process to choose one and order it up, then how do you decide which books to buy electronically, which ones you absolutely must have in hardcover, which ones you'd be fine borrowing from the library?

It seems to me the more advanced we get technologically, the more complex our choices become, and the more choices we have to struggle with. And with all the bells and whistles the iPad offers, more are sure to come on other e-reading devices, which will lead to -- guess what -- more choices!

How do you decide in which format to read? What's your favorite e-reader? And when do you go for the good old hardcover? Seriously, I'm asking! :)

--Cheryl Renee Herbsman

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Death of Copy Editing

I’ve heard about the death of copy editing many times, both from authors and librarians, lamenting the lack of time for copy edits and the multiplicity of errors in books. I can only speak from my own two books, both at Random House, but it is my experience that copy editing is alive and well—distressingly so.

This might not be everyone’s experience. Perhaps it’s just my own manuscripts that go out emblazoned with the words Not Written By An English Major upon their foreheads. My current manuscript has been copy edited by no less than three people (each with her own color of pencil). As I read through it is clear to me that Violet and Indigo do not like each other very much, but Green, obviously the middle child of the group, is there to say, “Come on, girls. Can’t we get along? It’s just a hypen!”

I am left with my highly-embarrassed Scarlet pencil to follow after my much wiser sisters of syntax who have marked no less than a dozen things on every single page of a manuscript that runs longer than 160 pages. It’s nearly 2,000 copy edit marks!

My job for the next week is to think about every single one of those marks and make a decision. Often it’s the fairly easy. “Duh, of course the comma goes there. Why didn’t I notice that ages ago?”

Although to be honest, sometimes it’s more like, “Fine, what ever you say! Who cares if concertmaster is one word or two?”

And I confess that from time to time it’s even, “Seriously? There’s a rule about that? Dang! I should have been paying attention in English.” Lucky for me Violet, Indigo, and Green were paying attention. In fact, they were the honors students, I’m sure of it.

Every now and then I have to say, “Now look, I know your suggestion is technically superior in every way but no kid would say or think this. Ever. Not in any century or any other planet. Sorry.” For reasons I do not begin to understand this is abbreviated STET.

I can see why copy edits get neglected. It’s difficult, often tedious, requires not just technical excellence from the copy editor, but also some artistic sensibility, and is frequently accomplished on a tight deadline.

And so, dear Violet, Indigo and Green, Thank you for your diligence. Thank you for your depth of knowledge in English, and for this project German, French, Russian and (no kidding) Estonian. I am completely dazzled that you found a source for Estonian! Go Violet! Thank you for your probing questions, your willingness to hunt up accurate maps and even do the math on rates of exchange. I’ll never make fun of an English major again! Most of all thank you for respecting my reader enough to help me make Second Fiddle the best book it can be.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Book Birthday (and Giveaway!)

Today I'm celebrating the official birthday of Swoon At Your Own Risk!

Here's what Booklist says:

Boy crazy in a house full of women, Polly is facing a summer nightmare of working a crummy water park job being supervised by an ex—and in a bathing suit no less! Hoping to learn from her advice-columnist grandmother, Polly swears off guys and tries to improve herself by following “Miss Swoon’s” affirmations and attempting to mend a rift with her best friend, Jane. Unfortunately, skater/poet (and formerly weird neighbor kid) Xander keeps showing up at the park to babysit relatives and catches Polly’s eye. Polly uses humor to deflect most real conversations, which makes her the life of the party but leaves her lacking in the serious-relationship department. What appears to be a frothy summer confection delves into some heftier emotions as the underlying issues motivating Polly’s actions, as well as those of her mom and grandma, are uncovered. Each chapter ends with snippets from Miss Swoon’s advice columns, Xander’s poetic observations about Polly, or entries from a coworker’s gossip blog.— Heather Booth (Booklist)

You can find Swoon At Your Own Risk at your favorite bookstore or online at, B&, or Indibound. But what fun are birthday parties without presents?

Leave a comment by midnight, April 18, 2010, to enter to win a signed copy!
Open to anyone in the world.

Thanks for celebrating with me! --Sydney Salter

Sunday, April 4, 2010

When NOT to write

Have you ever read a novel that started off one way and then somehow morphed into
something totally different mid-book? That kind of stuff throws me as a reader.
But as a writer, I can see how it happens.
You start out with a bunch of newbie characters, then you put them into difficult situations.
They react, and how they react shows what their true character is like. Before your eyes, your
little newbies are growing up (*sniff, sniff!) having opinions, growing a backbone (or not) and becoming
At least that's the way it is for me.
Other writers might experience it differently. Maybe their characters come to them fully-formed but then the further they go along in the novel, the characters end up changing or going in directions the author did not anticipate.
This is why, when writing a novel, some 'writing days' are spent reading.
Today was a reading day. I hadn't planned on it, but I'd gotten to a place where I needed
to be reminded of where my MC had been and how far he'd come.
Writers have to stop sometimes and read from the beginning -
to make sure Main Character in Chapter One matches Main Character in Chapter Twenty-One. And if he/she doesn't, you have some 'splainin to, Lucy.

Thursday, April 1, 2010


Are you a debut author who is wondering whether you should invest in a professionally made book trailer? Recently, through the magical world of Facebook, I discovered that my long lost close college friend Marianne Nowicki was in the business of designing trailers for authors. I asked her to make the trailers for Freaked (HarperTeen 2009) and Stranded (HarperTeen 2010). Wow! was I wowed at the results. Marianne and I discussed her process which in a lot of ways sounded like my process. Designing trailers seems to be yet another place creativity in book making merges and becomes collaborative.

Do you think book trailers offer a new way for consumers to browse? How will trailers affect bookstores? Do you foresee them becoming part of a card catalog record in libraries?

The book trailer is a relatively new promotional method, but clearly one that will be sticking around. For YA readers, it is a no-brainer. Today's tweens and teens are so used to viewing videos and movie trailers - trailers are a great way to compete in today's technological and visual marketplace. But I think authors and publishers of all genres will find them an exceptional marketing tool. Personally, I still love using written text in my trailers- in lieu of voiceovers - it makes more sense to me when I consider that they are promoting books, not movies, but that's just me. Can't really say what will happen with the library card catalog. I am finding it interesting however that many high school book club sites now have spots for trailers.

How did you get into the business of making book trailers? what specialized skills do you bring to the field?

My background in the advertising industry (specifically working with professional photographers and illustrators) has been invaluable to me. It taught me the importance and power of a strong visual - it most certainly could make or break an ad. The advertising photography business changed drastically with the advent of digital photography and the growing availability and popularity of exceptional stock photography. There is so much to choose from today -having the background to discern between powerful and weak imagery is certainly an asset in my current incarnation as a book trailer producer. I got started producing trailers initially when I began offering web video production services to a few authors and speakers I was providing virtual assistance to and that organically led to producing their book trailers. At some point, I realized that I had a knack for translating the essence of a book visually. I have a blast putting together these trailers - it is a great creative outlet for me.

Very neat. How closely do you collaborate with authors? What questions do you ask them before you start work on a new trailer?.

I work very closely with my authors and I am particularly concerned when it comes to the text used in my trailers. In the essence of keeping the trailer moving forward, it usually becomes necessary to insert at least some text that isn't directly quoted from the book - it is very important to me that the authors have a comfort level with all text in the trailers and particularly so if it is written from the perspective of one of the characters in the book. Also, although I tend to shy away from showing too much of a person's face or body in any single clip (I don't want to detract from the reader's experience of developing their own mental picture of what a character looks like) I do like to be sure I have the basics correct and rely on my authors to tell me if they think the image I have chosen is not working. The authors are so intimately connected with the characters and locations described within their books - and it is important to me for them to feel that I got those parts right. The authors I work with have as much say as they want, but ultimately they understand that they are hiring me for my eye as well.

All of your trailers have unique, vivid color schemes. How do you choose the tones you use? Do you think the color choices affect the mood of each trailer?

Definitely. There are certain colors that portray mystery better than others, or humor better than others. Think about any great movie that you have seen - they all have some effect that provides continuity. Directors are hired to bring a look and feel to a movie - to add a consistency to the clips and a continuity to the imagery. The same is true for graphic design - when I receive a brochure or catalog, the ones I am most drawn to - that appear most professional and relay a strong branded message- are the ones that employ a color and mood consistency. Many times when I am asked to produce a trailer, the book cover art is already chosen - if that is the case, I try very hard to figure out how to incorporate the feeling and color scheme of the book cover into the trailer. The same is true for any special effects on the images.

I noticed on your site that you have made trailers for both fiction and non-fiction titles. Is there a difference in how you approach the two? How much does one have to inform, the other tell a story?

They both have to tell a story, but most non-fiction books by nature are informational, so there usually is more of an informational quality to the non-fiction trailers. However, it is equally as important to develop a look and mood to be carried throughout a non-fiction trailer. And with both fiction and non-fiction, it is crucial that you understand what types of images will appeal to your market.

How do you choose the text you include? Do you quote directly? Do you sometimes paraphrase? How often do you find images alone can convey what you need?

It is such an organic process, but if the book offers direct quotes that work to tell the story in two minutes, then I love using them - that happened most often in the Freaked Trailer so far. But there is always going to be some amount of paraphrasing to be sure the trailer on its own makes sense. I have found that when I want to speed up the trailer and highlight a particular peak in the plot - images on their own can tell the story. Almost all the trailers I work on have at least a few clips that contain no text. Although that is less true for non-fiction trailers.

How do you choose the parts of a story you can tell? Is creating suspense one of the objectives of making a good trailer?

As an avid reader, it is very important to me to completely read and digest the book before I can get too involved in making a trailer (although I do take notes all along the way to earmark strong visual descriptions, quotes, and what I call key plot moments). Suspense, intrigue, mystery, connection - anything that compels the viewer to want to know more, is a crucial part of an effective trailer. I never lose sight of the fact that trailers are promotional tools - I think of them as dynamic visual book jacket blurbs and I am very wary of giving away plot spoilers.

Visual book jacket blurbs, I like that. How important is the audio portion of the video? Are the complications or difficulties in acquiring musical rights?

I am always unbelievably surprised at how great some of the stock audio is - but it is important to read the stock music agreement carefully - I always call my sources to confirm the use. That being said - I spend almost as much time searching for the right soundtrack as I do for all of the images to be used in the trailer. Because for me, it is crucially important that the music reflects the overall feel and genre of the book and will appeal to the book's intended readership. And once you find that - is it interesting? does it change pace and allow you to spotlight certain clips in the way you want? I do find I have to edit most music in order to fit all of these demands. A good portion of my downtime is spent researching great audio sources.

Which leads us to the question of what is the difference, in your opinion, between a trailer that works (and might lead readers to buy a book?) and trailers that don't?


For me, trailers need to have all elements working in concert to be visually effective. For my style of trailer, that means text, font, imagery, music and other audio, color and style. Referring back to your first question, I think that is one of my greatest strengths - making them all work together. There are many different styles of trailers - I recently saw one that was simply an author giving a reading, but the subject matter was so poignant and emotional that she was really able to connect with the viewers (a few shots of the audience in tears also helped tremendously). So, different types of trailers can be equally effective. The acted movie-style trailers can also be very effective, but can be very costly to do well. In a nutshell, an effective book trailer is one that leaves the viewer needing to know more..................

Speaking of knowing more, how should someone who wants a trailer or has more questions contact you?

Probably the best way to contact me for questions and consultation is at my website:

JD: Thank you Marianne. It’s been a pleasure conversing with you and I love the trailers you made for me.